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Transcript of interview with Ali Moore: ABC, Lateline: 24 June 2011: anniversary of Gillard Government; climate change; passage of Budget bills

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PW 123/11 24 June 2011




MOORE: Well, to discuss the week in politics we're joined tonight by the Finance Minister, Penny Wong, who is in our Adelaide studio, and Greg Hunt, the Opposition's spokesman on climate action and the environment, who's in Melbourne. I spoke to them a short time ago.

Penny Wong and Greg Hunt, many thanks for joining Lateline tonight.

WONG: Good to be with you.

HUNT: Good evening.

MOORE: Penny Wong, three issues the Prime Minister earmarked for her urgent attention, pretty much this day a year ago when Kevin Rudd was dumped and she took over: asylum seekers, the mining tax and a carbon price, none of which is finally resolved. And the polls are worse than they were 12 months ago, do you think Labor is better off?

WONG: Well look, obviously there are some pretty tough reforms which the Prime Minister is tackling. You know she said, quite clearly, to the Australian people, we need a price on carbon, and she's doing the work that's required to deliver that. This is a tough reform and she's just the woman to deliver it.

We know that this is a difficult time for us, because this is a tough reform. We know that we will continue to get the negativity, the scaremongering of Tony Abbott, we know he will continue to oppose everything.

But we're very focused on the future and very focused on doing what's right for the nation. Rolling out the National Broadband Network, delivering our Budget, including an investment in skills and, of course, delivering the price on carbon.

MOORE: These were all reforms though, of course, that Kevin Rudd was also tackling. My


question was do you actually think Labor is better off 12 months down the track?

WONG: Well I can tell you what I think about Julia Gillard. And Julia is hardworking, intelligent and competent and she is an extremely determined person and she is determined to do the right thing by the country.

It would be very easy at the moment for someone to say, “look this is all too hard, I've got an Opposition Leader who's just going to be negative no matter what. He'll oppose everything, he'll run a scare campaign. I've got a reform that is a tough reform.” But Julia is pressing ahead with it, and she's working to ensure that we put a price carbon and tackle climate change.

We've delivered the major steps in rolling out the National Broadband Network and, of course, we've delivered a Budget, which what I'd say to you is, has the mark of Julia Gillard on it. $3 billion investment in skills and participation, as you know, something very dear to her heart - education.

MOORE: Greg Hunt let's take this then from the other perspective. The Government did announce yesterday a deal on the NBN, front page of pretty much all the newspapers; the other issues, if they are on the way to being resolved, the NBN may prove just to be the first of those policy areas to be ticked off the list.

If the Government can stop the boats, put a price on carbon, where does the Coalition go?

HUNT: Well unfortunately for the Government, and much more unfortunately the country, asylum seekers, the mining tax, climate change, three strikes and in the Australian public's view, three strikes and the Prime Minister is out.

On each of those three elements it's absolutely clear.

The mining tax, the controversy is now getting worse rather than better; asylum seekers, we have had a continual and catastrophic failure with the boats continuing, the East Timor proposal from July of last year collapsing, the Papua New Guinea proposal looking close to collapse and Malaysia, virtually two months on, being a complete debacle.

Thirdly, in terms of the climate change policy, the Prime Minister's pledge was not just “there will be no carbon tax under the government I lead” but it was also that she would not take this step until such time as there was a deep and lasting consensus.

Both of these were, I'm sorry to say, a fraud on the Australian people and the Australian people have voted no.

With regards to the NBN, what we saw yesterday was a deal which will ban Telstra from advertising fast, mobile broadband in competition with the National Broadband Network for 20 years. That is something that the East Germans wouldn't have even dreamt of.

MOORE: Penny Wong?

WONG: Well, I mean, where should I start? I mean, we have an Opposition at the moment, led by an Opposition Leader who is a very good opposition leader. He's very good at


opposing, not very good at leading. And I think people like Greg Hunt, who line up behind him, are really doing more of the same.

I mean, Greg Hunt is a man who used to believe that a price on carbon was the right thing. He believed it when he wrote his thesis. He believed it when Malcolm Turnbull was leader. He's believed it all his life, but now Tony Abbott says “no, we don't want a price on carbon, we want a different approach, an approach that really is because I don't believe climate change is real,” and Greg Hunt is lining up behind it.

