Subjects: Peter Costello; Backpackers Tax; Excessive partisanship; Tony Abbott; carbon emissions; minor parties; Malcolm Turnbull; John Key
HOST: For the last time in 2016, good morning to Anthony Albanese.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: G’day.
HOST: And good morning to Christopher Pyne.
CHRISTOPHER PYNE, MINISTER FOR DEFENCE INDUSTRY: Good morning. Good to be with you.
HOST: Good to have you here again chaps. Now I wanted to kick off with you if I could Chris because I was watching the interview that your former colleague the long-serving Treasurer in the Howard Government Peter Costello gave last night where he painted a pretty bleak picture of the workability, I guess, of our Parliament and lamented the fact that the country spent a week debating the wisdom of the Backpackers’ Tax, which was something that he said wouldn’t even touch the sides in terms of taking or restoring money to the deficit. Did you subscribe to his negative assessment of how our Parliament works, particularly the Senate?
PYNE: Well, it’s a good question and I think one of the things that has changed over the recent decade has been the responsibility of the Opposition to support good measures that the Government puts forward. Now when the Keating and Hawke Government were reforming significant parts of the Australian economy, they managed to do that without controlling the Senate and usually with the support of the Opposition, whether it was led by Andrew Peacock or John Howard, because there was a sense of responsibility. Unfortunately what has changed in the last decade I suppose – and you know, both sides are at fault – is that the Opposition just opposes for opposition’s sake. Now the Opposition knows that we need to repair the Budget. They know that and yet they oppose almost every single measure that the Government puts to the Senate and so we had to therefore have to work with either the Greens or the cross benchers and I think you know maybe one of their New Years’ resolutions in 2017 should be more constructive about things that they know, even if they get into government one day, and perish the thought, but if they ever do get into government, they are going to want the Budget to have been repaired as well. So it is in everyone’s interests for us to work together for our economy to create jobs.
HOST: Is that a fair assessment, do you think Albo? I’ll pick up where Chris was almost I think self-critical there, or he said both sides are guilty of this, because I would say that when Tony Abbott was Opposition Leader and Julia Gillard, Kevin Rudd were PM, when that little roundabout was underway, there were times where the objective of the day, the order of the day always seemed to be let’s just make the Government look incompetent paralysed, useless and can’t do anything. Is this tactic now the norm for oppositions?
ALBANESE: Well I think there is no doubt that Tony Abbott in particular as the Opposition Leader – I mean, I used to say he turned the Coalition into the Noalition – that he had an impact on politics in Australia. He is the first Opposition Leader to say literally, I am going to wreck the Parliament. That’s what he said after the 2010 election and he didn’t accept the legitimacy of the Parliament that had been elected and acted that way each and every day and I think that has had an impact on our politics, there’s no question about that. But, you know if you look at what has actually happened this year the Omnibus Savings Bill, where a number of initiatives that Labor put forward as savings were adopted by the Government, that’s a good sign. I thought there was a good sign this week when Josh Frydenberg and the Government said for 24 hours that they were going to look at the review of the so-called Direct Action Plan on climate change, including a price on carbon – a modest market mechanism that everyone who is serious about the policy knows is a necessary component and I think that was a good sign. So it needs not just oppositions to be constructive; it actually needs governments to be constructive as well and not just engage in essentially falsehoods before the Australian public. If you are going to move to a carbon-constrained economy that everyone says is necessary from Malcolm Turnbull down, then let’s look at the least-cost way to do it. And everyone also agrees that it’s a market-based mechanism is the best way to do that and I think this morning’s newspapers are pretty disappointing that that’s been ruled out. So I think all political parties share some responsibility, both in Opposition and in Government, but we all need to work towards a more constructive political process.
HOST: So, then what’s the sum and I will ask this question of both of you, perhaps starting with you Chris, what’s the sum of 2016 in terms of what comes after it? We’ve had Brexit. We’ve had Trump. We’ve had even – locally we’ve got the composition of the Senate currently after the Federal election we’ve had this year. Was 2016 a glitch or is it a trend?
PYNE: Well I think 2016 was a difficult year for incumbent governments and we saw that all around the world. Just the Italian Government this week, obviously change in New Zealand. We talked about Trump, Brexit, we, you know, lost a lot of seats in the election, came close to losing. I think incumbent governments are finding it very difficult at the moment because the expectations of the public are very high, probably because they have been overpromised over the years by different political parties. But I think there are good signs this year, toward the end of the year. I mean we got the Registered Organisations Commission through, the Australian Building and Construction Commission set up, the Backpacker Tax through, reform of superannuation, income tax cuts for middle income earners. As Anthony mentioned, the Omnibus Savings Bill and I think there are green shoots from that point of view from the parliamentary perspective. There have been a lot of jobs created this year. The economy is actually not going too badly in comparison particularly to other OECD countries, we have the highest growth in the G7 so we are getting some things right and I think 2017 is a year to be looking forward to. I think it will be a positive year. And I think the new Senate – you mentioned the new Senate being unwieldly – has actually been more co-operative than the previous Senate. People have been prepared to sit down and talk and Malcolm Turnbull has shown himself to be an adept negotiator and I think that is required, that’s what the public has given us.
