Interview on ABC Radio Adelaide, Breakfast with Ali Clarke and David Bevan
Topics: Newspoll; Universal basic income; Live exports

David Bevan: Good morning to Penny Wong, Labor Senator and Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs.

Penny Wong: Morning, Ali. Morning, David.

David Bevan: Sarah Hanson-Young, Greens Senator for South Australia. Good morning to you.

Sarah Hanson-Young: Good morning.

David Bevan: And Simon Birmingham, Liberal Senator and Federal Education Minister. Good morning to you.

Simon Birmingham: Good morning, everybody.

David Bevan: Simon Birmingham, let’s clear this up. We know you’re in the Senate, but don’t let that get in the way. Would you one day like to go to the House of Representatives and be Prime Minister, because Scott Morrison, Josh Frydenberg and Peter Dutton have all said: ‘well, we won’t rule it out.’

Simon Birmingham: Absolutely, emphatically, definitively not.

David Bevan: Why not? You’d be a good Prime Minister.

Simon Birmingham: That’s very flattering, David, very flattering indeed. But much as I love my job and I’m not afraid of all of the scrutiny and everything else that comes with it, I’m not sure I’d want to subject my family or anything else to the many additional challenges that come with being the Prime Minister.

David Bevan: Is it helpful that people like Scott Morrison, Josh Frydenberg and Peter Dutton are even publicly entertaining this?

Simon Birmingham: Well, first point is, they have all said very clearly that they support and expect Malcolm Turnbull to lead the Liberal Party to the next election.

David Bevan: But challengers always do, challengers always do.

Simon Birmingham: Second point I’d make, though, is you and many in the media will criticise politicians when they don’t give a straight answer to a question. These guys have been asked, ‘would you like to lead the party one day?’ They’ve said, ‘Yes, one day, I would like to lead the party. I would like the opportunity to step from being a Cabinet Minister to being the Prime Minister.’ Good luck to them, they’re all incredibly capable and able colleagues, I have enormous respect for each of them. But, their support for Malcolm Turnbull is absolutely clear cut, and this is not about a challenge. This is not in any way close to that. This is about people giving honest answers about the very long term.

Ali Clarke: So then, essentially, would you prefer Barnaby Joyce wasn’t as straight talking? Because he’s set a public goal, which ends up being a target on the Prime Minister’s back if he doesn’t start to get the party back together by the end of the year.

Simon Birmingham: Well, I think colleagues always need to look at the contribution that they’ve made and whether that’s a helpful contribution, and that’s not just about one comment but also over a period of time.

Ali Clarke: So, if you mess up, butt out?

Simon Birmingham: Well, I think there’s always a period of time for a bit of introspection as to your own performance.

Ali Clarke: Okay. So he needs more time to be quiet about it and deal with the fires that he may have helped create in his own backyard, is what you’re saying?

Simon Birmingham: I’ll let others look at the words that I’ve used, but you know, really, we as a government in terms of Malcolm and the senior ministers you’ve cited, myself, we’re all focused very much on how we build on the strength of the job creation record that we’ve got, how we make sure that we deliver more into the pockets of Australian families through our childcare reforms that will come into place in July, by returning benefits to Australians now that we have a trajectory where the Budget deficit is going to be under control, and we can look to lower taxes further. And these are things that Australians expect us to do, and that’s exactly what we will keep doing each and every day, between now and the next election in a little over a year’s time. Notwithstanding the fact that I’m sure many others will like to talk about polls or otherwise, the leadership of the government will focus on the interests of the Australian people.

David Bevan: But there must be people in your party who think- who are appalled at what Barnaby Joyce has done. I mean, the chutzpah of the man after the train wreck that he’s delivered to the Coalition in the last six months, and then he turns around and gives the Prime Minister- ‘if you haven’t turned things around, Malcolm, by Christmas: well, you really ought to be looking at yourself.’

Simon Birmingham: Well, you can be appalled or you can get on with your job.

David Bevan: But are you appalled?

Simon Birmingham: And I’m going to get on with the job. Well, I’m going to get on with my job, David, because that’s the important thing for me to do and that, for me, is to make sure that come July, many Australian families will be thousands of dollars a year better off, because we’re investing more in providing support to childcare by targeting it to the people who are on the lowest incomes, working the longest hours. And they’re the types of reforms that Australians expect a good government to deliver, and that’s what we’re doing.

Ali Clarke: Well, Penny Wong, you’ve been through this type of de-stabilisation with the Labor Party. And sure, you wanted to focus on things like Simon Birmingham’s talking about. Would you like us to move onto other topics, or are you happy here, sort of, licking your lips?

Penny Wong: I was sitting here listening to him, thinking: oh, it’s a tough gig, isn’t it, when you’ve got a lot of colleagues who I think have been pretty clear that their hats are in the ring. Obviously, I’m not going to- you know, Barnaby’s taken a particular view and as you said, put up another political hurdle for Malcolm Turnbull. Look, I think the more important policy question is this: what’s become painfully clear is Malcolm had a plan to take down a Prime Minister, but he didn’t have a plan for government, and that’s becoming increasingly clear over this last period of time, and after 30 Newspolls. And that’s something that the government is grappling with, that he hasn’t projected the sort of economic plan that he promised. He hasn’t projected consistency. I don’t think people know what he stands for, and I think that’s reflected in the response to him.

