MATTHEW ABRAHAM: After all those changes that were made to the voting system for the Senate are we still going to end up with a crazy Senate that is a mixture of Dad’s Army and something else with a whole lot of minor parties making it very difficult for any government, Labor or Liberal, to get their agenda through? Simon Birmingham, what sort of a Senate do you think we will end up with?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well we’ll end up with the Senate that the people vote for, but more importantly this time around, we will get the Senate that the people vote for. The last election produced a result where we saw people elected with tiny fractions of a vote and then complex preference deals that fed in to that. This time around, people will fill out the numbers, at least 1-6 above the line, they will determine where their votes go and nobody will get elected, I’m pretty confident, with 0.1 per cent or 0.2 per cent of the vote.
ABRAHAM: Well that whole scare campaign, well not scare campaign, but the line that Jamie Briggs said is that if you vote for Xenophon, you won’t know who you’re getting. You’re saying we will know who we are getting now because you’ve designed a system that we’ll know who we are getting now.
BIRMINGHAM: Matthew, there’s two separate points there. So, people will get who they vote for if they vote for those people in sufficient numbers. Now of course, whether you actually know who those people are, what they stand for, voters have to make that decision between now and Saturday week and there are real questions still to be asked about some of the candidates in this race as to the clarity of their positions and who they would support to form government.
DAVID BEVAN: Are we though? I mean that’s a nice moot point, but are we…
BIRMINGHAM: I don’t think it’s a moot point, it’s a very important point.
BEVAN: It may well be…
BEVAN: Penny Wong is just arriving late! Thank you for rushing, we do appreciate…
PENNY WONG: I got that for you, Matt!
ABRAHAM: What is that? Breakfast? Thank you. Is that from Business Class because I don’t normally get to see that?
WONG: No, no, economy mate! I got it just for you because you are always so nice to me. I got Portuguese custard tarts for everybody else!
BIRMINGHAM: I bought Portuguese custard tarts too! Snap!
BEVAN: Now Penny Wong this is a question for you and I’m glad you’ve arrived just in time for it. What sort of a Senate will we end up with despite all of these changes that have been made to the voting patterns and we’re still going to end up with a dog’s breakfast, what do you think’s going to happen?
WONG: I think a double dissolution drops the quota so you’re going to get a whole range of different people. You’re going to get people who don’t want penalty rates…
NICK XENOPHON: That’s not true…
WONG: Sterling Griff, Sterling Griff is very clear about that…
XENOPHON: You’re sledging now, Penny, you’re sledging…
ABRAHAM: Nick Xenophon, she is telling the truth, is she not? You almost have the role now, of your candidates say something dopey and you’ve got to come in and say…
XENOPHON: He’s not saying anything dopey, you’re misquoting him. It’s quite unfair.
ABRAHAM: I wasn’t naming Sterling Griff.
XENOPHON: You were.
WONG: He says penalty rates are a noose around the neck of business…
ABRAHAM: I was more talking about the candidate who wants to insert needles into various places…
WONG: Go on, say it.
XENOPHON: You’re needling me now.
ABRAHAM: In the perineum.
WONG: I couldn’t do it!
ABRAHAM: Men and women have them.
XENOPHON: The position of penalty rates is effectively no different from the Labor and Liberal parties and that is that the Fair Work Commission should determine it and that’s it. If there is any legislative introduced to change that, to try and cut penalty rates, we will not support it.
ABRAHAM: That’s not what Sterling Griff said, he said…
XENOPHON: We’re not supporting it.
ABRAHAM: Ok, so you have to straighten him out.
XENOPHON: I don’t have to straighten anyone out.
ABRAHAM: Well you’ve had to because he said…
XENOPHON: It’s not a matter of straightening anyone out.
BEVAN: Nick Xenophon, the question was very clear. Right at the end of the interview, we said “if the Coalition puts up a bill to reduce penalty rates for small businesses on Sundays, would you support it?” and he said “We would consider it”.
XENOPHON: Yeah, and we’ve considered it and the answer is no.
ABRAHAM: So when you were saying that you were saying “Sterling, look behind you it’s a trap!”
BEVAN: Are you saying that…
XENOPHON: I would never say that about you guys.
