KIERAN GILBERT: Today we’re taking a look at the last Nielsen poll for 2012. It has Tony Abbott’s disapproval rating as the second worst recorded by an Opposition Leader in the four decades of the Nielsen survey. The Labor primary vote… the recovery appears to be holding up, although momentum for the Government has stalled.
KIERAN GILBERT: Just finally, John, as we wrap up 2012 and head into 2013, if you’re looking at trends in the Nielsen poll, would you suggest that Labor’s primary vote… that the momentum in that recovery has stalled and what should we look to in 2013 as both sides obviously try to sway things in their direction in the election year?
JOHN STIRTON: Look, I’m not sure that Labor’s improvement has necessarily stalled but it’s moving fairly slowly but in our polling since mid-year it has always been up so if the Labor vote has changed it’s been in an upwards direction. The Coalition vote, on the other hand, has sat around 43 to 45, up and down for the last couple of months, so it’s not clear that it’s stalled; it’s not clear that it won’t continue; it’s not clear that it won’t go the other way. We really can’t predict the future – polls are a look at where we’ve been, not where we’re going – so next year will be interesting but I think the most important point at this stage is that Labor finds themself, I think, in a competitive position at the end of the year but still a losing position and so we’ll need to see the first round of polls next year to see what happens.
KIERAN GILBERT: Now to our panel this morning – from Adelaide, Liberal frontbencher Senator Simon Birmingham; in Melbourne, Labor frontbencher Mark Dreyfus. Gentlemen, good morning. I will get your thoughts on the polls in just a moment. First of all, we do need to look at this awful tragedy that we’ve seen in the United States and US President Obama to arrive in Newtown, Connecticut, any moment now to grieve with the families of those lost. Simon Birmingham, from an Australian perspective it’s just so hard to comprehend this gun culture in the US and that, just, things don’t change.
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Kieran, it is so hard to comprehend and it’s such a tragedy. As you know, I’m a father of two young girls and it’s safe to say that the news, as it broke over the weekend, sent a shiver down my spine, as I’m sure it would have of every parent – around Australia and right around the world – who saw the news and all our sympathies would go out to all of those affected and to the American people but, look, it is, I think, very clearly time for action in the United States. When we had the terrible Port Arthur massacre here in Australia, the Howard Government then enacted actions that saw 700,000 weapons come off the streets – huge change here in Australia. It’s time for America to recognise it needs to do likewise and to actually end this culture of gun violence that places them the leader amongst the developed world for deaths amongst gun incidents.
KIERAN GILBERT: Let’s look on now at that Nielsen poll that we began the program with, talking to John Stirton about it. He believes that… well, not certain that Labor’s momentum has stalled entirely, Mark Dreyfus, but obviously the Labor Party in a better position than what it was, say, six months ago. You must be a little reassured?
MARK DREYFUS: Of course and it shows a few things. It shows that we’re through the nonsense and misrepresentation about the carbon price, the incredible smear and fear campaign that’s been run by the Liberal Party – smear in relation to the politics, the personal attack, and fear in relation to the carbon price. People are sick and tired of that kind of politics and I think that’s something you can see reflected in this poll. The last week of Parliament was spent on a campaign making baseless allegations against the Prime Minister and I think Australians are absolutely sick and tired of that and just last week we’ve had the Liberal Party exposed for their conspiracy to bring down the Government – a conspiracy against the Speaker of the House of Representatives – and it’s not just me saying it; it’s a judgement of a very senior judge in Australia who’s actually exposed that conspiracy and that’s, I think, something that’s fed into this poll.
KIERAN GILBERT: Senator Birmingham, are you worried that the AWU [Australian Workers’ Union slush fund] focus at the end of the Parliamentary year and those other attacks have backfired? If you look at Tony Abbott’s disapproval rating, it’s the worst result of any leader since Andrew Peacock in 1984.
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well, Kieran… well, firstly on that point, I’d note that Andrew Peacock did far better in the 1984 election than anybody expected he was going to. Secondly, look, I read somewhere this morning that, of the published opinion polls since the last election, the Coalition’s had a clear lead in 119 out of 124 of them that have been published, so I’d much rather be in our position than in the Government’s position but we’ve never pretended winning the next election would be easy. We know this Government will throw everything it possibly can at trying to win it. They’ll throw taxpayers’ dollars at it, which, of course, is why we will never see a budget surplus and we’ll see the country go into deficit again and, of course, they will throw smear at it, which is why we saw all of the attacks on Tony Abbott about sexism and misogyny and all of the lies the Government have thrown about, so it’s little wonder that of course we’ve seen this type of tightening in the polls but we go into next year focused on outlining a positive agenda for a strong economy and for a safe and secure Australia.
KIERAN GILBERT: Well, Mark Dreyfus, I want to put that to you. You can respond but the negative politics has been evident on both sides, as Senator Birmingham made it clear there in his retort to your answer that the Government hasn’t got clean hands itself.
MARK DREYFUS: I don’t accept that for one moment, Kieran. The AWU is a baseless attack on the Prime Minister and Tony Abbott has been found out. He accused the Prime Minister and…
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: And the Prime Minister stood up and called Tony Abbott a misogynist. That’s a fact, Mark…
MARK DREYFUS: And he is… and he is and…
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Oh, ‘and he is’? Right, so you’re going to continue the attacks, then?
