KIERAN GILBERT: Joining me now on the programme, from Melbourne, Labor frontbencher Richard Marles, and from Adelaide, Liberal MP Jamie Briggs.
Gentlemen, good morning.
RICHARD MARLES: Morning Kieran.
JAMIE BRIGGS: Morning Kieran.
KIERAN GILBERT: Okay. Richard, first to you, are you in line for a promotion?
RICHARD MARLES: [Laughs] Look, I'm very happy doing what I'm doing. I think I've got one of the best jobs in the Government from my point of view. And I love the foreign affairs space. So I'm expecting to stay where I am and I'll be very happy to do that.
KIERAN GILBERT: So why is the Prime Minister moving now, do you think? Is it to sure up her leadership? Is that the main aim?
RICHARD MARLES: No, it’s not that. I think we're almost halfway through this term and half-time is an appropriate time to look at how you can refocus the team, look at the best way to deploy the team through 2012-2013, mix it up a bit and in the process of doing that, re-energise the team.
You know, no matter how you're going, a coach at half-time is likely to do some finetuning to make sure that you are in the best possible position to finish. That’s what we're doing and that’s what I think the Prime Minister is doing in this instance.
KIERAN GILBERT: But Richard, things are precarious for her, for the Government — she needs to be careful not to inflame tensions and anger some of the people she needs.
RICHARD MARLES: Well, I think one of the characteristics of this Prime Minister is that, notwithstanding we are a minority Government obviously, that has not deterred her from doing the difficult things and making the hard decisions in Government. You can see that in the way in which we put a price on carbon. You can see that in the way in which we've dealt with the Minerals Resource Rent Tax.
And so, I don't think that the position of the Government is going to influence the way in which Julia Gillard goes about her way of governing, because she’s made it very clear that what she’s going to do is govern in a very strong and decisive and determined way. That’s what she’s been doing, and I'm sure that’s what she will bring to the reshuffle that she'll announce today.
KIERAN GILBERT: There are a couple of moves that have been widely flagged. I've had it confirmed from Government senior sources this morning that Bill Shorten moves into industrial relations. He will keep his responsibilities in superannuation, Richard. And also, Tanya Plibersek promoted to health. Would you welcome those two moves?
RICHARD MARLES: Well of course, let’s see how this plays out today, and let’s see what the Prime Minister announces. But in relations to both Bill and Tanya, they are obviously people of enormous talent. They've made great contributions to the government to date, and I'm sure that they will perform admirably in whatever role the Prime Minister decides for them.
KIERAN GILBERT: One — Jamie I'll ask you about this, not that you've got — you'll have that much mail on the Labor frontbench, but I want to get your thoughts on it anyway. Do you think it’s a good thing for a leader to freshen up the line-up? Your leader doesn't seem like he’s that keen to move at the moment, and people like yourself and Kelly O'Dwyer, one of our other regulars, remain on the backbench.
JAMIE BRIGGS: Well look firstly, I agree with Richard; he shouldn't announce the Prime Minister’s reshuffle. But I just hope that the Prime Minister in the last few hours does rethink and promotes Richard. I think he deserves greater opportunities — I'm sure you would agree with me Kieran.
KIERAN GILBERT: Absolutely.
JAMIE BRIGGS: But more seriously. The — what it is, what we're seeing here is Julia Gillard rewarding the faceless men for the plot which brought down Kevin Rudd a couple of years ago, getting rid of anyone who might be friendly with Kevin Rudd from the frontbench, and the most significant appointment — the headline act if you like, this morning we've seen through the papers is the unions getting their way with their industrial relations minister. They didn't get enough out of Chris Evans, and they've been complaining up-hill and down dale in recent weeks that Chris Evans hasn't given them enough, so they've gone to their number one choice, their star recruit, the union man himself, Bill Shorten.
So Bill will give them what they want, and I've got no doubt about that.
KIERAN GILBERT: But Jamie, one of the things the Prime Minister will apparently — one of her key messages is about saying that this is some young blood. It’s a forward facing Cabinet that she’s going to be announcing today — that’s apparently the message. Wouldn't you welcome that on your side of politics as well — to get a bit of the young blood, like yourself and others in there into the front line?
JAMIE BRIGGS: Kieran look, of course there are people on the backbench in the Liberal Party who are ambitious — that’s a good thing. We've got a very well-performing frontbench. And I think we've got a number of people — you mentioned Kelly O'Dwyer. You've got Josh Frydenberg, Dan Tehan, Alan Tudge — we could keep going through them if you like. Scott Ryan — a whole series of people who could step up to higher duties. But, we've got a great performing frontbench. And you see that at the moment — we're holding this Government to account. People are sick of the Government talking about itself and not focusing on the big issues like the challenges of the Euro debt crisis, the boats keep coming — we are holding this Government to account and of course, having strong backbench makes a stronger frontbench.
