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Transcript of interview with Richard Glover: ABC 702 Drive: 6 February 2017: Donald Trump; the Australia-US alliance; Australian-made and tariff laws

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SUBJECTS: Donald Trump; the Australia-US alliance; Australian-made and tariff laws.

RICHARD GLOVER, PRESENTER: Wendy Machin is the Chair of ANCAP, the new car assessment program; Tony Shepherd is the former president of the Business Council of Australia, and Wendy and Tony are with me in Sydney, welcome.


GLOVER: And in Canberra is Tanya Plibersek, the Deputy Leader of the Opposition and of course the Member for Sydney. Tanya, welcome.


GLOVER: Now Malcolm Turnbull insists that he has made no promises in return for Donald Trump's grudging agreement to take some of our refugees from Manus and Nauru. "There's no linkage, none at all," he said today to questions such as, you know, whether there was a promise of future military support in return. Now some say that Trump's arrival at the White House should cause Australia to reconsider our lockstep relationship with America via the Alliance. Have they got a point? Should we be a bit more questioning now we know the identity of the person in the White House? Tanya?

PLIBERSEK: Well I think the US alliance has been for many years and will continue to be a really important part of Australia's foreign policy. But alliance should never mean compliance, and when there are differences we should be prepared to articulate those differences and act in the national interest - like, for example - we shouldn't have been involved in the 2003 invasion of Iraq: it was not in our national interest and it turns out not to have been in the global interest either. And I'd say one

of the areas that we probably need to look very closely at is the changing US position when it comes to Russia, to Vladimir Putin. And it was pretty distressing today to see Pauline Hanson following the Trump line on Vladimir Putin, that he was a great guy and a strong leader. I think particularly considering that 38 Australians lost their lives when MH17 was shot down, that was extraordinarily thoughtless.

GLOVER: I think George Christensen made similar comments too, about Putin, today as well. Nonetheless, Trump makes the point that Putin could help the West to fight ISIS and that's a battle you want some help with?

PLIBERSEK: Well I think Syria is a terrific example of what we shouldn't be accepting from Vladimir Putin, which is indiscriminate bombing of civilians. Yes - he's fighting ISIS, but he's also fighting anybody else who is opposed to his man, Bashar al-Assad in Syria. So I certainly wouldn't say that that's a great example of international good citizenship, I'd say the exact opposite.

GLOVER: Do you accept Mr Turnbull's word that he hasn't made any promises, despite what seems to be an agreement from Donald Trump to honour this refugee deal?

PLIBERSEK: Look who knows what's happening there, I mean there are differing accounts of what happened with the phone call initially. But I suppose one thing it does remind us is we absolutely have to find a solution as a matter of priority for people who have been on Manus Island and Nauru for three years now. And it reminds us again that the Liberals should have accepted Labor's arrangement with Malaysia that would have had people living in the community, able to work, kids at school, healthcare. It is extraordinary that they voted against that proposal at the time - 600 people drowned at sea after they rejected Malaysia - it looks like a pretty good arrangement now - and I'm yet to hear from anyone why is was right to reject that and it's ok to leave people on Manus Island and Nauru for three years.

GLOVER: Malaysia to one side, would you at least say now that Mr Turnbull - let's say he has got this agreement, let's say that it does go through - that he's done pretty well with that phone call, he's sucked up a lot in order to get these refugees sent to into what seems to be the only solution to their pretty dire predicament?

PLIBERSEK: Well I absolutely hope that the deal proceeds. But we've seen a lot of confused accounts of it up until now. What it actually involves - I think there needs to be a lot more transparency and we need to see a resolution to this issue sooner rather than later. It's one of the most glaring failures of Peter Dutton as Immigration Minister not to have resolved this yet.

GLOVER: Tanya Plibersek, so as Wendy Machin with me in Sydney, "alliance should not be compliance" says Tanya Plibersek. Now that we have got this pretty unique figure in the White House, shouldn't we be more cautious about the alliance?

MACHIN: Well I think we should always, you know, question our alliances, or be careful about how we carry them out. But the US alliance has been a longstanding one. It was, you know, I think Labor Leader Curtin in the early 40s who said we now look to America more so than the British and we've been great partners for a long

time, in many things, not just refugees, not just war, you know, battles and things like that. So I think we need to look at separating, I guess the identity, the personalities, and not sort of risk getting all excited about a rather interesting character who is now the US President [inaudible] longstanding relationship between the two countries because a lot of people in America are aghast obviously at what's going on and trying to talk to us more directly, and I guess we need to look at that bigger picture and that longstanding relationship between the two countries. It's difficult.

