16 May 2018




DAVID BEVAN: Penny Wong welcome to the program.


BEVAN: Labor Senator and Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs. And, in our studios, Simon Birmingham, Liberal Senator and Federal Education Minister. Good morning to you.

SENATOR SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Good morning everybody.

BEVAN: And Cory Bernardi, South Australian Senator and leader of Australian Conservatives. Welcome to you

BERNARDI: Thank you, good morning to everyone.

BEVAN: Georgina Downer, now, she wants to be the new Liberal Member for Mayo. This is a very significant seat, it has got quite a heritage and you know that very well. But Ali was talking to her after 7 o’clock this morning and raised the issue of the minimum wage. Now just a few days ago, in The Weekend Age, Georgina Downer was quoted as saying we should have a think about the minimum wage and getting rid of it. On the program this morning she was a little more diplomatic and said that, what was it? It was something for the Fair Work Commission to discuss.

ALI CLARKE: That’s right, yes.

BEVAN: So she wasn’t wanting to buy into that. Maybe she was just stirring when she said to The Age we should think about getting rid of the minimum wage? Cory Bernardi you’d be keen to get rid of the minimum wage wouldn’t you?

BERNARDI: I wouldn’t say that David. I understand the policy purity that groups like the IPA argue. They do it from an academic or an economic perspective but we have to be mindful that ultimately people’s lives are at stake here and their quality of life. So there is a minimum wage all around the world.

BEVAN: So you think we should have a minimum wage?

BERNARDI: I do. I think there is a completely reasonable debate about where it should be and at what level it should be.

BEVAN: Is it too high?

BERNARDI: It maybe for some. You can make a plausible argument that employment growth has been stifled because it is unaffordable and uneconomic for people to employ people. But you have to get the balance right. It is as simple as that. So she’s argued that from an economic perspective or a purely rationalist perspective but in politics you can’t do everything in that sense.

BEVAN: So, you think, look, in her heart of hearts she probably does want to remove or tinker with the minimum wage?

BERNARDI: I’ve learned not to gaze into the hearts of others. I can only examine my own. I think Simon might be better connected.

BEVAN: You think she wants to raise the minimum wage? I didn’t get the impression she wants to raise the minimum wage?

BERNARDI: Georgina Downer is the Liberal candidate and she should be there to explain it, or the Liberal Party to explain it. I can only put forward the perspective from a conservative sense that I want to see the maximum number of jobs generated. I recognise that there are some businesses that find it uneconomic to employ people and I think a bit more flexibility in the system is probably worthwhile.

CLARKE: We do have a caller now asking if Georgina Downer is more conservative than the leader of the Australian Conservatives. (laughter). That’s just a thing that has been thrown out.

BERNARDI: Well that would be a challenge Ali, I would say, but she may be one of the most conservative people in the Liberal Party.

BIRMINGHAM: Georgina of course discussed those issues this morning with Ali.

BEVAN: Which she dodged.

BIRMINGHAM: No, Georgina’s position is exactly what the Liberal Party’s position is and that it is for the independent Fair Work Commission to hear the annual wage cases as they do in terms of adjustments, increases to the minimum wage and to determine the rate at which it increases.

To your big picture question that that you started off there with as to whether we should have a minimum wage, my view is yes, clearly we should, just as we have a social safety net put in place in terms of support through the age pension, through Newstart payments et cetera. We of course should also expect that there is a minimum level of wage associated with employment.

Now, then working through the issues of what that is, that’s why we have a fair tribunal, the Fair Work Commission, that sits there and hears the evidence and the arguments backwards and forwards in terms of different award cases and how you make sure you set that in a reasonable way.

WONG: Well two things. I guess the first thing is I hope Georgina is going to be up front with every waitress and retail worker and hairdresser and everybody else who relies on penalty rates and minimum wages that she doesn’t think they should get either penalty rates of minimum wages. That is the position she has previously clearly articulated here.

Look, the broader issue here is you have got someone who has been given Mayo as a consolation prize. She put her hand up for two seats in Victoria. She stood for the seat of Goldstein, I think it was, and didn’t win preselection and now at five minutes to midnight is rushing back to South Australia for a consolation prize and I actually think that the people of Mayo deserve a little better.

BEVAN: Well she’s not rushing back is she? She’s got the heritage?

WONG: Well I’m not going to get into the family. That’s fine. People are entitled to go to Victoria. But the point is she’s moved to Victoria. 20 years she has been there.

BIRMINGHAM: Actually she spent some of the time working in the Australian Embassy in Japan.

WONG: Well, fantastic.

BIRMINGHAM: Fantastic indeed. A skilled young woman from the Adelaide Hills went and represented Australia in our embassy in Japan. That is fantastic.

