Transcript: Sky News - Peter Van Onselen

19 July 2016

The Hon Alan Tudge MP

Minister for Human Services
Topics: 
Welfare compliance, New ministry
E&OE

PETER VAN ONSELEN:

Human Services Minister, Alan Tudge, thanks very much for your company.

ALAN TUDGE:

G’day Peter.

PETER VAN ONSELEN:

You used to be on the board of Teach for Australia, you understand the importance in an educational environment of having classroom sizes that aren’t too big so that the head of the class can get the views of people, have the right interactions etc.

How unwieldy is it going to be having a Cabinet of 23?

ALAN TUDGE:

Peter, I think that the Cabinet will still work very effectively. I am not a member of the Cabinet, but I have been in the Cabinet room discussing items when I have had items on the agenda and you still have very robust discussions in the Cabinet.

There has been 22 members in the past and I think one more addition to that won’t make that much difference.

PETER VAN ONSELEN:

But even 22 would be too big, so 23 is just getting bigger. I mean, John Howard was the person that said, and you’d well remember this, that the gold standard for Cabinet should be in the teens and he kept it there – usually at around 17 or 18.

Bob Hawke, when historians and political scientists like to talk about how great his Cabinet and Government roundtable discussions were, was at its best in the early years when it was as low as 13.

Twenty three - I mean it strikes me as; I couldn’t even have a tutorial discussion in a room that large at a university, much less trying to hold together a bunch of egos who are all Cabinet Ministers. 

ALAN TUDGE:

Peter, it has worked with 22, I have seen it myself. I think it will work with 23. There is only one small change of an additional person in Matt Canavan going into that Cabinet.

He is a very good operator, he is a National Party member, a former member of the Productivity Commission, so he is very bright and I think he will contribute to the discussion around that table and collectively reach good decisions.  

PETER VAN ONSELEN:

He is good, Alan Tudge. But what has the Liberal Party got against women? I mean, Matt Canavan is only 35. You talk about his CV and it is an impressive one. I would have been impressed had he been added to the Assistant Ministerial ranks at the tender age of 35, not the Cabinet.

But then you’ve got backbenchers like Melissa Price, she has been the company secretary as well as a senior lawyer at a large mining firm and at one of the largest legal firms in the country. A really significant pre-parliamentary career; much older in a position with much more private sector experience, why does someone like that get left to languish on the back bench? 

ALAN TUDGE:

I’d love to see Melissa Price on the front bench at some stage. She is a great talent, she is a Western Australian and I am sure in the future she will be promoted. As you know, Peter, the Ministry now largely reflects the Ministry which was pre-election and that was the commitment of the Prime Minister that there wouldn’t be that much change.

Of course there were three changes because three Ministers lost their seats during the election campaign. Two of those were National Party members, and it only left one spot for the Liberal Party and that position was taken by Zed Seselja.

He’s been a former Opposition Leader in the ACT, very bright chap; he will make an enormous contribution. But I hope in the future there will be opportunities for people like Melissa.

PETER VAN ONSELEN:

Well let’s look at the two Nationals then that were promoted. One of them was somebody that Malcolm Turnbull dumped. Luke Hartsuyker has come back into the fray, having been dumped only five months ago.

Why not promote Bridget McKenzie for example; a former university lecturer, she has experience as a teacher, a woman in a party that does seem to have a gender disparity happening. What’s wrong with the Nats that they can’t put a second woman on the front bench?

ALAN TUDGE:

Again you’re highlighting the immense talent that we have on the back bench, Peter, in someone like Bridget McKenzie as well. I could go through some other names of people like Sarah Henderson and there is Michael Sukkar in the seat of Deakin…

PETER VAN ONSELEN:

But if they’re so good, why bring back somebody who was considered dump-worthy just five months ago?

ALAN TUDGE:

These are decisions between the Prime Minister and the Leader of the National Party. Now, Luke Hartsuyker brings a lot of experience to the table and we often want to bring that experience to the decision making process as well.

But I think you are highlighting the fact that there is a lot of great talent still there on the back bench and that puts pressure on all of us who are in the Ministry that we need to perform and if we don’t perform, we’ll be replaced by that great talent that is there waiting to be promoted in the future.

