ABC Melbourne, Fight Club Interview with Rafael Epstein

Release Date: 
2 December 2015

Topics: Leadership, Mal Brough, growth figures, climate change

RAF EPSTEIN: Leader of the party and the country for six years and what do you get remembered for? A terrible rendition of Suspicious Minds. That is Tony Abbott, the former Prime Minister at the National’s Christmas drinks this week, covering Suspicious Minds. On Fight Club today, your karaoke-ists gearing up their vocal chords, microphones in hand, they are flipping through the rolodex of songs, Alan Tudge, Assistant Minister to the Prime Minister, Member for Aston with the John Travolta suit. Alan, welcome.

ALAN TUDGE: G’day Raf. Great to be with you again.

RAF EPSTEIN: And Anna Burke joins us, the former speaker she is the Labor member for the seat of Chisholm here in Melbourne. Anna good afternoon.

ANNA BURKE: Good afternoon. That is why you don’t karaoke in public.

RAF EPSTEIN: Was it leaked to his advantage? To his disadvantage? We won’t get into that question. Anna, your favourite, what is your…

ANNA BURKE: I think we should, because I think that it is a bit sad that in this place, if it was a Christmas party, it should have been off record. If a journo was there, or if, sadly the members who were having a very good time, I am told, in ridiculous hats, you know, maybe we should respect that it is Christmas and we should not be doing this to each other – would be my only comment on it.

RAF EPSTEIN: But in your moments in the CBD at 2am on a Saturday night, when you are regaled upon by your friends to perform at a karaoke bar, what tune do you always rely on?

ANNA BURKE: I don’t, I really don’t. I struggle, I do, I struggle all day because I sing so badly my children won’t even let me do the Christmas carols at Christmas. But I love a Christmas carol.

RAF EPSTEIN: Have you ever done karaoke?

ANNA BURKE: Yes I have. Twenty-seven per cent of my electorate is Chinese. Visualise, you know, I have had to on many occasions. Even on official occasions overseas on delegations where you actually are put up for the old karaoke, but I thought and I trawled and I thought that perhaps Cindy Lauper ‘Girls just want to have fun’.

RAF EPSTEIN: Yeah, it is a bit repetitive, but you are safe there with the notes and the range.

ANNA BURKE: You are safe, because really, [inaudible], the Philip Ruddock blues, Saturday Night Palsy isn’t really coming up on the karaoke spin dial. So I had to go with something a bit bland. Or maybe the old Blondie, cause there is something in ‘One way or another’ that could have some political reference.

RAF EPSTEIN: Although she is also quite difficult to mimic. Alan Tudge, I am going to ask lots of serious political questions, but have you done karaoke and what is your fall back song?

ALAN TUDGE: I have done karaoke Raf, but not for a while. I think the last time I did it was probably similar to Anna actually, with the local Chinese community who do love their karaoke. Listen, often I get a Beetles song up, you know, ‘Hey Jude’, you can always tend to belt one of those out.

RAF EPSTEIN: Do you like it?

ALAN TUDGE: I wouldn’t say I like it. I don’t have the greatest voice in the world.

RAF EPSTEIN: But there is a showbiz person inside of every politician just dying to get out isn’t there?

ANNA BURKE: Politics is showbiz for ugly people.

ALAN TUDGE: That is the old saying, so, I think we are better off not karaokeing, actually Raf, and just doing our job.

RAF EPSTEIN: Okay, let me ask you a question about an issue, let’s be honest, I don’t think many people outside of Parliament House in Canberra follow every detail, but Mal Brough is now the Special Minister for State. He is responsible for issues of integrity. He was tied up in the Peter Slipper affair in various ways. He said he didn’t ask anyone to obtain Peter Slipper’s diary when he was Speaker. Then, after being constantly being constantly questioned about an apparent admission on the 60 minutes program, he effectively blamed the program and then had to back track. He has kind of provided a little bit of rope, hasn’t he? Rhetorical rope for Labor to hang him with. Did he make mistake, Alan, and respond to the bait from Labor?

ALAN TUDGE: I am not going to provide ongoing commentary about this for you Raf. You can do the commentary and I am sure Anna will want to get in on this as well. He has answered all of the questions in Parliament, there is an investigation going on at the moment and while that investigation is going on, we should just let that occur.
He has also quoted, by the way, what the Federal Court itself has said, in the past, and the Federal Court – the Full Court – said that there was absolutely nothing untoward…

RAF EPSTEIN: They didn’t examine that particular criminal question…

ALAN TUDGE: That is what Mr Brough has presented to the Parliament today. He has answered the questions and I will leave the commentary to you.

RAF EPSTEIN: Can I just ask you once more if he says in Parliament, and there is sort of a different truth standard when you are speaking in Parliament. If he says in Parliament, listen I answered a different question, and then has to back track, and he is the Minister with the responsibility for integrity – that is a self-made problem.