WONG: From Victoria mate. She stood in preselection there and now she’s coming back because she has been given it as a consolation prize. Be up front about that. That’s the reality. Now you can argue well, she grew up here, but the reality is she wanted preselection there, couldn’t get it, and now she is coming back.

BIRMINGHAM: Georgina’s work history and background is absolutely there and nobody is hiding any aspect of it. But what is also clear is that if elected she would give South Australia another strong and powerful voice within the Government. She’d give the people of Mayo somebody who absolutely understands the local area.

WONG: She’s not in the electorate she got preselected in.

BIRMINGHAM: She knows it well and inside out.

BEVAN: Do you have to be on the electoral roll in an electorate that you are choosing to stand for, for a certain amount of time so that if you want to stand for the seat of Mayo you have to be on the electoral roll in Mayo for certain amount of time before you can nominate?

BERNARDI: No, the short answer to that is no. There are many members of Parliament who don’t live in the electorates that they represent. Now, whether that is a good thing or a bad thing that’s the reality.

CLARKE: Well is it a good thing Cory Bernardi?

BERNARDI: I’ve always thought that it is best for people to live in the area that they represent but with boundary shifts, it is not always possible. You can’t expect people to move three streets every four years in the event that they get pushed out.

WONG: People usually live in the State that they represent though.


BERNARDI: That’s always helpful Penny.

BIRMINGHAM: And Georgina is.

BERNARDI: I do note there were some Labor Senators I think who lived in New South Wales who were preselected in Western Australia if I recall.

WONG: I don’t think that’s fair. (laughs)

BERNARDI: It’s true.

BEVAN: While we are still talking about finding seats for people. Penny Wong, have you found a seat for Mark Butler yet?

WONG: The Electoral Commission obviously put out its draft report. We will wait and see as, obviously, people make further submissions, wait and see what their final report says. Obviously with Kate going, we’ve actually got the same number of seats as we have candidates and the Party will have a look at what the best configuration is when the Electoral Commission hands down their final report.

BIRMINGHAM: That sounds like a pitch to put Steve Georganas into Adelaide, who finds himself living in Adelaide under the draft boundaries.

WONG: He does find himself living in Adelaide. You’ve been studying things, haven’t you?

BIRMINGHAM: I know that part of town pretty well. I think I’ve letterboxed Steve’s house. I don’t think he’s taken the material too well. (laughter)

BEVAN: But the right aren’t going to give up Adelaide? They’re not going to let Steve Georganas move across to Adelaide, are they? The right have made that quite clear, Penny Wong, you sort that out yourself – if you love Mark Butler, you sort it out, you find him a seat.

WONG: Look, if it were all up to me wouldn’t life be interesting? We’d have a lot to talk about on the radio. Look, the party will have to resolve this down the track if the Electoral Commission retains this approach. They may not, and we’ll make sure that we put the best people forward.

Mark is a senior member of the team and he’s part of a future Labor government as a senior cabinet minister if we win, so obviously he is an important member of our team. Similarly, as you might recall, I ran Steve Georganas’ early campaigns to get into the Parliament so he’s a very good friend.

CLARKE: Simon Birmingham, what are you going to do with Lucy Gichuhi?

BIRMINGHAM: I hope and trust that Lucy will be on our Senate ticket along with Anne Ruston and David Fawcett. The Liberal Party has a democratic process. The couple of hundred plus members of the party’s state council will get together and make that decision but Lucy is somebody who brings strong family values. Anybody who read the rather wonderful statement she put out for Mother’s Day would see very clearly coming from that the type of values that Lucy holds that I think are entirely consistent with Liberal Party values and the family of the Liberal Party. I think that party members have been enjoying getting to know Lucy and I hope that the added diversity and value that she brings to our party room will be able to continue after this election.

CLARKE: Where are you going to put her on the Senate ticket?

BIRMINGHAM: That will be up to those party members. I will be completely transparent. I have a vote in that pre-selection.

CLARKE: Who will you vote for?

BIRMINGHAM: I will be voting for Anne Ruston, David Fawcett and Lucy Gichuhi in that order and I’ll be very clear about that so the whole world knows. That is because I think that Anne and David, as experienced members of the team, bring real value to the team and a diverse background there; Anne with her regional background, David with former military service. Lucy of course, is a migrant to Australia, a lawyer who has worked in a number of different fields but most importantly, brings a sense of values and perspective that is different from virtually anybody else in the Parliament let alone anybody else in the Liberal Party room.

BEVAN: Sorry, where do you think she should be on the ticket?

BIRMINGHAM: I’ll be voting for Lucy to be in the third spot.

BEVAN: So, in the third spot?