PETER VAN ONSELEN:

I want to come back to some of these gender issues perhaps if we have time. But let me ask you, before Malcolm Turnbull declared that all of his Ministers were small business ministers, did you know that you were a small business minister as Human Services Minister?

ALAN TUDGE:

Small business is the engine of our economy. A lot of what we do as a Government is trying to support the small businesses.

PETER VAN ONSELEN:

It’s not even in Cabinet anymore. It has been taken out of Cabinet.

ALAN TUDGE:

It has been taken out of Cabinet but it still falls underneath a Cabinet Minister. In essence all of us have an interest in seeing small businesses thrive because when they do well, everybody does well.

They are the main employer. They tend to be a big driver of economic growth and obviously a lot of our policies are geared towards supporting small businesses as they were in the 2015 Budget and a key plank of our election policy which we have just taken to the election was company tax cuts for small businesses.

We want to support them to the best of our ability and we have got great people around the table who have been small business people, who have an interest in small business and who collectively want to promote them.

PETER VAN ONSELEN:

There is no doubt that the junior Ministers, if I can put it that way, the non-Cabinet Ministers, such as yourself, is filled with talent that you would expect in the years ahead to move into Cabinet. And I include yourself in that, I include Dan Tehan in that, I include Paul Fletcher, possibly Michael Keenan as well and I am sure I have left some people out.

The only woman in the Outer Ministry is Concetta Fierravanti-Wells and she certainly strikes me as being at the tail end, not at the start of her upward movement in terms of her ministerial future she is on the way down, you would think, not the way up.

If the Liberal Party is serious about promoting women, don’t you need to have more women in those junior ranks, and I would probably add the Parl Sec ranks frankly, where they are also not well represented.

ALAN TUDGE:

You want to have women at every single level to be honest. So they’re best positioned to be going into the Cabinet in the future. On occasion people go from a Parliamentary Secretary rank right into Cabinet as Kelly O’Dwyer did for example.

PETER VAN ONSELEN:

Was that a mistake that they did that with her? Because there was a lot of problems in her portfolio with super.

ALAN TUDGE:

No I don’t think it was a mistake. She is performing well, she’s got big responsibilities and she will continue to oversee some very important reform. I should also point out we’ve got people like Karen Andrews in the Assistant Ministry role and she’ll be knocking on the door no doubt in the future to be an outer Minister, if not, down the track to be a minister in the Cabinet as well.

And we have pointed out some of those very talented back bench women and we’ve got a couple of new people that have come in – people like Nicolle Flint in South Australia; very bright, she has been a columnist, she’s been a lawyer and she’s worked for the Chamber of Commerce. I think she’s got immense talent and she’ll be knocking on the door of the Ministry at some stage as well.  

PETER VAN ONSELEN:

Would you have ever have thought Alan Tudge, as an observer of politics for many years, you were involved in staffing for a period of time before going in as an elected representative yourself.  Would you have ever thought you’d be sitting here in 2016 and have a lower quantum as well as percentage of women in the Liberals’ parliamentary ranks than in 1996 when John Howard first became Prime Minister?

ALAN TUDGE:

Oh Peter we definitely need to have more women come into our ranks from the Liberal and National side, and the number that we have at the moment is not the number we’d like in the future.

In fact we’ve set ourselves a target, as you know, of 50 per cent of our members being women by 2025.  We’ve got a challenge to get there.

In some respects I think the most important thing actually for us to get there is for people such as myself and other senior people to be mentoring and guiding younger women through the party earlier on, encouraging them to get into positions within the party, encouraging them to write and put ideas forward so that when the preselections come up, perhaps several years down the track, they’ll be best placed to win those preselections.            

I think that’s what needs to occur and certainly what one of my objectives is to do.

PETER VAN ONSELEN:

Do you think that the Labor parliamentary women are less meritorious that the Labor parliamentary men?

ALAN TUDGE:

Oh listen I know where your question’s coming from Peter in this regard.  Labor at the moment has done better in terms of promoting women, and having women in their Parliament.

I would say overall though, Parliament wants to reflect not only a gender balance but you want a balance of course in terms of your backgrounds, you want a balance from a geographic perspective and of course a balance in terms of your ideas.

We do very well in getting a balance in terms of backgrounds of people.  We’ve got farmers, we’ve got doctors, we’ve got lawyers, we’ve got small business people, we’ve got pharmacists.

