ABC News Radio

Subjects: NDIS, Nielsen poll, carbon pricing, leadership.

Transcript, E&OE

27 July 2012

MARIUS BENSON: Let's go to politics now. And the Federal Government seems to be winning in its bid to introduce a National Disability Insurance Scheme, one of the big projects for the Gillard Government. But Labor's troubles continue, with boat arrival numbers growing and a new opinion poll today, the Nielsen poll, showing the Government is making little headway. For a Government view on those issues, I'm joined by the Trade Minister Craig Emerson. Craig Emerson, good morning.

CRAIG EMERSON: And a very good morning to you, Marius.

BENSON: Now, let's just begin with the NDIS. It's still a little unclear; it's still a trial program. But we had Andrew Robb yesterday committing the Opposition to it and the states seem to be getting onside or onside – so, quite an optimistic outlook from your point of view.

EMERSON: There has been progress in the latter part of last week. One area where we haven't seen progress is the State of Queensland. Unfortunately, Campbell Newman has likened the State of Queensland to Spain – an absurd comparison. He says that they can't find $20 million, when the Federal Government is putting on the table $1,000 million. This is a disgrace, and we will continue to campaign on behalf of people with disabilities in Queensland for Mr Newman to do what Mr Baillieu and Mr O'Farrell have done – and that is come to the table, make a decent offer, and support the most vulnerable people in this country.

BENSON: Okay. Can I go to the Nielsen poll now, because there seems to be good news and bad news there for Labor? The lived experience of the carbon tax over the last month seems to have turned people a bit … or they're less concerned about it. Fifty-one per cent of people a month ago thought they'd be worse off under the carbon tax. A month of living with it, 38 per cent now is that figure that feels they'll be worse off under the carbon tax. But it doesn't actually seem to be doing your vote much good: you've gone up to a dizzying 30 per cent in your primary vote.

EMERSON: Well, let's discuss the carbon price first. Mr Abbott said the sky would fall to the ground. The only thing that's fallen to the ground is Mr Abbott's scare campaign and Mr Abbott's personal credibility. He said he would stake his career on this campaign against the implementation of a carbon price. On that basis, he's not doing all that well at this stage, because the Australian people have come to appreciate that he engaged in the mother of all scare campaigns – tried to terrify them, to smash business confidence, to smash consumer confidence – all for his own personal political gain. This is a big turnaround in people's attitude, and it does indicate what Labor has been saying for a long time: that in the lived experience, the carbon price would have a much, much more modest effect on the cost of living than Mr Abbott's terrifying scare campaign would have people believe.

BENSON: But for all that lack of fear about carbon, people don't like you any better. You're still bobbing around 28 per cent in Newspoll, now 30 per cent in the Nielsen poll in the Age and the Sydney Morning Herald. People just don't like Labor.

EMERSON: Well, this is the difference between Labor and the Coalition. Labor is prepared to make the hard decisions under the leadership of Julia Gillard. They are not always the most popular decisions. But if we changed our benchmark and said that the important thing is to win the opinion polls every week or every fortnight, and to chop and change policy accordingly, the Australian people actually would punish that. And so what we're doing is the right thing …

BENSON: But it's not actually the tough decisions, Mr Emerson. It's not actually the tough decisions …

EMERSON: It is the tough decisions.

BENSON: … because your fortunes started sinking rapidly when you abandoned Kevin Rudd's carbon proposals – the carbon reduction plan. That's when things really went skewwhiff for Labor. It's really squibbing the tough decisions that cost Labor.

EMERSON: Whatever your allegations made against the Prime Minister of Australia, I have not heard anyone making an allegation that the Prime Minister squibs tough decisions. We're doing the right thing by the future of this country. And what the Coalition's saying is either they don't believe in climate change – that it's 'absolute crap', which is what Mr Abbott has said – or 'why put off to tomorrow what you can put off forever? Let's just book this up to future generations'. This is not what the Government is going to do. In implementing this price, we accept that this generation has a responsibility to begin the process of reducing carbon emissions into the atmosphere on behalf not only of this generation, but future generations.

BENSON: Okay. The numbers for Labor now: 30 per cent your primary vote. Julia Gillard undertook to reshape the Government at 38 per cent. Is it time to say it was a mistake to sack Kevin Rudd?

EMERSON: What it's time to do is to continue to make the tough decisions, but necessary decisions, for this country.

BENSON: But was it a mistake?

EMERSON: You've asked me this question many times before and I'll answer it: no it was not a mistake, because Labor in its DNA is a reforming Government; it is a reforming party. And what we won't do is roll out of bed and check the opinion polls, and change policy. Julia Gillard has shown the fortitude to press ahead with these tough reforms and, yes Marius, it is true that that can have an effect on an opinion poll. The election is not next week; it's not the week after. It will be in the latter part of next year. And by then we expect to be competitive in the federal elections. I wrote an opinion piece in November of last year saying that Labor would be very competitive in the next election. But that doesn't mean that we're competitive week after week in opinion polls. It is not a contest for winning opinion polls; it is a contest for winning on behalf of Australia, to make the right decisions for this country. And then the poll that does count, that is the next election, will take care of itself. But we will not shirk these decisions.

BENSON: Craig Emerson, many thanks.

EMERSON: Okay, thanks a lot. Thanks.

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