Sky Viewpoint with Chris Kenny Sunday – 30 November, 2014

CHRIS KENNY:

First up I want to talk about the fallout from the Victorian election and the ongoing problems that tough few weeks, well few months really, since the budget that the Federal Government has, the Abbott Coalition, the Government has had. A lot of focus on that over the last few weeks. I’ve taken up both these issues in an interview recorded just a short time ago with senior Cabinet Minister from Victoria, the Social Services Minister Kevin Andrews.

Kevin Andrews welcome to Viewpoint.

MINISTER ANDREWS:

Thanks very much Chris.

CHRIS KENNY:

Now I’m presuming that Daniel Andrews is no relation to you.

MINISTER ANDREWS:

Not as far as I’m aware, I mean I haven’t searched every nook and cranny of my family ancestry, but I believe he’s not related.

CHRIS KENNY:

Okay well he’s certainly a political opponent he’s now the Premier-elect in Victoria, what do you believe the Baillieu/Napthine Government did wrong?

MINISTER ANDREWS:

Well the result was disappointing but unsurprising in that the Government had been behind in the polls consistently. I don’t think the polls really changed much for the best part of three years and I think that was clear up until Election Day.

In terms of what went wrong I think you have to go back to the previous election, the Liberal, National Parties didn’t expect to win. Labor thought they’d hold on by a couple of seats but Mr Baillieu won government and then I think the problem was that having won government they frankly were perceived as having done very little over the first year or two in their government. At that stage the party, the Parliamentary party, decided to change leaders and by the time Denis Napthine got there they became embroiled in this imbroglio concerning Geoff Shaw and I don’t think they could get clear air again and in the meantime, Dan Andrews as he became, was able to redefine himself.

CHRIS KENNY:

Do you as a Federal Cabinet Minister accept that the Federal Government has to wear some of the blame, that the Abbott Government didn’t really give Denis Napthine a chance in hell of fighting back over the last couple of months?

MINISTER ANDREWS:

No I don’t believe that thesis is correct Chris. I think what we have to do is separate the fact and the fiction. As I said earlier first fact is that the Victorian Government, the previous government, was behind in the polls for the best part of three to three and a half years, and nothing much changed….

CHRIS KENNY:

There’s no doubt about that history you’ve just been through but of course in the lead up to the campaign and in the campaign itself, Denis Napthine is trying to make up ground. There were some signs he would make up ground and then in the midst of all that the Abbott Government gave him a petrol excise increase, a debate about GST reform and also of course the toxic mix of broken political promises.

MINISTER ANDREWS:

Well if you take those issues Chris, you know the petrol excise. The reality is that petrol today is almost twenty cents a litre lower than it was at the Federal Budget and if you just track the Victorian petrol prices over the course of the election campaign they are about 15 perhaps 17 cents lower than they were at the beginning of the campaign. I had nobody over the last few weeks on polling day at any time come and complain about petrol prices because motorists know that petrol prices have been going down.

But the other thing is that if you look at what’s happening around Australia, you can see that in New South Wales where they lost a Premier under more controversial circumstances than in Victoria, where you’ve got what is it eight or ten members of the Liberal National parties under a dark cloud because of the ICAC proceedings and where Mike Baird is trying to sell off the electricity supply. And yet they’re ten points ahead, or in Queensland where Campbell Newman has done some really tough things and yet they are eight points ahead in the polls. So if there’s a federal factor then the federal factor should be playing out across the country and it just seems counter intuitive that there was a major federal factor in Victoria.

CHRIS KENNY:

What about the federal lesson though. It must be very sobering to see a state get rid of a government after just one term. Is it a sobering lesson to the Abbott Government of an unforgiving electorate not afraid of tossing out a government if they’re not happy after one term?

MINISTER ANDREWS:

Look all of us have to draw lessons from those circumstances. I think there are very clear lessons in that you have to remember what you need to be doing on a daily basis in any government and that is you’ve got to explain again and again to the people what the challenges are that you’re facing, what your proposed solutions to those challenges are and in effect to enter into this ongoing discussion or conversation with the Australia people. You’ve also got to go out and tell people what you’ve done, which I think is what the Victorian Government failed to do in the first couple of years and continue to remind them of the mistakes that the opposition had made….

