Interview with Kieran Gilbert - Sky News AM Agenda

Subjects: Fair Work Australia investigation, the economy

KIERAN GILBERT: Joining me on the program now from Melbourne, Labor frontbencher Mark Dreyfus.  From the Sky News Centre, we've got Liberal MP Jamie Briggs.  Gentlemen, good morning to you and welcome.

MARK DREYFUS: Morning Kieran.

JAMIE BRIGGS: Morning Kieran.

KIERAN GILBERT: Let me just start with Tony Abbott's speech, Mark, if I can.  Labor is critical of Tony Abbott as being Dr No.  Well, he wasn't yesterday, was he, outlining a positive vision?

MARK DREYFUS: I didn't hear much of a positive vision yesterday.  What I heard was Tony Abbott walking away from tax cuts and you'd have to say Julie Bishop sounded embarrassed when she was trying to defend what her leader did yesterday.

He walked away from tax cuts that he promised as late as November last year and what we've now got is, as you've just said, a new form of political promise.  We've got in the case of the tax cuts that they're "in prospect", according to Abbott, by the end of a first coalition term, which would make them about five years away and as for Labor policies like the National Disability Insurance Scheme or the matter of doing something about dental care for ordinary Australians, they are an "aspiration" now and it sounds to be a bit like Tony Abbott's revisiting the non-core promise of John Howard.  That's what that speech sounded like yesterday.

KIERAN GILBERT: Isn't Tony Abbott establishing an argument that a government needs to live within its means?

MARK DREYFUS: This is a government that lives within its means.  It's a government that has taken the hard decisions, that have steered us through the worse financial crisis that the world has seen in 75 years.  We've created over 700,000 jobs in the first four years of Labor Government.  That's more than the Howard Government in its last four years and we're a government that's committed to jobs.  We're a government that is committed to taking tough economic decisions and the suggestion that this is a government that in any way isn't doing that, is just plain wrong.  We'll be returning the budget to surplus in 2012/13 and we'll be continuing to take decisions that build jobs in the Australian economy and...

KIERAN GILBERT: [Interrupts] Jamie...

MARK DREYFUS: ...protect...

KIERAN GILBERT: [Interrupts] Okay.

MARK DREYFUS: ...Australia from the consequences of the Global Financial Crisis.

KIERAN GILBERT: Let's go to Jamie Briggs.  I want to ask you about that message from Tony Abbott.  It was a positive message.  But also what it [inaudible] manage expectations in terms of any future coalition government, what it can deliver.  With the tax cuts though, did he confuse the message a bit?

JAMIE BRIGGS: Not at all.  I mean you've just heard sort of a - like a comedy hour appearance from Mark Dreyfus, trying to defend the Labor Party, suggesting that they've lived within their means.

We're $135 billion in debt, in net debt, after - when the Labor Government got to power in 2007 we were $20 billion in surplus.  We've had the Labor Party promise three days before an election they'll be no carbon tax under a government that I lead, from a Prime Minister and also a Treasurer, break that promise immediately afterwards.  We've seen promise after promise.  Andrew Wilkie's the last person to be let down by this Prime Minister, who she just blatantly lied to about what she'd like to do.

What Tony Abbott is doing is taking people into his trust and saying that our framework is that Government should do no more than is required, well no more than what people cannot do for themselves and that's what we're going to focus on.  We're going to get the things that Government should do right.  We're not going to over-promise.  We're going to tell people the truth.  If there is not money there to deliver tax cuts, we're not going to put the budget into massive deficit and massive debt, at a time when we see what the consequences of massive debt and massive deficit are all around the world.

Now, Mark Dreyfus and the Labor Party can live in their fairyland and they can have their knife fight in public with Simon Crean, going after Kevin Rudd yesterday and who knows what else will happen today?  But what we're going to do is present an agenda about how we actually want to take the country forward in an honest and open way at the same time as being able to promise things which we plan to deliver.  Not just a promise to win an election, to foist it over the Australian public and try and win an election.  Actually deliver when we get elected.

KIERAN GILBERT: Mark, the Prime Minister obviously wants to focus on the economy today.  You can respond to a bit of that - I'll give you the opportunity to respond to what Jamie had to say as well.  But I want to put this in the context of a Prime Minister today trying to argue her case on the economy, but the leadership issue is a distraction.  Jamie made reference to it there.  Kevin Rudd today is going to be on the campaign trail in Brisbane.  That's got to be frustrating to the Prime Minister as a distraction.

MARK DREYFUS: Of course Jamie made reference to leadership questions.  Of course Jamie made reference to anything other than looking at the hard statistics.  Things like the fact that interest rates are lower now than when Labor came to office.  Taxes are lower now than when Labor came to office and without putting in context the net debt that he's just given as a figure, but without saying that net debt in Australia is going to peak at around 8 per cent, compared to net debt in the OECD countries averaging at around 90 per cent, with countries like Greece in the order of 140 or 160 per cent.  That's the context.

