SUBJECT/S: Polls; Abbott Government Division and Dysfunction; Financial Systems Inquiry; Government inaction on crowdsourcing reforms; Government implosion over PM’s PPL signature policy.






KIERAN GILBERT: Good morning, welcome to the program. Prime Minister Tony Abbott continues to take a battering in the opinion polls. Labor is ahead 52-48 on a two party basis in today’s IPSOS survey, but it’s the Prime Minister’s personal approval which is most concerning for the Coalition. The opinion poll has looked at a number of leadership attributes and the PM trailing Bill Shorten on most of them. Let’s go to our panel this morning, the Small Business Minister Bruce Billson and also Labor frontbencher Michelle Rowland. Bruce Billson, this has got to be a worry for the Coalition on the issue of competence and trustworthiness, Tony Abbott’s as low as Julia Gillard was when she was Prime Minister at her worst.

BRUCE BILLSON: I had a quick glance at the report you’re drawing from and I wouldn’t have thought Labor would get too much comfort out of it at all. We’re facing enormous challenge in repairing the Budget and getting on with our program, running headlong into Labor trumpeting its own obstructionist characteristics. The economy matters, strong agenda, Coalition strongly in front there. I’m far more optimistic about the future and the team’s prospects than you’ve characterised, Kieran.

GILBERT: Really, and the Prime Minister’s own approval in terms of trustworthiness? As I say, it’s on 36. That’s down a similar ballpark to what Gillard flacked at her worst as Prime Minister and on competence even, trailing Bill Shorten by a long way. That’s not any source of concern to you?

BILLSON: On practical action, we’re the only ones with a plan as we read in the authoritative fecund of the Rudd Gillard Rudd years, not even Bill Shorten’s people trusted him because he was always assuring them of support before knifing them in the back. On trustworthiness I don’t think anyone seriously thinks that Bill Shorten is the epitome of quality and trustworthiness. Contrast that with the Government, a clear agenda, a program to get the Budget repaired, we said we’d abolish the carbon tax, that’s what we’ve done, we said we’d stop the boats, that’s what we’ve done, getting the infrastructure going. These are crucial changes that will set our nation up for the future. That’s what counts, I’m all about the steak Kieran, not about the sizzle, and the steak is there to be worked on and to be nurtured and that’s what our focus is.


GILBERT: Let’s look at Labor’s position in this poll, Michelle Rowland, are you encouraged by it even though your primary vote is still in the 30s?


MICHELLE ROWLAND, SHADOW MINISTER FOR CITIZENSHIP AND MULTICULTURALISM: Kieran, I don’t see anything surprising in these poll results considering what I hear in the electorate and around the country. The fact is that this is a government that said it would be a government of no surprises and no excuses, and I think the Minister’s response to your questioning says it all. Here he is, still blaming Labor, still saying it’s everyone’s fault other than his own Government for the mess they’ve gotten themselves into. A dysfunctional group of people, backbenchers leaking left right and centre, senior ministers, even the Deputy Leader of his own party being told that she needs a chaperone to go to an international conference. The response from the Minister says it all; this is a government that is not going to improve its own standing in the community as long as it has this trust deficit. And the trust deficit starts with the Prime Minister himself.

GILBERT: The Foreign Minister has told the Australian Financial Review, Bruce Billson, that the PM wasn’t going to send any Minister to the climate talks in Peru, the UN talks that she “requested and was refused so I requested again.” Very honest and blunt assessment from Julie Bishop as to her dealings with the Prime Minister. Were you surprised by that?

BILLSON: No, we’re talking about collaboration amongst the Cabinet. A Minister puts forward a proposal, first assessment the Prime Minister arrives at a different conclusion, the Minister provides further information and it’s all systems go. That is about hard work, about the action that’s required in a responsible government, it’s not hysteria and hyperbole which is all we get from Labor. That’s a perfectly natural interaction between Cabinet Minister’s when there’s much to do, a lot of work on our plate, a lot of activity to implement, an action plan that we need to get on with so that seems a perfectly reasonable interaction, not dissimilar to interactions I have if I make a point to the Prime Minister. He’s very interested in my views and if I need to provide more information that’s exactly what we do. That’s an adult way of engaging in a collegiate and collaborative government and that’s what we have.

