774 ABC - Drive with Rafael Epstein

Release Date: 
20 August 2015
Transcript
E&OE

Topics: Indigenous constitutional recognition, same-sex marriage, Government priorities, Government's achievements, Canning by-election, Victorian Liberal Party.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN:
Alan Tudge, good afternoon.

ALAN TUDGE:
G'day Raf.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN:
Firstly the indigenous leaders meeting with the Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, they seem a lot happier. Do you think it's back on track?

ALAN TUDGE:
I do Raf.  There was a very constructive meeting today between the Prime Minister and four very senior indigenous leaders including Noel Pearson and Pat Dodson. They've agreed a process to take us forward which involves the establishment of a referendum council which will consist of half indigenous leaders, half non-indigenous leaders and then we'll have a series of conferences around the country where we can engage with indigenous and non-indigenous people and hopefully get a consensus around a particular question.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN:
I know this area is very much your area of expertise. I want to play you a little bit of what Pat Dodson had to say.  The interesting thing is that this response came, he was asked if your Prime Minister was providing enough leadership, and it was pretty interesting, Pat Dodson basically fingering, not only the Prime Minister, but every other non-indigenous leader across the country. Have a listen.

[Excerpt begins]

PAT DODSON:
Leadership on this issue is certainly lacking in many areas. I would like to see far greater leadership by other eminent leaders in the nation, not just political leaders because I think it's about the nation and it's about the future of our country and other leaders in the nation I think ought to be standing up and encouraging the politicians to be less timid.

[Excerpt ends]

RAFAEL EPSTEIN:
Alan Tudge, is he right?

ALAN TUDGE:
I'm not quite sure. Certainly you've heard me be out there very consistently advocating for constitutional recognition of Aboriginal people, as has the Prime Minster.  He's the one that firmly said this would be one of the key things he wants to get done in his prime ministership.

We're committed to holding a referendum in the next term of Parliament once we've been through this process and have a question agreed. Of course other people are also campaigning for it as well - indigenous leaders and non-indigenous leaders.

Raf, the concept is relatively simple in terms of the desirability of constitutional change. The practicalities of actually doing that though are very complex and that's...

RAFAEL EPSTEIN:
Why is it so controversial inside your own party? People are willing to background that they hate the idea, the WA branch that the Prime Minister is going to visit this weekend, I think they want to pass a motion, they don't want a bar of it. Why is it so controversial inside the Liberal Party?

ALAN TUDGE:
I wouldn't say it was. There's a handful of people who for their own reasons don't support constitutional recognition, but the vast majority of people certainly do support the concept of constitutional recognition.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN:
The vast majority in the party room?

ALAN TUDGE:
Absolutely. And there's other groups of people who are waiting to see the final wording that is put up before they make their decision.

That's the real challenge for us now, is to come up with a form of words that we can have some relative consensus across the community to support. Because as you know Raf getting constitutional change is so damn difficult. We've only had eight out of 44 referenda have been successful, the last one in 1977.

You only get a successful referenda if there is that broad consensus across the community and that's what we're striving towards.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN:
Have you told Scott Morrison about that when it comes to referendums on same-sex marriage?

ALAN TUDGE:
Well according to the polling there's two-thirds or three quarters of people support same-sex marriage. I guess that would lead to change based on that polling.

But as you know we've made the commitment of putting it to the people at some stage in the next term of parliament either through a plebiscite or a referendum.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN:
Having two different questions, it's difficult to get political consensus around them, you could be dooming both to fail.

ALAN TUDGE:
I hope not. I'm hoping that the constitutional recognition of Aboriginal people will be a great unifying moment for our nation. That's what our ambition is. That's why we're taking this carefully, that's why we're consulting with indigenous leaders. That's why we want to have these constitutional conferences around the country, so that we can engage with as many people as possible to hopefully build that consensus.

I think it would be an absolute disaster for the country should we put up a referendum question on constitutional recognition and it failed. We want an enormous overwhelming majority to support it.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN:
I want to ask you whether or not the Prime Minister has the authority still to bring about this change and I want to ask you with a view to the leaks of these talking points. Now I know that talking points are not unique to the Coalition, I know they're hardly really that confidential.

However, it's not just one person leaking the talking points. You've got a large number of people inside your party be they MPs, Senators or their staff, very willing to effectively defy the Prime Minister and leak those talking points. There's more than a few people doing this.

