Q&A - Australian Election Discussion
Sunday 8 September 2013
Australian Election Discussion Hosted by Susan Wood
Q+A, 11-midday Sundays on TV ONE and one hour
later on TV ONE plus 1. Streamed live at www.tvnz.co.nz
Thanks to the support from NZ On Air.
Q+A is on Facebook, http://www.facebook.com/NZQandA#!/NZQandA and on Twitter, http://twitter.com/#!/NZQandA
Q + A – 8 September,
Australian Election Discussion
Hosted by Susan Wood
SUSAN Andrew Holden in Melbourne and Peter FitzSimons in Sydney, a very good morning to you both. Andrew, if I can start with you: Labor its worst result in 100 years. The Labor health minister had a very interesting comment this morning: “Disunity is death. We were not disciplined enough.” Was disunity the issue?
ANDREW HOLDEN – Editor, The
Oh, absolutely, and that was the one thing that Tony Abbott pushed so hard for six years. And it was interesting to hear your panel before talk about the negativity of being an Opposition leader and how tough you have to be, and he certainly was that. He kept driving home that this was a party that couldn’t govern itself and so how could it govern the country?
SUSAN And former Labor Bob Hawke saying Labor had actually lost it rather than the Liberals winning it. You would agree with that comment as well?
ANDREW Yes, I would. The polls have been pretty clear all along that they were heading to a fairly horrible defeat. In the end, it probably wasn’t as bad for Labor as they were expecting. Certainly in Western Sydney and Queensland, they were expecting to be decimated but that wasn’t the case. But it is a pretty terrible result. It’s a swing of about 4 per cent by the looks of it to the Coalition, although interestingly they didn’t pick that up all directly. Really the positive vote towards the Coalition was about 1 per cent, so a lot of it went to the minor parties, which was a pretty clear message that the public were pretty fed up with both the major parties.
SUSAN Andrew, you were pretty much on your own. Certainly with the Melbourne Age, you were backing the Rudd government and earlier in the year in about June, you wrote an editorial saying that Julia Gillard should stand down, which of course we know she went. Do you think it would have been even worse if Gillard had still been in control?
ANDREW I think that was pretty clear. The polls at the time were showing that they were going to get absolutely smashed, and really that’s why a lot of the Labor MPs jumped at the last minute to Kevin Rudd to try and reduce the defeat they would get. There was a very brief flurry where he got back to about 50/50, which triggered the reason that he went to the polls so early, but really the momentum was always there with Tony Abbott. I think one of the polls showed that by about the second week of the campaign, almost two-thirds of Australians had already made up their mind who they were going to vote for.
SUSAN Now, Peter, let me bring you in here. Tony Abbott has not always been very popular with the electorate, but he did manage to connect. What’s he done? How has he changed to do that?
PETER FITZSIMONS – Former Wallaby,
Journalist and Author
I think he moderated his tone, particularly in this electoral campaign. I mean, he was— whatever else we say about Tony Abbott, he was a brilliant Opposition leader. John Howard made the point that the best thing an Opposition leader can do is to claim the scalp of a sitting Prime Minister during their term in office, and Tony Abbott did it twice. The challenge he’s got now is to show that as well as being Mr Negativity, Mr No, Mr Attack Dog, whether he can now take the heights as a Prime Minister for all. I thought he spoke reasonably well last night in his victory speech. One jarring note was when he said, “And I want to say that this is lowest Labor vote in 100 years.” Well, hang on, mate, something like 47 per cent, 48 per cent of Australia after preferences actually voted for Labor. For me, that didn’t fill me with confidence that he’s going to rule for all, but we’ll see. I’ve written a piece in today’s Sun-Herald where I say there is reason for optimism. He’s either going to modify and actually step up to the mark and rule for all Australia, or we may have the example of American politics where after two disastrous terms of George W Bush, suddenly you had Barrack Obama – a real progressive. And so, anyway, I wish Tony Abbott well. I hope he will rule for all.
SUSAN I mean, you know him as Coach, don’t you? He was your scrum coach, I think, at university?
