Transcript - ABC RN Drive



SUBJECTS: Tim Hammond Resignation; ALP Presidency; Newstart Allowance; Business Council of Australia’s blindness of affluence


TIM HAMMOND, MEMBER FOR PERTH: I just cannot reconcile the father that I want and need to be to three little kids with serving in a federal team as a Federal Parliamentarian from Western Australia. Please don’t misunderstand what I have to say; I’m not saying that life as a Federal MP from Western Australia isn’t manageable. It is. A lot of my colleagues with young families on both sides of the divide make it work. But I’ve just got to be really honest; I’m not one of them.

PATRICIA KARVELAS: That’s a very frank ALP Member for Perth, Tim Hammond, announcing his resignation from federal politics earlier today. We don’t often hear about politicians, especially male ones, stepping out of the limelight to focus on family, but perhaps it won’t be so rare in the future. Former Treasurer and Deputy Prime Minister Wayne Swan earlier this year also announced his resignation from federal politics but for very different reasons. Wayne Swan joins us on RN Drive. Welcome.

WAYNE SWAN, MEMBER FOR LILLEY: Good afternoon Patricia.

KARVELAS: It was a very heartfelt and authentic statement from Tim Hammond today; do you applaud his decision?

SWAN: Oh yes. It was very sad really. He had so much to contribute, such a bright future in politics, but he just couldn’t make it work in terms of the family. And you can feel for him and the family when you’ve got three young kids. Relatively, all very young, and he just couldn’t make it work. And as someone who is in politics with, most of the time, a young family, and now grown up, I absolutely understand his decision. Many people in the community, not just parliamentarians, Patricia, are in this position — as you well know. The whole issue of work and family is a pressing one. And for him to get up after such a short period in the Parliament, such a bright future ahead of him, he must have felt some very compelling forces, and he had a real struggle with it obviously. 

KARVELAS: Do we need to make politics more family-friendly, or is this a particular conundrum for MPs from WA?

SWAN: I don’t think you can necessarily make politics more family-friendly. You can’t change the travel component. There are so many people, however, in Australian life today, who are fly-in-fly-out; it’s just not federal politicians. The challenge is, you’re not just away from your family for well over 20 weeks a year — and if you’re on the frontbench it’s even more — but of course when you get home that’s when the real challenge hits, because you represent an electorate. And when you’re home, you have to be out in that electorate. So it’s just not a question of being in Canberra 20 or 22 weeks a year; it’s when you get home and you’re going out all of the time to important local functions. And I felt this and that’s one of the reasons I decided, in the end, I wouldn’t do another term in Parliament. I’d gotten to the age where I did want to spend more time doing other things, and in particular, time with my family. I mean, we’ve got our first grandchild, for example, and I just felt that it was time to come home, for a whole variety of reasons — some political, but some personal. But I can absolutely understand how it is that somebody with three young children can feel that pressure almost immediately and just decide that he can’t go on.

KARVELAS: Some of the comments he made I found really interesting, about trying to go back into that family environment and almost reintegrate, really, after you’ve been away. I wonder if I’m — I don’t know if I’m getting too personal, but I’m going to anyway — did you used to find that hard? Is it hard to enter a family when you haven’t been there?

SWAN: Absolutely. Too right. When you’re away for weeks on end, the family has routines. And sometimes you come back and you feel like you’re actually a foreigner in the household, because their life doesn’t stop for you. So there’s the school routine, there’s the ballet routine, there’s the Saturday sporting routine. And if you’re not there regularly for it, it is hard to actually fit in and reintegrate into family life. And all of us in Canberra have felt that pretty hard over a long period of time.

KARVELAS: So who’s likely to replace Tim, because Labor now faces a by-election? And of course, you’re not just outgoing, you’re a funny kind of outgoing MP, because you’re also running for ALP President, so I imagine this is very interesting and important to you.

SWAN: Well, the Party’s important to me, which is one of the reasons I’m running for President. But Patricia I can’t talk about why I’m running for President, because we’ve got a set of rules around that ballot. I don’t know who’s going to replace Tim on the frontbench. This has come as a sudden shock to all of his colleagues. This has been a very difficult decision. So I simply couldn’t answer that at this stage. 

