Sky News – AM Agenda
Ashleigh Gillon and Andrew Leigh MP
26 September 2011
E & OE
Subjects: Australian economy, Gaming, Labor leadership
Welcome back to the program. Joining me this morning on our panel of politicians is Liberal Senator Mitch Fifield and Labor MP Andrew Leigh. Good morning to both of you.
Mitch Fifield lets start with you this morning. You would have heard Mr Swan there in that interview accusing the Coalition of ‘talking down the economy’. Is that what Andrew Robb is doing when he has been calling on Wayne Swan to be more realistic about the challenges that the Australian economy is facing?
No, not at all. In fact, I think Wayne Swan is guilty of having talked the Australian economy down since the day he became Treasurer. One of the reasons why business confidence and consumer confidence are struggling at the moment is because people don’t have faith that Wayne Swan and the Government know what they’re doing. As a Treasurer, you are meant to be talking up the fundamentals of the Australian economy. Wayne Swan is forever talking them down, forever saying that there are dark clouds on the horizon to provide an excuse for him not to get the budget back into surplus. That’s what his game plan is talk the economy down and then you have an excuse as to why you don’t have to do your job and get the budget back into surplus.
But that’s really having a go both ways isn’t it Mitch Fifield, because Andrew Robb’s been sending out press releases saying Wayne Swan is being too optimistic and that he’s not being realistic enough. You’re saying he’s talking the economy down, whereas in that interview, he was very obviously trying to really outline the strengths of the economy.
If you listen to what Wayne Swan was saying, he was saying that we are determined to get the budget back into surplus well actually no, we hope to, it’s our objective, it’s our aim, but we have the prospect of falling revenues because of an economic slowdown. He really was trying to set up a scene for another failure to achieve a budget surplus.
Andrew Leigh, let’s bring you in. Mitch Fifield was saying there that he thinks Wayne Swan is actually talking the economy down, and by talking about the challenges we’re facing, that that’s a bad thing for the economy and confidence here.
Ashleigh, the Treasurer is doing exactly the opposite. We have to put our challenges in context. Firstly, we have to realise that Australia has extraordinarily low debt and extraordinarily low unemployment by international standards. It is important to realise the Coalition has been running around the country saying that debt is a problem. What they forget is that we took on that debt to save the jobs of 200,000 Australians; to save the jobs of tens of thousands of small businesses.
Wayne Swan is being modest on one point. Euromoney has just ranked him the best Treasurer in the world, and they have done that because we put in place that timely, targeted, temporary fiscal stimulus. If we had the Coalition’s approach, Australia would not have taken out the global accolades for the best managed economy in the world. We have done that in contrast to the way in which many European and North American countries have been run, which has put them into much more substantial problems. Those problems impact on us, but we are starting from an extraordinary position of strength low unemployment, low debt, strong growth, a great region of the world to be in.
We’re all looking forward to how the markets do open this morning, so we’ll keep you updated when that does happen.
Now I do want to move on to another issue of pokies and gambling reforms. It seems today that AFL club presidents are going to be meeting in Melbourne, and they’re going to come up with a new campaign to try and fight the Government’s pokie reforms. Andrew Wilkie has been campaigning of course; he believes in these reforms, and he says that if they don’t go ahead, then he might withdraw his support from the Government. Here he was speaking on it this morning, insisting that he’s confident they will still happen.
I remain very confident, not only that these are well thought out reforms but at every turn, the Federal Government has done the right thing by me. For Julia Gillard, for Jenny Macklin, this isn’t just about honouring an agreement with me anymore; it’s about producing sensible harm-minimisation measures.
Andrew Leigh, the AFL is a giant beast that reaches so many members and it will with this campaign it’s planning. It’s fair to say that the Labor backbench as well, there are many Labor MPs who are pretty nervous about these reforms. It is one policy that really is acting as a sort of division within the Labor Party, isn’t it?
Ashleigh I’m not nervous about these reforms because they’re the right thing to do. We are tackling problem gambling because it is a real problem for many Australian households. For people who lose their jobs, their house, and their relationships; for people who hurt their kids. It is important to deal with the scourge of problem gambling in Australia. It is not right for clubs to be making money out of problem gambling, just as it wouldn’t be right for clubs to be making money out of selling alcohol to fourteen-year olds. We need to crack down on that, and we need to focus on the problem itself problem gambling.
The question about the AFL and the NRL, it is important to realise that some people argued that when tobacco sponsorship of sport was taken away, that these sports would never be the same again. That’s manifestly been shown not to be true. These are big sports that frankly do not rely heavily on pokie machines, but even for those local clubs, we are confident that they have a bright future.
Mitch Fifeld, the Coalition has been seen to side with the gambling industry on this one. Is that a good look for you?
Well I wouldn’t say that we are siding with the gambling industry. What we want to look at is what will actually be effective, and we’re not convinced that mandatory pre-commitment will be effective, that it will work. It’s important to go back to what the genesis of this policy of the government’s actually is. It came about as a result of Andrew Wilkie saying I will not support the Australian Labor Party unless they sign up to this idea of mandatory pre-commitment. This isn’t the idea of the Australian Labor Party, this was part of the written agreement with Andrew Wilkie. There is no conviction here on the part of the Labor Party; this is something that they are simply pursuing because they had to commit to it in order to form government. In this sort of policy area, it is important that you actually look at evidence as to whether a policy will work, you don’t simply commit to a policy because you need to do so to get into government.
One final issue before we go, today the Daily Telegraph’s front page is screaming that Abbott, Tony Abbott is going on a ‘war-footing’. I would have thought he’s been on a war-footing, Mitch Fifield, ever since he took over the Liberal leadership. It suggests that he might be more afraid to face Kevin Rudd than Julia Gillard as Prime Minister at the next election. Is that right?
No. To be honest I couldn’t care, we couldn’t care, who we face, whether it’s Julia Gillard or Kevin Rudd. The problem here isn’t who is leading the Australian Labor Party; the problem is their policies. They want to introduce a carbon tax which will increase cost of living pressures, introduce a carbon tax which will make it harder for business at a time where, if you listen to Wayne Swan, there is global economic uncertainty. We’re not fussed who it is, it could be Bill Shorten. Who cares?
Andrew Leigh, Wayne Swan said in an interview to me earlier that he believes Julia Gillard will be Prime Minister until the next election, and she will win the next election. Is he in denial, has he not seen the polls lately do you really think that Labor is going to win the next election?
Absolutely Ashleigh. We are focussed on the long-term challenges for Australia. Putting a price on carbon, making sure we get a fair deal for the minerals that are ours, investing in infrastructure. I mean this is the kind of scare campaign you would expect from an opposition that has utterly run out of ideas, and utterly lost any commitment to good economic policy.
They’ve again said they’re not going to go to the independent Parliamentary Budget Office to get their costings done instead, they’ll go to private accounting firms like they did last time, with their $11 billion blackhole. They’re out there attacking economists when they don’t get the answer they like on climate change. We saw Bronwyn Bishop walk into Parliament this week and attack Ken Henry, a senior treasury bureaucrat who oversaw the introduction of the GST for the Howard government. They’re backing away from fuel tax reforms that Peter Costello put in place, and a whole host of issues. The Liberal Party, walking back from reform, and they’re just a party of politics, not policy any longer.
Well, those leadership rumblings still aren’t going anywhere. They’ve been sticking around for you for a few weeks, and you know as well as I do, once they start, they’re very difficult to stop. Andrew Leigh and Mitch Fifield, we are out of time on this morning’s program. Thank you for joining us today.