Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
Disclaimer: The Parliamentary Library does not warrant or accept liability for the accuracy or usefulness of the transcripts.These are copied directly from the broadcaster's website.
Meet The Press -

View in ParlView


25th May 2008


MEET THE PRESS PRESIDENT PAUL BONGIORNO: Hello and welcome to Meet the Press Brawling behind the
scenes goes public as the Federal Opposition makes itself the political story of the week and takes
another bath in the opinion polls. It all started with a leaked email from Malcolm Turnbull
describing his leader's petrol tax promise as bad policy and ended with a qualified show of unity
with the Shadow Treasurer getting behind his leader, sort of.

OPPOSITION SENATE LEADER NICK MINCHIN (Monday): Well as far as I'm concerned there isn't any
division - the Shadow Treasurer strongly supports the policy that Brendnan announced, I strongly
support it as do my other colleagues in the shadow cabinet.

TREASURER WAYNE SWAN (Monday): Well, they've just completely lost their way and lost the plot.

PAUL BONGIORNO: Opposition Senate Leader Nick Minchin is a guest. And later - the ACTU still on the
Workchoices war path. Sharan Burrow launches a new campaign. But first - what the nation's press is
reporting this Sunday May 25. The 'Sunday Telegraph' leads with "Downer decides to stay."
Ex-minister Alexander Downer fuels leadership turmoil. Mr Downer has told colleagues he wants to
stay in politics and be Treasury spokesman under either Dr Nelson or Malcolm Turnbull. The Brisbane
'Sunday Mail' has "Brendan Nelson fuel excise cut opposed by Greg Hunt." The Opposition Environment
spokesman consulted Alexander Downer before writing to the Opposition leader offering an
alternative to the 5 cent cut. The Sunday 'Age' reports, "Rudd probe into Iraq kickbacks." Labor is
set to relaunch investigations into the AWB wheat for weapons scandal amid concerns the Cole
Inquiry failed to properly examine what ministers knew. The 'Sun-Herald' leads with "Art Gallery
under siege." The owner of the Sydney gallery at the centre of a storm over photographs of naked
teenagers was holed up yesterday after receiving violent threats. The Coalition still has the
numbers in the Senate until July and the Government has key pieces of legislation, like the
Medicare levy tax cut that it wants to push through before then. Parliament resumes tomorrow but
the Opposition Senate Leader also has other issues on his plate. Welcome back to the program,
Senator Nick Minchin.

NICK MINCHIN: Thank you, Paul.

PAUL BONGIORNO: Senator, Minchin, that headline in the Sydney 'Telegraph' today, "Downer decides to
stay," does that surprise you?

NICK MINCHIN: Look, my understanding of Alexander's position is - and I was chatting to him last
night about the the woeful performance of our team the Adelaide Crows last night - and he's assured
me that he still hasn't made up his mind. It's difficult for Alexander, he loves politics and is
very good at it, and he's had attractive offers as has been relayed in the media, but he is got a
big decision to make but his position is he's not made up his mind, whether to retire or stay in

PAUL BONGIORNO: I think the report says that he's now got until the end of June for the deadline.
Do you get that he's ambivalent about this?

NICK MINCHIN: He's going through the difficult process of deciding whether he wants to stay in
politics after 23.5 years and enormous success. He's been our leader and a very good foreign
minister, a great member for Mayo, or whether to pursue other careers. He's 56, and if he wants
another career in business, now is the time to do it so it is a big decision I respect the
difficulty of that decision and we should leave him alone and let him make that decision and
support him in whatever decision he makes.

PAUL BONGIORNO: On Monday night, done Alexander Downer went on national television and raised
doubts about the Coalition's petrol tax cuts surviving until the election. He also sounded like he
wouldn't be around by then and that drew a rebuke from you.

ALEXANDER DOWNER (Tuesday): What the Liberal Party needs is to have a steely discipline if it is
going to have a chance of winning the next election. That will be tough for them. But it will be

NICK MINCHIN (Tuesday): Alexander Downer is not on the front bench and is retiring from politics.

PAUL BONGIORNO: That drew a rebuke. One report says today that you had a Gordon Ramsey-type
discussion with him. Was it pretty heated?

