SHADOW MINISTER FOR CONSTITUTIONAL REFORM
MEMBER FOR ISAACS
ABC MELBOURNE MORNINGS VIRGINIA TRIOLI
THURSDAY, 19 MAY 2022
SUBJECTS: 2022 Election; Opinion polls; Independents; Cost of living; Wages policy; Refugees.
VIRGINIA TRIOLI: We are broadcasting from the City of Berwick - I think I should call it a city, you've sort of almost earned that title yourselves - but it's a huge area here and we're really trying to represent two seats this morning. And that's an interesting challenge, particularly when we don't have the main representatives of those seats representing Bruce and La Trobe today. And so, to have a broader discussion given we're just, you know, what is it? Less than 48 hours out from you actually getting to vote if you haven't voted early already, let's get down to some of the issues. Senator James Paterson is of course the Liberal Senator for Victoria and I'm delighted that you're here this morning, Senator. Good morning.
SENATOR JAMES PATERSON: Thank you for having me, Virginia.
TRIOLI: No, absolute pleasure. Great that you've got your coffee there so you have warmed up. Sitting with you Mark Dreyfus, Shadow Attorney-General, Labor Member for the neighbouring electorate of Isaacs, wearing a thick coat but looking cold nonetheless.
MARK DREYFUS, SHADOW ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Great to be here with you Virginia and with James in chilly Berwick.
TRIOLI: You both know this area well don't you?
DREYFUS: Very much so.
TRIOLI: Do you come here often. Is this part of your duties from time to time?
DREYFUS: Yes, sure. I come here from time to time, it's the neighbouring electorate.
PATERSON: It's my third trip to the south east in his campaign, so getting a fairly good flavour. And after this, I'm going to visit some of our candidates on pre-poll in Bruce and Holt and see how they go.
TRIOLI: Because you're not up for re-election? You're not part of the half Senate election?
PATERSON: No, I'm very lucky as a Senator being elected for a six-year term at the last election. It's all about supporting all the Lower House candidates.
TRIOLI: Well, we were wondering whether you just sort of had a six-week holiday?
PATERSON: Not quite. I've visited 21 pre-poll booths so far in the campaign.
TRIOLI: The pre-polling is extraordinarily strong isn't it? Does it surprise you how many people are getting out so early Senator?
PATERSON: The AEC's announced this morning that, as of last night, almost 3.9 million people have voted early by pre-poll alone, and I think it's another 2.7 million have requested a postal ballot. So we're going to get very close to 50% if not over 50% by election day who've already voted.
TRIOLI: So does that mean that people are not engaging if they're voting this early Mark Dreyfus?
DREYFUS: I think people have made up their minds. I've been standing in the pre-poll in Mordialloc in my electorate and more than 10,000 people have voted at that one pre-poll centre and I've been there from 8am last Monday week. This is going to be my 10th day on pre-poll today because I'm going there after this.
TRIOLI: That's amazing, isn't it? Well, look, where we sit right now on Thursday morning, and we don't have long to go, what's your call of how you think that your two parties are sitting right now? We're hearing from everyone it's going to be tight. Is that your take as well, Senator?
PATERSON: Yes, I think it's going to be very close. I felt the Government's had a good week this week. I feel like momentum is on our side following the campaign launch on Sunday. I think our super housing policy has been very well received, particularly by young people. I've had that feedback directly on pre-poll booths. So I'm feeling good heading into the last couple of days, but it's undoubtedly going to be a close election.
TRIOLI: It wasn't supposed to be this close, though was it Mark Dreyfus? I mean, the polls were indicating that at some point you were going to romp in. What happened?
DREYFUS: Well, we've always said that it's not about the polls. All the polls were wrong at the last election. We've always said it was going to tighten and it's tightened. But we're going to keep fighting right up to the last minute of election day. And Australian elections are like this. They come down to a few seats, and this one is going to be the same.
TRIOLI: Did you believe it, or have you been persuaded, both of you when you were told by the major polling companies that they had sorted their methodologies and changed them substantially? Did that seem to make sense to you, Senator?
