774 ABC Melbourne - Fight Club interview with Francis Leach

Release Date: 
23 September 2015

FRANCIS LEACH: Alan welcome.

ALAN TUDGE: G’day Francis.

FRANCIS LEACH: David Feeney is also here with us. He’s the Labor Member for Batman. David Feeney, welcome.

DAVID FEENEY: Thank you very much Francis.

FRANCIS LEACH: It’s a changing landscape, very much rapidly, as was evidenced on Monday night’s Four Corners which outlined and detailed the dramatic events of last week. Barnaby Joyce, never short of a good one line, left this on the table to consider at the end of Four Corners.

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BARNABY JOYCE: This is the bleeding obvious of course. I mean there are absolutely- Turnbull is going to beat Shorten. Everyone in the Labor Party knows that too. You watch them. If I’m a reader of politics I’ll tell you exactly what’s happening now, they’re trying to work out how they change Shorten.

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FRANCIS LEACH: The soundtrack was courtesy of Four Corners. Barnaby doesn’t walk around with a sinister sound track…

DAVID FEENEY: Although he should perhaps invest in one!

FRANCIS LEACH: He probably could. David Feeney, what did you make of Barnaby’s comments when you were watching on Monday night as you probably were.

DAVID FEENEY: Indeed I was actually, pure politics of course. The remarkable thing about the final months and years of the Gillard/Rudd Government is that Labor learnt some very tough lessons about the importance of unity and the importance of focus. We haven’t unlearnt those lessons, they remain a very strong attribute and characteristic of our party. That’s why we’ve remained so solid behind Bill and the leadership in the period since.

Surely the remarkable lesson in all of that is that it’s the Liberal National Party that did not learn that lesson. We have watched them break promises, renounced previous undertakings, and now most dramatically of all overthrow a first term Prime Minister repeating all of the drama of the Rudd Gillard period in record time.

Notwithstanding Barnaby’s effort of distraction, the real story here has to be how it’s the current government who have learnt absolutely nothing and continues make those sorts of foundational mistakes.

FRANCIS LEACH: Alan Tudge, you might change the leader but have you changed the party significantly?

ALAN TUDGE: I think the party does change when you have a different leader. But by and large our policies will remain largely the same.

We’ve got a good bedrock of policies of the last couple of years. You look at economic growth now it is up. Jobs growth is ten times faster…

FRANCIS LEACH: Unemployment is now over six per cent!

ALAN TUDGE: Retail sales are up. Unemployment has just come down and it’s largely because of the participation figure which has just gone up.

Boats have stopped as you know. We’ve got a huge infrastructure programme in place.

We’ve got a good bedrock of policies to build from. I think now that Malcolm Turnbull is the new Prime Minister, he needs to unite the team and I think he’s got the capability to do that. I think he’ll be an incredibly effective spokesperson and leader.

It will put Bill Shorten under pressure. I know from speaking to some of the Labor Members already that they’re a little bit nervous now and David Feeney might say that ‘oh no there’s no discussion’, but David you’re an expert at getting rid of Labor leaders, you’ve done it a couple of times already and I think that if the pressure is on Bill Shorten in three, six months time, then there will be people who are looking at Tanya Plibersek, or Anthony Albanese, or Chris Bowen to take over the leadership of the Labor Party.

FRANCIS LEACH: Were you satisfied David Feeney with the outcome of the Canning by-election? Did it suggest enough to you that Labor on its own merits that Labor is having a message that’s being heard and it isn’t just a reaction to the previous Prime Minister and his regime in the Prime Minister’s office?

DAVID FEENEY: Of course Canning was a very important by-election because we all thought the result there might trigger a leadership challenge against Tony Abbott and as it turns out the Liberal Party didn’t wait for the result. They took Tony Abbott out the week before the by-election and that really took a lot of the political drama out of that by-election.

For Labor the fact there was a nine per cent plus swing in our favour on our primary vote and a seven per cent swing more generally was good news. Whether the swing would have been greater if Tony Abbott was leader I guess will forever remain an academic question. For us that was a satisfying result because it was about double the result that is typical when a member dies in office and is replaced in a by-election. I guess in statistical terms- a surprisingly large number.

As I say the real drama had been played out a week earlier when the Liberal Party decided not to wait for the result and moved on Tony Abbott anyway.

I think in previous remarks from the Member for Aston, really tell the story, going forward we have a government whose policies haven’t changed, but a government who has hired themselves a new salesman.