ALAN TUDGE: There are often occasions when people will go and correct the record. That occurs quite frequently, but at the end of the day, it is not for my judgement, it is not for your judgement, police are investigating the matter. As I said, I referred to the court which has looked into it and they said there is nothing untoward. I accept at face value the decisions which Mr Brough …… the decisions and the answers which Mr Brough has given in the Parliament today.

RAF EPSTEIN: Anna Burke, Alan Tudge has a point. When Peter Slipper was being pursued, Labor endlessly said, listen, guilt is not established by politicians – it is established by courts. Shouldn’t Labor follow the same line now?

ANNA BURKE: Well that is exactly what we are actually saying. And as Special Minister of State, what we think is the appropriate thing to do is to stand aside while this investigation is going on.
The Prime Minister’s recently recommitted Ministerial code of conduct gives clear indication that that is exactly what should happen, and that is exactly what the opposition asked Peter Slipper to do at the time he was Speaker and that is what he did.

RAF EPSTEIN: You are just throwing mud in revenge aren’t you?

ANNA BURKE: No, no, we didn’t ask the AFP to go and raid the Special Minister of State’s home on the 15th of November this year. They have gone and raided his house to look for information…

RAF EPSTEIN: Raid is a little evocative. They went and visited him, and asked to speak to him and he handed over documents.

ANNA BURKE: They went with a warrant to investigate issues of concern; issues that were not raised in the court case that Mal Brough refers to. The court case that Mal Brough refers to is in respect to the sexual harassment claim against James Ashby vs Peter Slipper. It has nothing to do with this issue. This is a very serious matter. This is a man who is given the role, not very long ago, to uphold the integrity of the Parliament and he has come into the Parliament and he may have misled it. I won’t say he has or has not. As Deputy Chair of the Privileges Committee that may actually come to me in the future.

RAF EPSTEIN: I didn’t know you were the Deputy Chair of that.

ANNA BURKE: I take this very, very seriously and having sat in the Speaker’s chair through all of this issue, I am pretty intimately acquainted with what was and wasn’t going on and the people involved. I just think it is incumbent on the Prime Minister to do the right thing to ensure the integrity of the Parliament is upheld and ask the Special Minister of State to step aside while this investigation goes on.

ALAN TUDGE: I think we should be absolutely clear what this is about from the Labor Party’s perspective. That is, they are trying to latch onto any critique they can find of the Government at the moment because they know that since Malcolm Turnbull has become Prime Minister, the polls have changed. Bill Shorten is under enormous pressure. His popularity is only 15 per cent and they have not got any policies which they can prosecute. So what are they doing? They are trying to latch onto any critique of any Minister they can find and in this instance…

RAF EPSTEIN: Alan, your argument…

ALAN TUDGE: ...going after Mal Brough…

ANNA BURKE: … and gee, Tony Abbott – he didn’t do that when he was in opposition did he?

RAF EPSTEIN: Alan, just a quick question, there is no doubt Labor feel they are in trouble in the polls. However, despite that, there are people in your party room criticising the Prime Minister’s judgement for appointing Mal Brough when he knew that trouble like this could come. I don’t think anyone disagrees that Labor is making hay while they can because they are in big polling trouble. However, there are people in your own party questioning the Prime Minister’s judgement, and giving anonymous quotes to newspapers. You are looking a lot like the Labor Party you said you would never be.

ALAN TUDGE: I think one of the major reasons the Labor Party were turfed out two years ago was because they were fixated on issues which at the end of the day, didn’t matter to the Australian people. And this is such insider gossip in terms of what somebody might tell a journalist on an anonymous basis or what someone is singing late at night in a corridor party. I think the Australia people are far more interested, to be honest, in what the jobs figures are, or what the national security situation is.

RAF EPSTEIN: I want to get onto the growth figures…

ALAN TUDGE: That is what matters.

RAF EPSTEIN: Is it the former Prime Minister Tony Abbott, who is putting out statements, accusing the foreign Minister of being a liar? Now, Tony Abbott is accusing others in your party of white-anting him, this is a man, who as Prime Minister putting out statements to fuel the fire that someone like you does not want to see. That looks to a lot of people like the Labor party under Rudd and Gillard.

ALAN TUDGE: Well it is not the Labor Party under Rudd and Gillard. You go back and look at the 6 years of Rudd, Gillard, Rudd and the two sides could just never reconcile. They were at war with each other the entire time.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: The conservative side doesn’t look too reconciled under the new Prime Minister.

