Transcript - ABC News 24 (Liberal Leadership)




SUBJECT: Liberal Party chaos

STAN GRANT: Wayne Swan is standing by – former Deputy Prime Minister and Treasurer, and currently the national president of the Labor Party. Glad you could join us.

WAYNE SWAN, MEMBER FOR LILLEY: Good to be with you.

GRANT: So, national presidency of the ALP and preparing for an election. Who do you think that you’ll be facing off against as Prime Minister?

SWAN: I haven’t got the faintest idea. And neither does the Liberal Party, actually! And that degree of disunity that we’ve seen in the Parliament over the last few days is really disturbing, and I think terrifying for most Australians who want a degree of unity and stability in their government. I mean, the fact that the Parliament was shut down today because the government was shut down by disunity doesn’t give anyone confidence about what they’re up to.

GRANT: Well you’d know all about that, wouldn’t you? Because in a sense this is a pox on both your houses; you’ve been in this situation before and perhaps that’s been a factor. At the last election we saw a third of voters who didn’t want anything to do with either of the major parties.

SWAN: Well certainly the disunity of five years ago in the Labor Party was not an edifying experience. The difference between us and the Liberals is that we have learnt the lessons of that period. But if you want to make the comparisons, at no stage did our leadership ructions produce the sort of outcomes that we’ve seen in the last week or so. I think Australians do want unity in their politics; they want a clarity of purpose. And I think they’re extremely disturbed by the disunity which is brought about by, I think, on this occasion, very ugly ideological dimension in the government’s policies. Our debates were more about leadership style; these debates are really about the extent to which the Liberal Party should move further to the right. It’s already moved over a long way. And Malcolm Turnbull said that today about his own government! And I think it’s a long way from the ‘sensible centre’ like Craig Kelly was talking about before. It’s moving over to the lunar right.

GRANT: Who – and I know you said at the start you have no idea who’s likely to win – but who would you fancy yourself against more? There are three contenders here, if indeed this party room meeting goes ahead tomorrow, and that’s Julie Bishop, Scott Morrison and Peter Dutton. Of those three, who do you fancy yourself against more?

SWAN: Well I think it’s the same horse, different jockey. Because when you look at economic policy, the Coalition, across the board, I think has moved a long way to the right. When it comes to issues of distribution of wealth income in our community, they’ve all been out there in support of these massive tax cuts for multinational companies, they’ve all been out there supporting the huge cuts to the social safety net. Where they tend to have their disagreements is in the critical area of social policy, in what’s called identity politics, and you’ve seen that being on display as well. I think Mr Dutton is angling to be further to the right on questions of race and gender and is seeking to use those issues to divide the Australian community so that the Liberals can camouflage the wealth concentration agenda they’ve got in their economic policy.

GRANT: And is that strategy of going further to the right on those specific issues exactly what they are looking for in your state of Queensland? Is that likely to pay off?

SWAN: It is. It’s what I call the Trumpification of the Liberal Party of Australia. I think the story of the last decade in Australia has been the takeover of the Liberal Party by Tea Party-type Republicans. That virus that’s infected the conservative party of the United States is infecting the conservative party here. And they are using similar tactics to the tactics used by the likes of Donald Trump.

GRANT: What is it about Queensland? If you look at Longman – and of course, you held that seat at the byelection – it was thought to be a lot closer in the lead-up to it, but it was a reasonable swing towards Labor, but a really increased vote towards One Nation. What they’re hoping for is that Peter Dutton can wrest some of that back. What is it in Queensland that is driving this support to One Nation and a lurch more to the right and has opened the door to Peter Dutton?

SWAN: There’s no question that the Liberal Party is terrified by One Nation and they somehow think Peter Dutton is the solution. But if you look at what happened in the Longman byelection, which is after all, the cause of this leadership challenge, a strong primary swing came towards the Labor Party, basically from voters in the middle. What happened was core Coalition voters hived off to One Nation. So the Liberal Party here is pitching to the right, it’s not pitching to the centre. It was a very gratifying result for the Labor Party in Longman. Our result, for example, was better in Longman than we received in the 2007 election. And in that election, Peter Dutton almost lost his seat to the Labor Party. I can tell you right now, Peter Dutton’s seat in Brisbane is not safe for Peter Dutton in the forthcoming election.

GRANT: Wouldn’t he be safer if he was Prime Minister?

SWAN: No, I don’t think so. John Howard lost his seat in the 2007 election and he had a better Liberal seat than Peter Dutton has right now. But there hasn’t been a concentration on these issues. I share a border with Peter Dutton in the seat of Dickson. And I can tell you that he has not been an active local member in the suburbs, and nor has he been a Liberal Party representative who has gone out into the regions of Queensland, or the regions around the country. Since 2008, Peter Dutton has only had two visits a year to regional Queensland. Anyone who aspires to be the Prime Minister of Australia has got to spend a lot more time in regional Australia, particularly in regional Queensland, than Peter Dutton has.

GRANT: When you look at Queensland, there’s nearly a dozen marginal seats, on both sides here. Can you pick up something that’s uniform amongst them? I know you were saying that your seats are side by side and that there’s not necessarily— the issues don’t necessarily transfer. But more broadly, this idea that Peter Dutton would be the saviour of the government in Queensland; what is it that connects those marginal seats.

