Sky News AM Agenda (15)

June 16, 2016


SUBJECT/S: Labor’s Steel Announcement; Nick Xenophon; Conservatives in the Liberal Party; Brexit; Greens political party.

KIERAN GILBERT: With me on the program now, Liberal Senator Zed Seselja and the Shadow Minister for Financial Services and Superannuation, Jim Chalmers. Jim - to you first of all. The focus on South Australia, as I say, in the context of Nick Xenophon and a boost for the Arrium Steelworks if Labor wins.

JIM CHALMERS, SHADOW MINISTER FOR FINANCIAL SERVICES AND SUPERANNUATION: This is a very important announcement for South Australia, Kieran, as you identified, but most importantly of all, it's about jobs. Three and a half thousand breadwinners in the steel industry. The steel industry is critically important to our economy because of the role it plays in our defense industry and also in our big infrastructure projects. That's why in all the other advanced economies around the world they do what they can to maintain a domestic steel industry. That's very important to Labor, very important to South Australian Labor, but also for the entire country. That's why today's announcement about those 3,500 jobs, a $100 million investment from Federal Labor and the $50 million from State Labor is so important.

GILBERT: Scott Morrison this morning, Senator Seselja, has said that he won't be in some sort of auction here, he won't be matching Labor's commitment there. Is that a worry for your counterparts in South Australia?

ZED SESELJA: Well I think that the Coalition has been very responsive here when it comes to Arrium. We've been working with the South Australian Government, we've doing a review of the administrators' request for assistance. We've been told by the administrator that there is no immediate danger to the company, though there are significant challenges, obviously. So we're looking for that review to take its course and we stand ready to assist. We've brought forward the purchase of Australian steel, we've strengthened anti-dumping laws, we scrapped the carbon tax which helps the steel industry, we've had the exemption for steel from the renewable energy target. So all of these things we've done to try and support jobs all over the country and in this case, in South Australia. So we're taking a very proactive approach but I think Scott Morrison is right to say that an election auc tion on this issue isn't necessarily the most productive way to go.

GILBERT: We'll look at a related issue, Jim Chalmers, and that is the threat of Nick Xenophon. Your political prospects in that state is as much not up against the Liberal Party as it is against Xenophon. In Port Adelaide, in Adelaide, in Kingston, the Xenophon Party is polling pretty strongly and that's not - they're all Labor seats of course.

CHALMERS: I'll leave the South Australian political analysis to the commentators, but I will say that if the people of South Australia want to save Medicare and they want to invest in their schools, then they'll vote for Labor. I'll also say that when it comes to our representatives in South Australia, they're among our very best people. The people that South Australia send, the Labor people they send to Canberra to represent them are amongst our highest quality representatives. I'm confident that when people combine the quality of that representation and our policy agenda around Medicare and schools and fairer taxes and all of those sorts of things then people will see the benefit of sending those Labor people back to Canberra to represent them.

GILBERT: This is an interesting challenge, Zed Seselja, because Xenophon as you well know is a very talented politician. He hasn't just come in in a blaze of glory and then flamed out. He's been here since 2007, he's consolidated his position.

SESELJA: Sure and good luck to him. But I would say to, whether it's the people in South Australia or anywhere else in the country, if they want a Labor-Greens-Independent Government then they can vote for Greens and Independents and Labor. If they want a stable Coalition Government that will get the debt under control, that has a clear plan for the economy and for jobs, then they'll vote for their local Liberal or National candidate. And that will be the only way to ensure we don't see a return to the chaos that we saw under the Rudd-Gillard-Rudd Green-Labor-Independent Government. These are times when we need stability and going back to that kind of instability with Independents and Greens in control of a Labor Government is not in our nation's interest. So I would say to them, vote for your local Coalition candidate.

