DERRYN HINCH: On the line, the Federal Minister for Trade, Mr Craig Emerson. Good afternoon.
CRAIG EMERSON: Thanks for having me on the show.
HINCH: Well you know what it's all going to be about again. You've got the new poll out. You've now got Mark Bishop - Senator Mark Bishop's - saying … calling it a clarion call for the party to make changes or face a decade in the political wilderness. So tell me what you say.
EMERSON: Well, there's always a discussion of polls. Every fortnight there's Newspoll; then there's Galaxy poll; then there's the Nielsen poll; and there's the Essential poll. And we could spend all our lives discussing these polls.
HINCH: Yeah but they're all bad. They're all bad.
EMERSON: Well, okay, so we roll out of bed every second day, maybe every day, and change policy? I think that would be a betrayal of the Australian people, and of young people in particular -because one of the drivers of this I'm sure is still implementing a price on carbon. And we do owe it to future generations that we do this reform. It's not a popular reform. You know that, Derryn. It's one that we believe is absolutely in Australia's long-term interest.
HINCH: But if you look at the polls … I mean, you must look at the polls and think 'what, we did this; we did that; it hasn't worked'. We've had the handouts over the last five or six weeks. They haven't worked. The carbon tax is in. It's going to be supposedly good for the future. That hasn't worked. You must look, at times, and say 'hey, the clock is ticking; we're now below 30 per cent, 28 per cent'. You're facing annihilation. You must consider that.
EMERSON: Derryn, I reckon that you've been around longer than I have.
HINCH: Yes, I have.
EMERSON: Right through, certainly, the Hawke-Keating era, the Howard era, maybe before that. And these sorts of situations - not necessarily the same numbers - have arisen on many occasions. And while I'm not going to put myself as the number one ticket-holder for John Howard, he was able to see his way through a number of downturns in his popularity. I think he was actually described on the front page of The Bulletin as "Mr 18 per cent - why does this man bother?"
HINCH: He was. Absolutely was.
EMERSON: He went on to become the Prime Minister of Australia. There was a 2001 election that Labor "couldn't lose" and Howard won. I think even with an increased majority.
HINCH: Could you … do you honestly think this can be turned around? I mean, here you've got …
EMERSON: Yeah, I do. I fundamentally do. And there are a couple of reasons for that. People do understand that good policy is good politics, and of course they're able to and do take the opportunity …
HINCH: They're not listening to you. If you see month after month it go 30, 30, 30, 31 it was a while ago, now 28. You're not making any inroads. Now it's roughly what, 56-44 - something like that. You must think 'they're not listening to us'. And even you've got now Bishop saying you must have some sort of circuit breaker.
EMERSON: I know, I know, and people often say 'well you better do some sort of turn'. As Paul Keating said, 'flick the switch to vaudeville', see if we can pull some sort of popular stunt. Not into it, Derryn, not into it. We will continue to do the right thing by Australia, and that may not be popular in the short term.
HINCH: All right. Now you know that we've said in the past, and I called you it in one way - I called you it last night, and said "Emerson is Julia Gillard's John Button". Now you know what that means in politics? John Button had to tap Bill Hayden on the shoulder and say 'he's not working; we've got to change'. It's not going to be any good, and Mark Latham made this point on Sky last night: you can't be an Albanese with something like that tapping you on the shoulder. She would have said 'you didn't vote for me anyway against Rudd'. But it's going to take someone in the inner circle, someone like you who's been a personal friend, an ally and a great supporter as you continue to be - very loyal. Will that tap on the shoulder ever come from you?
EMERSON: It's not going to happen. It's not going to happen because Julia Gillard is a reforming Prime Minister. And there is no substitute for a Prime Minister who has the guts to implement the reforms that are necessary for our country's future. I think you know, Derryn, that I've come into politics, quite a long time ago, dedicated to the right policies for this country. Not just for today and tomorrow, but for the future. And there's no way I will do anything other than support a strong reforming Prime Minister who has the same view.
HINCH: But you'd go to the wall in 12 months' time, or maybe less than 12 months' time, with that view?
EMERSON: Absolutely. Without a shadow of a doubt. And while we're talking about elections that can't be won, and I reiterate, you've been around a good while, I well remember 1993. This was actually called, and it's gone down in history, as the "unlosable election", and it was lost by John Hewson.
HINCH: That's true.
EMERSON: Not only lost, but lost badly. Labor not only won that election, but increased its majority by a substantial amount. And the polls were basically ratshit.
HINCH: So you don't think that the carbon tax will be Julia Gillard's 'birthday cake'?
EMERSON: I think that the implementation of the carbon price will be … or if you want to call it a tax, we won't have a debate on semantics …
HINCH: We'll leave it at that, yep.
EMERSON: … will follow this path. It's now in. But Whyalla's still there. Roast lambs, legs of lamb, still cost $20; not $100 or $150 as predicted.
HINCH: And you've stopped singing, which is a relief.
EMERSON: I have bestowed a small mercy on the Australian people and not sung since "Whyalla Wipeout". Now, what has changed, though, is this: Tony Abbott is saying that he will repeal that. The Australian people don't believe it.
HINCH: How do you say that?
EMERSON: Well that's clear from public opinion polling, including one that was released today.
HINCH: Now you're throwing public opinion polling in now. You don't believe it when it says you're on 28 per cent.
EMERSON: That's not what I said. What I said is I accept that our public opinion polling has Labor at 28 per cent. I accept that. I'm also saying that a majority of Australians believe that Tony Abbott won't. Now let's say that on this occasion, his blood promise - unlike his rock solid, iron-clad promise - is the real promise and he does. What he's saying to the Australian people is that he'll work with the electricity companies around Australia to cut electricity prices. Well that is just a joke. They will not cut electricity prices. But he will have to cut the age pension and increase taxes and reverse the trebling of the tax-free threshold that allows people to earn up to $18,200 and pay no tax.
HINCH: Mr Emerson, we've run out of time. I thank you for yours.
EMERSON: All right. Thanks a lot, Derryn.
HINCH: Thank you. Bye bye.
- Minister Emerson's Office: (02) 6277 7420
- DFAT Media Liaison: (02) 6261 1555