KIERAN GILBERT: … joining me now on the program are Parliamentary Secretary for Foreign Affairs Richard Marles and the Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for the Environment, Senator Simon Birmingham. Gentlemen, good to see you this morning.
RICHARD MARLES: … we go forward knowing that we have a set of policies and an achievement in terms of the economy which is not only worthy of re-election but which has seen Australia through some of the most difficult economic times this country and the world has faced. Now, that’s a good story to tell and what we need to be is completely disciplined in telling it and that’s what the Prime Minister was saying yesterday.
KIERAN GILBERT: Well, the Opposition say you talk about yourselves too much. We’ll get to that in a moment and it was something that Tony Abbott was saying again this morning. No doubt we’ll hear a similar message from your good self this morning, Senator Birmingham, but I want to ask you about the… the message from him yesterday was that you should be more of an alternative government. Isn’t that, by itself, a concession that you haven’t been that to this point?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Not at all, Kieran. What Tony Abbott has demonstrated at the start of this year is a determination to lay out a positive plan – a positive plan for a strong economy and for safe and secure borders… Tony Abbott has, in his start to the year, released Real Solutions plan for Australia, something that actually documents the priorities a Coalition Government will have. It highlights some of…
KIERAN GILBERT: After being relentlessly negative, though, for a couple of years of attacking the Government. Is this a new Tony Abbott; a new Coalition?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Not at all, Kieran. This is the natural flow of things during a Parliamentary term. You would expect that an opposition would start the election year starting to outline more of its vision and plan to take to that election and that’s exactly what Tony has done and, while he has released a Real Solutions plan for Australia, Julia Gillard has released an election date and shuffled the deck chairs. It’s a marked contrast in terms of their style and who is actually focusing on the issues and the priorities and what we saw yesterday was confirmation of what everybody has known for a long time and that is that this Labor Government is hopelessly divided and, of course, Julia Gillard’s message fell on deaf ears because, within moments of the Caucus meeting finishing, it was briefed out that she’d made this call and you read today’s newspapers and some of Richard’s colleagues there describing her remarks as bizarre, so the backgrounding hasn’t ended, the undermining hasn’t ended and the divisions within the Labor Caucus seem as deep as ever.
KIERAN GILBERT: The Prime Minister wanted to achieve some certainty with… by announcing the election date last week but it hasn’t achieved much certainty beyond the fact that we’ve all been reminded how difficult things are for Labor.
RICHARD MARLES: Well, what announcing the election date does is give clear shape to this year but, most significantly, it requires the Opposition to actually stop being an opposition and to talk to us about what their plans are for the country and what we’ve just heard from Simon…
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: We were already doing that, Richard. Before the election date was announced we were already doing this, Richard.
RICHARD MARLES: No, no. What we just heard from Simon is, having said that it’s all about, you know, what’s there for the country, Simon went straight onto talking about Labor. Now, the fact of the matter is that, when people have a good look at what the Opposition…
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: That’s what I was talking about as well, you know, Richard.
RICHARD MARLES: … when people have a good look at what the Opposition represent, there is nothing there. They have a $70 billion black hole in their accounts.
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: That’s not true.
RICHARD MARLES: That is the size of the New South Wales and the South Australian budgets combined.
KIERAN GILBERT: But has the election date made your colleagues more skittish? Do you think the fact that they’ve got that on their…
RICHARD MARLES: Absolutely not. What the election date does do, Kieran, is…
KIERAN GILBERT: Well, what’s with all the talk, then, this renewed talk about MPs being, you know, talking about Kevin Rudd and it’s across all the papers. People don’t invent this stuff.
RICHARD MARLES: Look, the media has talked a lot about all of that but the fact of the matter is we are all focused on moving towards the election and we are focused on putting out our policies for the election and talking about what we have done in relation to Australia’s economy and what we have done is one of the great stories in the world today. If you look at where our economy was when we came into power at the end of 2007, since then America flatlined, Europe shrunk, Japan shrunk. We have grown in that time by 13 per cent. That represents hundreds of thousands of jobs. That’s hundreds of thousands of families who are better off as a result of it.
KIERAN GILBERT: You’re not getting much credit for it. If you look at Newspoll analysis today on the economic management and Labor’s down a further six points so no one’s buying it.
RICHARD MARLES: But it depends on where you measure those things from and they come and go but this is the important point: all of those polls are taken not in a context of two alternatives but in the context of a Government with an Opposition which is throwing rocks. Now that the election is called, people will have to look at the alternative and, you know, you listen to Christopher Pyne last night, you listen to him last night and he’s talking about the economy and how he’s going to deal with revenue and suddenly, you know, when the Liberals are elected, as he was saying it, business is going to make more money, they’re going to pay more revenue. I mean, this is Economics 101 direct from the Hogwarts School of Magic. They have absolutely no plan whatsoever to get this budget back into balance and to see them actually govern and people are going to see that.