CHRIS KENNY:

Well the Abbott…

MINISTER ANDREWS:

And I think both of those things weren’t done.

CHRIS KENNY:

The Abbott Government is in strife at the moment. The budget strategy is in disarray and you’re trailing, have been trailing, in the polls by a large margin for a considerable period now. Do you believe that the Abbott Government has failed to sell its achievements in the first term?

MINISTER ANDREWS:

Look all governments can communicate better and that lesson applies to us as much as any other government or indeed political party. We are in a difficult situation and I’m not trying to make you know light of that. We’re in a difficult situation because there are certain things which we need to do to repair the budget and yet the Labor Party, the Opposition and to a large extent the minor parties are not prepared to address these issues. I mean Mr Shorten runs around the country attacking everything, including the cuts that he was prepared to make when he was in Government just over a year ago. The reality is that we are facing some genuine challenges in this country and we need to find ways of cutting our expenditure in order to get the books back in the black. I mean you can’t…

CHRIS KENNY:

But you came into government with that mission and Labor were resisting it. Labor should be punished; you should be able to punish Labor for resisting that message now. Why have you failed in the political debate both within the Parliament and to the broader community to convince people of your agenda?

MINISTER ANDREWS:

I think we need to redouble our efforts, there’s no doubt about that Chris. And we need to be saying to Bill Shorten, well every time you oppose a savings measure, if you’re genuine about getting rid of the deficit and the debt then you’ve have to put up a reasonable, properly costed, appropriate substitute for that savings measure, because you can’t just swan around the country like Mr Shorten is doing and saying I’m opposing everything but somehow magically in the future the budget’s going to come back into surplus and we are going to get rid of this huge escalating Commonwealth debt…

CHRIS KENNY:

So it all comes down to…

MINISTER ANDREWS:

I agree the task is on us to continue to do it.

CHRIS KENNY:

And as is so often the case it’s the economic argument that is central in the success or failure of Australian governments. We don’t see Joe Hockey out doing a lot of media, pushing the message you’ve just talked about. He doesn’t have an Assistant Treasurer because Arthur Sinodinos had to quit and hasn’t come back yet. I mean is this a real gap in the government’s performance, the lack of an economic argument being made day in and day out?

MINISTER ANDREWS:

Well I think the result of the election. I mean there’s one lesson we can learn out of that and that is we’ve got to ensure that our ongoing communication with the Australian people is the very best that we can do. And all of us will take that lesson; I think that’s a lesson for us as a team and one which I believe we’ll all take to heart.

CHRIS KENNY:

What about the lesson of broken promises though, we all know Julia Gillard broke a blatant promise on the carbon tax and that angered the electorate and Tony Abbott and yourself, the Coalition was able to make great headway on that breach of trust by Julia Gillard. But Tony Abbott said he would be different, he would keep his promises, he would do what he said he would do and yet he’s broken promises. Isn’t this a fatal mistake in that Tony Abbott and the Coalition Government have burnt up so much political capital by breaking promises?

MINISTER ANDREWS:

Well we’ve got to deal with the situation we find and the situation we find is this escalating deficit and galloping debt. We have to take people into our confidence about that and say look the reality is that we need to tighten our belt about things. I think it’s a big difference between saying to people well what we’ve found now that we’re in government is a worse economic situation, a worse fiscal situation than we even believed beforehand. That’s quite different to saying that I’m not going to have a tax beforehand and then saying afterwards I am going to have a tax which is what Ms Gillard did.

So I think there is a difference in the nature of what we’re saying but I take the point that you are in effect making and that is we have to continue that conversation, be upfront with the Australian people, tell them the challenges that we’ve got and say well look these are our plans, these are our solutions on the table. Obviously we’re willing to talk to minor parties and others about the detail of that but we need to face the challenges otherwise it won’t be a billion dollars a month going out in interest payments it will be two or three billion dollars a month.

CHRIS KENNY:

Very pointedly you don’t dispute the fact that promises have been broken but you put a rationale around them because of the economic situation. Isn’t this what Tony Abbott needs to do to explain yes, I did promise no new taxes but I’ve brought in new taxes. I did promise there would be no cuts at the ABC or the SBS but I’ve gone back on that and actually explain the reasoning to people rather than try and pretend that there are no broken promises, that’s insulting to the electorate.