GLOVER: Ok but the longstanding relationship involves, in practice, going to every single conflict they've had since the Second World War. So what if we have a very bellicose president who suddenly takes on China in the South China Sea, and suddenly we're in lock step there as well?

MACHIN: Well we'd have to say that's one of the risks. You know, you've got a particularly antagonistic person in the White House now who is breaking all the known conventions and it's very hard to predict how he's going to be. I think we just have to, I guess that you have to hope that it doesn't come to that. And I think our leaders would have to hope that was the case. But it's very hard to predict.

GLOVER: Well Mr Turnbull did say today, Tony, “every military engagement is judged on its merits". I suppose in practice we don't have to go into every battle that they go into. And yet we have in practice, in the past.

TONY SHEPHERD, FORMER PRESIDENT, BUSINESS COUNCIL OF AUSTRALIA: We have in practice but we've done it because of our own self-interest - we believed in whatever the matter was right along we went in because we thought that it was the right thing to do at the time. We've still got a lot of defence cooperation - we've got three well known defence facilities jointly run by Australia and the US which are vital to the US and that work into our own network. So, we're sort of, in some respects, welded at the [inaudible].

GLOVER: And they appreciate us. Because some people listened to that phone call - I mean obviously not listened to it, but listened to the leaks of the phone call and thought, "come on man!". [inaudible]

SHEPHERD: Well we've had our issues in the past with the US. I was a former public servant, worked in the States in the 70s and I can remember our Secretary of Defence getting right into the people at the Pentagon over various issues.

GLOVER: No one leaked it, though.

SHEPHERD: Nobody leaked it. But you know I think we've just got to stand up for ourselves and I think we'll be respected for it. But you've got to remember we've got a lot of friends there in the Congress; we've got a lot of friends right across the United States. We are - in my view - the friendliest country to the US in the world at the present time, despite this [inaudible]. It's a new administration, they've got to find their legs, you know it will take a year for them to settle in - this is the most complex job in the world. So my view would be, look, be patient, be firm and be friendly.

GLOVER: But don't be too distracted by the one guy.

SHEPHERD: No. And look, we've got a great Ambassador, we've got a great Foreign Minister, we've had a great Ambassador before, Kim Beazley laid wonderful groundwork for us in that relationship as it's got more complicated as the rules proceeded. And so I think we're in a good position. And I think just be patient - be firm, I think you have to be firm and I think we have been in the past, you know we've never copped a lot from the Americans, frankly, and certainly they may not have got much publicity. And just be friendly and continue.

GLOVER: Well, you know, China - there is a difference in Australian interests and American interests in China - there's traditionally been a slightly different attitude, actually.

SHEPHERD: But Nixon went to China. Think of Nixon: Nixon was the last president we had a big blow up with, you know Gough Whitlam got really stuck into him which was in a [inaudible] Gough way. And Nixon was the one who took America to China, so sometimes those conservative guys are in a better position to reach out. And I wouldn't be surprised what he did - he could reach out to China. And look, Paul Keating and Bob Hawke, they reformed our economy - they did it, that was a Labor Government - and they did those reforms which I don't think the conservatives could have ever brought.

GLOVER: Ok so sometimes the other side of politics which does the hard lifting, or whatever the period is. Now 8 out of 10 Australians want the country to rely less on imports and to manufacture more in Australia, according to a survey published on the front page of today's Sydney Morning Herald. Well that sounds like the markings for a Trump-style revolt against globalisation, with higher tariffs and all of that. But would Australians really be willing to pay the extra costs of the tariff walls that might be necessary to reinvigorate manufacturing. In other words, we say this to a pollster - I'll say it to a pollster, I love the idea of buying Australian - but do we really mean it? Tony?

SHEPHERD: Yeah look I was in Woolworths the other day - or you know it was Coles, I don't really care which store.

GLOVER: We say "Colesworth".

MACHIN: A supermarket.

SHEPHERD: Yeah a supermarket, that's it.

GLOVER: It's a Ross Campbell-ism that I'm reviving.

SHEPHERD: And I just think looked at the price of a white china dinner service, and I compared it in my mind to what I'd paid ten years ago for one for the kitchen. And it was about a quarter of the cost. So, we go into K-Mart, we go into the supermarket, we are just, you know, dining out, basically, on - this is what's kept our inflation under control. If that starts taking off again because we're paying more for everything - from electric products, just homewares, or cars or what have you, I think the Australian population will get sick of the idea very quickly. And this free trade has contributed to

our great prosperity; we've had 25 years of continuous prosperity - no other country may have had that in the world.