NICK MINCHIN: Alexander Downer and I have known each other for a quarter of a century, we're good
mates, talk about a lot of things and probably talk every second day. We get on well. I was just
pointing out to him that in fact, the fuel tax cut which is a great Liberal policy and great
Coalition policy is a policy we will take to the next Federal election and is a policy that Mr Rudd
should take up. The biggest issue this week is not all this stuff but the fact that Mr Rudd
extraordinarily made the admission that there's nothing more he can do about easing the pressure on
Australian families. This is a remarkable admission from a bloke who spent last year campaigning on
the basis that he could relieve pressure on family budgets and do something about fuel prices. All
he's done is set up another bureaucracy to watch fuel prices go up. That's the big issue of the
week - the amazing thing admission from Mr Rudd that there's nothing more he can do about fuel

PAUL BONGIORNO: We do want to talk more with you on this very issue, but there's no doubt that if
Mr Downer stays, he could upset what Tony Abbott describes as a new pecking order.

TONY ABBOTT (Thursday): Brendan Nelson is the leader, he's number one and I think it would be fair
to say that the heir apparent is now Malcolm Turnbull.

PAUL BONGIORNO: Do you accept that, a the heir apparent is Malcolm Turnbull?

NICK MINCHIN: Tony is a good friend of mine, I admire him very much, but it is not my practice to
go into batting orders. Brendan Nelson was democratically elected the leader of the Liberal Party,
he's doing a terrific job as leader. I, like every other member of the supports him as leader. What
Tony is reflecting is that we do have a talented team including Tony, Malcolm, Joe Hockey, Julie
Bishop our deputy, a whole range of very talented people on our front bench with ministerial
experience and great political capacity and we're all in there taking the fight up to Labor.

PAUL BONGIORNO: All of these stories that have come out today - for example there's another which
says that Joe Hockey would be terrific as the leader and talking about the 'Sunrise' factor, all of
these stories are creating turmoil. They seem to be coming out of the Party. Is there a way out of
this other than a leadership spill?

NICK MINCHIN: They're not creating turmoil. The press gallery in Canberra has this peculiar
preoccupation with the leadership of our party. There's a whole lot of other issues going on in the
community including rising petrol prices and grocery prices and interest rates and the pressure on
family budgets, that the media in Canberra seem to want to ignore with their preoccupation with us.
I think they ought to get a life, get out there and see what's preoccupying ordinary Australians
instead of this navel-gazing on their part. Joe is a very capable front bencher and a great member
of the team with a great future ahead of him, but he strongly supports Brendan as do the rest of

PAUL BONGIORNO: I think you've got a point there, there are a lot of other very important issues,
but all of the party stuff and leadership stuff is getting in your way?

NICK MINCHIN: Well, it's because the media salaciously decides to give it a run which I think
doesn't reflect what the readers and the viewers want to see and hear about. They're not interested
in this stuff, they're interested in what the Government is going to do about the pressure on their
budgets and the Government waved the white flag and said they're not going to do anything.

PAUL BONGIORNO: When we return, we ask how healthy is it for the Coalition to oppose the Medicare
tax cut. And at the National Press Club, Malcolm Turnbull tied the petrol tax cut promise to
whoever is leading the Coalition at the next election and let slip that he thinks it just might be

SHADOW TREASURER MALCOLM TURNBULL (Wednesday): If I'm, if Brendan, look... If that is our policy,
then I will argue for it as eloquently or not as I can.

REPORTER: Are you confident you will be leading the Opposition in the next election?

OPPOSITION LEADER BRENDAN NELSON (Wednesday): As confident as I can be. Yes, very confident.

PAUL BONGIORNO: Welcome to the panel, Annabel Crabb from the 'Sydney Morning Herald' and Mark Kenny
from the 'Adelaide Advertiser'. The Opposition accuses of being high taxing, and is threatening to
vote down a raft of revenue-raising measures. But there's one measure in its sights that is in fact
a tax cut for an estimated million and a half Australians and that is raising the income level that
the Medicare surcharge that will apply from $50,000 to $100,000.

