TRANSCRIPT - TELEVISION INTERVIEW - SKY AM AGENDA - 14 MAY 2018

SUBJECTS: Post-budget polling; 2018 Federal Budget; Budget Reply; citizenship; upcoming by-elections; China and the Asia Pacific.

KIERAN GILBERT: Let’s bring in Labor frontbencher Michelle Rowland for her thoughts on this. Good morning Michelle, and some contrasting numbers as well with the Ipsos/Fairfax Survey, but most people suggesting that this looks like a fair budget. 

MICHELLE ROWLAND, SHADOW MINISTER FOR COMMUNICATIONS: Kieran, I think as Australians start to realise the choices this government has made with this budget and contrast them to what Labor is offering, they will come to see that the better deal is under Labor. And it will take some time for those messages to get out. I think the government is clearly patting itself on the back and saying 'job done' when it comes to the budget, but so many questions remain, including the structural deficit we still have, including, within their own ranks, the desire to get rid of this debt and deficit problem which was an emergency a couple of years ago but is not being addressed now. And I think that people, Kieran, realise that this is about their quality of life. And as they start to relate what's in this budget and what Labor is offering as an alternative for their quality of life, they will see that the choice is better under Labor. 

GILBERT: So you believe that Mr Shorten just needs more time to get that message across that people, at least on low to middle incomes, will have more money in their pocket? Is that the key?

ROWLAND: Kieran, I give you the same answer that I think I gave you a couple of weeks ago when Bill Shorten actually had an improvement in the preferred Prime Minister standings and you might remember you had to prise some positive comment out of me for that one, but the reality is people are quite sick of politicians talking about themselves. And I know that this will be obsessed over, they'll obsess over Ipsos polls versus Newspoll and so forth. But this doesn't do anything for people's quality of life. And unlike the government and conservatives when they're in opposition, we don't see ourselves as a government in exile. We know that we have to earn the trust. We know that we have to give people a reason to vote for us. That's why we've been making hard decisions and Kieran, the year before an election, the calendar year before an election, is the hard year for Oppositions. I remember this from last term. It's the hard year. It's where you devise, where you cost policies, where you present those to the public and where you have to prosecute them. It is a hard year. 

GILBERT: Well yeah, as you say, it's the final stretch but is it made even more difficult by the fact that your leader’s credibility took quite a hit last week over the citizenship issue?

ROWLAND: Look, we take that on the chin Kieran and it is what it is. We relied on the best advice available to us at the time. At all times, all our sitting Members acted in good faith. And the reality is they will be tested at by-elections coming up in the near future and we will be prosecuting the arguments I've just made in terms of Labor offering the fairer and more economically responsible alternative. 

GILBERT: The government says you can believe it though, because look at the track record of Bill Shorten who gave a rolled gold guarantee about the nature of all of your MPs, that all your vetting was fine and well, as we know from last week's ruling, that wasn't the case. 

ROWLAND: Well, I wouldn't talk too fast if I we're the government. This is a government that wouldn't even reveal in Parliament the costs of its tax plans. So if they want to go down that road of being believable, I can point to how many examples where the public simply don't believe this government.

They don't believe them when they talk about no cuts to schools and education and they don't believe them when this government says they believe in things like TAFE and apprenticeships. They've made severe cuts in this budget, and although that's not a policy area that will appear on the front page of every paper every day, I can tell you Kieran out there in the community this is an issue that is extremely important to people. They don't understand why we don't have training that matches skill shortages here domestically and this government is doing nothing to improve that. In fact, they're just talking it down. So I think it's on that policy narrative that we will go out there and prosecute these in the electorate. Very happy for Scott Morrison and his mates to stand up and show us the alternative. 

GILBERT: You have said that it's a tough final year for Oppositions before an election. It's hard to disagree with that but it's made even more difficult now, regardless of whether Bill Shorten made the right judgement to rely on the legal advice or not. Some of your colleagues have told me they thought that he was too rigid in his handling of that issue. But that to one side, you face the super Saturday of by-elections now and this is a crucial test for both sides of politics but, you know, for Labor if they don't hold on to all the seats, that would be devastating for Bill Shorten's leadership wouldn't it?

ROWLAND: Certainly the focus will be on us. There is no question that these will be tough, but we have excellent candidates out there in the field; people who have been both sitting Members and a new candidate for the seat of Perth. So we'll be prosecuting all of our policies in those areas. You'll see Bill Shorten campaign very visibly in those elections because he knows that people want to see an alternative to what people are getting at the moment. 

GILBERT: Yeah, a huge amount at stake though isn't there? Because we know as you said, with the general election most likely around May next year, this super Saturday of by-elections is going to have so much at stake for the Labor Leader if Longman or Braddon were to fall. 

ROWLAND: Look there is a lot at stake and I know that Bill doesn't see this in terms of himself. Bill sees this in terms of the party, he sees it in terms of our prospects for victory at a general election and he also sees it in terms of the impact the results have on the community. And look, I saw some polling over the weekend that said the Liberals were ahead in Longman. Well for the people of Longman, if you want more of the same under Malcolm Turnbull and he's taking you for granted then you'll get what you ask for. So we'll propose a clear alternative government in that seat. We'll propose a clear excellent local member in terms of Susan Lamb.

But Kieran, quite frankly, we heard this going into the Batman by-election ad nauseam, how this was going to be a test of Bill's leadership, why did he make the big call on dividend imputation and in the end, everyone was saying, ‘oh what a genius’. We'll it's not about Bill being a genius or not as he will say himself. It's about us being able to prosecute the best case that we can with the best policies that we can because it's about the people that we represent, not ourselves.

GILBERT: The last issue I want to touch on is this front page of the Financial Review today. John Kehoe has obtained a report from the US State Department, warning of China's chequebook diplomacy in our region and more broadly, but what's your reaction to this. Is this something that you would simply expect out of the US administration or is this something that you'd be worried about in the medium to long term?

ROWLAND: What's interesting about this Kieran, although that it does say that this is secret information, I think the whole issue of China utilising its influence for military or economic or diplomatic advantage in the South Pacific and South East Asia, we've known about this for some time. I think what is interesting in this State report is the scale of it. I certainly hadn't appreciated the scale of the GDP of countries like Laos and Cambodia, in Sri Lanka, those specific instances with their port and the way in which they'd been borrowing so much money and eventually had to provide a lease back to China. All of these specific issues are of great interest but I think two things come out. Firstly, it's the long term view that China is obviously taking there and the fact that they are doing this with loans rather than direct aid. And secondly, Richard Marles recently gave a very interesting speech in Washington talking about how the Pacific is core business of Labor. And I think, for too long this government, and successive governments in fact, have neglected the Asia Pacific region, in particular the Pacific and not really focused on their economic advancement.

Kieran, years ago when I was working as a lawyer I was doing a job for a donor agency in the South Pacific, and this was over ten years ago and I was surprised to learn even then that certain government departments and large sporting infrastructure facilities had been built by the Chinese and the reason given to me then was this was about China wanting votes on different fishing councils. Well we know that that's now a very different situation but it's certainly one that needs to be watched.

GILBERT: Indeed, and it's that long view that the Chinese have had and clearly not matched by Australia and its allies, certainly in that part of that world, when it comes to influence. Thank you Michelle Rowland.