But just look, on the ...

HUNT: Alright, Ali, I'd like to take Senator Wong on in this.

WONG: ... National Broadband Network.

MOORE: I'll let Greg Hunt ...

WONG: On the National Broadband Network ...

MOORE: Just let Greg Hunt come in on what you just have said.

HUNT: My life's work, Senator Wong, has been in determining the difference between good and bad market mechanisms. A good market mechanism will provide incentives. A bad market mechanism will drive up the cost of electricity, petrol ...

WONG: Greg, you don't have a market mechanism.

HUNT:... gas and groceries. And what you've got now, what you've got now ...

WONG: Greg, you don't have a market mechanism.

HUNT:... what you've got now is a bad market mechanism which the Australian people have rejected ...

MOORE: I'm going to jump in here now because I don't want this to be a debate about market mechanisms and how best to put a price on carbon.

So, Greg Hunt, to you, the question of where the Coalition goes next, I mean even News Limited, which is generally sympathetic to your side of politics, wrote an editorial this week saying that Tony Abbott has to get past the carbon tax, past the boats, and start developing some long-term policy on social issues and health, for example.

Does he? Is he running a long-term campaign?

HUNT: Well, his task is twofold and he is doing it.

The first is to hold the Government to account on these terrible failures in terms of whether it's the budget, the mining tax, the carbon tax or asylum seekers, and, secondly, to give Australians the alternative vision as an alternative prime minister. And let me make this absolutely clear ...


WONG: I've got a question for you Greg -

HUNT: ... we stand for lower taxes and they stand for higher taxes. We stand for incentives to take people away from welfare and into work and we stand for less regulation rather than more regulation. And these are all of the principles which Tony is setting out and on which there will be more detail as early as tomorrow.

MOORE: So as early as tomorrow, what can we expect tomorrow? Do you acknowledge that there is a lack of detail on policies other than boats at the moment?

HUNT: No, I don't accept that. We have set out a very clear, detailed climate policy in relation to emissions reduction; a very clear policy in relation to welfare to work; a very clear policy in relation to Indigenous development; and similarly an exceptionally clear policy in relation to ending the flow of people smugglers.

MOORE: All right, Penny Wong, you want to jump in there?

WONG: Well, yes, I do. Where are these clear policies? We're all still looking for them.

Greg says that Tony Abbott's going to announce lower taxes tomorrow. Well, lower taxes will hit the budget. If he's serious about that as a policy, then presumably what he will put forward is how he's going to fund it, because that's what gives it reality. Otherwise it's just words. And so far that's what we've seen.

But the interesting question is this, isn't it: what would Tony Abbott be talking about if he weren't running around engaging in stunts against the carbon price? What would he be doing? I mean, that is all he has been doing for months now, is running around, engaging in a campaign against the carbon price, not founded on facts, founded on things which are false, running into supermarkets and grocery stores and telling people this is going to be dreadful.

HUNT: Meeting with ordinary Australians, meeting with working Australians.

WONG: No, no. Look, you know, ...

HUNT: That is what he's doing.

WONG:... it isn't about that Greg, and you know it. I mean, the Opposition's approach ...

HUNT: Every day he meets with ordinary Australians.

WONG: ... I think is demonstrated by Joe Hockey, the shadow treasurer, in the week we're debating the budget bills, is running around with a cut-out of a former prime minister and taking photos of it and tweeting. I mean that is the Opposition's approach ...

MOORE: This, this ...

WONG: ... to democracy at the moment.


MOORE: ... this gets to my next point, which is about the quality of debate.

But before we actually get to the broader issue, Greg Hunt, let me ask you about those two specific questions.

First of all, how was Tony Abbott's proposal to have a plebiscite on the carbon tax anything but a stunt, given it was raised on Monday, dead on Tuesday? And Joe Hockey carrying a cardboard cut-out of Kevin Rudd around Canberra and popping the photos on Twitter, doesn't he or his staff have better things to do?

HUNT: All right, the first thing in relation to the plebiscite, the best thing that could happen here is for Senator Wong tonight to guarantee that the Government will announce the details of the carbon tax before Parliament begins in a week's time and, so as Australians can debate it, and then we can have a real debate around their figures. ...

WONG: Greg, Tony said he wouldn't accept ...

