KIERAN GILBERT: With me now, I’ve got Labor frontbencher Senator Kate Lundy and Liberal frontbencher Senator Simon Birmingham. Good morning to you both.
KATE LUNDY: Good morning.
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Good morning, Kieran, Kate.
KIERAN GILBERT: I want to ask you, first of all, Senator Lundy… I want to ask, you first of all, about this fallout of the reshuffle…
KIERAN GILBERT: … Senator Birmingham, your thoughts on the Coalition side of the fence? You guys, certainly the younger ones, would be keen on a promotion?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Kieran, we have a strong team and we’re not the party that has just had a reshuffle without exclusions aside from Kim Carr, really. We have this ridiculous situation of a Prime Minister so bereft of authority, so bereft of power within her own party, that we effectively now have people sitting around the Cabinet table as ministers without portfolio. You’ve got Robert McClelland there admitting that he’s disappointed at being dumped as Attorney-General, Kim Carr admitting that he’s disappointed at being dumped as Industry minister, many Labor MPs backgrounding about the way Kim Carr was treated and a Prime Minister who put three new additions in but only had the authority to take one person out, bloating the size of the Cabinet to record levels. This is clearly a Government and a Prime Minister, in particular, who lacks the authority even within her own party to do what she thinks is in the best interests of her Government.
KIERAN GILBERT: Let’s move on… a few other issues to get to this morning. The Treasury Secretary, Martin Parkinson, has made it clear he thinks it’s inevitable Europe is heading into a recession next year but Australia is better placed. He was speaking last night in Sydney.
MARTIN PARKINSON: Australia remains among the best placed of the world’s advanced economies to weather the fallout from these global developments but we have been significantly affected and we cannot expect to be immune if things deteriorate further.
KIERAN GILBERT: Dr Parkinson was at the Sydney Institute, as you could see there. Senator Lundy, he’s warned about the impact on our revenue growth over the next ten years. The tax cuts associated with the carbon tax… are they likely to be the only ones we’ll see for the foreseeable future?
KATE LUNDY: Look, I think the message that came out of Martin Parkinson’s contribution is that our economy is well placed. We’re in the strongest possible position to continue to weather the global financial crisis and the fallout now in the eurozone [euro area] so, listening to his comments carefully, we couldn’t be in a better position as far as our economy goes. We know we have to be frugal in a fiscal sense. We’ve done that. We’ve showed that with the mid-year economic forecast and our mini-budget statements and I think that, again, Labor has demonstrated its economic credentials in quite difficult times over the last few years and there’s nothing that the Opposition can say to diminish the credibility we’ve built in our economic management despite their best efforts. They’ve got nowhere to hide on their fiscal projections and their budgeting so I’m very proud of the position we’re in because we couldn’t have put Australia in a stronger position to weather the storm and the changes that are now happening.
KIERAN GILBERT: Senator Birmingham, the Treasury boss was also fairly optimistic when it came to China, which is obviously good news for us?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well, everything is relative, of course, Kieran, and Australia is in a good position compared to other countries of the world but let’s understand we have diminished productivity compared with some time ago, particularly during the Howard years, higher levels of industrial disputation than we had during the Howard years, a huge budget deficit and budget debt and fiscal deficit in place which will make Australia far weaker to respond to a downturn now than we were several years ago when the Labor Government first confronted a downturn so, in fact, the fundamentals of the economy which Kate Lundy’s talking about there… a number of them are significantly weaker now, as a result very directly of the policies of this Government, which will leave Australia somewhat more exposed going into this potential downturn.
KIERAN GILBERT: Well, you’re not going to agree on that one, obviously. We’ve had those economic debates quite a bit in recent months and years. Let’s move on. There was another boat detected – intercepted, I should say – a suspected irregular entry vessel north of Christmas Island overnight – 100 passengers and two crew onboard. This comes a day before the anniversary of the tragic Christmas Island event last year. 50 drowned in that… around 50. That was awful but the boats continue to come. Does the Minister need to look elsewhere… another alternative to Malaysia?
KATE LUNDY: Well, we know that if the Opposition supported our legislation for allowing us to process offshore, that this would stop happening. It’s a very sobering reminder on the eve of that anniversary – that tragic anniversary – that we are in a position to do something about it if we were to get that support, for legislation, from the Opposition.