PETER VAN ONSELEN:

I agree with that…

ALAN TUDGE:

You name it, it’s represented in the Liberal Party.

The Labor Party has a real problem in that front, they’re nearly all union officials.  They happen to be better at the moment in relation to their female representation where we need to do better at that. 

But they’ve really got to work on getting a broader cross section of people into that party.

PETER VAN ONSELEN:

I couldn’t agree with you more that there are real constraints on the Labor side in terms of the breadth of the pre-parliamentary experience of their members of Parliament, but my question - and that is amongst their men and amongst their women. I think that is an issue for them, a real systemic issue.

ALAN TUDGE:

I mean all of them have been union officials as you know. Nearly all of them.  You look across the front bench there’s an extraordinary number who’ve pretty much come straight out of university into the union movement, been a union official, maybe have been a staffer and straight into the ranks of Parliament.

Now be you a man or a women that’s not very good experience going into Parliament. And there’s so few people on the Labor side who have had any business experience, who’ve actually employed people. 

And that’s their real structural problem.

PETER VAN ONSELEN:

I agree with that and we can agree that overall membership of the parliamentary Labor Party has a limited gene pool in terms of breadth of life experience.

But nonetheless comparing their female representatives to their male representatives do you think that their women are any less meritorious than their men?

ALAN TUDGE:

I don’t believe so, I think they’ve got some talented women in their ranks, as do we, but it’s something we need to do better…

PETER VAN ONSELEN:

Here’s why I ask the question though, here’s why I ask the question – a lot times the barrier to entry for supporting quotas from Liberals is that you want it to be based on merit. If the Labor women, with a quota system in place since ‘94, are no less meritorious then surely it is rubbish that a quota system denies merit appointments?

ALAN TUDGE:

Oh, the Labor Party has a different method of preselection as well, in many of their states, I mean it’s much more centrally controlled. There can be deals done at the centre between the various unions as to which person will get which seat.

Whereas, in most states, within the Liberal Party it’s very democratic at the local level where it’s the local members within a particular electorate who will preselect that person.  I think that’s a great strength for our party overall.

The weakness of course is that you can’t necessarily have that global perspective just from the single electorate.  Those local electors will just be largely thinking about who they would like to best represent them in their area and don’t necessarily think ‘actually we need some more women to balance this out or we need a couple more farmers to balance out the mix’ or whatever it may be.

PETER VAN ONSELEN:

Let me ask you in your portfolio area if I can – Human Services – it’s a pretty big portfolio there’s a lot of opportunity there in a difficult budget environment to try and find some nicks and tucks to be able to rein things in a little bit. Is that your focus over the coming three years?

ALAN TUDGE:

It’s not my only focus Peter, we’ve got a large agenda.

Obviously I’m overseeing the gambling reforms and particularly in the online space and we announced those before the election and we’ve got to implement those over the next 12 months or so.

I also oversee the cashless welfare card trials which are doing very, very well and we have to work out what we’re going to do with those post the trials.

And then though, a big part of our election commitment as you know, a few days before the election, was indeed making savings - $2 billion worth – largely through welfare compliance.

And what that was about was ensuring essentially that people get the right amount of payment – no more and no less.

Unfortunately there are some people who deliberately defraud the system and there’s some people who inadvertently might not accurately put in what their income is or what their assets are and consequently get a greater payment than what they are entitled to.

PETER VAN ONSELEN:

How do you make the balance on that sort of an issue between the obvious resources that it takes to try and stamp out misuse versus the benefit that you hopefully get from that resource input, to be able to do exactly that and save the budget some money?

ALAN TUDGE:

Sure, and that $2 billion figure which we announced pre-election is a net figure, so it does require some additional resources, typically it’s people, we do data-matching between say the tax office data and the Centrelink data to identify where there’s some discrepancies and then we have individual people who will go through that, sift some of that data, contact the individuals, if they owe money then potentially put them on to a payment plan to pay that back.

So it’s a net figure, it’s $2 billion.  It builds on existing initiatives that we already have in place, and indeed we’re already in front of schedule with those existing initiatives.  So we’re confident that we will be able to make those savings.

But the important message is that our overall objective is just to ensure that people get the right payment – no more, no less, but the right payment.