JOURNALIST: Senator Penny Wong, welcome to studio, Labor Senator Penny Wong. Simon Birmingham, Liberal Senator. You’re both here because you’re number one on your tickets. And Sarah Hanson-Young, Greens Senator, she’s on the phone line. Good morning Sarah Hanson-Young.
SARAH HANSON-YOUNG: Good morning, thanks for having me.
JOURNALIST: You’ve got point six-seven of a quota so far, or has it got better?
HANSON-YOUNG: There hasn’t been much more uploaded in terms of the counting from the last night – last night, but it’s looking good.
JOURNALIST: Okay. Penny Wong, Xenophon should have done a deal with the Labor Party.
PENNY WONG: Well I think – he’s confirmed publicly that obviously we had discussions – the Labor Party had discussions with him which included Mayo and Grey and obviously I agree with you, I think Grey is closer than certainly people thought it was on Saturday night and it has come down to Labor preferences. I think Rowan did do better yesterday than some might have anticipated but there are some big booths to come in so yeah, I certainly wouldn’t be calling that definitively at this moment. Yes, you’re right, if there had been an arrangement he probably would have been in a much better position. He chose not to do that, which he’s entitled to do.
JOURNALIST: If he’d done a – it was an open ticket, was it? The Labor Party put an open ticket?
WONG: We ended up with open tickets with relation to…
JOURNALIST: [Interrupting]…And with the Liberal Party?
JOURNALIST: Simon Birmingham, how do you feel about Grey?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well, look, I feel much better about Grey today than I did a couple of days ago after the booths were counted yesterday and of course that’s partly because we didn’t really have any clear picture on election night given the AEC were distributing the preferences between the Liberal Party and the Labor Party and the Labor Party weren’t really the enemy as such. Rowan was interviewed by your colleague Fran Kelly on Radio National this morning and he, I think, is being very cautious in his comments and I think that’s appropriate. There are a lot of votes still to be counted but we are hopeful in Grey, we think we are the most likely [indistinct] votes to be counted.
JOURNALIST: We try not to mention Fran Kelly on the program.
JOURNALIST: What about Hindmarsh, Simon Birmingham? Is Matt Williams clawing his way back so that the Liberals can retain the seat of Hindmarsh?
BIRMINGHAM: Well, yesterday Matt Williams closed the gap from around 645 votes to 347 votes, this is an all-too-familiar story in Hindmarsh particularly for yours truly…
WONG: I’m getting stressed just remembering 2004.
JOURNALIST: Because Penny Wong you ran the campaign that defeated Simon Birmingham.
WONG: Correct. But only by a hundred and – I said 109 votes, he said it was 108.
BIRMINGHAM: Rest assured, it’s etched on my memory.
JOURNALIST: So you were the Liberal candidate?
BIRMINGHAM: I was the Liberal candidate in 2004 who took the seat of Hindmarsh from being a very, very marginal Liberal electorate to being an ultra-marginal Labor electorate, so I wear that battle scar.
JOURNALIST: Sarah Hanson-Young, I don’t know if you’ve looked at these figures – you’re probably looking at the Senate. Having a look at the Senate vote in South Australia, what do you think’s going to happen with the, I mean we’ve got the Labor, Liberal situations reasonably clearly defined, you’re likely to hold your number one position there but that will be it for the Greens, Xenophon’s got three, what do you think’s likely to happen with the other votes?
HANSON-YOUNG: Well that’s a – it’s still all up in the air, really in that last seat. Yes, we are confident we’ll retain my seat. I must say, it’s extremely sad to have lost Robert Simms, I think he was an exceptional Senator and in the few short months that he was there he did some great things but yeah, he’s a young guy and he’s very talented and I hope that we won’t see the last of him actually, I think that he’s got a lot to offer public life…
JOURNALIST: [Interrupting]…Well you shouldn’t have rolled him for number one spot on the ticket!
HANSON-YOUNG: [Continuing]…politics in South Australia.