ALAN TUDGE: Listen Raf, I was one of the people, as you know, that supported Tony Abbott but now I am absolutely focused on getting behind Prime Minister Turnbull. I am focused on my job which includes some of the welfare reform issues which we might get on to discuss, it includes trying to strengthen the economy which is so important for everyday people.
That is what we are trying to do and I think that is what the government is doing quite successfully.

ANNA BURKE: They cannot keep going on about this. Turnbull, Abbott, Turnbull. You only have to look at what they have done themselves. Let’s be very clear about this. You may think it is about distraction but it goes to the heart of, to the integrity of this parliament. The man has recently been appointed as Special Minister of State when the Prime Minister knew these investigations were going on. He has a responsibility to the parliament to ensure its integrity is upheld and he is failing in that duty.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: Can I put to both of you, we got some growth figures today that are very, very healthy. However, we do not have an economy expanding quickly enough to balance the books anywhere near the next five, six, seven, eight years. I’ll start with you Alan Tudge. There is a lot of talking about options. At some stage you are going to have to pick options. Even though we have got a good growth figure, you need to make hard decisions soon, don’t you?

ALAN TUDGE: We’ve already been making hard decisions for two years now to try to get the budget under control. We have in fact already made $60 billion worth of savings and now the growth rate in expenditure, whereas it was 3.7 per cent, is now 1.5 per cent. It is a much diminished growth rate in expenditure. If we can keep that expenditure growth down and you can grow the economy at the same time, as we are doing, then over time the budget gets back under control and you can start paying back the debt. In essence, that is the underpinning of our budget strategy. Grow the economy as we are doing, and everything is geared towards that, and keep expenditure very, very tight. Therefore within a few years you are back into surplus and you are starting to pay back that debt again.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: But you are only talking about the money the government spends. Why aren’t you talking about the money the government raises? You need to change the way you tax, don’t you, to make a big difference?

ALAN TUDGE: We are looking at that, as you know, we are going through a whole tax reform process and we are asking the community for ideas. The basic objective is not to increase the overall tax burden, but to tax in a more efficient way so that it will lead to greater jobs creation and greater economic growth.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: Is it really a process though, Alan Tudge, I mean one of the interesting items in the Fairfax series at the moment is that Joe Hockey and Tony Abbott when they were Prime Minister and Treasurer, sat down and they had a model already – a 15 per cent GST, a 40:20:20 taxation system. They had very firm views about what they wanted the income taxation rate and the consumption tax rates to be.
Is it really a process, or does Malcolm Turnbull already have a plan and is just trying to give us the illusion of a discussion?

ALAN TUDGE: No, it absolutely is a process. We are not settled on anything. We are still looking at every option and all options are on the table. At the end of the day, we want to grow the economy more quickly because that is not only good for individuals because there are more jobs around and they can be wealthier, but of course it does help with getting the budget back under control as well.
Today’s figures which came out as 0.9 per cent growth for the quarter which means a 2.5 per cent overall growth year on year. That is a very good strong figure. It is twice the rate of Canada, probably the country most similar to ours. It is higher than the G7, it is above the OECD average so I think we should actually collectively as a nation think that we are starting to see improvements here. Of course, we have got our innovation statement coming out, confidence is up, infrastructure is being rolled out across the country with the exception of Melbourne because, of course, the cancellation of the East West Link project but that is another story. But nevertheless, unemployment is coming down now and particularly in Victoria where there was a big drop in unemployment. So all of these figures we can very optimistic about, I think. I think we can be very optimistic about these figures, including in Victoria, Raf.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: Anna Burke I will get a response from you in just one moment. I want to continue and maybe ask a question or two on Labor’s polling issues but we’ll get a quick traffic check from Greg.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: We’ll get to some calls soon, 1300 222 774. Anna Burke I wanted to ask you I guess a broad political question. Labor has put out a few ideas this year, none of them make a significant difference to the budget bottom line. Mind you the Government hasn’t announced anything like that either. Your problem may be that you’ve announced lots of principles, lots of things you believe in. Bill Shorten’s got the worst polling numbers, the only person worse than him is Simon Crean about 11 years ago. Do you actually believe you can win the next election?

ANNA BURKE: I disagree with the premise of most of the question because we’ve put out in excess of 50 policy statements, several going to the budget bottom line. Actually getting multinationals to pay their own way in tax.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: It’s down the side of the couch money though isn’t it?

ANNA BURKE: Doing issues in respect of super that now the Government is miraculously looking at and the former Treasurer made comments about in his departing valedictory. There out there. They’re there. We’ve certainly made very big statements on big issues of concern to the community in respect of climate change. I think we’ve been putting things out there, whether they’ve been picked up or coming through is another thing entirely and it’s up to us to make sure it happens. I think the polling numbers reflect the deep satisfaction with the public that Tony Abbott has gone.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: You don’t get a 15 per cent figure just because you’re happy Tony Abbott’s gone. You don’t get Bill Shorten with a 15 per cent satisfaction rating. Do you actually believe you can win the election?