HUNT: Let me finish Senator Wong ...

MOORE: Just let ...

WONG: ... the outcome.

MOORE: ... just let Greg Hunt finish on that.

HUNT: The second thing is, having announced the details, let the people decide.

MOORE: But the point ...

HUNT: That's a simple opportunity. ...

MOORE: The Senator's point ...

HUNT: Let the people decide either through an election or a plebiscite.

MOORE: Well the plebiscite point Penny Wong was making is indeed correct. Tony Abbott hardly looked committed to it when he said himself he wouldn't be tied to the outcome.

HUNT: Look, we're not going to pre-empt the outcome, we're not going to countenance defeat. We think the Australian people should be allowed to decide. And the test for Senator Wong this evening is to commit to giving the detail of the electricity, the petrol, the gas, the grocery price rises before Parliament resumes in a week's time.

We can debate those details and anything less would be to deny the people the avenue through the Parliament to debate the details and then let the people decide through a vote.

MOORE: Joe Hockey and the cardboard cut-outs, nothing better to do?

HUNT: No, it's a very clear way of making a simple point that a year ago the now prime minister effectively politically assassinated Kevin Rudd and things have gone from bad to


worse. Things have gone from bad to worse since Kevin Rudd lost his job and the Australian people know it, and so does the Labor Party.

MOORE: Penny Wong, will we get the detail of a carbon tax before Parliament comes back in a week's time?

WONG: Oh, look, we have said we're working through the detail and we will be announcing it in due course. The Prime Minister said that she wants to do that around the middle of the year. And we're obviously in pretty clear negotiations and discussions with members of Parliament.

But can I say, I think Greg's response tonight in relation to Mr Hockey and Tony Abbott really shows the problem with the Opposition. They are all about stunts, they're all about how they might get on the news that night. They're nothing about Australia's future and nothing about any policy that is about meeting the challenges of that future.

MOORE: In terms of quality of parliamentary debate, a point that was made by the Prime Minister this week in a speech, she said “Our policy debates are getting more political, our political debates are getting more partisan, our partisan debates are getting more personal.” Penny Wong, do you agree and can you elaborate?

WONG: Look, I thought that was a very powerful comment in that speech to the Business Council that the Prime Minister gave. And she was making the very important point that we are at a very critical time in terms of where we want to go as a nation. We are seeing major changes in the global economy. We are seeing major changes in our own economy, and of course we have the challenge of climate change.

MOORE: And we're not getting the debate that we deserve?

WONG: I think that's true, we need to have a better debate. The thing about Tony Abbott which I think is interesting ...

MOORE: But you're being partisan now. I'm asking you about the broad debate.

WONG: No, no, no. But no I was actually going to make a different point. I'm making a point that there are times in politics, I think, where people need to make a decision not to go for the political point, but to think about the national interest. I don't know that Tony Abbott is actually capable of that.

I think there are some people in the Liberal party who have been prepared to do that and, as you will recall, I did sit down with Malcolm Turnbull for some weeks, and I think both of us were trying to do that. What is I think distressing at the moment, and disappointing to the Australian people, is that there are a lot of things we should be dealing with, but the political debate, as the Prime Minister said, has become so partisan and so personal.

MOORE: Greg Hunt, ...

WONG: I'd be very happy ...

MOORE: ... obviously both sides of the House take responsibility for that. Greg Hunt?


HUNT: I will let Senator Wong reflect, I think carefully, on her own comments about partisan personal debate. She can reflect on those.

But let me say this: that people expect a robust debate, but they want to be able to have a government that will announce detail and facts, because we've had a PNG deal announced on asylum seekers, an East Timor deal, which we knew from the outset was ...

WONG: Greg, do you not think that ...

HUNT: ... completely incapable of ...

WONG:... the people deserve an Opposition that ...

HUNT: No, Senator...

WONG: ... announces facts?

MOORE: Let him finish, please. Greg Hunt, finish.

HUNT: We've had an East Timor deal which was announced which never came to fruition and what we've had now is four months, four months, of carbon tax announcements by the Government without any detail in terms of serious debate, discussion, the opportunity for the nation.

The challenge is before the Government and the Finance Minister tonight: give the people the chance to debate the real details before Parliament resumes.

MOORE: All right. We're very rapidly running out of time. A couple of quick issues.