PATERSON: I think polling is getting harder to do. A lot of Australians are just not answering. When the phone rings from an unknown number or blocked number they think it's a spam call and often it is, and that's very frustrating for them. And so I think polling companies are finding it difficult to get sample sizes. And so that means that there's going to be some error involved and it's not an exact science.
DREYFUS: And national polls are just that, national. We have seat by seat elections.
TRIOLI: And more so than ever. I mean, I'm here to talk about national issues, but everything that's raised with me by locals that I have been speaking to are so local that they're actually, they're really state issues, Senator, more than more than ones that will be tested or should be traditionally tested as part of the federal poll?
PATERSON: One of the themes of my visits to pre poll booths is a lot of our candidates report people coming up, particularly the further you get away from the Melbourne CBD, the more you get into outer suburbia and regions, really strong negative feedback about the state government. A strong dislike of Daniel Andrews as Premier and we'll certainly take a protest vote at the federal level if they want to do it that way. But you are right, state issues are encroaching on this federal election.
TRIOLI: And of course, you've got federal combatants who are actually making state announcements. There might even be a Shadow Attorney-General question mark over the constitutionality of some of those promises Mark Dreyfus?
DREYFUS: We are very confident that all of our spending commitments will abide by the law. That's what Labor does.
TRIOLI: All right, let's turn to some of your strengths and weaknesses. It is a difficult position for any incumbent Prime Minister to go into an election, isn't it, Senator? To have so many potential points of weakness, so many chinks in the armour if I can put it that way. Whether it ranges from a voter's disquiet over a lack of transparency, over the rising cost of living, over the cost of petrol, over the NDIS, over the response to getting vaccines, it's so many different and distinctly separate chinks in that armour that that causes a real danger for you doesn't it? You don't know where that attack and where that dislike is coming from?
PATERSON: I think that's a fair statement. The longer that you are in office the harder it gets to earn re-election because you carry the baggage of all the decisions you've made and haven't made over the previous time in office. This Prime Minister has only been in office himself as Prime Minister for one term and he's seeking his second term, and we've got some good things to be proud of. But I understand why some people are very frustrated, particularly here in Victoria, particularly after the last two years. It was pretty ordinary in lockdown. It was pretty unpleasant and some people were very angry and we're going to see some protest votes on the night to minor parties as a result of that anger and it's going to be hard to see where those votes go. But at the end of the day I think Australians can be very proud. We've got one of the highest vaccination rates in the world, one of the lowest mortality rates in the world and one of the strongest economic recoveries in the world. And if you had asked the top people at the beginning of the pandemic two years ago that that's where we'd end up, I think they would have been quite happy with that.
TRIOLI: And yet, on your side Mark Dreyfus, you've got a leader who is not the most effective communicator, and who doesn't seem to be cutting through in the way that you'd want him to. It would seem that as his campaign has gone on the more that people see him, the more support seems to leak away from him?
DREYFUS: I don't accept that at all, Virginia and I think...
TRIOLI: I didn't think you would, but I think it's a reasonable assertion.
DREYFUS: Anyone who watched Anthony Albanese at the National Press Club yesterday would know that he has grown in strength during this campaign, grown in firmness, grown in showing his vision for Australia. And that's the choice that Australians have got at this election. We've got more of the same, of nothing much happening with Scott Morrison as Prime Minister, and a better future with Anthony Albanese and Labor. I'm very much looking forward to two days' time. I'd absolutely hope we can win the next election that's coming, and we all know, I hope, on the night. I hope we don't have a hung Parliament. I hope that we go to a majority Labor Government. But I think that this election has shown that people have understood over the last three years that they don't want more of Scott Morrison.
PATERSON: Can I just say I totally agree with one thing that Mark said there. I hope there's not a hung Parliament either and I hope the election is decisive and clear on the election night because I don't think it would be good to Australia, particularly in uncertain times, to have a hung Parliament. I think that would lead to a weak government at exactly the time we need to strength and unity.
TRIOLI: And yet, and yet Australian voters all around the country are looking at independents and actually clearly seeing that as a useful thing for our Parliament to have. Isn't it time for the major parties to actually start acknowledging that? Not only in terms of, you know, conceding defeat, but actually accepting that Australians want a broader representation in their Parliament than offered by your two parties? There's a degree of humility that's needed here isn't it?