SWAN: Well I think the lunacy of the Liberal Party! I don’t actually think that Peter Dutton is the solution to the Liberal Party’s problems. But they’ve convinced themselves he is, because he’s been out there and been prepared to be the social conservative, he’s been prepared to use race – particularly in politics – he blew the dog whistle on race all the way through the Longman byelection. So basically, he’s the champion. But he’s not the solution to their problems. Where they have lost ground is in the middle ground and among working- and middle-class Queenslanders, working- and middle-class Australians, on issues of wage justice, on issues of opportunity in education and opportunity in healthcare. They’ve become so ideologically fixated, they’re looking at a whole lot of issues that aren’t the key issues that are going to drive the people who determine the next election, which is one of the reasons why Labor’s such a good prospect.

GRANT: Antony Green’s with us and I’m sure he wants to ask you something, but before he does, I just want to get a sense from you about how you are set for this upcoming election. A couple of things: when you’re ready to fight it – I suppose you’d say right now – when you’d expect it to be held, funding right now for the election and preselection of candidates – where are you at right now?

SWAN: Well we’ve got almost all of our candidates preselected across the states of Queensland, Western Australia, Victoria, we’re in pretty good nick. Money’s always an issue. We always have to make up for lack of money by people power. We do have more people on the ground; we proved that in Longman. The Liberal National Party in Queensland is pretty much an empty shell. So they have to pay for booth workers and so on, on election day. But they will outspend us in the forthcoming campaign.

ANTONY GREEN: I don’t have so much a question, but an observation. In both Western Australia and Queensland, part of the dynamic that has always been is that the conservatives paint Labor as the Canberra party, the party that’s from the southern states. He’s running from Canberra; he’s taking away power from the local area. In Queensland, Queensland has a long history of Labor; Labor has been in power at the state level for basically 30 years. It’s the most decentralised state – so it’s the state with the most people who don’t live in the urban areas. There’s a whole bunch of reasons that make Queensland more [unintelligible]. If you look at history, since the Second World War, three elections where Labor’s got a majority of the two-party vote: 1961, when Menzies nearly lost, 1990, just after the collapse of the National Party government; and 2007, when Kevin Rudd was the leader. In the last – since John Howard won in ’96, the only time there’s been more than eight of the 30 seats was when Kevin Rudd was the leader. The Coalition are defending 21 seats – the LNP – and that’s a huge number of their federal seats. It’s their normal position. They are concerned that, particularly with the rise of One Nation, they will start seeing their primary vote slashed into, the same way that’s caused them so much of a problem at the state level. You can understand why the LNP is so desperately concerned about chanign the federal Coalition. For that reason, you can also understand why some of the other states have a different view of it. One, because the other states are not as decentralised as Queensland, but also, I mean you have Liberal and National parties in other states. And some of the ethnic mix of those different states – there’s a lot more migrants in Sydney and Melbourne, there’s lots of reasons why Melbourne and Sydney and New South Wales and Victoria think so much more federally about politics, and Queensland and Western Australia think much more locally about politics.

GRANT: And that’s a really critical thing, isn’t it Wayne Swan – this idea that we talk about these things at a macro level, but if you look at Longman, it was local issues that were driving it, wasn’t it?

SWAN: Ah, not really. Certainly the local hospital, but the federal issue was health. And those health cuts are happening in every one of those regional electorates across Queensland. I actually agree with just about everything that was just said, except that I think Queensland now looks a lot more like the rest of Australia. The difference is that the Labor vote in Queensland has underperformed at the federal level, but not at the state level. So we have a lot of LNP members in Queensland, but if that correction is coming – as it was in the Longman byelection – they’re going to be defeated and Peter Dutton won’t necessarily make any difference. In fact, he might make it worse.

GRANT: A lot of the criticisms of governments of both persuasions in recent times has just been – maybe it’s part of the political process now and the constant polling and the number of independents and minor parties in the Senate – it is just so difficult to govern. And the appetite for reform is just not there. What’s going to change, do you think?

SWAN: I don’t really accept that characterisation. Reform in politics is always difficult and taking the people with you is always the political task. We had two terms of government and managed to put in place some very big and enduring reforms. It can be done, but it’s tough. But what you have to do is stay very much centred in the lives of people. And that means having good local Members of Parliament who get out regularly in their communities. And where you get that, they can dig in. Labor has an opportunity in Queensland to win a swag of federal seats if we can campaign the way we campaign the way we campaigned in Longman. We’ve had five years of unity; we’ve put forward a courageous set of policies across health, education, and tax, which appeal to people of Longman. I believe that with good local candidates and that sort of program, we can take a swag of seats in Queensland. But we have to keep working at it.

GRANT: You’re sounding very confident tonight, but the risk here is to be too confident too early.

SWAN: I’m not too confident. I’ve represented a very marginal seat in Brisbane over the last 25 years; I’ve lost it on one occasion. The key here is to understand your local community, to be out there talking to it, and to have some sensible policies which look after working people. I believe we tick all of those boxes, but I don’t take the outcome for granted. And I certainly know and can see the threat that could come. Anyone who’s watched the election in the United States and has seen the rise of Donald Trump knows the dangers that can come politically for a country and a community if a populist right-winger like Peter Dutton succeeds in using his divisive tactics.

GRANT: Wayne Swan, good to have you on the program; thank you.

SWAN: Thank you.



Authorised by Noah Carroll, ALP, Canberra