The Crest of the Commonwealth of Australia Treasury Portfolio Ministers
Picture of Wayne Swan

Wayne Swan

Deputy Prime Minister and Treasurer

3 December 2007 - 27 June 2013

22 March 2013

Interview with Fran Kelly

Radio National Breakfast

SUBJECTS: Leadership; National Disability Insurance Scheme; Tony Abbott; Media reforms

KELLY:

Prime Minister Julia Gillard says it's now back to work for the Government, saying the leadership of the Labor Party has been settled once and for all after Kevin Rudd refused to challenge for the top job yesterday and Julia Gillard surviving as Prime Minister after an extraordinary day in the Federal Parliament. Wayne Swan retains his post as Deputy Prime Minister and Treasurer. Welcome back to Breakfast.

TREASURER:

Good morning Fran.

KELLY:

Wayne Swan, Julia Gillard says the whole business is completely at an end, it has ended now.What kind of assurances have you received from Kevin Rudd or his backers that that's the case?

TREASURER:

I think what we saw yesterday in the party room, on display for all there to see, was the very strong and the very enduring support for the Prime Minister. Now without doubt it's been a difficult few days. But I think what yesterday did was demonstrate the strength of that support and the importance of getting on with our agenda for reform, particularly with the important reforms like the National Disability Insurance Scheme and everything else that everyone in the party room wants to focus on. That's what the Australian people want us to focus on, the issues that matter to them.

KELLY:

I'm sure that that's true, but in fact there was no real show of support for the Prime Minister because there wasn't a ballot. What we do know was that there were at least 40 people in that party room prepared to vote for Kevin Rudd.

TREASURER:

Sorry, we don't know that. The fact is there was very strong support in the room. That's the reason there wasn't a ballot because there wasn't strong support for change.

KELLY:

After all the destabilising and leaks to the press about this person who used to be a Gillard-backer is now a Rudd-backer we didn't get a show of support.

TREASURER:

The fact is there has been a lot of speculation about this matter. A lot of talk about strength of support and so on. If there was strength of support, it would have been demonstrated in the room if there were supporters for change. There were not supporters for change in that room yesterday. What we got was a very strong endorsement of the Prime Minister and that does resolve this matter once and for all. She walked into the room and put her leadership on the line and no one nominated.

KELLY:

Wasn't it true, didn't Bob Hawke end up being elected unopposed when Paul Keating didn't pull the trigger and Paul Keating ended up being the Prime Minister?

TREASURER:

This is the second occasion the Prime Minister has demonstrated there was strength of support. If there was not strength of support, there would have been a vote in the party room. People were running around claiming all sorts of numbers. They clearly weren't there, that's why there wasn't a vote in the party room.

KELLY:

Does Kevin Rudd have any credibility left as an alternative leader of the Labor Party?

TREASURER:

Fran, I think the most important thing that every Labor member can do is to solemnly make a promise that we won't be talking about ourselves but get out there and talk about the things that matter to the Australian people.

KELLY:

With respect, I think there is more talking or explaining that the public would like to hear about. What went on yesterday? Because it was pretty hard to make sense of if you are not around this building and you are trying to look how a Government does things.

TREASURER:

With respect, Fran, what the Australian people want us to do is what we have been doing. We have not lost sight of the fact that there is important policy to be put in place. Just this week we got the National Disability Insurance Scheme through the Parliament. We had a very significant increase in the pension building on the biggest increase we have had in over 100 years.

The Government has not lost its focus on policy, despite all these events that have been going on every minister has been getting stuck into their policy agenda. The results of that are in the Parliament for all to see. What the people really want to see is a contest of ideas about the future and who has the plan to make this economy more prosperous and spread opportunity. Clearly in that contest of ideas, the strength of Julia Gillard will prevail over the slash and burn policies of Tony Abbott.

KELLY:

In the end that contest of ideas and the strength of Labor's policy and ideas was really at the heart of what kicked off yesterday. Because Simon Crean, a former Labor leader, when he flicked the switch, when he called the spill, in fact perhaps his lasting legacy may have been his statement that switching leaders wouldn't fix the problem. He said the Government was damaged not just by leadership destabilisation but also by some of the decisions it has made. He spoke of a duality of causes. Some of those decisions and he named a couple of policy positions and the Government's capacity to sell the Labor message.

TREASURER:

Let's just run through what we've achieved and what we are doing. We have got carbon pricing in, it's working. It's out there making us a cleaner energy country. We are putting in place the trials for the National Disability Insurance Scheme. We have got in place the biggest pension increase in over 100 years. We are rolling out the NBN. We are now embarking on a vital reform for school improvement. This is huge reform agenda for Australia. We have tripled the tax-free threshold, something absolutely critical to low income workers right across this country.

But what we have to do, is we have to engage in that discussion of those ideas and their importance to the future of the country. It is true that the sorts of issues that we've had in the last few days, in the last few weeks, do block out the discussion the Australian people want us to focus on and that we are doing and putting in place through our Cabinet processes and our party processes, and now that this is resolved once and for all we've got to get out there and we've got to talk to the Australian people about the things that matter to them and that's what we're focussing on.

