Transcript: AM Agenda, Sky News interview with Kieran Gilbert

17 March 2016

The Hon Alan Tudge MP

Minister for Human Services
Topics: 
Infrastructure bonds, Safe Schools Programme, Senate voting reforms
E&OE

Good morning, and welcome to the programme. The Senate is facing a marathon sitting day today to finalise the electoral voting reforms.

The vote might be delayed but there is no doubt as to the outcome with the Government and the Greens of course joining forces to usher in the changes.

With me to discuss this issue, and the other matters of the day, I'm joined by Minister for Human Services Alan Tudge, and Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Health Nick Champion.

Gentleman, good morning to you both.

Alan Tudge, first of all the reality is you will have the outcome by the end of tomorrow, because it will go into the early hours of the morning the Senate sitting. It's being seen as an inevitability then, if you've alienated the crossbench – Bob Day, Leyonhjelm, Muir and co – that you'll have to go to a double dissolution election because how are you going to work with those individuals for the next three years?   

MINISTER TUDGE:

I don't think it is an inevitability that we have a double dissolution election but certainly it is an option for us.

The overall objective though of these Senate voting reforms is to empower the voter so that they can direct where their preferences go, rather than the parties direct where their preferences go.

In that way we are putting more power in the hands of the individual and we think we will get better outcomes in the Senate.

KIERAN GILBERT:

Labor up until recently supported it but…

MINISTER TUDGE:

That's exactly right.

KIERAN GILBERT:

…But there’s every chance the crossbench, through Leyonhjelm and co, that they will as a grouping back the ABCC when the Government does eventually put it up to avoid a double dissolution election in the end.

Do you see that as a prospect?

NICK CHAMPION:

Well, Bon Scott's ghost is hanging around the Senate galleries – you know, dirty deals done dirt cheap. That was the old ACDC song.

KIERAN GILBERT:

Very good song.

NICK CHAMPION:

Very good song, and you know…

MINISTER TUDGE:

I'm not sure where this is going…

KIERAN GILBERT:

Why don't you do a Craig Emerson?

MINISTER TUDGE:

[Laughs] Give us a song…

NICK CHAMPION:

I'm not going to sing.

MINISTER TUDGE:

Come on.

NICK CHAMPION:

I'm not going to sing. But look, you know, when the Greens and the Liberals find common cause, then you know they’re not doing the right thing by the country.

This is a very, you know… a marriage of, sort of, inconvenience almost, for the Liberals and Greens… 

MINISTER TUDGE:

We actually had common cause with you though because these reforms actually came out of a Parliamentary Inquiry and we had bipartisan support on these recommendations which we are now enacting.

KIERAN GILBERT:

Alright let's get Nick's response to that because isn't that the case that until Labor realised it was going to work against you?

NICK CHAMPION:

There's always been a couple of different opinions within the major parties but what this is, within the Senate, is the death of proportional representation and with it the representation of three million Australians who don't vote for the major parties, or the Greens, or others.

That is a very serious thing to just disenfranchise these people and pushing these reforms…

KIERAN GILBERT:

Ok, why don’t you explain why it's the death of proportional representation, given you’re still using quotas in the Senate?

NICK CHAMPION:

Well what tends to happen is for instance in some places is, Liberals get 2.7 quotas.

Now under the system Mr Tudge is backing in and they're going to pass through the Senate, that will tend to mean the Liberals get up a third senator in many states and under the current system it tends to means someone else gets up under that quota under the effective preferences.

So this is a marriage of pretty unholy alliance. It's a dirty deal done by the Liberals and the Greens, not people who normally – strange bed fellows, you know the old saying – and they've got together to basically buttress both their positions in the Senate.

The Liberals want a blocking majority, particularly if there is ever a Labor government, so they can frustrate any preventative measures…

KIERAN GILBERT:

Well what do you say to the key, fundamental point that this will be a better representation of the voters' will?

NICK CHAMPION:

Why are they rushing? Why has there been virtually no public hearings?

And if it's a better representation of Australian’s views, how can we have three million people effectively disenfranchised with no Senate representation?

MINISTER TUDGE:

Can I just respond to this?

Are we rushing? No. We actually had a full Parliamentary Inquiry into this question. By definition, a Parliamentary Inquiry is a public process and we had a bipartisan agreement to proceed down this direction.

We are implementing what that bipartisan report has said and it is now in the Senate and it will be debated, and we understand the Greens will support that.

Now all it does, by the way just to get to the substance of it, is empower the individual so that they can direct exactly where their preferences go.

As Anthony Green himself as said - he is perhaps one of the most respected election analysts - he said this is in the right direction because it puts power in the hands of the individual and away from the party.

KIERAN GILBERT:

The Safe Schools anti-bullying programme, and this is another difficult one for the powers that be within your parliamentary party, with a group of backbenchers not happy about the review that was undertaken into it.

Which is, for viewers who aren't familiar with it, is an anti-bullying programme on gender diversity and sex diversity.

What do you make of where this is at and how sensitively does the Prime Minister and Minister Birmingham have to manage this?

