JOURNALIST: Brendan, how messy has this week been for the Coalition?
BRENDAN O’CONNOR, SHADOW MINISTER FOR EMPLOYMENT AND WORKPLACE RELATIONS: Well, it’s been a three ring circus. Quite frankly we’ve seen three clowns, Barnaby, Cash and Hunt and that’s been distracting for the Government. They can’t focus on the budget and they are not focussed on their day job because we’ve got Barnaby heading off to his trailer and we’ve got of course Minister Cash refusing to answer questions. And of course we’ve had Minister Hunt acting improperly.
It’s a complete distraction and it’s one of the reasons why the Government cannot focus on proper public policy.
JOURNALIST: What do you think it says about Malcolm Turnbull’s leadership?
O’CONNOR: I think Malcolm Turnbull, being the ringmaster of the circus, really is ultimately responsible for his failure to focus on the things that matter most to everyday Australians. That is making sure that the economy is strong, making sure that wages are growing, there is proper investment in education and health.
I think that ultimately the responsibility lies at the feet of the Prime Minister and he’s like the ringmaster dealing with a three ring circus.
JOURNALIST: On to the by-elections, so a Reachtel poll out today shows that Longman and Braddon are at risk for Labor. What’s your reaction to that?
O’CONNOR: Well I’m not surprised this is going to be a challenging set of by-elections for Labor. These are marginal seats and they are hard fought contests at the best of times and so we’ll put our best foot forward.
We understand that there is an eight week campaign now, thanks to Malcolm Turnbull. We’ve got plenty of time to present to the constituents of these seats why Labor is the better alternative. But we take nothing for granted. We know this is a really tough battle in these by-elections. And we’ll be out each and every day explaining why our plan for better and fairer tax cuts, better investment in health and education, cutting penalty rates decisions so they don’t hurt workers is important.
JOURNALIST: The Government hasn’t picked up seats in a by-election since 1920. What would it mean for Bill Shorten if it were to happen on this occasion?
O’CONNOR: Well it’s a bit extraordinary, really. We’re having more by-elections than I’ve had hot dinners, so the idea that we would put this down to an ordinary parliamentary term, of course, is somewhat of a nonsense. We are dealing with multiple by-elections because of the constitutional problems that members have found themselves in. And it now appears a Liberal Senator has got a similar problem, potentially, so there could even be more elections, more appointments, more changes to the parliament.
So, I have to say, this parliamentary term is like no other. It’s not one that you could say is ordinary, and therefore we have to take that into account. But as I say, we’re not assuming we will lose these by-elections, but we know they are going to be hard fought. And the difference between us and the Liberals is we are in all five of them. The Liberals have decided not to fight the by-elections in Western Australia.
JOURNALIST: So you think Bill Shorten’s leadership will be safe even if the Government picks up a seat?
O’CONNOR: Bill Shorten is absolutely safe as Labor leader. He has brought us close to winning the last election. We are a united team for five years, and we have presented policies for the Australian people to consider. We haven’t made ourselves a small target – we’ve been honest and upfront and have presented the arguments that I think we need to, to ensure that we have a mandate to win the next election. To that extent we’ve been bold and we’ve been honest, and I think that’s going to do well for us in the longer term. We can’t wait for the general election – whenever that is – but before then, of course, we will deal with these by-elections.
JOURNALIST: You did just touch on this before, the Liberal Senator who might be facing citizenship issues now, Lucy, what do you think of the fact that these sorts of issues are still surfacing?
O’CONNOR: Well, it just shows you how difficult it is for current members and senators to comply with decisions of the High Court. It probably speaks to a deficiency. I don’t think, by the way, that members and senators of this parliamentary term have done anything different than those of the previous terms. I just think there’s been a closer spotlight and, of course, since the most recent High Court decision, the reasonable steps test has got even harder. It’s become narrower and therefore it’s made it harder for members. But what it really means in the future is people have to be much more vigilant at ensuring they’re compliant with Section 44 of the constitution.
JOURNALIST: And, just finally, what’s your reaction to the One Nation situation?
O’CONNOR: Well, multiple nations isn’t it, really. You can hardly argue it’s One Nation – I think it’s just one Pauline and the rest are defectors. I think One Nation’s left with two senators, with at least two Senators formally of One Nation still in the parliament.
This is a pattern of behaviour that has gone on for twenty five years. Every time Pauline Hanson is involved in a political party – which is more like a cult and a subsidiary of the Liberal Party – it disintegrates and ends in tears. It literally ends in tears each and every time. So, frankly, I’m not surprised. Why would I be surprised? Because every time Senator Hanson gets elected and has a team around her, she can’t keep the team because she’s not a leader. She plays the victim and she really doesn’t have the capability or competence to manage people and that’s manifest in the recent decision with Senator Burston.
JOURNALIST: Great, thank you so much for your time.
O’CONNOR: No problems.