PM KEVIN RUDD (Wednesday): Our Government does not believe that people earning $50,000 are high
income earners even though the Liberals think that's the case. What is the effect in terms of
individuals or couples? Basically, it adds up to a tax of between $20 and $30 a week.

ANNABEL CRABB: Senator Minchin, Brendan Nelson has been very clear about the Opposition's intention
to oppose the changes to the Medicare levy. How are you going to explain to families between
$50,000 and $100,000 that you think they're well off?

NICK MINCHIN: We will oppose it in the Senate. This is a disastrous proposal by the Labor Party. It
reeks of their innate ideologcial hostility to private health insurance. They fail to understand
how critical a healthy private health insurance industry is to the whole health system. There was
yet another health expert in the press yesterday saying that this policy of Labor's will be a
disaster for the public health system. The pressure on public hospitals will be immense. The
pressure on premium for private health insurance will be immense. This is one of the worst aspects
of this Budget and we will oppose it.

ANNABEL CRABB: But Senator Minchin, your own government introduced this levy more than 10 years ago
and Treasurer Peter Costello referred to the people on $50,000 earners as wealthy. Do you still
think that is still contemporarily accurate?

NICK MINCHIN: What's critical is that there are incentives for people in the system to take out
private health insurance if we're to sustain the overall health portfolio. You can't have a
situation where the private health goes back to the bad old days under Keating where it was
struggling and you get this enormous pressure on public hospitals. The public hospitals under State
Labor governments are failing miserably, the sort of stories we're seeing coming out of Sydney in
particular are dreadful. That will be made much worse if up to 1 million people leave private
health insurance because of this stupid ideological policy and all flood into public hospitals. The
people you are talking about will be the ones that suffer, because when they want help at another
public hospital, they will be queuing up with another million people.

MARK KENNY: Senator Minchin, you just said that you intend to oppose that measure, the Medicare
levy surcharge. You have a month left of controlling the Senate effectively. Can you just
definitively lay out for us now what measures in the Budget you will be opposing? There are things
like the alcopops increase, the so-called Tarago tax. Can you tell us what you will be opposing in
the Senate?

NICK MINCHIN: I would like to. The only two that we formally made a decision on are the private
health issue and the idiotic 70% increase on the excise on ready to drink beverages. Those are the
two issues that we will oppose. There are other revenue measures we're currently considering our
position on. As a South Australian, I'm particularly concerned about this, again very ideological
increase in the so-called luxury car tax from 25% to 33%, which will be damaging to the Australian
car industry. But we've not yet made a formal decision on that. So the revenue measures we will
examine in great detail as to our position. Our general view is that on the other hand,
appropriation measures, those measures which spend money, are not measures that we would formally
vote against, we will make clear our views on the , measures but appropriation measures are things
that I think now in Australian politics, one does not formally vote against, but revenue measures,
we certainly reserve the right to vote against them as did Labor for virtually its whole period in

ANNABEL CRABB: So, you're saying that it is possible that you'll speak at length about how much you
disapprove of the luxury car/Tarago tax but in the end just line up and support it?

NICK MINCHIN: No, I'm indicating that on revenue measures like that that will have a terrible
effect on the Australian car industry, we do reserve the right to vote against them, but we haven't
made a formal decision on that. But on measures that are appropriation measures, spending measures,
where we might disagree with the Government, we're obviously less likely to vote against them.

ANNABEL CRABB: Can we move to another specific area of policy? The Government's Fuel Watch scheme
is one that you've been disparaging of over the last little while, even though it was the
brainchild of a Liberal State government in WA and supported by the NSW State Liberal Opposition.
That actually needs legislation to bring it into being. Is there a possibility that you will oppose
that legislation in the Senate?

NICK MINCHIN: Well, we've not made a decision on that. What we think the Government should be doing
instead is adopting our policy of cutting the fuel excise by 5 cents a litre. That would be a much
more effect way of dealing with high petrol prices than setting up a new expensive bureaucracy to
watch the prices go up. All of the evidence from WA is that their fuel watch scheme hasn't made a
difference. We don't think that watching prices go up makes a difference. When we come to that
legislation, obviously we'll examine it, we might send it off to a Senate Committee to get some
evidence on it, but we think that the Government should adopt our policy of cutting the fuel excise
by 5 cents a litre.