GILBERT: Only two-and-a-bit weeks to go, there's speculation today that if the margin that Malcolm Turnbull has after the election is reduced that he will have to placate further members of the conservative elements of the Liberal Party, Senator Seselja, of which you are counted as one. One of the scenarios in the AFR this morning is that rather than Tony Abbott getting a promotion, that someone like you, a younger Member of Parliament, or Michael Sukkar from Melbourne, that he be promoted or you be promoted in a bid to placate the more conservative elements of the Liberal Party. Is that something that is on your radar?

SESELJA: Well, no. My priority is focusing on making sure we secure our Senate seat here in the ACT and helping to ensure I play my part in making sure we're returned to Government. That's the focus of all of us. And I think we're in a fortunate position where we've got an outstanding frontbench team and people like Michael Sukkar who are mentioned as outstanding on the backbench. That's a great place to be, but we have a really good team. Malcolm Turnbull is leading a very strong and stable Government and I don't see the need to change that.

GILBERT: How many seats would he need to, what sort of buffer would he need to have to have the authority in the party room over those that are still disgruntled over the events of last year?

SESELJA: Well he has the authority in the party room and I expect and I hope that he will be re-elected as Prime Minister and that authority will continue.

GILBERT: Well Jim Chalmers, obviously you don't have a lot of insight in terms of the machinations of the Liberal Party Room but in terms of the overall political result right now, we're hearing in Brisbane that the Liberal vote is very much holding up and you might be at risk one or two seats, including the seat of Griffith formerly held by Kevin Rudd.

CHALMERS: Well what we saw yesterday, Kieran, was the Prime Minister arrogantly declare himself the victor in this election more than two weeks away from polling day. People hate that kind of arrogance and so I think that reflects badly on the Prime Minister. And we know today that people are already trying to carve up the spoils of Government. I think that says it all about the arrogance and how out of touch the Government is. That's the first point. The second point is of course the hard right forces are on the march in the Liberal Party. They have been ever since Tony Abbott was knifed. And the third point is, I think a lot of people, when they look at the policy agenda of the Turnbull Government, they would assume that Tony Abbott had never left the Cabinet. They've got the same policies on marriage equality and climate change and the republic and all of those sorts of things. So it's really like he never left. Your question about B risbane, we'll be very competitive in Brisbane and the surrounding areas. I'm very confident about that. Yes, we have in the broader context given the Liberal Party and the Turnbull Government a twenty-seat head start, but we are giving ourselves every chance of running them down. We've given ourselves every chance by doing the policy work, by being a united alternative in contrast to this division that we're seeing in the papers today from the Liberal Party. So we're in it to win it.

GILBERT: Let's take a break, back in a moment.

GILBERT: This is AM Agenda. With me, Senator Zed Seselja and also Shadow Financial Services and Superannuation Minister Jim Chalmers. Jim, I want to get your thoughts on the comments made by Malcolm Turnbull yesterday in relation to the possible British exit from the European Union, the Brexit referendum to be held next week. Your reflections on his call for stability.

CHALMERS: Well it is an important referendum in Britain, next week, as you say. The European Union is a very important economy to Australia, a very important economy to the global situation. I think it's an $18 trillion economy combined. That's why what we need in this country is a comprehensive plan for the economy, one that goes beyond a sort of 'jobs and growth' slogan and relies exclusively on a multinational corporation tax cut, and something a bit broader which invests in our people, invests in our infrastructure, builds the technology that we need which will be important to the economy that we have, an economy that is able to withstand any of the sorts of shocks that might come at us from around the world.

GILBERT: The comments from the Prime Minister wanting to focus on some sort of uncertainty right now, Zed Seselja, given in times of uncertainty people generally trend back to the incumbent, is that why he's making much of this?

SESELJA: Well I think he's just stating a clear fact which is that there are often times of uncertainty, Brexit, the potential Brexit, is one factor in the world economy and obviously, there may be some implications if the British people choose to exit the EU. And so, the point that needs to be made is whatever the global uncertainty is, whatever the challenge is, do you want a Government that is getting the Budget under control and has a clear plan to grow the economy and to grow jobs, or do you want an alternative Government in the Labor Party who have made it very clear that they're going to run up higher and higher deficits despite massive increases in tax? I mean, the hit to the economy from those increased taxes and then the hit to the Budget from the much larger budget deficits is always a bad thing, but of course it would be worse should we face any global economic shocks.

