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Opposition tries to shift the focus -

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Opposition tries to shift the focus

The World Today - Wednesday, 11 March , 2009 12:10:00

Reporter: Lyndal Curtis

ELEANOR HALL: One of the main issues that lost the Coalition the last election - industrial
relations - is still causing it trouble.

The Opposition leader Malcolm Turnbull is trying to keep the focus on the impact of the
Government's changes on jobs.

But he keeps being diverted by talk about the former treasurer Peter Costello.

In Canberra, chief political correspondent Lyndal Curtis reports.

LYNDAL CURTIS: Malcolm Turnbull wants to talk about jobs.

MALCOLM TURNBULL: What we're trying to achieve is a better outcome for small business. We're trying
to achieve a better outcome for jobs.

LYNDAL CURTIS: But it's just the one job that keeps grabbing the headlines - that of the former
treasurer Peter Costello.

Mr Turnbull denies the continued focus on Mr Costello following yesterday's exchange between the
two men in the Coalition party meeting is a distraction, and he's questioned the accuracy of some
reports of that exchange.

MALCOLM TURNBULL: One of the problems of the party room is that it's supposed to be a confidential
meeting but there's developed this practice of people talking about what goes on, and a lot of the
reports of the meeting in the media today are simply wrong. All of the discourse and debate in the
party room was polite.

LYNDAL CURTIS: Did he argue in favour of the recommendations of the shadow cabinet or for them to
go further?

MALCOLM TURNBULL: Well, there is no suggestion that Peter - well, the answer is, bluntly, no he did
not. He endorsed the recommendations of the shadow cabinet. That is a fact.

LYNDAL CURTIS: The Nationals Senate leader Barnaby Joyce says the issues between the two men should
be resolved, but not at a cost of free speech inside the party room.

BARNABY JOYCE: I think that your right to speak should not be precluded because it might be
envisaged as a challenge. Now there is obviously static out there, I mean, that static needs to be
resolved, but just because someone speaks in the joint party room, even if they get angry, that's
your democratic right.

LYNDAL CURTIS: Mr Turnbull says his focus has to be on the bigger picture.

MALCOLM TURNBULL: So the press gallery and other people can - perhaps some people with too much
time on their hands - can focus on personalities and gossip. I can't. I'm focused on jobs. That is
my focus. Leadership - leadership requires responsibility and focus on the real issues, and they
are jobs.

LYNDAL CURTIS: The Coalition is warning the Government's industrial relations changes will destroy
jobs, and that message was taken up by the shadow small business spokesman Steven Ciobo.

STEVEN CIOBO: You don't have to take the Coalition's word for it, what you can actually take
credence in is the comments from the Restaurant and Caterers Association, which have indicated the
potential job losses as a result of Labor's job destroying laws will make Pacific Brands look like
a bump in the road.

LYNDAL CURTIS: But this debate is also haunted by the ghost of WorkChoices and the fear from some
in the Coalition that if it votes against the Government's legislation, it will be forever dubbed
the party of WorkChoices.

Labor's Doug Cameron was working on that line today.

DOUG CAMERON: Look, this is an issue of WorkChoices on not having WorkChoices. It's quite clear
that the Coalition are divided and that there is a group led by Peter Costello. They want to go
back to WorkChoices.

LYNDAL CURTIS: Coalition frontbencher Christopher Pyne is adamant WorkChoices is dead. Very dead.

CHRISTOPHER PYNE: We all know that WorkChoices is a dead letter. It's over in politics. It couldn't
be deader than General Custer in fact.

LYNDAL CURTIS: The negotiations are continuing on the bill. The Independent senator Nick Xenophon
has met with the Opposition on their shared concern that the unfair dismissal changes don't apply
to many small businesses.

NICK XENOPHON: I've already spoken to the Opposition about this and I'm expecting to meet Julia
Gillard again tomorrow.

LYNDAL CURTIS: The Government's amendments are being drafted and will be ready for the Senate on

While the Government's trying to hammer out a deal with the cross bench senators, the Opposition's
trying to keep itself in the game by not saying how it would vote on the final legislation if its
amendments are rejected; but amendments from others accepted.

MALCOLM TURNBULL: We've got to see what is in the bill, why would we lock ourselves in to a
position when we don't actually know what the final bill is going to contain.

LYNDAL CURTIS: But why can't you say now that if there aren't amendments that are satisfactory to
you, that deal with your concerns - if those don't exist in the legislation when it passes, when it
comes for a vote in the Senate, that you'll vote against it?

MALCOLM TURNBULL: Well, Lyndal, I'll tell you why I'm not going to say that. Because I don't want
to be a complete fool and throw away all my negotiating position.

LYNDAL CURTIS: Or, to put it another way, as Barnaby Joyce did this morning:

BARNABY JOYCE: Let's have a look at the legislation when it finally arrives. At the moment, you
know, if you've got a canary, you stick a trunk on it, make it weigh a tonne, paint it grey, give
it four legs and make it eat peanuts, it's an elephant. So by the time we finish with all the
amendments to this IR package, we'll make a decision about what we're doing then.

LYNDAL CURTIS: Whatever form the legislation finally takes; it's becoming clear that there will be
movement on the question of unfair dismissals and small business.

That's the one area of concern Malcolm Turnbull acknowledges the Government does have a mandate
for, but it's one the Government might have to give some ground on if it wants the bill to pass.

ELEANOR HALL: That's chief political correspondent Lyndal Curtis.