ANNABEL CRABB: Speaking of your policy, we learnt that Greg Hunt your Environment spokesman has put
in writing his concerns and opposition to it. Now your Environment spokesman and your Treasury
spokesman privately disapprove of the policy. Isn't it just crumbling before our eyes?

NICK MINCHIN: I spoke to Greg Hunt last night and he assures me that it is not true and that it is
not his position.

ANNABEL CRABB: There was no e-mail?

NICK MINCHIN: He supports this policy 100%. What he did was in response to a request for advice on
options as to how we could have a policy to ease pressure on petrol prices, put to the Leader a
range of options for what we might do, but he at no stage said he opposed the 5 cents a litre
excise cap.

ANNABEL CRABB: He just thought there were a lot of better ideas?

NICK MINCHIN: No, he said, here's a range of options, take your pick. We, the Coalition have
decided that the best thing that can be done and the policy is to cut the fuel excise by five cents
a litre and Greg supports it strongly.

MARK KENNY: Can I just return to the issue it's surrounding Alexander Downer's future? You're a key
power broker in SA. It's rumoured that you and Mr Downer are effectively backing different horses
should that seat come vacant and there will be a by-election. Can you say whether you think that
someone who you think is not a genuine local can win that seat, which I think is about a 7%

NICK MINCHIN: As Alexander Downer rightly said, it was presumptuous of me to speculate that he
might be retiring.

MARK KENNY: There's a lot of people people making assumptions right at the moment in the seat and
lining up.

NICK MINCHIN: Obviously given that Alexander has indicated he might retire or might stay and has
not yet made up his mind inevitably in this game , those with an interest in a political career are
thinking, if Alexander goes, I would like to put my hand up. I don't really want to speculate too
much about that. I want to assure you that there is no difference of opinion between me and
Alexander about the future of Mayo. If he were to retire, my interest and his would be to have the
best possible field for all our members in in Mayo to chose from. I don't want to go further
because he has not yet made up his mind.

PAUL BONGIORNO: Thank you for being with us, today, Senator Nick Minchin.

NICK MINCHIN: My pleasure, Paul.

PAUL BONGIORNO: Coming up - WorkChoices may be down, but the unions fear it is not out just yet.
Sharan Burrow joins us. And cartoonist, Bill Leak in the 'Australian' takes a machete to the
Liberals' leadership struggle. Malcolm Turnbull and Brendan Nelson indulge in some limb lopping and
some wishful spinning - "United we stand."

PAUL BONGIORNO: The Opposition has declared WorkChoices dead but the unions fear that there's life
in the beast, and today are launching a new stage in the campaign with this TV ad.

AD: With Labor promising to get rid of the Liberal's IR laws, what do you want?

WOMAN: We want protection from dismissal no matter where we work.

MAN: I want my union to sit at the negotiating table.

WOMAN: We want the right to collectively bargain - it means our voices are heard, we get better pay
and we can protect things like better holiday pay.

MAN: Australian workers voted for their rights back, now it is time for the politicians to deliver.

PAUL BONGIORNO: Welcome back to the program, ACTU President Sharan Burrow. A lot of people thought
when they were voting Labor at the elections, they were getting the protections back. Aren't they?

ACTU PRESIDENT SHARAN BURROW: I'm sure they will, but we're on record saying that we'll continue a
conversation with Australia. We'll report back. We'll talk to working Australians and their
families about what it is that concerns us, and of course, until the legislation is through, then
rights at work are still actually captured by and large in the context of WorkChoices, so a way to
go yet.

MARK KENNY: Ms Burrow, the Hawke and Keating governments famously had an accord with unions, and
had the ACTU involved at the top levels of government, with Heather Ridout, the head of the
Australian Industry Group, now involved in four very key bodies that the Government has set up, are
you concerned and does the ad reveal to some level the concern, that there's effectively a new
accord with employers?