JOURNALIST: You should have done a Don Farrell!
HANSON-YOUNG: [Laughing]…in terms of that last seat though, who knows? It could come down to still a Family First or even a One Nation Senator which would be not the best outcome for South Australia in terms of our representation in the Parliament, we just won’t know yet, there’s a lot of counting to be had. And because it’s a new voting system, normally of course that last seat takes quite a while to be declared, it’s going to take even longer this time.
JOURNALIST: Senators Wong and Birmingham, can I put it to you that the two-party system’s breaking down and it’s breaking down because of the leaders that people like you have supported since 2007.
WONG: Well, can I first talk about the Senate? We had a much better result in the Senate, consistent with what has been a strong result across South Australia for the Labor Party and we’re holding all our seats, we’re hunt…
JOURNALIST: [Interrupting]…what’s your primary vote?
WONG: I’ll come to that. We’re in the hunt for Hindmarsh, in the Senate we actually got a five per cent swing towards us off the 2013 vote..
JOURNALIST: [Interrupting]…yeah but what’s your primary?
JOURNALIST: [Interrupting]…it’s 28, is it?
WONG: Yes that’s right, 28 per cent. And Nick’s taken three per cent off his vote in the Senate, he’s reduced his vote. But having said that, I would say to you we get – I certainly understand and the Labor Party understands, there are a lot of people out there who are saying, “what you’re saying to us isn’t what we want to hear from you, we’re going to go with a third party” and we have to listen to that so I think a lot went – my experience of campaigning particularly in the last 10 days here in South Australia was the issues we were talking about, you know, health, education were resonating with people but there’s no doubt…
JOURNALIST: [Interrupting]…you were scaring them.
WONG: I don’t agree with that. I mean I think what is scary is what the Government’s policies are doing to Medicare but leaving that aside, the fundamental point you’re making is, you know, is the two-party system breaking down? I’m not sure it’s breaking down but there is a – because you know only two parties can form government, but we do need to do more to listen to what people are saying to us.
JOURNALIST: The two-party system, of course, it will survive because you need two parties, one of them has got to form government. But the reason it’s broken down at the moment, the reason it’s breaking and it’s shattering is because I put it to you Kevin Rudd broke his promise on climate change, he lost a lot of credibility there. Julia Gillard broke her promise on the carbon tax, she lost credibility there but Tony Abbott broke his promises repeatedly in the 2014 Budget, Malcolm Turnbull was all over the place since Christmas this year. Because of the leaders that you two and the other people in your respective parties keep foisting on us and their failure to stick to a promise, to stick to a plan has led to that disillusionment. Now, is any part of that analysis wrong, Penny Wong?
WONG: I think that there’s no doubt people are completely over promises being made prior to an election then being broken afterwards and that’s fair enough. In life we don’t accept that. And that is in fact part of the reason we made a decision quite early on to lay out some difficult decisions – negative gearing, superannuation, the multinational tax…
JOURNALIST: [Interrupting]…back flipping on child care.
WONG: I mean we have – we had to be clear about what the Budget position was and we chose to do that, I mean negative gearing for example has traditionally been, what do people call it? The third rail of Australian politics. So, a lot of people said, “well why would you go out with that early?” and in part it’s what you’re saying, is that if you do get elected you do actually need to be up front with people about what you propose to do but, can I make another point? I don’t think that your analysis correctly identifies all that’s going on. I think what is also going on is what we also see in the US and what we saw in Brexit, that people feel that there’s a lot of change in their lives, a lot of insecurity, there’s a lot of fear about people going forward – jobs, prosperity and so forth – and what we need to do more is to talk about what that change means, recognise the concerns people have and talk to them about what we can do and also what we can’t do, like I think that is a conversation that needs to happen.
JOURNALIST: Senator Simon Birmingham, Brexit was meant to help you because people were going to go to stability and did you totally misread that? Because what Brexit was saying was, “stuff you”, you know? You want stability, you want promises, well here’s you – here’s the big bird, we’re flipping it.