GILBERT: That makes sense but you don’t always divulge it to a national newspaper.

BILLSON: I’m not here to give you a commentary on scuttlebutt and chatter in the media. We’ve got an awful lot of work to do to repair the mess we inherited from Labor to implement our plan. The only plan we have, the only political party that has a plan to restore the Budget to improve our prospects for the future and to deal with the harm and the adverse consequences of six appalling years of the Rudd Gillard Rudd Government. That’s the real work, that’s what people are on about and our focus. As for a bit of gossip and chatter, we’ve got too much work to do. We had a Murray Financial Systems inquiry released yesterday, I’ve got a crowdsource funding discussion in the paper today, getting enterprise energised, that’s far more important and a priority for our electorate.

GILBERT: I want to get to a couple of those issues in a moment. First Michelle Rowland, on the issue of the climate talks, the Foreign Minister is attending, as is the Trade Minister. So despite the internals, the reality is, and the PM made this point this morning, they are taking it seriously with two Cabinet Ministers attending those talks this week.

ROWLAND: The first point to make, Kieran, is that the adults are not in charge here. This is a group of people masquerading as a government, which says that its most senior woman, in fact its only woman in Cabinet, cannot go to these talks unless she has a chaperone. And you talk about having senior cabinet minister’s there, this is about climate change, why isn’t the Environment Minister going, of all people? I wouldn’t mind if the three of them went but the fact is the Environment Minister is not going. So if you want to have a discussion about the adults being in charge and about getting on with the plan, the reality is that this Government can talk all it likes, but it clearly shows that this Government is dysfunctional and is not operating to any plan.

GILBERT: Okay, Bruce Billson, let’s look at this crowdsourcing issue. For those that aren’t familiar with it, it’s basically for start-up companies to create funds, investors providing funds for equity. That’s basically what you’re talking about, are there any implications out of the Murray Review for that space because your critics are saying start-ups are leaving the country because this has all been a bit slow?

BILLSON: This is why we need to change the entrepreneurial ecosystem Kieran, to make sure this is the best place to start and grow a business. One of the obstacles that start-ups face is access to capital. In terms of going to banks, we know it’s a challenge for small business to get debt funding through small banks, particularly a start-up where you have no business performance record to show and that’s the kind of comfort that conservative banks want. Murray pointed to a consolidation around the large banks, that challenge has gotten more difficult rather than less difficult so an alternative source of funding is crowdfunding where equity can be sought from a range of investors, relatively modest sums of money to get that first start business off the ground with the resources that it needs. We need a right sized and reasonable regulatory environment to support that. That’s an innovation that we’re pursing, another example of us getting on with the job and putting the tool kit there for the engine room of the economy to grow jobs after we saw 519,000 jobs lost in small business under Labor, so this has all been part of a positive action agenda…

GILBERT: Has it all been a bit slow?

BILLSON: This is not the only thing going on. What’s happened in this space is that we’ve been highlighting to the banks that they’ve been doing quite well out of small business finance, that there’s a need for improved competition, there’s the franchising reform, red tape reduction, encouragement for employee share ownership schemes; all these things are happening, that is our positive agenda, that’s what people are looking for and as I talk to entrepreneurs and small business men and women they are going to be the drivers of wealth and job creation into the future, we need to make sure we provide all the support we can after 6 years where Labor seemed completely indifferent to small business and that’s carried on, a whole year without one question to me about small business from Labor, Kieran, we’ve got work to do and we’re getting on with it.

GILBERT: Michelle Rowland, on the issue of the Murray Review, it seems that Chris Bowen is open to some of the recommendations and that Labor is open to talking on this?

ROWLAND: Kieran, Australia’s banking and financial services sector has been characterised by certainty, it’s also been characterised by good prudential standards and we in Labor are very keen to ensure that continues, and will be considering the recommendations of the report very seriously.


