Matthew Abraham: Well, is it Malcolm Turnbull's House of Cards? House of Cards can be brilliant if you follow both the UK and the US TV series or they have a habit of falling down and collapsing on you. Which way will it be? We don't know yet. What we are looking at though is a possible dis…almost certain double dissolution and then a very long election campaign. We're talking about an election in early July.
Senator Simon Birmingham is Liberal Senator for South Australia, Minister for Education, a key player in installing Malcolm Turnbull as prime minister. Senator Simon Birmingham, welcome.
Simon Birmingham: Good morning boys, good to be with you.
Matthew Abraham: And Mark Butler, Labor MP for Port Adelaide and also Federal National President of the Labor Party. Welcome to you.
Mark Butler: Good morning, good morning Simon too.
Matthew Abraham: Simon Birmingham, Senator Simon Birmingham, it appears the Treasurer wasn't in on Malcolm Turnbull's secret. Were you?
Simon Birmingham: Every member of the cabinet was consulted and the Treasurer was absolutely part of the decision making process. He's been consulted beforehand about the timing in relation to bringing forward the budget and he'd been consulted then of course in the cabinet meeting that was held yesterday morning to make the final decision.
Matthew Abraham: It looks as though Malcolm Turnbull might be fighting not only Bill Shorten but also Tony Abbott. What do you say to that Simon Birmingham?
Simon Birmingham: No, I don't think that's the case at all. I welcome the fact that overnight Tony Abbott committed himself to campaigning for the re-election of the Turnbull government. He highlighted some areas of continuity that exist of course in the Coalition government and we do stand proudly on the record of stopping the boats and securing Australia's borders and some of the national security [indistinct]…
Matthew Abraham: [Interrupts] So you are campaigning on his record? He's right.
Simon Birmingham: But in addition to that there are absolute areas of change that focus on innovation and science that Malcolm Turnbull's brought about, including changes to attract more venture capital investment, to our capitals gains tax regime…
Matthew Abraham: [Interrupts] Well, let's pause for a moment…
Simon Birmingham: …[indistinct] message of Senate reform [indistinct]…
Matthew Abraham: [Interrupts] Let's pause for a moment and listen to this exchange…
Simon Birmingham: [Over talks] [Indistinct]…
Matthew Abraham: If we could just pause for a moment and listen to this exchange between Michael Brissenden about half an hour ago on the AM program talking to Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, and doesn't this illustrate that Turnbull has to look over his shoulder as he's looking at Bill Shorten.
Michael Brissenden: Okay, so you will deliver something substantially different from the policy platform you've inherited from Tony Abbott? So, Tony Abbott's not right when he says you're going to run to the election fundamentally on the record of the Abbott government?
Malcolm Turnbull: Well, he's not right in the sense that the – yes, there is continuity. You've got to remember I was a part of the Abbott government and there are many policies including, for example, registered organisations and ABCC that I've had strong views about and contributed to in terms of particularly the registered organisations legislation back when we were discussing this type of thing in opposition. But the bottom line is there is continuity and there is change and there are many policies that have been announced and many initiatives that have been undertaken that were either not policies or not being pursued by Mr Abbott. I mean, Senate voting reform is one, I mean that is now done. Those reforms are part of the law of the land. Media law reform, section 46, that had been kicked into the long grass. It has now been- we've committed to changing it to better protect small business.
Michael Brissenden: [Interrupts] Innovation?
Malcolm Turnbull: There was not a comprehensive innovation agenda under the Abbott government. There is now under the Turnbull government.
Matthew Abraham: Senator Simon Birmingham, would you agree that all that sounds a bit lame doesn't it compared to we stopped the boats, we got rid of the mining tax, that’s the big picture of the Tony Abbott government. Here we are, we kick something into the long grass, we tidied up the Senate rules. By the way we're innovative – it sounds like the sort of agenda a state government would pursue.
Simon Birmingham: Well, I doubt the food land businesses of South Australia and the independent grocers would think that the section 46 changes – which the Labor Party opposes, are simply insignificant. They have been campaigning for those changes for a long time and the Turnbull government has made the decision to support those types of changes. Frankly, in terms of innovation and science, the Abbott government was widely criticised for not having a focus in those areas and the Turnbull government has demonstrated a strong focus and will continue to do so. There are…
Matthew Abraham: [Interrupts] It's hardly earth shattering stuff though is it Simon Birmingham?
