DRIVE WITH RAF EPSTEIN
774 ABC MELBOURNE
6 February 2017
E & OE
The man who will need to negotiate
with someone who was once a colleague and now be on the crossbench. He’s the
Liberal Senator for Victoria, he’s the Manager of Government Business in the
Senate, he’s also the Minister for Communications, which includes the ABC,
Mitch Fifield, good afternoon.
Is the Prime Minister worried
about a split, are you worried?
I’m not going
to be terribly illuminating unfortunately Raf. We don’t know what the
circumstance is. All I can give you is the facts as I know, which is Cory
Bernardi, who is a good friend of mine, was elected at the last election for a
six year term as a Liberal Senator to represent the state of South Australia. And
that’s where things sit.
Is it false advertising if he ran
on the Liberal banner and leaves it so quickly?
All of us who
stand for public office with a political party do so with the support of that
party and do so with the brand and banner of that party. And there’s clearly an
expectation that you will fulfil that elected mandate.
And if he doesn’t, is that a
speculating. I’m speculating. Obviously I’ve seen the news reports which are
themselves speculation. So I can’t add because you don’t know, and I don’t know,
what the circumstance is.
When did you last speak to Cory
Oh look, I
speak to Cory often, he’s a good friend of mine. He’s never given any
indication to me that he intends to do other than serve as a Liberal Senator.
I’m presuming you haven’t spoken
to him in the last week or so because he seems to have given every journalist
in Canberra that indication.
Well, look. I’d
be speculating. You’d be speculating. Cory is a Liberal Senator and was elected
a Liberal Senator.
One more speculation: would it
change the direction of the Government? Policy wise?
on our legislative agenda. We’ve got parliament resuming tomorrow. We’ve got a
lot on our plate. We want to legislate the company tax cuts which are important
to help boost growth in Australia. We want to legislate an independent
authority to oversee parliamentarians work expenses because it’s important that
there’s transparency and there’s confidence. We want to legislate an improved
childcare system and we want to make sure we fund that which is why we’ve put
that together with the social services omnibus savings bill. We’ve got a lot of
things to do. I’ve got to get on with the business of media reform. Senate
willing. So we’ve got plenty to do and that’s what our focus is.
Senator Mitch Fifield is with us,
one of Malcolm Turnbull’s ministers. Cory Bernardi is expected to kick off the
parliamentary year by leaving the government; by leaving the Liberal Party that
he was elected under. Let’s perhaps, Senator, talk just about people inside the
Government, definitively inside the government, George Christenson said he’s
not going anywhere; he’s staying inside your Party Room. He did say though that
Government’s position will become untenable unless it embraces Conservative
causes. Is he right?
Liberal National Coalition is a very broad church. And one of the great virtues
of the Liberal Party and the National Party in coalition is that, I think, we
provide the broadest representation of Australia. We do have within our ranks a
great cross section of the nation. It’s one of the strengths of the Coalition.
And indeed within my own party, the Liberal Party, we have a broad cross
section of society. John Howard often said as Prime Minister the Liberal Party
flies with two wings: the liberal wing and the conservative wing. And together
it has been a great force for good since the inception of the Liberal Party.
Forgive me though minister, that
is a little bit of history. I don’t know that the Government would be going in
the direction it’s going in if it hadn’t been for the victory of Donald Trump.
So if I can ask that question again, because it was about conservative causes,
is George Christensen right that the Government’s position will become
untenable unless it embraces conservative causes?
Well I have
always made it a practice to not provide a commentary on the contributions of
my parliamentary colleagues. They’re well able to speak for themselves. They
don’t need a commentary and analysis from me. But my contention is that we are
a party, we are a coalition, that covers the spectrum from traditional liberalism
through to conservatism. And for people who are actually in the business of
politics, most of us really don’t spend time thinking about labels. We just
want to get on and transact the people’s business. And I think the community
aren’t terribly interested with labels. They have issues. They want us to
address them. And that’s what we’re focussed on.
repeatedly about the problems with something like full-time employment but
aren't you in the same position as some of our recent Labor Governments have
been in that you get dysfunction that stops the Government performing.
Well I think
the Government is performing and the Parliament's performing. As Manager of
Government Business in the Senate, I'm all too aware that since we were re-elected
we have got 48 pieces of legislation through the Parliament. Through the House
and through the Senate. That's a lot of work. And that's the Parliament working
well in the period since the election. We managed to legislate the bringing
back of the Australian Building and Construction Commission. We've managed to
establish through legislation a Registered Organisations Commission. We've
legislated to protect CFA volunteers. We have legislated billions in savings
which many people though wasn't possible. So we've got a good legislative track
record. The Parliament is working. And we're just going to get on and keep on
with the business of governing.
impressed though. I mean Newspoll keeps dropping and your Newspoll numbers are
just as bad as Tony Abbott's, do you think Malcolm Turnbull regrets citing
Newspoll when he was taking aim at the Prime Ministership?
Polls are a
fact of life. They come around with great frequency. We're two and a half years
out from the next election, so I don't think anyone needs to spend too much
time focusing on them at this stage. What we need to do, and what we are doing,
is getting on with our legislative agenda.
All the predictions when we were returned to office was that this was going to
be a very difficult Parliament, and many people said the Senate wasn't going to
work. But, we have proven time and again that this Parliament does work, that
this Senate is working.
that the Government's kicking lots of goals but the polls, the Newspoll that
the Prime Minister cited to get the job doesn't seem to support your statement.
Well, we're two
and a half years out from the election so we're not spending a lot of time
pondering and being introspective. We've got plenty of work to do and one of
the things that we want to focus on as the Prime Minister indicated in his
speech to the National Press Club is the issue of energy. We want to make sure
that Australians have affordable, reliable and secure energy. These are the
sorts of issues that the Australian public are focused on, and they're the
issues we're focused on.
Minister, if I
can before I let you go. Terry has texted in about an issue that I'm sure
you're aware of. The short wave broadcasts that the ABC delivers emergency
services on in the territory. I know the Managing Director of the ABC announced
some measured, but has the ABC done enough to assure you that what is provided
on shortwave will continue in some form in Northern Australia?
Well, for your
listeners who mightn't be au fait with the issue. There used to be around
Australia, access to the ABC by way of shortwave radio. Progressively that has
been switched off in each jurisdiction, and the last jurisdiction that it
remained was in the Northern Territory. The ABC, as you know, have operational
independence which has been legislated. So, this decision to switch it off in
the Northern Territory was the decision of the ABC Board and management. I do
have to say that I think the consultation by the organisation could have been
better, and there was a limited notice period. But I think the ABC has learnt
some valuable lessons about the importance of consultation and engagement in
remote and regional Australia. And I'm pleased that ABC management have
announced transitional arrangements to assist people to find other ways of
connecting to the ABC.
Thanks for your