Transcript - ABC Brisbane Drive with Steve Austin




SUBJECTS: Liberal Party chaos; Liberal Party’s move to the far right; role of the media

STEVE AUSTIN: The federal Liberal Party’s leadership crisis has seen another extraordinary development. Parliament has been cut short and the House of Representatives won’t resume for a couple of weeks – that’s the end of the first week into the month of September, I think. The Parliament was in uproar this afternoon when it was announced; there was expected to be Question Time, which would have meant that the opposition could have asked the government benches – who exactly is leading the party? Who exactly is Prime Minister?

I’ve made numerous attempts to get senior Liberals on the program this afternoon, but we’re either told that people have got their phones turned off [chuckles disbelievingly] or people are declining. Someone who hasn’t declined is a senior member of the Labor Party, Wayne Swan. His electorate is the electorate of Lilley, here in Queensland. Wayne Swan, good to be with you – thanks for coming on.

WAYNE SWAN, MEMBER FOR LILLEY: Good to talk to you.

AUSTIN: First of all, your reaction – or the reaction of the Labor Party – to the suspension of Parliament today.

SWAN: Oh, I’m absolutely stunned. I’ve not seen anything like this in 25 years of going to the national Parliament. I mean you’ve got the government now paralysed by its infighting and going to the extreme of shutting the Parliament down and effectively running away from the Parliament. I don’t think it’s ever happened like this before, ever.

AUSTIN: Given that they couldn’t work out if they had a stable leadership or Prime Minister, was it appropriate, or not?

SWAN: Completely inappropriate. They should have faced the music in the Parliament. But you know, they can’t even agree on what to do, let alone who’s going to lead them. I mean, it’s shameful really.

AUSTIN: The ALP’s been in this position— 

SWAN: Certainly.

AUSTIN: —with Julia Gillard and Kevin Rudd. Do you have any sympathy for the government benches?

SWAN: Well, I think this is a problem for the country. The government looks this shambolic, and we’ve had our issues in the past, Steve – unedifying, but I can’t recall anyone ever thinking that we’d run away from the Parliament. But I think we’ve learned the lessons of our experiences, but they’ve learned nothing from them. And what we are seeing from this infighting is a paralysis. But I think we’re seeing something much more fundamental underneath, which is an ugly ideological dimension that’s entered the Liberal Party and is now dominating them. And I was stunned to see Malcolm Turnbull even confirmed that when he fronted the press today and said the Liberal Party, even under his leadership, had shifted further to the far right. This is what I call the Trumpification of the Liberal Party of Australia. We’ve seen it around the world in conservative parties. We’ve seen it particularly in the US, we’ve seen it in the UK, we’ve seen it across Europe, that these far-right influences are taking over conservative political parties, and the same’s happening here. Malcolm Turnbull even confirmed that today.

AUSTIN: Yesterday, Malcolm Turnbull ditched his tax cuts for corporate Australia – that’s the companies over $50 billion in turnover. You were very critical of that – isn’t that the opposite of Trumpification? In other words, they couldn’t get it through the house so they ditched it?

SWAN: Well I don’t think they’ve ditched it. They’ve all made it really clear – that’s the one thing that actually unites the Liberal Party at the moment. I think all the wings of the Liberal Party agree on that massive corporate tax cut for some of the world’s largest multinational companies. They tend to disagree and fight over social policy, but when it comes to economic policy, that’s the Trumpification we’re really talking about. And of course, they want to put Dutton into the leadership, because they understand that if they play politics with race and gender, they use that as a distraction from what I call their wealth concentration agenda, which has delivered these unfair tax cuts which simply take money away from health and education, and shrink the state and its capacity to deliver quality services for everybody.

AUSTIN: I’ll come to Peter Dutton in a moment, but do you welcome the ditching of the tax cuts for corporate Australia over $50 billion?

SWAN: Absolutely I do. But it’s not the end of their economic unfairness. And they’ve got them in the back pocket, and all sides of the Liberal Party in this leadership contest agree that they should go ahead at some stage in the future. They’ve still got their personal tax cuts out there, in the ether, that they haven’t dropped, which deliver massive amounts of money to the top 20 per cent of income earners and very little to the bottom 80 per cent.

AUSTIN: So that’s the tax cut for small and medium enterprises which was passed by Parliament?

SWAN: No, no that’s the personal tax cuts they’ve been talking about.

AUSTIN: Oh, sorry.

