Interview on ABC Radio Adelaide Breakfast with Matthew Abraham and David Bevan
Topics: Same sex marriage; Energy affordability; NSW Greens
Matthew Abraham: Good morning to Sarah Hanson-Young – Green Senator from South Australia.
Sarah Hanson-Young: Good morning. Thanks for having me.
Matthew Abraham: Spokesperson on finance and trade for her party.
Mark Butler – Labor Member for Port Adelaide, Shadow Minister for Climate Change and Energy. Welcome, Mark Butler.
Mark Butler: Good morning, gentlemen and Sarah, and Simon if he’s here.
David Bevan: He is.
Matthew Abraham: And Simon Birmingham – Liberal Senator for South Australia and Federal Education Minister, nonetheless. Good morning, Simon Birmingham.
Simon Birmingham: Good morning, everybody; great to be with you.
Matthew Abraham: Simon Birmingham, as a right-hand man for Malcolm Turnbull, do you believe he should now sack Christopher Pyne as Leader of the House?
Simon Birmingham: Oh, Matthew, it’s our last time together, couldn’t you have started with a nice question?
Matthew Abraham: No that is a nice question. You should see the others we’ve got for you.
Simon Birmingham: No, is the answer there. Look I realise that there’s all sorts of titillation that people derive from secret recordings of speeches and so on, but there’s nothing terribly new or remarkable in what Christopher said compared to what he said previously. His support for same-sex marriage has long been on the public record as has mine …
Matthew Abraham: [Interrupts] Well, why is everybody so excited about it? Why are the conservatives now asking that he should go? In your party?
Simon Birmingham: I think people get all very excited about the idea of a secret recording and what this might mean and so on, but …
Matthew Abraham: [Talks over] It’s what he said, though
Simon Birmingham: … [indistinct] take a bit of a chill-pill, and recognise that, you know, recognise that we actually have, you know, a clear policy on this issue, nobody’s proposing to change that policy, and the rest of the Government is seriously focused on other issues – schools funding that we’ve just got through, issues of infrastructure in Melbourne that [indistinct] …
Matthew Abraham: [Talks over] Why is he telling members of the Black Hand – and isn’t that a great name for a group of people? – why is he telling them that they are close to getting marriage equality?
Simon Birmingham: Well, hopefully we’ll see a possibly of giving the Australian people the say that we promised we would give them – and that’s what we’re all working towards.
Matthew Abraham: What, soon?
Simon Birmingham: Hopefully.
Matthew Abraham: How soon?
David Bevan: You mean the plebiscite, though, I think his remarks have been attributed to what will happen in Parliament.
Simon Birmingham: Well, I don’t think Christopher gave any particular direction there. All I’ve heard him say is reinforcing his views in relation to policy on the plebiscite, and that is of course what we will stick to.
Matthew Abraham: Sooner rather than later?
Simon Birmingham: I hope so.
Matthew Abraham: Yeah look, bottom line here …
Simon Birmingham: [Talks over] Ultimately, this plebiscite could be held very quickly if the numbers came round in the Parliament to support it; and really, the only thing that is standing in the way of getting this issue done, dusted and resolved, is the obstruction of the Senate to dealing with this plebiscite issue.
Sarah Hanson-Young: That’s not really fair, I don’t think, Birmo. And the reality is the person and the people standing in the way of marriage equality are those members of both your party and rightly, you know, to be fair, some members of the Labor Party, who don’t want to see this issue happen, despite the fact that the majority of the public and the community want it to happen. And I understand that there is a differing opinion about how it should happen; the Liberal Party have a policy around the plebiscite, the rest of us say let’s get on and have a free vote in the Parliament and we could win it.
Can I just say I actually have a lot of sympathy for Christopher in this; I think he’s done the right thing in terms of speaking out for marriage equality. And it’s good policy, it’s the right policy – the community want it.
Matthew Abraham: Now he’s really worried. Now he’s really worried.
Sarah Hanson-Young: Well, you know, credit where credit’s due. And I think …
Matthew Abraham: [Interrupts] [Indistinct] pack his bags.
