Subjects: Newspoll, Bill Shorten, Barnaby Joyce, Vanuatu.
HOST: Chris Pyne and Anthony Albanese join us for Two Tribes. Good morning.
CHRISTOPHER PYNE: Good morning gentlemen.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Good morning.
HOST: We might flip things around today counter-intuitively and kick off with you Albo if we can. Now …
ALBANESE: Oh, that’s good. Start with the quality.
HOST: I hope you like the question. Now all of the discussion over the last couple of days has been about Malcolm Turnbull’s leadership and the 30th consecutive Newspoll. How do you think Bill Shorten’s going? When you look at his preferred prime minister rating it would suggest that a majority of Australians still aren’t in love with your boss.
ALBANESE: Well he leads a team that has been ahead now for 30 Newspolls and Bill as the Leader deserves credit for that. I have just spent a couple of days with Bill in Western Australia announcing our support and commitments for various infrastructure projects. We had a street walk at Joondalup at a shopping centre and Bill was very well received and the Labor message of fairness is being well received. People are having a look at the Government and they say they are a mess and someone needs to put them out of their misery.
HOST: Do you reckon he will lead uninterrupted up until election day?
ALBANESE: Look, we are focused on not our internals. We are focused on the needs of the Australian public and that is one of the reasons why we have been successful. I think the Government are being marked down. To be fair to Malcolm Turnbull, some of it is not his fault. You’ve got Tony Abbott who was a wrecker last time he was the Opposition Leader. He was actually a wrecker in Government. Unfortunately he forgot he was the Prime Minister and he wrecked his own Government and now he is trying to wreck Malcolm Turnbull’s Government. That makes it very hard.
HOST: To flick it back around though Chris Pyne, you guys have obviously been the story this week. Can I politely suggest whatever the strategy was in getting ministers out to say that Newspoll number 30 doesn’t matter, the whole thing has looked a bit like an orgy of self-absorption where you have been committing the cardinal political crime of talking about yourselves.
PYNE: I am happy to answer that question but before I do I just point out that pointedly you asked Anthony Albanese twice to endorse Bill Shorten as the Leader at the next election and he failed to do so on two occasions on your show.
ALBANESE: Oh rubbish.
PYNE: He didn’t say that Bill Shorten would lead Labor to the next election.
ALBANESE: Of course I did.
PYNE: No you didn’t. Read the transcript later on and you will find that you didn’t endorse Bill Shorten on two opportunities.
ALBANESE: You will find I said that we are not interested internals. We will leave the internal fighting to your side.
PYNE: But that’s not endorsing Bill Shorten.
HOST: But Chris, you guys have been the story this week and I mean, where does Barnaby Joyce get off giving Malcolm Turnbull advice about what is going right and wrong with the Government at the moment?
PYNE: Well the 30 Newspoll mark was always going to be a bit messy. The truth is that a journalist from another organisation did a vox pop in Western Sydney this week. She spent an hour and a half in the mall. She couldn’t find one person who knew what the Newspoll was. So the truth is that this is a fixation of the Press Gallery and the media and the political class. It isn’t a fixation of the general Australian public.
HOST: The poll is not a fixation but the vibe that would radiate out to the Penrith Mall and West Lakes Mall and Colonnades, you name it, is that you guys haven’t got your eye on the ball because you are too busy squabbling about leadership questions.
PYNE: So David is that is true, why is the poll only 52-48 and why did it improve one point since the last one? Now, I think it is fair to say there has been a lot of distraction in the media in the last couple of weeks and yet the Government improved its standing. In the Fairfax poll on Saturday it was 50-50. There are other polls which show that Malcolm Turnbull is 20 points ahead of Bill Shorten. So the public are tuning out a lot of this commentary and are focusing on a strong economy, jobs, growth and the fact that Malcolm Turnbull is the kind of person they think should be Prime Minister. And then they look across the aisle and they see Bill Shorten, backed by the CFMEU, and they think he is not the kind of guy that should be Prime Minister of Australia. He has a high-taxing agenda. He wants to hit self-funded retirees. He has a self-described war on business. That means a war on jobs. The economy is stronger and getting stronger still and that will continue under the Liberal Party. It won’t continue under Labor.
HOST: Christopher Pyne, I want to change tack for just a moment and get your take …
ALBANESE: Can I help Christopher out for one bit, because he’s having a hard time here …
PYNE: Not really. I think you guys are on the back foot.
ALBANESE: But it is breathtaking this week that Barnaby Joyce, having said that the leadership of the National Party has nothing to do with the Liberal Party, his call for that is just a disgrace.
HOST: Albo, we spent all yesterday laughing at Barnaby Joyce about giving crisis-management advice. Christopher Pyne, I want to ask you about the prospect of China establishing a military base in the Pacific Islands, namely Vanuatu, as has been reported in the last 24 hours. Fairfax this morning are quoting the former chief of staff to Teresa May as saying it’s becoming better understood, belatedly, that Beijing’s global ambitions are not about economics and commerce, but of a geopolitical and security dimensions as well. We needed to be much harder-headed about how we deal with them. Does that include Australia?
PYNE: We fully understand that China wants to spread its influence around the world. It would be surprising if it didn’t. It’s the second largest economy in the world and one of the largest militaries in the world and 1.2 billion people. They are a very significant country in our world. Now we take the South Pacific very seriously. It’s our region of greatest influence. We are by far and away the largest donor and investor in the South Pacific. We have a significant presence there from a point of view of working with those countries on border protection. In my own portfolio we’re giving them 21 Pacific Patrol Boats across the South Pacific. I’m giving the first one to Papua New Guinea at the end of the year to help us to protect them from illegal fishers, environmental vandals and so forth. And we would take very seriously any attempt to establish a military base in Vanuatu. But I would point out that the Government of Vanuatu says they’ve had no such approach and therefore it’s rather a moot point. I’m going to Vanuatu at the end of the year as part of a mission there and of course I will be talking to them.
ALBANESE: They’ll be pleased.
HOST: Just to get some clarity around that answer then Christopher Pyne, on the one hand you understand the Chinese ambition regarding global influence, but you say you would take any venture to put a military base on a Pacific Island seriously. Does that mean you’d have reservations about that? I’m just not sure precisely what you’re saying.
PYNE: Obviously Australia would have very firm views about any military base being established by any country in the South Pacific other than those of the nations that are present there already. I would hasten to add that the Government of Vanuatu has said they’ve had no such approach.
HOST: Good stuff guys. Albo and Christopher Pyne …
PYNE: You still haven’t endorsed Bill by the way. You could have said something about it.
HOST: One last chance to do it unequivocally if you want Albo.
ALBANESE: Unequivocally, absolutely, of course. Poor old Christopher …
PYNE: What of course? What? Say it. Say it. He won’t say it.
ALBANESE: He’s a bit distracted and now he’s going to scare the people of Vanuatu.
HOST: Christopher Pyne, Anthony Albanese, Two Tribes on a Wednesday morning.