Transcript - ABC Weekend Breakfast



SUNDAY, 29 JULY 2018
SUBJECTS: Labor’s emphatic by-election results; rejection of Malcolm Turnbull’s trickledown agenda; Labor leadership; Emma Husar; Turnbull Government’s disastrous provision of drought assistance and government services
JOHANNA NICHOLSON: Now, Opposition Leader Bill Shorten was jubilant last night after the by-election results. He used his speech as a rallying cry for Labor's chances of being elected to government at the next federal election.
ANDREW GEOGHEGAN: The Coalition was downplaying the results and pointing to the historical precedent of opposition parties usually winning by-elections. Well, to tell us more, we're talking to Labor MP and incoming Labor President, Wayne Swan. Wayne Swan, welcome.
GEOGHEGAN: Have you lost that smile at all from last night?
SWAN: No, I don't think so. This is a complete rejection and utter humiliation for the Prime Minister. The Labor vote has got a four in front of it and the Liberal vote has got a two in front of it. So, quite an emphatic rejection of the Prime Minister, given that he was the one that said that this was all about leadership. I'll tell you what's shone through here – Bill Shorten's tenacity and Bill Shorten's policy program.
GEOGHEGAN: We'll get to Bill Shorten in just a moment. Let's just concentrate on a couple of those seats in question. Of course, starting in Braddon. Now the Liberals aren't conceding there. Is there any question of that result, do you think?
SWAN: I think we've won the seat of Braddon, but Braddon has moved backwards and forwards over 30 years. So it's always been a difficult seat. But you can see that Justine has a very good local following. I'd be very surprised if we didn't win the seat.
GEOGHEGAN: Even if it were not for that independent player, do you think it would have been much closer, or perhaps gone the other way?
SWAN: Well it's always been a difficult seat. But Justine has now come through on two occasions and you can say that this was a difficult by-election given its circumstances. So I think it's a great credit to Bill Shorten but also to Justine.
GEOGHEGAN: Alright, to Longman in Queensland. You must be very pleased with that result. What do you put the strength of the Labor vote down to there?

SWAN: I think Susan Lamb – a great candidate. But in particular, in Longman, which is a lower-income, middle-income electorate in suburban Brisbane, in the outer reaches of Brisbane, this is an emphatic rejection of Malcolm Turnbull's policies of trickledown economics, which basically boil down to huge tax cuts for large corporations and high-income individuals, and wage stagnation for everybody else. And of course the price of those tax cuts is cuts to health and education. And really, in Longman, the cuts to the Caboolture Hospital, the cuts to education and of course the fact that there's been wage stagnation for many low-income earners were really the issues that came through.
GEOGHEGAN: Did it also, though, come down to the character of the LNP candidate?

SWAN: I think it was more about the program than it was about, necessarily, the character of the LNP candidate. But of course, he was associated with the previous set of cuts to health and education when he was a member of Campbell Newman's government. So this was a fusion, if you like, of his record and also maybe public doubts about the medals and so on. But I think emphatically, this was a very long campaign – months and months and months – for all of these issues to be aired. And I think the people in Longman have made a pretty definitive judgment about the Prime Minister and his policies of trickledown economics.
GEOGHEGAN: Wayne Swan, I know there's been some within Labor ranks who have been quick to suggest that, based on last night results in Queensland, that some sitting LNP members in Queensland would struggle at a federal poll. Is that a fair reflection, do you think? Can you really extrapolate what happened in the by-election to what may happen in a federal poll?

SWAN: Yes I do think that's a fair reflection. I think seats like Dickson, seats like Petrie, seats like Forde, which share some of these characteristics in different ways, those members in the LNP will be panicking. Look, there was a swing against the LNP last night of 10 per cent. So if you were to take that across Queensland, then there would be a very substantial electoral earthquake in the state of Queensland. But we don't take that for granted. Bill Shorten last night made the point that from his point of view, this was about the people of Longman. And I think Labor is going to stay focused on these bread-and-butter issues of what's going on with people's wages, what's going on with their health and education. The pleasing thing about the result last night was that there was a pretty big tick for Bill Shorten's program – for his tenacity and his grit in sticking to the issues, unlike the Prime Minister.
GEOGHEGAN: Okay, so in your view, does this silence the chatter about Bill Shorten's leadership?
SWAN: I don't think there was any validity in that chatter before the by-election. There's certainly no validity in it now. 

GEOGHEGAN: You think that was confected by the media?

