National Wrap with Patricia Karvelas > Mitch Fifield, Liberal Senator for Victoria

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14-May-2018

Interview
National Wrap with Patricia Karvelas
9pm
13 May 2018

E & OE



KARVELAS:

My first guest tonight is the Communications Minister, Mitch Fifield. Mitch Fifield welcome to National Wrap.

FIFIELD:
Great to be with you Patricia.

KARVELAS:
What happened to Jane Prentice?

FIFIELD:
Well Jane has been a terrific colleague. She's made a great contribution, particularly in the area of disability and the NDIS, which is a particular passion of mine, as a former Minister for Disabilities. But in our Party, we have open, transparent and democratic processes. While the parliamentary party, reserves for itself the determination of policy; the organisational party, reserves for itself the selection of candidates. And that's what they’ve done on this occasion.  

KARVELAS:
Okay, Phil Coorey from the Australian Financial Review, has said that she had some sort of deal with her staffer - who has now won the preselection - that he would take over, but just not at this stage, that it’s happened prematurely. Have you been able to ascertain whether that’s the case?

FIFIELD:
Look, I’m not aware of the discussions that have taken place between candidates for the seat of Ryan over time. But this is a difficult business. People put themselves forward. And it’s the organisational party that determines when you’re a flag-bearer for the Liberal Party. And it’s the organisational party, it’s the branch members, who determine when that time reaches a conclusion.

KARVELAS:
But she’s only one of 13 women in the lower house, of 76 LNP MPs - and she’s been rolled. Does the Coalition have a woman problem? 

FIFIELD:
Obviously, we are keen to have more women representing the Party in the Parliament…

KARVELAS:
Now you’re going to have less. Fewer.

FIFIELD:
We have George Brandis, who resigned from the Senate. Amanda Stoker has replaced George in the Senate. And she’s making a terrific contribution. So, there’s no net change in terms of female representation in Queensland. But yes, we do want to see more women in parliament. Ultimately, this is a matter for the state divisions of the Liberal Party…

KARVELAS:
Do you see this through a gendered lens?

FIFIELD:
We do want to have more women representing the Liberal and National Parties in the Parliament. We have had – and this is good news – Jacinta Price preselected to represent us in the seat of Lingiari. We’ve also had Kath Ganley chosen to represent us in the seat of Solomon. So they’re two good things. But obviously, we want to see more women as our standard-bearers.

KARVELAS:
Victorian preselections haven’t happened yet. You’re a member of the Victorian Liberal Party. I know that there is a move on Jane Hume. I know that from the fact that I talk to many Liberals in Victoria. Do you think that Jane Hume is under threat, and should the Prime Minister intervene to save her? 

FIFIELD:
Jane is a great colleague in the Senate. She follows a long line of terrific Liberal women in the Senate. We’ve had Dame Ivy Wedgewood. We’ve had Dame Margaret Guilfoyle. Helen Kroger. Karen Synon. Kay Patterson. At the moment, the Coalition representation from Victoria in the Senate is 50 per cent women and 50 per cent men. And that’s a good thing.

KARVELAS:
So would you be concerned if there was a move on someone like Jane Hume?

FIFIELD:
Jane has been in the Senate for a relatively short period of time. She absolutely deserves to retain her preselection. Preselections haven’t yet been opened in Victoria. But I’d be giving her my very strong support.

KARVELAS:
On your portfolio, do you accept that there’re going to have to be cuts to ABC jobs, over the forward estimates, as a result of the budget cuts?

FIFIELD:
I think it’s important to start by looking at the numbers. Over the next triennium, which starts in a year, the ABC will receive $3.16 billion. It will still receive in excess of a billion dollars a year. What that means is that the ABC has greater funding certainty than any other media organisation in the nation. What we’re talking about here, through the freeze in indexation of the ABC funding, is a reduction of about $83 million, out of $3.16 billion.

KARVELAS:
But do you accept that the question is that there will be job cuts as a result?

FIFIELD:
Well we’re pairing that indexation pause with an efficiency review. There’ve been a number of efficiency reviews in the ABC before. The last was in 2014. That’s four years ago. In the fast-moving and fast-evolving world of media organisations, four years ago is an eternity. And I think it’s appropriate and is good housekeeping, to check to see that the ABC is being the best possible steward of taxpayer dollars it can be. I’m not going to pre-empt what the outcome of the efficiency review will be. But what we discovered with the last efficiency review is…

KARVELAS:
Because there’ve been a lot of them!

FIFIELD: 
Well, there’ve been a few – as there should be. This should be a business where you’re always looking at continuous improvement. And the last efficiency review found that those savings could be made without affecting anything that went to air. 

KARVELAS:
But the ABC says there’s no more fat to cut at the ABC. Where’s the fat? Where do you see it? 

FIFIELD:
Well that was Gaven Morris, talking about ABC News, which he says represents $200 million of the ABC’s Annual Budget. There another $800 million of the ABC’s Annual Budget. And I have yet to find a Commonwealth Government agency that has achieved some type of perfection. Every Commonwealth Government agency should always make sure that they are being the best possible steward of taxpayer dollars.

KARVELAS:
So in terms of this efficiency review, do you look, do you think an option for this instance, of SBS and ABC being combined in terms of their back-end operations, should be on the table?

FIFIELD:
Well ABC and SBS are separate organisations by law. And they will continue to be separate organisations. But whether the two can work more closely together. Whether the two can share resources. Well that’s something that we’ll find out through the efficiency review.

KARVELAS:
So it should be on the table?

