Subjects: Election timing; Budget; Defence White Paper; offshore patrol vessels; Nikki Savva book; Peta Credlin; Pyne & Abbott’s relationship; voter disappointment in Turnbull; Trent Zimmerman at Mardi Gras
PRESENTER: Without further ado, Christopher Pyne, good morning.
CHRISTOPHER PYNE: Good morning Will, good morning David and good morning Albo, I assume.
PRESENTER: Yes, he’s here, Anthony Albanese.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Good morning.
PRESENTER: Chris Pyne, it has the feel of an election campaign at the moment. There was you and the Prime Minister and the State Opposition leader, Steven Marshall standing together. Is this is the dress rehearsal, the sort of dry run?
PYNE: Well, there’s an election due in the second half of the year so I guess people are starting to think about the choice between a government that has the team to make the transition in the economy versus Bill Shorten and his team who want to take us back to the Rudd-Gillard-Rudd period. I guess people are thinking about the election at some stage down the track.
PRESENTER: Anthony Albanese, the second half of the year, I think July 2 just counts by that measure. Are you guys on an election footing?
ALBANESE: Well, the government doesn’t seem to know when the election will be, when the Budget will be, or what it stands for on any economic policy. I think it’s quite astonishing and if they go to an election early, which July 2 would be, that’s because they’re hoping to skate to an election without saying what they stand for.
I mean, this is a government at war with itself but Malcolm Turnbull is at war with himself, with his own positions on climate change, marriage equality, the republic, everything else. The Malcolm Turnbull people thought they were getting, they’re not seeing.
PRESENTER: Is that a fair criticism, do you think, Christopher Pyne, that you guys, you know, aside from all of Albo’s trademark theatrics, the fact that you haven’t actually got a tax policy out, you haven’t got your, well Malcolm Turnbull, what will be his first Budget out, has it created a bit of a vacuum for Labor to capitalise on?
PYNE: Well, we know what we don’t stand for and we don’t stand for Labor’s disastrous negative gearing and capital gains tax policy –
ALBANESE: See? You should say what you stand for, Christopher.
PYNE: …which would smash the economy.
PRESENTER: Let him go.
PYNE: …smash the economy and smash house prices before Labor’s even got out of the box. We know we’re not going to do that to the economy. We’ve got a National Innovation Science Agenda, the Defence White Paper and the Defence Industry Policy Statement, which are great for South Australia, the media ownership law reform, Senate reform, we’ll have a tax package in the next couple of months, we’ll have a Budget in May, and by the time the election is called, the Australian public will face a very stark choice between Malcolm Turnbull’s Liberals who know what they’re doing and Bill Shorten’s Labor Party, who want to smash house prices and smash investment through the capital gains tax change.
PRESENTER: Christopher, just on the Defence White Paper, are the SA Liberals all on the same page with regard to the offshore patrol vessels that it’s still yet to be determined where they will be built? We’ve got Simon Birmingham previously saying that they’ll be built here, Matt Williams saying well that’s not the big issue, are you all on the same page with the fact that they should be built here?
PYNE: Well, we’re all saying the same thing and the most important thing is that South Australia wins the subs contract. We’ve already won the future frigates contract.
PRESENTER: What about patrol vessels?
PYNE: Hang on. Future frigates is $30 billion. Submarines is over $50 billion. I think the point that Matt Williams is making which I’ve made, is they’re the two big parts of this Defence spending agenda for Adelaide. Now, the offshore patrol vessels, the only point that I’ve made all along is that sure, Adelaide could win that as part of a competitive evaluation process, and there will be an announcement about that, but that’s $5 billion.
So rather than focussing on the smallest part of the agenda, I’m focussing on winning the two biggest parts, future frigates and submarines, which will secure jobs and growth in South Australia for decades into the future. That doesn’t preclude winning the offshore patrol vessels but I think people who are obsessing about that are missing the bigger picture.
PRESENTER: I’ve got a question for both of you, Chris Pyne and also Anthony Albanese arising from the Nikki Savva book. Now, we’ve got no intention of rehashing the more scurrilous allegations that are made in that book about Mr Abbott and his former Chief of Staff Peta Credlin, and I thought Chris that you were well within your rights to bat away any questions along those lines, but I do want to ask you, was it the case that you were convinced that you would lose Sturt if Tony Abbott remained Prime Minister?
PYNE: No, of course not. I mean, I always take my seat seriously. I’m never complacent and neither is Anthony in Grayndler, any Member of Parliament that is doesn’t last two decades like Anthony and I both have, but I’m never convinced that I’m going to win it, I’m never convinced I’m going to lose it, I battle and fight for it right up until 6 o’clock on election day and I think that’s what every good Member of Parliament should do.
PRESENTER: But do you think that having a leader now who’s more in the small-l liberal tradition, that probably fits a bit better with the general political vibe here in South Australia has put you in a better position?
