SUBJECTS: Newspoll; Labor’s focus on the Pacific; Government’s poor track record on small business; Labor’s NBN Service Guarantee; Selection of Liberal-aligned recruitment firm to help select next ABC Chair.
LAURA JAYES: Let's go now to Shadow Communications Minister Michelle Rowland. Michelle you would've had a bit of a spring in your step reading this Newspoll this morning?
MICHELLE ROWLAND MP, SHADOW MINISTER FOR COMMUNICATIONS: I can assure you Laura, it would be of far greater interest to the government than it is to me or to my Labor colleagues. We are very focused on ensuring that we present ourselves as a credible alternative government and we've been doing that by having the best candidates in the field and strong policy development over five years, and above all else strong and stable leadership. Bill Shorten has built a team around him who have developed a number of policies, expertise in a number of areas, and we will be prosecuting our cases for all these areas in the lead up to the next election, which will be very close as I have repeatedly said.
KIERAN GILBERT: Michelle, recently I spoke to a senior Labor figure, been around the party for decades, and said 'so what does Mr Shorten need to do now over the next few months?' and his advice was go to Bali for a couple of months; just get out of the picture and let the government focus on itself.
ROWLAND: Well indeed a lot of people have given advice that the best thing Labor could do would be to be a small target and Bill Shorten expressly rejected that from the outset. We've taken some very tough decisions in terms of economic policy development, prioritising things that are important to us, including schools, hospitals, education, recent announcements in childcare and preschool, for example. So we're focused on being a party of a big vision rather than a small target, and I think that voters are responding to that. But we will have to wait and see until the next election which, again as I said, will be very close.
JAYES: Foreign policy the focus today. Will Labor, if it wins government, also make a bigger donation of financial contribution to the Pacific?
ROWLAND: Well, we're looking at here, Laura, the issue of having some sort of financing vehicle, which is what Bill Shorten is outlining today. It's actually not a novel concept but it is novel in this day and age in terms of Australia having a very definite and very long-term participation in the Pacific beyond aid and beyond traditionally what is seen as Australia stepping up in times of natural disaster. And as someone of Fijian background and someone who is very interested in this area, and in particular the role of ICT in developing economies in our region, I'm delighted that both Bill and Penny Wong chose to engage me on this issue.
As you would well know, Richard Marles has been strongly prosecuting the fact that the Pacific is core business for Labor, and there are many areas where I think Labor can demonstrate Australia has a real comparative advantage. Some of that is in the comms portfolio around infrastructure development, but also that area of capacity building is one where Australia really does have a comparative advantage and we have some excellent examples. And just to take one, I mentioned this in a speech a couple of weeks ago to the Global Access Partners Pacific Connect Forum: we have a very well run GBE in Australia Post, ably headed by Christine Holgate, who has been very outward looking in terms of how Australia Post can actively engage in the region and it's these areas like logistics and e-commerce that I think will really bode well and ones we can capitalise on.
GILBERT: You talk about the comparative advantage but it's also not an uncontested space is it, with the Chinese encroachment on the Pacific quite significant in recent years?
ROWLAND: You're absolutely right Kieran, and that's been happening for many years and I think the fact that Australia has scaled back, not only in terms of aid, the size of aid and that quantum, but also in terms of its stature as part of the Ministry and all those resources that go through it. We really have to step up as a nation participating in the Pacific in areas like climate change, in areas like ICT and growing the GDP of our region.
JAYES: Talking about the small business strategy that the government is starting to ramp up, is this a cohort of voters that Labor has, I guess, let fall by the wayside of late?
ROWLAND: To the contrary, Labor has been very focused on small business and I was interested to read the headline and then to read the article. The article talked about the government proposing to sit down and try and make it more amicable for example for small business to deal with the ATO. Well the reality is that investigative reporting found out how many small businesses had gone to the wall for alleged bullying tactics by the ATO and really being treated unfairly and that's why two months ago Chris Bowen announced that we would have a second ATO commissioner focused on the SME sector to ensure that these small businesses got a fair deal, including in the area of appeals. So the government is welcome to catch up to Labor in that regard and I also believe they've been sitting on a report into this very matter for some time and I'm not aware of it actually having been released.
But if you look at many of the other areas that concern small business, NBN as an example, the ACMA - the regulator - recently released figures showing that over 40 per cent of small businesses had problems with their internet connections for the NBN migration. Something like one in seven had a month or so of downtime for phone and internet and something around 70 per cent of small businesses surveyed actually had slower speeds or drop-outs. So this government is absolutely not focused on the needs of small business and you can see that by the fact that they have failed to embrace Labor's NBN Service Guarantee which would ensure that small business in particular gets a fair go.
GILBERT: Just quickly before you go. You've been critical of the recruitment company that's being used to look at the next executives for the ABC because they've got some ties to the Liberal Party. Is that really a sufficient reason to repudiate this entity outright?
ROWLAND: Well this was uncovered in Senate Estimates over the last couple of days, Kieran. And for a government that is struggling with the issue of alleged interference, political interference in the ABC, this is probably the dumbest thing they could do. They've actually engaged in a closed tender a recruitment firm, Korn Ferry, which has definite Liberal Party ties. The head of its board process is someone named Robert Webster who used to be a Liberal Party Minister in NSW who has given substantial donations to the Liberal Party over the last couple of years. Not only does independence need to be shown, it needs to be shown to be done and this process of selecting a new Chair is one that is critically important at such a juncture for the ABC.
JAYES: What are you suggesting though, that the ABC could end up with a right wing slant?
ROWLAND: What I'm suggesting is that this government does not care about either the process of independence or independence itself when it comes to the ABC. They could have had an open tender process if they required the services of a recruitment firm. That is a given. But also, we need to remember that it is the Prime Minister that makes the recommendation to the Governor-General on this. And for everything that has happened in the last couple of weeks on the ABC, surely you think that this Minister would exercise some judgement in ensuring that we had what is seen to be the most independent process possible.
JAYES: Okay, Michelle Rowland thanks so much for your time this morning.