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Wilkie discusses changed fortunes in Parliame -

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Independent MP Andrew Wilkie discusses how the change of numbers in Parliament affects the
crossbenchers and his personal fight for poker machine reform.

BARRIE CASSIDY, PRESENTER: That's the Sunday papers. We'll go straight to our program guest now, a
key independent in the Federal Parliament, Andrew Wilkie. And he joins us from Hobart.

Good morning, welcome to the program.

ANDREW WILKIE, INDEPENDENT MP: Good morning, Barrie.

BARRIE CASSIDY: One less vote now of course is needed for the Government from the crossbenches when
they need to pass legislation. Have you just lost some of your political clout?

ANDREW WILKIE: Oh, it would be fair to say that the crossbenchers have just lost a little bit of
leverage. But they have clearly lost, myself included, lost less than what some commentators might
conclude.

You know, the fact is the Government doesn't know when they will need us. They don't know where the
votes will come from when they have particular pieces of legislation up.

So they will need to keep the four of us on side. They're certainly not going to be foolish enough
to burn any one of us.

An interesting case in point is the means test for the private health insurance rebate. You know,
that's almost a $3 billion black hole in the Government's budget at this stage. Tony Windsor has
voted against it repeatedly which keeps me in play on that one particular issue.

So look, as we go through the next two years - and it will be two years now which I think is in the
public interest - they will need all of us from time to time.

BARRIE CASSIDY: When you say though that they wouldn't want to burn you, why? Why not? What would
you do?

ANDREW WILKIE: Well, for two reasons. First of all, they need me for some pieces of legislation
over the next two years. And the example I gave is a good example I think of the private health
insurance means test which I favour.

But also more strategically, you know, they don't know when they might find themselves back where
they were last Wednesday with only a one-seat margin.

You know we've got the Craig Thomson affair. The Opposition and the media are going to go hard
against Peter Slipper. Something else might bubble up.

There's any number of reasons why the Government might find itself back with a one-seat majority.
And I'm sure they're smart enough to know they shouldn't have burned Andrew Wilkie in case they
need him again as one of the crucial four votes.

BARRIE CASSIDY: Yes, but when you say that, don't burn me, you mean by that that you would be then
prepared to take out punishment on the Government rather than treat every issue on its merit?

ANDREW WILKIE: Well no, I do treat every issue on its merits, and I think I've got a voting record
to prove that. And in fact I think all of my colleagues have got a voting record to prove that.

I think we, you know, we have shown that we take issues on merit and sometimes we vote in favour of
things, sometimes we vote against.

BARRIE CASSIDY: Okay on that issue that you are concerned about in particular, poker machine
reform, are you 100 per cent comfortable with the assurances that you've been given that the
Government will stay with the deal on mandatory pre-commitment?

ANDREW WILKIE: Yes I am, Barrie. The Prime Minister was good enough to ring me about 8.30 Thursday
morning to forewarn me of Harry Jenkins' resignation as speaker. And at that stage it was a brief
phone conversation, but in general terms she assured me that as far as she's concerned our
agreement stands.

I then met with the Prime Minister for about half an hour on Thursday evening and we spoke in
detail about the agreement. You know, we both made it quite clear to each other that we both regard
the agreement as standing.

We spoke in detail about poker machine reform and the Prime Minister made it quite clear the
Government remains committed to that.

But I tell you what, Barrie; they remain committed to it not just because they have an agreement
with me they want to honour. But they have over the whole of the last year genuinely had their
heart in poker machine reform.

And I think this has been lost on some people through the year. You know, people have assumed that
the Government has been just forced to do this and they don't want to do it.

But in fact the Prime Minister and Jenny Macklin, the relevant minister, they're good people with a
good heart. And they want to bring about poker machine reform. They do know it is popular, that
this would be a popular reform.

So there's any number of reasons why they will push on with it. And it will be much easier now
because they are one vote closer to having the numbers. They now need only the support of three
crossbenchers instead of four and that's a significant change from the Government's point of view.

And also the Government now has, is able to prosecute these reforms much more clearly as wanting to
do it and not because someone is holding a gun to their head.

And this is something the poker machine industry has had a field day with. You know, the poker
machine industry has been saying time and time again over the last year the Government doesn't have
its heart in it; the Government doesn't want to do this; the Government's only doing this because
it's being forced to do it by Andrew Wilkie.

Well, now that whole narrative is put aside. Now it is absolutely clear - but I've known this all
along - but it's absolutely clear now for the community the Government is progressing these reforms
because the Government thinks it is good public policy and it wants to bring about the change.

BARRIE CASSIDY: If that's true, then why within 24 hours of the numbers changing did we start
reading stories in the paper about trials; that they might look at trials rather than going
straight to pre-commitment?

ANDREW WILKIE: Barrie, there's nothing new in that. The Productivity Commission recommended a
trial. From the start I have supported the Productivity Commission's recommendation. This has been
discussed a number of times over the last year.

The Tasmanian Government volunteered to host the trial many months ago now. That was well reported.
Unfortunately the Tasmanian Government rolled over because the poker machine operator in the state
refused to cooperate.

Now I understand there is still talk continuing about a trial in the ACT. I'd like to see a trial.

BARRIE CASSIDY: Okay now that, you mentioned a conservation you had with Julia Gillard at 8.30, so
that was half an hour before the speaker, the former speaker Harry Jenkins resigned. Did she tell
you then that the Government was going to throw its support behind Peter Slipper?

ANDREW WILKIE: She did. She indicated that the Government would be nominating Peter Slipper.