BEVAN: Nick Xenophon, are you saying that all of your MPs, should they be elected, lower and upper house, would vote down any changes to penalty rates on Sundays for small business?
XENOPHON: I’m saying the Fair Work Commission is the appropriate umpire, the independent umpire, to determine this and unless the Coalition has announced a new policy, my understanding is that they have no plans to put up any legislation in this term of Parliament.
BIRMINGHAM: That is an accurate reflection of the Coalition’s position. We will let the independent umpire make its decision and that is very clear-cut, but it is certainly a change of position from Sterling Griff if indeed it is a change of position from Sterling Griff. It is Nick saying something different from what one of his candidates said on this radio program only yesterday.
ABRAHAM: Sarah Hanson-Young, what do the Greens think of penalty rates or don’t you worry about those things?
SARAH HANSON-YOUNG: No we’re quite concerned at the idea of cutting penalty rates on Sundays and we’ve said very clearly that if indeed the Fair Work Commission moved to cut them, that we would want to see some safeguards actually legislated to ensure that people who work on Sundays do have the opportunity to be compensated for that…
ABRAHAM: That would be pointless wouldn’t it?
HANSON-YOUNG: Well, why? Because…
ABRAHAM: Well if the Fair Work Commission says we’ll have to reduce penalty rates after due consideration, then you say “we’ll compensate people for losing penalty rates”, it’s a zero-sum game.
HANSON-YOUNG: No, we would actually put in place, we’d legislate and ensure that there is a safeguard and a base level to say that people who work Sundays, do get compensated for that, therefore they get penalty rates.
BEVAN: Bob Day from Family First, you’d cut penalty rates?
BOB DAY: If someone could spare a thought for the unemployed. I mean, if you’re sitting at home on a Sunday getting $6 an hour on the dole and you want to work for $20 an hour, what right does anyone have to say no, you can’t do that because the penalty rate for Sunday on a café is $40 an hour so they shut so, nobody gets their coffees, the unemployed don’t get a job, the business can’t operate and yet we’re happy to say to those unemployed people “Bad luck, you’ll have to stay on the dole, you can’t work for $20 an hour even if you want to.”
ABRAHAM: Nick Xenophon, Simon Birmingham, Bob Day is saying what you two believe, surely? We know Penny Wong and Sarah Hanson-Young…
DAY: Go and talk to the unemployed sitting at home begging to work for $20 an hour and it’s against the law.
XENOPHON: And you need to have a safety net and that safety net is maintained by the Fair Work Commission…
DAY: Six bucks an hour is the safety net, what about $20 an hour?
XENOPHON: No, the Fair Work Commission.
ABRAHAM: Now you’re listening to our lead Senate candidates here from the Greens, the ALP, the Liberal party, the Xenophon Team and Family First. Penny Wong, both parties, Labor and Liberal, are treating this as a three-cornered contest in South Australia and Antony Green says forget about two party preference votes here, they don’t make any sense when you look at polls, you can’t do that with the Xenophon vote sitting at somewhere between 20 and 28 depending on what poll you look at. People are saying people are disillusioned with politics, do you take any blame for that?
WONG: Sure. I mean, as an elected person you’ve always got to listen to the criticisms and reflect upon the criticisms people make and this is a time where I think easy solutions land well. Where our economy is at, the drop in living standards that we’ve seen under the Coalition, the changes in the South Australian economy, you can understand why people search for a solution. So, we’ve got to work hard as a Labor Party at demonstrating that. We do have answers to a strong economy, to future jobs, today’s jobs…
BEVAN: But do you understand why they’re disillusioned with you?
WONG: Yes, that’s what I said.
BEVAN: Well, what was your contribution to that disillusionment?
WONG: My personal contribution?
BEVAN: Well, if you want to get personal.
WONG: Well, we all have to take responsibility for people’s concerns about the position of your party, but the best thing I can do is to listen to those and to focus on the things that I think people think are important. South Australian jobs, and we’ve made the announcement on Arrium, the announcements on advanced manufacturing transition, Medicare…
BEVAN: You’re running a scare campaign.