GLOVER: We tend to hold these ideas simultaneously, don't we. We at one stage will say. "oh, it's terrible to see the car industry go", for instance, it's terrible - you know [inaudible] was talking about the clothing and footwear industry the other day on [inaudible] and what a fantastic thing it was in the 70s. So we feel all that, and at the same time we go - I went into K-Mart the other day and bought a kettle for $5.

SHEPHERD: And it was a good kettle, probably!

GLOVER: It was a good kettle!

MACHIN: Well as long as it's a good kettle, because the other part of that is the kind of disposable goods that we now have: disposable clothing that you can order on Iconic or ASOS, and it's at your doorstep in 3 hours. It probably costs you $30, you wear it once or twice, you throw it out. So that's becoming a huge change - I guess that's the flip side of having access easily to all these cheap goods. But it's a bit of a motherhood question, isn't it? I mean of course we'll all say, "yeah, I love the idea of buying Australian and producing in Australia". But then you'd say "do you want to treble the cost?" and it's different question.

GLOVER: But part of the reason that Pauline Hanson is showing up in Western Australia with 12, 13, 14 per cent polls is that she's saying to people "I'll make this happen for you."

MACHIN: I know, but Richard it's easy to say that - there's another thing to deliver. And that's the thing about groups like Pauline Hanson and some of those. If you look at her policies, her manifesto if she was leader that she put out yesterday, they're inconsistent. I mean, they're internally inconsistent, the things she's saying. So it's all very well to be able to promise and promise. But she knows she'll never really have to deliver.

SHEPHERD: Yeah. And look I think you'd look at other ways of lowering business costs and manufacturing costs, you know, lower energy costs would be a great start, less mindless regulation, flexible working arrangements, can I say lower business taxes including payroll taxes.

MACHIN: Fuel costs.

SHEPHERD: I mean, we've regulated a lot of our manufacturing out of business in many respects - we've just made it so hard to manufacture here, putting aside our cost disadvantages and our market disadvantages, I think that's one of the contributing factors.

GLOVER: Ok, tariffs is not the only answer. Tanya Plibersek, do we really care about this when we say to the pollsters, "no, no we want to cut imports and manufacture everything here"?

PLIBERSEK: Look I think people should buy Australian whenever they can. I do whenever I can, you know in my clothes, my food, my car, whatever. But I think really what people are saying is not that they want to reintroduce tariff laws because tariff laws hurt Australian exporters as much as they hurt our relationships overseas. I think what they're saying is we're worried about what sort of jobs we'll be doing in the future, what kind of work there'll be available for our kids. And I think the answer is not insisting that people pay more for consumer goods, which is what reintroducing tariff laws does, but actually saying we're going to make sure that our workforce is highly skilled, and through our school system - TAFE, university - we're preparing our young people for the changing economy in Australia and globally so that they'll be able, not just to do the jobs that traditionally have been done in Australia, but also to seize opportunities in new industries, the sort of new industries that are actually difficult to imagine today but will have emerged in ten and twenty years' time.

GLOVER: What about Tony’s list of lower business taxes, lower regulation, perhaps, you know, less penalty rates?

PLIBERSEK: You know, I think you need sensible regulation, but don’t forget that people who are earning penalty rates, they’re consumers too. When they spend those wages they’re helping create demand in the economy. If you attack people’s wages, we’ve got the lowest wages growth in history at the moment, if you attack people’s wages they’re not confident consumers. They’re not going to put their hand in their pocket to buy the extra cup of coffee that week. And when you come to lower business taxes, look, you know, it’s always better in an ideal world to have lower taxes rather than higher taxes, but cutting $50 billion at a time - of revenue - at the same time as you’re saying we can’t afford to invest in schools, we’ve got to cut school funding by $30 billion, that doesn’t make sense to me, particularly when we know that a lot of that money flows to overseas shareholders. It’s going to big companies, and, you know, a lot of it’s just being repatriated offshore. That doesn’t support jobs growth in Australia.

GLOVER: Alright. 11 to six is the time, we have Wendy Machen, Tony Shepherd and Tanya Plibersek. This big vote for the minority parties, we’ll talk about that in a tick, and students being disengaged, the story today from the Grattan Institute saying that 40 per cent of our students are disengaged. I mean, unproductive, bored, struggling to keep up. What’s doing it? What’s wrong with our education systems at the moment that’s producing that result, and what are the memories of our panellists of the thing that really engaged them when they were studying, that gave them a love of knowledge?