PETER Yes, look, he was known— In Sydney University in the 1980s, he was known as the Mad Monk, and in Australia we’ve had a tradition of Prime Ministers and Treasurers going hard at each other. In this case in Australia in 1985, Tony Abbott knocked out Joe Hockey – actually hit him in the head during a rugby training session. They are great friends and they’re great colleagues now. But, you know, there's a streak of aggression in Tony Abbott, no doubt about it. But we’ll see how he goes.
SUSAN Certainly it’ll be a more conservative Australia— No gay marriage under his watch, will there be?
PETER But he’s at least— This is the other point I made in the Sun-Herald. At least he is surrounded by moderates. I passionately believe Tony Abbott will be the last monarchist Prime Minister the country will ever have, because on the Labor side of things, it’s inconceivable that you will have a monarchist as Prime Minister, as leader. On the Liberal side of things, Tony Abbott is a strong monarchist, but around him you have Malcolm Turnbull, who of course once led the republic movement; Joe Hockey, who’s a passionate republican; and even Christopher Pyne from South Australia, who’s known as a deeply conservative man, he’s a republican. So, you know, I think Tony Abbott is the last one before the tide, and I think after him, the progressives will move forward.
SUSAN Andrew, the New Zealand relationship. We know New Zealand really a bit too small for Kevin Rudd to bother with too much. What will be Abbott’s attitude to this country?
ANDREW Well, obviously the pillow talk might make the big difference and I can tell you now that spellchecks all over the country are being blown apart trying to figure out how to spell “Wainuiomata”, let alone say it, of course. So we have a First Lady in the Lodge who’s a Kiwi. So who knows what that will mean? Obviously, there will be a family connection. Tony Abbott’s been many times over to the Wellington region to see the family, so maybe the Kiwis can hope for a little bit of respect over here that they don’t always get.
SUSAN Peter, what do you think the relationship will be like between John Key and Tony Abbott?
PETER I think very, very close. I’m quite an admirer of John Key, and I think they’ll get on well. It’s interesting, though, Andrew, as you mentioned – that background of Tony Abbott’s wife being a Kiwi. I follow Australian politics fairly closely. I only heard about that two or three days ago. We don’t, in Australia, really identify her as a Kiwi. That’s only just come up in the last little while. And in terms of garnering press media attention, it’s actually been Tony Abbott’s three daughters that would have been taking 80 per cent of familial focus in the media and Tony Abbott’s wife – wonderful woman, but there's been little focus on her personally, and certainly in this country no focus on the fact that she's a Kiwi.
SUSAN Andrew, there is an issue in Australia, a very serious issue with New Zealanders living there and not being able to vote, not being able to get student loans – all of those sort of things. They’re second-class citizens, we’re essentially calling them. Do you expect any movement on this under an Abbott government or will the Key government here have to be pushing pretty hard to make something change?
ANDREW I think the Key government will have to push it. I don’t think you’re going to get anything from Tony Abbott. If he’s not prepared to allow his MPs to have a conscience vote on gay marriage, he’s certainly not going to take any of his political capital and spend it on Kiwis. Sorry about that. But it is a terrible thing. I know from personal experience – my partner couldn’t even get an iPhone because her Kiwi passport is only worth about 20 points when you're trying to get a 100 points to get a phone plan. So it’s a difficult thing for the Kiwis. I certainly hope they keep pushing it, because it’s quite remarkable how little regarded they are when we’re so close.
SUSAN Also asylum seekers, and I’m talking about those ones there, those who want to get in – what’s it going to mean for them, and will they be pushing for New Zealand to take more asylum seekers, Andrew?
ANDREW I think it’s part of a regional plan. If you can take some more, Tony Abbott would be absolutely delighted. It’s going to be an ugly period. He said he’s going to stop the boats. In fact, there was even a ludicrous policy that came out – they were going to buy the boats in the Indonesian ports to try and stop them coming across. It’s going to be a very difficult time, and I think that’s probably going to be one of the hardest tests for Tony Abbott and his government is to build strong relationships with Indonesia, particularly as part of his costings plans they’re taking $4 billion out of foreign aid, and most of that was going to go to Indonesia.