SWAN: I think largely, yes. And parts of the media ran a very strong campaign against Bill Shorten.

GEOGHEGAN: You don't think Anthony Albanese has any desire to replace Bill Shorten?

SWAN: Well, Anthony Albanese has made his position on that pretty clear.
GEOGHEGAN: Okay, so you're unequivocal in your support in saying that Bill Shorten will definitely take the party to the next federal election?

SWAN: Absolutely. Look, he's been the leader for five years. We've had a period of unity. He got within a whisker of winning the last election. This guy's got tenacity, he's got grit and he's got the policy program. And that's what the people of this country want. 
GEOGHEGAN: He does remain unpopular when compared with Malcolm Turnbull though. He doesn't have that same popularity. Does that remain an issue?

SWAN: I think we just had a vote on that question. The people of Longman, the people of Braddon spoke about those issues last night.
GEOGHEGAN: Well it wasn't a vote for the personalities, though was it?

SWAN: Well you can't have it both ways! The fact is that people vote for the party, people vote for the leader. But generally, people will vote for the policy program. And we've had an emphatic, absolutely emphatic big tick for Bill Shorten, his handling of the policy issues, and his approach over the last five years. I don't know what more he has to do to demonstrate how effective and Opposition Leader he has been. 
GEOGHEGAN: Do you think the length of the campaign worked in your favour?

SWAN: Look, I'm not sure that it's the length of the campaign, but this Prime Minister has got all sorts of weird judgments. I don't know why he decided to have a three-month campaign. It's been his exploding cigar, if you like. Because people had a longer chance to have an even closer look at how unfair his policies are, and how Malcolm Turnbull thinks inequality is good for us. Well we've got the answer from the people of Longman and Braddon and the other electorates on that question. They don't like the inequality that goes to the core of Malcolm Turnbull's program.
GEOGHEGAN: Wayne Swan, do you face the prospect of another by-election in the seat of Lindsay in New South Wales, with your sitting member Emma Husar under internal party investigation? You've obviously seen those reports; it reflects badly on her. What's the prospect that she will retain that seat until the next poll?

SWAN: Once again this is the sort of speculation you see all the time. There's an investigation going on. Let's just have that. Let's have some natural justice for Emma Husar and then we'll see where we stand after that. This sort of speculation is crazy. It chews up a lot of media time, but it tells us nothing. Let's just go through the process.
GEOGHEGAN: Well, nonetheless. Are you disturbed about what you've heard and read about her behaviour?
SWAN: I'm not going to buy into an investigation. I'm not going to buy into some of the media beat-ups we see about these questions.
GEOGHEGAN: So you say it's a beat-up?

SWAN: Well what I'm saying is, we don't know. That's what I'm saying. And until we know, let's just sort of settle down on all of the speculation and give her some natural justice.
GEOGHEGAN: Okay, just before you go, Wayne Swan, I did want to go to another subject which is very important outside of what is happening on the political front. And that is the drought that is affecting much of eastern Australia. Now the government will review the drought assistance measure after finding that many farmers who are eligible have not applied for that. Is that a sensible approach? And why do you think it is that farmers are not applying for that assistance?
SWAN: Look, this government has got a disastrous history of service delivery to all sorts of groups of people. For example, if you try to get an age pension at the moment, you have to wait months and months and months. So Centrelink has become a debacle. And the problem with Centrelink is government-induced, because of funding cuts and so on. So I'm not surprised that we are seeing this gridlock in such a critical area for our farmers. This government is supposed to be one that's got an interest in rural Australia, through the LNP or the National Party. But they've been an abject failure in terms of delivering this support from Centrelink for farmers who are in dire circumstances, and in some cases around this country, are in a position of some of the worst drought in the history of their area. So I don't see why the Liberals and the National Party can't sort it out.

GEOGHEGAN: So you're saying those farmers have too many hoops to jump through to seek that assistance?

SWAN: Well once again, I don't know all of the details. But what I do know, as a Member of Parliament – and all other Members of Parliament know this – that when it comes to government service delivery – whether it's drought assistance for farmers, whether it's people seeking to apply for an age pension for the first time and having to wait six months, whether it's a young student trying to get their educational benefits – there's complete gridlock in government service delivery from this government, and it is a scandal what is going on in terms of government service delivery across a whole range of areas, and I'm just sorry that also the farmers are now caught up in this.

GEOGHEGAN: Incoming Labor President Wayne Swan. Thanks for your time.

SWAN: Thank you.


Authorised by Noah Carroll, ALP, Canberra