Topics: Leadership, Budget 2014, University reform, Knights and Dames, Childcare, Forrest Review.
LAURA JAYES: First I want to ask you, what would you say to your colleagues on the backbench at the moment who are still agitating for a change of leadership?
ALAN TUDGE: Laura, colleagues yesterday would have heard a very good speech from the Prime Minister, an impassioned one, where the Prime Minister admittedly said that things would be different going forward and they will be. We can see that already.They would have also seen the Prime Minister outline a clear plan for how we’re going to proceed – outlining some childcare issues, outlining measures to deal with foreign ownership of residential properties.We’ve got a plan. They realise that we can’t just continue to change leaders every five minutes like the Labor party used to do and that we’re back to work and focused on the task ahead.
LAURA JAYES: Have you noticed any change in the backbench? Do you think it’s galvanised any support for the Prime Minister?
ALAN TUDGE: Laura, I’m not going to speculate about the conversations which I may have had with backbenchers. All I’m going to say is that we need to get back to work and focus on the task ahead.The task ahead is addressing cost of living pressures, building economic infrastructure, focusing on jobs. That’s exactly what we’re trying to do. Stop talking about ourselves, stop naval gazing and focus on the needs of the Australian people.That’s what we all need to do and that’s how we’ll achieve as a government and get success as a government as well.
LAURA JAYES: One thing that might help in that sense is if Julie Bishop publicly declared her support for the Prime Minister and publicly said that she would rule out challenging the Prime Minister for the leadership. Would you encourage her to do that?
ALAN TUDGE: Julie Bishop already has publicly declared her support for the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister has declared his support for her. They are colleagues. They are leader and deputy leader of the Liberal Party.
LAURA JAYES: She hasn’t ruled out challenging for the leadership, though.
ALAN TUDGE: They’ve both publicly declared their support for each other. They are friends, they are colleagues, they have a very good working relationship together, and now both of them are back to work.Both are focused on the task ahead. The Prime Minister has outlined a very clear agenda for us in the months ahead. The Foreign Minister has been an outstanding Foreign Minister and has a huge agenda there and she’s focused on that.
LAURA JAYES: Do you think the Deputy Liberal Leader, Julie Bishop, has been loyal to the Prime Minister?
ALAN TUDGE: I do think she has been loyal to the Prime Minister. I think she’s been a very good deputy leader and an exceptionally good Foreign Minister. We’ve got a great team. This is always about the team led by Tony Abbott. We’ve had a tremendous year of success in some respects. You look through some of the achievements – obviously the carbon tax is gone; infrastructure is being built right across Australia; jobs growth today is three times the rate it was in 2013; housing approvals are at record levels; we’ve stopped the boats; we’ve signed three free trade agreements which basically provide the passport for the future. That is all a team effort. Its lead by Tony Abbott but every single one of our team has contributed to those successes. We need to continue delivering results for the Australian people along those lines.
LAURA JAYES: Sure, but that is retrospective. Looking forward, when you look at some of the budget measures left over from 2014, they still remain. Would you encourage the Prime Minister to jettison unpopular policies like the Medicare co-payment, like the university reforms that have no clear path whatsoever of getting through the Senate?
ALAN TUDGE: We’ve already said we’re going to do things differently in relation to the Medicare co-payment. There’s now going to be a longer process where we’ll discuss with the sector, discuss with the broader community how we can make Medicare more sustainable. We do need to make it more sustainable, but we’re going to embark on a steady discussion with the Australian population down that end.Overall, many of our budget measures are already through. From memory… [interruption]
LAURA JAYES: What about university reforms though, Alan Tudge? When you look at the Senate crossbench, they are too diametrically opposed views. On the one hand, you’ve got David Leyonhjelm and Bob Day saying there needs to be a lesser burden on the taxpayer.But then you’ve got the Palmer United senators saying they don’t want to see universities be able to deregulate fees. How do you get through the middle there? You can’t keep on saying we’re going to talk to the crossbench because clearly the negotiations aren’t working.Is that a policy you would encourage the Prime Minister to just cut loose?
ALAN TUDGE: From my understanding, there still are constructive conversations occurring with the crossbenchers. This is a difficult senate. We know that and we perhaps underestimated the difficulty of this senate.But those discussions are ongoing and we’re still confident that a package of reform will go through. It does need to go through. Every university vice chancellor bar one is calling for it to go through because they know it sets up the universities for the future.It also, by the way, establishes thousands of scholarships. For the first time additionally, associate degrees are going to be supported through this package. Diplomas will be supported through the HECS system which they haven’t been supported beforehand, so there’s enormous opportunities there as well through that package and we’re determined to see it through.
LAURA JAYES: Will you be supporting the private members bill to be put forward by Andrew Laming to scrap Knights and Dames?
ALAN TUDGE: Laura, you understand the history of the Liberal Party. We’ve always had people who have crossed the floor, who have put up alternative views which may not be held by the rest of the party and that’s the nature of our broad church of the Liberal Party. I’ll tell you what; it’s very different to the Labor Party because when a Labor member crosses the floor, they get expelled.We’ll be no doubt discussing this in the party room but I doubt whether it will get through the party room.
LAURA JAYES: Just two final questions. On the paid parental leave scheme, we know now that’s been dropped. Do you think it’s fair that big business still wear that 1.5 per cent levy? Should all of that money go into childcare?
ALAN TUDGE: As you would have heard from the Prime Minister today, no decision has been made on that yet. But we are determined to ensure big businesses don’t have any net tax increase and we’re absolutely determined to ensure that small businesses get a tax decrease. That’s absolutely our focus. This year, our focus is on families, on jobs and on small business. With families we need to think about their cost of living pressures. We’re thinking about congestion on the roads, we’re thinking about having a better childcare situation. On cost of living, we are absolutely not going back to a carbon tax which Bill Shorten, by the way, is going back to. And on jobs, we have to get the economy growing more strongly so there can be more jobs growth and continued jobs growth as we’ve had in the past.
LAURA JAYES: Just finally, in your role as Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister, when are we going to see the government’s response to the Forrest Review?
ALAN TUDGE: We’ve already seen some elements announced. For example, just late last year we announced a package of reforms for some of the remote communities for full time work for the dole. Early this year you’ll see the next tranche of reforms announced as well and there will be ongoing announcements in relation to it. Overall, we are taking every single recommendation very seriously though and we’ll have a very thorough response against each one.
LAURA JAYES: So we can expect to see that in the first half of the year? Because I remember Andrew Forrest at the time saying he wants to see all of these recommendations implemented. You can’t guarantee that will happen, but can you give us a sense of just how many the government is seriously looking at?
ALAN TUDGE: We are seriously looking at every single recommendation. I can tell you that. We’ve already announced some, there will be some others announced very, very soon and we’ll progressively be rolling out others.
LAURA JAYES: Alan Tudge, we will hold you to that. We look forward to seeing the government’s response to that review very, very soon.
ALAN TUDGE: Thanks so much Laura.