David Bevan: That’s a great line.

Penny Wong: Which one?

David Bevan: He had a plan for taking down a Prime Minister, but not a plan for replacing him. Did you come up…

Penny Wong: Not a plan for government.

Simon Birmingham: It’s not an accurate line, David.

David Bevan: Did you come up with- just a moment. Penny Wong, did you think of that yourself or was that workshopped by some spin doctors?

Penny Wong: They are my words. I know that you might think that, you know, I might not be capable of that, David. But…

David Bevan: No, no, no. I’ve got great respect for your capability. And that’s why I asked. Did you think of that?

Penny Wong: Well, I think it’s the truth. I mean, look, I don’t want to sort of be – Simon’s in a difficult position and I’m sure you’ll make him dance a bit more, but I think that most Australians don’t know what Malcolm Turnbull stands for, know what his plan is. And you know, I remember the press conference, and Malcolm; you know, he can speak well. He talked about the need for economic vision and he talked about: we have no compelling economic narratives, the people have made their mind up, and I think since then he’s been an ongoing disappointment to many people. Including, frankly, many voters in the centre who- many swinging voters.

David Bevan: Do you think Malcolm Turnbull is in a similar position to the one that Kevin Rudd found himself in after he jettisoned his commitments over climate change? I mean, you were there in Europe when he made that decision, and it always seemed to me that from that point onwards, there was a downward trajectory for Kevin Rudd because he’d abandoned something that he told us was really, really important. Was that your experience? Is that what you think happened there?

Penny Wong: Look, I think I- actually it was made in Australia after we got back, and there was obviously a big internal debate about that, and subsequently come out quite clearly with the position that various people took, including me. I do think that if you tell people that something is very important to you and then you walk away from it, there’s a problem, and I think Kevin himself has acknowledged that that was his great mistake. I think the problem for Malcolm Turnbull is he’s done it on a number of things, but also, I think this government’s divisions are manifesting in policy. I mean, you look at- we’ve had a lot of discussions about energy over the last couple of years on this show. Energy policy is being driven by division inside the Liberal Party, and we’ve seen that with Josh Frydenberg today. So, this is an ongoing fracturing of the government, ongoing divisions, leaks from Cabinet as you see on the front pages of the papers today. And I think a Prime Minister who is increasingly adrift from his Cabinet and from any sense of purpose.

Ali Clarke: So, Penny Wong, would you like to be Prime Minister one day?

Penny Wong: I’ve been asked that many times, and the answer is emphatically no.

Ali Clarke: Okay. You’re in the middle of Super Wednesday here. We’re coming up to a quarter to nine. That was Penny Wong, Labor Senator. We also have Simon Birmingham, Liberal Senator, on the line, and Sarah Hanson-Young, Greens Senator for South Australia.

Ali Clarke: Now, Sarah Hanson-Young, do you support basic universal income?

Sarah Hanson-Young: Well, I think what we- I do, and I think what we need to be looking at, from all sides of government, all sides of the Parliament, is what we’re going to do with the changing nature of work. We know, with automation and unemployment rising, that the welfare system we’ve got is not fit for purpose, that it’s outdated. We don’t want to see young people graduating from high school or even TAFE or university and then there’s nowhere for them to go. A UBI has to be considered in the broader context of how we’re going to make people job-ready and job-capable. So, they can adapt as the workplace changes.

David Bevan: But how does giving everyone, whether or not they’ve got a job, $20,000-odd a year – how does that help solve the welfare problem?

Sarah Hanson-Young: Look, David, I think the point is here, and the reason Richard spoke about this at the Press Club last week, was because we have to start having the conversation. I don’t have all the answers. The Greens don’t have this policy ironed out. What we’re wanting is to start a conversation about making our social security system fit for purpose in the future.

David Bevan: But how- and I know Waleed Aly, who’s a brain on a stick, thinks this is a fantastic idea and we all ought to be thinking about it, but if you could explain to us: how does giving everybody, even if they’ve got money, $20,000-odd a year, how does that solve a welfare problem? Because aren’t you just spreading your resources even thinner?

Sarah Hanson-Young: Not necessarily, David. What this is about is we’re having to have a rethink about how we look after everyone, and make sure that as the workforce changes, as certain jobs won’t exist anymore, how do we make sure people aren’t left behind? And rather than just saying: oh, everyone should just get on the dole; we need to consider that some people’s nature of work is going to change, what’s available is going to change. But we shouldn’t just say: oh, well bad luck those people are left on the pile to fend for themselves.

David Bevan: No, but the whole point of a universal basic income is it is not- hang on. But the whole point of a universal basic income is that it’s not means-tested, yes?