KIERAN GILBERT: Richard Marles, the — apparently the — one of the messages or the narrative around this reshuffle is a focus on the future economy and the future of work. I suppose that makes sense if Greg Combet gets expanded roles and Bill Shorten — that those two — he moves into IR — that those two will be the heavy hitters taking that forward. Do you think that that’s where the government’s trying to turn the direction to the workplace and the clean economy — is that where you want the battle ground next year?
RICHARD MARLES: Well I definitely think that we do need to be looking to the future, and the economy — making sure that we have an economy which can take us into the next decade is the great challenge which is facing Australia at the moment, that’s of course why we put a price on carbon. And I think it really does make sense to be looking at the way in which we can vision an economy in a world which penalises carbon. And of course, that’s what’s come out of Durban.
And so, it is right to be making that the battle ground. It is right to be coming up with ideas about the future and you can't find an area of policy where there is a greater difference between Labor at the moment in terms of having a vision and a plan for the future, and the Liberals who have their head firmly stuck in the sand, and who are nothing but the no-alition.
KIERAN GILBERT: The Prime Minister wasn't able to get her way on all of this, Richard. Apparently she wanted Robert McClelland to move on from Cabinet, Peter Garrett as well, and they've stood firm.
RICHARD MARLES: Well, you hear lots of things in the context of a reshuffle of this kind. I'm not sure that any of that is the case. Both Robert McClelland and Peter Garrett have been really strong performers in the Government, and I think it makes sense to retain them if that’s ultimately what the Prime Minister does. But you know, she'll make those decisions today and we'll all wait with bated breath to see what they are.
KIERAN GILBERT: If you'd like to join the conversation with Richard and Jamie this morning via Twitter, hash tag — no address — hash tag, AM Agenda.
We're going to take a break and we'll be right back.
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This is AM Agenda, thanks for being with us this morning. Our guests, Liberal MP Jamie Briggs and Labor frontbencher, Richard Marles.
Richard, the polling today shows Labor’s gone back after a couple of months heading in the right direction. That won't be good for morale, will it?
RICHARD MARLES: We all understand that polls go up and polls go down. This isn't about governing in accordance with the polls. As I've said on many occasions on this show, Kieran, we're in the business of governing for — in the interests of the country. We have faced very difficult decisions this year; putting a price on carbon, the Minerals Resource Rent Tax, but we're focussed on doing what we need to do, and that’s creating jobs in the Australian economy; 750,000…
KIERAN GILBERT: The PM though…
RICHARD MARLES: …jobs since we came into government.
KIERAN GILBERT: The PM and backbenchers — nervous backbenchers, and obviously the Prime Minister herself very keen that when the polls come out of hibernation in February that things are looking a bit brighter.
RICHARD MARLES: What I think — if the question is about morale, I think what people want to see in the caucus, in terms of boosting their own morale, is to see a decisive and determined leader who is at the helm of the ship and that’s what we've got. A leader who is not scared about the situation that we find ourselves in, in terms of being a minority Government; a leader who isn't going to be jumping at shadows in the polls every two weeks; but a leader who actually does take on the issues that the country needs to see and has a plan and a vision for the future. I think we all understand that it’s that kind of leader who is going to be best rewarded when the real poll counts and that’s in a couple of years time.
So, actually morale within the caucus is very good at the moment because of the way in which Julia Gillard is leading our country.
KIERAN GILBERT: Okay, Jamie Briggs. Do you — the opposition leader has a little bit of a nudge up in this Nielsen Poll, but still not popular himself, individually. Do you think we can expect to see a new look Tony Abbott into 2012?
JAMIE BRIGGS: Well Tony will continue to do what he’s been doing, which is holding the Government to account for all of its failures. And, you know, you only have to look at the constant flow of boats we're seeing now because of the change that the Labor Government made in August-September 2008. We've seen, you know, over 1000 in the last couple of weeks arrive and that’s just going to continue. We're seeing the genuine effects of changes to workplace laws which went too far and that’s going to get worse next year as well.
And we're seeing the war between Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard just intensify on a daily basis. Today we'll see Kevin Rudd supporters cop it in the neck from Julia Gillard. We saw, last week, Kevin Rudd have the internal report leaked on him. I mean, this war will continue until at some point there is an all out battle and the — while we wait for that the Australian people continue to suffer from incompetent and direction-less government.
