9 September 2010

Interview with Marius Benson, ABC Newsradio

SUBJECTS: Caucus meeting, Federal election campaign, Independents, and Greens

MARIUS BENSON:

Chris Bowen, I suppose the first question for Labor has to be, 'what went wrong?' What's your view on went wrong that saw you reduced to a minority?

CHRIS BOWEN:

Well, look the fact of the matter is that we have been able to form a government – a minority government, but we think a stable one. There will be a time and a place for a thorough going review of the campaign, and elements around the campaign.

BENSON:

But isn't this one of the key times and places, when you all get together for the first time after the election.

BOWEN:

I think the Caucus this morning will be focused on forming a government, on providing a stable government and providing that unity and discipline that goes with providing stable government.

BENSON:

But isn't anyone going to be saying, 'we lost a majority of 16; a year ago we were invulnerable and we're barely hanging on to power now'? Surely that'll be part of the discussion.

BOWEN:

Well members are entitled to raise anything at Caucus but I think there'll be a thorough going review at an appropriate time and an appropriate place. I think the focus of today's Caucus meeting will be forming of a stable government and the things that the Caucus needs to do in relation to that.

BENSON:

Okay I want to look ahead in a moment, first still looking back: Karl Bitar as campaign director has been openly criticised by many in Labor ranks. Does he have your support?

BOWEN:

Well the position of National Secretary is an organisational one not one for a member of the Cabinet.

BENSON:

But personally, do you think he did a good job?

BOWEN:

Yes I do but I'm not going to engage in that sort of a discussion. I'm focused…

BENSON:

But you think he did a good job? Because a lot of people think the opposite.

BOWEN:

I just told you that. I do believe that the campaign was difficult in many instances; we had many difficult issues to respond to during the campaign but the fact that we were able to respond and deal with those was a tribute, primarily to Julia Gillard's leadership, but to the campaign more generally.

BENSON:

And when the former New South Wales Premier described it as the worst campaign he'd ever seen – the most inept in living memory; would you agree?

BOWEN:

Look Morris Iemma has strong views about many issues; in relation to the campaign and particular individuals in the party. I think the campaign, while it certainly had its difficult days – and they're well known – the fact of the matter is that Julia Gillard campaigned very strongly and was able to deal with those issues.

BENSON:

Do you think heads should roll?

BOWEN:

Look Marius, today is about the Caucus meeting for the first time to get a report from the leader, from the Prime Minister, about how we've been able to form a stable government going forward. That will be the focus of all the members of the Caucus today, and the members of the Ministry today.

BENSON:

Okay, and one of the issues for the leader to determine – Julia Gillard still has the power exclusively herself – is to choose her Ministry, and by all reports Kevin Rudd is going to be getting the Foreign Affairs ministry? Is that a good call?

BOWEN:

Well, Julia's made it clear that Kevin Rudd will be fulfilling a senior role in the Cabinet. She hasn't yet outlined what that senior role will be – that's a matter for her. I think it's appropriate he fill a senior role, but exactly what that role is is a matter between her and him.

BENSON:

And you're tipped to be Finance Minister?

BOWEN:

Well there's a lot of speculation out there Marius, about all sorts of people in all sorts of roles. I don't think we should get too carried away. As you say, it is a call exclusively for the Prime Minister and she has a range of talent to draw on for a range of jobs; and I'm happy to serve in whatever job she wants me.

BENSON:

Now the realities of minority government – looking ahead now, are becoming clearer. The Greens and the Independents are saying, 'if we actually prefer Tony Abbott's position on something – say Paid Parental Leave – we'll go with him'. Now you only need to lose two of those crossbench votes and you're in a minority; so you're only – in a sense – a government; you don't have a legislative program.

BOWEN:

I don't think there's anything new in that Marius; I don't think there's any revelation there. It's been clear from the beginning that the agreements we struck with the Independents and the Greens were about supply and confidence. All of them made it crystal clear that they reserved their right on particular pieces of legislation and each piece of legislation; we will need to work through the Parliament.

Now, in one sense, governments have had to do that always in the Senate; to work it through the range of options. The change here is that now, it's not only the Senate but the House of Representatives where governments will have to convince crossbenchers of each item of legislation. That's not a revelation; that's been known since it was clear that one side or another would be going in to minority government.

BENSON:

But the new reality is becoming clearer. Senator Brown, for example, the Greens Leader is saying, 'maybe we'd like to have a weekly meeting with the Opposition Leader as well as having regular meetings with the Prime Minister'.

BOWEN:

Well that's up to them. As part of the arrangements, Mr Brown will be having regular meetings with the Prime Minister. If Mr Abbott wants to have those and Mr Brown wants to have those as well, that's a matter for them. We're the ones who have formed the Government and it's our responsibility to provide that stable government; and I can assure you that's what we'll be doing.

BENSON:

Chris Bowen, thank you very much.

BOWEN:

Nice talking to you Marius.