SUSAN Peter, the asylum seekers one certainly electrifies the electorate, doesn’t it? Do you think Abbott’s got the solution to deal with this huge problem for Australia?
PETER I personally don’t.
ANDREW I think it needs a regional solution. Go on, Pete.
SUSAN Carry on, Peter.
PETER Sorry, I wasn’t sure if that question was to me or to Andrew.
SUSAN It was to you, Peter.
PETER I personally don’t think it’s going to work. It’s a really— As Andrew says, we’re going into a very ugly period, and a lot of the Coalition’s costings were built on the fact we’ll save $10 billion on turning around the boats. It’s actually not going to be that easy. The truth of it is the people on the high seas coming our way are desperate, desperate people – probably so desperate that if an Australian Navy ship turns up, the likelihood is they’ll sink the damn thing and, you know, put themselves in the water. We will have no choice but to save them. I would love to think there was a reasonable solution to the asylum seeker one. I can't personally see it, and I don’t think it’s simply a matter of sending out the Navy to turn them around. It’s not going to be that easy.
SUSAN Alright, Andrew, Kevin Rudd says he’s gone. Do we believe him or will he reappear Lazarus-like at some point?
ANDREW No, no, he’s gone and in some respects he probably should move out after the next Parliament. Can I just throw in here something for you to keep an eye on is Clive Palmer, who’s the real maverick – this mining billionaire on the Gold Coast. It looks like he’s going to win a seat in the Lower House. It looks like he’s going to have two seats in the Senate and potentially the balance of power. This is a man who had life-sized replicas of dinosaurs as the decoration of his golf course. This is the real madness of the next Parliament.
SUSAN And this is the man, Peter, I think he said Wendy Deng was a spy – a Chinese spy.
PETER That was actually on my wife’s show. My wife anchors the Today Show over here, and her on-air partner Karl Stefanovic—
SUSAN A Kiwi.
PETER ...did an interview, and it was borderline insane. It was a rant from out of nowhere, but it was staggering and frightening. And I’m amazed, absolutely amazed that Clive Palmer is going to garner a Lower House seat for himself. I didn’t think he’d get remotely close. Glenn Lazarus— I made the point in the Herald this week that actually you Kiwis will be interested to know – Australia is being taken over by props: Tony Abbott, Joe Hockey and Malcolm Turnbull were all lower-grade University props. And Glenn Lazarus, who’s taking over for Palmer United – he’s a famous rugby league prop known in this part of the world as “the Brick With Eyes”. But now he’s going to be the Senator Brick With Eyes. And another amazing one is Pauline Hanson, who personally I have felt embarrassed for and by for the last two decades, and she's run and run and run and never got anywhere and now she’s going to be Senator Pauline Hanson, to my amazement.
SUSAN And that is the thing, Andrew, isn’t it? There are still quite a number of sort of small and can I call them oddball members, certainly of the Upper House, that Tony Abbott is going to have to negotiate with.
ANDREW Oh, absolutely. I mean, it’s the extraordinary element of Australia politics with the two houses and the minor parties that come in. I mean, if you think MMP throws up some bizarre things, nothing seems to match the Australian politics in the Upper House.
SUSAN Finally to you, Peter. Do you think he’s going to be able to – Tony Abbott, that is – keep away from the gaffs? There’ll be no more “suppositories of all knowledge”?
PETER No, no, I don’t. Personally— I didn’t vote for Tony Abbott. I personally like him, but he’s got what I call a tin ear. He just doesn’t get it. I mean, when he talks about, you know, yes, the wonderful “the suppository of wisdom”, that was a gaff. But, you know, when he talks about the sex appeal of his candidates – well, look, in 21st century Australia, that’s just not done. And he continued and he went on the Big Brother house, and he said, “I’m the guy with the good-looking daughters.” I don’t know. He’s got a good heart, but I don’t think the gaffs will stop.
SUSAN Very good to talk to you both. Thank you so much for your time on what is a busy morning, Peter FitzSimons and Andrew Holden.