Sarah Hanson-Young: [Laughs] I hope that’s not the case. I think- the truth here is that the community have come around to marriage equality – they want to get this done. They see it as a festering sore within the Liberal Party, and they wish the Liberal Party would just get over it. Come election time, if there isn’t a clearer, fairer position from the Liberal Party, I think they’re going to face backlash from the community, from the public. People across all sides – whether they are Liberal Party voters, Labor voters or Green voters – want to see marriage equality done.
Matthew Abraham: Mark Butler, Labor MP for Port Adelaide, you must be loving this. I mean, Albo’s a distant memory now; you just have to sit back – the Greens are pulling themselves apart over Lee Rhiannon and the Libs are pulling themselves apart over Chris Pyne. Tony Abbott’s outlaid a six-point plan for Australia.
Mark Butler: I was reminded of that song from Reservoir Dogs – clowns to the left of me, jokers to the right.
Mark Butler: But I think the question of party stuff is a bit overblown. You know, I’ve been to a lot of party conferences, unfortunately, over the decades and a bit of factional triumphalism at about 1am after a few drinks is hardly a rare thing. What’s really extraordinary is the response from the Conservatives to Christopher’s comments, you know, really, really has lifted the scab on a party that not only has some very deep personality feuds, but the problem the Coalition has for the country I think really is that there are deep philosophical divides within the Coalition about how Australia should move forward. And those have all been uncovered again with Christopher’s rather triumphalist speech at the Liberal Party Council.
Matthew Abraham: Simon Birmingham, bottom line here, if there are any moves made against Christopher Pyne – either in his seat or in his position as leader of government business in the house – any moves on him and all hell will truly break out. You would not want to cross Christopher Pyne.
Simon Birmingham: Ah well, I think that everybody recognises that Christopher is a hard-working, energetic leader of the House. He is a strong contributor to the Government, he gets out there and tells the Government’s messages, and really I’m sure what he wants to be doing at present is talking about record investment in Defence Industry…
David Bevan: But he’s not, is he? Would you- Simon Birmingham, would you ever cross Chris Pyne?
Simon Birmingham: Well Christopher is a good friend of mine, and …
Sarah Hanson-Young: [Laughter]
David Bevan: Keep him that way. My advice: keep him that way.
Simon Birmingham: … [indistinct] ever crossing one another. But I ….
David Bevan: [Talks over] Simon Birmingham, do you think that people must be screaming at the radio- but you- I know it’s an important point. It’s an important point. Look at a story in The Australian this morning from somebody who seems to know what he’s talking about. In three days’ time, South Australia will have the highest wholesale power prices in the world – overtaking Denmark – on whatever measure you use. And here is the Liberal Party again; Tony Abbott, Malcolm Turnbull, Chris Pyne, and also the Greens and the Labor Party, same-sex marriage, you know. Would that be care factor zero if you’re trying to pay your power bill, honestly?
Simon Birmingham: Well I think for many Australians it is a topic greeted with more of a shrug of the shoulder. It’s very important to some people, and for lots of people it’s something where they go; yeah, whatever. Let it be if that’s what people want. And so- but I would emphasise to you that I don’t think Malcolm Turnbull is spending much, if any, time worrying about Christopher’s speech last Friday night, or otherwise. He’s getting on with important reforms and important policy issues, and that includes dealing with energy issues which are critical for the future. And precisely that point, Matthew, that I was about to make before, that important point was every senior member of the Government, as far as I am concerned and aware, is focused on issues that matter to people; far more than they are worried about all of this insider talk that the media seems to have become so infatuated with yet again.
Sarah Hanson-Young: But I think this is the problem, that unless the Liberal Party deal with in giving their members a free vote, go to the- whether you do that before the next election or go to the election with that position, this isn’t going to go away. It does de-rail a week’s worth of other stories for you, or debate. And I say this to someone who’s been campaigning for marriage equality for a long time. We know, Birmo, that people in the Parliament overwhelmingly support this, and yet people- that view and the support in the community is being denied because there are right rumps in your party who want to continue this as a festering sore, as a break on Malcolm Turnbull.