KELLY:

Treasurer, do you have some sympathy for Simon Crean and the move he took yesterday as an elder statesman of the party to move things forward, to break the deadlock, the stalemate as he said.

TREASURER:

I can understand why Simon did what he did yesterday. Of course he lives with the outcome of that, but I do think that Simon has been well motivated. Do I agree with the method? Not necessarily but I do agree that he was well motivated.

KELLY:

What about some of his criticisms, in particular he cited two policies. He thought the Government and I think this is directly largely at you, the Government's failure to put an end to speculation that it would tax superannuation and also the Government's ongoing talk of what he described as class warfare?

TREASURER:

The Prime Minister has dealt with the issue of superannuation. But I'll just make this point, we're the party that built superannuation and Simon and I fundamentally agree on that. We are the party that is improving superannuation – we fundamentally agree on that. We've got a very big agenda when it comes to national savings which is of tremendous importance to the future of our country.

So the Government is going to get on with that work, it's vital work and it's not secured because if you look at what we're doing with superannuation all that would be slashed and burned by Tony Abbott. I share Simon's view that this is a critical issue as we go through the next election, how we strengthen and improve our national superannuation system, how we strengthen and improve our schools through the Gonski reforms. These are the vital issues. That is why yesterday was important, because it has resolved this matter once and for all and what Labor members have to do is to engage in the battle of ideas and the contest with Tony Abbott as we go through to the election which will be on September 14.

KELLY:

Treasurer, as you put forward and as you participate in that contest of ideas has your credibility been damaged? I mean people are shaking their heads at the events of yesterday, the media coverage is savage, the Prime Minister may have shored up her leadership, but the Government was a laughing stock after yesterday.

TREASURER:

The Government is kicking some very big policy goals and we haven't taken our eye off the policy ball at all.

KELLY:

But you're not getting any credit for that in the polls are you?

TREASURER:

Fran, can I just say something about polls, because I think the public discussion about polls, the media discussion about polls, political party's discussion about polls is all just noise that is getting in the way of a fundamental discussion about policy. I think if one positive thing could come from the events of recent times, let's have less discussion about polls and let's have more discussion about ideas and about policies. That's what I think the Australian people are looking for.

KELLY:

As the Prime Minister gets ready to engage again in that battle of ideas or ongoing battle of ideas, she will be forced to reshuffle the Cabinet because Simon Crean, Arts Minister and Regional Affairs Minister, is no longer in her Cabinet. What about the other Rudd supporters and agitators in her front bench? What about Chris Bowen, what about Anthony Albanese, what about Kim Carr? Is the PM in a punishing mood?

TREASURER:

These are matters she will consider in the normal course of events. She'll do that over the next few days.

KELLY:

What do you think she should do in the interests of healing the party?

TREASURER:

These are matters for the Prime Minister, and these are matters for individual ministers. We'll work our way through them as we always do.

KELLY:

Would you be happy to remain sitting around the Cabinet table with these people?

TREASURER:

Fran, I've just finished making the point to you in this interview that the most important thing we can be doing is talking about the future, the policy agenda of the government, the policy agenda of what the Opposition will do to these critical reforms. I'm going to take my own advice.

KELLY:

Treasurer, just finally, Tony Abbott says there should be an election to stop the circus in his words, to stop Labor's civil war and he has now declared he will call a no confidence motion on the very day that you will be standing up to deliver your budget.

TREASURER:

This really just demonstrates really how negative Tony Abbott is. This is the tactic that he used for about the first year of the life of this Government. Almost every day in the House moving a suspension of standing orders which he could never win. That's all that happened yesterday. He had the hide to claim in the media there was some sort of vote of no confidence in the House, that is simply not true, but yet another demonstration of the extent to which Tony Abbott will go to spread misinformation and to be negative.

KELLY:

Yesterday was a gift to Tony Abbott though, wasn't it?

TREASURER:

There's no doubt we've been through a couple of difficult days. But what the Government has done all the way through this is to keep our eye on the policy ball, that is demonstrated on a daily basis and was demonstrated this week with the passage of the National Disability Insurance Scheme, something the Government is immensely proud of and a huge reform for Australia, and we are knuckling down and working our way through other important reforms as well as making sure we keep our economy as strong as possible and supporting an agenda for jobs and growth, all of which is under threat from the slash and burn approach of Tony Abbott which he has taken a cue from Campbell Newman on.

KELLY:

Talking policy, the Government in the end had to pull the four media reform bills. Talk about dropping the policy ball, there's been a lot of criticism from within and others about the way the Government implemented, or steered that policy.

TREASURER:

This has been the matter of extensive discussion for years with all manner of reports before the government. We responded in the normal way. It was always going to be the case that when that legislation went to the parliament there would be a view from the crossbench that would determine its passage or not. We made that very clear when we announced the legislation and I don't think anyone is surprised about the way it played out when the cross benchers thought about whether they would support the bills or not.

At the end of the day, there weren't enough of them to support the bills. That was as true on the day we published the legislation as it was true two years ago and it was never going to change. Much of the analysis of the media laws fails to take any of that realistic assessment into account but I am not surprised by that.

KELLY:

Wayne Swan, thank you very much for joining us on Breakfast.

TREASURER:

Thank you Fran.