DAVID LIPSON: Let’s hear what our panel makes of these reports [that the Government is preparing to reintroduce a finance guarantee scheme for building societies and credit unions], we have Liberal MP Simon Birmingham in Adelaide, also Ed Husic from the Labor side, he’s joining us from our Sydney newsroom, thank you gentlemen, both of you, for joining us.
DAVID LIPSON: Simon Birmingham, as you just heard, this is all about trying to increase competition, Joe Hockey has his own nine-point plan [the Coalition’s Nine Point Plan to Stand up to the Banks] to do a similar thing amongst other things. How do you think this idea, that’s been mooted in Fairfax [newspapers] today, compares with some of the ideas that Joe Hockey has put forward in the Coalition?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Thanks David, and good morning to you and to Ed. It’s important here to look at the facts of what’s happened over the last couple of years and under Wayne Swan’s watch we’ve seen the amount of home loans in Australia held by the ‘big four’ banks go from a 45 per cent market share to a 90 per cent market share. Now this has been a remarkable turnaround in fortunes for the ‘big four’ and it’s come at the expense of many of these smaller lending organisations. The Coalition has said for some time now that the Government has provided too much support in one sector and it’s been at the expense of the other and it’s what Joe Hockey of course has been on about now, for the last few months in particular, outlining his proposals for banking reform to try to redress this imbalance and put a decent level of competition back in the sector and what strikes me is that we’re seeing Wayne Swan really now playing catch up to Joe Hockey’s policies and the Coalition’s policies in this space. Now we want to see decent competition and we’ll look thoughtfully and constructively at any proposals the Government puts forward but we have to recognise this problem has happened under Wayne Swan’s watch, the Coalition has been leading this debate and this is really just a case of catch up by the Labor Government.
DAVID LIPSON: Simon Birmingham, do you agree with that, is this just one quarter that we’ve got to look at rather than… look at the bigger picture, I should say, rather than just one quarter?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: We always, of course David, need to look at the trends rather than just individual quarters necessarily, but yesterday’s data adds to a growing weight of calls for the Government to develop a decent agenda around productivity growth in this country. We’ve heard from Glenn Stevens, the Governor of the Reserve Bank, we’ve heard from Paul Keating, the former Labor Prime Minister, that this Government lacks a decent productivity agenda and yesterday’s National Accounts figures demonstrate that we are struggling in the productivity stakes as a country, so in terms of encouraging private investment, that’s great, but what we need to be seeing of course is efficient growth in the Australian economy and unfortunately this Government has all been about, over the last couple of years, spending, spending, spending, and reckless spending at that, without any real tangible sort of microeconomic reform agenda, something that will actually put its teeth into getting greater productivity gains in the ‘here and now’ to make the Australian economy a more efficient competitor on the world stage.
DAVID LIPSON: What do you suggest in terms of productivity growth, is there something you can put down to help us?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Oh, look David, it is of course about getting all of the parameters right, it’s about making the most efficient environment for Australian businesses. That means of course having competitive markets, a competitive banking sector which we were talking about before is important, a competitive labour marker is important. All of those things go into a comprehensive productivity agenda. This Government, however, has been so focused on its fiscal spending, and reckless spending at that, that it hasn’t been willing to do the hard yards in those areas.
DAVID LIPSON: Liberal MP Jamie Briggs has written a piece in The Australian newspaper today where he talks up IR reforms for the Coalition, saying there are benefits for further industrial relations reforms. I want to ask you, Simon Birmingham in Adelaide, ‘dead, buried and cremated’, could WorkChoices be resurrected?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well, the simple answer there, David, no, WorkChoices cannot, will not ever be resurrected by the Coalition, of that I’m very confident. I think what Jamie Briggs is talking about, though, is that we need to make sure we have a competitive environment for small businesses in particular. We shouldn’t say that industrial relations laws are set in stone for the future. Yes, we took to the last election a policy that said we would have three years of certainty. Well, we’re in Opposition now and we’re going through a process of policy review and for the next election we will take an equally crystal clear policy to that election. It will either be more certainty or it will suggest some very clear and specific changes but we know that we made some mistakes back in 2007 in particular around WorkChoices, we’ve accepted that, that was one of the lessons we learned from that election. Unlike the Labor Party, we try to actually learn lessons from election outcomes. So we learnt the lesson that you need to have decent ‘no disadvantage’ tests, we support that, that will certainly be part of any policies the Coalition takes forward, but that doesn’t mean that we won’t look at whether there are some sensible smaller reforms that can be considered around the margins to make sure we keep Australia as competitive as possible. 
DAVID LIPSON: Simon Birmingham, it does put Tony Abbott under some pressure, doesn’t it, to try to explain where the Coalition’s going on this, some sort of solid policy, doesn’t it?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Not at all, David. We will go to the next election with clear cut policies. You would expect Opposition parties to actually, during the course of a three-year term, discuss some ideas. I know the Labor Party doesn’t like people discussing ideas, but we think that a bit of discussion of ideas is important, we will do so in a constructive manner and we’ll come up with fixed policies. Now, Ed can try to talk about and focus in on the role of unions in bargaining. What we will make sure we do is that we focus on fair outcomes for employees and fair outcomes for employers. That’s the type of approach the Coalition will take. We will make sure that we actually deliver for employees, under any policy, decent ‘no disadvantage’ tests. We know that they are critical, central to future policy, but we will also make sure that we consider whether the system’s working appropriately for business and especially small businesses and whether we need to get any changes to make it work better for those small businesses to allow them to compete and be efficient in the future. 
DAVID LIPSON: Simon, what do you think about this nuclear debate? That’s the most recent one [Labor internal debate] that we’ve been talking about. The Coalition has raised nuclear power in the past, mostly under John Howard in the dying days of his Government, but over the past few years not much has come out of the Coalition, we’ve been hearing a lot more about Direct Action, not so much a push for nuclear power. Is that going to change, or should it?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: David, I’d be more enthusiastic about the Labor Party’s debate if I thought it was motivated by good, constructive intentions rather than destructive and divisive political motivations and what I’m seeing at present on the Labor Party is a real ‘tit for tat’ sort of game playing going on where the left wing says ‘we’re going to have a debate about gay marriage’, the right wing says ‘well, in return we’re going to have a debate about nuclear energy’ and if this is going to go on until their national convention at the end of next year, lord only knows how many ‘tit for tat’ exchanges on divisive policy matters we’ll see, which seem to all be about wedging each other in the Labor Party rather than the good of the country. Now, the Coalition has said for some years now that we stand ready on nuclear energy, to have a constructive debate, discussion with the Australian people and as part of the future program for Australia, but we stand ready to do that only if the Labor Party can get its act together. We recognise this issue is potentially too divisive, too difficult and requires such long term planning for nuclear energy to ever be considered, if all of the economics stack up, and that is still a big ‘if’, that you need to have a level of bipartisan cooperation there and I’m not seeing that come from Labor yet. We’ll be ready to talk about it if and when they come to the party.
DAVID LIPSON: Okay, Simon Birmingham in Adelaide, Ed Husic in Sydney, we are out of time unfortunately, but thank you very much for joining us on AM Agenda