Sky News With David Lipson Interview

Subject: Poker Machine reform, the economy, Labor’s reform agenda and other political issues.

David Lipson: Hello and welcome to the program I'm David Lipson. Its finals week this week but today's titans clash is happening off the football pitch. The battle over Andrew Wilkie's pokie reforms has intensified after several AFL club presidents slammed the mandatory pre-commitment technology. Eddie McGuire described it as a footy tax.

Anthony Ball (Clubs Australia): millions of supporters, millions of players, kids and families will suffer if this experimental technology comes into being.

David Lipson: Andrew Wilkie has a political gun if you like at Julia Gillard's head, threatening to drop support for the Government if the reforms aren't locked in by mid next year. He has been backed by Senator Nick Xenaphon who is a long time anti-gambling campaigner. Have a listen.

Andrew Wilkie: You have just got to be really careful about listening to an industry for whom this is all about profit and the bottom line and not about the welfare of Australia's 95,000 problem gamblers.

Nick Xenaphon: Eddie McGuire needs to get his facts straight. This is an extraordinary campaign by the AFL, when you consider their own players, their own club members have been hit hard by problem gambling.

David Lipson: Julia Gillard's chances of getting these reforms through Parliament at the moment don't look very good, but the Government remains committed.

Penny Wong: Just take a step back and remember what we are talking about. We are not talking about a tax. We are talking about measures which are about supporting and assisting vulnerable Australians who are addicted to gambling.

David Lipson: Joining me here in Canberra over the next half hour to discuss this and the other political issues of the day is Parliamentary Secretary for Climate Change, Mark Dreyfus, thanks for your time.

Mark Dreyfus: Good to be with you David.

David Lipson: And Shadow Parliamentary Secretary, Simon Birmingham, a Liberal Senator. Thanks for your time as well.

Simon Birmingham: Thanks David and Mark.

David Lipson: First to you Mark, I want to ask you. Eddie McGuire says this is a footy tax. Firstly, it's not and it is a pretty massive stretch to suggest it is, but that sort of comment has got to bite out in the electorate doesn't it?

Mark Dreyfus: I think we have to remember what we are talking about here, which is vulnerable people in our community. As Andrew Wilkie  said, some 95,000 people are problem gamblers. Around half a million people are at risk of becoming problem gamblers and it is a huge social cost. It is something we want to do something about and I think the football clubs of Australia, the NRL, AFL, would like to do something about it too. They don't want to prey on vulnerable people in our community and you only have to go to Western Australia to look at an example of a football league that is doing very fine, thanks very much, without relying on income earned from problem gambling.

David Lipson: Well how do you then explain such strong comments from people like Eddie McGuire and also Jeff Kennett from Hawthorn, has come out pretty strongly against such a tax. Actually... he has got me saying it now...

Mark Dreyfus: Well again I would say as Senator Wong in the grab we have just seen, let's remember what we are talking about, this isn't a tax, this is taking a measure to protect vulnerable people and I can understand presidents of Aussie Rules footy clubs seeking to protect revenue if they feel it's at risk. I would ask them to bear in mind that clubs that don't depend on problem gamblers won't have any problem with this.

David Lipson: The AFL has tried to somewhat distance itself from Eddie McGuire's comments this morning, claiming there's no AFL ad campaign in the works, that the AFL as a whole, isn't planning anything like that, but perhaps individuals clubs may be. Simon Birmingham why is Coalition currently opposed to mandatory pre-commitment technology?

Simon Birmingham: Well David let's understand that there is only one member of the House of Representatives who has actually been passionately advocating this. The Government jumped on board purely because they needed the deal with Mr Wilkie and that is the only reason the Labor Party is even pretending to support this.

And we know from reports that publicly there are people like Mike Kelly and Janelle Saffin who are dead set against this, Labor MPs, and reportedly up to 25 who are prepared to oppose it when it comes to the Labor caucus. There is vast opposition to this, not just from the Coalition, not just from the AFL or the NRL, but also within Labor's own ranks.

Now why? Because there are no guarantees it will work, because it is not just a income deterrent or a loss of income, for these clubs in question,but it is also an enormous expense for all of the clubs and businesses around Australia to make this change for a technology that is not proven to work. In fact the pre-commitments we're talking about, will allow someone to walk in and say "I will happily commit to gambling away a million dollars." Well that doesn't address the issue for problem gamblers, it just puts a huge in cost on the clubs and the businesses who have to apply this policy.

David Lipson: But isn't one of the issues for problem gamblers is that they end up gambling more than they plan to when they walked in to a club, or a pub, or a like.

