Transcript of Interview, 891 ABC Adelaide with Matthew Abraham and David Bevan

Interview

BPC005/2014

05 February 2014

Matthew Abraham: Joining us now, Mark Butler, Labor MP for Port Adelaide. He's opposition spokesman on environment and climate. Good morning to you, Mark Butler.

Mark Butler: Good morning, gentleman.

Matthew Abraham: And Jamie Briggs who is a stunt double today for Chris Pyne. Jamie Briggs; Liberal MP for Mayo in the Adelaide Hills and Assistant Minister for Infrastructure and Regional Development. Jamie Briggs, good morning to you.

Jamie Briggs: Good morning.

David Bevan: We're thinking of a new segment; B1 and B2.

Matthew Abraham: Yeah, it's a got a ring to it, hasn't it?

Mark Butler: Who's telling Christopher?

Jamie Briggs: Who's going to tell Pyne?

Matthew Abraham: No, no, no, no, no. Nobody, please. Maybe we'll edit that bit out.

Now, Jamie Briggs, can you explain to people who don't understand dog whistling and political code, what does Joe Hockey mean when he says the age of entitlement is over?

Jamie Briggs: Well, I think he's been very clear and the Government was very clear in the lead up to the election that Australia is living beyond its means. And the Labor Party took a budget position in 2007 of zero debt, money in the bank and created what is now a debt approaching half a trillion dollars with a decade of deficits in front of us unless we change the settings. And so what we've asked the Commission of Audit to do is to report on what it is the Government can do because we believe governments should be there to provide the safety net for people who need government the most, and clearly if we don't change the settings from how the Labor Party left it, we will continue to build up and rack up more and more debt.

Matthew Abraham: So doesn't it mean you'll lose benefits and entitlements? Isn't it? I don't recall that being spelt out clearly during the election campaign.

Jamie Briggs: Well, not necessarily. But what we've said is we'll be very open with people when the Commission of Audit…

Matthew Abraham: What—after the election campaign, you'll be open with people?

Jamie Briggs: No, look, the clear commitment at the election from the government was to have an Australian Government that lives within its means, and we said before the election that we would seek to ensure that we are getting ourselves on the path to doing that as quickly as possible. Now, it's not easy when you inherit a budget situation where you've got, as I say, half a trillion dollars of Labor debt and you've got a decade of Labor deficits to deal with. So we will have to make hard decisions, and we'll have to have difficult conversations with the Australian public but we'll do that in an upfront nature.

David Bevan: Mark Butler, what do you think Joe Hockey means when he says the age of entitlement is over?

Mark Butler: Well, I think it is Liberal Party spin. I mean, Joe has form on this. He did this a year or two ago at a speech in Britain and came back to Australia and opposed our very sensible proposals to means test the private health insurance rebate; the fastest growing area of health expenditure. So this is spin for the Liberal Party wanting to make choices and setting priorities. So most obviously, you see this week, they've decided not to support SPC Ardmona in the Shepparton area in Victoria, with a $25 million grant that would match the Victorian Government's grant, the Liberal Government's grant over there, and also very significant investment by the company…

Matthew Abraham: But isn't that a smart signal to be sending? You're sending a consistent signal…

Mark Butler: Well, it's not a consistent signal while…

Matthew Abraham: Well, Mark, but hang on. You're sending…

Mark Butler: It's not a consistent signal while, at the same time, you're giving $60 million dollars to Cadbury in Tasmania, which happened to be…

Jamie Briggs:We're not giving $60 million to Cadbury.

Matthew Abraham: How much are you giving Cadbury? Jamie?

Jamie Briggs: I think the grant is six million, Mark, what we promised.

Matthew Abraham: But it is—it is inconsistent, is it not, Jamie Briggs?