FIFIELD:
We’re not dictating to the efficiency review what it is that they can and can’t look at. We take as a given, that the ABC and SBS are two separate organisations. But they’re both public broadcasters. They’re both 100 per cent owned by the taxpayer. And is there the possibility for them to work more closely together, to share resources. Well I think that’s something that’s appropriate to look at.

KARVELAS:

How about this $43 million in enhanced news gathering, that program. Because there was discussion this week whether that would stay or go. You say it hasn’t been cut. Does that mean you’re willing tonight on National Wrap, Mitch Fifield, to commit to it?

FIFIELD:

Well I haven’t yet received a submission from the ABC.

KARVELAS:

Well it pays for things like suburban and posts in all these crucial areas, do you think that’s worthy of keeping? 

FIFIELD:

Well the ABC, in the lead up to the last triennium, put forward a proposition for enhanced news services. The government looked at that. Thought that was reasonable. And so we committed to that on top of the ABC’s base funding. Those enhanced news service arrangements have another 12 months to go. And in the ordinary budgetary course of events, the ABC, if they want to put a proposition forward, do so. The ABC haven’t yet done that, which is why I was a little surprised when the director of ABC News, Gaven Morris, said that the government had taken a decision to cease that funding. The Government hasn’t taken any decision. The ABC haven’t put a proposition forward.

KARVELAS:

Just on tax. We’re going to talk about tax. We’re about to have a big debate on this on the program. On tax cuts, why don’t you just legislate the first phase, so that lower and middle income people get the tax cuts, so there’s certainty around that. Because there appears to be political unity on that at least. And then have a bigger debate.

FIFIELD:

Well I always smile whenever we release a legislative proposition. Because journalists will breathlessly ask about five minutes after the proposition is first announced, whether we’re going to split up the package that we have before the parliament…

KARVELAS:

We ask because we know that crossbenchers are not … for instance, One Nation says that they’re not comfortable with the latter phase. That’s why we ask. 

FIFIELD:

Well, journalists will always ask in a breathless way. But what we’re saying is that we want to keep this together as a package. Because it is a plan. It’s a plan for the nation. And let me just hark back to a few other things where journalists have breathlessly said “are you going to slice and dice it”, “are you going to cut it up”, “are you going to split it”. The ABCC package. People said we’d never get that through the Senate. We did. Legislating the Registered Organisations Commission. People said we’d never legislate that. But we did. School education reform. They said we’d never legislate. We did. Childcare reform. They said we’d never legislate it. We did. Most of the savings measures we’ve put forward to the Parliament. They’ve said you’ll never legislate them. But we’ve legislated $41 billion worth of savings since the last election. Reforms to the Human Rights Commission. They said you’ll never legislate any of those. And we did. But the more people tell us that there’s no way you’ll be actually be able to get something through the Parliament. The more determined we are to succeed for the Australian people.

KARVELAS:

The Treasurer said this morning on Insiders that he can’t give a year-on-year financial cost to the tax plan over seven years because the figures are so unreliable, how can you expect the Parliament to legislate something when the numbers are unreliable?

FIFIELD:

Well you can give aggregate figures over seven years. Over ten years. But the advice from the Treasury is that year-by-year figures aren’t meaningful. They can do the work to ten years, in aggregate, over a long period of time, seven or ten years on what the effect a measure will be on the tax side, on the revenue side. The Treasury, their clear advice is, you can’t do that year-by-year with any specificity, in a way that is meaningful.

KARVELAS:

And you want the Parliament to legislate on something that’s not specific

FIFIELD:

Well we’ve got the year-by-year numbers over the forward estimates. And then we have them in an aggregate fashion beyond that. That is ordinary budgeting. That is the ordinary way that these things are presented. What we are doing is presenting a comprehensive plan for the nation. We want Australians to keep more of the money that they earn. We want Australians to use that money to make a contribution to the economy. And to see it grow. To see more people employed. We’ve got a comprehensive plan. Our political opponents don’t. They’ve double counted in their budget reply presentation. It’s not costed. Their numbers don’t add up.

KARVELAS:

Couple of other issues; Longman. That’s one seat of five by-elections we’re about to have. Exciting times for people like you and I who are interested in politics. Are you going to win the seat of Longman in your view and is it going to happen on the back of One Nation preferences?

FIFIELD:

Well in each seat that we will be contesting, amongst the by-elections, what we need to do is to earn the trust of the public. That’s what we do day-by-day between elections. It’s what we’ll be doing in the lead up to the by-elections that we contest. We’ve got a good candidate in Brett Whitely in the seat of Braddon in Tasmania. And he’s been a terrific representative. It’s highly likely that the LNP will decide to contest the seat of Longman. In the South Australian seat of Mayo, preselections are open now. I think they close 5pm on Monday. And we will be standing there. And we will be making the case.

KARVELAS:

Final question, that’s going to break in the next hour. Newspoll and of course the poll that stops the nation because I see people going nuts about it every time this shows on. That’s what they want to hear about. If there is a little poll bounce as a result of the last week, is it because of budget and the tax plan or is it because Bill Shorten got caught out on citizenship?

FIFIELD:

I’ll leave the analysis of any polls to you and your colleagues. But you raise a very good point. Bill Shorten has repeatedly lied…

KARVELAS:

I asked you about Newspoll.

FIFIELD:

Bill Shorten has repeatedly lied to the Australian people. He did it in terms of his own MPs and citizenship. And no doubt these are things which play on the mind of the Australian people, as they should, as they look to the next election.

KARVELAS:

Mitch Fifield, thanks for coming in.

FIFIELD:

Good to be with you.





Authorised by Senator the Hon Mitch Fifield, Liberal Party of Australia, Parliament House, Canberra.