Jamie and other Liberal Party members, and indeed Tony Abbott yesterday, don't want to talk about the fact that 700,000 plus jobs have been created since Labor came to office and that by comparison over 30 million jobs lost in the developed countries of the world, with millions of people now out of work in North America and in Western Europe.  That's the context and that's the comparison and that's why there's been praise...

KIERAN GILBERT: [Interrupts] Okay.  What about Kevin Rudd on the campaign trail then today providing a distraction for the Prime Minister?  That does not help, does it?  It must be frustrating to her and to other supporters of her, like yourself.

MARK DREYFUS: I don't think it's a distraction at all.  Kevin Rudd is a frontbencher in the Federal Labor Government and is doing what frontbenchers in Federal Labor governments do, which is to support State Government seeking re-election.  Many of the frontbench are going to be going to Queensland in the coming weeks, all of us.  Everyone in the Labor Party throughout Australia is doing what Labor people do...

KIERAN GILBERT: [Interrupts] Putting YouTube up, a YouTube video of himself up in Chinatown New Years celebrations.  That's not what every frontbencher does.

MARK DREYFUS: Kevin lives in Queensland.  He's a frontbencher in the Federal Government from Queensland.  I don't make anything of it whatsoever and I won't be distracted by the kind of speculation that's appearing in the press, or the kind of speculation that's being fed by Jamie Briggs or that Liberal Party people want to feed.  What's important is getting on with the job Kieran and Jamie knows it.  What's important is doing the right thing and taking the tough decisions for the Australian economy.

JAMIE BRIGGS: Is he a pretty good runner?

KIERAN GILBERT: Tony Abbott is still less popular, despite all the talk on the Government side.  He is still less popular than the Prime Minister, in terms of the latest approval rating the news poll.

JAMIE BRIGGS: I just love Mark's, you know, it's everyone else's fault but ours.  I mean I wonder whether Mark agrees with Simon Crean.  Is Kevin Rudd a prima donna?  A simple question.  I mean that was the character assessment that one senior frontbencher gave of the Foreign Minister yesterday.  Mark, do you agree?  Is Kevin Rudd a prima donna?

MARK DREYFUS: I'm not going to answer Jamie's questions.  I'm interested in talking about the economy and about the decisions...

JAMIE BRIGGS: [Interrupts] Alright.  So what was Simon Crean doing?

MARK DREYFUS: ...that we're going to take and about governing Australia, because that's why we're in government.

KIERAN GILBERT: Let's move on then.  I want to talk about the Health Services Union before we go.  Let's talk about the Health Services Union Chief.  She was asked last night by Chris Uhlmann on the ABC whether or not she thought there'd been government interference in the Fair Work Australia investigation into the Health Services Union.  This is what she had to say.

[excerpt from interview]

KATHY JACKSON: I have no evidence of that.  But the question I ask is why has it taken so long?

CHRIS UHLMANN: Do you suspect it?

KATHY JACKSON: I suspect it.

[end of excerpt]

KIERAN GILBERT: Mark Dreyfus, you've got that there from Kathy Jackson.  It's - other people suspect it as well.  It's been alluded to by the opposition.  It's not a good look three years on.

MARK DREYFUS: Oh and the key to that statement was "I have no evidence for that" and in my former profession as a lawyer, when people said "I have no evidence for that", that's where it stops.  People should lay off independent public servants that are going about their job, doing their duty.  This is an independent statutory agency and when it's finished its investigation and makes its report public, that's the time for comment on it, not this sort of speculation and not raising suspicions when there is no basis for doing so.

KIERAN GILBERT: As Mark said Jamie, it is an independent statutory authority.  They should be - should they not be given a chance to do their job independently?

JAMIE BRIGGS: Well look.  Kathy Jackson is hardly a Liberal.  She's hardly been a supporter of Tony Abbott and our side of politics.  I think what she's doing is truth telling and it's some pretty hard questions for the Prime Minister to answer to those.  She's got to answer what the Government knows about any influence that Kathy Jackson was suggesting last night.

The other issue that Julia Gillard is going to have to answer today is the accusation in the National Indigenous Times that more senior people in her office were involved in the fracas last Thursday.  A pretty substantial accusation today and I think Julia Gillard has got some pretty solid questions that she's going to have to answer before she gives her speech this afternoon.

KIERAN GILBERT: Alright gentlemen, we've run out of time.  Jamie - Mark, if you want a quick response you can.  We do have 30 seconds or so.

MARK DREYFUS: Where it begins and ends, with Kathy Jackson's statement is her saying there is no evidence and that's where press speculation ought to stop and everybody else ought to stop.  These are independent public servants doing their job.  They should be allowed to get on with it.  Thanks Kieran.

KIERAN GILBERT: Alright.  Gentlemen, Jamie and Mark, thank you for that this morning, Gents.  We'll see you - we'll catch you soon.  Let's cross - well after the break.  We'll take a quick break.  Then we are going to cross live to Tampa, Florida and get an update on the...