Jamie Briggs: Yeah, it is, I agree. But the difference with Cadbury is that Tasmania is a basket-case at the moment, economically, it's a basket-case. They've had 16 years of a state Labor Government and the Greens. And under any measure, the Tasmanian economy is a drag on the national economy and it's what we said…

Matthew Abraham: But Jamie Briggs, you could argue the same if you look at the budget fundamentals in South Australia. We bounce along the bottom with Tasmania, according to the latest independent assessment. We you could describe as a basket-case, and yet you put up the don't come begging sign to General Motors Holden.

Jamie Briggs: Clearly we saw from the General Motors Holden international executive two or three weeks ago now was that there is nothing the Government could have done which would have kept the operations in Australia, so that is what Holden said themselves, GM said themselves.

But there is an important point here. Mark Butler's belief is—and this is what Mark Butler and Jay Weatherill believe absolutely—that governments should borrow taxpayers' money to hand over to profitable companies like Coca-Cola Amatil. We do not accept that. That is what the proposition was with SPC. Coca-Cola Amatil, its parent company, who made, you know, a half year profit of 300 odd million dollars, which is good on them, are asking the Government to fund something they obviously don't think they're willing to put their money they actually have in the bank. They want the Government to borrow some money—25 million—and hand to them. We don't believe that we should, or that small businesses should be paying high taxes for that.

Matthew Abraham: But, but, but Jamie…

Mark Butler: But the impact of this on Shepparton will be just as devastating as some of these travails that the Tasmanian economy is going through.

Jamie Briggs: But, I mean, that's…

Mark Butler: Oh, Jamie, give me a go, mate. You've had a very long go. The rate is going—the unemployment rate, as a result of this decision, is going to increase very substantially. Yesterday, we had a Liberal Party member, this is a safe…

Jamie Briggs: So you're talking them down, you're telling them to shut down, Mark.

Mark Butler:…this is a safe little electorate. We had a former Howard Government minister accuse Tony Abbott and Joe Hockey of lying about the reasons for SPC Ardmona being in such difficulty. So, on the one hand, you have this Government turn its back on that local community but at the same time, they insult the workers in that area, who earn about two-thirds of Australia's average wage, as being the cause of the difficulty the company's having.

Matthew Abraham: Jamie Briggs, there is a second agenda here, isn't there, and it's industrial relations. And Sharman Stone has identified that and she's clearly said that, in going for the workers, Tony Abbott has overstepped the mark.

Jamie Briggs: Well, look, Sharman's arguing for her area and MPs are entitled to do that…

David Bevan: Well, even Dennis Shanahan in The Australian today has said that Tony Abbott effectively over-egged the pudding. He said not all of Abbott's nominations of outrageous abuses and over-reward conditions were wrong, but enough were wrong to allow one of his own backbenchers to label him a liar. That's coming from The Aus.

Jamie Briggs: I mean, that's right, the News Limited conspiracy. I'm not sure how Mark Butler's going to spin that one. Anyway, look, it is clear that the conditions that apply after the Coca-Cola Amatil site in Shepparton have been over a period of time more generous that what apply elsewhere. And the point that the Treasurer and the Prime Minister have made is that, if you want to ensure your business can survive, it takes two to tango. And it is part of the problem. But there is a broader proposition here: we do not believe that a small business in Port Adelaide should have to pay higher tax to fund Coca-Cola's operations somewhere else. That is what Mark Butler believes.

Matthew Abraham: Mark Butler, now let's get on to this question of Don Farrell and Premier Jay Weatherill threatening if the party allowed Don Farrell to switch from the Senate to the seat of Napier. In your quieter moments, did you look at that and think what on earth is Jay doing?

Mark Butler: No, well, I mean, the first I knew about this idea was when along with a whole lot of people read about in The Australian newspaper, I think last Friday morning and there were various interviews on your radio station. But this was all a bit of a surprise to me as it was to so many other people. I mean, I think Jay responded to this appropriately. He's been supported by people like Tom Koutsantonis, Jack Snelling. I read yesterday, people with certainly no axe to grind against Don Farrell, very close colleagues of his, and I think Jay again has shown himself to be a very strong leader of the party and for the state of South Australia.

