LYNDAL CURTIS: Joining us today for our political panel is South Australian Senator Simon Birmingham from the Liberal Party and, from Perth, Labor Senator Louise Pratt. Welcome to you both.
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Good afternoon, Lyndal.
LOUISE PRATT: Good afternoon.
LYNDAL CURTIS: Now, Simon, we’ll start with you because you will be sworn in tomorrow as parliamentary secretary for the Environment [Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for the Environment]. Do you know exactly what you’ll be doing?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well, Tony’s made it very clear he expects me to be taking responsibility of some water issues and I’m delighted to be doing that. It’s an area of public policy that I’ve focused on, really, since coming to the Senate in 2007 and have had shadow ministerial responsibilities for in the last few years, so I’m very eager to get in and make sure that we deliver on the Murray-Darling Basin Plan and ensure the productivity of regional communities and farming communities is upheld as much as possible in that process.
LYNDAL CURTIS: Now, as parliamentary secretary for the Environment, you will be working with the Environment minister, Greg Hunt. You’re in the Senate. Do you know yet whether you’ll have any responsibilities for trying to usher through things like carbon tax repeal and your Direct Action policy?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: I fully expect to and, indeed, in the conversation with the Prime Minister-elect yesterday he indicated he would expect me to be playing a role there in the carbon tax repeal and that obviously is a top priority for the Government. We will have the legislation ready to roll when the Parliament comes back. That is the expectation and the publicly stated intention. Obviously it has to work through the House of Representatives first but then we will be doing everything possible to get it through the Senate and hope that the Labor Party sees sense and lets that repeal through the Senate as soon as possible.
LYNDAL CURTIS: Are you looking forward more to dealing with the Senate you have now or the Senate as it will be from July next year?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well, I’ll deal with whatever Senate the good voters send us, Lyndal, but I’m certainly looking forward to trying to get change through the Senate. I hope the Labor Party recognises that the public have spoken on the carbon tax and we already see a divided Labor Party on this. May those who’ve already seen common sense and know that it cost them votes and the public rejected it not once but effectively twice, at two elections, come to the fore; let the repeal legislation through in this Parliament as soon as possible.
LYNDAL CURTIS: Simon, if… you’ve left open… Tony Abbott’s left open the option of a potential double dissolution if it doesn’t get through the Senate. You do need to have to let it go through all of the Senate committee processes, don’t you, before it gets on its way to being established as a trigger?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: We respect, absolutely, the proper parliamentary process and that’s the thing you will see from the Abbott Government that, whether it is about sound decision making, sound administration of the public service or proper parliamentary process, that will always get the respect of the Abbott Government. Of course, that means we won’t say that the Greens and the Labor Party can filibuster things forever or that they can send it off to committees for an endless cycle of review, but of course I would expect Senate committees have a very important role to play and we’ll respect that.
LYNDAL CURTIS: I might move on now to the broader issue of Tony Abbott’s First Ministry. As I mentioned, it will be sworn in tomorrow but the major topic of conversation about the Ministry is still the fact that there is one woman in Cabinet and just six out of the 42 in the whole front bench are women.
LYNDAL CURTIS: Simon, do you think having just one woman in Cabinet is good enough in this day and age and is part of the problem the fact that the Coalition isn’t actually getting enough women into Parliament?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well, Lyndal, I think, firstly, it’s right to acknowledge that Tony has put a real priority on experience around this Cabinet table – 15 of the 20 members of the Cabinet have past ministerial experience from the Howard Government years. That means that we’re going to have a Government that comes to the job knowing what it’s going to do, what it needs to do and how to go about it in a very proper and calm way, so I think that’s very important. He’s equally said there are many women knocking on the door of the Cabinet. Four of the 10 Outer Ministry positions are occupied by women. You would expect a number of those people to be contenders in any future reshuffle and I’m sure we will see more women around the Cabinet table soon, but do I think we need to do more to get more women in Parliament? Yes, I think that is a challenge, especially, can I say, working mothers and making sure we have the right circumstances for them to come into the Parliament and, from my own experience of encouraging numerous people to be candidates over the years, it is often a lot harder to convince younger women especially and working women especially to take that step of saying they’re going to run for Federal Parliament with the travel to Canberra and all of the hurdles that come with that.
LYNDAL CURTIS: Simon, do you think the Liberal Party and the Nationals could take a lesson from some of the things that Labor has done to encourage more women to run for Parliament?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well, I don’t think quotas are the answer. I think quotas end up setting up something that can be perceived in some quarters as tokenistic and I don’t think that’s fair. I think it is important, though, that we try to have a look at what it is that the barriers are to getting women to run for pre-selection in the first place and that really is where the problem starts. I don’t see a great problem in getting women pre-selected by the Liberal Party when good women put their hands up. I see a problem in getting enough women to say ‘I’m willing to take that step of nominating in the first instance’ and we need to have a look at what those barriers are and I suspect that the work-life balance of this job is probably a significant impediment there that we need to have some consideration of too.
LYNDAL CURTIS: We might move on now. The Labor leadership contest is unfolding. Anthony Albanese will have his New South Wales launch of his campaign to become Labor Leader.
LYNDAL CURTIS: Simon, tomorrow the Ministry will be sworn in and the real work of government starts. Is this the best time for the Opposition to set itself up for the next three years when the attention isn’t really going to be on it?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well, look, their affairs are their business, in a sense, in the Labor Party. I can’t help but note that, as the endorsements are trickling in for each candidate, they appear to be lining up very neatly with those of the Left supporting Anthony Albanese and those of the Right supporting Bill Shorten and that says to me that, whoever wins, the factional divisions of the Labor Party are likely to continue long after this ballot is settled.
LYNDAL CURTIS: There are though, kind of not so organised factions but people… groupings in the Liberal Party that have in the past supported one leader or another?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Look, obviously, leadership contests will always draw people out to an extent but this one appears to be looking and shaping up very much as the Labor’s Left versus Labor’s Right, each with their guy and each will battle it out, I suspect, well past the close of the ballot.
LYNDAL CURTIS: On that note, Simon Birmingham and Louise Pratt, thank you very much for your time.
LOUISE PRATT: Thank you.