Transcript - National Wrap


SUNDAY, 29 JULY 2018

SUBJECTS: Labor’s emphatic by-election results; Labor leadership.

PATRICIA KARVELAS: The Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull has given his first indication that he is prepared to look at his policy agenda after losing in three of Saturday's by-election seats where the Coalition ran. Federal Liberal President Nick Greiner and newly elected ALP President Wayne Swan join me now. Nick Greiner and Wayne Swan, welcome to National Wrap.

NICK GREINER: Thank you. 

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

KARVELAS: Nick Greiner, I'll begin with you. The PM has left the door open for policy changes. Should the government dump the business tax cut plan if it doesn't pass the Senate?

GREINER: Oh look, I imagine the government will do exactly what the Prime Minister said. They will do their very best to get it through the Senate, because it's an integral part of the government's overall economic plan. After that, they will no doubt consider their options, as they've done with other – this is not the first piece of legislation that's had a rocky road in the Senate over the last few years. And the government in each case has looked at it sensibly and worked out what it thinks is in the national interest. So I can't foreshadow the government, nor should I – the government's position on a hypothetical. But of course, it's not unusual to think that you continually as a government look at your policy positions and indeed your marketing positions and you make whatever you think are the best judgments. 

KARVELAS: But essentially Labor has been running a campaign saying bankers are being prioritised over battlers. It's proving toxic on the ground, isn't it?

GREINER: Well I think it's probably got some traction, that would appear to be the case. But at the end of the day, the government's got this wicked dilemma. Politicians get into trouble if they don't stick to what they believe in, they don't stick to their principles. Mr Shorten gets lots of valid criticism for believing one thing one day and another thing the other day, or to different audiences. So on the one hand, you should stick to what you believe is right and in the national interest. On the other hand, obviously you've got a political as well as a policy imperative, and you've got to balance those in the best way you can. And that's the dilemma the government's clearly got in this case. 

KARVELAS: Wayne Swan, Labor has been keen to play up these results. But if you look at the seat of Braddon, there are clearly challenges still for Labor if you look at where people were voting. I mean, it was for the independents in very large numbers, for instance. There is still an issue there, isn't there, for the major parties and for Labor?

SWAN: Well I think there's an issue for the major parties which is separate from all of these by-elections, but when you look at these by-elections it's quite an emphatic result for Labor. For example, just take Longman. I'll come to Braddon in a minute. In Longman, we got a swing larger than that which was achieved in 2007 when we won government. It's a very substantial swing in primary and two-party-preferred terms in Longman, across all of the booths. And of course in Braddon, we're about the same as we were before, but there are special challenges in Tasmania, and we've done very well in the west. And of course, the Liberals have been smashed in Mayo. But what I say is that there is a pretty strong and emphatic rejection of what I regard as the extreme trickledown agenda of the government, of which the corporate tax cuts are just part. You've got the personal income tax cuts, you've got the cuts to health and education, and of course you've got the wage stagnation out there which backfired on them in Longman. I mean, the median income in Longman is $43,000 a year. And if you haven't got a wage increase, or you're going backwards, you're not even going to be eligible for the government's measly $10 tax cuts which come in a year's time. So I think there has been a substantial backlash against this extreme trickledown economic agenda.

KARVELAS: Nick Greiner, the biggest shock was for the Coalition in that seat of Longman, as Wayne Swan just mentioned. Your primary vote was around 28 per cent. I mean it really tanked in Longman. That would mean significant seat losses for the Coalition at a federal poll, wouldn't it?

GREINER: Well look, Patricia, I've been watching by-elections since I was elected at one about 38 years ago. You get the same orgy of spin that you've just heard from Wayne after each one. The reality is that this is pretty much the status quo result. Labor lost, if you like, four seats for various reasons; they got those seats back. An independent lost a seat; she's got it back. The swing in Longman was in fact pretty much the 4 per cent that by-elections have shown over decades and decades. And in Braddon, as Wayne said, the result is pretty much the status quo. In other words, it's much less than the normal anti-government swing. So, I mean, you expect everyone to put the spin on it. I think the reality is this is much closer to a status quo result than any of the other interpretations that I guess you're going to hear.

KARVELAS: Sure, Nick Greiner, but if that's the status quo result – I just want to put this to Nick Greiner – I mean, that primary vote in Longman, how can you not find that alarming?

GREINER: The primary vote in Longman is very disappointing. There were some particular, I suspect, individual candidate reasons or reasons about medals and things that obviously didn't play well, whether they were an honest mistake or otherwise. But clearly, a primary vote at that level was not satisfactory and isn't the level which the Coalition and the LNP in Queensland would be remotely happy with. We do have, and most of those votes that we lost went to One Nation, a small part of them did go to Labor, and that's the task that we've got to deal with.

KARVELAS: Wayne Swan, you wanted to come in there. But essentially, hearing what Nick Greiner's arguing – that this is a status quo kind of result, there is always a backlash to the government in by-elections, and we've got a Parliament that looks the same as it existed before the by-elections...

