Interview on ABC 891, Breakfast with Ali Clarke and David Bevan
Richard Di-Natale suspended from the Senate; Julia Banks; Drilling in the bight




Ali Clarke: It’s a good morning to Mark Butler, Member for Port Adelaide.


Mark Butler: Good morning, how are you going?


Ali Clarke: Good. Sarah Hanson-Young, Greens Senator for South Australia are you with us?


Sarah Hanson-Young: Good morning, thanks for having me.


Ali Clarke: And we’re just waiting to hear from Simon Birmingham, Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment. Actually he’s not answering at the moment so we’ll get straight into it.


David Bevan: I imagine he’s got quite a bit on his plate at the moment.


Mark Butler: I’ve got his proxy actually he’s just emailed it through to me.


David Bevan: No he joins us now, good morning Simon Birmingham.


Simon Birmingham: Good morning everybody, sorry to disappoint Mark.


David Bevan: We’ll come to you, Simon Birmingham and Mark Butler, in just a moment. Particularly Simon Birmingham I want to put to you comments made by Dennis Shanahan in The Australian today about where your party finds itself. But Sarah Hanson-Young, yesterday Julia Banks left the Liberal Party sighting that the Liberals had been captured by right wing forces but also a lot has been said about the Liberal Party not embracing women, not giving women safe seats. Rebekha Sharkie was making similar comments to Sabra Lane just a few moments ago. You find yourself, yet again, the focus of attention and the issue of the way women are treated in the Senate. We are of course referring to remarks that have been made to you by a Coalition Senator.


Sarah Hanson-Young: That’s right. I think there is obviously a problem with how some men treat their positions in Parliament with very little respect. That is little respect for their constituents and little respect for their female colleagues. I’m sorry but I’m not going to put up with it anymore. I’ve sat in that Parliament for ten years and the situation has gotten worse. The behaviour of some people has gotten worse. It’s time we started calling them out and naming and shaming them. I must admit I was pretty angry yesterday and I was pretty shaken by what happened in the Senate.


Ali Clarke: For those that did miss it here is Barry O’Sullivan who is a Queensland LNP Senator and he was speaking in Parliament yesterday afternoon…So that was your leader, Greens leader Richard Di Natale. He was actually then suspended from the Senate because he refused to withdraw his comments after he called Senator Barry O’Sullivan a grub and an absolute pig and a disgrace. Do you feel let down that it was the Greens leader suspended and not Barry O’Sullivan because he just withdrew comments and keeps continuing on?


Sarah Hanson-Young: I do think there is a problem when people can continue to behave badly and there are no repercussions for them but if you say something that is technically unparliamentarily, whether it is in defence of a colleague or not, you’re the one who cops it. I stand by Richard Di Natale’s position not to withdraw his comments. Frankly, Senator O’Sullivan is a constant reoffender. I’ve been on the end of his bullying and intimidation for many years. I know many other female Senators have as well and we are sick of it. From here on in we are going to stand up to it and other decent men in that place, and I know there is plenty of them, Simon is there, Mark I know in the House, there are plenty of decent men and together we need to find a way to get past this to lift the standard for everybody. Treating women better in politics is going to mean that everybody gets treated better and ultimately the voters will be better off.     


David Bevan: Liberal Senator Simon Birmingham, were you impressed with Senator Barry O’Sullivan and what do you say to Julia Banks and her comments regarding your party?


Simon Birmingham: David, no I was not impressed. I sit at the opposite end of the chamber to Barry and Sarah. There seems to regularly be a cacophony of exchanges happening across the other end of the chamber that inhabits the crossbench and the National Party and so on, much of it frankly appears to be pretty unedifying and I encourage everybody to lift their game and to actually stick to the issues and perhaps reflect the standing orders of not interjecting and not engaging in those sorts of ways. Barry O’Sullivan has lost his pre-selection. He is not going to be an endorsed candidate for the National Party in Queensland at the next election. That perhaps means that he becomes even harder to influence from time to time in terms of what he says or does, but the Party has taken its action and steps up there. In terms of issues of how Parliament conducts itself I think the Parliament could do well, I thank Sarah for the reference, but it could do well if we saw a lot more of perhaps policy that I think on this program Mark and I, when we are both on together take, we largely stick to the issues and steer away from the personal. I would urge everyone to do that a lot more in the House, in the Senate, in Question Time, in the rest of debate, and in their engagement with one another. 