MINISTER TUDGE:

Minister Birmingham, I understand, has received a copy of this review and he will be making his views known in the days ahead.

We have a very strong stance against any bullying occurring in any school.

We need to have good, robust bullying programmes in schools but my personal view is at the same time we have got to respect parents in how they raise their children and respect their interests too.

Many parents have expressed to me, as they have to other members of parliament, that they are concerned about this programme. They are concerned, for example, that it suggests that boys might be able to go to the girls changing room. They are concerned that it teaches that gender is a fluid concept.

These are legitimate concerns which parents are putting to us. We think we should respect their concerns and I don't, by the way, like the language which Labor tends to use to say that those concerns are bigoted - they are not.

Parents are not bigoted because they have got these concerns. We should be listening to them carefully and we should be responding carefully to them.

NICK CHAMPION:

Nobody in the Labor Party ever said that, and you’re verballing people by saying that. Nobody has ever said that parents can't have concerns or…

MINISTER TUDGE:

That is exactly the language which Bill Shorten has been using…

NICK CHAMPION:

No, no. Come on. Look, this is just not…

MINISTER TUDGE:

…is that people are bigoted because they are criticising this programme.

NICK CHAMPION:

No, he criticised a Senator. A Senator. Not parents. So don't verbal people right? It’s a crummy tactic. It's a gutless tactic.

MINISTER TUDGE:

You know Nick that is exactly the language he has been using.

NICK CHAMPION:

And you’re doing it. You're doing it. This is all a failure of leadership by the Prime Minister. And you know it. And you know it.

They've setting up this review but it hasn’t stopped the chaos and division over what is an Abbott Government programme.

They introduced this and your Senate colleague introduced this. There is a whole speech about what a great programme it is. And it’s only become an issue now Malcolm Turnbull is Prime Minister and the conservative wing of the party need something to sort of, you know, to get agitated about. 

KIERAN GILBERT:

What about some of those issues Alan Tudge referred to? Like gender being a fluid concept?

Things like that, are you comfortable with all of that?

NICK CHAMPION:

Look, I grew up in a country town – conservative, religious, very middle of the road. Kapunda High School runs this programme with absolutely no controversy at all, absolutely no controversy at all, in a small country community.

So, you know, really? Is this really the case that it's so offensive to parents? I just think this is, we've got a review, respect the review and don't verbal your opponents.

Don't deal in myth and fiction. Let’s deal in facts. And let’s understand this controversy for what it is – it’s generated by a lack of leadership on the Prime Minister's part.

KIERAN GILBERT:

Your response to that?

MINISTER TUDGE:

I just restate my case that parents have been saying to me…

KIERAN GILBERT:

Is it about Mr Turnbull? Is it about people trying to undermine him?

MINISTER TUDGE:

No, of course it is not.

This is legitimately about a programme that was set up to be an anti-bullying programme which many suggest goes further than that and suggests certain teaching practices and certain changes in schools which many parents have concerns about.

I think we need to respect parents in how they raise their children.

That is my overall message and it is not verballing Bill Shorten for saying that he has been referring to people as bigots because they have got concerns with this programme. They are not.

KIERAN GILBERT:

Let's move on. There is two minutes left that we've got on our chat this morning.

Peter Martin in the Fairfax papers this morning, very interesting piece on infrastructure bonds, that the Prime Minister is looking at 30 year infrastructure bonds to open up spending on infrastructure and a notion called value capture, where areas become more valued in terms of their property then states can get greater revenue.

This all seems to make a lot of sense this argument. Is this a big part of the Government’s vision and plan for the future?

MINISTER TUDGE:

Certainly we have a very strong agenda in terms of infrastructure build. Already we have $50 billion of projects that are underway, right across Australia.

We also have a very strong vision about ensuring our cities are liveable and workable and often that does involve key bits of infrastructure in those cities as well.

Paul Fletcher, the Infrastructure Minister, in a number of weeks will be releasing a paper which outlines some new options for how we can possibly fund infrastructure, including looking that concept of value creation which basically means…

KIERAN GILBERT:

This will be much bigger than the current agenda though, this would be massive.

MINISTER TUDGE:

That's right. As you know, if you build a new railway line out to a new area, or a new piece of infrastructure – a road – then you tend to increase the value around that area.

Some economist suggest, can you capture some of that value to in essence pay for that infrastructure? That will be a discussion paper that the Minister puts out in a few weeks' time.

KIERAN GILBERT:

Nick Champion, it seems to open up a lot of options, as well you know, high speed rails and so on which we have discussed for many years but people think now that this sort of approach would make it more realistic.

NICK CHAMPION:

I think this is just new language around what is a pretty old idea which is that Government should borrow to fund infrastructure that creates future growth.

I mean, it's actually a pretty old idea, it’s what they did in the post war period and it really highlights the virtues of, if you like, good debt to build infrastructure that creates growth.

KIERAN GILBERT:

Indeed. Gentleman, we're out of time. Nick Champion, Alan Tudge, I appreciate it.

[ENDS]