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Transcript of interview with Lyndall Curtis: ABC 24 Capital Hill: 27 March 2012

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Transcript ­ ABC 24 Capital Hill ­ Tuesday, 27 March 2012

28 March 2012 in Media

To watch the video of this interview, please click here.


Welcome to Capital Hill, I’m Lyndal Curtis. Well, today is all about the numbers on the same weekend

Queensland voters went to the polls to deliver Labor in that state a trouncing, these polls in the field for the

Australian and it shows Labor’s primary vote is in the position it has been at for quite some time, far too low to

win an election. The latest report on asylum seeker claims around the world has come out. It shows asylum

seeker claims in 2011 went up 20 per cent from 2010 but down 9 per cent in Australia. And, the National’s Leader

in Senate, Barnaby Joyce wants a threshold of which the Foreign Investment Review Board considers purchases

of agricultural land lowered - a position the Opposition Leader, Tony Abbott is inclined to agree with. To discuss

the numbers, I have been joined by Labor Senator Matt Thistlethwaite and Liberal MP Jamie Briggs. Welcome to

you both.


Good afternoon, Lyndal.


Good afternoon, Lyndal.


Well, we’ll start off with the Newspoll - Julia Gillard, the Prime Minister is in South Korea and she’s not inclined to

change her early morning habits for just one poll.


I could wake up every morning and worry about the polling or I could wake up every morning thinking about the

future of our nation and I choose to do the latter.


Well, the Prime Minister was there saying that she doesn’t wake up worrying about the opinion polls, but, Matt

Thistlethwaite, given what happened in Queensland over the weekend, given the fact that the polls have been

around the same position for some time, is there any cause for Federal Labor to start to begin to worry that

eighteen months won’t be long enough for you to improve things?


Well, the polls shows that we’ve got some work to do, but the Prime Minister makes the point that we won’t

abandon our significant reform agenda and that’s an agenda that will deliver for working families in this country,

cutting income tax rates, cutting the company tax rate, providing a boost to superannuation incomes. The

question the Liberal Party really needs to answer is, they’re promising to balance the budget, they’re promising to

introduce income tax cuts, they’re promising a cut in the company tax rate, they’re promising an increase in the

pension, they’re promising a national disability insurance scheme, whilst reducing our carbon emissions by five

per cent and getting rid of the carbon tax - how are they going to achieve these outcomes? How are they going

to balance the books? They need to explain to the Australian people how they’re going to fund these



Labor spends a lot of time attacking the Coalition’s credibility on economic policy. Are you doing that because the

Coalition’s been consistently out in front in the polls for a long time and you need to damage the Coalition in order

to improve your own position?


Look Lyndal, the issue is about who manages the economy in the interests of working Australians and, on that

point, Labor is well ahead. We’re delivering a carbon price but at the same time we’re ensuring that families get

compensation. People who are on a fixed income will get an increase in their pension. There will be family

payments to assist people to make that transition. We’re boosting superannuation, retirement incomes for

people. We are...




We’re achieving tax cuts but the Liberal Party won’t explain to the Australian people how they will fund their

election commitments. Now, I think that the Australian people deserve to know - they deserve to know whether

the Liberal Party will increase taxes or cut services and if they’re going to cut services which ones will they cut?


Jamie, the Prime Minister yesterday borrowed the words of John Howard in 2004, asking who people trusted for

example on managing the economy as she said for working people. You were a ministerial staffer and then

moved into John Howard’s staff after the 2004 election; do you think it’s a tactic that will work?


Well, I think the Australian people have lost trust with Julia Gillard and they’ve lost trust because not only every

time that she tries to implement a policy does she stuff it up fundamentally, she also told the Australian people

the great big fib before the last election, which was, that there will be no carbon tax under a government she

led. Now, we’ve seen the electorate’s reaction to governments who tell fibs before an election just last Saturday.