GILBERT: I want to wrap up with a discussion about another element of the crossbench and that is the Greens. Tanya Plibersek warned that the Greens are dangerous. This is interesting coming from a senior figure in the left of the Labor Party describing the Greens as dangerous. Is this just all about being dangerous to the Labor Party political prospects, Jim Chalmers?

CHALMERS: I saw what Tanya had to say yesterday. I thought she made a couple of really important points. The most important one is that while idealism is important, what we need to see is idealism matched with outcomes and the difference between the Greens and Labor is that people actually expect Labor to deliver for people. We welcome that responsibility and what it means is as well as having warm hearts, we need to have hard heads. And that's what the Labor Party is all about, actually delivering for people, whether it be saving Medicare or implementing disability insurance schemes, or all of these sorts of things, investing in our schools, what separates us from the Greens Party is our ability to deliver over the long term, the ability to actually look after people and to marry our idealism with action.

GILBERT: In terms of the vote here, are you confident that the Labor Party will hold on to those seats in the face of the Greens threat in Batman, in Melbourne, in Wills, for example, those other seats where the Greens are proving to be a rising tide in a political sense?

CHALMERS: I think the more this election campaign goes on, Kieran, the more the issues come into a sharper focus. And one of those issues is that if people genuinely want to save Medicare and invest in our schools, then the only way to guarantee that is to vote Labor, whether that be the seats that you identified or right around the country, that is the case. So for progressive people who want to see action on Medicare, they want to see the Gonski model properly implemented in our schools, they want marriage equality, they want all of these important things, action on climate change, then the only way to guarantee that is to vote Labor and not risk your vote with one of the minor parties.

GILBERT: The threat here, in a political sense, Zed Seselja, for the Labor Party, well we're seeing that happen in a couple of Liberal seats as well, like the seat of Higgins for Kelly O'Dwyer, the Assistant Treasurer, so it's not just again just a Xenophon thing, it's not just to one of the parties, it's to both. And I think this goes to the fact that di Natale is, well, he seems a more moderate option than previous Greens leaders.

SESELJA: Well there's a very big difference of approach in the Coalition to the Greens versus Labor to the Greens. I mean Tanya Plibersek thinks they're dangerous and they are, but she thinks they're so dangerous that Labor are preferencing them all over the country. They've done a preference deal to get more Greens into the Senate and into the Parliament. They think they're so dangerous that they're adopting their policies on things like fifty per cent renewable energy target, a carbon tax, on border protection Labor are following the Greens to the left. People like Tanya Plibersek, her and her faction voted against boat turn backs because they fundamentally don't believe in strong borders. If you want to see Labor's view of the Greens, well look to the last Labor Government where they had a formal agreement with them. Look even here in the ACT where they have a formal coalition Government with the Greens. So, yes, the Greens are dangerous, Tanya Plibersek is right, but the real danger is the fact that one of the major parties, the Labor Party, are very willing to get into bed with the Greens before the election or after the election.

GILBERT: Do you accept that di Natale is a more moderate figure in the way that he is perceived by the electorate?

SESELJA: Well unfortunately none of the policies have changed, Kieran, and that's why we're putting the Greens last. We've made a principled stand. Tanya Plibersek says how dangerous they are and then turns around and helps Greens try and get into Parliament.

GILBERT: Senator Seselja, Jim Chalmers, gentlemen, we're out of time. We'll talk to you soon. We're just two-and-a-bit weeks to go, we'll probably talk to you just in the last twenty-four to forty-eight hours before the election and the work continues for you two in the lead up, that's for sure. A quick break, back in just a moment on AM Agenda. Stay with us.