David Bevan:  Mark Butler, time is precious for us. I just take it for granted you are not impressed with Barry O’Sullivan either?


Mark Butler: I’m going to veer into the personal, despite of what Simon says – this man is a pig. He’s a particular offender but he’s not the only offender in the Senate. I think all of us are getting sick to death of Sarah having to put up with this. I completely get why Richard did what he did and behaved the way he did yesterday. There are conventions in the Senate that I think everyone sort of understands up there, you abide by the President’s ruling and I think all of the crossbenchers, Centre Alliance Senators, Tim Storer and so on, as well as the Labor Party supported the President’s ruling. But at some point enough is enough and I think it is incumbent of the leaders of the Liberal and National parties to start pulling not just this fellow Barry O’Sullivan in, and I accept that is going to be difficult because he has been deselected, but there are a number of them, who as I understand it, continue to make these references. Enough is enough. The Liberal Party has got to recognise over the last several weeks this is starting to become a very serious brand problem for them. So, if only for that reason, from the top down they need to start pulling these people in and stop this behaviour. It is just completely unacceptable.


David Bevan: Simon Birmingham you know when you get an opinion piece from the political editor of The Australian that it is a case of apocalypse now, the stench of panic grips Liberals. It’s goodnight Irene. You are now just in the position of saving what furniture you can get; it’s every man and woman for themselves.


Simon Birmingham: Well John Hewson had an unlosable election, Mark Latham thought he had an unlosable election and Bill Shorten may think he has an unlosable election but the lessons of history are that unlosable elections are often lost. We are not about to stop fighting. In terms of the next election we want to make sure that people understand that our Government has delivered most of the things we promised. We promised we would fix and balance the Budget, we have. We promised we would grow the economy, we have. A million plus jobs, more than 100,000 jobs for young Australians a record number ever created in the history of our economy last year in terms of new jobs for young people. We’ve lowered taxes on income tax. We’ve lowered taxes on small businesses and medium businesses. We’ve secured the boarders in terms of stopping the flow of boat people to Australia.


Ali Clarke: If you’ve had so much success though Simon Birmingham then why are people leaving?


Simon Birmingham: I think the politics has been pretty ordinary. We’ve had great success on the policy and the things that actually influence and impact the lives of Australians and make our country better but our handling of the politics has been frankly pretty ordinary. Now what we will urge people at the election to reflect on is the things that matter and impact to them in their lives. Where the Member for Chisholm sits in the Parliament of Australia doesn’t impact on Mum or Dad or Grandpa or Grandma or anybody else getting up around Adelaide and getting off to their job. They have a job, they are going to be paying less tax and their job is more secure because small business is paying les tax.  


David Bevan: But is it about you have got the politics wrong or is it something much deeper? Again quoting Dennis Shanahan he says the worst of it, for the Liberal Party, is that there are equal and opposing camps both convinced the Party must be first destroyed to enable it to be rebuilt in their own contradictory image. This is not about politics it goes deeper about the heart and soul of the Liberal Party. 


Simon Birmingham: I reject that analysis and I reject it in part because despite some of those personality squabbles that may have ensued – we’ve got all of those good policies I was talking about done. The country is in a much better place after five plus years of Liberal Government then it was when we came to office.


David Bevan: On policy Julie Bishop says you ought to go back to the National Energy Guarantee and presumably she applauds Mark Butler for adopting it?


Simon Birmingham: I think if you take a close look at what Julie said she is fairly critical of the extreme targets that Mark Butler and the Labor Party have set and the threat that they pose to higher electricity prices and economic growth in the future. It’s not the only place where Labor’s policies will see higher taxes, on people’s wages, higher taxes on retirement savings for people, higher taxes in terms of other investment streams, all of that is going to dampen our economy and mean there is less prospect for jobs in the future. That’s the choice we have to have people focus on in May next year, when we have an election, after they’ve seen a surplus Budget handed down for the first time essentially since the Howard years. Where we’ve actually got things back to the stage we expect them to be under a Liberal government – a balanced Budget, lower taxes and jobs growing. 


Ali Clarke: But Simon Birmingham even though we do vote for a Party, we’re not voting for a specific person to lead the country, do you not see that people go to an election and vote for leadership. At the moment it is leadership in the Liberal Party and leaders set the culture from the top that maybe people aren’t connecting with and don’t see as people they want to vote for?