HOST: What do you think Albo, particularly in the context of the rise of Xenophon particularly here in South Australia but also more broadly, particularly in the eastern states, the resurgent One Nation?
ALBANESE: Well there is no doubt that there is massive disillusionment with the major parties and we need to acknowledge that, not pretend that it is not a phenomenon. I think that governments need to talk to people and with people, rather than at people and I think that is one of the big lessons of what’s occurred globally – the Italian result that Christopher referred to, is a disaster. I mean it’s a no-brainer that Italy needs some governmental reform in its structures and 60 per cent of people said no. The rise of a major party – I mean people worried about Hanson or Xenophon here – I mean the rise of a major party led by an Italian comedian, literally, is quite an extraordinary phenomenon that has occurred there over the last few years. I don’t think anyone in terms of major commentators were taking Donald Trump seriously at the beginning of this year, that he could be elected President of the United States, but that becomes a reality next month with all the potential implications for the globe that are there and we just hope that some of the predictions are wrong. So we need to take that on board, we need to engage with people. I think I’m going to use an unusual person that you won’t expect perhaps. I think when Malcolm Turnbull took over the leadership, his popularity was stratospheric and that was because he said, I think, what people want to hear, which is that he is going to treat the public like adults; he’s not going to engage in politics first; he’s going to work towards constructive solutions and I really think that is what people wanted to hear. Now that hasn’t eventuated, but I do think that was a bit of a sign of people wanted to break away from what people saw was the fault of all of us – Abbott, Gillard, Rudd during those years – that heavy conflict as well that people wanted to break away from and something I think that myself and Christopher try to do when we do our forums including this one, is not just engage in yelling at each other and that is what people want from our politicians and if more of that happens then I think there will be less scope for people to vote for someone else, which is what I see Xenophon or Hanson or any of the sort of third party populists, whether of the Left or the Right, as representing.
HOST: Hey just before we let you go guys, the big story in New Zealand this week was that the Prime Minister suddenly sprang out of bed and thought, stuff this for a joke, I am out of here. That is a Mal Meninga moment. To both of you, and Chris this is something you explored in the book that you wrote A Letter to My Children where you talked about the downsides of public life, you know 22 weeks a year interstate. Did either of you watch John Key and have a little a pang inside you where you think geez, I wish that was me? Not that we are trying to get rid of you.
PYNE: No well it’s hard to get rid of me. I am like the blackberries. I thought it is great that John Key, who has had a terrific career, to put his family first and decide that to know when to go is a critically important thing in politics and very few people get to choose their own time of their leaving and I think if you can do that it is a great achievement. But I am obviously loving Defence Industry and we are doing tremendous things. And as we announced today we just appointed the person to redo and plan the infrastructure at Osborne South and North and so we are getting on with the job and I am loving it and so as long as you are loving what you do and your family is prepared to put up with it I think I’ve got a few more years left in me.
HOST: What about you Albo, you wife is a former politician and I saw her in Sydney last year and she looked extremely happy not to be no longer a politician.
ALBANESE: She’s never looked better and she has never been happier. People say, you know, do you regret it, and not a bit. But she made her contribution. She got to be a minister for almost 11 years. I mean she is an example of someone who, you know, she could have been the Premier of NSW. She actually didn’t want to be and people who don’t know here sort of go: “Oh yeah’’. Or people who don’t understand sort of what happened on two occasions when essentially people were encouraging her. And she is glad that she left. She wasn’t enjoying it towards the end and the moment I am not enjoying it I will go at the election after that. I am enjoying it. You do make, from time to time I mean it’s very frustrating and you do weigh up the cost-benefits to your life and particularly with your family and it is my son’s 16th birthday tomorrow and I have been in politics all of his life. I’ve missed the years in which he wanted to spend more time with me. That’s gone. But you know I am still enjoying it. I think I’ve still got a contribution to make and I think John Key deserves great praise. I think has been a very good Prime Minister of New Zealand and good on him. He’s a very good bloke. I went to – the New Zealand Warriors made the grand final a few years ago and I took my father-in-law along and we sat there during the whole game where the Warriors lost and after the game people were going up talking to John Key, who was sitting next to my father-in-law and my father-in-law said: “Who is that bloke?’’. And I said he is the Prime Minister of New Zealand, and I think that says a great deal about the character that is John Key that he could sit next to someone for 80 minutes of a grand final wearing a Warriors jumper. He is a really good bloke, very down to earth and, you know, I very much hope and I am sure he will have a very good contribution as well. He will make a contribution in some other way but I am sure he will have a much more relaxed life than he has as Prime Minister.
HOST: Look we want to thank both of you for your contribution this year, Albo and to you Chris. It’s been terrific having you on. We are thrilled that you defected from another radio station and chose to get with the strength here on 5AA Breakfast. We know that our listeners enjoy this segment. It gets a bit willing at times but between all the parrying and trash talking it always, I think, gives people a clear insight into what you are trying to do for the country even though you don’t agree on a lot of things so good on you and have a great Christmas.
Leader of the Australian Labor Party, MP for Grayndler, Rabbitohs Life Member. Authorised by Anthony Albanese, ALP, Canberra.