SWAN: We support the tax cuts for small and medium enterprises. But look, they’re just going down the race to the bottom on tax, and the ultimate aim of the race to the bottom on tax is to cripple the capacity of government to deliver quality health and education services.

AUSTIN: My guest is Wayne Swan, former Treasurer of Australia, senior member of the Labor Party. This is ABC Radio Brisbane. Peter Dutton – who knows if he’s going to become, or if he’s going to be successful to get the leadership of the Liberal Party? But if he is successful, will your side pressure the federal government to send the issue of his eligibility for Parliament – because of his family’s financial interest in two Brisbane childcare centres – to the High Court?

SWAN: Well we did in the House today. So that was asked by us in the House today, and pushed by us – we moved a motion in the House today. But Peter Dutton’s interesting, because his seat is here, beside mine in the northern suburbs. But Peter Dutton, unlike any other leadership contender in the Liberal Party’s history, has spent very little time outside his electorate in Brisbane, very little time, for example, in regional Queensland and regional Australia. I was stunned to look at an examination of just where he spent his time. He certainly hangs around capital cities – particularly Sydney and Melbourne – but he’s not travelled this country at all. So he doesn’t have broad exposure to the issues of this state more broadly, or the country as a whole. So I was pretty stunned to see that, because, you know, if you’re going to aspire to lead the country you’ve got to have some notion of regional Australia.

AUSTIN: Would he be an easy beat for your side of politics?

SWAN: No, I don’t think he’d be an easy beat, because he’s brutal, he’s hard, and he’s prepared to do anything, anyhow, anytime.

AUSTIN: Wouldn’t that make him an easy beat for Australians, who tend to be more—

SWAN: Well, not necessarily. Anyone who’s watched global politics in recent times, and the rise of Donald Trump, Brexit in the UK, and the authoritarian right across Europe has got to be cautious when people like Dutton – who say they are prepared to use the issue of race as prominently as he is. When they arrive on the scene, you’ve got to treat them, not with respect – because I don’t respect the politics – but certainly you’ve got to treat them as an opponent who has to be beaten.

AUSTIN: My guest is Wayne Swan, Labor’s Member for Lilley here in Brisbane. He’s a senior member of the Labor Party. Just on a slight tangent but directly related to this, Chris Uhlmann from Channel Nine today accused News Limited and Sky News interests and Sydney radio stations of being players in the leadership struggles of the Liberals, of trying to do over Turnbull. Do you agree?

SWAN: Yes I do. And in this case, they’ve principally lined up for Peter Dutton, which is another reason why we shouldn’t take him too lightly. He will have behind him the full force of News Limited and they will barrack for him every which way. I mean, I respect any number of journalists who work in those organisations, but the people who run them have a very strong political and ideological agenda. And you watch the paper in our town here get right behind Peter Dutton if he becomes leader and see the sort of campaigns that they run with him, which are blatantly political.

AUSTIN: Was this the case that the political party was scared by the News Limited papers or Sky News? In other words, there was such editorialising— in other words, the journos have become players?

SWAN: Well some have, not all of them. There are quality people who work for the Courier Mail in Brisbane, who I have the utmost respect for. But equally, it’s part of the Murdoch group, and they do run campaigns for particular right-wing politicians, as they do on Sky News. Everybody knows it. They operate at times like a third or fourth political party in Australia. And you’ve seen them oppose the Labor Party consistently in this state, election after election. Nevertheless, Labor has been elected in the face of those campaigns. It’s one of the reasons why I’m cautious when you say to me, “can we beat Peter Dutton?” Well, Peter Dutton’s got the establishment behind him, big corporate money, parts of News Limited – you don’t take those people lightly.

AUSTIN: My guest is Wayne Swan. What’s the Labor Party going to do now, for the next couple of days, while this continues, Wayne Swan?

SWAN: We’ll continue to work hard and earn the support of people. Basically, we’ve got unprecedented instability out there. The country needs some unity. And we’ll behave responsibly. We’ve been working hard for five years to be unified, but more important than that, we’ve put together a very strong alternative agenda – a courageous platform, where we’ve stood our ground, argued our principles. We’ll keep doing that, because the country needs that sort of unity.

AUSTIN: Thanks for your time this afternoon, I appreciate it.

SWAN: Good to talk to you.

AUSTIN: Wayne Swan is the federal Member for Lilley here in Brisbane, former Treasurer of Australia.



Authorised by Noah Carroll, ALP, Canberra