MATTHEW PANTELIS: Now, the SA Liberals have had their AGM on the weekend, during which, of course, Isobel Redmond came under the spotlight on leadership. It came at the end of a tumultuous three weeks, Ms Redmond revealing in that time revealing she considered standing for the Senate, then she left on a long weekend break in the wake of an offer of resignation from her Shadow Education spokesman and, while away, lost her chief media adviser – not real good. She held a feisty media conference, of course, at the Adelaide Airport on her return and then gave a spirited speech to the Liberal Party faithful on Saturday. Well, has it turned the tide or are the state Libs determined to beat the record period of the Labor Party in opposition – the record which still stands in the Commonwealth, no less, of 26 years? If they lose the next state election they’ll be up to 16 so they’re well on target. Let’s find out from Liberal Senator Simon Birmingham who I’m sure was at the conference because I didn’t see him in the local Foodland on Saturday afternoon. Hello, Simon.
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Good morning, Matthew. Good morning, Alex. Indeed, I had to leave the grocery shopping to others.
MATTHEW PANTELIS: Yes, so how did Isobel fare, do you think? Is she going to survive all the way through till 2014?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well, Matthew, I thought we had great speeches from both Tony Abbott and Isobel Redmond. Tony gave a really passionate South Australian-focused speech challenging SA as to whether we wanted to go down the path of being like Western Australia or go down the path of being like Tasmania in terms of the economic opportunities before us and Isobel backed that up with a fighting speech. She acknowledged that there had been some issues over the last couple of weeks but, I think like all good leaders, she showed a real fighting capacity in her speech and outlined the issues that she wants to spend the next 18 months fighting on for South Australia in terms of cost-of-living pressures for families, helping small businesses and delivering, of course, better services at the State Government level and, first and foremost, getting the State debt back under control.
ALEX WARD: Simon, we had… Isobel Redmond was on Breakfast last Friday and she did speak very well, as she does, but unfortunately the issue that was put to her and the topic of the day that… the main issue that came back was the leadership and seeing the write-up of the conference in the Sunday Mail yesterday which said all the things you did, how positive it was, but then again you get this… about midway through article it refers to one senior Liberal saying ‘we were right behind her but she has slowly squandered a lot of that support.’ Who are… who is this person? Who are these people that want to… would rather have the Liberals in opposition for four more years than be in power? I just don’t understand it.
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Alex, it’s disappointing and there’s no doubt that all Liberals feel that disappointment when we see and read those sorts of comments. Of course, it’s a challenge that all political parties go through from time to time and I could point around some newspapers today to senior Labor sources and Labor MPs talking about Julia Gillard’s leadership ad nauseum and I think Isobel Redmond is in far, far, far greater shape than Julia Gillard…
ALEX WARD: It is but you must know… you must know who these people are to go and cut their head off and say ‘look, we’ve got to have our best chance in the election and then let’s take a different view’ but it’s odd that some people would think ‘we’d rather lose…’ – and we have a four-year set cycle here – ‘we’d rather be in opposition for another four years than have the party proceed.’ I find it really bizarre.
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well, look, I think this is partly a case of the mid-term jitters as well and I’m sure we will see absolute discipline and unity return to the ranks very, very quickly to make sure that we do run into the next 18 months ahead of that state election in a united fashion and we need to remember that Isobel got 52 per cent, nearly, of the statewide vote at the last election, she had a very short lead-up time then as Leader and did an outstanding job to almost knock off Mike Rann and I’m sure that, if we can get that discipline back on track, then the team can make sure that we go one step better in 2014.
MATTHEW PANTELIS: Simon, you know when white-anting like this begins, when a leader starts losing traction like this, it’s only a matter of time. You know, that smell of death attaches itself to them and they kind of stagger on for a few months – three months, six months – and then it’s all over.
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Matthew, I think the great leaders, though, also have their periods of adversity and show they can fight back from that and if Isobel Redmond fights back from what she acknowledged has been a rough couple of weeks then people will see her as a much stronger, greater, tougher leader as a result of that.
MATTHEW PANTELIS: If the next Newspoll is bad, will that be the end?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well, it’s entirely a matter for my state colleagues but, as we all like to say constantly, we don’t jump to the tune of individual polls and I would caution them against doing so but I think the key thing, and certainly what Isobel has implored, is for everyone to get on with talking about the issues and there is much to talk about and, as both she and Tony highlighted on the weekend, South Australia really is at a crossroads and I want to, desperately, see our state go forward economically and provide the types of jobs and opportunity that are teetering on the brink. If we’re not careful, we will go the way of Tasmania which really has little economic base to speak of and is incredibly reliant on, basically, handouts from the rest of the country to keep their state propped up.
ALEX WARD: But I think, Simon, the points you’re making are correct and are arguable in any level of politics and one notes the discipline of the Federal Liberal Party and you would say ‘look, Tony Abbott will get bad polls’ and he’s not having to deal with white-anting at all to the extent that Isobel Redmond seems to and it’s… why is there that lack of discipline either on the people who are putting out the white-anting or on the rest of them who are letting them do it and not exposing the person who’s making the trouble and saying get them out?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: I think, as your earlier questioning highlighted, Alex, it does, sadly, only take one or two people sometimes to do this…
ALEX WARD: One senior one here.
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: … and that, of course, is one of the challenges that all parties face and journalists are very clever at, of course, being able to…
ALEX WARD: Answer the phone? Take the call?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: … phone those people… well, indeed, to be able to push the lines along the way and make sure that they’re talking to a broad range of people…
MATTHEW PANTELIS: Simon, we’ll have to leave it there. We’re running out of time for the news and the ads but thank you so much for your time today, Senator Simon Birmingham, of course on the Liberal side and he was at the state AGM of the Liberal Party here in Adelaide on the weekend…