PATERSON: Australians are absolutely entitled to choose whoever they like on the ballot and any individual is absolutely entitled to run. And although I know that the Teal candidates have had a lot of focus here in Melbourne, it's not just a phenomenon on the centre right of politics. If you look at what's happening in the ACT Senate race where David Pocock appears to be stealing more votes from Katie Gallagher, the Labor incumbent Senator, than he is from the Liberal. Or Dai Le in Fowler, who's putting Kristina Keneally under real pressure. This is a nationwide phenomenon affecting the left and the right.
TRIOLI: And that's the point. They're saying to both of you know, you actually need some moderation. You need some different thinking. You need to negotiate with people. So, humility is needed. That's the question I put to the Senator. Mark Dreyfus?
DREYFUS: I couldn't agree more. I think humility is a vastly important quality for every Member of Parliament. It's our job to negotiate with each other. Whoever is elected to represent the 151 electorates in Australia, whoever is elected to make up the 76 seats in the Senate. All of them have to be respectful of our democracy, respectful of each other, and negotiate with each other. James Paterson, sitting next to me, knows that better than anyone because that's what happens in the Senate. It's a constant process of negotiation. But I know very well from the Parliament that we had from 2010 to 2013, the capacity of the House of Representatives to negotiate when that is needed.
TRIOLI: I want to just ask you both a few quick questions about wages and about the cost of living as well. But just on this point of independents, and again, without conceding anything, clearly that's a live option. Is there a part of you that you're preparing part of yourself, Senator, to deal with a hung Parliament?
PATERSON: Yes, I think there's a not insignificant risk that there will be a hung Parliament.
TRIOLI: A more than fifty percent chance?
PATERSON: I wouldn't put percentage on it. I don't know what that will be. But I think it's a real possibility and I am worried about that. Imagine if, in the last three years, we had a hung Parliament and the Prime Minister had to negotiate AUKUS through the crossbench.
TRIOLI: But the Prime Minister has had to negotiate with his own party over and over again, including some Nats who pretty much held him to hostage?
PATERSON: And that happens in political parties all the time, there are internal debates. But imagine if JobKeeper had to be negotiated through the crossbench? I mean, imagine if the Government was bargaining for its own existence every day during a major global crisis. I think that would have led to instability and I think it would have led to chaos. I don't think that's what Australians will want after this election.
TRIOLI: Mark Dreyfus, I would assert there are a lot of voters going 'that's exactly what I wanted. I wanted some crossbenchers to negotiate on that stuff.' What do you say?
DREYFUS: I've been a cabinet minister in a minority government between 2010 and 2013. We have a very stable political system in this country and it doesn't hold any fears for me, the capacity to negotiate. But I would say that Labor is the only single party that has a prospect or forming government in its own right after this election and I very much say that is what we are aiming for and hoping to achieve.
TRIOLI: Can I just correct myself and issue an apology for claiming Julian Hill for the incorrect party in my enthusiasm inside there in the cafe. Julian Hill, of course, is a Labor Member not a Liberal one so, my apologies.
PATERSON: A defamation notice might be on the way there.
TRIOLI: Now watch it! That's just unkind to the other party of course. Wages rose less than half the rate of inflation and that happened on your watch, on your party's watch Senator Paterson. So how do you sell that in these dying days when everything has been about the cost of living?
PATERSON: This is a global phenomenon, unfortunately. Australia is not immune from the global challenges we have and part of it...
TRIOLI: That's sounding like an excuse.
PATERSON: No, no, I'm explaining the problem honestly and directly. Part of the challenge is a very acute one which is the war in Ukraine has put massive pressure on fuel and food prices. We saw yesterday the UK's inflation number hit 9%. Now in Australia, it's 5.1% and that's much higher than we're used to or comfortable with, but 9% in the UK. The US has similar figures, New Zealand has even higher figures than Australia. This is a global phenomenon.
TRIOLI: But my question was how do you sell it to the electorate now?
PATERSON: Well, what we're doing is trying to provide relief to people from those pressures. That's why we're trying to cut tax so you can take more of what you earn and you have more to cover the expenses that you have to meet.
TRIOLI: How are you going to make a guarantee that you can lift wages? Is it all about some sort of new accord between business and Labor?