BIRMINGHAM: We have three incumbent Liberal Senators and I’ll be supporting all three of them.

BEVAN: Because the word is she’s going to end on number four?

BIRMINGHAM: That will be up to, of course, the members, the other 200 plus members. I will be but one vote. I’m being very open about my vote in that regard, supporting my two long-serving colleagues. Lucy is the newest member of the team but I’ll certainly be supporting her to continue in that winnable spot.

CLARKE: Cory Bernardi?

BERNARDI: Can I just ask, Simon, so you won’t be following the official left faction ticket which clearly never puts a conservative on anywhere? And normally, it is just a stack or is this a new approach that you’re following?

BIRMINGHAM: Funny Cory, I actually think once upon a time, I might have even voted for you at one stage…

BERNARDI: Oh, come on…

BIRMINGHAM: …you used to be there on the ticket, when we were both on the same ticket there , at the same time.

CLARKE: Penny Wong, you so wish you were in the studio right now.

WONG: I really don’t. I’m really enjoying this sort of kiss and makeup, or the fake kiss and makeup that is happening here between these two.

BEVAN: We started with underpants on the outside and now we’re…

WONG: It is better when I am out. It gets too serious when I am there.

Can I just make a comment? Obviously Lucy, there is the recent story about Lucy. But there is a broader issue here which is Simon talks about hope and trust. Well I think women in the Liberal Party can’t hope and trust for much support. The reality is there are fewer Coalition women in the Parliament today than at any time since 1995. So this is a party, a Coalition that is going backwards. We’ve got 22 out of 106 Coalition Members and Senators are women.

Now, we might have a discussion about merit. Clearly only having 22 out of 106 is a clear message that the Coalition doesn’t think that there are sufficient women of merit to put into the Parliament. I actually think that is regressive and I don’t think it is a good thing for democracy. We’ve seen Jane Prentice deselected, we’ve seen rumours about Anne Ruston, Jane Hume and also obviously Senator Lucy Gichuhi and I think there is a pretty clear pattern of behaviour here.

BIRMINGHAM: This is a Government that has put Australia’s first female Foreign Minister into office, Australia’s first female Defence Minister.

WONG: You’ve gone backwards in twenty years, Simon. You’ve gone backwards.

BIRMINGHAM: We’ve been talking this morning about Georgina Downer, Lucy Gichuhi, Anne Ruston – all strong women. I want to see more, I am working to see more, I’m voting for two out of the top three positions in our upcoming Senate ticket to be filled by women.

WONG: Seventeen percent of your Senators and nineteen per cent of your Lower House members.

BIRMINGHAM: I want to see more in the future. I hope that indeed that Georgina Downer will add to those numbers of strong, independent-minded Liberal women filling seats in the Australian Parliament.

WONG: Who can get deselected down the track as you reduce the number of women in the Parliament.

BEVAN: Senator Penny Wong, look at Labor’s record in your own state, South Australia. You were in office at a State level for 16 years, no woman ever reached the position of Deputy or Premier or Treasurer. That has actually happened under a Marshall Government. You were there for a long time, you could have found women who could have done those jobs.

WONG: Well I’m in the Federal Parliament…

BEVAN: Yeah yeah, but you represent your party.

WONG: Yes I do, and I’m in the Federal Parliament and we have a Deputy Leader as a woman, we have a Leader in the Senate, that’s me, who’s a woman; 45/95 of our Caucus are women, the highest level ever.

BEVAN: But your party was running the State and your mate, he was the Premier.

WONG: And we had more women in the Parliament.

BEVAN: But not those leadership positions?

WONG: I’m not suggesting that we don’t have more to do, what I am saying is the facts demonstrate that the Liberal Party has gone backwards over 20 years and all this talk about “we want more women in the future, we’ll bring them through” has resulted in fewer women from the Coalition in the Parliament now than when John Howard was Prime Minister.

BIRMINGHAM: And whilst we want more and will work for more, I make that point that those senior positions like Foreign Minister and Defence Minister, we have broken through in terms of putting strong women into those positions representing Australia on the international stage.

WONG: Fewer women in the Cabinet though.

BEVAN: Why can’t you get more women?

WONG: That’s a very good question.

BEVAN: Thank you!

BIRMINGHAM: In many cases, and this is where the work – and we actually have done some research work to see what are some of the barriers because the hurdle is actually getting people nominating for the preselections in the first place quite often.

WONG: Yeah, and why? Because they’ve got a pretty clear indication about what happens to Liberal women.

BIRMINGHAM: Well no, that’s not true Penny.

WONG: You’ve got Prentice deselected, you’ve got Hume under pressure, you’ve got rumours about Ruston, you’ve got rumours about Gichuhi and you’re going backwards. Why would any right minded woman say “hey, I’m going to get preselected”.