WONG: I don’t agree with that. I mean I think that this term of government has seen unprecedented attacks on Medicare from the GP tax to the bulk billing incentive being cut for diagnostics…
BEVAN: But you’re saying that’s it’s going to be sold off. Our listeners were told by Chris Uhlman a couple of days ago, that’s just impossible, you can’t sell off Medicare.
WONG: There is a history under this government of attacks on Medicare. Whether it’s the GP tax, making it harder for people to get blood tests and pathology tests and so forth, as well as spending a lot of money, putting a lot of effort in to looking at how to privatise the Medicare payments system. I think that is unarguable, that is unarguable. So, we are saying Medicare is important to Australians, it’s certainly important to South Australians and that is a key centrepiece of our policy as well as schools.
ABRAHAM: Simon Birmingham.
BIRMINGHAM: Labor’s campaign has descended into a desperate scare campaign with this Medicare privatisation push and thankfully, pretty much every commentator in the country has seen through it and recognised that there is in fact no possibility that you could privatise Medicare, let alone any policy from the government to do so and we are steadfast in our commitment to see Medicare…
ABRAHAM: You could privatise the billing system though and why not?
BIRMINGHAM: The billing system needs improving, absolutely, so whoever is in government after July the 2nd will have to modernise that billing system because it is a 30 year old IT system and they’ll have to go through that process. It’s a vastly different position to in fact how Medicare itself operates. Under us, bulk billing rates have reach 80 per cent plus, they’ve gone up under the Coalition Government and Medicare is in a very strong position and we will absolutely keep it there.
WONG: So a GP tax will make it even stronger will it, Simon?
BIRMINGHAM: Well there’s no GP tax Penny…
WONG: Well the AMA says very clearly that your policy of freezing the rebate will lead to co-payments of up to $20-25.
BIRMINGHAM: Penny, you might think it’s a priority to put more money in the pockets of Doctors, we think it is a priority to keep bulk billing rates high which is what we’ve effectively done.
ABRAHAM: Sarah Hanson-Young.
HANSON-YOUNG: I think this actually comes back to the first question that you asked about what type of Senate are we going to have and is it going to be crazy. I don’t think it is going to be crazy, I think it is going to be a reflection of the diversity of the views of the public, but actually a safeguard for whoever wins government because if we hadn’t had the cross bench and the Greens there after the 2014 budget, we’d have more cuts to health, more cuts to education and it was the Senate that actually pulled the government up to scratch in terms of saying “hang on a minute, the public aren’t going to cop this”. So, it is not about the Senate being crazy, it is actually about the Senate being a safeguard.
ABRAHAM: Nick Xenophon, why have you only got 4 candidates for the Senate? There’s you, there’s Sterling Griff, there’s Skye Kakoschke-Moore and Tim Storrar. Both Labor and Liberal are saying, we’ll he’s going to get at least four.
XENOPHON: If they are saying that…
ABRAHAM: So you haven’t bothered with a fifth?
DAY: He’s bad enough as it is!
XENOPHON: Of course you’d say that, Bob! I think that is a pretty full Senate ticket and that is our best-case scenario.
ABRAHAM: Okay and maybe one, maybe none, maybe four, who knows what in the lower house. Have you bitten off more than you can chew?
XENOPHON: No, I’m chewing, I’m chewing like crazy.
ABRAHAM: And what happens if you get seriously ill again? Who takes over?
XENOPHON: Lots of capable people.
WONG: Sterling takes over, right?
BEVAN: It’s a serious question…
XENOPHON: C’mon Penny really…
WONG: I do like you, but I think that…
XENOPHON: The feeling’s mutual.
WONG: We’ve worked together a lot and we agree on some things and we disagree on others and you’re civil to work with. I do respect you, but I think I do not respect the fact that you pretend that Sterling Griff’s position, as articulated yesterday and as articulated over fourteen years, that he wants to cut penalty rates, he thinks they are a noose around the neck of business, I find that difficult to accept you now trying to paper over it. I think that is not in keeping with your usual honesty.
XENOPHON: That’s really unfair. Our position is clear as a group, as a team, we want the independent umpire…
ABRAHAM: The question is what happens if something happens to you? Heaven forbid, I keep adding that.
XENOPHON: Is this boat about to sink? Is there something I don’t know?
BIRMINGHAM: We are hovering right by the weir. I’m not sure what the intent of that is!