Look, there's nothing remarkable about that either. For the 15 months of this Parliament, you know,
everyone has understood that one of the possible turns of events would be that Harry Jenkins would
return to the Government benches and that Peter Slipper in particular would be invited to step up.

And I am very surprised that for the last year the Opposition has gone so hard against Peter
Slipper. You know, if the Opposition had had any sense they would have wrapped him in cotton wool
and kept him as happy as possible because he was always the first person probably on the rank to
move to the speaker's chair.

BARRIE CASSIDY: So what did you think when she told you that? What did you think it said about the
Government's judgement? Did you have any comment to make?

ANDREW WILKIE: Well, I think it's a stunning political move. Of course it is very unusual but this
Parliament is very unusual. We haven't had a power-sharing parliament since the Second World War
and things have had to be done differently.

And you know there is nothing unconstitutional or illegal. It's just unusual what has occurred.

And you know, sure, it's in the political self-interest of the Government. But it's also in the
public interest because now we have, I think, a much more robust Government, one that is not on a
knife edge, one that is now set to go for its full term.

And that must be in the public interest. Regardless of whether you vote Labor or Liberal or
National or Greens, I do think it's in the public interest that a government when it's elected it
does go full-term.

And I think it can now perhaps be a little more ambitious with its legislative agenda because now
it will be that little bit easier to get the support of the crossbench.

Not that this Government probably needs to be any more ambitious with its legislative agenda,
having just got through the carbon tax and the mining tax, and we're now bearing down on poker
machine reform.

BARRIE CASSIDY: But if that was your initial response and you thought there might be some positives
to all of this, why did you then urge Rob Oakeshott to accept the nomination from the Coalition for
speaker?

ANDREW WILKIE: Yeah, no surprises there. And I've spoken about this in the last couple of days.

I encouraged Rob to stand for a number of reasons. For a start, Rob would make a very good speaker.
And given his passionate interest in reform of the Parliament and doing things better, he was a
logical choice to be a speaker. So first and foremost I thought he would be a good speaker.

And look, I'm not going to gild the lily here. The fact is too that it's in the political
self-interest of the crossbenchers that the Government have very, very tight numbers because that
does maximise our leverage.

I think also it would be a good thing if the Parliament has a choice. You know, why should there be
only one nominee? Why not put it to a ballot as we, put it to a vote as we did put it to a vote for
the Deputy Speaker?

BARRIE CASSIDY: So why did Rob Oakeshott not accept the nomination?

ANDREW WILKIE: You'd have to ask Rob that. But right from the start of my encouragement he seemed
fairly disinterested.

I think, you know, the events of 15 months ago are long behind him and for whatever reason he
wasn't interested in being nominated.

BARRIE CASSIDY: Because he knew he wouldn't have the numbers?

ANDREW WILKIE: Look, I don't know what was in his mind. But I don't think that would have been the
reason because I think he would have been a popular choice among the crossbench. And I think it is
quite possible he would have been successful.

Having said that, I have no concerns with Peter Slipper. I've got to know Peter over the last 15
months. He strikes me as a decent chap. I'm not aware of any hard evidence that would preclude him
from being the Speaker. He certainly has the technical skills. So I'm just as happy with Peter
being there.

BARRIE CASSIDY: And there's no fear that an investigation into his travel entitlements and other
matters might turn something up?

ANDREW WILKIE: Well, who knows? I have no idea of the facts of that matter. The fact is you're
either fit to sit in the Parliament or you're not. He is fit to sit in the Parliament at this
stage.

But you know, if he was to be found guilty of wrongdoing, well, that, you know, obviously he would
have to step aside.

But you know, that hasn't happened at the moment. And we need to be very, very careful with all of
these accusations that are being thrown around because every accusation now is thick with politics
and thick with the venom of the Opposition, who have been outsmarted and are mighty cranky about
it.

And I wouldn't be surprised if there's a story about Peter Slipper on the front page of The
Australian every second day for the next two years.

BARRIE CASSIDY: Okay, well, you started out by mentioning the impact on legislation. If we can just
clear up a couple of those things.

And you mentioned private health insurance and the Government is attempting of course to means test
the rebate. So what will your position be on that if it's to come up for vote early next year?

ANDREW WILKIE: Well, I went public some months ago and said that I do support a means test on the
private health insurance rebate, so long as the settings are right, the threshold is right. And
they seem to be.

You know, the fact is that that private health insurance rebate is costing the budget about $5
billion a year. It's set to double in less than a decade, about eight years I think. And that's
unsustainable.

So as nice a benefit it is for people like me, we simply can't afford to maintain that. And
credible Treasury modelling shows that it will not have a significantly adverse effect on the
public health system.

Now having said all that, you know, I was looking at this many, many months ago. It's gone off the
boiler. I'll just want to go back and check it all again. But so long as nothing has changed in the
figures, I assume I'd support that.

BARRIE CASSIDY: And if the Government was to put up the Malaysian solution again for a vote, how
would you vote on that?

ANDREW WILKIE: Oh, I would definitely not support that. And in fact it was the denial of my vote,
along with the denial of Adam Bandt's and Tony Crook's votes, it was the denial of those three
votes that meant the Government didn't bring that on for a vote in the chamber.

I would not support it. But of course now the Government is in a much better position, so long as
it maintains that two-seat majority, is in a much better position and probably could get it
through, although I would certainly not support it and it would really struggle to get it through
the Senate.

BARRIE CASSIDY: Andrew Wilkie, thanks for your time this morning. Appreciate it.

ANDREW WILKIE: Thanks Barrie.