BIRMINGHAM: Well Matthew no doubt there are lessons out of this election campaign to be learned. Some of them are lessons, frankly, that you know, perhaps have been increasingly apparently especially in a state like South Australia where, you know, we have seen strong protest votes going to people like Nick Xenophon since the 2007 election campaign, this is not a completely new phenomenon. David, to your question, it’s been building for a while, perhaps it is now showing a greater tendency across the rest of the country as well. Now yes, the Labor Party faces an election result where their vote is the second lowest in their history, we have had a swing against us and lost a number of seats and a number of votes, we’re still most likely to form government out of this election but we cannot ignore the fact…
JOURNALIST: [Interrupting]…No, no, not a government in your own right, or you think you may?
BIRMINGHAM: Well I think we may well still do that.
JOURNALIST: Okay, but you’ll end up with a Prime Minister who’s gutted. Do you concede that?
BIRMINGHAM: Well we have to work hard – and that includes the Prime Minister, to rebuild that trust with the Australian people, to make sure that in three years’ time…
JOURNALIST: [Interrupting]…do you think he gets that? His speech on election night, calling the cops on Medicare, he didn’t thank any MPs who’d lost their jobs, it was just a rant. He had trouble finding a car to pick him up.
BIRMINGHAM: I’m not sure that’s the case.
JOURNALIST: It was! He was wandering around the streets yesterday [indistinct] someone called Max.
BIRMINGHAM: The Prime Minister has accepted full responsibility as the leader of the party usually would for the election outcome. Of course, 12 months ago I don’t think we were much chance of being re-elected as a government. We are today likely to be the government for the next three years and in three years’ time we will, I trust, have demonstrated to the Australian people that the fears they held for Medicare in this election campaign because of the Labor Party’s scare campaign are unfounded.
JOURNALIST: He said they wouldn’t have worked if they didn’t have foundation. Your Prime Minister admitted yesterday, did he not, that the reason the ‘Mediscare’ campaign – I’m paraphrasing slightly here – worked is that there was form on this, people believed that you would do it.
BIRMINGHAM: That’s not to say that direct lies weren’t being told by the Labor Party but yes, elements of the 2014 Budget continue to dog us right through this election campaign.
JOURNALIST: What about your Budget?
WONG: Yeah! Some of the Medicare stuff was this Budget. I mean, the extension of the freezing of the rebate, which is essentially the GP tax by stealth which people were concerned about, I mean that was a decision that Malcolm Turnbull made. I mean isn’t the problem that Malcolm Turnbull’s got is that he’s lost authority and that he’s lost his mandate?
BIRMINGHAM: No. No. A government elected is a government elected and that government has authority and mandate and what we have to deal with and, you know, the real challenge I think in terms of politics and particularly in an area without the type of significant economic growth that we had a number of years ago that pummelled extra dollars into government coffers and so on. The real challenge is how do we reconcile the fact that I don’t think Australians want to see higher levels of taxation in Australia which the Labor Party were proposing but of course equally they want to see all of these areas of spending maintained.
JOURNALIST: Well you were proposing higher levels of tax as well.
BIRMINGHAM: Matthew we were proposing, in net terms, to be bringing tax down over time.
HANSON-YOUNG: [Talking over]…higher levels of tax being handed to big business, I mean that’s what people rejected. People rejected this idea that, while they were struggling to know whether they were going to pay their mortgage week in week out, whether they could afford to go to the doctor or pay for the kids’ new school uniform at the beginning of each term. We had the Prime Minister saying, “oh it’ll all be OK because we’ll give money to big business and it’ll trickle down”, people rejected that.
JOURNALIST: Sarah Hanson-Young, do the Greens – if they want to be the third force – do they have to take a lesson from the Xenophon book and become more of a centrist Green party? You’re scaring people with your hard left policies.
