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Transcript of interview with Marius Benson: ABC NewsRadio: 19 September 2013: sacked departmental heads; Labor leadership

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CHRIS BOWEN MP Interim Leader of the Opposition Member for McMahon




SUBJECTS: Sacked departmental heads, Labor leadership.

MARIUS BENSON: Chris Bowen, good morning.

CHRIS BOWEN: Good morning to you Marius.

BENSON: The Government says a modest change to the team that will implement its agenda. Do you see that as a reasonable summation that was implemented by Tony Abbott yesterday?

BOWEN: Well, yesterday we saw the Cabinet that he had previously announced sworn in and we’ve already made our views clear about that. They should be congratulated on being sworn in that is always a great honour, but this Cabinet is severely lacking, lacking in key portfolios, key portfolios having been abolished and we’ve spoken about that in the past and lacking in female representation, one out of 20 women is just unacceptable in modern Australia.

But the real development we saw yesterday was the dismissal of three very talented and senior public servants, this is Australia’s loss. These public servants will be very hard to replace in terms of their collective wisdom. Two of them Mr Conley and Mr Metcalfe were career public servants who served in Governments of both persuasions, very professionally. I had worked very closely with Mr Metcalfe for example he had previously been Philip Ruddock’s Chief of Staff when they were in office and…

BENSON: …but the difficulty…

BOWEN: …Departmental Secretary because he was a fine public servant he could serve either party but that’s Australia’s loss that these public servants have been lost.

BENSON: Just looking at Mr Metcalfe as an example, the difficulty for him was he publicly said turning back the boats won’t work and that’s the cornerstone of the policy that’s now being implemented. Was there room for a person with those views to stay?

BOWEN: Well I think there’s always room for a public servant who’s prepared to give frank and fearless advice to Government and to call it as he sees it when asked publicly before estimates, for example, when they’re meant to give the honest and correct answer.

So if Mr Metcalfe’s being punished for being honest that’s a very poor start for this Government. As I said, he was previously Philip Ruddock’s Chief of Staff; he had served this Government with distinction as he served the previous Government, the Howard Government with distinction. We kept him on when we came to Government despite the fact he was a Liberal Minister’s Chief of Staff because we had the view that he was a good public servant, its Australia’s loss. He was Secretary of the Department of Agriculture that was hardly somewhere where he was going to have to implement the Government’s immigration policies even if they were concerned about that. So I think this is a petty move.

Mr Comley appears to be punished for having to implement the Government’s climate change policy, the previous Government’s climate change policy; he again was one of Australia’s most respected public servants. And Dr. Russell, yes, Dr. Russell had been Paul Keating’s Chief of Staff many, many years ago, he has since been Ambassador to the United States, he was the Secretary of the Department of Industry and a very talented man. So all of these are Australia’s loss in my view.

BENSON: But all in all for three senior public servants to go with the change of Government it is a fairly modest indication of change, isn’t it?

BOWEN: Well when we came to office in 2007 we sacked no public servants. No departmental Secretary. We took everybody on trust, took everybody that they would act without fear or favour…

BENSON: …but is it wrong to sack public servants when there’s a change in Government?

BOWEN: I do think it’s a loss for Australia. I do think it is a very unfortunate development that three very fine public servants, two of them career public servants have been lost. Their service will be very hard to replace. I do think it is a mistake by this Government, yes.

BENSON: Can I ask you about the Labor side of politics. The main event for you obviously is choosing a leader at the moment. Just to clarify the process, Anthony Albanese and Bill Shorten are campaigning now for rank and file votes, that’s a postal ballot, the results will be known on October the 13th. Will Caucus only vote after that result is known?

BOWEN: Ah no, so the Caucus will vote on the Thursday. So the ballot will close for rank and file members, then the Caucus will vote but then the rank and file vote won’t be counted before the Caucus vote. So the Caucus will not know how the rank and file have voted when we cast our votes and then they’ll all be counted and announced together on the Sunday.

BENSON: And who are you backing?

BOWEN: As interim leader Marius, I’ve made it very clear I’m not publicly endorsing either candidate. It’s a great process; the party membership has been invigorated by it. I’ve been talking to rank and file members who have been telling me they’ve been getting phone calls from Bill Shorten and Anthony Albanese. It’s a great process that two potential Labor Prime Ministers would be talking to Labor party members about their vision for the Party. Seeing our Party grow, we’ve been deluged with membership applications which is something that I think is well overdue and a really good reform for Australia and the Labor Party.

BENSON: You say as Acting Leader you won’t say who you’re backing but aren’t you as a Right-wing faction member obliged to back the Right candidate, Bill Shorten. Isn’t that compulsory?

BOWEN: I’ll be voting for whom I think is the best candidate based on my assessments of their comparative, what they comparatively bring to the job. And I’ll be doing that in the Caucus room in a secret ballot.

BENSON: It’s a secret ballot when it comes to that, it’s not a show of hands in the Caucus room, it’s a secret ballot?

BOWEN: It will be a secret ballot for both rank and file members and for the Caucus.

BENSON: So no one will ever know quite how you vote?

BOWEN: Well, it’s a secret ballot Marius, that’s right.

BENSON: Becausethere’s concern, that the Guardian Australian is writing about that this morning, the Right-wing faction, your faction is leaning on its members to ensure that they vote for Bill Shorten.

BOWEN: Well Marius…

BENSON: Are you being lent on?

BOWEN: No, not at all and I’m aware of rank and file members and Caucus members who will be voting for the candidate that they think is best for the job, who might not necessarily be a member of the same faction that they support.

BENSON: So you’re not bound to vote for the Right?

BOWEN: No, it’s a free ballot Marius, where individual members both rank and file and Caucus will be making up their mind as to who is the best candidate.

BENSON: Chris Bowen, thank you very much.

BOWEN: Good on you Marius, cheers.