[Traffic report]

A third of people won’t give their first preference vote in the House of Reps to either Labor or the Coalition according to the first Newspoll of the year, a result which has caused Pauline Hanson to say she’s thrilled and that it proves that the major parties are not listening to ordinary Australians. How can those mainstream parties win back relevance at a time where there seems such a high level of disillusionment, both here and overseas. Wendy Machin?

MACHIN: Well, it’s a really good question Richard. I mean, I’m an old pollie - it goes back a fair few years now, so I’ve been there. I think it’s about -

GLOVER: Although in your time the minors weren’t that powerful, were they?

MACHIN: The minors? Which kind of minors, with an O-R or an E-R?

GLOVER: Well I suppose I’m talking about -

MACHIN: Like the mining industry?

GLOVER: No the Greens, the -

MACHIN: The minor parties. No, they were starting to emerge and interestingly there were politicians who worked out the 30 second grab, you know I kind of came in at the beginning of that wave, and how you had to pitch it to media and you became much more packaged and more commoditised in many ways. And I think if you go way back beyond that, before the media, you know, people had to literally get on the back of a truck and do the old stump speech, which was fantastic. And I think there’s a bit of a hankering for that kind of authenticity and we’re seeing that in people wanting to go for you know, kind of out-there politicians and people who are probably not as glib and articulate and polished. You know, the Donald Trumps of the world, the Pauline Hanson and, dare I say it, Barnaby Joyce. The Nats, they picked up a seat at the last election and I think that kind of rough diamond approach that he has resonates with people who are looking for someone that talks a bit straight as opposed to pollie-speak.

GLOVER: Don’t let the media teacher knock off all the edges.

MACHIN: Yeah, yeah, I think people, and it’s an Australian thing too, you know, they like the larrikinism. That’s why I think Bob Hawke was so popular, that whole larrikinism thing that he did so well, there was a genuineness about him, and he was also a very clever man and as Tony said earlier, you know, spearheaded a lot of reform. So I think there’s a bit of that, you know, and the other is perhaps trying to please everybody. I think leaders sometimes need to learn how to say no, and just say why they’re saying no, and there is a bit of a reluctance to say that these days.

GLOVER: Tanya Plibersek, how do you fight back against these sort of poll figures?

PLIBERSEK: Focus on the things that matter to people - jobs, healthcare, education. I mean I think there’s a degree of cynicism in the electorate that’s obvious and it’s not helped when people see bad behaviour. Like most recently during the Christmas break we saw the Sussan Ley travel scandal and last week the Prime Minister not wanting to disclose, you know, his own donation to his own political party. But it doesn’t really matter which side the bad behaviour is on, it reflects badly on all of us. And I think the only antidote is to convince people that we’re really focused on what matters to them. It’s their work, the fact that they’re going to have a job, that their kids are going to have a job in 10 years’ time, that their kids will be able to afford a house, that Medicare is strong and protected, they’ll be able to get healthcare when they need it, that their kids can get a decent education, can go to

university without $100 000 degrees. That bread-and-butter stuff, that’s what matters.

GLOVER: Is it frustrating for the major parties, when you have someone like Pauline Hanson, she’s very compelling when she speaks, and she has this great long list of things, from banning the burka, to bringing in compulsory pre-nups for all marriages so you don’t have a log-jam later in the family courts, to two per cent tax rates, to getting rid of the GST. You know, there’s a great long list of things, which, I don’t know if they’re all incompatible, but certainly it’s hard to imagine them all of them being actually put into practice, and yet she can say them.

PLIBERSEK: Well I think that’s the great gift that minor parties have, isn’t it? They can say anything, they’re never held responsible for actually implementing anything. But it’s the downside for them as well, because, you know, I think it can very quickly fall apart when you see, you know we saw what happened with the Clive Palmer party, we saw what happened last time Pauline Hanson was in the Parliament, there’s a degree of, I don’t know, making things up as they go along, that can quite often come back to bite them and quite often cause real ructions in these micro parties.

GLOVER: Tony Shepherd, you were talking about how reform has been achieved by the big parties, is it a worry that people are so disillusioned with them these days?

