SUBJECT/S: New General Secretary of NSW Labor; election date; literacy and numeracy levels in workforce 




KIERAN GILBERT: With me now, Labor frontbencher Michelle Rowland. Thanks for your time. I want to ask you about the dramas within the Labor Party in your state of New South Wales over the last week or so. What does it say about the ALP and its treatment of women, the drama around Jamie Clements, the fact that it took so long to deal with?

MICHELLE ROWLAND, SHADOW MINISTER FOR SMALL BUSINESS, SHADOW MINISTER FOR CITIZENSHIP AND MULTICULTURALISM: Kieran, this had a legal process to follow and when that was completed Labor took swift action. It is no secret that this has been a tumultuous time for the New South Wales branch but we’re certainly in a position where we can go forward to the next election with a very clear leadership team now under Kaila Murnain, someone who is very experienced, and we know that what we have to do in this election is to perform well in New South Wales, it’s not lost on anyone. I think the fact that we’ve come through this, we’ve recognised that there are changes that need to be made, we’ve had a number of reviews into other aspects of the party’s functioning and I think that we’re going to see a far stronger New South Wales branch as a result and I’m pleased that we have in the first time in our history, a female leader of the party in terms of our administrative branch and I think that this augers very well for Labor going forward.

GILBERT: From your experience, as a Member of Parliament and a member of the ALP, have you seen the sort of behaviour, the complaints, about the treatment of women that the person at the centre of this most recent drama had asserted that she had felt let down?

ROWLAND: I haven’t seen it personally and certainly in this instance I was not involved in the matter. But I can say this Kieran, there is no room for the kind of behaviour that’s been asserted by the complainant. There is no room for a situation indeed where we have someone who cannot perform their duties. And the reality is at the end of it we had a General Secretary who was not able to get a parliamentary pass. We had a General Secretary who was not able to perform his roles in the way that would ensure we were focused on the upcoming federal election. That is the reality but I am very pleased as I said that we have recognised this as a party, we’re able to go forward now with a very clear election strategy, and I would also say this Kieran; if the Liberal Party want to go in crowing about Labor’s internal mechanisms then I would be silent if I were them. Because they are going to have one hell of a fight coming on their hands from various factional sources leading up to their own preselections. If I were them I would concentrate on their own nest.

GILBERT: In terms of the election timing, this morning the Treasurer Scott Morrison describing some of the talk as the ‘speculation of the silly season’, he’s rejected a suggestion that he was arguing for an early election and that we should proceed on the basis essentially that the election will be in September. Simon Birmingham also saying it’s his expectation that the Government will run full term. From a Labor perspective if the Government does run full term should Bill Shorten be feeling a bit more nervous about his leadership? If they went early of course his leadership is safe. If not, and the numbers stay as poor as they are, he’d be feeling a bit nervous about things.

ROWLAND: Kieran, Labor is ready for an election whenever it might be called and we get these areas of speculation every now and again including last year when Tony Abbott was still Prime Minister. We always need to be ready for an election at any time. We’re not privy to the election date, all we can do is make sure that we continue to communicate with the broader electorate about the positive plans that we have for this country, about the large range of policies that we have already had costed and released. But also in our own electorates, let’s face it when it comes down to it it’s about winning the larger number of seats and Labor is concentrating on reaching as many people as possible, on communicating that agenda at a grassroots level and we will be able to do that very effectively.

GILBERT: Obviously it’s an enormous task for you, well behind in the polls. What did you pick up over the summer break about Labor’s chances? Obviously things aren’t looking great for you and what’s the mood like in the electorate in that regard?

ROWLAND: Kieran, people are deeply concerned about their cost of living. People are deeply concerned about the cuts that this government has inflicted in areas such as health, they are also very concerned about their children, increased childcare costs. Also this government not having a clear commitment to funding Gonski. This is a community, and here I am talking from my own personal experience, this is a community of deep distrust with this government. They may have changed the salesman but it’s simply a bloke in a better suit. People are alive to this Kieran. They know that the next election will be one of the most important in decades.

GILBERT: Finally, the Australian Industry Group releasing that research this morning, very concerning about the levels of literacy and numeracy in the Australian workforce. 44 per cent have skills below the minimum level considered necessary to survive and thrive in the workplace. What do you make of this study, it is quite a worry as I discussed just now with the Education Minister?

ROWLAND: It is deeply concerning, Kieran. In some respects I find it quite incredible to hear the Minister’s comments earlier for two reasons. Firstly, this is a government that went to the last election saying they were on a unity ticket when it came to Gonski. Gonski is one of those mechanisms that actually lifts these standards, some of these basic skills that people need in order to survive and to thrive in our society. Secondly, this government by abolishing so many of the programs that were designed and actually delivering results in making people employable, part of this employability rating is about actually having people who know how to communicate, who know how to have some of these basic skills, who know how to write resumes and express themselves. So I find it quite incredible that this government is saying it’s a big concern when they have inflicted all these cuts that are doing exactly the opposite to what we need to address it.

GILBERT: My last question to you, just quickly, less than a minute to go. The PM being in Iraq and Afghanistan on the way to the White House, you’d welcome the fact that  show of support to the troops?

ROWLAND:  We are always bipartisan when it comes to supporting our troops and we know that the mission that they have in these two theatres is one that is very difficult and they have the full support of the Labor Party and I’m sure every Australian.

GILBERT: Michelle Rowland, appreciate it. We’ll chat to you soon, thank you for that this morning on AM Agenda.