Sky News – AM Agenda
Ashleigh Gillon and Andrew Leigh MP
29 August 2011
E & OE
Joining me this morning is Labor MP Andrew Leigh and the Liberal Senator Mitch Fifield. Good morning to you both. Andrew, let’s start with you. You would have heard John Lloyd’s views on the need for an overhaul of the Fair Work Laws. Is the Government open to that sort of criticism?
Ashleigh, we’ve had some pretty big reforms over recent years; getting rid of the WorkChoices regime which saw Australian workers have pay and conditions cut, moving to a much more reasonable process through Fair Work Australia which gets the balance right. It’s not surprising that there’s sections of the Liberal Party and extreme elements of the business community that want to get rid of penalty rates and want to go back to the bad old days but there’s absolutely no evidence that that boosted productivity. The productivity slowdown started about the year 2000 and indeed accelerated under the WorkChoices regime. In fact the Reserve Bank’s own conference last week had people presenting papers saying that WorkChoices did nothing for productivity.
Mitch Fifield, do you agree with the views that we heard put forward by John a short time ago, and why isn’t the Opposition making more of this issue, especially now that you appear to have people like Glenn Stevens onside? Is the Coalition still too scared of touching anything that could remind Australians of WorkChoices?
John Lloyd is an astute observer of the industrial relations landscape, and he is reflecting concern in the business community about the fact that productivity has been trailing off. Now I should say, Ashleigh, lest there be any hysteria, that after the 2007 election, the Coalition got the message from the Australian public, and as a result, WorkChoices is dead. But that’s not to say that the Labor Government have found some sort of industrial perfection. They themselves have undertaken to have a review of their workplace laws. We think that review should come forward. There’s no problem – there shouldn’t be an issue with actually asking questions. I was astounded by the absolute tirade against Glenn Stevens from his evidence last week where he simply said that it would be good for employers and employees to get their heads together to see if there are ways that productivity can be lifted. We will be taking an industrial relations policy to the next election. It won’t be radical. It won’t be ideological. It will be a practical policy that seeks to respond to concerns expressed by both employers and employees.
Today Julia Gillard is going to be meeting with a couple of unions over the future of the manufacturing sector. She’ll also be having a meeting with an industry group leader to talk about how to go forward. We’ve seen some calls from unions about the need for the manufacturing sector to be more supported. There is a Buy Australia campaign underway to try to encourage Australian businesses to support the manufacturing sector. They’d also like to see an inquiry into how the manufacturing sector is travelling. Andrew Leigh, are you expecting that that will be a likely outcome of today’s meeting?
Ashleigh it’s very clear that when you’ve got a high Australian dollar, the result of record commodity prices, that puts pressure on other sectors, it puts pressure on manufacturing as it does on domestic tourism and universities that rely on overseas students. But we’re committed to a sensible package of assistance in that area. We’ve got a steel transition plan, we’ve got automotive assistance amounting to half a billion dollars. And I have to make clear Ashleigh, these are both policies that are opposed by the Liberal and National Parties. They’re going to vote against the steel transition plan, and they want to scrap automotive assistance. So while we’re focussing on getting the fiscal settings right, the Coalition are out there wanting to rip away that assistance and to rip away the protections. Mitch talks about no one wanting to go back, but backbencher John Alexander has been out in his own electorate calling for scrapping of penalty rates, and so it’s pretty clear that there’s pressure within the Liberal and National Parties to go back to the bad old days of industrial relations. Can I just make one more…
Let’s get Mitch’s view on this. Mitch, we heard the criticisms from Andrew Leigh about how the Opposition might handle this sort of crisis in the manufacturing sector. The Government was quick to come up with those assistance packages last week. What would the Coalition like the Government to do? Does it need to go further in any aspect in your view?
It does need to go further. What it needs to do is to abandon the carbon tax. The carbon tax is the single greatest threat to Australian manufacturing and Australian businesses. I was meeting with a manufacturer the other week who said that his electricity bills were going to go up by $120,000 a year. What that represents is a couple of jobs. So the Government need to abandon the carbon tax. The other great threat to manufacturing in Australia is the formal governing alliance between the Labor Party and the Australian Greens. The Australian Greens have a stated policy to de-industrialise Australia. How can the current Government say that they’re committed to supporting manufacturers when they’re in a governing alliance with the Australian Greens? That is just absolutely nonsensical.
OK. We are going to keep you informed if anything comes out of that meeting with Julia Gillard and the union leaders. We’ll keep you updated on developments. I do want to move on to the Courier-Mail/Galaxy Poll that we’ve seen today. It shows that if an election was held now, Kevin Rudd would be the only Labor MP standing. On a 2-party preferred basis, Labor dropped four points down to 37%, that compares to the Coalition’s vote riding high at 63%. Andrew Leigh, these sorts of figures, you’ve seen them before. There was a hope within the Party that once the details of the carbon tax were released that these polls would start to turn around, but we’re not seeing it.
Ashleigh let me give you the answer I will always give you if you ask me about polls that is that polls two years out from an election have no predictive power. It’s a waste of time politicians getting engaged, and frankly the public debate should be….
That doesn’t mean that you don’t pay attention to them, Andrew. Let’s be real here.
It really does Ashleigh. It actually does. What I’m focussed on is reforms that make a difference to my constituents. Putting a price on carbon pollution is absolutely essential. Australians put out more carbon pollution per head than any other country in the world including the United States. So if we’re the last country to act on climate change, we’re the ones that are going to have to make the fast transition. This is a sensible package of reforms backed by every serious economist in the country. And we’re doing that because we recognise that moving to low carbon Australia means more of those manufacturing jobs are in the clean technology industry. There’s jobs like that being trained up in my own electorate, we have a clean energy hub at the Canberra Institute of Technology. And so there’s a whole range of those new, clean tech manufacturing jobs that we’re out there trying to move Australia towards.
Well Tony Abbott is riding high in the polls but he does have his own set of problems. Over the weekend we learned that Tony Windsor said that in those conversations and negotiations he had with Mr Abbott after the last election, he said that Mr Abbott said he’d be willing to sell his backside to win government. That’s something that Mr Abbott denied yesterday have a listen:
TONY ABBOTT (file footage):
I don’t speak like that. People who know me know that I don’t speak like that. Sure, after the election I wanted to secure government because I wanted to save our country from what was already a bad government. I think what we’ve seen has vindicated my judgement this is a bad government getting worse.
On top of that today the Canberra Times is reporting that there’s Coalition angst about Mr Abbott’s attitude. Apparently, according to this report and sources within the Coalition, Mr Abbott has little trust of his frontbench and is paranoid about being doublecrossed. Apparently he’s making too many unilateral decisions. Some colleagues are apparently worried that he’s jumping too much on the populist stuff even if it is contrary to Coalition policy. Mitch Fifield, are they fears and concerns you’re hearing much among your colleagues?
Not at all. I haven’t seen that report but it sounds like complete rot to me. Tony has an open door policy with his colleagues. I never have any difficulty getting to see Tony and to talk about policy. In fact, it’s usually Tony who’s on the other end of the phone asking me for my thoughts. He’s a very inclusive leader, he has the full support of his colleagues and it’s just a bizarre report.
OK Mitch Fifield and Andrew Leigh, we are out of time. Thanks for joining us.