KARVELAS: Tim is currently Senior Vice President of the Australian Labor Party and Deputy Chair of the Labor International Committee. Will he retain those positions, do you know?

SWAN: I don’t know; I haven’t talked to him. But the President and Vice President is what we’re balloting for at the moment. So he would be moving out of that position, the Vice Presidency position, and I expect the one with Labor International might go with it, but I don’t know. But Tim’s a talented guy, and from our point of view, whatever time he had to contribute would be welcome.

KARVELAS: Does this mark the beginning of a new era in politics, where political life becomes much shorter, as we grapple with work-life balance? That if you are going to be leaving your family like that, that you can’t do it for too long?

SWAN: Oh look, I think political life is becoming shorter anyway. And there’s a whole variety of reasons for that. The fact is that the electorate is much more volatile and less settled, just to start with. So the number of people contesting difficult seats increases. The pace of political life, Patricia, is something that we should have a separate interview about, but you know I’ve often said that, compared to when I first arrived, what we used to do in three years now happens in one. The pace of political life has sped up. It’s sped up for everybody in the workforce, but you particularly notice it in politics, because you’re on the receiving end of what is now something even faster than a 24-hour news cycle. It could be down to an hourly news cycle. I think that people will be serving for shorter, and they’ll be working more intensely while they’re there.

KARVELAS: Just on some issues really surrounding politics at the moment, if I could quickly quiz you on some other matters. Deloitte’s Chris Richardson has today called for an increase in the unemployment benefits, Newstart, saying that they simply haven’t kept pace with the rest of the economy. He says this is an effort to appear being tough on the unemployed. The big parties have basically ignored this issue. Let’s take a listen. 


CHRIS RICHARDSON: This payment has not kept pace with what’s happened in the rest of Australia. You look at what we’ve paid by unemployment benefits and it’s steadily fallen as a proportion of wages, as a proportion of the age pension, to the point where we now ask people to live on less than $40 a day if they’re unemployed; that’s just cruel.

KARVELAS: Should Labor, in government, increase the Newstart allowance?

SWAN: Yes, I think we should. You know, there was a big debate about that when we were in government, and we chose to put our resources into getting people into jobs. The big differential at the moment is the extent of youth unemployment. Youth unemployment plus underemployment — what’s called underutilisation — is now one in three. No matter what the government says about job creation at the moment, we’ve got a lot of slack in our labour force, and a tremendous number of people — as high as 16 per cent of the labour force — wanting to work more hours, or unemployed. And that’s just another reason why, over time, there should be a staged increase in that benefit.

KARVELAS: When you talk about a staged increase; Bill Shorten’s talking about a review of welfare payments. But do we really need a review? We know that Newstart is hard to live on; we know that as a fact. The BCA agrees.

SWAN: Yeah well the BCA is actually one of the causes of the increasing unemployment in the community, and wants to make it worse, by getting a massively unfunded tax cut which cripples the budget and makes it harder to sustain the social security budget.

KARVELAS: But there’s no evidence that it would increase unemployment?

SWAN: Well, the fact is, we’ve got underemployment now on a massive scale, caused by the massive use of labour hire firms, and outsourcing and casualisation, for which most of their larger members are directly responsible. They’ve got plenty of questions to answer when it comes to the current state of the Australian labour market, I can tell you that. So, yes, over time I think it needs to be addressed, and I think the Labor Party is and will do that. 

KARVELAS: Do you regret not doing it when you were Treasurer?

SWAN: I regret not being able to begin the process of bringing it back to where it should be. Of course I do. But these things take time. I certainly don’t regret the decisions we took to prioritise employment in the first place to get a far better outcome, in the time that I was Treasurer, than we had in just about any other western economy. 

KARVELAS: Wayne Swan, thanks for your time.

SWAN: Good to talk to you.



Authorised by Noah Carroll, ALP, Canberra