BIRMINGHAM: Penny, this is like sitting inside Estimates when you like to interrupt continuously.

WONG: I apologise, I’ll stop talking.

BIRMINGHAM: There will be plenty of men who lose preselection as there have been over the years. The occasional woman will lose preselection as there have been over the years. The challenge to getting more women represented is to ensure that we get more women running in preselections in the first place and that is something that we’re working from the grassroots level up to try to encourage more of. Because from my experience there’s never a hurdle in terms of women winning a preselection once they’re in the race, it’s actually getting people to nominate in the first instance that we need to get a much bigger uplift in.

WONG: You’ve gone backwards over 20 years.

CLARKE: So if you’ve done that research Simon Birmingham, why aren’t they putting their hands up? Because Penny Wong’s saying it’s the perception, they think they’re going to get knocked off when they finally do all the hard runs and get in a position. If that’s not the case, why aren’t they putting their hands up for this?

BIRMINGHAM: It seems to be a lack of willingness to engage in, I guess, the other areas of senior party leadership positions. So we need to encourage and make sure we get more women filling those branch leadership roles, those State party admin leadership roles and really lift and drive participation at all of those levels to create the pathway through the party for people to think “yes I’ve got the experience, yes I’m willing to put my hand up now for those preselection positions” too.

WONG: Ultimately, and I’m not suggesting Labor doesn’t have more to do but we have made enormous progress, you have to change the culture. Business understands that. If you talk to large companies when they’re trying to ensure that they get more women putting themselves forward, and that is an issue of merit, that there are meritorious women who don’t. You have to change the culture and you have to change the sorts of messages that are given to women.

BIRMINGHAM: Anyway, I’m so thrilled that Penny is so concerned to get more Liberal women into the Australian Parliament (laughter)…

WONG: I am, I actually am.

BIRMINGHAM: …and I look forward to her campaigning with Georgina Downer in Mayo.

WONG: I actually do think that democracy would be better if we actually had a slightly more representative Coalition.

BEVAN: Let’s move onto another topic. Before you leave us, Simon Birmingham, you’re the Federal Education Minister, can you explain why you’re worried that Labor’s promise to pay fees for 100,000 TAFE students upfront will lead to subsidised basket weaving?

BIRMINGHAM: Because the last time the Labor Party played in the vocational education space, they created the disastrous VET FEE-HELP scheme which saw billions of dollars rorted, which saw completion rates across both private providers and some TAFEs operating in the teens. So you had TAFEs that only had 13 per cent of students enrolled completing because the Labor Party had created basically a great big money pot that people were drawn to where they claimed the fees, claimed the money, but weren’t studying courses that were relevant to employment outcomes and weren’t completing those courses when they were enrolled.

Now, TAFEs do many outstanding things in terms of training skilled apprentices, so too do various industry bodies like Master Builders and the Construction Industry Federation. They’re all targeted qualifications and what we did as a Government was say we will target support to the qualifications that actually produce employment outcomes, will limit the amount of fees that can be charged or that at least people can borrow to pay those fees, so that you’re not seeing the rip-offs, and we will ensure that performance in terms of student completion is monitored.

WONG: Well I think that was one of those throwaway lines that Simon can’t back up. But that does demonstrate the contempt that this Government appears to hold for TAFE and the people who go to TAFE. You’ve cut money from TAFE, you’ve continued to denigrate vocational education.

What Bill announced was that we would scrap upfront fees for 100,000 TAFE students who choose to learn the skills Australia needs.

BIRMINGHAM: You haven’t said what courses, you haven’t said how much.

WONG: We’ve got trades facing skills shortages whether they’re carpenters, bricklayers, bakers, pastry cooks. This is a policy about training Australians for jobs that can be filled by Australians in areas where we don’t have the skills and I would’ve thought that’s actually a pretty good notion.

BIRMINGHAM: It’s another thought bubble without any details and when you actually tell us the courses, the cost, how it’s going to work, so Australians can know that you’re not just going to waste billions of dollars again.

WONG: I just think continuing to have a go at TAFE and the people who go there…

BIRMINGHAM: …this isn’t about having a go at TAFE, this is Labor’s competence.

WONG: It’s not really the way the Federal Education Minister should behave.

CLARKE: Cory Bernardi.

BERNARDI: Whilst you’re squabbling about all of this, the vocational and tertiary education sectors have done an amazing disservice to educational standards in this country. I think the Government is starting to find some reforms, is starting to apply some rigour to it which is good, it’s not good enough for me but at least they’re making baby steps in the right direction.

CLARKE: We do have to leave it there, time is away from us.