MINISTER ANDREWS:

Well as I’ve said Chris I believe we’ve got to tell people what challenges we have and those challenges are myriad and they are quite significant. And I believe that if we take the Australian people into our confidence, if we treat them as adults in the room, we say to them…..

CHRIS KENNY:

In other words admit that you’ve broken promises?

MINISTER ANDREWS:

Well if you take, you know, you take one that has been topical recently in relation to the ABC and SBS; you know the reality is that whatever you call it, whether you call it a reduction in the income, whether you call it an efficiency dividend. Whatever you call it, it means that there is less money for the ABC or SBS then….

CHRIS KENNY:

So are you saying that your Prime Minister needs to face up to the Australian people and say that he has broken that promise, with good reason, but he’s broken it?

MINISTER ANDREWS:

Well I’m saying…what I’m saying now is what I believe we should be saying Chris and that’s why I’m saying it and repeating it to you now.

CHRIS KENNY:

Okay what about the mixed messages in the budget strategy. We know that the overall message from the government has been a very sound one, from the perspective of someone like me who likes to see smaller government, it’s this ending of the culture of entitlement as Joe Hockey puts it and there has been some restrictions, some plans to wind back on government spending in areas such as those you look after. But at the same time you’re looking at introducing this expensive, new, quite extravagant paid parental leave scheme and there’s that paradox there that conflict in the messaging.

And in your area there’s one pet project that fits right into that paradox and that is the idea of a $20 million scheme for the government to actually fund marriage counselling for people. Don’t you need to get rid of those paradoxes if you are actually trying to cut the age of entitlement?

MINISTER ANDREWS:

Well you never entirely get rid of paradoxes Chris because there are different policy objectives in different areas that we are trying to pursue. But let me take the two examples that you’ve raised. The paid parental leave is something which is largely paid for by the levy in effect on large companies…

CHRIS KENNY:

Exactly so there’s two paradoxes, it’s another entitlement and it’s additional taxation.

MINISTER ANDREWS:

Yeah but that was something which we clearly took to the last election, it was something which the Prime Minister has argued and advocated for as a workplace measure to ensure that women in particular in the future, but families in general have that ability to balance the real tension in life being able to work and also being able to raise children. We need, this is part of the challenge…..

CHRIS KENNY:

We’ve heard that argument, but what about your scheme to provide government funded marriage counselling, I mean don’t we just have to draw the line to keep the government out of everybody’s lives and not be offering up new entitlements for a scheme like this?

MINISTER ANDREWS:

No well two things about that Chris. Firstly the money for that was saved from other expenditure, so it’s not new expenditure, its savings which I found in order to run this trial. But secondly there is a huge cost to the economy, to the country in economic terms, let alone personal trauma of marriage and relationship breakdown. The estimates range from direct costs of $3 billion a year to some that put it at $10 billion more than that. So there is a huge flow on cost from these things and all I’m saying is well we’re spending a little bit of money. If we can actually get the situation where more people who might have got married and broken up didn’t get married or they work out their problems along the way, there’s actually a real saving to government in that. The UK Government had a report about nine months ago or so that showed for every one pound that they spent on things like education and counselling there was a saving of ten to eleven pounds. So there are economic savings to be made here by some expenditure in prevention and early intervention.

CHRIS KENNY:

Are you in a position to make truly objective decisions when it comes to this marriage counselling issue given that both you and your wife have held positions over the years with marriage counselling associations?

MINISTER ANDREWS:

Well I’m relying upon the research and the evidence but more than that Chris, this is a trial which will be evaluated, about what works, what doesn’t work. So that we can then see whether or not a certain approach is better or another. So we’ve got the University of Queensland, academics there involved in evaluating all of this and they will report on it and then we’ll all be much better in terms of our knowledge of what does or doesn’t work.

CHRIS KENNY:

Kevin Andrews we have run out of time thanks very much for joining us on Viewpoint tonight.

MINISTER ANDREWS:

My pleasure Chris.