SHEPHERD: It worries me but the fundamental role and skill of a politician is connecting with the people. I mean that should be the thing that they’re best at. And, you know, you have populists like Hanson and Bob Katter and what have you, and they’re really great at it. So, I don’t know, we run a TAFE course for politicians on how to connect with people and how to communicate or something, they seem to be losing the skill. You know, we’ve had some terrific communicators post-war in Australia and across both parties, and they’re just good at connecting, and they understand the vernacular and what people like to hear. And I think politicians -

GLOVER: Fred Daly and James Killen, back -

SHEPHERD: That’s it! You know they were good, they were funny as well, I mean, they were entertaining. You go to Parliament in the old days it was a hoot.

PLIBERSEK: You know, Richard, can I just say, Tony’s made the point that that’s a fundamental skill, I think that is a really important skill but actually the thing that people should expect of their elected representative is the ability to make complex decisions with a vast amount of information in the national interest. And I’m not sure that all of the populists have that skill.

GLOVER: And in other words, to have policies that don’t only sound good, but are good in practice.

PLIBERSEK: Good for the nation, good for the nation. Is this good for the nation?

SHEPHERD: Well if you look at the things like the GST which, you know, Howard and Costello sold. It took them two years, they went around the country for two years

over and over again, is the cake in, is the candle in, relentlessly. Hawke and Keating again on their reforms, which were mega reforms, did the same thing - took the people into their confidence. Explained it to them in simple language, complex things, without oversimplifying, and brought the people with them, and sold it. And it was difficult, it was hard, it was endless meetings and TV and radio and all that stuff. And they finally got it through and in the end it was accepted.

GLOVER: And sincerity, what a concept. Monday political forum with Wendy Machin, Tony Shepherd and Tanya Plibersek. Q and A is back tonight, and on Wendy Harmer’s show today, Tony Jones confided that some politicians have admitted that the theme music is enough to give them a feeling of nauseous anxiety.

TONY JONES [CLIP]: Tanya Plibersek of all people, you know, one of the perhaps most competent media performers in the country, said to me once, and I think actually she said this publicly, whenever she hears the Q and A theme song she feels nauseous.

GLOVER: Tanya, is that true?

PLIBERSEK: Yes, Richard. And in fact, the only sound that makes me more nervous is my daughter calling out when she’s sitting in front of the computer online shopping calling out ‘Mum what’s your credit card number?’

MACHIN: Mine have memorised it.

GLOVER: I’m going to have to do it to you Tanya, you realise? [Q and A theme] Well what about you two, is there some noise that makes you anxious?

SHEPHERD: Well I’ve been on a few times, it was a challenging experience, it was like going ten rounds with Muhammad Ali.

MACHIN: You’ve got to fight, haven’t you, you’ve got to fight for space.

GLOVER: What else? See some people said it’s this actually, which is the 7:45 news which means you’re late for work or school or university or -

MACHIN: I reckon it’s this, I brought my own.

GLOVER: Go on.

MACHIN: [iPhone ringtone] I hate that, that is the worst sound in the world.

SHEPHERD: I like the sound of the ABC news, I find that comforting.

GLOVER: Someone rang up and said he was a sports administrator, he didn’t say rugby league but he was a sports administrator for some big sport. He said any phone call using his mobile phone caused him to, because he thought it’s some terrible behaviour on the part of some player and I’m going to have to deal with it. And he had to, this was the years before you could change your mobile phone tone so he had to get rid of the phone because it gave him an ulcer every time he heard it.

So you know, you have got to control the, actually someone else said this. [Mr Whippy theme] Because it’s about to start a fight in the family, with all the kids saying ‘I want an ice cream mum’.

MACHIN: And that revolting ice cream, I mean it’s disgusting.

SHEPHERD: [inaudible] different dial tones for different people, a mate of mine, he had the music from jaws for his wife.

GLOVER: I’m not even going to laugh at that because I’m -

MACHIN: Or, you know, the submarine.

GLOVER: Tanya?

PLIBERSEK: I was just going to say about the Mr Whippy music, I had my kids believing for years that it meant that the van had run out of ice cream when they played the music.

MACHIN: You’re a mean mother.

PLIBERSEK: I am a mean mother, I am.

SHEPHERD: That is really good communication Tanya.

GLOVER: Very wise, there should be more of it. We’re out of time, but thank you very much to Wendy Machin, she’s the chair of ANCAP the new car assessment program, Tony Shepherd is the former president of the Business Council of Australia, and Tanya Plibersek, the Deputy Leader of the Federal Opposition, Member for Sydney and an enemy of Mr Whippy men everywhere. Thank you very much to all three of you, and we’re rolling up to news time now.