JULIE DOYLE: Hello and welcome to Capital Hill. I’m Julie Doyle. Politicians, business leaders and unions are gathering in Brisbane for the Prime Minister’s economic forum which starts tonight. It’s a busy agenda but will the forum be more than just another talkfest? Joining me today to discuss this, we have Labor Senator Glenn Sterle in Perth and Liberal Senator Simon Birmingham in Adelaide. Good afternoon to you both.
GLENN STERLE: Good afternoon Julie… Simon.
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: G’day, Glenn. G’day, Julie.
JULIE DOYLE: Now, before we get started let’s hear from the Treasurer and the Opposition Leader about the economic forum.
WAYNE SWAN: What we’ve got coming up is an Asian century white paper. All of the discussions here will feed into that process. We’ve been running also a manufacturing industry task force as well. The Government is preparing a response which will come later in the year. The discussions will, if you like, feed into all of those processes but, I tell you what, the opportunities for Australia and the challenges are great. I think getting people together in the way in which we’ve done on this occasion is what people are crying out for and that’s why we’ve convened it.
TONY ABBOTT: It’s a carefully scripted, choreographed event. She’s not interested in changing policy. She’s just interested in stifling criticism…
JULIE DOYLE: And, Glenn Sterle, to you firstly. This event – will it result in any concrete action?
GLENN STERLE: Well, I think the important thing here is, Julie, is the voice of Australia can be heard collectively, the States together talking to the Federal Government. Julie, I come from a state that invented the phrase ‘patchwork economy’, ‘two-speed economy’. We know that this country is doing so well. We know that our economy is strong. We know inflation’s contained. We know that unemployment levels are very low. The economic data that came out last week has just reassessed and improved what we’ve already been saying and proved what we’ve been saying. I think that every responsible leader in Australia should be at this forum. We should have the opportunity to voice our concerns where the two-speed economy or the patchwork economy is affecting our states. Now, WA alone – clearly the people of Australia think, Julie, that the streets of Perth are lined with gold. I’ve got to tell you as a West Australian, if you’re engaged in the mining industry, employed servicing the mining industry, yes, it’s good, but there are a host of industries out there that are really struggling and I am bitterly disappointed, Julie, bitterly, as a West Australian, that our premier, Mr Barnett, has seen fit not only to not attend himself but not send a capable senior minister or a senior bureaucrat. I know Parliament’s sitting. That is not a good enough excuse. As a West Australian, I want our premier or someone from our government, the West Australian Government, in the room negotiating for and on behalf of all West Australians.
JULIE DOYLE: Simon Birmingham, we heard there from Glenn Sterle saying how important he thinks this event is. Your Leader thinks otherwise. Isn’t it good, though, to get all these different groups together in the same room to talk about these challenges facing the Australian economy?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well, Julie, it might be if it wasn’t for the fact that the track record and the history of these events is just so clear for all to see. We have the situation where, from the 2020 summit at the beginning of Labor’s term in office through a range of forums, a business tax forum, a jobs forum, a manufacturing forum, these types of summits and talkfests just keep coming along and the track record is they are carefully choreographed, they are carefully scripted, they come out with outcomes and then a few months or a couple of years down the track the Government breaks the promise from them so you’ve got to question what the point of them is if the Government is going to script them so tightly, break the promises from the outcomes – like in the most recent budget the company tax cut that had been promised from the business tax forum but was then dropped in the most recent budget. What’s the point of going along if they’re not willing to change policies, don’t listen and ultimately break the promises? So, little wonder this time around the turn out’s pretty poor.
JULIE DOYLE: A lot of this forum, though, will be behind closed doors. It won’t be open to the media, a large amount of it, so how can you say that the whole thing will be very carefully stage managed? There will be ample opportunity for discussions behind closed doors.
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well, we saw very clearly in the Financial Review today reports that show just how scripted and stage managed the approach is going to be and of course there’ll be behind closed door discussions. They’ll be welcome and hopefully those who have bothered to go will not just be frank in sharing their views but might actually get some frank feedback from the Government but, given their track record of promising things out of these forums and then failing to deliver on them and breaking their promises, you’ve got to accept and understand as to why people are so doubtful going into them that there really will be anything more than a few cheap headlines for the Government, the imagery of trying to do something but that the reality is really quite different and if they really wanted to talk about business costs and business confidence they’d be looking at the issues of the carbon tax and the mining tax and these policies that the Government is so doggedly sticking to despite the drag on confidence they are for the rest of the economy.