KIERAN GILBERT: Well, I want to ask you about… well, you can respond in part to that as well but I want to ask you, on the day of the return of Parliament for this election year, should voters be… have any sense of optimism? The last couple of years… when I say that, I mean… we’re talking in terms of the standards of the House and the Senate, for that matter. The last couple of years have been so ugly at times and this is an election year. It’s just going to get worse, isn’t it, throughout 2013? There’s no sign of optimism, or no sense of it, about the way that this place carries itself.
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well, Kieran, of course we will have a fierce election battle this year. I’ve got no doubt that the Government won’t lie down and nor will the Coalition lie down, in that sense, but we absolutely are determined to offer Australians hope for a better future. That’s why we’re out there outlining our plans – our plans to provide for a strong and prosperous economy, to make sure that no longer do we put roadblocks and impediments in the way, of things like a carbon tax or a mining tax, but actually you have government encouraging business to grow, not taxing business more but actually ensuring that Australian business can be competitive on the world stage and ever more competitive rather than face declining competitive pressures where…
RICHARD MARLES: Are you going to tax them for the paid parental leave?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Richard, there you go again, in terms of if you want to talk about ‘where are the Coalition policies’ one minute and then, the next minute, you’re going to home in exactly on a Coalition policy – a detailed policy that’s out there, a policy that involves providing Australian women with a real, fair dinkum paid parental leave scheme that actually pays them what their real wage is when they go out of the workforce to have a child and, importantly, is a productivity measure to try to encourage more women back into the workforce so that we actually have a stronger economy for the future, so you can’t run around, Richard, saying the Coalition have no policies or no positive agenda, on the one hand, and then try to use something like the paid parental leave scheme as an example to undermine that position because it does undermine your position well and truly.
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: That’s not at all true.
KIERAN GILBERT: I want to ask you about this issue… well, on that argument that he’s made about the black hole and the costings not being out there, I know that some savings have been made there like on the refugee intake, like on the Schoolkids Bonus…
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Like on the carbon tax, which runs at a big deficit as well.
KIERAN GILBERT: There have been some savings measures made but wouldn’t it be a show of faith to the electorate if the Coalition did come out with a substantial array of savings? If you are going to be the economic managers you say you are, why not do it?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: And we will do that. We will do that, Kieran. We will do that in time for the Australian people to make their judgements ahead of September 14. We now have, of course, the capacity to plan, running up to that election date, and to make sure we schedule announcements in a sensible and sequential way of doing things. That, of course, means seeing what the budget looks like when it’s released…
KIERAN GILBERT: Well, that’s a fair point and I think that the Government’s criticisms of the Coalition on this front do ring a bit hollow, given that there are so many things which remain uncosted for the Government, that you have to wait for the budget before you give us the detail and yet you’re setting a higher bar for the Coalition.
RICHARD MARLES: Well, no, that’s not right. We have been managing this economy from day one. We’ve been doing it with complete scrutiny so that everyone can see where every dollar is spent and where savings are made. This is not what’s going on in terms of the Opposition. Yes, there’s another budget to come and we’ll work through that…
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: But your budget outcomes never met budget projections, Richard.
RICHARD MARLES: … but what we’ve got from the other side…
KIERAN GILBERT: They’ve made significant savings already. With the refugee intake, it was over a billion dollars. With the Schoolkids Bonus, it’s over…
RICHARD MARLES: Okay, Schoolkids Bonus is the start but you’ve mentioned two there which are, you know, one billion and one billion. It’s 70 billion. That’s the black hole…
RICHARD MARLES: … and it grows by the day when you look at revenue forecasts…
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: You can keep clinging to that figure that Labor’s made up if you want.
RICHARD MARLES: … and so the reality is, when you really strip that back, what it really represents is: they’ve stopped trying to add up the books.
RICHARD MARLES: I mean, this is a Liberal Party which has stopped trying to add up the books and that is the basis on which they are going to attempt to present themselves to Australia this year and it’s not going to wash and that’s really the issue here.
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Kieran, I just can’t believe Richard can say all of this with a straight face because let’s be clear here: he’s part of a Government that’s delivered the four largest deficits in Australia’s history, so don’t tell us about the books not adding up – your books have never added up, Richard. You, of course, promised…
RICHARD MARLES: Part of a Government which is one of the few in the world that has a AAA rating from every international credit agency.
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: You, of course, promised… no, let me finish. You and all members of your Government, especially the Prime Minister and Treasurer, promised on hundreds of occasions to deliver a budget surplus this year. You now admit and concede that you won’t do that, so none of your budget projections, none of your budget promises, have ever added up during your entire time in government.
KIERAN GILBERT: Alright, well, yeah, no surplus and deficits on your side; AAA credit rating on yours, so that debate will continue right throughout the Parliamentary and election year. Gents, thanks a lot for that this morning. Appreciate it.
RICHARD MARLES: Thanks, Kieran. Thanks.
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Thanks, Kieran. Thanks.