But, we’ve also had governments previously who’ve back tracked on promises - John Howard famously had, the

core and non-core promises, so the position is not irrecoverable for Labor is it?


Well, look the field evidence I get from around the electorate, around my electorate, is that people don’t trust this

Prime Minister because she betrayed her word. She betrayed her word fundamentally, from, I will not introduce a

carbon tax under a government I lead, to immediately after it, with pressure from Bob Brown, she implemented,

she announces that she’d implement a carbon tax. Now, you talked about the previous Prime Minister. Well, what

John Howard did with a big reform like the GST was to take people into his trust - he announced that he’d

changed his mind. He said that he would take the GST to the 1998 election; he did so. He got it passed and you

will remember, the negativity of the Labor Party which is just ever-present these days, they still tried to stop the

GST following that election, so let’s not have any of this, the Labor Party accusing us of being negative. The most

negative political organisation in the country is the Australian Labor Party. We saw it in Queensland, where they

tried to personally destroy Campbell Newman. Shamefully tried to personally destroy Campbell Newman and,

now we are going to see it with Tony Abbott. Well, Queensland was preview to the federal election, where there

will just be a pure personal attack based on complete falsehoods aimed at Tony Abbott.




Jamie, we’re happy to talk about trust, the issue is that we’re talking about our nation’s finances.




We’d be very happy to talk about finances.


How will your party fund these election commitments? Will you either increase taxes or will you be cutting

services to fund these election commitments? The Australian people deserve to know how you are going to fund

these promises? Ours are all out there. Our policies are clear. We’ve said that we will use the Minerals Resource

Rent Tax (MRRT) to boost superannuation incomes and cut the company tax rate. How will you fund your

election commitments?




The Australian people deserve to know...


Well, I tell you what Matt, I’ll tell you what Matt what we won’t do, we won’t spend Australia into Two hundred and

forty four billion dollars of debt. We won’t have record deficits, 50 billion dollar deficits. We won’t not deliver a

surplus since 1989; that’s the Labor Party’s record when it comes to fiscal management, so I’m not going to be

lectured by one of the authors of the New South Wales state destruction and now in the Senate and part of the

destruction of the federal budget situation.


We might...


We have got...


Hollow rhetoric will not answer the question...


I might just interrupt this discourse which we have had a few times before to talk about some policy on the

Coalition’s side and the Opposition Leader, Tony Abbott, said it’s reasonable to want the threshold of which

purchases of agricultural land are considered by the Foreign Investment Review Board lowered from two hundred

and forty four million dollars. Barnaby Joyce wants it more than halved. We’ll have a listen to what he told

Lateline last night.



One hundred million dollars is also vastly too high. I am not going to sit on Lateline with you and try and get to a

position. That is something for me to negotiate with my colleagues and I have been doing it as hard as I can...


So, is one hundred million dollars what you want? Is a hundred million what you would be more comfortable with?


I am not going to say - well, I will have that negotiation with my colleagues because I am negotiating on behalf of

the people of regional Australia who’ve clearly expressed to me that they want something done about this and I

am going into bat on their behalf to try and do something about it.


Now you’re...


And, I will tell you what right now one hundred million dollars is too high - so there you go, there’s your answer.



Jamie, is this an issue that that needs to be looked at or is it simply responding to some public concern? Do you

think that concern is based in fact?


Well, look we’ve got an internal process which we’ve been working our way through in the Coalition, over the last

sort of six or eight months, with a working group coming up with some options to look at what are, if there are

genuine problems and what fixers can be put in place. And, that’s the right thing to do, to have an internal policy

discussion. What is disappointing, however, Lyndal is when very senior members of the Coalition decide to

freelance and put their view before the Party has come to a position when there is this internal discourse going

on. And, that doesn’t help. It hasn’t helped our discussion; it hasn’t helped us come to a position. And, in fact it’s

made, I think look very ill disciplined and messy, and I don’t think that its serving our constituents at all well.