SHARAN BURROW: First of all, let me say that our ad is about reporting back to the Australian
people, continuing the conversation, making sure that collective bargaining rights and unfair
dismissal protections , a safety net and a say in your workplace are in fact guaranteed. And
there's other people in the Parliament, not just Kevin Rudd, and his promises, but of course a new
senate and the Liberals who have already done a back flip and said that they'll bring back
individual contracts. The difference though to go to your question between Labor and Liberal and
indeed between the union movement and the views of the business community is that we expect a Labor
Government to work in a tripartite fashion to work with business and unions in order to maximise
both the social and economic prosperity of the country. Liberals of course smashed all those
partnerships and given that I'm sitting on Skills Australia with Heather Ridout, I hope that we'll
do something about turning around the neglect that the Howard Government inflicted both on people
with the neglect of skills in terms of their opportunity, particularly our kids, and of course on
the economy.

MARK KENNY: Does this suggest that the famously close relationship between the ACTU and the Labor
Party has transformed into something different, and you're now effectively applying pressure
through a PR and advertising campaign to reinforce to this new government what you expect it to do?

SHARAN BURROW: The ads are not about Labor but talking to the Australian community and about a
concern that business is already pushing back. You've got the mines companies say they want to
maintain uncapped hours, we already work the longest set of hours on average than other OECD
countries - 43.5 hours per week -and no cap, most other countries have caps. We have the backflip
of the Liberal Party saying they'll bring back individual contracts and a new Senate, so the game
is still on. Kevin Rudd has to not just deliver its promises but get them through the Parliament.

ANNABEL CRABB: There actually is a formal construction between the Labor Party and the ACTU and the
union movement called the Australian Labor Advisory Council and according to Labor rules it is
supposed to meet twice a year. Can you tell us how many times the organisation has met since the
Rudd Government was elected?

SHARAN BURROW: There's a scheduled meeting later this month, actually late in June, I think it is.
We will of course continue to talk to the Labor Party about the future in social and economic
terms. It's always been a body that's been about the medium to long-term. We have day-to-day
consultation and there is consultation around the workplace unions and there is a team of union
folk. But the conversation for us that we're launching today is very different. There's formal
Government to union consultation, just as there is formal Government to business, and tripartite
consultation, but working Australians deserve to know where the laws are up to. They voted last
November for an overwhelming change to the IR laws. They voted the Howard Government out to see the
laws change and we're now getting into the meaty end of that deliberation. We've seen individual
contracts off, we're watching the development of the renewal of awards as a safety net, but the big
ticket items, collective bargaining, not just for better paying conditions, particularly with 75%
of working households under pressure but, also for productivity and growth and sustainability for
the economy and of course unfair dismissal protections.

PAUL BONGIORNO: Remuneration shot into the headlines this week with the retiring Macquarie Bank
boss, Allan Moss. He took our breath away with and $82 million retirement package. This is how he
justified it.

RETIRING MACQUARIE BANK CEO ALAN MOSS (Tuesday): Because of globalisation, there are people like us
who are participating in global markets and whose remuneration somewhat reflects the markets.

PAUL BONGIORNO: Do you accept that explanation?

SHARAN BURROW: What appals me, Paul, is the hypocrisy of this. Obscene levels of remuneration for
CEOs, and yet the same CEOs telling working Australians they have to take real pay cuts when
profits are at a 30-year high relative to wages share. Working people are under pressure. We need
IR laws that allow for fair collective bargaining rights to see they get a fair share.

ANNABEL CRABB: What about the issue itself, there seems to be an extraordinary consensus across
politics that the salaries are out of control and obscene. Do you think there's an argument for the
Federal Government to make changes to the corporations law that actually oblige company executives
to consult shareholders before they agree to the packages?

SHARAN BURROW: Look, shareholders ought to have maximum rights to determine what's fair and
reasonable for CEOs by way of salaries and other executives in regard to the conditions. No
question about that and it would be terrific to see the Parliament take up the issue. This is
obscene and if there's that level of money washing around in companies that working Australians
have helped to create amongst other workers around the world, that ought to be shared more fairly.
Thank you Sharan Burrow. And thank you to the panel, Mark Kenny and Annabel Crabb. Thank you for
joining us. Goodbye.