FRANCIS LEACH: 1300 222 774 if you want to join in the conversation. 1300 222 774. Alan Tudge is the Member for Aston for the Liberal Party, David Feeney, the Member for Batman from the Labor Party for Fight Club. David you wanted to have your say?

ALAN TUDGE: I just wanted to make two quick points about Canning. One is that the Labor Party’s primary vote in Canning was still only 34 per cent which is a catastrophically low number and it doesn’t matter how David spins it, it is a very poor number.

The second thing out of the Canning by-election is that is was a strong repudiation of what I think is actually quite a xenophobic campaign by the Labor Party and the CFMEU against the China Free Trade Agreement. It was front and centre of that campaign and yet the Coalition still came home very strongly with a five to six per cent margin.

FRANCIS LEACH: There is a question to ask on the campaign against the China FTA. The ads that are running, and they do no doubt have a hint of race about them. The CFMEU which has light bulbs popping off and the suggestion that Chinese workers are going to come and take your job. It seems appealing to a base instinct.

DAVID FEENEY: I guess I’ll take it upon myself from time to time to defend ALP ads but I’m not in the business of defending what others do.

I’m happy to talk about what the Labor Party’s position is and our position is that we support the China Free Trade Agreement. We helped negotiate it and it’s something that we think is important for the country’s future as well.

But there are I guess some questions we have- really three of those.

We want to make sure that any free trade agreement has mandatory labour market testing for projects over $150 million so that we don’t see large foreign workforces into the country to do work that Australians can do. We want to see Australian workplace skills and safety standards maintained and we want the legislation to ensure Australian wages are not undercut.

Now they’re all pretty simple asks and the Trade Minister himself said that in the enabling legislation those goals would not be difficult to achieve…

FRANCIS LEACH: Well how hard is it Alan Tudge…

DAVID FEENEY: This whole debate could be ended very swiftly if the Liberal Party put some of those undertakings into the enabling legislation and we both put it into place very quickly.

FRANCIS LEACH: Well let me put that to Alan Tudge. Alan Tudge the new Prime Minister has talked about a considered approach to policy, a more rounded approach to policy. Why is it beyond the reach of both parties to sit down- if this is the one sticking point- and come to a compromise arrangement that satisfies everybody to get this done so that as you both say, the nation benefits as a whole?

ALAN TUDGE: Well we haven’t had any concrete proposals from the Labor Party to date in relation to the Chinese Free Trade Agreement. The other thing that I would say is…

DAVID FEENEY: I just gave one to you.

ALAN TUDGE: But against each of those points David Feeney just raised, there have been clear, categorical statements from government officials which point out how incorrect the scare campaign has been on behalf of the Labor Party and the CFMEU.

While David Feeney may like to distance himself from the CFMEU right here in these studios, we know that you are tied at the hip with them. You don’t criticise them when they’re being held up for corruption in the royal commission. You don’t criticize them when they give you millions of dollars. They obviously have many delegates at your Labor conferences. They are part of the ALP and they have been running a disgracefully xenophobic, if not racist campaign against the China Free Trade Agreement. I’ve never once heard the Labor Party criticse those disgracefully xenophobic campaigns David. Feel free to do so now by the way, point out how xenophobic they are.

DAVID FEENEY: To paraphrase Julia Gillard, I’m not going to be lectured about xenophobia by a member of the Liberal Party.

FRANCIS LEACH: It isn’t a race to the bottom either is it David Feeney? It can’t be just because the other guys have been acting that way that it’s a free pass for you to do the same surely?

DAVID FEENEY: I’m not for a moment suggesting any xenophobia. I’ve said very plainly that I support the free trade agreement. I’ve said very plainly and so has my leader and so has everybody in the Labor Party that we see this agreement as being important for the country.

Let’s not have reasonable questions of policy elicit these accusations of racism.

ALAN TUDGE: The key thing is David…

DAVID FEENEY: Let’s have these reasonable questions elicit some responses of substance. Malcolm Turnbull and his team have promised a more substantial political conversation in this country. I’m saying let’s get on with it and have one.

Let’s hear Alan Tudge suggest why labour market testing is such a bad idea and why does suggesting labour market testing elicit a response of racism rather than a decent answer.

ALAN TUDGE: Because and this is the reason David, let me tell you this very bluntly. Because the provisions in the China Free Trade Agreement in relation to labour market testing and the like are exactly the same as what the Labor Party negotiated for the Chile Free Trade Agreement.

