Sky News Lunchtime Agenda

Release Date: 
6 May 2014

Topics: Polling, budget, carbon tax, Indigenous Jobs and Training Review, political donations

LAURA JAYES: [introduction]

LAURA JAYES: Alan Tudge, this is a five-point drop in the primary vote, the worst polling numbers since 2011. This is before the budget is handed down, so with the warnings of a tough budget ahead, do you expect polling to get worse after Tuesday?

ALAN TUDGE: G’day Laura, it’s nice to be with you. You always would prefer high poll numbers rather than low poll numbers but we are one hundred per cent focused on the budget right now and fixing Labor’s mess. We didn’t create the mess, but we accept the responsibility for fixing the financial disaster which Labor left us. If we don’t get control of the budget and don’t get control of the deficit, then we will be in a significantly weakened position in the future, should there be another GFC or a China slowdown.

LAURA JAYES: Tony Abbott personally has never had those great heights of popularity in the polls. He’s taken a further slide today in the disapproval ratings. Why do you think that is?

ALAN TUDGE: Laura, I don’t want to get involved in discussing the polls on a day-to-day basis. We are completely focused on the budget right now. We’ve got deficits as far as the eye can see, unless we take ameliorating action. If we don’t take some tough action now to tighten our belts, then we will have debt growing to $667 billion. That equates to $25,000 for every man, woman and child in this country. It is urgent; we do need to get on top of it; tough decisions will be required and we accept the responsibility for making those tough decisions.

LAURA JAYES: It does seem that voters are spooked or a little bit scare about what might be handed down in the budget. Are you concerned that these voters have gone away from the Coalition, but they haven’t gone to Labor?

PAT CONROY: Well good afternoon Laura. I think the main message out of these polls is huge anger at the Abbott government and their breaking of promises. When I do street stalls or senior’s expos, people come to me all the time very disgusted with the promises that were made before the election being broken now, and the attacks on working class people and pensioners in electorates like mine in Charlton. They are really worried about it. The anger is showing up in the polls, and all of this is because of a confected budget emergency. The deficit has doubled under Joe Hockey since he became Treasurer. Now we’re seeing them use this as an excuse to attack ordinary Australians.

LAURA JAYES: Voters aren’t looking to the major parties. Does is concern you that the Greens and the Palmer United Party have picked up some votes here?

PAT CONROY: It’s two and a half years before the next election, and I think the key message out of this is there’s a real anger at the government, they are very opposed to them breaking promises and the key thing we’ve got to focus on is the impact of that on Australians around the community. It’s going to have a huge impact in areas like mine. We’ve got a lot of pensioners; we’ve got a lot of working families who are really going to suffer because of this confected budget emergency.

LAURA JAYES: Alan Tudge, the debt levy is something that has caused quite a stir in the last couple of weeks. Peter Costello has said today that he believes it would have no economic benefit. Do you agree with him?

ALAN TUDGE: I have great admiration for Peter Costello. He was a fantastic treasurer but we’ve got a job to do and we are going to repair the budget and it’s going to require some tough decisions. They will be tough decisions but they will be fair decisions.

LAURA JAYES: (interrupting) The debt levy doesn’t address the structural change that is needed. Would you agree with that?

ALAN TUDGE: I’m not going to comment on the specifics of what may be in or out of the budget, Laura. There are many things which are being discussed but the overall point that I’m going to make is that we are prepared to make the tough decisions. Labor was not. Labor left the financial mess for us that we have to clean up. Because if we don’t clean it up, there will be deficits for as far as the eye can see and we will be in a significantly weakened position overall. You can’t have a strong economy without having a strong budget, and so we are determined to get the budget back under control.

LAURA JAYES: I respect that you don’t want to comment on what will or won’t be in the budget. Just on the debt levy, a debt levy wouldn’t be there to address structural change though, would it? It would be temporary, and it would be a revenue raising measure.

ALAN TUDGE: Laura, I don’t want to get into the ins and outs of specific measures that are being discussed in the public debate over the last couple of weeks. All will be revealed next week with the budget. I will just emphasise though, we have to make tough decisions. There is no getting around that. Labor might like to say there is no budget emergency, there is no problem, we can keep going and keep increasing our debt levels and keep increasing the deficit. But that is not going to make Australia a stronger country. What will make Australia a stronger country in the long run, is if we get control of our finances, get the books back into the black, and start growing again more rapidly.

LAURA JAYES: Pat Conroy, we know Labor doesn’t at all support this idea of a debt levy, but why not?

PAT CONROY: Laura, we’ll see what’s in the budget next week. We do not support the government breaking promises. They went to the last election… (interruption)

LAURA JAYES: Just because it’s a broken promise, or you don’t support the policy in principle?