JULIE DOYLE: And, Glenn Sterle, one of the things that we know that unions will be asking for is more industry assistance, more co-investment for industries that are struggling with the high Australian dollar. Can we expect this forum to come out with anything, any strategies, anything from that?
GLENN STERLE: Well, Julie, I can’t pre-empt what the final outcome will be but what I do congratulate… especially the unions and the senior business people who are at least making the effort to get in the room and have their whinges and their gripes heard. Now, I have to just correct Simon, Julie, that this is a nonsense. We have a premier who is, at this stage now, embarrassing us, embarrassing us to the point with all this man does is whinge and whinge and whinge. He is one of the most whinging politicians I have ever heard. In all my years, my 30 working years, of negotiating for and on behalf of truck drivers, owner drivers and my own little family business, I have never, ever, ever seen an outcome that can be achieved unless the proponents of the outcomes are in the room. Now, if our state, our West Australian Government, is not in the room and at the same time, Julie, espousing they’re sending off one of their ministers, Mr Collier, with a bevy of business people to entice people to come to Western Australia… All our premier does is whinge. Mr Barnett, stop your whinging, get in the room and, on behalf of 2 million West Australians, start negotiating for us.
JULIE DOYLE: I’ll bring Simon in there. Simon, one of the…
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: He’s no orphan in not showing up, Glenn.
JULIE DOYLE: One of… the Victorian Premier is attending but, as Glenn mentioned, WA isn’t and Queensland. Do you think the Liberal premiers will be better off to at least be in the room to have the discussions, Simon?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well, the Liberal premiers and all premiers have their opportunities through the COAG [Council of Australian Governments] process. I think what many of them would be questioning is why are they continually invited to these types of summits, these types of talkfests, by this Government that seems to love to run these big picture, stage managed events but never follows through and delivers? That’s why we’ve reached this tipping point here where, early on, all of these governments have been willing to engage on a level of goodwill with the Federal Labor Government and Colin Barnett has attended his fair share of meetings in Canberra or elsewhere around the country dealing with Kevin Rudd or Julia Gillard – whoever the Labor Party has as the Prime Minister on a given day. He’s been there and dealt with them but it’s not unreasonable that, after a period of time, he, other premiers, other business leaders all start to throw their hands up in the air and say ‘what’s the point of continually going back when these guys don’t listen and they don’t deliver?’ and that’s the threshold point we appear to have reached.
JULIE DOYLE: Well, we need to move on. We need to move on to some other topics and one of those who won’t be there is the WA Treasurer, Christian Porter, who announced today he is stepping down today to have a tilt at federal politics. Glenn Sterle, this is happening in your home state. What impact do you think this move will have?
GLENN STERLE: Well, this is a very, very interesting move for a first-term Treasurer. I know that Mr Porter has delivered two budgets. I know that we’re going to a fixed election date of March the 9th next year. Now, it does pose the question that, if Mr Porter doesn’t see a future for himself in Western Australia, Julie, what has he been promised? What actually… why is he leaving? Is there something that spooks him about facing the West Australian people at the next election? Is there something that spooks him if he is called to account on his budget outcomes or if they’re not achieved? There’s something very, very strange here. Mr Porter is seen or reported over here in Western Australia as a rising star, future leader and, let’s be real honest, the depth in the Liberal Party here in Western Australia is very, very shallow. I know it’s been reported Mr Barnett, in the reporter’s terms, is not impressed. I think there’s something very, very strange going on. Mr Porter will have to face the people. Mr Porter should come out and tell us his reasons why. Why does he want to leave after delivering only two budgets, being touted as a rising star and then bolting off to Canberra? Very strange days indeed!
JULIE DOYLE: Simon, the Federal Opposition Leader says that he sees this move as a sign of confidence in the Federal Coalition, that he thinks Christian Porter would be welcome on the team. What do you think? Is there a spot for him on the front bench perhaps?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well, that’s a matter for Tony but it is wonderful to be attracting people of high calibre and real talent to our federal line up and Glenn seems to be fixated today at fighting the West Australian state election, whenever that may be. He may well have given up on Julia Gillard and given up on his chances of the Federal Labor Party holding government…
GLENN STERLE: Not at all, Simon. Not at all, mate.