Now if it was good enough for the Chile Free Trade Agreement, why isn’t it good enough for the China Free Trade Agreement? What is the difference between those two countries?

DAVID FEENEY: The difference Alan very plainly, the difference is that projects over $150 million of value in the China Free Trade Agreement, on the reading of the agreement mean that there is no requirement for mandatory labour market testing and it is possible to bring in a foreign workforce to undertake projects of that magnitude.

ALAN TUDGE: [inaudible]

DAVID FEENEY: Now if you say that’s not the case and if you say that’s not the policy intent you can kill this argument in an instant by putting that in the enabling legislation.

FRANCIS LEACH: OK we will have more of this conversation in a moment. Touch gloves back to your corners. Fight Club on 774 ABC Melbourne. Alan Tudge, Member for Aston in the now Turnbull Government, and David Feeney, the MP Member for Batman in Bill Shorten’s opposition with us here on 774 ABC Melbourne. Welcoming your calls as well, 4:49, 1300 22 774, Francis Leach here for Raf Epstein today as we check in with what’s happening on the roads.


FRANCIS LEACH: Fight Club on 774 ABC Melbourne, David Feeney from the Labor Party, Alan Tudge from the Liberal National Coalition Tunbull Government with us. 1300 222 774.

Now when Malcolm Turnbull was anointed as the successor for Tony Abbott he promised one thing that I thought would be sweet relief.

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MALCOLM TURNBULL: Advocacy, not slogans.

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FRANCIS LEACH: Advocacy, not slogans. Then today I heard this.

[excerpt begins]

SCOTT MORRISON: …tax white paper process of course will continue. It’s a critical part of our plans to provide real opportunities for Australians who want to work, save and invest. Working, saving and investing is what has made this country what it is today and every element of our economic policy has to reward people who want to work, save and invest.

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FRANCIS LEACH: Work, save, invest. Work, save- you’ve got to stop it Alan Tudge. No more slogans because I’m telling you that’s the first of a new regime. Big red crosses…

ALAN TUDGE: Stop the slogans I love that three word slogan! What’s your question Francis? (laughs)

FRANCIS LEACH: (laughs) It’s a plead.

ALAN TUDGE: I’ll do my best. I’ll do my best.

FRANCIS LEACH: In all seriousness though, how hard is it to reset and recalibrate the conversation in federal politics given the way that it’s gone in the last ten or so years to have sophisticated arguments about difficult issues Alan?

ALAN TUDGE: Look, I think there is plenty of opportunities to have sophisticated arguments about difficult issues and I think your programme here – some people get frustrated with us, no doubt, but hopefully we can tease out some of the issues because it is a lengthier programme. Of course on the TV nightly news though, typically you only get a three second grab. Now you have to fit a lot into that three second grab and so you do have to have some pithy phrases which…

FRANCIS LEACH: Oh pithy is not the word I’d be using!

ALAN TUDGE: Well…But I think that’s the nature of the media though, you do have to have some pithy phrases which will get picked up by the TV media particularly and even in the radio news. If you’re listening to radio news and often they’ll only say one sentence or two sentences from the Minister or Member of Parliament. In lengthier interviews, you can explain it much better, you can be more of an advocate as Malcolm Turnbull pointed out.

FRANCIS LEACH: Now can I ask you another question, Alan Tudge, now Malcolm Turnbull sat down with Sky News and gave a long interview and discussed a whole range of issues and has said that he would consider reducing Sunday penalty rates and an overhaul of the tax system – are we heading back down the road of Work Choices?

ALAN TUDGE: No, absolutely not. Work Choices, to use a slogan, is dead, buried and cremated. It won’t be coming back and David will be trying to butt in here and tell us it’s all coming back, but it’s not. But we do need to have a discussion in relation to the fact that in many cases businesses are no longer opening on Sunday’s because it doesn’t make economic sense for them to do so. And I know that there’s cafes in my electorate which don’t open on Sunday’s for example.

Now who’s interest is that in? It’s not in the customer’s interest that the café’s closed, it’s not in the business owners interest because they’re not making any money and it’s not in the employee’s interest because they haven’t even got a shift at all. So there are issues that do need to be dealt with and we’ve got to have a mature conversation about this. And this is David’s chance to have a mature commentary.

FRANCIS LEACH: Well, David Feeney, is there room for an adjustment here to reflect the new workplace environment? The new demands, the new dynamics?