PAT CONROY: Well let’s see what comes out in the specifics. Bill Shorten this morning said we’re not going to respond purely to hypotheticals, let’s see what’s there. But he made it very clear that we will not help the government break their own promises. Mr Abbott went to the election saying he will not increase taxes, he will not impose new taxes, he will not change the pension, he will not cut health funding, and he’s clearly looking at changes to all of those things and why should the Labor party help him break those promises, a fundamental breach in the trust in the Australian public. (interruptions)

LAURA JAYES: Alan I’ll let you respond in a moment, but Pat Conroy, this is a debt levy that is levelled somewhere between $150,000 and $180,000. Isn’t that the fairest way to hit the people that can most afford it?

PAT CONROY: Who knows what will actually be there in the specifics. I’m not going to comment on hypotheticals, but what I’m going to comment on is the fact they are giving every appearance the government is breaking promises. Why should we support them breaking their promises? To throw back a line Mr Abbott used to throw at the Labor party, we’re going to help them keep their promises.

LAURA JAYES: So is this all about keeping the standards that Tony Abbott set in opposition?

PAT CONROY: It also holding them to account for what they said. They said one thing before they were elected, they are now saying a completely different thing now that they’ve been elected, and they’re the government. They are attacking pensioners, they are increasing taxes on visits to the doctors and this looks like another tax.

LAURA JAYES: Alan Tudge, I’ll let you respond to that, but also is there a risk here that Tony Abbott has over-promised and will under-deliver?

ALAN TUDGE: I just wanted to pick up on Pat’s point where he said he wants to help the government keep its promises. As everybody knows, some of our core promises were to get rid of the carbon tax, get rid of the mining tax, and get the budget back under control. So far they are opposing every single one of those measures. I hope the rest of your party, Pat, is listening to you, and you will help us keep our promises because that is our intent.

PAT CONROY: You only want help on some of them. Others, he’s very happy to break.

ALAN TUDGE: What about the carbon tax, Pat?

LAURA JAYES: I want to move on to your portfolio area. There are recommendations that will be handed to government from Andrew Forrest about Indigenous people and getting them back to work. He will also recommend that people under 19, whether they are Indigenous or not, would lose welfare benefits in school or in work. Is that a recommendation that you will take up?

ALAN TUDGE: We haven’t received Andrew Forrest’s report yet. It will be delivered to us in the weeks ahead. Certainly we want to see every single young person in school, in training, or in a job. The last thing we want is for people to go on welfare, because once you’ve been on the welfare queue for any length of time, the road back to employment is very, very steep. Everything should be aligned to getting people into work and not joining those dole cues for one minute, particularly for younger people leaving school.

LAURA JAYES: The Commission of Audit also recommended that 150 Indigenous programs be rolled into six or seven. Is that something you are also looking at?

ALAN TUDGE: Yes, that is something we are looking at because, from the federal perspective there’s 150-odd programs and there is probably a similar number from the state level. Consequently, you go to a local community and you can have a whirlwind of activity with all of these programs going on, but sometimes little progress. From the federal perspective at least, we’ve done a couple of things. Firstly, we’ve put all of the programs underneath the single department being the Prime Minister’s department, rather than across multiple departments. The second thing that we are doing is looking at consolidating the programs from 150 into a smaller number. At least from the federal government’s perspective, with this we can be as close as possible to having a single interface with a community.

LAURA JAYES: Pat Conroy, could we be in danger of a little bit of bipartisanship on this issue? Do you agree that money is being chewed up in administration with 150 programs?

PAT CONROY: We’d have to look at the effectiveness of all of those programs. What I am worried about is losing some really good programs in the order of consolidation, but as a matter of principle, I think it makes sense to look at the programs, and if there are two doing the same job we should look at rationalising them. The devil is in the detail and we haven’t seen the detail yet.

LAURA JAYES: Just finally, a quick response (inaudible) public funding of election campaigns, or limiting to individual donations, what do you think about that?

PAT CONROY: We’re a big supporter of public funding of election campaigns. We need to be very careful we don’t repeat the scenes that we’re seeing in ICAC. I’m from the Hunter and I’ve been shocked at the behaviour of Liberal MPs up there and their relationship with property developers that ICAC’s revealed. We really need to look at competent measures to avoid that in the future.

LAURA JAYES: Alan Tudge, what’s your view on political donations and how the Liberal Party and the Labor Party should be funded?

ALAN TUDGE: I’ve got a view that individuals should be entitled to provide donations to political parties. It is the exercise of their freedom of speech. The real thing that’s come out of ICAC is the role of lobbyists and the role of gifts. We are determined to ensure that lobbyists cannot be members of political parties and that there is absolute transparency in relation to any gifts being provided.

LAURA JAYES: So you don’t agree with your colleague, Christopher Pyne, that perhaps you should look at individual, or limiting donations to only individuals?

ALAN TUDGE: That option is certainly attractive to me and should be explored further in my view.

LAURA JAYES: Alan Tudge, Pat Conroy, it’s been a pleasure. Thank you for joining me on Lunchtime Agenda today.