Transcript of doorstop interview – Cronulla Surf Club, South Cronulla
17 July 2007
Subject: Extreme Right Wing of Liberal Party take over of Cook; Michael Taouk (Towke); Liberal Party disunity; Labor puts Cook on Election Watch List.
ALBANESE: Today I’m here with Mark Buttigieg a local champion and the person that we’ve selected once again to be our candidate in Cook. The Labor Party National Executive Committee, which I’m a member of, has today designated Cook as a seat that we will place on our Election Watch List. What that means in practice is that we’ll be putting additional resources into the electorate of Cook. We believe the selection of Michael Towke is a major mistake by the Liberal Party. It shows an arrogance towards this electorate in that the Liberal Party is it taking it for granted.
JOURNALIST: In what way?
ALBANESE: Well you had in this electorate a quality candidate in Bruce Baird- someone whose politics I disagree with, but someone who I had respect for and someone who I think had respect across the Parliament. In the preselection on Saturday there were 7 candidates including Scott Morrison, who had references from Arthur Sinodinos the Prime Minister’s former Chief of Staff but also from Nick Minchin, Malcolm Turnbull and Brendan Nelson. It would appear that he had more references than he had votes, because he only received 8 votes in that preselection ballot.
Mark Speakman the youngest person to be made a Senior Counsel in NSW was also someone who clearly was a quality candidate. Liberal insiders themselves say that if this was a job application Michael Towke would have run last of the applicants that were being put forward.
JOURNALIST: Why do you think he came first?
ALBANESE: Quite clearly in the recruiting of 300 stacks to the Miranda Branch of the Liberal Party, who when he was known as Michael Taouk, told the Liberal Left and Bruce Baird that they were recruited to support a candidate close to Bruce Baird. Then came the transformation to Michael Towke where he ended up being a candidate himself.
Quite clearly what we are seeing here is the extreme right of the Liberal Party in NSW showing contempt even for the federal leadership of the Party in the selection of Michael Towke and previously of Alex Hawke for the seat of Mitchell. Not being satisfied in stacking the NSW branch of the Liberal Party, they are now going about stacking the Federal Liberal Party Caucus Room. In order to have a right wing candidate rather than Peter Costello replace John Howard, whenever John Howard either loses or chooses to retire. This extraordinary arrogance is taking seats like Mitchell and Cook for granted and we think that is a grave error of judgement on behalf of the Liberal Party.
Cook has within it two seats held at the state level by the Labor Party, by Paul McLeay and Barry Collier in Miranda. Cook also has a history, a strong local Labor history, and we’ve got a strong candidate who is running for the second time, which is always of benefit. We think because of this decision it has made Cook more vulnerable than it has been in the past.
This is a classic seat that is suffering financial pressures from families in terms of high mortgages and is vulnerable. In this area the Sutherland Shire people are pretty proud and don’t like the idea that they are being taken for granted. Mark knows that as someone who has lived in the area for such a long time and has such good local credentials.
JOURNALIST: Given that Baird has a 13.5 percent margin at the moment what do you think would be the more specific element that would erode that margin to the extent that the ALP could get a candidate across the line?
ALBANESE: I think some of the issues clearly are financial pressures and the cost of living. We’ve had four interest rate increases since the last election, since the Prime Minister promised to keep interest rates at record lows. We’ve got working families under pressure being concerned about the Workchoices legislation. Labor’s plan for an education revolution in both schools and TAFE training will appeal to families in this electorate. Mark do you want to add anything?
MARK BUTTIGIEG: The only thing I would add was that there is an analogy that when Barry Collier got elected 2 1/2 terms ago or 3 terms ago, there was a troika of circumstances that conspired that allowed Barry to be elected. One of them was internal Liberal Party squabbling over the leadership. You remember Peter Collins and the local member here at the time was Ron Phillips. You had the situation of a local issue combined with that, which is over development. You also had a popular Labor Government which was able to re-invigorate people’s confidence in the management of the State.
I think you can plead a similar analogy here with people seeing Kevin Rudd’s credibility on economic management and our stance on Workchoices, there’s definitely a swing to the Labor Party on. You’ve got this combination of internal Liberal Party squabbling going on at the local level and the local issues which are also national issues which Anthony mentioned, that is mortgage rate rises, which affect a lot of people in Cook, cost of living rises, and Workchoices. So I think the factors are there for us to do well because we are not taking the electorate for granted as the Liberal Party is.
JOURNALIST: In the last federal election Mark was running pretty much a shoestring operation (inaudible) you talk about increased resources, what sort of things are we talking about, you’ve talked about it going on the watch list, about it having additional resources, what would you describe this as?
ALBANESE: Well, what would you do? Obviously the first commitment is financial resources, the second is human resources in terms of visits by Shadow Ministers and certainly you can expect to see Kevin Rudd in this electorate along with other senior Labor figures.
I’m here today as the Manager of Opposition Business in charge of strategy in the Parliament and also as an ALP National Executive Committee Member. We think the circumstances in a seat like this have changed, particularly as Bruce Baird was a good hard working local member who had respect across the Parliament. The new candidate has very tenuous links with the local community, and stacking a branch of a Liberal Party will lose more votes in the community than it will gain.
You have also a great deal of dissent and there’s been a number of resignations from the Liberal Party. This is an area which has of course been a stronghold of moderates in the Liberal Party, people such as Bruce Baird, Ron Phillips and Kevin Schreiber have now been replaced by someone who is part of a group of the extreme right of the Liberal Party, who have chosen to call themselves the Uglies faction in the past.
I think they have real concerns and at the Liberal Party pre-selection itself on Saturday there were questions asked of the now candidate, suggesting that he’s a shady character indeed.
We are running a local champion who is well entrenched in the community versus someone whose agenda is clearly all about internal Liberal Party Power struggles, not about improving services and providing proper representation to the people of Cook.