DAVID FEENEY: Well, Bill Shorten has made clear that our vision, Labor’s vision for a successful Australian economy is not focusing on cutting the wages of baristas on Sunday, but rather a significant investment in science and technology, it’s about looking to TAFE at our universities, it’s about the jobs of the future and us looking at that.

The idea that targeting penalty rates for some workers, not all, on Sundays is part of this country’s road to success is, I think, just a giant distraction. What we need to be thinking about is how does Labor’s policy of 50% renewables open up new opportunities for the future, where are our university students going to be employed in the years and 8 decades ahead and worrying about what hospitality workers are paid on Sunday, and you’ll remember, of course, that this proposal targeted tourism and hospitality but avoided public sector workers, emergency workers, police and so forth.

I’ve said and we’ve said all along that that policy really is an unimaginative race to the bottom when this country needs to start having a much bigger imagination.

FRANCIS LEACH: Marianne is with us in Reservoir this afternoon in Fight Club with Alan Tudge from the Liberal Party and David Feeney from the Labor Party. Marianne, thanks for hanging on.

CALLER MARIANNE: That’s fine. Could I firstly say that it’s not ‘Bat-Man’, it’s ‘Batman’, if you could just note that. I just wanted to make a comment about the China Free Trade Agreement. It is nonsense to say that the unions are promoting a fear campaign.

The campaign is not been to promote fear, it’s been to tell people that we need something written into that agreement which safeguards Australian jobs. Now, if both sides agree that the Free Trade Agreement is important, why is it so difficult to write into it so that people feel secure, that particular clause?

FRANCIS LEACH: Alan Tudge – should people feel secure as the legislation stands, or is Marianne right?

ALAN TUDGE: Legislation trumps agreements and the legislation in place at the moment, which is the visa legislation for 457 visas, says that you must have market testing before you can take in anybody into the country. That’s what the law says presently.

FRANCIS LEACH: David Feeney…

ALAN TUDGE: And that will always trump the agreement.

FRANCIS LEACH: …you’re obviously not comfortable with that market testing giving you the outcome you’d like?

DAVID FEENEY: Well I just think that your caller has kind of nailed it. I mean if the government is saying that it’s their policy intent to have mandatory market labour testing, then put it in (inaudible) legislation and then it’s clear, crystal clear, to all and this argument can be put behind us.

FRANCIS LEACH: Here’s the thing…

DAVID FEENEY: The fact that the government are dodging and weaving on this is quite…

ALAN TUDGE: But the legislation is in place already…

FRANCIS LEACH: Here’s the thing. Hang on, no hang on (inaudible). Here’s the thing for the listener – and I’m the listener here – is you both want the same thing in terms of some sort of protection for workers from - who have been displaced in jobs that could otherwise…

DAVID FEENEY: They’re saying it’s true, we want to make it more.

FRANCIS LEACH: Why can’t you sort it out? Why can’t – why isn’t the enabling legislation – why can’t that be the point where that deals with that, or why can’t we put it in the Trade Agreement? What is the barrier to that being in the Agreement? Alan Tudge? You say you both want the same thing, how come we can’t get to the same place?

ALAN TUDGE: Two things – it’s already in the legislation. So and as I’ve mentioned before, no agreements can trump legislation. It’s already in the legislation for any 457 visa holder. And the second thing I’d say is the terms of the agreement precisely mirror those in the Chile Free Trade Agreement which the Labor Party dealt with when they were in government. So you would think that if they were happy with those terms for Chile, they would be happy with those terms for China.

FRANCIS LEACH: Gentlemen, let’s keep talking…

DAVID FEENEY: Gina Rinehart was never talking about bringing hundreds of thousands of Chileans out to Australia to build her mine and the analogy is ridiculous.

ALAN TUDGE: And this is the fear campaign which you’re prosecuting. That you think that there’s going to be hundreds of thousands of Chinese…

DAVID FEENEY: Well why don’t you just dispel…

ALAN TUDGE: …people coming in when it’s in the legislation.

DAVID FEENEY: …the campaign in a single stroke and put these undertakings in the legislation?

FRANCIS LEACH: Gentlemen, let’s keep talking, we’re going to need to. Thanks for being in Fight Club this evening, we really appreciate you both coming in and giving us your point of view.

DAVID FEENEY: Thanks so much.

ALAN TUDGE: Thanks David.

FRANCIS LEACH: Alan Tudge, Member for Aston, in the Liberal National Government under Malcolm Turnbull and David Feeney. He’s the Member for Batman in Bill Shorten’s Opposition, giving us their perspective in Fight Club.