XENOPHON: We’re getting very close actually to the edge.
WONG: I know this weir very well, it’s where I used to row. We’re very close to the edge…
XENOPHON: If I get hit with the proverbial bus or fall off the Popeye, the situation is that assuming that I’m joined by a number of colleagues, those colleagues will work it out and I’m sure they’ll work it out very well.
BIRMINGHAM: We all wish Nick a very long and healthy life, but I think the curiosity is even in the strange party rules of the Nick Xenophon Team, the name and functioning of the party reverts to his executors in his will…
XENOPHON: Hang on a second, that’s for the simple reason if I dropped dead then obviously the party should be called something else. I mean, poor old Dick Smith rang me…
ABRAHAM: The drop dead party! It is a strange structure isn’t it?
XENOPHON: I’ve said that after this election we will look at changing the name to something else. The Matt Abraham Experience maybe?
BEVAN: The nice thing about this morning is that we have all these people from very different views, everybody is getting along, you’re sharing the Sticky Date Pudding and it’s all fantastic and it’s lovely and yet last night, Penny Wong, you delivered an address on the issue of marriage equality and you fear that what you’re all going to end up with post-election is a very, very divisive issue and that it is going to lead to hate.
WONG: Well I think the hard reality is that hate is already here, not on Popeye, but in our community and we unfortunately still have people who are being bashed because they’re gay, we still have people abused because they’re gay. Same sex couples, we scan the street before we hold our partner’s hand to see if it is safe and my point was that those who say that this will be a respectful debate do not understand the small minority of Australians who are prepared to say hateful things and for whom this will be a licence to say hateful things; that was the perspective I was giving.
BEVAN: Now it’s taken you a long time to get your party to that position and you have been patient and forgiving of people within your party. Can you extend that patience and forgiveness to the people sitting beside you?
WONG: Sure. Look, I understand Bob’s position, I don’t agree with it, but he has a right to hold it, a right to express it, but I think it’s how it is expressed. The way people have expressed it to date are saying things like our children are the stolen generation. Cory Bernardi has suggested that same-sex marriage will lead to bestiality. Now, I don’t think that that is a respectful way to have this debate and let’s remember we’re talking about secular marriage, we’re not talking about religious marriage. I agree that the churches, it is a matter for the churches as to how they conduct, what relationships they recognise, how they conduct ceremonies. The question here’s should those views be imposed on the secular marriages that frankly, the majority of Australians engage in.
ABRAHAM: Bob Day.
DAY: I think before we change the definition of marriage, we need to understand what are the implications, the ramifications, on the rights of children, the rights of parents, what are the implications on freedom of speech, freedom of conscience and I think the public understands this. They want to be able to have this debate and have their say and understand just what will be the implications for those people.
BEVAN: Bob, why is your marriage less valid than Penny Wong’s marriage?
DAY: Because the current definition of marriage under the Act is between one man, one woman entered in to for life…
BEVAN: I know that, I’m not asking you for semantics, I’m asking you for a reason, why?
DAY: Because there are implications for the rights of children and parents and the right of freedom of speech and for us to be able to say we’re not going to have a debate, we’re not going to give the Australian people the opportunity to debate it or to have a vote on it, I think is wrong. It’s too profound.
ABRAHAM: Nick Xenophon.
XENOPHON: We have the Parliament to have a debate on this. Now, I think this issue can be resolved if there is at least a free vote, a conscience vote, of Liberal MPs to at least deal with this issue, that is my first choice. My first preference is that the Parliament ought to debate this, it’s an issue that has been around for a long time…
BEVAN: The Parliament is just there to represent the people, why not extend it out to the people?
XENOPHON: Because it’s an issue that been…look, my first choice is to deal with this in the Parliament and I think the decision can be resolved satisfactorily if there is a conscience vote within MPs.
ABRAHAM: Simon Birmingham, why are you afraid of having a conscience vote?
BIRMINGHAM: Well I’m not afraid of having a conscience vote, but equally I’ve been surprised, since the Coalition adopted the position of having a plebiscite, by the extent to which people seem to have broadly, within the community, welcomed the idea of the plebiscite and the thing that many people put to me out of that is they say, “well we think that it can be ultimately a more unifying outcome”. Now, I hope and trust the debate can be conducted respectfully and I’d absolutely urge everybody to do that, but I think also, we can put the issue to bed in a way where the community broadly accepts the result of a people’s vote that would perhaps not be the case out of a vote from the parliament.