HANSON-YOUNG: I actually think, in a way, the issues that the Greens have focused on in this campaign and what we will continue obviously to advocate for in the Parliament, are not you know such the ‘extreme’ or the ‘hard left’, the issues of climate change for example – we’ve got to be using that to transition to the new economy and that can be jobs rich, it’s about matching those things up together in fact and when it comes to schools funding or health funding…
JOURNALIST: [Interrupting]…so no lesson for the Greens here? No lessons?
HANSON-YOUNG: Well no I think there are, of course…
JOURNALIST: [Interrupting]…so what are they?
HANSON-YOUNG: I think there are of course lessons for all of us. I think here in South Australia, probably, we really need to make sure we do make that connection between the things we’re talking about when – the challenges of global warming and what that means for transitioning the economy and with that comes an investment in education, with that comes an investment in manufacturing and to sell that clearer.
JOURNALIST: Okay. To the three of you because you will still form a, if you get together on things, the majority voting bloc in the Senate irrespective of Pauline Hanson, Nick Xenophon, the Greens – the other independents, Derryn Hinch, there’s some talk because this is a double dissolution, there are smaller quotas, you have to sort out who gets six year terms and who gets a three year term. Will a deal be done between the Greens and Labor and the Liberal Party to give the minor parties – such as Derryn Hinch and Pauline Hanson – three year terms?
WONG: Well, I want to be really clear about this, that first the division of the Senate between long and short terms is a decision of the second. Second, my view is – and Labor’s view is – how that’s done needs to be done on a principled basis. I don’t think the Australian people particularly in an election year – you asked me a question David, you know, about loss of faith etc. – I think if the major parties get together and do something that is demonstrably unprincipled that would be viewed correctly…
JOURNALIST: [Interrupting]…so what would be a principled approach?
WONG: Well the two basis on which it can be done is either first elected – which is how the Senate has tended to do it – or you can do it, there’s a provision in the Electoral Act which was put in I think in the 1980s which enables another count to be done by the AEC basically as if it were a half Senate count so that would give you an approximation of who would have gotten up at a half Senate election.
JOURNALIST: So what you’re saying is you won’t gang up on the independents?
WONG: Those stories in the paper – I can tell you, I’m the Senate leader and those stories that suggest Labor and the Liberals are having conversations, they are not conversations I am part of and I don’t know where those journalists got those stories but my view is you have to approach these matters on a principled basis and I think…
JOURNALIST: [Interrupting]…of those two ways of resolving, which is the most principled?
WONG: I think either of them at least have a logic to them.
JOURNALIST: Okay, Simon Birmingham.
BIRMINGHAM: They are certainly the two options. My understanding is that after the last double dissolution election which was way back in the 1980s the Senate did consider the merits of, I guess, the way it had been historically been handled which was a pathway through of saying, “well the AEC declares election in a certain order, we will just take the first six for six years and the second six for three years” versus the idea which resulted in the amendment to the Electoral Act that they might actually re-throw the ballot, count them again in a manner or essentially change the computer program in a manner that enabled them to say, “these are people if we were electing only six Senators would have been elected”.
JOURNALIST: So what does that mean for say a Pauline Hanson?
BIRMINGHAM: Honestly Matthew, I don’t know.
WONG: [Talking over] [indistinct]…count, but essentially…
JOURNALIST: She could maybe get three years.
WONG: Or six.
BIRMINGHAM: She could get three or six, I don’t know.
JOURNALIST: Derryn Hinch is going to go, “shame, shame, shame” if he doesn’t, he’s going to take them to the High Court if he gets dudded.
BIRMINGHAM: It needs to be fair, it needs to be principled. That is certainly the outcome that I would expect to occur and you know, I’m not aware – as Penny said – of any discussions occurring between the major parties to construct some deal on this.
JOURNALIST: Senators thank you for coming in, Senator Simon Birmingham for the Liberal Party, Senator Penny Wong for the Labor Party and down the phone line Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young. Thank you for your time.