Simon Birmingham: I think most Australians vote for governments because they want governments to look after their interests and their lives. That is what matters. My time here in Canberra, I wake up every day, I think about as I go through the day how it is the policy decisions I’m making can make the lives of Australians better – can secure their jobs, jobs for their kids.


Ali Clarke: That’s you, what about the rest of them?


Simon Birmingham: I think that is overwhelmingly not only what the team has thought about and delivered in terms of lower taxes, balanced budgets, jobs growth, secure boarders, national security. It’s a Government that has an incredibly good track record of achievement and yes it is incredibly frustrating to be a member of the Government and deal with all of these questions about politics and personalities when the policies and outcomes are bloody good.


David Bevan: Mark Butler he’s waving not drowning?


Mark Butler: Simon’s problem or the problem with the Government is that it is not just about politics, it is about policy. That is really the point Dennis Shanahan was making on the front page of The Australian this morning. This is now a Government that has a very deep philosophical divide running through the middle of it. It is reminiscent of the Labor Party of the 1950s and 60s. So philosophically divided that it is incapable, leaving aside the personality disputes between Turnbull and Abbott or anyone else, it is just incapable of presenting a united front. It is incapable of presenting a position that appeals to Australian people on schools, on hospitals, and on energy policy. It keeps getting dragged into these ideological wars within its own Coalition party room.


David Bevan: Do you think things are so bad for the Coalition that the Labor Party could pick up Christopher Pyne’s seat of Sturt?


Mark Butler: I think Simon was right early on in his remarks that no election is in the bag, no election is unlosable or unwinnable. We are very focused on just trying to deal with policy, putting together a platform of issues and policies that appeal to the Australian people. That’s what we’ve been doing over the last several days while this mob has been fighting itself. We announced our energy policy last week, over the last several hours we released a domestic violence policy to restore $18 million of cuts that this Government made to family violence programs. That is our focus. The problem this Government has is not a personality problem, or a politics problem, it is a deep philosophical divide as Dennis Shanahan pointed out, between the conservative and moderate camps that can’t be resolved.


David Bevan: Let’s finish on an issue of policy. Mark Butler are you happy for oil companies to drill in the Great Australian Bight?


Mark Butler: What I want to see is a very proper process of consideration and assessment of the plan that this latest company, because there have been a number that have gone through this process, run by the independent regulator NOPSEMA.


David Bevan: So if the independent regulator signs up, we’re pressed for time, if the independent regulator signs off and says it’s okay – you’re okay with that?


Mark Butler: What I was about to say is I think everyone was quite shocked by the spill modelling that was released, which showed the absolute worst case scenario and this is what we should be focused on in a case like this, a development in a largely pristine ocean at the bottom of our continent. The worst case scenario is deeply shocking and we are watching closely the work NOPSEMA will be undertaking to consider this application in that context.


Ali Clarke: Sarah Hanson-Young?


Sarah Hanson-Young: We shouldn’t have drilling in the Bight. The worst case scenario would be devastating for South Australia but we also don’t need it. The idea that we would in ten years’ time be pulling out oil at a commercial rate and shipping it overseas to be burnt for fuel and energy, at a time where we have to tackle climate change, is madness. South Australia can do better than this. South Australians don’t want this and the sooner the Labor and Liberal party’s get used to that the better. You’ve got to stop it once and for all.


David Bevan: The plane you flew in recently, the car you drove wasn’t solar powered was it? It did have petrol in it?


Sarah Hanson-Young: Sure David but we don’t need another oil well in the Great Australian Bight. There is plenty of fuel around. We are transitioning and we have to if we want to save the planet from dangerous global warming.


Ali Clarke: Look we do have to leave it there.


Simon Birmingham: One quick observation, petrol prices are high because oil prices are high. Having more oil would be a good thing to get petrol prices down.


David Bevan: You think a drill in the Bight would lower oil prices?


Mark Butler: Oil prices are in free fall.


Simon Birmingham: No the fact that Sarah says we don’t need more oil or otherwise…


Sarah Hanson-Young: None of this oil is going to stay in Australia mate. It’s all going to go overseas, with the profits.


Simon Birmingham: Ultimately we’ve been drilling offshore in Australia, the Bass Strait, the North West Shelf and elsewhere off the country for many, many years with tough environmental conditions in place and as long as those conditions are met then South Australia shouldn’t be shutting its doors.


Ali Clarke: Thank you very much, Simon Birmingham Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment, Mark Butler Member for Port Adelaide and Sarah Hanson-Young Greens Senator for SA.