Simon Birmingham: And that's why a voluntary pre-commitment scheme can work just fine for those that actually want to take the step. Those who want to control their gambling can control their gambling under a voluntary scheme. A mandatory scheme though, will just see those who don't want the help subverted so it will be pointless for them, will only still only cover those who are willing to acknowledge they have a problem and need that help and that's where the attitude's got to go. Focus on the people who you can actually help, not apply what is a vast bureaucratic expensive solution and that really won't work in many instances.

David Lipson: We heard Clubs Australia there saying that millions of families will suffer as a result of this reform, is that a claim that you would back? How would millions of families suffer?

Simon Birmingham: Well look, clearly there will be vast expenses in applying this reform and clearly many of Australia's clubs that are patronised by millions of Australians families will find that they have to put up the costs of other areas of their operations to subsidise for the loss of income from their pokies businesses. So there will be a flow through effect right across the community. But I think we need to dwell on whether this is actually good policy or bad policy. Good policy would be something that is efficient to implement and will actually make a difference. This will not be efficient to implement and it will not make a difference to those problem gamblers who will always try to subvert the system.

David Lipson: Mark Dreyfus, Simon Birmingham there just mentioned earlier about the opposition to this plan. There is some opposition within Labor ranks and some MPs are quietly fighting this in their electorates. Do you think Andrew Wilkie would actually support Tony Abbott if the Government tries but fails to get the pokie reforms through?

Mark Dreyfus: I know that is very hard to believe  but I am not going to comment on a hypothetical. For the moment we are working very hard with Andrew Wilkie on bringing in mandatory pre-commitment. We think it is a good policy. We think it is odd that there is this distinction being drawn. We have got support for pre-commitment from Clubs Australia. We have got support for pre-commitment and indeed the technology's already there in very many machines.

We want to pursue mandatory pre-commitment because we think it will work and we think we have to do something about what is a very serious social problem. It is really important that we keep in perspective what it is we are trying to deal with. We are trying to deal with hundreds of thousands of Australians that are dreadfully affected every year by problem gambling and it's huge quantities of money. Something on average about twenty one thousand dollars per year that's poured into machines by problem gamblers, causing lasting social dislocation, psychological damage, people being thrown out of work, families being broken up. That is something we want to do something about.

Simon Birmingham: Mark, but the problem is mandatory pre-commitment most attacks, most impacts on the recreational gambler, on the people who don't have a problem. People who just want to put a small amount through the machine. That's where the real problem lies, it will drive, it will make it most inconvenience for those people. The dedicated problem gambler, they'll go through filling out the paperwork, providing the I.D, having their mandatory card, it will be the recreational gamblers who check out. So you will actually be developing a policy and implementing a policy that hits those that you really don't want to target in this. That's the madness of it.

Mark Dreyfus: We think it's worth doing something about.

David Lipson: Ok. Well look I want to talk as well about the economy today. There's been meetings in Washington with top finance and treasury, finance ministers and treasurers, and others in Washington to try address the Euro's own debt crisis over the weekend. Now the markets this morning in Australia haven't fared as badly as perhaps as we expected, but clearly there are concerns about the world economy and concerns that Greece will default on its debt and the rest of the world will suffer.

Now nothing concrete seemed to come out of these talks in Washington, but Simon Birmingham, do you think the world is doing enough to address what is happening in Europe?

Simon Birmingham: Well David, I saw, I think on your one o'clock bulletin some interesting comments from David Cameron, the British Prime Minister, and he highlighted that this a debt crisis. It is not part of the usual cyclical economic downturn into a recession. The one key point he had was you don't solve a debt crisis by opening up the money tap. And the problem we have in Australia is the Government has historically, and Wayne Swan in particular, has only had one solution to things when we have seen economic problems, that's to open up the money tap. That's the wrong response for a country like Australia. Obviously we want to see the world focussed on addressing this debt crisis and that should be what all countries are focussed on domestically and internationally.

David Lipson: But the Government's stimulus was put in place at a time when it was a financial problem, not a debt problem, and that is a very different situation is it not?

Simon Birmingham: Ah look we supported the first part of the stimulus. We had vast concerns about the second part of the stimulus that didn't appear to be necessary. But there were very clear debt concerns even at that time and indeed Opposition members highlighted the concerns of the extent of debt Australia was undertaking and the impact of debt on countries. That has played out to be an accurate concern and a very accurate concern in the global markets now and it is why we need to keep a very strong focus in this country on achieving the surplus that the Government appears to be running away from at a million miles an hour.

David Lipson: Mark Dreyfus, I will get you to respond to that, but...

Mark Dreyfus: I don't know how Simon can say we are running away. We are just - on your channel earlier today, the Finance Minister, Senator Wong, made it absolutely clear, that we are committed to returning to surplus in 12-13. I'm interested to hear from Simon that this talk of debt, one thing that is very clear about Australia, we don't have a debt problem, we have the lowest debt in the OECD...