Simon Birmingham: Well, I'm not sure what your argument is in terms of earth shattering or not Matthew. I think these are important policy areas…
Matthew Abraham: [Interrupts] Okay.
Simon Birmingham: [Interrupts]…and they are put with absolute credibility. And of course there will be plenty more policy released between now and the election, whenever that ultimately may be, whether it's 2 July or a later date, and those policies will deal with tax reform, they will touch on many other important areas and will be a strong contrast between the Labor Party who propose higher taxes in a whole range of areas and a coalition that wants in the innovation space and elsewhere to actually encourage investment in Australia. [Indistinct]…
Matthew Abraham: Mark Butler, before we get into- totally on your soap box and that's fine, but we are trying to get a few views up here. Mark Butler is National President of the Labor Party. Was the Labor Party court totally unprepared by Malcolm Turnbull's power play yesterday?
Mark Butler: Well, no we weren't. We were obviously always preparing for an election in 2016, in the second half of 2016, and frankly the Prime Minister has telegraphed his punch for some time, that he was desperately casting around for an excuse to be able to go to a double dissolution on 2 July. So of course we were prepared for that. Now the Prime Minister, after dibbling for several months frankly over trying to find an agenda, yesterday grasped pretty desperately I think [indistinct] skill provision in the constitution, which surprised a lot of commentators but really quite how we get there doesn't really matter. We were always prepared for a July second election and we'll be ready to fight it very strongly. I have to say that that was [indistinct]…
Matthew Abraham: [Interrupts] And you'll be fighting it on a campaign of taking away tax breaks for people particularly in negative gearing? That's courageous some would say.
Mark Butler: Well, what we'll be doing is fighting it on the basis of priorities for the country. I think very responsibly and in a way that no opposition has done in my memory outlined a responsible way to find the money to fund our schools properly, to fund our universities properly, and as the Education Minister I would have thought that Simon Birmingham would be happy to have a debate about a proper education policy. Instead, he keeps trying to hand a fig leaf or an olive branch to the education sector while at the same time the Finance Minister, Mathias Cormann who holds all of the money in this government, says that the massive cuts that took place in the 2014 budget, the massive cuts to school funding that kick in next year, will not be changed at all. I mean, that's a very substantial debate, I think, for us to have about the future of Australia, not just the future of individual young Australians but the future economic prosperity that depends upon skills and education.
Matthew Abraham: Are you scared of Nick Xenophon?
Mark Butler: In what sense- him jumping out at corners at me or running campaigns?
Matthew Abraham: What do you think?
David Bevan: Well, he's not a drop bear.
Matthew Abraham: What do you think I mean Mark Butler?
Mark Butler: Well look, we've fought third party candidates now for a number of different elections…
Matthew Abraham: [Interrupts] And does this one scare you?
Mark Butler: [Indistinct]
Matthew Abraham: Yes, I know you fought your third party candidates for lots of elections, I know that. Does this one scare you?
Mark Butler: No, it doesn't scare me. I mean, I think the important thing for the Labor Party in South Australia is to be focused on an agenda for government and fighting Nick Xenophon is not fighting an agenda for government. At the end of the day, the two major parties – the Liberal Party and the Labor Party – will contest the question of government over the next 100-plus days leading into 2 July…
Matthew Abraham: [Interrupts] But are you really prepared to take him on up front? Now this whispering campaign that's been going on from both parties Labor and Liberal, ringing programs like ours and backgrounding journalists, asking them to ask the tough questions, which all very good and we appreciate your help, but are you prepared to actually get down and get dirty with Nick Xenophon? Because basically you guys hate him.
Mark Butler: We don't hate him. I'm not a hater and I don't think Simon's a hater. What we are going to do though is if Nick presents himself as a candidate across South Australia, I think it's a reasonable expectation that all South Australians would have including the two major parties that he be held to account on the policies that matter, not just for South Australians but broadly for Australians because if he wins some lower House seats and wins a number of Senates each, he will have a balance of power that I think requires him to be much clearer than he has really needed to be as a single senator on things like penalty rates, on things like Medicare, on things like renewable energy.
Matthew Abraham: Independent… [Indistinct]
Mark Butler: If he manages to slip through this and I think it's important if he is going to fight this campaign across lower House seats that he be put to the- put to press on this.
[Interview continues with Nick Xenophon]