Matthew Abraham: Sarah Hanson-Young, you talk about the electorate- there’ll be a backlash against the Liberals over marriage equality. If you don’t do something quickly about power prices, people are going to lining up with baseball bats at the next election to hit the Greens. Because a lot of the blame is going to be shafted – rightly or wrongly – at renewable energies.
Sarah Hanson-Young: Well look, I do think we have to get this sorted. We know that, of course, renewables- new renewables are now cheaper than the new fossil fuel generation, we know that. But of course, unless we get the rule-set properly and fairly – such as ensuring that battery storage can have a value in the market, we need to- there’s this thing called the five minute rule – we’ve got to get that done. Malcolm Turnbull could do that today if he wanted.
David Bevan: But is it clear that the people who’ve been promoting renewable energy did it in a way which did not make the market stable; so concerned about getting those windmills up, getting the solar panels on. Nobody bothered to look at creating a stable market.
Sarah Hanson-Young: Look, and I think the key issue in all of this is there hasn’t been a proper plan. There hasn’t been a plan from the beginning, it’s been chopping and changing. No price signal, no genuine plan to drive emissions down and support renewables creating cheaper energy. Renewables…
Matthew Abraham: Meanwhile- meanwhile the Greens are trying to boot Lee Rhiannon out of the party. Well let’s- no, let’s get to that now. Let’s get to that now if you don’t mind. Why? I mean, why would you boot Lee Rhiannon out? Again, this is a party- there’s only nine of you.
Sarah Hanson-Young: There’s 10, actually. But look, I think this is a really- well, it is a really difficult conversation for us to be having. We are discussing this in our party room, and I must say firstly it’s made a whole lot harder by the public debate, but I understand why people are interested in it publicly. I think there are some factors that are playing into this. There is a free selection battle being waged in New South Wales at the moment. That’s not helping. But overwhelmingly, this has come to a head because of our discussions and our work on the education package.
Matthew Abraham: The Gonski 2.0.
Sarah Hanson-Young: 2.0
Matthew Abraham: Are you pushing for her to be- three strikes and you’re out?
Sarah Hanson-Young: No I’m not. What I desperately want is for our party room to work collectively and positively together. We are- there are ….
David Bevan: Just to clear up. The complaint against Lee Rhiannon, your New South Wales colleague, is that before the party had settled on a position regarding Simon Birmingham’s Gonski reforms, she was out there endorsing and taking part in a leaflet which opposed those things. Is that the nub of the matter?
Sarah Hanson-Young: It’s broader than the leaflet. It’s about the fact that she, as the New South Wales Senator, was told that she had to campaign against the package, and was told that she had to vote against whatever our …
David Bevan: This is the New South Wales rank and file?
Sarah Hanson-Young: It’s- she has a kind of- her set-up is different to the rest of us. There is a structural problem with the way the Greens New South Wales engage with the National Party in the fact that they find …
Matthew Abraham: So are they a bunch of Trotskyites?
Sarah Hanson-Young: Well I think there are diverse views in the New South Wales Greens, but …
David Bevan: Is that a yes?
Sarah Hanson-Young: I think there are diverse views in the New South Wales Greens, but I overwhelmingly- and let me, I want to be really clear about this. I am very proud of the improvements that I worked hard to get, a number of my colleagues worked hard to get, in the package. I worked very closely with Simon Birmingham to try and improve the package, and we got some of those things up. Extra $5 billion for schools, extra support for public schools including here in South Australia.
Matthew Abraham: You were sidelined in that debate?
Sarah Hanson-Young: But, but- ultimately at the end of the day, the party room did- agreed not to support the overall package. And the fallout of this, the behaviour and the campaigning against the package that then came to the fore from Lee Rhiannon, has upset people in the party room. And that’s true, there’s no point pretending that, people are upset. But overwhelmingly what I am hearing from my members – I had State Council here in Adelaide on Sunday – my members, our Green supporters here in this state are saying; you know what, get on, sort this out, start working together. Because it is important that we have a strong Green voice in the Parliament, and we can only do that if we’re not divided.
