5 December 2013

Interview with Marius Benson, Breakfast with Sandy Aloisi, ABC Newsradio

Note
SUBJECTS: Government’s business agenda, Debt Ceiling, Staffing Committee

This is a transcript of the minister's interview with Marius Benson, Breakfast with Sandy Aloisi, ABC Newsradio.

MARIUS BENSON:

Arthur Sinodinos, the Prime Minister seemed to be among friends with the Business Council of Australia last night. Really a ringing endorsement when Jennifer Westacott spoke this morning, pleased with a real change in the 13 weeks of Government. The level of engagement better, the construction commission she specifically endorsed and she says it's a Government with the right structurally agenda. I guess you'd have no argument with any of that.

ARTHUR SINODINOS:

Well what's pleasing about what Jennifer Westacott had to say is, I think she's picked up on the idea that we want genuine consultation on changes before they occur. Certainly when it comes to issues that affect major stakeholders out there, not just business, but not-for-profits and other sections of the community, because I think that's the only way to get real change, is to take people with you. And that means if it takes a bit longer to convince people to do something then it's a good investment and I think that's very important.

MARIUS BENSON:

Does that mean, as some of the critics have suggested about Tony Abbott, that he intends to be a bit of a do nothing in the term at least in the hopes of getting a second term?

ARTHUR SINODINOS:

If you look the agenda we've already got out there of things that we need to get done in the first term, as well as setting up various things for the second term, it's actually a very full agenda. And I think that that's important, that we get our election commitments out of the way, we reduce taxes where we can, for example, and set-up that propositions that we would take to a second term. Believe me Marius in Government there is already plenty to do.

MARIUS BENSON:

Politics, like life is always surprising, but imagine how surprised people would have been if before the election three months ago Tony Abbott had got up and said: what we'll actually do 13 weeks down the track if we're elected is put up debt and we'll get the Greens to help us and that happened yesterday.

ARTHUR SINODINOS:

Look for six years we've lived in a world on - if you're referring specifically to the agreement that's been struck with the Greens on the debt limit - for six years we lived in this world where Labor defined the parameters of what could and couldn't be done. And in that context, they were the ones who first said there would be a debt ceiling, in effect to reassure people that they wouldn't be increasing debt beyond the various levels. And then it became this charade of having to go back to the Parliament to increase the limit every time.

The point the Greens made during Senate Estimates, and I listened very closely to them when I was at the table, was that they preferred to go back to the earlier process, but in a context where there was more transparency over what debt the Commonwealth was incurring. What the debt was being used for and the linkages between debt occurred now and its intergenerational implications. And I think they've done a good job of putting together a credible set of proposals which made it very plausible for the Government to agree with them.

MARIUS BENSON:

Can I go to a statement by the Queensland Liberal National Party Senator Ian McDonald - a colleague of yours in the Senate, but not a happy colleague with the Government. He complained of an almost obsessive centralised control phobia over every aspect of Parliament being exercised from within the Prime Minister's office using both politicians and particularly un-elected staff. It's been reported you're actually a victim of what, this is called a 'star chamber', and you're a victim that you've had a potential chief of staff vetoed. Are you the victim of an almost obsessive centralised control phobia in the Abbott Government?

ARTHUR SINODINOS:

Very much the opposite I suspect. I've been a beneficiary of a Prime Minister who's dragged us into power before we were, before probably a lot of people expected we would be back, and the reason we've been able to do that is being a united group. And as to this issue of power and all the rest of it, in my own case, I didn't have a chief of staff vetoed by the Government Staff Committee or anybody else. The person I put up got through the process. So look, the fact that we've had such a process and that it's rigorous and is not person centred, but focused on what  the needs of the Government are, I think has worked quite well.

MARIUS BENSON:

The criticism of the excessive control alleged by some and subject to some commentary in the Prime Minister's office, that focuses on the Chief of Staff, Peta Credlin. You used to be Chief of Staff to John Howard for many years and you were seen as a very successful one. Is Peta Cedlin a different and far more powerful figure in that role than you were?

ARTHUR SINODINOS:

I think Peta Credlin is a very impressive figure and was a very important contributor to our success and so her continued sort of contribution to the work of the Government is very important and it's a role that no one should envy. You shouldn't envy the people who are in that job and there are considerable pressures in that job and she's had to handle those pressures and she's done it very well. And I don't envy anybody who's got that task, because everybody is at you the whole time, they want something and you've got to have the capacity to deal with all of that, while keeping an eye on where the Government is going.

MARIUS BENSON:

But a control freak, unlike you, is that a fair criticism?

ARTHUR SINODINOS:

All chiefs of staff at that level have to exert a level of control and she's had to do that. I had to do that. other chiefs of staff have had to do that. But I think to be honest, I think we've had a very good transition into Government and Ministers have been getting on with their jobs and our focus is on external issues rather than internal ones.

MARIUS BENSON:

Arthur Sinodinos thank you very much.

ARTHUR SINODINOS:

Thanks Marius, bye.