SENATOR MITCH FIFIELD
Sky News AM Agenda
Ashleigh Gillon & Senator Mark Arbib
8 September 2008
E & OE
SUBJECTS: WA election, Mayo and Lyne by-elections, National Party, Queensland Liberal/National merger
Transcript begins part-way through the program due to earlier technical difficulties.
Senator Fifield, going back to the WA election. It’d be a real kick in the guts for the Liberals if the Nationals don’t side with them to form a minority government.
SENATOR MITCH FIFIELD:
Look I would hope and expect that the National Party would end up supporting a Liberal government. Our supporters want the same things. Our supporters are anti-Labor. So I would hope and expect that the National Party would come on board. But I just have to respond to something Mark said before about there being no federal factors at play. I think there were certainly both state and federal factors at play in the West Australian election. Alan Carpenter cynically and opportunistically called an early election. He then did a truly bizarre thing campaigning on fringe issues such as opposition to uranium mining and genetically modified crops. Colin Barnett focussed on the issues that matter to people – law and order, schools and health. And also put the question – where is the benefit of the mining boom for the people of Western Australia? But there were also federal factors at play. In fact, Labor Senator Chris Evans, the Leader of the Government in the Senate, admitted to Kieran Gilbert on Sky’s coverage on Saturday night that grocery prices and petrol prices were a factor in the election. Now if grocery prices and petrol prices were a factor in the election, that means people were walking into the polling booth asking themselves what have federal Labor done about those things that they promised to address. They haven’t addressed them, they were irresponsible in claiming that they could do something about them in the first place and I think that was part of the verdict at the weekend. But what we also saw at the weekend was a rejection of the state Labor do-nothing approach to governing. And that’s an approach that Kevin Rudd has brought to Canberra. Kevin Rudd is running the federal government as though it’s a state Labor government, doing nothing and focussing on spin. So there were certainly both state and federal factors at play.
Okay well we do need to go to a quick break. But coming up next we’ll be taking a look at the drama unfolding in NSW politics.
Welcome back to AM Agenda. Joining me in Melbourne is the Liberal Senator Mitch Fifield and in Sydney the Labor Senator Mark Arbib. Well there were two by-elections this weekend. In the seat of Mayo in South Australia the Liberals certainly got quite a scare. Jamie Briggs did retain the seat but only just, suffering a massive swing against the Party. Mitch Fifield what factors do you put that down to?
Well as I said before the by-election, Mayo isn’t as safe as people think. In 1998, Alexander Downer very nearly lost the seat to the Democrat John Schumann so it’s not the blue-ribbon seat which it’s often taken to be. Labor can take no comfort from this result. They didn’t even front up. They were so spooked by the Gippsland by-election that they didn’t even take to the field. There’s a very obvious and clear reason why Labor didn’t take to the field, and that is, when the government fields a candidate in a by-election, the by-election becomes about the government. It becomes a referendum on the government. Labor knew that they wouldn’t fare well in that sort of electoral context so they didn’t turn up. Given that, we had a pretty good result in Mayo. We’ve won the seat. We also have to take into account the fact that there was a fairly strong independent candidate in Bob Day, a former Liberal, and that took away some of our natural support base. But the big take-out of the Mayo by-election is that Labor were too scared to front.
Mark Arbib, are there no working families needing representation by the Labor Party in Mayo or Lyne? Why didn’t the Party run a candidate?
SENATOR MARK ARBIB:
These were heartland Coalition seats. Very safe seats, around 10% in both seats, Lyne used to be a seat up around 16%. So really we didn’t see much point in it, there was no chance of us winning those seats. I mean for Mitch to say…
But you didn’t even run.
Hang on a second Mitch. For Mitch to say that Mayo was a good result for the Liberal Party is absolutely ridiculous. To see a swing like that and almost lose a safe Liberal Party seat to the Greens is really, they went close to losing that seat. So it’s a terrible result for the Liberal Party and a terrible result for Brendan Nelson. The strategy behind it, I just have no idea. I mean they pick a candidate who is actually one of the key advisers on WorkChoices, key advisers on WorkChoices. Brendan Nelson was rarely in the seat if at all…what are they trying to do…
Mark this is hysterical. Mark you didn’t even have a candidate in the field…
Hey Mitch, Mitch…
How can you criticise our candidate when you didn’t even have a candidate in the field?
Mitch….let me finish Mitch…
This is bizarre…
Let me finish Mitch. The Coalition, not just the Liberal Party, not just there, but in the seat of Lyne, the National Party never spoke about Brendan Nelson. He wasn’t on their campaign material, he wasn’t on their how-to-votes. There was no photos of him, there was no posters of him, he wasn’t in the seats. What was the strategy they were actually trying to attempt? It was a terrible strategy. And they got smashed. In the seat of Lyne, a 30% swing against them on the primary, that is a massive swing. They couldn’t, the National Party couldn’t staff their polling booths…
Mark, not only was there no Kevin Rudd, there was no Labor candidate in either seat.
But Mitch, if that’s all you got Mitch it ain’t much.
After the result in Lyne, the Nationals now just have nine sitting Members in the House of Representatives. Senator Fifield, one of the options being canvassed is that the Party may consider breaking away from the Coalition. Especially after this good result in WA that would certainly send a shiver down the Liberal spine wouldn’t it?
Well I think you’ve got to draw a bit of a box around the seat of Lyne. Rob Oakeshott is something of a political phenomenon. Labor can’t take any heart from his result. He is a centre-right candidate. He’s a former federal Coalition staffer and a former state National Party MP so there’s no reason for celebration for Labor on that front. But in relation to the National Party more broadly, I think they do have a bit of an identity crisis at the moment. In Queensland, the National Party want to merge with us and basically become Liberals. In South Australia the Nationals are in Coalition with Labor. And in Western Australia the National Party can’t seem to work out at the moment whether they want to support a Liberal Government or a Labor Government. It’s an interesting situation. The only places where the National Party have a clear sense of themselves and what they want to achieve are obviously, the federal Coalition in Canberra. But also in the Victorian and New South Wales Parliaments where they’ve taken I think the correct view that they’re a strong and proud independent party but one that works closely in Coalition with the Liberal Party. I think that’s the right model. I’ve gotta say, in relation to the merger in Queensland, I do think it’s folly and I wouldn’t be unhappy if it didn’t go ahead. I think the best model for the Coalition parties is to be separate parties but to work closely together. That is the best way to maximise the non-Labor vote.