Simon Birmingham: And thank you Peter Costello and the Howard Government.

Mark Dreyfus: ...and this ridiculous claiming of credit for something that is getting to be pretty much long ago in the past. The reason that Australia is in the very healthy position that it is today with low debt, low unemployment and the highest terms of trade that we have had in very many years, is excellent management of the Australian economy by the Labor Government and that's the reason why Wayne Swan was given this award that we saw him earlier today receive. Now perhaps I should let David ask his question.

Simon Birmingham: [Interjecting]

David Lipson: At the same time Wayne Swan is saying that we are better placed than most, but he is also saying we're vulnerable as well. Is he having a bob each way here?

Mark Dreyfus: Not at all. We're part of the world economy. We live in a time of nearly unique interconnectedness with other economies around the world and of course we cannot say that despite the strong position that Australia is in that we are not vulnerable to movements elsewhere, that we are not vulnerable potentially to some massive downturn occurring elsewhere in the world. Of course we are, but we are very very well placed thanks to the sound management of our economy by the Labor Government since we came to office in 2007, which has seen 750,000 thousand jobs created in that time. One hundred and forty thousand more people are in work than 12 months ago and we are very well placed to withstand whatever shocks that are able to be dished out by the world economy.

Simon Birmingham: How many surplus budgets have you delivered Mark? You are claiming responsibility for low debt under your Government. How on earth can you have that when each year you have increased the debt?

David Lipson: The Shadow Finance Minister, Andrew Robb, today put out a press release saying that quote "Wayne Swan needs to level with the Australian people about our vulnerability in the event of the global economy worsening. But this morning Senator, Mitch Fifield, had this to say on AM Agenda. Have a listen.

Mitch Fifield: Wayne Swan is guilty of having talked the Australian economy down since the day he became Treasurer. One of the reasons why business confidence and consumer confidence is struggling at the moment is because people don't have faith that Wayne Swan and the Government know what they are doing.

David Lipson: So Senator Fifield there essentially saying, that Wayne Swan's being too negative in his language. Andrew Robb seems to be saying in his news release that he is being too positive. Simon Birmingham which one is it?

Simon Birmingham: Oh look, I think Mitch is right to absolutely highlight that from the very early days of this Government, Wayne Swan was desperate to talk down the economic achievements of the Howard Government and paint a very gloomy picture.

And that's what he did for the first year in office, setting up of course a lead in to the then global financial crisis then there were real concerns a scenario, where he had already depressed business confidence and business certainly doesn't have much confidence in Mr Swan as Treasurer. Now obviously the global outlook at present is very worrying, it's very worrying.

That's why we need steady hands in Government and need to be working assiduously to ensure that the Australian Government actually manages our economy and our budget, in a very careful way going forward, unlike the waste and mismanagement we have seen over the past few years.

David Lipson: Well Wayne Swan as you mentioned earlier was given the silverware for becoming the best Finance Minister in the world according to a magazine from Britain. Here's what he said after he received that award. Have a listen to this...

Wayne Swan: I view this award as being an award for the millions of Australians who have worked hard...and more than any other Australian, we can thank the previous winner of this award, I think 27 years ago, Paul Keating, for those far sighted reforms, which have played such a role in putting in place the underpinnings of the modern Australian economy.

David Lipson: Mark Dreyfus, no one's doubting Paul Keating's contributions, but why can't Wayne Swan give some credit to Peter Costello?

Mark Dreyfus: Well I would give some credit to the Howard Government for continuing the reforms that were commenced under the Hawke/Keating Governments and people point to this last two and a half decades before we came to office as periods of reform and we are continuing with those reforms. We are continuing with sound economic management.

Simon referred to before, to some criticisms that we have of the Howard Government and of course we do. Australia under the Howard Government suffered from declining productivity, which we are now in the path of arresting and moving back to growing productivity.

One of the reasons for that was a savage decline in expenditure and education. So it is appropriate to give criticisms where they're due as well as giving praise where it's due. In some respects the Howard Government continued with economic reforms, in other respects it didn't, it failed to build on the investment in education, which we think is important for productivity. But what we now have, to go back to the start of your questioning is extraordinary talking down of the Australian economy by Andrew Robb, who again is out there competing again for Joe Hockey's job.

Joe Hockey, when he is around does the same thing, talking down the economy. A couple of months back we had Joe Hockey comparing the Australian economy to that of Greece and we now have Andrew Robb out there this morning suggesting wrongly, that Australia is in some dire situation.

I'd repeat we have low debt, very low ebt by world standards, and we have low unemployment, very low unemployment by world standards, our economy and the management of our economy has been the subject of praise by the IMF, the OECD, treasurers and finance ministers around the world. That is why Wayne Swan received this award, because we have had sound economic management.

