KIERAN GILBERT: To start AM Agenda this morning, the Minister for Trade Craig Emerson. Good morning, Minister.
CRAIG EMERSON: Hi Kieran.
GILBERT: The latest Newspoll – the primary vote down to 28 per cent. What do you put that down to? Do you think it's because of the recent scuttlebutt around leadership; that that's been another distraction?
EMERSON: We would be guessing about what moves one of these polls by 3 percentage points. I think that's the reality. We're more concerned with ensuring that we put in place the right policies for Australia's future. There's no doubt the carbon pricing mechanism has been controversial, but there are also other issues around such as asylum seekers, the gridlock in the Parliament. I don't know if it's statistically significant, but "Others" went up by 5 percentage points – so both the Coalition and Labor lost support. The Greens didn't pick up, and it went to "Others". Now, it's 5 percentage points; it's a pretty significant number, I suppose. I wonder if that's a result of people saying 'well the Parliament's gridlocked on this matter', and no one gets a lot of marks for parliamentary gridlock, just as they don't in the United States where the place is gridlocked.
GILBERT: A pox on both your Houses? That's probably right when you look at the leadership numbers as well: both leaders unpopular, but still the Coalition in landslide territory; this drop for the Labor Party despite the compensation that's been flowing.
EMERSON: We're not having an election next week or the week after, but what I would say that I think has longer-term implications is that when you have a reforming Prime Minister, you can go into situations where you're not doing well in the polls. So what's the alternative? For the Prime Minister of Australia to be populist, to respond to the polls, keep changing policy. Putting a price on carbon has been an issue that has been in this Parliament for a long time, going back to John Howard in 2007.
GILBERT: I understand the argument about reform, and we've discussed this before about the need for reform – and it's tough.
EMERSON: And you know how passionate I am about implementing long-term reforms. That's what's expected.
GILBERT: Yeah I do know that. But don't you think this goes to the Prime Minister's individual integrity here; that people have question marks about that, and that's why from the carbon tax … that Tony Abbott's been very effective at it but people don't essentially like Prime Minister Gillard – 29 per cent approval.
EMERSON: My own view is that it is the fact that this is a reform that isn't top of the pops. That's my view. And that there is an alternative, which is to be a populist Prime Minister.
GILBERT: But what about the Prime Minister's own personal approval?
EMERSON: Sure. But I think there would be …
GILBERT: What do you hear out there about that?
EMERSON: I think there would be … I'll come to that … but I think there would be legitimate criticism – in fact, there should be a barrage of criticism – if the Prime Minister of the day got out of bed every fortnight and went into Cabinet and said 'look, we better check the polls. We've had a discussion of polls; let's change our policy'. That is really bad for Australia's future. And what we've got is a gutsy Prime Minister who's prepared to implement long-term reforms. If you ask the public about it they'd say 'well, why put off to tomorrow what you could put off forever'. That would be a betrayal of the future of Australia, of the young people of Australia who do expect us to do something about climate change.
GILBERT: The HSU report, HSU East: $20 million in contracts without tender …
GILBERT: … nepotism, cronyism. It's a bad, bad look – isn't it – this Temby report?
EMERSON: It is, and obviously that Temby report is welcome in so far as that it has shone a real light methodically on this issue. The HSU relevant branch has been put into administration. Bill Shorten is doing a good job in putting in tougher rules regarding the governance of unions. But, yes, no one's going to walk away and say that this is pretty. I will say this though: that at the time, the Coalition were saying 'well, Craig Thomson's fully implicated in all of this'. Now, I haven't had the chance to read every word of the HSU report, but maybe the Coalition should now concede that Craig Thomson wasn't entangled in this; that this wasn't relevant to Craig Thomson. But it suited them at the time to smear him because they wanted to change the numbers in the House of Representatives.
GILBERT: The report suggests that Craig Thomson is seen as the protégé of Michael Williamson.