MARK DREYFUS: It’s important to look at what the nature of these attacks have been. Right back to the last election, Tony Abbott did not accept the legitimacy of the result delivered by the Australian people and he’s gone on with these politics of personal attack. The Prime Minister was quite right in her speech – the attack made on her in the last sitting week was baseless, as it’s been all year. There was a false accusation made that she had committed a crime. Tony Abbott couldn’t back it up and he’s got to stop and now exposed with this conspiracy to misuse the court system which is why the case was thrown out with Mal Brough, a very senior Liberal, conspiring with James Ashby to bring down the Government. It’s an attack on the legal system, an attack on the political system and I hope every single person in Australia reads this judgement, Kieran, and keeps asking questions of Tony Abbott about what he knew.
KIERAN GILBERT: Okay, well, let’s have Senator Birmingham. Your response to that?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well, there you have it, Kieran. If anybody was in any doubt about the Government’s desperation to smear their way back into office, you just heard it there from Mark Dreyfus, who, of course, is…
MARK DREYFUS: Where’s the smear? Where’s the smear, Simon? Where is the smear?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well, you’re the one still calling Tony Abbott a misogynist. You’re the one who’s now, of course, trying to create grand conspiracy theories here. You seem, Mark, so desperate…
MARK DREYFUS: This is the judge. You need to read the judgement. You need to read what a senior judge of the Full Court said.
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Oh, Mark… and, Mark, you are verballing this greatly, of course, here but you are the one who just said on air… you interrupted… you…
MARK DREYFUS: On the contrary. I don’t think you’ve read the judgement, Simon, and I don’t think the journalists have yet read the judgement.
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Mark, you are the one who very clearly… it was very…
KIERAN GILBERT: Gentlemen, let’s have Senator Birmingham’s response, please, without interjection, Mark Dreyfus. Your response, Senator?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well, it was pretty clear to me the journalists have read the judgement, from the weekend coverage, Mark, but, that aside, it is equally clear to me that you’re the one who said, very clearly on air this morning, Tony Abbott is a misogynist. Well, frankly, you know, that is an appalling allegation to make. You’re repeating your Prime Minister’s slurs and it is just self-evident that the Government will stoop to any depth to try to hold on and cling on to power at the next election.
KIERAN GILBERT: I wanted to look at this meeting in Sri Lanka, in Colombo, today – the Foreign Minister meeting with the Sri Lankan President. They will be announcing a four-point plan including greater intelligence sharing…
KIERAN GILBERT: Senator Birmingham, you would welcome this, wouldn’t you… the fact that the Government is, well, sitting around the table today – Foreign Minister Carr and the Sri Lankan authorities – to deal with this? This has been… a majority of the arrivals, actually, in the last couple of months have been from Sri Lanka and many, according to our Government, have been economic refugees.
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Indeed, Kieran. I wish Bob Carr every success in Sri Lanka. This, of course, is the type of action that we should have been seeing a long time ago. It’s been evident for a while that Sri Lanka has become an increasing problem, in terms of boat arrivals – arrivals that cost Australia more than $12 million for every single boat that arrives here – so it is a serious problem for Australia. It’s a problem we should be on the front foot about. I’m pleased that Bob Carr has now eventually made it to Colombo, something that the Coalition has spoken of needing to happen for some period of time. I welcome the fact that he’s having these discussions. I look forward to seeing the details around the four-point plan and the Coalition hopes that it will work. We know that Sri Lanka have been turning boats around themselves for a period of time, so that, of course, is something that we would expect, hopefully, will continue at their end. We just wish, of course, that all of this had happened some time ago and that we hadn’t seen the policy flip-flopping on how to handle asylum seekers coming to Australia that we’ve seen from this Government over the last five years.
KIERAN GILBERT: Finally, onto another issue, the Treasurer, Wayne Swan, hosting his state and territory counterparts today… tax reform will be on the table but not any look at increasing the rate of the GST [goods and services tax] or broadening its base. This was the Treasurer this morning.
WAYNE SWAN: The one thing the Commonwealth won’t be doing today is that we will not be considering any increase in the rate of the GST or any case to broaden the base of the GST. That is the lazy way to go about tax reform and doing that would hit the lowest income earners in our community really hard.
KIERAN GILBERT: Senator Birmingham, what do you make of Treasurer Swan ruling out any consideration of the GST even before he gets into the room with the other Treasurers?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well, I think lazier still than what Wayne Swan just said then is handballing all responsibility for tax reform to the states, which appears to be what Wayne Swan is proposing. Now, getting a lecture from Wayne Swan on tax reform is a little bit like getting a lecture from McDonald’s on healthy eating. In the end, he is the master of the carbon tax and the mining tax. These policies, of course, have been seen in the mining tax’s case just to be a complete debacle; in the carbon tax’s case to have widespread detrimental economic impacts that we will feel over a period of time in Australia. I think that people should expect this Government to have loftier agendas. Wayne Swan once commissioned a tax review, we might recall – the Henry Review – and then, of course, left pretty much all of the recommendations on the bookshelf collecting dust with the report, so state Treasurers today will rightly wonder just where the Treasurer’s now coming from with his call for tax reform.
KIERAN GILBERT: Mark Dreyfus, Simon Birmingham, thanks so much for your time this morning.