26 March 2013




KOCH: We’re joined by, let’s call them the young guns of politics – they look a whole lot younger than the grumpy old buggers we have on a Friday. Finance Minister Penny Wong in Canberra and, in Melbourne, shadow Science Minister Sophie Mirabella.

Good morning ladies. Penny, what else can you tell us about the tragedy off Christmas Island?

WONG: Can I first say, it’s been a while since anyone called me a young gun! I think I should thank you for that. To be honest, I haven’t been briefed on anything more than what Jason, Jason Clare, said yesterday. Which is that we saw a boat capsize and regrettably we saw that two people are deceased, as you said, a young boy and a woman. It really is a reminder to people who are thinking about making such a journey: don’t get on a boat. It’s a perilous journey, please don’t get on a boat. But very, very sad scenes.

MIRABELLA: Absolutely –

WONG: I do want – sorry I do want… I think we all should also say something about the courage and the professionalism of the border protection staff who are involved, and officials. They’ve done a sterling job.

DOYLE: Hear, hear. Sophie, we’ve seen more than 100 asylum seekers arrive on our shore in the past two weeks. The Government’s saying this is because of the calmer weather. Is that reasonable?

MIRABELLA: Well, I’m not sure whether there are more boats when the weather is calmer or not. Look, it is tragic what’s happened over the last 24 hours. And, unfortunately, there’s a risk of more deaths at sea if the Government doesn’t change its policy. I mean, we do have 20 per cent fewer asylum applications worldwide since John Howard stopped the boats in 2002. So we have to ask the question: why are more boats coming to Australia? Why are there more applications, almost five times more applications for asylum in Australia than the global average? And the answer is because the laws have changed and there’s greater incentive for people to come to Australia because it’s easier to stay when they get here. So one of the simplest first steps to actually stopping deaths at sea is for the Government to take control and actually control our borders and be able to stop the boats. Because without stopping the boats there will be more people smugglers putting peoples lives at risk. We are a very generous country. We have a generous humanitarian quota for people to come to Australia and resettle. We’ve got to focus on that. But we can’t stop unfortunate tragedy at sea if there’s this incentive for people to come on boats.

KOCH: The latest Newspoll out this morning, Penny, has primary support for Labor down to 30 per cent, Tony Abbott well ahead of Julia Gillard as preferred Prime Minister. This is in the wake of everything that happened last week. What’s the feeling within the Party? Is there any way you can get up and win in September?

WONG: It’s a pretty tough fight, but I have to say when I looked at the Newspoll figures I wasn’t at all surprised. I think, given the week we’ve had, it’s unsurprising we had a poll result like we had. And the thing that is most concerning is that the process we went through last week distracts attention from not only what the Government is doing, things like the 926,000 jobs that have been created since we came to power, but it also distracts attention from the alternative.

The reality is I don’t think Tony Abbott is putting forward a single positive plan for the country. And all we’re doing, by engaging in what we engaged in last week, is ensuring that the focus isn’t on what we’ve done or what he would do. Now, we’ve got to re-group and we are doing that.

DOYLE: So Sophie, you’re Shadow Science Minister. Have you been lobbying Tony Abbott on what ministry you’d like in Government?

MIRABELLA: I think that’s Tony Abbott’s job. I’m quite happy doing what I’m doing. Only last Friday, when there were all these resignations in the Labor party, I was visiting half a dozen manufacturing businesses in Western Sydney. We’ve released our Real Solutions plan. We’re getting on with the job and it is tragic what’s happened to the Labor party, and I think all the resignations, all the claims of whose fault it was – it really stresses that there’s a real conflict about what the Labor party represents and where they’re going. And there’s real division. You’ve got the old mainstream Labor, represented by Martin Ferguson and Simon Crean, who are saying look we’ve got stop listening to external forces and union bosses, let’s preselect business people instead of former union leaders. And that that came from Martin Ferguson, who said the whole mining tax issue was a mess. So there are real structural problems. And I think until the Labor Party really has a long hard look at itself and fixes some of those underlying problems, there’s still going to be frustration.

KOCH: Alright ladies, we’ll have to leave it there. Thank you for your time this morning.