ANNA BURKE: I think there’s a whole lot of issues. You’ve got to go into every election believing you can win it and unless we do we don’t have a robust democracy in our country. So I’m just going to pack up and say we can’t do it? How ridiculous Raf. Of course I think we can win the election. I think why we can win it even though we’ve got a new Prime Minister you’ve got exactly the same issues that the public were concerned about when Tony Abbott was Prime Minister. We’ve seen nothing in respect of climate change. We’ve seen nothing in respect of job growth. We’ve seen nothing in respect of dealing with the issues you were talking about before in the economy. This Government has doubled the deficit. They’re now saying it’s great, we’ll be back to surplus and they keep moving the figures further and further out.
I think the public will go, actually what is the guy who speaks well and looks a lot better than Tony Abbott really doing?

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: Simon has called from Rowville. Have you got a question Simon?

CALLER SIMON: Yes I was going to ask a question about this billion dollars that we’re apparently giving to Pacific Island nations to help them with climate change which is coming from the rest of the Aid budget. So I was wondering which education, or health or housing or food programmes are going to suffer to pay for the generosity?

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: Alan Tudge I think that’s a question for you.

ALAN TUDGE: It is and it sounds like from one of my local constituents actually out in Rowville.

CALLER SIMON: It is indeed Alan!

ALAN TUDGE: G’day Simon. This billion dollars comes from out of the Aid budget and in essence it will be spent on things which are to help some of the Pacific Islands adapt to things like sea level rises, for whether there’s peculiar weather events which are causing havoc on their island which they need assistance for.
We already provide money to assist them with some of this infrastructure…

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: Is it new money though? I think maybe that’s what Simon is asking.

ALAN TUDGE: No it’s not new money. It’s coming out of the existing Aid budget. It’s taking some of the existing funds and redefining them in a different way and putting towards particular causes to help people with some of those infrastructure needs which they have now and may need in the future.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: Can I put a climate change question to both of you? We had RepuTex on the other day. They’re one of the best observers of climate change policies, our emissions. Hugh Grossman’s assessment is that one-fifth of our emission reductions are the result of government policy. Four-fifths is because the economy has slowed down, we don’t have manufacturing anymore, technology improvements. Do governments actually make a big difference? If you can keep it brief, I’ll start with you Alan Tudge, I want to hear from Anna as well. Do you actually think governments have made a difference so far in reducing emissions because the independent analysts don’t seem to think you have?

ALAN TUDGE: Absolutely. We’ve made a difference in terms of our policies and of course we’ve got particular targets and we will reach those targets almost precisely- in fact we’ll go beyond those targets. We’ve got a bipartisan target for 2020 and we’re now in discussion what our target should be for 2030. It will be the government levers which determine whether or not we hit those targets or not. There will be other factors as well which determine how much Co2 you’ve got in the air and obviously whether you’ve got heavy manufacturing or not has an impact and some of those other factors. Of course your government policy makes a difference.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: Anna, I know there was an impact while the carbon tax was around or the ETS or whatever you want to call it. Do you really think governments have a major role.

ANNA BURKE: Yeah I think we have a major role. But also everybody’s got a role in this space. The slogan was ‘think global, act local’ and I think people are doing that in their own homes, they’re actually adapting themselves. Every school kid knows to recycle nowadays, we used to just chuck it on the ground. I think there’s a need for both but if you don’t have the right policy settings, you don’t have emissions targets, if you don’t have renewables, you don’t have money on moving to newer, cleaner technologies then you won’t get there. So I think it is a bit of both. But going back to our caller, you only need to listen to the Interior Minister from PNG who was speaking in Paris today to know what a huge issue this is to the Pacific Islands and that something needs to be done now. Taking much needed money already out of the Aid budget that the Government has ripped a huge amount of money on and take Aid money and put it into the climate change space is appalling.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: Claire’s called from Avondale Heights, what do you want to say Claire?

CALLER CLAIRE: It was a question for Anna Burke regarding a follow up from a meeting of 50 leaders or so from various states. We met with Members of Parliament and Senators in October calling for the establishment of a task group to change the political and public narrative about asylum seekers and refugees. Just wondering where that’s got to?


We had our first meeting last week with a fantastic group of multi-faith individuals from the Muslim, the Anglican, the Uniting Church, very feisty Catholic nuns from many groups. There was cross-party representation, the Greens, Labor, Liberal and we’re coming up with an action plan so that we can move the debate in this space. It was a very productive meeting and certainly at the moment we’re focusing on getting the kids out of detention by Christmas.

We’re actually going to be joined by Border Force a little after 5:30, so Alan Tudge with the issues that are around on the Government side I might put those questions to them. Thank you to both of you.