Greg Hunt, in terms of debate, there's also, I guess, the question of follow-through. And what do we make of the quality of discussion, when immediately after the last federal budget the Coalition was very loud about its opposition to the Government's cuts to family tax benefits, to quote Tony Abbott at the time, "these are class war cuts the Government is inflicting on people."

This week, with barely a whimper, those cuts went through Parliament, unopposed by the Coalition.

HUNT: Well, what we see is that we will take a package of measures across the broad issues of taxation and family benefits.

WONG: You're not answering the question.

MOORE: But you opposed ...

HUNT: We will respond ...

MOORE: But you opposed that immediately after the budget and then you didn't back your words with action this week.


HUNT: We are going to make responsible decisions about governing where we can, in terms of we will set out a clear set of policies, a clear set of initiatives.

MOORE: But wasn't that a clear policy at the time?

HUNT: But right now ...

MOORE: They're class war cuts. He said that "I am instinctively opposed to them", but they went through.

HUNT: Well, at this point in time we're going to set out, in due course, a very clear set of initiatives. And I will make this guarantee, that the cost of living for families will be lower under us, the cost of living for pensioners and seniors will be lower under us, and they will not face a massive hike in their electricity and petrol and gas and grocery prices.

MOORE: Penny Wong?

WONG: Well you can't give that guarantee, Greg. You can't give that guarantee for two reasons. One is, you know, that at the moment you have a very big black hole in the budget, which would be in place were you in government. And that arises out of your black hole from the election.

I mean, I welcome the Coalition actually deciding to pass some savings measures. It's responsibility that was shown, but I wonder whether it will continue. I wonder whether Tony Abbott tomorrow will actually outline how he will fund these tax cuts that Greg is talking about.

But, the second point about costs will be lower. We've made clear that we will be putting in place proper assistance to Australian households for the carbon price, and what is, what Tony Abbott has made clear is he will claw that back. Be very clear, Tony Abbott has said he'll claw it back.

MOORE: Alright I'm getting the wind-up here, so I ...

HUNT: Senator why have the last ...

MOORE: Greg, I'm going to finish on a ...

HUNT: Can I ask one quick question here?

MOORE: No, I'm going to finish on a question to both of you, which is completely partisan and I don't expect either of you to respond to the question.

Penny Wong, you first, we're on Kevin Rudd tonight to a point, because it's a year anniversary.

Tonight the Prime Minister has announced that the tender process for the Australia Network contract, which the ABC currently holds, has been delayed for six months and will now be a decision taken by Cabinet. Previously it was by DFAT. Why is it being taken out of Kevin


Rudd's control?

WONG: Oh, look, I don't have anything to add to the announcement. Obviously these are decisions of the Government. It is a big decision, the Australia Network is an important part of Australia's soft diplomacy, and obviously ...

MOORE: But it was in Kevin Rudd's portfolio, now it belongs to Cabinet.

WONG: Well, we're a Government and Cabinet makes decisions about things in many portfolios, including my own, things that we think are in the national interest. And this is no different from any decisions the Government has and will make.

MOORE: And Greg Hunt, on your side of politics, of course, you've been having headlines today, just when you should be capitalising on the anniversary in the Labor Party, about battles within your organisational wing about the appointment of the new federal president, which will happen tomorrow.

You've got the incumbent Alan Stockdale, many saying that he should go in favour of Peter Reith. You've got Nick Minchin saying that he's never seen such an act of treachery. How concerned does this make the parliamentary wing of your party when the organisational wing is creating headlines like this on a day like this?

HUNT: Well, the administrative wing of the party will make its decision. It will be over by 9am tomorrow morning and by 9.01am it will be ancient history. I can tell you that the stories that come out of tomorrow will be the things that Tony Abbott has to say about the future for Australia, the cost of living for Australian families. And the very simple vision that the DNA of lower taxes is who we are and the DNA of higher taxes and higher deficits is who they are.

MOORE: So who'll be president, Peter Reith or Alan Stockdale?

HUNT: I will leave that to the gods and to the electors.

MOORE: (laughs) Greg Hunt and Penny Wong -

WONG: (laughs) Oh, come on, Greg, come on, Greg.

MOORE: Thank you for joining us tonight on Lateline.

WONG: Good to speak with you.