EMERSON: Well is that a crime?
GILBERT: Williamson is the one at the centre …
EMERSON: Is that crime? Well okay. I'm seen as the protégé of Bob Hawke. I mean, people are seen as protégés of people: is this now something where you get dragged off to the court or have your reputation absolutely smeared because you're seen as someone's protégé?
GILBERT: All right. Let's move on. The Climate Institute poll: the survey suggests nearly 70 per cent want the Federal Government to lead, but so much doubt as we discussed about that climate … about your approach to it. Sixty-five per cent of people think it's bad for their household. Two thirds of people still believe climate change is happening. What happened to the consensus in responding to this? How did the Labor Party stuff this up so badly?
EMERSON: I don't accept that. What is true …
GILBERT: How could you not accept it?
EMERSON: The reason I don't accept it is this: I think there is a belief that Australia is one of the early countries out of the blocks on this. And people might say 'well, okay, that's all right as far as it goes. But how's this going to reduce global emissions?'. We're, in fact, one of 50 jurisdictions in a group of jurisdictions around the world – countries and at subnational level- of 850 million people; I think, 10 American states, seven cities in China. People don't really know that – that is, that countries are moving.
GILBERT: Why is your argument not transcending?
EMERSON: Well you can keep talking about it as much as you can, and I welcome the opportunity on this program to say what I just did. But those opportunities can be limited. I'm not blaming the media about this. But I think people just want to feel that it actually will be effective. It will be effective, and we fundamentally believe this, Kieran, that we owe this to future generations, to young people. And even if it's not popular at the moment, we should still do it. And I also would point out that there's a very substantial group that believe that Tony Abbott will not withdraw the carbon price.
GILBERT: On some other policy at the moment, you've undertaken a joint study on the feasibility of Chinese companies developing intensive agriculture in northern Australia. Tony Abbott is in Beijing today …
EMERSON: Embracing it.
GILBERT: Well, yeah. He is embracing it. So that's a good thing; we welcome that?
EMERSON: This is what they do though: you've still got Barnaby Joyce running around the bush saying 'oh when the Chinese come you ask them to build a home and then they stay and live in it', and that Chinese ownership of agricultural land …
GILBERT: This is the leader. This is the leader of the Coalition. You welcome that?
EMERSON: I do, I do. Just so long as they don't run this two-track strategy, which is typical of the Coalition – where one side, the Liberals, run around saying 'look at us, we're economically responsible; we want to develop northern Australia, but Barnaby you scurry around the bush and you say that Chinese ownership of agricultural land has grown exponentially. That's fine by us: he's never been pulled into line'. The total foreign ownership – total foreign ownership – of agricultural land in 1984 was 5.9 per cent. It's now 6 per cent. And Barnaby Joyce says that's an exponential increase.
GILBERT: The Prime Minister has written to media executives suggesting that … encouraging tougher industry regulation as opposed to government oversight; that there might be a compromise here. Would you welcome industry regulation over a new government body to rein in in the media?
EMERSON: I think this is an issue where we've two reviews. There's a convergence review and then there's the Finkelstein review. Let's go through those processes. A lot of work has gone into those. I don't want to pre-empt any discussion that we might have within the Government on that …
GILBERT: You'd want to preserve a free media obviously in every respect …
EMERSON: I don't think there's ever been any attempt on the part of the Government in its thinking to get the media to write pro-Government stories. That's not the point. I mean, private media owners are entitled to their view. That's the reality. No one has ever suggested that. I think there is a concern when people are treated badly, particularly people who don't have the authority or the power to be able to respond, to finally, if we're lucky, find a retraction on page 12, down the bottom here. I think there's an issue there, but let's see how this transpires.
GILBERT: Trade Minister Craig Emerson, thanks for that.
EMERSON: Okay. Thanks Kieran.
- Minister's Office: (02) 6277 4330
- DFAT Media Liaison: (02) 6261 1555