The Crest of the Commonwealth of Australia Treasury Portfolio Ministers
Picture of Chris Bowen

Chris Bowen

Minister for Financial Services, Superannuation and Corporate Law

9 June 2009 - 14 September 2010

Transcript of 24/03/2010

Interview with Fran Kelly

ABC Radio National Breakfast

Wednesday, 24 March 2010

SUBJECTS: Health debate, Government achievements, SA and Tasmania elections.

FRAN KELLY:

Joining us from our Parliament House studio this morning for Polls Apart is Financial Services Minister, Chris Bowen, and from his hometown of Adelaide, Shadow Education Minister, Christopher Pyne. Good morning to you both.

CHRIS BOWEN:

Morning, Fran; Chris.

CHRISTOPHER PYNE:

Good morning, Fran.

KELLY:

Now, this morning I want to test the capacity of both of you to move outside a little of your party political straitjackets and I'm going to ask both of you to find something to praise in your opposition. Listeners like positive politics. Christopher Pyne, what did you like of what the Prime Minister had to say in the Great Health Debate yesterday?

PYNE:

Look, Fran, I have to say I thought the Prime Minister had a very decent pair of ironweave boots on, and as I'm an Adelaidean wearing ironweave boots myself, I thought that was the most positive thing about his performance. Nice tie, nice suit, hair neatly positioned and well presented, but I don't think that he offered much substance to the Australian people.

KELLY:

Okay. So in other words, you can't really step outside that party political straitjacket. Are you saying there was nothing worthy in the content presented by the PM?

PYNE:

Well, I don't think the content was worthy, and I think a sort of mish-mash of motherhood statements which were designed to get the worm going in his direction and an insubstantive attack on the Opposition leader in a trite and not real call for the Opposition to work together with the Government, when at the same time, he was telling blatant untruths about Mr Abbott's record. Now, there's not much to praise in that.

And I'm sure the worm, which has supported Labor leaders since 1993 and therefore one might think it might be a slightly Labor-leaning worm, awarded the debate to Kevin Rudd because people like to hear platitudes sometimes but in terms of substance, in terms of presentation, Mr Abbott won the debate hands down, and that was recorded by the vox pops on television last night and on the Adelaide Now poll this morning in the Tiser.

KELLY:

Tony Abbott won the debate hands down, you reckon?

PYNE:

I think the public who I've spoken to since leaving the debate, according to the vox pops on TV newses last night and according to the Adelaide Now poll on the Tiser website, the public have awarded the debate to Tony Abbott.

KELLY:

Okay.

PYNE:

They can see through Kevin Rudd.

KELLY:

Alright. Chris Bowen, what about you? What did you like of Tony Abbott's performance and content yesterday?

BOWEN:

Courageous call from Christopher there. I think his spin cycle was in overdrive.

But look, I thought Fran, it was a good thing that the debate occurred. I thought it was a good thing to see the Prime Minister and the alternative Prime Minister engaging on the issue which is front of mind for so many Australians. I mean, poll after poll shows that health is front of mind for so many Australians, a vast majority of Australians. I thought it was good to see a debate on the issues.

KELLY:

Okay, but let me ask you again, what did you like of what you heard from Tony Abbott?

BOWEN:

Well, I do try very hard to give credit where it's due, Fran, but it's hard to be positive when the performance yesterday was so negative, to be fair. The vast majority of independent commentators today are finding it difficult to say anything positive about Tony's performance yesterday, so it's hard for me to find anything positive in it, to be fair.

KELLY:

What then of the future for the Prime Minister's hope that he keeps stating in yesterday's debate, that he wanted to work with the Opposition in health? You can't find anything positive; there's no basis there for working together.

BOWEN:

Well, if Tony Abbott wants to sit down and talk seriously about health reform, then the Prime Minister's said, 'come and work with us', and that invitation there from the Prime Minister, very clearly, yesterday. Just as we're sitting down today with the Premier of Western Australia, the Liberal premier of Western Australia, just as we're sitting down with Premiers and Chief Ministers across the country. And that offer is there for Mr Abbott as well.

KELLY:

Was it a fair contest, though? I mean, it has been written about plenty this morning, really Tony Abbott had no hope going into this because he didn't have a policy. He went in with no clothes, effectively.

BOWEN:

Well, that's not our fault, Fran. I mean, you know, Tony Abbott's been saying, 'bring it on, bring it on and the Prime Minister's been running away' from him. Well, yesterday it was a clear contest and a clear result, and the Prime Minister had a clear plan for health for the nation. Tony Abbott had one liners, a grudge, a chip on his shoulder and personal attacks against the Prime Minister. And Chris can rewrite history today and say, 'oh well, Tony Abbott won on substance'. Well, Chris and I were at the debate yesterday; we were sitting on the same table but we were hearing different things.

KELLY:

Christopher Pyne, Tony Abbott really did suffer from not having a policy to promote.

PYNE:

Look Fran, it's not the job of the Opposition to leap to the agenda of the Government. It's not our job to put out policies because the Government demands it. Governments have been demanding Oppositions put out policies since time immemorial. The only reason they want to do that, of course, is to try and pull the policy down so that it loses its bite close to the election.

We will release our health policy at the appropriate time. I don't think Tony Abbott was disadvantaged yesterday because our policy is to actually give real power to local boards in New South Wales and Queensland in major hospitals, and our policy is to try and create 3,500 new beds in hospitals because that's what the hospitals are crying out for. That's the only way of cutting waiting lists.

KELLY:

And is your policy for a sole funder in health?