Sarah Hanson-Young: Well, it’s a…

David Bevan: So how can giving somebody who’s got money …

Sarah Hanson-Young: No, look David, I think this is about the fact that there are many different models and ways to do this, and you could choose different cohorts of people – you could say young people deserve to have access to a universal wage so that, whether they’re studying or training, they have a liveable income to do that on. It may be that senior Australians, older people who just can’t find enough hours to stay in the workforce …

David Bevan: Yeah, but that’s called a pension, and it’s means-tested.

Sarah Hanson-Young: David, there are different ways of doing this, and what we’re asking for is a genuine, robust conversation. We’re not saying: here’s the policy, slap it down, it’s going to cost this much, this is how much everybody’s going to get. What we’re saying is: politicians who are avoiding the changing workforce are burying their heads in the sand, and it’s going to be the people who are left behind.

David Bevan: Alright, well, let’s ask- at 12 minutes to nine, let’s ask Penny Wong.

Penny Wong, Labor senator, do you think that there’s merit in a universal basic income?

Penny Wong: I’m not actually quite sure what Richard Di Natale is proposing, to be frank. I mean, can we start with, I think, two principles. One is we are, I think, dealing with increasing inequality is an imperative, and I think Labor’s put a range of policies on the table which seek to do that. We do see that as a key driver of how we would operate, were we to win government. I think the second issue is the fragmentation of the workforce, the increasing casualisation of the workforce, and how do we ensure that the promise that the Australian people have had over successive decades, that you get a decent day’s pay for a day’s work, and that you can gain security of income and security of retirement income over your working life is fulfilled.

David Bevan: But do you think it’s a good idea to give everybody $20,000-odd, regardless of their income?

Penny Wong: No, I think there are real- Chris Bowen has said he doesn’t support it. I don’t understand how that could be funded; I don’t understand precisely how that is the best way of dealing with the two issues I’ve raised. I have to say, I read Richard Di Natale’s speech, or the reports of it – I have to say I didn’t read all of it – more as a reflection on where he needs to go in terms of his leadership. There’s obviously some internal ideological divisions within the Greens, and this was I suppose what you’d regard as particularly a play to the left wing or whatever they might be called within the Greens, as a policy offering.

Ali Clarke: We might just now go to Simon Birmingham, Liberal senator. Earlier this week, we spoke to the South Australian Minister Tim Whetstone, and we were talking about live exporting, because so many of us saw on television. sheep here from South Australia just treated and suffering abhorrent conditions in the live export trade. What are you going to do about this?

Simon Birmingham: Well, we are, of course, taking serious steps in that area. We’re not going to have kneejerk reactions like a ban, because that would be punishing the farmers whose income is derived and who generate export income for our country, but who are doing the right thing, but we are absolutely making sure that the regulators step up their action to guarantee the safety of animals. But I do, Ali, also want to respond to some of what Penny had to say before. We have delivered, in spades, in terms of economic leadership that has established confidence across the Australian economy; that’s generated more than 420,000 jobs over the last year; that is the longest consecutive run of monthly growth in employment statistics on record. That’s what’s happened under Malcolm Turnbull’s leadership, and we’re working very hard to continue that. But you also have in Malcolm Turnbull a leader who, in contrast to Bill Shorten, is able to tackle the complex challenges we face in areas like energy policy. That’s what Josh Frydenberg will be speaking about at the Press Club today – the National Energy Guarantee – how we meet our emissions reduction challenges, but also …

David Bevan: Okay, but what are you going to do about the sheep?

Ali Clarke: Yeah, what will the Prime Minister do about that under his leadership?

Simon Birmingham: Yeah, well, I’m just- I wasn’t going to let you give Penny a long kick on Malcolm Turnbull without responding to that, because I think it’s very important people understand what has been achieved under this government and what we are continuing to work to achieve in terms of that economic growth.

David Bevan: So we’ve got that. What are you going to do about the sheep?

Simon Birmingham: Now, in terms of live animal exports, we’ve made sure that Australia’s regulatory standards are world-leading in this regard, and they have lifted standards for many countries as a result, because we take an approach that doesn’t just stop at the Australian border, but seeks to follow the whole way through the export chain and the production chain. Obviously, the incident that was highlighted on Four Corners earlier this week is a tragic incident, and it’s one that we take incredibly seriously, and we will get to the bottom of how it is that occurred, and if there needs to be extra regulatory action, then I’m confident there will be.

David Bevan: Look, it just can’t be that hard, can it? If you’ve got proper regulation of this, the inspector turns up before the sheep are put on board, and he says to the captain: how many sheep are you going to put in here? There’s no way I’m going to let you put that many sheep on this boat, heading off to Arabia.

Ali Clarke: In the heat.

David Bevan: Really, it’s not rocket science.

Simon Birmingham: Well, it probably shouldn’t need to be rocket science, and indeed, the boat that is in WA is still undergoing inspection to make sure that we get it right, and get it right we will. But we’re not going to engage in the type of kneejerk reaction that just applies a ban, punishes then a whole bunch of innocent farmers who’ve done absolutely nothing wrong, and hurts Australia’s export income.

Ali Clarke: Okay. We do have to leave it there because of time. Simon Birmingham, Liberal senator; Sarah Hanson-Young, Greens senator for South Australia; and Penny Wong, Labor senator – thank you all for your time.