If I can just go to two of the points that the Minister just made. Your question was very pertinent on whether or not this was happening too slowly. The reality is, as I go around incubators in the IT and innovation sector, they have been highly critical of this Government for being all talk before the election. They have been sitting on a report that came out in May into crowdsourcing and only now we see them apparently getting on with a plan. This is all talk. The second point that I’ll make goes to sitting on reports. We have news over the weekend about the PM’s signature Paid Parental Leave Scheme going to be restructured. This Government chose not to even table in the Parliament, even though it received it in October, the Productivity Commission’s childcare review. Far from getting on with the job and enabling these things to be scrutinised and implemented, this is a Government that was big on talk before the election, and when it comes to actually doing the business, it doesn’t.


GILBERT: On the PPL Bruce Billson, this has been a long drama hasn’t it for Tony Abbott? Saying it’s his signature policy but he’s watered it down already and saying he’ll water it down again next year. Wouldn’t it be better just to scrap it and start again?

BILLSON: This is a signature policy that we’ve taken to two elections. It’s been a really fundamental point of difference between what the Coalition believes is the best way of supporting families with their shared ambitions of a family but also looking for economic security. We’ve taken two policies to two consecutive elections, the same program, the same commitment. We can’t help but observe that it’s not going to pass through the Senate. We’ve been consulting and engaging and we think a package that sees a serious paid parental leave scheme complimented by improvements in childcare arrangements is the way forward. That’s listening, that’s collaboration, that’s consultation and we want to get on with it so we’re keen to implement these changes to make sure the benefits that are available to women employees in Government departments and big corporates is also available to women that choose a career in small and medium enterprises so it’s as much about equity as it is about participation, the productivity of our country and supporting families with dual goals of having a family and also looking for economic security.

GILBERT: Michelle Rowland, is this not just another example of the difficulties of dealing with the Senate that isn’t going to agree with the Government on every occasion and as other governments in the past have been through difficult periods like the Howard Government and the PM this morning referred to Thatcher and Reagan governments as well as governments that have polled badly administrations that have polled badly only to turn around when it counts?

ROWLAND: I’ll leave that sort of commentary to good people such as yourself but I can tell you this: this is a Prime Minister who apparently has a signature policy, and we still heard that phrase just now from the Minister, such a signature policy that he is willing to walk away from it. Let’s look at the whole story of Tony Abbott and Paid Parental Leave, the timeline of this. It started off with Paid Parental Leave “over my dead body” said Tony Abbott. “Tony, you’ve got a problem with women”, oh, here’s an unaffordable billion dollar Paid Parental Leave Scheme. “Tony, it’s not affordable enough”, oh, we’ll cut it, we’ll make amendments to it. Even on International Women’s Day and other events where the Prime Minister spoke earlier this year, he would use words such as ‘Look, I am such a zealot because I am a convert to this. The greatest zealots are the converts.” He is so converted he is now willing to restructure the system, we don’t even know what’s in the package but what I do know is that a billion dollars has been ripped out of childcare under this Government. What I do know is that women’s pay equity is going backwards under this Government, so I’ll have no talk about it being a signature policy and going to equity in the workplace because coming from this Government it’s absolute rubbish.

GILBERT: Okay. Bruce Billson, your response to that as we wrap up?

BILLSON: There wasn’t much there except a whole lot of noise and a direct personal attack on the Prime Minister. What we know is Labor’s left an anaemic Paid Parental Leave Scheme that doesn’t respect the fact that people’s mortgages don’t default to minimum wage levels, it doesn’t provide any superannuation. These are shortcomings in the Paid Parental Leave Scheme that need to be addressed and there are also issues in childcare to make sure it’s affordable and accessible. Both of those measures will encourage women participation in the workforce if that’s their goal, and to support those dual and important objectives of a family and economic security. This is smart, sensible policy, all we’ve heard is more obstruction and noise from Labor. Labor this year have not come up with a single positive constructive policy position. It’s all been about noise and carrying on and obstruction and resistance and they’re trumpeting that as success, that’s doing nothing to help put this economy and country back on track so it improves its prospects for the future, you can be surefooted about those opportunities and there can be economic security and prosperity spread more broadly in our community. That’s what we’re on about and I’ll let Labor make noise and the shrillness and the carry on which seems to be all we get out of Labor under Bill Shorten’s leadership.

GILBERT: Bruce Billson, Michelle Rowland, thank you.