Matthew Abraham: Mark Butler, what do you make of this? Are they the jokers on the left or the clowns on the right?
Mark Butler: They’re certainly on the left, but I’m not sure it really- I mean, this is a matter for the Greens to sort out, obviously. They do have a difficult branch in New South Wales that’s caused some problems for some time, and Bob Brown’s been talking strongly about that. But I’m not sure this is going to impact the direction of the country much, and the Greens should just be left alone to deal with it.
I mean the more concerning thing is in the Government and Tony Abbott’s bizarre speech yesterday to make Australia work again pretty sort of transparent copy of Trump’s agenda, I think is going to hold the Government back and therefore the country back. And you talked about energy policy, we only got a report from the Chief Scientist a little more than two weeks ago that talked about the driver of wholesale power price increases, not just in South Australia but across the country and put a blueprint in place to have particularly the two major parties try to come together to deal with the energy crisis the whole country is facing and Tony Abbott declared war on it yesterday. Ostensibly because of the provocation from Christopher Pyne, but really we all know that Tony Abbott and a Conservative rump in the party has been spoiling for this fight not just with the moderates or the Turnbull group, but with the country and we can’t continue to have the country held back by this division in the Liberal Party. We’ve got to sort it out.
David Bevan: On marriage equality though, do you just gag just a little bit when you see your fellow Labor MPs who opposed marriage equality or who went silent on marriage equality for years and years and years who are now taking the high moral ground. Well, example, Penny Wong who’s now being so self-righteous about the whole thing and yet she was quiet during the Gillard and Rudd years. So she was prepared to be patient and work within her party and cut the Labor Par- her party a lot of slack on marriage equality at great personal cost. But she’s not prepared to do that for anyone else. Once it’s got through the Labor Party, oh now all the rest of you are laggards.
Mark Butler: No, I think the whole country, the whole community has come a long way over the last 10 or 15 years as we’ve talked about this and Australia’s no orphan. You’ve seen that across the world, particularly in countries to which we usually compare ourselves like Ireland and the UK and New Zealand and the US and Canada. So I think the point we’re making and the point I usually get from feedback from people living in my electorate is just get on with it. They just want it to be done. They elect the Parliament to do their job and they just want a free vote.
Matthew Abraham: Just quickly, back to you Simon Birmingham. You’re saying that Chris Pyne’s safe, it’s all storm in a teacup, everyone’s happy. Is that [indistinct] that you’re comfortable with?
Simon Birmingham: I’m standing here at the Terrigal High School on the Central Coast of New South Wales about to go and talk about school funding. I think every single member of the Government should be getting on with focusing on our accomplishments like a better school funding model, the work that’s ahead like ensuring we have security, reliability, affordability in our energy markets. They’re the important tasks for the future and certainly I’m not distracted, Malcolm Turnbull’s not distracted and I’m sure Christopher Pyne’s not distracted.
Matthew Abraham: Well thanks to the three of you for this Super Wednesday – [indistinct].
Sarah Hanson-Young: Thank you Matt [indistinct] and wish you the best in your ventures.
Matthew Abraham: Thank you. And you now know why I was such an expert on superannuation.
Sarah Hanson-Young: I had just written a card to you that says I hope you have a super-duper time.
David Bevan: You know that day when he totally humiliated you and it was repeated at nauseam…
Sarah Hanson-Young: Yeah it was.
David Bevan: Yes, yeah. We should have picked up the signs easier. I’m sitting here thinking he knows a lot about this.
Sarah Hanson-Young: He knows a lot about this, yes.
Matthew Abraham: Thanks to the three of you.
Simon Birmingham: Well Matt, I’m sure we’ll be happy to take your phone call any time you feel like beating up on a politician just so you don’t [indistinct] …
David Bevan: [Talks over] He’s been holding us all back. Mark Butler, thank you. Labor Member for Port Adelaide, Simon Birmingham, Liberal Senator for South Australia, and Sarah Hanson-Young, Greens Senator.