PYNE: Well look, you don’t have to be Paul Kelly, the analyst at The Australian to work out that the government’s fortunes in the polls have improved dramatically since Malcolm Turnbull was leader, now twice as many people want Malcolm to be Prime Minister as Bill Shorten, which makes it very hard for Labor and obviously we were behind in every single Newspoll for two years, and now we aren’t.
PRESENTER: I’ll shift over to Albo, if I can. Albo, I don’t raise this in a teasing sense but I can remember during the Rudd/Gillard period there was that occasion where you became so distressed by the level of abuse and vitriol within your party that you actually broke down at a press conference.
Reading the extracts from the Nikki Savva book this week, and I’d ask you not to give a partisan answer here, is there a disturbing sense where politics has become this really cruel blood sport now in Australia, where it’s changed so much in the last decade that it’s actually making it hard to govern?
ALBANESE: I think a lot of thought has to go into what the changes in the media cycle and the 24 hour view of the world that’s out there, the impact that’s having on politics.
It is quite sad when relationships completely break down as frankly they did with people in the former Labor Government of which I was a part. Quite clearly they have in the current government as well. On a personal level, that has an impact.
Can I say about Peta Credlin that all of my dealings with her were extremely professional. She was a very strong advocate and I had to deal with her as the Prime Minister’s Chief of Staff, but previously as the Leader of the Opposition’s Chief of Staff, so I feel some sympathy, whilst I don’t have any sympathy for Tony Abbott or Peta Credlin politically, that’s a tough thing that people have gone through and other people who have lost their positions, Eric Abetz and others.
PRESENTER: We’ll jump back to Chris Pyne if I can, Albo. How have you found it Christopher? Because inevitably from transitions like this, it’s been reported that this is currently the state of your relationship with your former boss Tony Abbott.
You do end up with friendships that are just shredded. You can’t piece it back together. How do you continue to work as a government after that has happened?
PYNE: Well, the government gets on with the job and we are a professional group of men and women and we’re getting on with the job.
I never had a difficulty with Peta Credlin ever and that’s acknowledged in Nikki Savva’s book. I found Peta Credlin to be a wonderful work colleague and I didn’t have any of the experiences that other people seem to be relaying.
And Tony Abbott and my relationship has started to repair itself, I mean I think it would be disingenuous to claim to your listeners that obviously having supported Malcolm Turnbull last year Tony’s and my very long standing friendship remained entirely intact and didn’t skip a beat.
Obviously it did skip a beat but in recent weeks it has started to recover and I’m glad it has because I don’t take things personally in politics, I regard it as a profession, as a calling, a vocation if you like and I think everybody wants to do the right thing by their seat, their state and their country, and I think the personal should be kept out of it which is one of the reasons that Anthony and I have got along quite well for more than a decade.
We understand that we both play hard with the ball but that doesn’t mean you have to be hateful towards each other.
ALBANESE: I think one of the reasons for, and I say this in a nonpartisan way, I think objectively one of the reasons for the fall in Malcolm Turnbull’s support is that people did look forward to a break of the old politics.
I do think that Tony Abbott was associated with the politics of conflict. That’s what he did. That was his whole imagery and when Malcolm took over there was a sigh of relief and I think he did quite well in the initial stages at saying he was going to be thoughtful and we were going to have mature policy debates, and I think there’s a sense of disappointment out there that that hasn’t happened.
Some of that is, I think, his fault, some of that I think is an underestimation of the fallout of what was inevitably going to occur when you knock off a first term elected Prime Minister.
PRESENTER: But the contrast of that though, Albo, I mean surely, it wasn’t like the Abbott Prime Ministership suddenly ushered in the uncertainty. I mean, we had the unseemly situation where you had Wayne Swan going on the 7:30 Report to tell the Australian people what a psycho Kevin Rudd was. I mean, it was a continuation of the horrors that the country endured.
ALBANESE: And that’s the concern that people have. I think people don’t want that. I don’t think it’s seemly and I think it puts people off.
It’s the old politics, if you like, and when Malcolm took over and Christopher used to use the term in forums like this that we did speak about now, we’re doing the new politics, but what they’re seeing is the worst of the old politics I think, being played out in a very personal way and I think that is most unfortunate and not what the mob want.
I marched in Mardi Gras on Saturday night with Trent Zimmerman, newly elected Member of North Sydney. Trent’s someone I’ve known for a very very long time, through his engagement with the Tourism and Transport Forum.
He’s the first ever out, or declared, homosexual member of the House of Representatives, that takes a great deal of courage; I thought his first speech was a terrific speech.
And we took a photo on Saturday night together, tweeted it out, it had an enormously positive response, to see a Labor person and a Liberal person standing there, not bickering, engaging in what is a major community celebration here in Sydney, and I think people want more of that and less of politicians yelling at each other.
PRESENTER: Well said. Both interesting insights and you know, a bit of a chip toward Albo there Malcolm Turnbull but I think both Christopher Pyne and Anthony Albanese were pretty up front then about the personal side of politics. So thanks to both of them, we’ll do it again next week.
Leader of the Australian Labor Party, MP for Grayndler, Rabbitohs Life Member. Authorised by Anthony Albanese, ALP, Canberra.