DREYFUS: Well, that's part of it, and, as well, it's having an orientation towards rising wages. The cost of everything is going up and up and up. All of your listeners know that, and they know that their wages are falling behind. I'm shocked to hear James Paterson, again in the usual short-term way that Liberals like to do this, looking at the last three months. Over the last nine years, if we want to talk globally, Australians’ wages have fallen further behind than in other countries and we've got a government whose deliberate policy it has been to keep wages low. The extraordinary hysteria from the Prime Minister when my Leader dared to say that wages, for people on the minimum wage, should keep pace with inflation, was something to behold. It's not an unusual thing for a Labor Leader to say that wages need to keep pace with inflation, and they should. We need to do something about the fact that wages have fallen further and further behind and the statistics we had yesterday showed that.
TRIOLI: I've got a question that I really want to go to but very quickly, I'll give you one last chance. I did ask you a direct question about how exactly you lift them? You mentioned some kind of accord. I mean, you know, that's got a lovely historical glow about it, but the reality of that, I don't know what that looks like in 2023?
DREYFUS: We will be a government that will make submissions at the Fair Work Commission for the national wage case. We will be a government that will lift productivity. We will be a government that will invest in skills. We will be a government that will increase productivity by expansion of childcare for all Australian families so that women's participation rate in the workforce can increase. We've got a whole range of measures that are directed to both increasing wages and increasing productivity.
TRIOLI: I'll come back to you Senator. We've got a question here in the crowd. Good morning, what's your name?
TRIOLI: Hi Marg, what's your question?
MARG: I'm representing a group called Casey Cardinia for Refugees. I'm concerned that the issue of refugees hasn't even been raised once in this election campaign and we, and many, many other refugee advocates around Australia, are really concerned about the way Australia has become a very cruel country.
TRIOLI: What would you like to see done? What are you looking at for the parties?
MARG: Certainly, I would like to see an increase in the intake and to stop offshore detention and to process refugees. So, I'd ask these representatives what could they do to shift the moral compass of this country which is currently one of the worst in the world in respect of the treatment of refugees and asylum seekers?
TRIOLI: Thanks for that question. Senator, I'll start with you. Has there been like a self-imposed D Notice by the major parties on this particular issue?
PATERSON: Not to my knowledge, and I'm very strongly supportive of Australia being a welcoming place for refugees. I was one of the people in government who was advocating for a generous intake of Ukrainians following the conflict. I'm very proud that we've done that. I was also an advocate of a generous intake of from Hong Kong following the change in status there. I'm very proud of that. And earlier, the special intake we had for Syrians, that's something which we are very proud of. But that's something that needs to happen alongside a strong border protection regime because, unfortunately, we've seen what happened when those policy settings are watered down. It does lead to people dying at sea, it does lead to illegal boat arrivals and that's not good for refugees. It's not good for Australia. And so I think we can be generous and welcoming of refugees, while also protecting our borders.
TRIOLI: Mark Dreyfus?
DREYFUS: I took the question to go to ending the limbo status of the tens of thousands of refugees who are already in our country. And one of the things we can do, and this is direct Labor policy, is to end Temporary Protection Visas so that we don't have people in limbo for year after year after year. Another thing that we can do is to start more rapidly processing all of the people whose refugee applications haven't been processed. That's what goes to a greater level of humanity. It's to look after the people who are already here as well as, as James has said, potentially increasing our level of refugee intake.
TRIOLI: I have to let you go but it's been terrific having you both here for this time, and I'm glad you were here. Just finally, if your parties don't win outright at the election on Saturday, in your mind, what do you think that will be down to Senator?
PATERSON: Gee, that's a really hard question to ask and answer just two days before we start voting or continue voting. I don't know. We will know on the night because it'd be really dependent on where the swing is showing up and what kind of swings there are. I mean, I found in my travels a much better reception in some traditional Labor working class areas than I have in some of our traditional areas. It's going to be a funny sort of election.
DREYFUS: I am not contemplating not winning, thanks very much Virginia.
TRIOLI: (Laughs) And that is it. Would you please thank our wonderful guests today, Mark Dreyfus, and Senator James Paterson. It's been great to have you here. Thank you so much.