SWAN: Well, there are many in the LNP who don't accept that analysis. Let me put this proposition. I think the LNP has a real structural Queensland problem. It is evident in Longman, and it was evident in the last state election. Across the seat of Longman in the last state election, for example, One Nation polled 24 per cent. In this election, we have polled more than we polled in 2007, we've got a primary vote with a four in front of it, the Liberals have a primary vote with a two in front of it. That is a big structural shift and of course, what you are seeing is the consequences of the alliance which is emerging between the Liberal Party and One Nation. And of course at this stage, it's not working out very well for the Liberals. And it's not going to work out very well for them nationally, as people nationally become horrified about this alliance and tight preference swapping between the LNP and One Nation.

KARVELAS: Nick Greiner, let's talk about that One Nation issue, because it's a huge issue for your side of politics. What do you do about One Nation? Should the Coalition, for instance, be more actively challenging One Nation, rather than subduing the differences between you both?

GREINER: Well, firstly it's of course not accurate to say that there was any sort of deal, or whatever, as Wayne was using – there simply wasn't any deal, and there won't be any deal in terms of preferences. I suspect these things are decided at a state level. But that's sort of a false assumption. I accept—

KARVELAS: But do you think it would be wrong to do a preference deal?

GREINER: I'm not in favour of a preference deal, but that's a matter for the LNP and for the various state organisations. But let me put it to you this way, Patricia. Of course the majority of the votes that the Liberal Party lost in Longman went to One Nation. And clearly, it's important for us to get them back. Otherwise there's a net transfer in some votes and ways to the Labor Party. So that's simply the mathematics of it. I don't think this is anything about having either beating up on One Nation or getting into bed with One Nation. I think the important thing for us – and you alluded to the Prime Minister's remarks at the start – the government needs to get its message right and its message accepted by more people. I can hardly disagree with that proposition. So I'm not in favour of any particular One Nation strategy, if you like, either loving them to death or kicking them to death.

KARVELAS: Do you accept, though, Nick Greiner, that the government's message is just not resonating with the electorate? That the story that this government is trying to tell is not a story that voters want to vote for?

GREINER: Well, as far as I've seen, the government's share of the two-party vote's getting higher and higher at the last – look, it was 51-49. I think it's apparent that at the election in eight or nine or whatever number of months, the government will be very competitive.

KARVELAS: But you're going to have to change your policies, aren't you, to do that? Because if you run the same campaign, clearly we've seen the test run there, and it's not working.

GREINER: Well the test run, as I indicated at the outset, is pretty much the status quo. It's not for the organisation to tell the parliamentary party, but of course they will! And the Prime Minister said so. They will look at their policies and they will look at their marketing, of course we will. What else would you expect us to do? But we won't be, sort of, throwing our sweaty nightcaps in the air and getting into some sort of traumatic state over this. Truth is that the national vote is very finely poised. The truth is that the by-election results were pretty much the standard. Of course we would have been delighted if we'd snagged one of the two seats that got all the attention. Of course we would have. But it would have been a once-in-a-hundred-year event and it was never really likely to happen.

KARVELAS: Wayne Swan, I'll give you the final word. Do you agree with Tanya Plibersek's view that it was News Corp that's been trying to stoke leadership tensions? That's basically boiling down her comments on Insiders this morning.

SWAN: Yes I do. I do agree with that. There has been a decided campaign in parts of News Limited to stoke leadership tensions in the Labor Party. And there's nothing particularly new about that. But what we do know is our leadership, under Bill Shorten and our frontbench, and the policy program they've been developing, which is courageous and ambitious, has been well received in the electorate. I've got some bad news for them, because I think there were—

KARVELAS: Do you really say that there was nothing genuine about some of the reporting, are you saying that it was all a fabrication? Because, I mean, from my own perspective – and you know I cover these issues thoroughly – I don't think it was a fabrication at all. There were concerns around leadership.

SWAN: Well you're entitled to your opinion and I'm entitled to mine. But it was certainly fanned in News Limited, particularly when you go to the extent of constructing a whole lot of polls with names in them and so on. I think it was, and that's a very firm view, but it's not only happening in that area, it's happening in a variety of others. The truth is that sections of the media have been barracking for the incumbents. But it's not holding us back from winning well. Even when the local paper decides to get stuck into the Labor Party state and federal all of the time. We're moving forward, because we're talking to the people of this state about what matters to them. And the bad news for Nick is that I think in this Longman result there's actually a leakage of Liberal votes to Labor. Swings are going on between the major parties, there's no question about that. But the strength of our primary vote in Longman is such – I said before, bigger than 2007. And I think there were people moving from the Liberals to Labor, because even Liberals are now revolted by the extent of inequity that this government is imposing on our country.

KARVELAS: Well I want to thank you both, both presidents of your respective parties, and you've certainly made your arguments pretty robustly on this show. Thank you so much for your time.

GREINER: Thanks Patricia.

SWAN: Thank you.



Authorised by Noah Carroll, ALP, Canberra