ALAN TUDGE:
Let's keep this in perspective. Let's be clear about what these talking points are. They're a note which goes around in the morning to all the members of parliament and many of the staff. In essence, they capture the key statements of the senior ministers that have been made on a particular issue so that people are across the detail of that.

It's probable that some of my comments here in this interview will be included in tomorrow morning's morning note because people will be interested in terms of what our position is and what we're taking forward in relation to constitutional recognition.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN:
I understand and I think if parties want to have a central message that's fine. I think what the Coalition perhaps underestimates is the Prime Minister says the Cabinet has a 'come to Jesus' moment then has to read them the riot act then you've got people leaking the talking points, that's a significant sign that his authority is ebbing.

ALAN TUDGE:
Again, the talking points are really a summation of the public comments already made. If anything I think the media have been overplaying the significance of what these talking points are because they are really a summation…

RAFAEL EPSTEIN:
So the Prime Minister's authority is as solid as the day he won the election?

ALAN TUDGE:
Of course the Prime Minister still has immense authority over the Cabinet and over our party room. He's a leader that we support, we've got a clear agenda that we want to achieve and we're focusing very much on the issues that matter to the Australian people.

It is about jobs, the cost of living, economic growth and it's about national security. They are the things people want us to focus on and they are the things we are absolutely focused on.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN:
But isn't that your problem Alan Tudge, that you can talk about things like jobs and growth but I think what most people hear is vague plans about things like that and very much an argument that you are not the ALP.

Isn't the biggest problem the government has, is that no one is really clear what the government is for? There is no great new big step that you can identify with Tony Abbott's government.

ALAN TUDGE:
I'd disagree with that. We've already achieved in my view a huge amount in our first 22-23 months. You think about some of the key taxes which we've removed. We've got the biggest infrastructure spend in Australian political history.

We've approved a trillion dollars worth of environmental approvals. We've stopped the boats which people said couldn't be done. We've signed three huge free trade agreements which create the passport for the future post the mining boom. We've got jobs growth now which is 10 times higher than what it was in the last months of the Labor government.

These are real achievements, I think, but perhaps we can communicate that more and perhaps we need to be saying this more. But I think they are genuine achievements of this government.

Of course there's still more work to do. We've got the tax white paper process as well as the federation white paper process. We're trying to tackle the scourge of ice, we're constantly focused on national security issues. These are the things we're very, very focused on Raf.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN:
1300 222 774 is the phone number. I can see a few people wanting to have their say already. You are welcome to join the conversation. Alan Tudge is with me, Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister. He does focus on indigenous issues.

Two quick questions Alan Tudge, one on Victorian Liberal politics in a moment. Firstly, if the Liberal Party loses the by-election in WA, in Canning, all bets are off on the leadership, aren't they? 

ALAN TUDGE:
I hope that we do not lose the Canning by-election. It will be a very tough one for us because as you know typically in by-elections there are swings against the government…

RAFAEL EPSTEIN:
Usually less of a swing if it's a death that leads to a by-election. 

ALAN TUDGE:
Well the last by-election which was caused by the death of a member of parliament was actually the Aston by-election which is my seat which was 14 years ago now. You do tend to get swings against the government in a by-election.

The late Don Randall was a very popular local member so even though the margin is nominally 11 per cent, I think this is going to be tough for us to hold on to and we're going to be fighting very hard to do so.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN:
You didn't answer the question though. If you lose, is the leadership…

ALAN TUDGE:
We're not contemplating losing.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN:
When you woke up this morning and you saw the alleged embezzlement of what looks like 10 per cent of a state election campaign, that's what $1.5 to $2 million represents, you must have been pretty disappointed.

ALAN TUDGE:
Absolutely. In fact, I was in shock to be honest when I heard about this last night. The bottom line is that a very serious crime has been committed against the Liberal Party and against its members. That's what is at issue here.

As soon as the party was made aware of it, the police were brought in and I understand that charges are going to be laid. It would not surprise me if the person in question ends up in prison, to be honest. It's a very serious crime that's been committed against the Liberal Party.

I'm in shock. I'm deeply disappointed. I knew the individual in question and it would never have crossed my mind that he was doing some of the things that he is alleged to have done.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN:
Alan Tudge, thanks for your time.

ALAN TUDGE:
Thanks so much Raf.

[ENDS]