KIERAN GILBERT: … joining me now from Adelaide, Liberal frontbencher Senator Simon Birmingham and, in the Sky News Centre, Labor MP Michelle Rowland. Michelle Rowland, you heard a bit of the criticism there from Christopher Pyne. He says this deal is not worth the paper it’s written on, essentially; that women and children will now become the target of people smugglers, given that they won’t be sent to PNG [Papua New Guinea] for processing and resettlement. What do you make of that?
MICHELLE ROWLAND: Well, the Prime Minister made it very clear that anyone who arrives, or attempts to arrive, in Australia by boat without a visa will not be settled in Australia, so I think that it’s very clear. I don’t know where Christopher Pyne is getting this information from but it is very clear that that is the situation. When facilities are up and running on Manus Island, then those arrangements will occur.
KIERAN GILBERT: Now, if this was announced a year ago, there would have been… the Labor Left would have been outraged. There won’t be any concern today at the Caucus at Balmain, though, will there, when you meet in a bit over an hour from now?
MICHELLE ROWLAND: I think that the Caucus has been very united on one thing and that is to ensure that we don’t have people dying at sea, that we end this practice. When I go out and about in my community, people are sick of the images of people dying at sea, particularly children, and I also think that people understand, look, we actually don’t know how many people have paid people smugglers to make this dangerous and, ultimately, life-ending journey. We only know about the boats that are reported. There could be thousands of people who have simply gone missing and we’ll never know who those people are. We need to take very urgent and robust action to ensure that this ceases, that we take away the product and the biggest single act you can do in taking away the product is saying to the people smugglers ‘you don’t have something to sell any more; you cannot guarantee people that they will get to Australia’ and I might also point out that we even saw over the weekend footage of people saying ‘I’m not going to get on a boat any more’, so I think that, already, we see that people are having second thoughts about doing that.
KIERAN GILBERT: Senator Birmingham, I know that the Coalition’s obviously picking holes in this deal, as Christopher Pyne did earlier in the program, but isn’t the Government’s resolve very clear here? Mr Rudd said it explicitly on Friday – that any asylum seeker that arrives here by boat won’t be resettled here. It can’t be much clearer than that?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Kieran, Kevin Rudd’s latest promise on boat arrivals is a little bit like the proverbial fox promising to fix the holes in the henhouse. In the end, Kevin Rudd essentially created this problem. He undid the policies that were working. The Government under various Labor leaders, Kevin and Julia, has been through five or so different iterations of policies all designed to try to fix a problem of their own making. Now, at the eleventh hour, just before the election, they come up with a rather hasty, rather flimsy, two-page arrangement between Australia and Papua New Guinea that, as the weekend has unfolded, it’s become very clear this arrangement does not guarantee that everybody will be sent to PNG, certainly does not guarantee that nobody will ever be resettled in Australia. All we have on this is the Prime Minister’s word. Well, we know what the word of Labor leaders is worth before an election because we saw that with Julia Gillard before the last election; we saw that with Kevin Rudd before 2007 back when he was going to turn boats around, you might recall, so Kevin Rudd’s got plenty of form on this.
KIERAN GILBERT: But on the merits of this… on the merits of it… but on the merits of it, do you see argument that Michelle Rowland was putting there, that the ultimate sugar on the table, so to speak, is to… well, to remove that incentive is to remove any prospect of resettlement? The Coalition has said that its previous policies will work. If they don’t, isn’t this a mechanism that you should seriously be looking at?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Kieran, of course we would continue talks with Papua New Guinea, if elected, to see how we could best do something out of this and we welcome the fact that Papua New Guinea is willing to work with Australia on this but let’s understand that women and children, as Christopher Pyne said, are being returned from Manus Island to Australia. That has been happening. We have the reality here that the Government is saying ‘when facilities are up and running’ but won’t say by when that will be. Michelle Rowland just said it then, before, ‘when this program is up and running; when we have the facilities to transport people there’. This arrangement that Kevin Rudd released late on a Friday afternoon, so it was subject to minimal scrutiny before hitting the news bulletins that night, has no details of when these things will happen, has no details of how they will happen, has no details of how much they will cost… I mean, this has got to be one of the flimsiest arrangements ever released by a Prime Minister.
KIERAN GILBERT: … let’s go to this Caucus meeting today… meets at 10 this morning at Balmain Town Hall… Michelle Rowland, is this just a picture opportunity, a Labor pre-election pep talk?
MICHELLE ROWLAND: I don’t expect that to be the case at all. Of course, we have… the agenda is the reforms to the Caucus rules in terms of the Labor leadership. There’ll also, I’m sure, be some discussion about more… broader party reform and they’re two things that I’m very keen on and I’ve been very involved in and been a very strong advocate for.
KIERAN GILBERT: Simon Birmingham, it is good to democratise political parties, isn’t it? This might open the way for further moves in that direction for the Liberal Party as well.
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well, Kieran, the Liberal Party hasn’t suffered in government the same types of problems Labor have of a revolving door Prime Ministership. In the end, the demonstration today of why Labor is so unfit to continue to govern is simply because they will spend today discussing how to fix the Labor Party’s problems, not how to fix the many problems that Australia faces and the many policy issues that we should be addressing.
KIERAN GILBERT: Alright, let’s go to the election date now. If Kevin Rudd… well, he’s not going to call it today, so August 24’s pretty much written off, but one Labor figure, the union leader Paul Howes, believes Mr Rudd should do it soon. He was on the Seven Network this morning.
PAUL HOWES: Prime Ministers of the country have the right to call an election when they see fit. That’s their right and I’m sure the Prime Minister will call an election when the time is right. Personally, I think he should call an election soon because, frankly, if you look at the polls, you’ll see how Labor’s travelling. It gives us our best opportunity to secure a re-election of the Labor Government.
KIERAN GILBERT: … I want to ask you, Senator Birmingham, what’s the mood like within the Liberal ranks? Is everyone calm despite the resurgence for Labor in the polls or are there a few nerves around the place?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Kieran, I think we’ve seen all of this before from Kevin Rudd. We’ve seen the grandstanding; we’ve seen the posturing; we’ve seen the ego-mania that he likes to surround himself with. In the end, we know that, ultimately, the Australian public saw through it before and we’re confident that, as we embark on a five-week election campaign, whenever it should be… it should be sooner rather than later, though, because we will now be past the third anniversary of the last election, so this Government should be going to the polls and not hiding or ducking or running away from that; we should be going soon… whenever it is, after a five-week campaign where all the issues can be thrashed out and where people will see that today’s Kevin is the same as the bad old Kevin who rushed into decisions like he did with the fringe benefits tax changes, with no consultation, with no consideration of the impact, with no realisation that it would have a whole range of third-party impacts in a negative way that would cripple another part of the economy … we’ll be able to mount a very strong case as to why Australians need a positive plan and change for the future.
KIERAN GILBERT: Senator Birmingham, thanks for your time and, Michelle Rowland, appreciate it.
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: A pleasure, Kieran.