KIERAN GILBERT: Joining us now is Shadow Employment Minister Brendan O’Connor. Mr O’Connor thanks so much for your time.
BRENDAN O’CONNOR, SHADOW MINISTER FOR EMPLOYMENT AND WORKPLACE RELATIONS: Sure.
GILBERT: You’ve seen what Stuart Robert had to say in relation to this critique by Kelly O’Dwyer. Obviously you’re a Victorian yourself, and saw the result of the weekend. Is it something where you think the perception of the Liberal Party as homophobic as anti-women - is that something that resonates?
O’CONNOR: Well they have problems in terms of proper representation for women in the Parliament. I think Kelly O’Dwyer was pointing to what seems to be an attitude that’s not really keeping up with community expectations. So, I think the two points about Kelly’s critique was that the Liberals are falling behind the community acceptance of change, but also the fact that her comments were on the front page of newspapers says that there’s also internal division. That’s why we know about the private conversations of cabinet ministers.
LAURA JAYES: She didn’t give examples of homophobic, anti-women behaviour or climate deniers. Do you wish to provide any of those examples?
O’CONNOR: Look, I think she may have been pointing to the fact that the Liberal Party membership in Victoria has seen the recent increase of quite conservative constituencies, and she was just highlighting that problem. It doesn’t reflect the Victorian community.
I think their policies are really not reflecting the aspirations of the Victorian, or for that matter, the Australian community. She’s quite right. The current Government’s agenda has been driven largely by the right wing of the party, and they are really out of touch with mainstream Australia.
GILBERT: Julie Bishop this morning quoted in the front of the AFR saying there needs to be bi-partisanship on climate and energy policy. This morning though, Mr Dreyfus, the Shadow Attorney General, didn’t rule out a carbon tax. How can there be bipartisanship when we know how strongly the Government is opposed to such a policy?
O’CONNOR: Well, I think the reason why Bill Shorten and Mark Butler announced our willingness to embrace the National Energy Guarantee was because it was in fact something that went through the party room – the Liberal party room – on a number of occasions, led by Malcolm Turnbull.
What we were really saying to the Government was we need to end these energy wars. There is an energy crisis, let’s start with something we know overwhelmingly Liberal party MP’s support. I think it’s fair to say we are really offering an opportunity for bipartisanship on an area of public policy that’s been in conflict now for a decade. I think that’s-
LAURA JAYES: How are you offering bipartisanship? If you really wanted to end the energy wars, wouldn’t you have agreed to the NEG as it was presented under the previous Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull? Instead, Labor played politics, didn’t it?
O’CONNOR: Look, we didn’t think it was ideal. It was not the optimal policy, that’s true. But Laura-
JAYES: So you let the perfect be the enemy of the good?
O’CONNOR: Well, you think about it. We didn’t get an opportunity because it wasn’t introduced into the Parliament. So you had a very odd situation – that a Government now, that even when its policy has passed the party room - they could not introduce it into the Parliament, because a small number of right wing members of the Liberal party were willing to sabotage the policy or cross the floor.
The fact is we certainly were willing to discuss that with the then Prime Minister. I think we have made the right call here-
GILBERT: That might be one thing, but why did Labor keep open the option of a carbon tax? Why not rule that out?
O’CONNOR: No, what we’ve said – I think it’s fair to say that, as Mark Butler has made very clear, we are talking to other industries about reducing emissions. We will do that methodically, and we will announce our position before the election.
In so far as we have also announced a whole array of other initiatives that will help provide reliable energy, reduce energy prices, and also reduce emissions. I think we have provided a platform for the current Government to join Labor to end the partisan wars that have gone on for too long in relation to energy.
The fact we’ve embraced the National Energy Guarantee, which has passed the Liberal party rooms, should be a message to the Government that we want to work with them to end the wars.
JAYES: Is Labor going to abandon any hope of indigenous recognition in the Constitution next term, instead prioritising a Republic?
O’CONNOR: No. We’ve made clear it’s a priority for us to have a voice for first nations. We want to make sure we’re successful. So, the first thing we want to do is create that opportunity, and we do want to see constitutional recognition for our first Australians. It’s a priority of a Shorten Labor Government if we’re elected and it will be a priority of the next term.
GILBERT: Now just finally, we’ve seen the Prime Minister in a war cry yesterday saying to Bill Shorten - it’s personal, it’s going to be me versus you. He’s obviously looking at one of his strong points in the polling - the only strong point, and that is his personal approval rating is better of that than the Opposition Leader.
Is that the vulnerability for Labor heading into the Election season?
O’CONNOR: I’m not sure that that‘s what Australians want to see their Prime Minister say at the despatch box, that it’s about a battle between two individuals. The fact is that we need to work together on things where we can.
Obviously where there are points of difference it should be a matter of policy differences, not really about two individuals that are leading the major parties. I don’t think that the Australian people will warm to the sort of idea that it’s a sort of gladiator sport. It’s not. It’s about presenting an alternative vision, in so far as Labor is concerned, for Australia’s future - and it’s about the policies and it’s about getting things done and what is expected of Australians. I think the Prime Minister really hit the wrong note yesterday.
JAYES: Brendan O’Connor, thanks for your time.
O’CONNOR: Thanks very much.