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: … but he keeps coming back to wanting to talk West Australian state politics and have jibes at Colin Barnett. In the end, Christian Porter will be, if he’s pre-selected, if he’s successful, a wonderful addition to the Federal Liberal team and he comes at a time when we’ve selected a Rhodes Scholar in Angus Taylor in Hume in New South Wales, we have Andrew Nikolic down in Bass in Tasmania, a successful military officer who served his country with distinction, we’ve got a young woman in Adelaide here, Carmen Garcia, who’s the head of Multicultural Youth SA… some brilliant candidates around the country and this is just adding to the strength of line up that the Liberal Party takes and the fact that Tony will have a hard time picking his front bench after the next election because of that talent pool is something that is a testament to the fact that we are putting together a great team to go into the next election. Glenn can complain and want to focus on WA as much as he wants but I’m very happy to welcome Christian Porter and I’ve got no doubt that Colin Barnett will do a great job backfilling those positions in WA and taking the WA Coalition forward with strength as well.
JULIE DOYLE: Now, while we’re talking about WA, Glenn Sterle, one of your colleagues, Senator Mark Bishop, made some comments that were reported at the weekend that he thinks the Government would do better with Kevin Rudd, that he’s worried about the vote in WA and that only one Senator may be elected if the vote stays in the doldrums. Do you share those concerns?
GLENN STERLE: Julie, just before I answer that, I’ve just got to quickly come back to Christian Porter heading over. Look, you know, and I hear what Simon says about a great team and a great candidate he’d be. What does that say about the current economic Liberal team of Andrew Robb and Joe Hockey? I mean, yeah, okay, I give up, I surrender…
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Now you’re verballing me.
GLENN STERLE: …Christian Porter would be better than those two.
JULIE DOYLE: Let’s move on. Let’s move on to that question.
GLENN STERLE: Let me come back to your question. Okay, let me come back to your question. Earlier on this year the Labor Caucus fully endorsed and supported the leadership of our Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, overwhelmingly. Julia is our Leader. Julia will take the Labor Party and this Government to the next election and I understand, when polling’s low, backbenchers get a little bit nervous, marginal seat holders get nervous. That’s a matter for Senator Bishop, who is a good friend of mine, but I am fully endorsing and supporting the Prime Minister and I’ll be standing beside…
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: You didn’t vote for her, though, Glenn.
GLENN STERLE: I certainly did, Simon. I made it very clear I am a Julia supporter. I was…
GLENN STERLE: Don’t be surprised, mate. Don’t be surprised. I’ve never hidden the fact that I supported Julia in the first leadership contest and I fully support and endorse Julia’s leadership.
JULIE DOYLE: But it’s certainly not helpful, though – those comments being made by your colleagues, though, is it?
GLENN STERLE: No, I understand that but, you see, Julie, I’m in the remarkable position of hearing the same thing said about Tony Abbott’s leadership and Simon can try and deflect it. Let’s remember, he only won the leadership from Malcolm Turnbull by one vote. There are a lot of good Liberal people out there that don’t agree with Tony Abbott and they’re nervous about Tony Abbott’s leadership and, Simon, you know that and I know…. I don’t expect you to say anything because it’d give you up but you know darn well that not every member…
GLENN STERLE: … of the Liberal ‘caucus’ is behind Tony Abbott. They’re very concerned.
JULIE DOYLE: Simon, very quickly, your response?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: We haven’t had a subsequent leadership spill…
GLENN STERLE: Their legacy is a $70 billion economic black hole.
JULIE DOYLE: Simon, very quickly, your response?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well, the Labor Party’s changed Prime Minister since Tony’s been Leader. They’ve had another spill of the leadership in that time. All the instability is firmly on their side and if Glenn were perhaps sitting in Mark Bishop’s shoes at number two on the WA Labor ticket this time around, he’d be doing what Mark Bishop is doing and despairing at the situation he finds himself in.
JULIE DOYLE: And that’s where we’ll have to leave it, I’m afraid, Simon. We’re about to run out of time. Thank you both for joining me today.
GLENN STERLE: Thanks, Julie. Thanks, Simon.