Matthew Abraham: Or has she shown himself to be a paranoid leader?

Mark Butler: No, no. I think this reflects great strength, I mean he's showed strength…

Matthew Abraham: What threat did Don Farrell pose to Jay Weatherill?

Mark Butler: Well, I think there was a very clear perception issue associated with this so close to the election that a couple of people would arrange a pre-selection so close to the election. And there are a range of other things that I think would flow from this but look, Jay's canvassed them, many other members of the state caucus have canvassed them. I'm not a member of the state caucus, and I think these issues were dealt with very well and appropriately by the Premier, and I think they're closed.

Matthew Abraham: Jamie Briggs, is that the end of it?

Jamie Briggs: Well, this is the Canberra disease coming to South Australia, coming to Adelaide, and it's brought by Don Farrell and Mark Butler who've imported it from the previous Labor Government in Canberra. So much so they had a master class around at Don Farrell's house on Friday night with Julia Gillard herself. The issue really for South Australians here is, do they want another four years of this chaos and division? Because no matter what the spin today is, on March 16, if Labor is re-elected, the right will come for Jay. There is nothing surer.

Matthew Abraham: How do you know that?

Jamie Briggs: Well, because we saw it in Canberra. I mean, and people voted for Kevin Rudd and got Julia Gillard. They voted for Julia Gillard and got Kevin Rudd. And if you vote for Jay Weatherill on March 15, you'll get Jack Snelling or Tom Koutsantonis.

David Bevan: Mark Butler, well, did you…

Mark Butler: Well, I think that argument could've been made if Jay hadn't acted in the way he did last Friday. I mean this has been a very united state show…

David Bevan: Mark Butler, do we have a ridiculous situation at the moment where Jay Weatherill, the head of the left, is saying oh, all this factional nonsense…

Matthew Abraham: I took on the factions…

David Bevan:…he runs the left faction and Tom Koutsantonis is saying, ‘Oh, I don't even know who runs the right faction—the left faction’. I mean it's just ridiculous. Of course, these people know what's going on because their leaders of—they play prominent roles in their factions.

Mark Butler: No, well, they have in the past. I've heard you both put that to Jay and to Tom over the last several days. The idea that the Premier of South Australia is playing a factional role or a minister who is as energetic and active as Tom is playing an active factional role anymore is laughable…

David Bevan: Well, let's be quite clear because there are threats of legal action going around here. We're not saying that Tom Koutsantonis was involved; we're just saying that it's got to the ridiculous point where he's saying, ‘I don't know who's running the factions.’ You're so wanting to distance yourself from the organisations which've got you where you are.

Mark Butler: Well, because they both have very serious jobs to do on behalf of South Australia. And I think that's entirely appropriate. When you reach that level of politics, it's entirely appropriate that you leave the sort of organisational elements or you might call them factional elements of the party behind you…

Matthew Abraham: And do you think it's quirky that despite taking on the factions, Don Farrell's faction, probably Don Farrell himself will decide who is later today the nominated Labor candidate for Napier?

Mark Butler: Well, I mean that's a matter for the state executive and I'm sure they'll…

Matthew Abraham: Which is controlled by Don Farrell.

Mark Butler: Well, that's a matter for the state executive, there's a pre-selection process going on. Unfortunately, it's very close to the election so it's done at the state executive rather than in a broad pre-selection process but we'll have a great candidate in Napier.

Matthew Abraham: Jamie Briggs, we'll leave it there. I think it would be too obvious a free kick to come to you but Jamie Briggs, Liberal MP for Mayo, thank you for joining us this morning standing in for Chris Pyne, who'll be back next week, and Mark Butler, Labor MP for Port Adelaide. Thank you, Mark Butler.

Mark Butler: It's been an absolute pleasure.

Jamie Briggs: Thank you, guys.