SUBJECT/S:  Abbott Government chaos; Queensland election; Debt and deficit under Abbott Government; Malcolm Turnbull’s poor performance




CHRIS HAMMER: Michelle Rowland is the Federal Labor Member for Greenway in Sydney’s west. She joins us now. Good morning.


HAMMER: Who do you fear most as a Liberal Party leader?

ROWLAND: I don’t have fear of Liberal Party leaders, Chris. What I do fear is what is inflicted upon my constituents and the Australian people in the form of bad policies. At this stage it doesn’t matter who the Liberal Party chooses to put up as its leader in this whole debacle, the reality is that people are aware, well aware that it’s the policies of this government that have been unfair, the policies of this government that have hurt them, hurt their cost of living, hurt their employment prospects in this country. I think whoever they put up just demonstrates that this is a party that is simply intent on pursuing its same agenda of slash and burn.

HAMMER: The longer their leadership instability goes on, the better it is for Labor though isn’t it?

ROWLAND: This is the interesting thing though Chris. The reason why they are in such trouble, the reason why Campbell Newman was booted out after having such a big majority comes down to one thing and that’s disrespect for the electorate. The level of hubris that can often come when governments have big majorities - just as Tony Abbott did after the 2013 election and Campbell Newman did – when MPs have big margins in their own seats and think they can just sit back for the term and do nothing and just get re-elected, that is the root of the problem. That kind of arrogance is what the constituency really dislikes and they also dislike dishonesty. I’ve heard a lot of commentary about how the electorate is more volatile, the electorate’s changed. Sure it has. There is no doubt that the level of wedded-on ness to one party or another has certainly diminished over the years if you measure it. But the reality is still the same: people don’t like lies. People don’t like politicians who say one thing before an election and do another thing afterwards. I have been knuckling down as a Shadow Minister, developing and refining policies in the portfolio areas in which I have an interest. But also as a local member, continuing to advocate against the kind of cuts that we’ve seen. They include the closure of Blacktown Community Aid. After 41 years, Chris, 41 years. This Federal Government cuts its funding and closes the doors of one of the most respected organisations in my local community. So the answer to your question there are no feet being put up here at all. No feet being put up by anyone in the Labor Party. We’re getting on with it. It’s just an absolute debacle and an absolute spectacle that we have of a Government that won’t do the same.

HAMMER: Coalition MPs in Victoria and Queensland, State MPs after losing power pointed the finger at Tony Abbott and that the Federal Government is being unhelpful. Is the instability in Canberra starting to feed into the New South Wales state election campaign?

People will argue about the degree to which federal issues have an impact on state voting intentions and so forth. You can even measure that with exit polls – what were the factors that influenced your vote. But I think it’s very clear, and I have been out and about at train stations, mobile offices and so forth so far this year. It’s very clear that the Liberal brand has been damaged. Because we know what Liberal Governments do. Just look at what they did in Victoria. Look at their agenda in Queensland. Look at what they’re doing now federally, and it’s the same agenda in New South Wales. This is what Liberal Governments do. People have cottoned on to this, they’re not fools. They can see that this is the pursuit of a policy agenda that is inequitable and in the long term doesn’t represent growth.

HAMMER: Before Christmas Tony Abbott was talking about scraping off barnacles. Some of his Federal MPs are starting to point to particular policies. Andrew Laming has criticised the GP copayment, Mal Brough the small rise in military pay, Warren Entsch the Australian knighthoods. Tony Abbott is sinking very much to the rhetoric of debt and deficit. Do you think that still resonates with the public or do you think they’re more sceptical?

ROWLAND: Just look at the debt and deficit alone. They doubled the deficit under this government, doubled it. When you look at growth, debt and deficit, they talk about it in terms of growth as well, we’re going backwards. Unemployment has been going up. The promise of creating a million or so new jobs – that will never be met. The reality is that all those policy initiatives that you pointed to, which some of their own side have been disappointed with, well the reality is they all add up and you can’t just come in over the top and say, “Well the Liberal Party are better economic managers,” because the reality of the situation is they are not. Just look at the interest rate cut yesterday. Sure, good news for home buyers. Not so good news for others in the economy who rely on the interest from their savings, self-funded retirees for example. But even look at what the analysts have been saying. They’ve been saying that the reason for this is because we are stagnant. We are stagnant. We needed a Budget last year that was aimed at growth. It was simply aimed at cuts. It was simply aimed at fulfilling this empty rhetoric that the Government clearly hasn’t learned from. For all the talk about listening to the people, they sure as hell have a funny way of showing it.

You are a Shadow Minister, you’re the Shadow Assistant Minister for Communications and also Shadow Minister for Citizenship and Multiculturalism. On the Citizenship and Multiculturalism, Andrew Laming is proposing a Private Members’ Bill to abolish Australian Knighthoods. Can we assume that Labor would support his Bill?

I’ve opposed the Knighthood structure for a start, but I think the real question is: is this Bill ever going to see the light of day and make it to the floor of the Parliament to be voted on? It’s certainly causing some division within the government and you’ve got to question whether or not they’ll allow that to be brought forward.

HAMMER: If Andrew Laming doesn’t bring it forward, would Labor bring forward a similar Bill and put him and others like him on the spot?

ROWLAND: We disagree with having this institution that the Prime Minister set up as a captain’s call, but personally I oppose it and if it comes before the Parliament we’d be very happy to have a look at the Bill and what it seeks to do. But Bill Shorten has been very clear, and I think he’s right in saying this, we’re not about doing any retrospective actions in this regard.

So you might abolish the Knighthoods but those who have already received them keep them?

ROWLAND: We’d have to see what Andrew Laming’s Bill wants to propose first, Chris.

HAMMER: Okay. On your other portfolio, how damaging as far as policy process would it be if Malcolm Turnbull is given the top job and a new Minister installed. Would that be any great problem, or would it be pretty easy for a new minister to pick up the portfolio and keep running with it?

The interesting thing is, Malcolm Turnbull who’s supposedly an expert in this area because he ran a dial-up company several decades ago – he’s just bought back a copper network that last century was sold off by the Howard Government. So in terms of a policy agenda, he’s pursuing the wrong policy. So any Minister that would come in and replace him would be continuing this policy that is not aimed at making sure Australia takes a place in the global digital economy, that’s a start. But the main point I would make here, Chris, is that Malcolm Turnbull needs to focus on his day job. He’s so worried about getting the numbers and he’s clearly so concerned about fulfilling his lifelong ambition of becoming Prime Minister that he’s simply dropped the ball in this area. Not only bad policies, but dropped the ball. Australia now ranks 59th in the latest study of broadband rankings. We’re behind some of the Eastern European countries. We’re behind countries that you think would be behind Australia. It’s an absolute embarrassment. And don’t just take it from me, you only have to look at a lot of the commentary in this area to see that it is a result of this Government going back to copper aged [internet connection drops out] of the future, which is what Labor’s NBN is all about. When you talk about Malcolm Turnbull concentrating on his own job, he isn’t concerned about bridging what is one of the key concerns in Australia when it comes to communications, and that’s the digital divide. Just look at the rollout in regional areas like Dubbo. For a year or so now he’s been talking about ‘the rollout is coming to Dubbo, it’s coming to the country’. Have a look at some of the latest headlines: no idea when Dubbo will get the National Broadband Network. So while Malcolm Turnbull is concentrating on the numbers, you’d want him to concentrate a bit on his own portfolio for a start, that would be helpful.

HAMMER: Okay, Michelle Rowland. A few copper network glitches at the end there but thank you for your time today.

ROWLAND: Thanks a lot, Chris.