David Lipson: How do you explain the award Simon Birmingham if the management, the economic management of the Australian economy has been so bad?

Simon Birmingham: Well David I think it's true to say, and I am pleased to hear say what Wayne Swan could not or would not and that is that Peter Costello and the Howard Government have a role to play here. And I am willing to acknowledge absolutely that the reforms of the Hawke/Keating Governments had a role to play as well. Wayne Swan as Treasurer inherited a very good situation, a good set of books, a good set of numbers and an economy in outstanding shape.

David Lipson: Okay we are going to take a very quick break. After the break, a few more topics to get through, and also a very interesting, perhaps amusing clip of Kevin Rudd with Bob Gledof. Stay with us.

[Cuts to commercial break]

David Lipson: Welcome back to the program and there was quite a dramatic headline in the Daily Telegraph this morning "Abbott War Footing" about Tony Abbott reportedly preparing for a scenario in which Kevin Rudd returns to the lodge, followed by a delayed carbon tax announcement then a snap poll. Of course these are all hypothetical and I want to discuss them with our panel, Mark Dreyfus and Simon Birmingham.

Hypothetical as I say, but all these rumblings have got to be distracting at the very least don't they?

Mark Dreyfus: I don't think they are distracting at all actually. I was about to say that on, I was just contemplating what you said about the carbon price package. It's going to pass through the House of Representatives on the 12th of October, that's the second day after we come back, there's a procedural motion that the House passed a couple of weeks back.

Simon Birmingham: [Interjecting] It's called the guillotine.

Mark Dreyfus: We have been having debate in the House of Representatives since then. It will then go to the Senate and it will pass through the Senate and will become law and on the 1st of July next year, we'll have a carbon price in place in Australia, which will cut pollution, cut taxes and deliver increased pensions.

David Lipson: So are you then frustrated at reports like this that continue to rumble around, not just one paper, but many papers?

Mark Dreyfus: I pretty much ignore them David. This is inspired by Liberal Party speculation. That presumably suits the political interests of the Liberal Party to put out speculation about the Labor leadership. But I would ask people watching, what would the Liberal Party know about anything to do with the Labor leadership?

David Lipson: Simon Birmingham certainly the Opposition is fuelling this story. Could your side be accused of being a little bit mischievous here?

Simon Birmingham: Well I am pleased to hear that Mark is disciplined and hardworking and he gets on with the job, but if I read the weekend newspapers correctly, there were numerous stories across numerous newspapers quoting Labor MPs, yes unnamed, but nonetheless inverted commas quotes, from Labor MPs absolutely fuelling this speculation. Absolutely commenting on the state of Julia Gillard's leadership and the prospects of Kevin Rudd and what the timelines for the change may be. This is happening inside the Labor Party.

David Lipson: Well the man at the centre of all of this who is of course Kevin Rudd who is not in Australia who is still over in the UN is he is having lots of fun with former singer and now human rights campaigner and well all sorts of things campaigner Bob Geldof. Lets just have a look at this clip that was posted on Kevin Rudd's and the foreign affairs website a short time ago.

Cut to film clip [Inaudible]

David Lipson: Apologies there for the doggie audio that was the best that we could get it, Mark Dreyfus it looks like Kevin Rudd is having a bit of fun over there, is this sort of thing helpful for the Government at this time?

Mark Dreyfus: I'm pleased to see the Foreign Minister expressing, very very very strongly Australia's support, our Government's support for increasing foreign aid. It is saddening to see Sir Bob Geldof still after all these years having to speak out about another famine this time in the Horn of Africa, and why there is a need for overseas aid and why Australia should be committed to it. I'm very pleased to see the Foreign Minister speaking out on our behalf and I'm sure most Australians, if not all would agree with the sentiment that we have got to do more to be helping people in the situations like those in the Horn of Africa.

David Lipson: Is there bipartisan support Simon Birmingham for Australia's aid commitment so far?

Simon Birmingham: Absolutely David, I think I can give full praise to the Government, last time I checked, Australia was, I think a top five contributor to the response in the Horn of Africa. That is an appropriate response for a country like Australia to be leading, we are a wealthy country and we should be making sure that in these international crisis where women and children and whole communities are starving we do our bit to assist them and as much as it is tragic but the circumstance is repeating itself, from something that Bob Geldof was associated with a couple of decades ago.

David Lipson: Well gentlemen unfortunately I think we are out of time, Mark Dreyfus, Simon Birmingham thanks you both very much for all your insights on lunchtime agenda today, we will catch up with you next time.

Mark Dreyfus: Thank you.

Simon Birmingham: Thank you.