PYNE:

Well, look, the full tenet of our policy will be seen closer to the election. But as I said, we're not going to jump to the Government's tune. The Labor Party's policy is essentially a non-policy of bureaucrats, continuing the blame game of Kevin Rudd's motherhood statements, which might sound all very pleasant, but actually aren't delivering any kind of outcomes in Government. And this call for Tony Abbott to work with the Government - on the one hand, the Government is accusing Tony Abbott of gross [inaudible], on the one hand, Kevin Rudd is saying, 'work with us', while he's also telling extraordinary porky pies about Tony Abbott's record.

I mean, when they called for us to work with them on Indigenous disadvantage, we responded to that challenge and we came up with a number of things when Brendan Nelson was leader that we'd like to do in Indigenous health and Indigenous disadvantage. Of course, Kevin Rudd didn't really mean he wanted to work with us and he rejected all of that, so this is just more spin from a Government that is tied up with spin and not of any substance. I wish the Government could actually start pointing to any achievements they've made of any real reform in the last two-and-a-half years because they haven't made any.

KELLY:

Okay.

BOWEN:

Where do you want to start, Chris? Where do you want to start?

KELLY:

Okay. Chris Bowen, just on this - we'll get off health in a minute because we have been talking about it a lot this morning - but just on that, has the Government achieved anything in the last two years? Is that a fair cop?

BOWEN:

Where do you want to start, Fran? We could start with avoiding the recession, we could start with the increase -

KELLY:

I think we're talking about within hospitals, in health and hospitals.

BOWEN:

Well no, I think Chris is - well, I'm more than happy to talk about hospitals: the 50 per cent increase in health funding, the lifting of the cap on GP training places, the very significant increase in beds which flows through from that health funding. I thought -

PYNE:

How many beds?

BOWEN:

I thought Chris was actually making a broader point as well, and I'm more than happy to talk about that.

PYNE:

But how many beds?

BOWEN:

Well, the Prime Minister said yesterday Chris - you were in the room - about that, the Prime Minister outlined how many resulted from the increase-

PYNE:

Well, how many are there?

BOWEN:

- in funding, and I think it's about, it's several thousand, Chris, several thousand.

PYNE:

How many? You're the Cabinet Minister, shouldn't you know?

KELLY:

Okay, okay.

BOWEN:

Chris, this is a debate. What happens is you have your say and then I have mine. You've asked me to outline our achievements. I've said I'm happy to start with health, then I'm happy to go to the biggest increase in the Age Pension in 100 years, then I'm happy to go to the increase in the Child Care Rebate by 50 per cent to help working families, then I'm happy to go the National Curriculum, then I'm happy to go to the biggest school rebuilding program in Australia's history.

KELLY:

Alright, alright. I'm going to stop you there because you'll have plenty more weeks to do that, all of that, before now and the election.

Let's move on now to what is still in the news and that's the state election results on the weekend because the dust still hasn't settled on those. We still don't know who's going to be in Government, really, in South Australia and Tasmania yet, finally.

Chris Bowen, voters have turned on Labor in South Australia and Tasmania, no doubt about that. There were also big swings in Higgins and Bradfield by-elections last year in Victoria and New South Wales. Western Australia switched to the Liberals in 2008. Tony Abbott's putting it all down to voters being sick and tired of spin over substance. Do you think there is a message here for your Government?

BOWEN:

Fran, I think - I've always had the view - that people who try to read too much into state results for federal implications are engaging in a futile exercise. You know, all through the Howard years, Labor state governments received very solid results. In Western Sydney, John Howard would amass big majorities in seats and the state Labor candidates would amass the same majorities in the same seats. People in Australia differentiate between federal and state politics, and there are plenty of very stark examples of that. You can go back to 1975 and 1976, when just after Gough Whitlam's very massive defeat federally, Neville Wran was elected as premier of New South Wales. So traditionally people vote on the issues.

Now, there were some very real local factors in both those elections, quite obviously in South Australia, some local factors over the last few months which affected the campaign. In Tasmania, the Labor Government had a troubled term. They had a number of Ministerial resignations and a Premier leaving during the term, and they had a troubled term.

The one implication I would read from it, Fran, is this: six months ago people said Mike Rann was indestructible and he was untouchable; he was riding a high. I think the South Australian result is a reminder to everybody that every election is winnable and every election is loseable, and that the prospect of Tony Abbott being Prime Minister after the next election is a real one.

KELLY:

Okay. Christopher Pyne, final word for you this week. Are you looking forward to another term of Mike Rann Government in South Australia?

PYNE:

Well, I'm not looking forward to it, Fran, but I don't think it's absolutely guaranteed at this stage. I think what the Tasmanian and South Australian elections have proven is that the era of style over substance, the Blairite era, is essentially coming to an end and Kevin Rudd has caught the end of that period, and unfortunately for the Labor Party, the public are seeing through spin and style. They're much more interested in substance and authenticity, and I think they'd rather have leaders who told it the way they thought it really was rather than simply repeat platitudes and motherhood statements which are designed to win votes.

I think the public will reward authenticity and in South Australia that's what they did on Saturday with Isobel Redmond. Let's not forget we were ten seats behind. It's been a remarkably good result for the South Australian Liberal Party but those people who thought we were going to win, I think were probably being excessively hopeful. We will win in Tasmania and I think that was a great achievement for Will Hodgman, but again it's a reward for substance over style and I think the Labor Party has caught the wrong end of that period federally.

KELLY:

Okay. Christopher Pyne and Chris Bowen, thank you very much for joining us on Polls Apart.