ABRAHAM: You know there are quite a lot of people who’ll never accept the vote, a result of a plebiscite. For a lot of people this is just a fundamental issue. Bob Day, you’re not going to say, if there is a plebiscite, “Yes, we’re going to legalise gay marriage” you’re going to say “that’s ok, that’s fine then, I’m going to support gay marriage” you’re just not, are you?
DAY: Well there are a lot of laws that a lot of us disagree with, but we abide by the laws, I mean that’s what a democracy is all about.
BIRMINGHAM: We had the debate on the republic and there was a result and frankly, the people are pretty much locked in behind that result, whatever those of us in the political class may think. I think we can get a similar result where if gay marriage is voted upon and supported by the Australian people, the people will largely then embrace it and accept it.
HANSON-YOUNG: I think there is two things here. Firstly, the only reason it’s not being dealt with by the Parliament is because there are people who oppose it in the Parliament and have been able to hold back the free vote in the Coalition Party Room. I think we need to be upfront about that, that’s why the plebiscite has been flagged by the Coalition as their way forward. Even if there is a plebiscite and even if people overwhelmingly, if the Australian public voted yes, the Parliament still has to vote on amending the legislation and we’ve got members inside the Coalition who have said “well we’re not going to be bound by that, we’re still going to vote however we want” so it’s not necessarily a guarantee. My other concern though, is that this issue of respectful debate and discussion. We need to make sure that that is in place regardless of whether it is a vote in the Parliament or a vote of the public in terms of a plebiscite. Until now, I think that respectful debate has been missed.
XENOPHON: $160 million that I think we can spend on better things.
BEVAN: That’s a lot of money. Can we just finish up with this, how many lower house seats do you reckon Xenophon’s Team is going to win? Penny Wong, how many seats do you think Xenophon is going to win in the lower house?
WONG: I want all our seats returned and I want to win Hindmarsh, so I’m not going to get drawn on that.
ABRAHAM: Just a number?
WONG: My job is Labor, to get Labor people elected.
ABRAHAM: Bob Day, how many seats do you think he’s going to get?
DAY: I’ve got no idea.
BIRMINGHAM: I think in the end the South Australian people will make a decision about who they want emphatically to govern the country, Bill Shorten or Malcolm Turnbull, and I think that will result in zero.
BIRMINGHAM: Yep there we go. I think the South Australian people in the end will make a decision between who they want to govern the country rather than prevaricate and sit on the fence.
BEVAN: Well, at least we’ve got a number. Sarah Hanson-Young?
HANSON-YOUNG: To be honest, we all want to spruik our own parties and we want to say on Saturday vote 1 for the Greens. Most likely if the Xenophon Party was going to win, probably Mayo or Grey look as though, on the current polling, that they’re the most likely. It is really a week and a half for those voters to have a think about it.
XENOPHON: Ask me on July 3rd. We’re working really hard to give people that choice and people, these are decent people, good people and let’s wait and see.
ABRAHAM: They’re unknown quantities though, aren’t they?
XENOPHON: Well not so unknown after a long election campaign.
BIRMINGHAM: But don’t even know who they’d support to form a government, Nick.
XENOPHON: Well you’re running on an assumption there’ll be a hung Parliament.
WONG: Minor issue I guess or whether they’d cut penalty rates.
XENOPHON: They will not be cutting penalty rates.
HANSON-YOUNG: I think the issues that are going to matter for this next term of government are things like climate change, are things like how we engage with our region in terms of foreign policy and immigration, South Australia jobs building. We need to make sure that in the Senate in particular, that whoever wins government, there is a strong voice there for those issues as well and we don’t know where all of those Nick Xenophon candidates line up on that and think that’s very good question.
ABRAHAM: Sarah Hanson-Young from the Greens thank you, Nick Xenophon from NXT, Simon Birmingham from the Liberal party, Bob Day from Family First, Senator Penny Wong thanks for the granola and yoghurt.
WONG: A good, healthy thing for you, Matt!