CHRIS UHLMANN: … Simon Birmingham, of course you are the Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for the Murray Darling and must be delighted by the rain, are you going to claim any credit for that?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: I won’t quite claim the biblical credit for it raining, Chris, but it’s great to see some water coming into the system and as a South Australian Senator it’s just a blessed relief to actually see that the system’s going to be a whole lot healthier from hereon in but that doesn’t mean there’s still not an awful lot of hard work to be done to right the wrongs of mismanagement from the past.
CHRIS UHLMANN: Simon, a lot of the things that have been mentioned, of course, about the numbers, about the numbers and the way that they stacked up and you see most of them falling on your side of the ledger but in the end, winning government means commanding 76 votes on the floor of the House of Representatives and you lost.
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: That’s right, Chris, and we have to accept the fact that we are back in opposition. Today was, for my three-plus years in this place, the most positive Party meeting I’ve attended, but it was positive not in a sense of triumphalism, it was more positive in a sense of determination for the future. We are buoyed by having some fantastic new Members of Parliament, our ranks are swollen with new talent that will make a great contribution to a new Liberal-National side of politics, but we know there’s a job to be done and Tony Abbott displayed that type of determination and focus that he’s shown throughout his time as Leader, and showed a renewed sense of focus and determination today to take the Party forward and to ensure that we hold the Government to account as the effective Opposition that we’ve been, but that we also get on with the job of providing a real, clear alternative to Australians.
CHRIS UHLMANN: Do both parties need to look at some sort of renewal at the moment?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: And on the Liberal side, a lot of the positivity and buoyancy in today’s meeting was the fact that there’s been this enormous renewal in the Party, in the ranks we’ve seen more than a dozen new MPs, fresh faces, part of the team who will all add their own unique attribute, be they Wyatt Roy making history or Ken Wyatt making history from totally different perspectives but it really shows that our team has got some great new talent there. There’ll be, of course, some renewal in the Shadow Ministry ranks and so on as well, but we also want to present an image of stability that the Government is unable to present and our stable line-up in the leadership team is very important to that.
CHRIS UHLMANN: Just quickly on that for you, though, there must be a temptation on behalf of some to think we’ll sit back with the team that we’ve got and try and see whether or not this Government falls over. Now, wouldn’t that be a mistake? Isn’t it time now for the Liberal Party to have a long hard look at itself, to do the policy work that’s necessary and maybe make some changes in the front rank?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Look, Chris, I don’t think Tony Abbott is the type of man to sit back. He is the type of person to get on with the job in his own determined style and that’s certainly what he wants to do now, that was the message to the Party room today… was very much a case of telling us that we need to go out there, constructively, positively, prosecute the case against the Government and present the alternative. Now, he’ll pick the best line-up to do that out of the vast array of talent in the Liberal and National Parties but I think we’ve got a great team there in the leadership ranks who’ll be backed up by a solid Shadow Ministry and we are really determined with our new local MPs to get them on the ground, of course selling the message right around Australia.
CHRIS UHLMANN: And something she [Julia Gillard] also said in the Caucus today which I found interesting was that she wanted them to not focus on the 6pm news, and is that a problem for both parties now, we keep talking about the 24-hour news cycle and every time a conversation starts with politicians they are loathe, usually, to criticise the media because they’re in fear of being flogged by it in some particular part. This is where we’ve… who’s responsible for the fact now that the message has to be so tightly disciplined that we hear it over and over and over again and that we’ve lost that sense of spontaneity, perhaps, that we used to have in politics? Which came first, is it the chicken or the egg? Is it the media’s fault or, Simon Birmingham, is it politicians or is it both?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Oh, Chris, I’m sure there’s an element of both. I think, obviously, the changing technologies of media… if you look back to 20 or 30 years ago, politicians fought tooth and nail to get their mugshot on the television. Yet today, of course, there are so many TV outlets, it’s harder to get your story up in the print media nowadays than it is to get something on TV, so the whole dynamics of media have changed dramatically in that time. Parties have had to respond to that, but Tony made clear in some of his messaging to us today that whilst he wanted us to constructively prosecute the case, and he urged, of course, caution in making sure that you know what you’re doing when you’re handling the media, he also quite clearly said he didn’t want people to go out and sound like robots, he wants us to speak from the heart, to prosecute that case against the Government with the type of passion that he always has and I think that’s certainly the approach he looks for, and in terms of what the Prime Minister may have said in the Labor Caucus today, I suspect, of course, that’s looking back at the way the Rudd Government was endlessly criticised for stage-managing every aspect of the last term in office.
CHRIS UHLMANN: In fact, one of the most telling criticisms, I thought, of the last Government was that there were some people in it who thought that a year was made up of 365 days and if they won the nightly news every night then they won the year, and I think that that’s probably… that tactically they might have been quite good, but strategically quite bad, but then again, the question I put to both of you [Simon Birmingham and David Feeney], if you don’t act like robots, won’t you find on the six o’clock news that the nuances between the two of you, between you and the Party Leader, will be played up and then you’ll be punished for it. Isn’t that the risk?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: People want to see passion, they also want to see discipline and unity and the challenge for Leaders and political parties is to get that mix right. Tony, I think, demonstrates a passion in his politics that carries through and is leading the most united team we’ve had for quite some period of time, so that’s something that obviously we want to keep going, we want to keep that unity together and make sure that all of us pick up his passion and his commitment for the delivery of message.
CHRIS UHLMANN: Alright, well we’ll leave it there. David Feeney, Caucus Secretary, and people can now see that you do have a face, so that’s very, very…
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: And I’m pleased to see you haven’t been locked in the Tower of London or anything that I read in certain columns today.
CHRIS UHLMANN: And Simon Birmingham, thank you.
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: A pleasure, Chris.