KIERAN GILBERT: But they’re not going to do that so does the Minister need to rethink his plans?
KATE LUNDY: Oh, well, I think we need to call the Opposition to account on this matter. They can’t have it both ways. They say that they’d like to, you know, stop the boats. Well, we actually have a long term, durable solution which involves working through a regional framework, the Bali Process [Bali Process on People Smuggling, Trafficking in Persons and Related Transnational Crime] and so forth so this is about a real solution and we’re seeking the Opposition’s support.
KIERAN GILBERT: But, Senator Birmingham, isn’t this the case of both sides being just as belligerent as one another, unwilling to compromise – the Government unwilling to say ‘okay, yep, we will give Nauru a go’ and the Coalition vice versa with Malaysia? It’s just an impasse which seems quite ridiculous given that both sides support offshore processing and then, as I just reported there, another vessel arrived overnight.
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Kieran, indeed, boats do keep coming but there’s nothing belligerent about saying there was a proven policy and the Government should go back to that proven policy. That’s a pretty simple equation from our perspective. We don’t see why any more taxpayer dollars should be wasted, any more lives put at risk, any more messing around with ever changing policy positions from East Timor to Malaysia to anything else. We need a simple proven policy there of reintroducing Temporary Protection Visas, reopening Nauru, turning, where possible, the boats back – this was a formula that stopped the boats before Labor was elected. It worked then. This Government should give it a go because it may well work again.
KIERAN GILBERT: Well, as I say, that impasse continues, as we’ve seen again this morning, and the boats continue to arrive. Let’s look at the issue of gay marriage. Senator Birmingham, are you disappointed that the Opposition Leader is not going to grant a conscience vote? You’ve been on the record saying you would support that and are a supporter of the notion of legalising gay marriage.
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Kieran, look, I’m not a member of Shadow Cabinet, obviously, so I wasn’t party to the discussions had this week, but I think it’s important that the Liberal Party honours its historical tradition of always granting its Members greater freedom than does the Labor Party. In this case, that would mean at least meeting the Labor Party on a conscience vote and I’ll certainly take my viewpoint to the party room which is the right forum for me to prosecute that case in.
KIERAN GILBERT: As a Parliamentary Secretary, or Shadow Parliamentary Secretary, would you lose your job if you crossed the floor and voted with those that are voting to legalise gay marriage, or is… are the strictures for Shadow Cabinet extended to you as well?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well, yes, they are, Kieran, and… as they are on all sides of politics. Of course, the Liberal Party has a fine tradition of never expelling a Member who crosses the floor but all frontbenchers and whips and so on are expected to abide by the party policy position. I, however, hope that the party room will see that it’s important that the 60-plus-year tradition in the Liberal Party – where, if there’s been a conscience vote in the Parliament, we’ve always granted a conscience vote – is, in fact, honoured.
KIERAN GILBERT: But that is obviously very much in direct contrast with what we’ve heard from Mr Abbott in the last couple of days?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: And I’ll take the position to the party room and that’s the right place to have that debate.
KIERAN GILBERT: Okay. Well, that’s… hard to argue with that. That debate will obviously take place in the New Year when the Coalition room reconvenes. Now, I want to ask you, Senator Lundy, we’ve seen the HUphotograph todayUH of Senator Wong and her partner and the new baby, Alexandra. That’s a bright note to finish our discussion.
KATE LUNDY: Oh, look, it’s a wonderful photograph and I extend my congratulations – and I’m sure everyone does – to both Penny and Sophie on the birth of Alexandra. It’s a beautiful moment and it’s a lovely photo in the paper today.
KIERAN GILBERT: Yes. Senator Birmingham, I’m sure you’d agree with that?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: It is a beautiful photo and, absolutely, having started the year with the Senate new parents’ club, I’m delighted to welcome Penny and Sophie and Alexandra to the family at the end of the year. It’s really great news for them.
KIERAN GILBERT: And hopefully they get a bit of a break over Christmas. I’m sure they’re going to need it with the lack of sleep. Senator Birmingham and Senator Lundy, thank you very much.
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: No doubt. Thank you. Cheers.
KATE LUNDY: Thanks very much, Kieran.
KIERAN GILBERT: See you. Have a good Christmas.