Barnaby Joyce’s contribution, how do you think this has harmed the internal policy process? Isn’t it him simply

putting his view out, as Tony Abbott has done?


Well, look ultimately, Tony, is the Leader and Tony has the prerogative of the party room to make decisions and

he does that from time to time. What, however, I do find strange is that senior front benchers who are part of the

process and are in the inside of the process, want to freelance on the issue. I don’t think that’s helpful and I don’t

think I’m alone in thinking that’s an unhelpful development.


Matt, do you think that the issue of foreign ownership of agricultural land is causing concern particularly in the

rural sector and that it’s right to want some scrutiny of, of purchases by foreign interests?


Well, these concerns have been raised by Barnaby Joyce, and Bill Heffernan, and I agree with Jamie on this - it

has been messy by the Coalition - their approach to this important policy issue but the facts remain that 98 per

cent of agricultural land in Australia is owned by Australian companies or Australian private leaseholders. That

was the results of the ABARE study that was conducted earlier this year. We need to be attracting foreign

investment to this country under appropriate national interest considerations by the foreign investment review

board to ensure that we have long term growth and job prospects in this country and we think that we have the

balance right at the moment.


Jamie, do you think that there’s a danger in responding too quickly to what might be people’s concerns? Is there

a danger, or are you worried at all about being seen to be populist?


Well, I’m not going to go and do what I just complained about and speculate about what our policy position will be

in the end. I think it’s perfectly reasonable to have an internal debate about, in preparation for policies to take to

an election. I think when you’re part of that process; however, you should be part of that process. You shouldn’t

be going around floating your own ideas, trying to pre-empt that debate. There is a different perspective from

different people on this issue within the Coalition and that is blatantly obvious. And, you would be telling lies to

suggest there isn’t. So, there is a task in ensuring that those different perspectives come together and I think

Tony has put in place a good approach to that, with this group, which is headed up by Julie Bishop, and Warren

Truss, and I think we’re best to continue to work through that process and I think people should now, you know,

work in that process and stick to it.


We’ll move on now to the question of asylum seekers. The latest report on asylum trends in industrialised

countries from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, puts asylum claims in Australia in some

perspective. Four hundred and forty one thousand people claimed asylum in the forty four countries covered by

the study last year. Eleven thousand five hundred of those were in Australia. Matt Thistlethwaite, why do you

think the issue of asylum claims causes so much concern in Australia?


Well, because the Coalition have been on a negative campaign on this issue and this report has shown their

hollow rhetoric on the issue. There’s been an actual nine percent reduction in the number of people seeking

asylum in Australia over the last year and the UNHCR media release points to the reason why - simply one - a

reduction in the number of people getting on boats coming to Australia. So, despite the fact that we’ve had this

unsavoury and public debate in this country about this issue, we’ve been effective in reducing the number of

people making that dangerous journey on boats and just imagine, how effective we could have been if the

Opposition had agreed to the Malaysian plan - we would have been much more effective in reducing those

unsafe boat journeys.


Jamie, does it show some of the problems that other countries have, when you look at the high number of asylum

claims, particularly in Europe and the lower number of asylum claims in Australia?


Well, they’re different issues. You’ve got, land based movement of people in Europe and of course, it’s a lot

easier to move across land, than it is to move across water. There, I mean, it is hilarious to listen to and quite

sad, really, to listen to a Labor Party representative try and claim credit some how that the over ten thousand

people who have arrived here since 2008, when the laws were changed by Kevin Rudd and his then government,

and now somehow, a nine percent reduction last year, is some sort of achievement, is beyond a joke. Let’s not

forget, there has been two billion extra dollars spent on handling this issue because they changed the law in





And, it was the Labor Party who busted this open, not the Liberal Party.


And, that’s where we’ll have to leave it. Jamie Briggs and Matt Thistlethwaite, thank you very much for your time



Pleasure Lyndal.


And, thank you for joining Capital Hill. Join us at the same time tomorrow.