KIERAN GILBERT: Jamie, on your side of politics there’s been some discussion as to whether or not Tony Abbott would allow a conscience vote when it comes to a private member’s bill on legalising gay marriage, which we're expecting to be introduced early in the new year. What do you think about the indication from him yesterday on Australian Agenda on Sky News that he would not be heading in that direction; that he’s going to stick to the policy that the Coalition took to the last election? Do you welcome that or would you prefer a conscience vote?
JAMIE BRIGGS: Well, look, the issue of a conscience vote in the Liberal Party room is a matter for the leader. He will, no doubt, consult with his senior colleagues. He’s talking to the Shadow Cabinet today, I understand, and I'm sure that they'll discuss that at the time. Ultimately, that is a gift which sits with Tony and his leadership so look, I'm sure he'll consult and talk to people about it but at the end of the day I'm perfectly comfortable with our policy position in this regard.
I think Tony’s right, we did take a position to the last election. We were quite clear about that and we've seen people react so viciously, and rightly, to a government which is breaking every promise it made. To continue in power, I think, it would be wrong for us to turn around and for us to change our position without going to another election seeking a mandate for it if we were to do that.
So, I think, I'm perfectly comfortable with the position we've got but as far as a conscience vote goes, that’s not a matter for me, it’s a matter for the leader.
KIERAN GILBERT: Okay. So you'd be uncomfortable if Mr Abbott did go with a conscience vote because that would be a change of position?
JAMIE BRIGGS: Well, look, no. I'm just making the point that Tony said yesterday that we went to the last election with a clear position on this and I think it’s a position that we made perfectly clear before the last election. I think to change it as a party position would be a mistake. Whether there’s a conscience vote or not is another matter.
Now, the Liberal Party unlike the Labor Party has a tradition of people being able to express individual freedom from time to time in the Parliament without consequence. Now, of course, if the Labor Party do that they get kicked out of the caucus. We don't have such strict, you know, party lines that have to be followed; we do have the ability — and there are some members on our side who have said that they have very strong personal views about that, and I respect that very much. But, as I said before, I support the position that we've currently got and whether there’s a conscience vote or not is up for — is up to the leader.
KIERAN GILBERT: Richard, which way will you vote and what’s the reaction been like in your seat, Corio, around the Geelong area, to this proposal of a conscience vote on gay marriage?
RICHARD MARLES: Well, I've made it clear that if a Bill does come before the Parliament that I'll be supporting same-sex marriage in terms of a potential amendment to the Family Law Act, but let’s see what comes before the Parliament. One imagines a Bill will be put in front of the Parliament.
In terms of the reaction in Geelong, I actually think this is not the main issue on people’s minds in Geelong. I think what people are concerned about in Geelong is the question of jobs and the future of the economy and that’s why we're very focused on this. But can I make this point about Tony Abbott’s comments yesterday? If he goes through with this then hell will truly have frozen over.
I mean, I have no doubt that what he expressed yesterday represented his own personal views in relation to this issue but I'm also sure that when he joined the Liberal Party, that one of the things that he believed, as a foundation belief of that party — the great libertarian party that it professes to be — is that when people have a view which differs from others that they have the opportunity to express it.
And you can't — I mean this is a view which is deeply personally held. For many people it’s a matter which is rooted in their faith. You can't think of an issue which better lends itself to one being a matter of conscience and being able to vote on the basis of conscience in the Parliament.
You know, when we hear the likes of Jamie and some of the younger Liberal MP’s, they will, from now on, literally be toeing the party-line but we'll have no idea what they actually think about…
JAMIE BRIGGS: No. That’s rubbish.
RICHARD MARLES: …this issue. And this just says the extent to which Tony Abbott will go to absolutely trashing the foundation tenants of the Liberal Party in pursuit of a vote. And it is an extraordinary moment if he actually goes through with this.
JAMIE BRIGGS: That’s rubbish.
KIERAN GILBERT: Okay gentlemen. We're going to hear from the…
JAMIE BRIGGS: [Interrupts] That’s enough of the [indistinct] rubbish.
KIERAN GILBERT: …man himself in just a moment actually. We're going to wrap it up there, on that very light note.
JAMIE BRIGGS: [Laughs]
KIERAN GILBERT: Jamie Briggs and Richard Marles, thanks for that gents. Thanks for the chats throughout the year as well and if I don't see you before Christmas, I hope you both have a nice and relaxing break.
RICHARD MARLES: Merry Christmas Kieran. Merry Christmas Jamie.
JAMIE BRIGGS: Same to you Kieran and to Richard as well.
KIERAN GILBERT: Thanks very much gents.
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