Sky News, AM Agenda
KIERAN GILBERT: I'm joined by the Trade Minister, Steve Ciobo. Now, Tony Burke, the Manager of Opposition Business saying you've moved the dinner break but that's because you can't keep your own MPs here long enough to do the job. What's your response?
STEVEN CIOBO: I mean, what a ridiculous statement to make from Tony Burke and the Labor Party. These are simply not issues that Australians are caught up in. They don't want to know about the silly, juvenile games that the Labor Party is playing here. What they want to know is what the Government's doing on any given day to make their lot in life easier, what we're doing about the cost of living, what we're doing about employment prospects, what we're doing to drive economic growth. That's what I and the Coalition are focused on, that's what we want to make sure we are attending to every single day in the Parliament. Frankly, if Tony Burke wants to run around like a chook with its head cut off and say, "Oh, this is a problem, that's a problem, they've lobbed off half an hour of sitting here, and they've added a half hour of sitting there," I mean, good luck to Tony Burke and the Labor Party. You know what? I don't think Australians care about those kind of juvenile games from Labor, and frankly, it's little wonder they lost the election if that's where their focus is.
KIERAN GILBERT: The omnibus bill on savings - looks like there's been a compromise achieved. Is this the Government - the Government will be very keen to get this through obviously - but the Government being pragmatic in order to not stick vigilantly to every single measure, as long as the overall savings envelope is achieved?
STEVEN CIOBO: Well, let's look at what's happened here. We've indicated we needed to make savings. We know that Australia currently is on an unsustainable pathway. That's why as a Coalition we've been focused on reducing the deficit because by reducing the deficit, we reduce the overall amount of debt because we don't want to pass all this debt onto our children. Now, we took Labor at their word. The last election, Labor announced a whole heap of savings measures. Bear in mind, Kieran, this was only about three months ago. Labor announced all these savings measures and we said, "You know what? We'll take those savings measures and ours, we'll put them together and take it as a saving." Then Labor said, "Oh, no. Hang on. We were just kidding about that. We actually don't put all these forward as savings measures." Have we been pragmatic? Yes, we've been pragmatic, because –
KIERAN GILBERT: AndLabor's been constructive as well, though, to give them credit.
STEVEN CIOBO: Well, they've been a little constructive. They didn't agree with everything that they said three months ago, but at least they have agreed to some things, so I guess that's a step in the right direction.
KIERAN GILBERT: The overall savings remains the same?
STEVEN CIOBO: The savings are there and that's the most important aspect.
KIERAN GILBERT: Now, on the same-sex marriage plebiscite, what's your view on whether or not there should be or shouldn't be funding, public funding for both sides? Our understanding is that there is, and be it $7.5 million according to what the cabinet's agreed to, putting that to the party room later this morning. Is that appropriate to be funding what could end up being a homophobic campaign against?
STEVEN CIOBO: Well, I think as you've foreshadowed, it is going to party room in an hour or two, so I'm not going to pre-empt the decision of party room. Cabinet has looked at it; we've made a recommendation to party room, which will be considered in a couple of hours. Look, on the general principle about whether or not we provide public funding, we have seen in previous referenda where public funding has been provided and I think the reason that's important, Kieran, is because it actually gives a sense of balance. Both sides get to put forward their proposals –
KIERAN GILBERT: What about the warning for Bill Shorten and others that young people battling with their sexuality, if they hear these arguments against their way of life that they could take their own lives, potentially?
STEVEN CIOBO: But look, Kieran, I mean, I'm very sympathetic to any young person or old person who might be confronting the personal challenge of coming out or being homosexual or bisexual or whatever it might be. Of course, very sensitive to some of the challenges that they have there, but frankly, the suggestion that that is some kind of new environment, because we're having a plebiscite, we're actually giving the Australian people the right to have a say, just doesn't wash with me. I mean, this has been the subject of a lot of media focus for a long time now. It's not like it's happened in the last 24 hours. We're talking months, even years of discussion around this, so the fact that we can actually put it to the Australian people for them to have ownership of the decision I think is the right decision.
KIERAN GILBERT: And it would also have it resolved in February potentially, as opposed to another three years of the uncertainty.
STEVEN CIOBO: Exactly.
KIERAN GILBERT: What about the argument, though, from Michael Kirby and others, that this will unleash the sorts of arguments that we don't necessarily want to have as a nation?
STEVEN CIOBO: Look, I think frankly that's a pretty arrogant attitude to have. What they're basically saying is, "We can't give it to the Australian people to have a discussion and a vote on because you can't trust the Australian people to be able to have a mature conversation." I mean, that really is what is at the core of that argument against the plebiscite.
KIERAN GILBERT: If the plebiscite doesn't happen, though, do you fear that you might lose the vote in the lower house? That people like Warren Entsch and others might actually cross the floor?
STEVEN CIOBO: Well, look, the only way that it wouldn't succeed is if the Labor Party doesn't support it. I mean, if the Coalition's there and the Labor Party supports it, it'll go through. There's only one reason and one reason alone why this plebiscite would not go to the Australian people for them to have their say and that is because the Australian Labor Party, arrogantly, dismisses the Australian people and says, "We don't want you to have a say on this. We don't think you're mature enough to be able to have a rational conversation about whether or not we allow gay marriage". I mean, I find it an extraordinary position but if that's Labor's approach, I think it's a great shame.
KIERAN GILBERT: And three years of no movement then on this issue.
STEVEN CIOBO: I think this is the classic textbook definition of a Pyrrhic victory if that's what Labor decided to do.
KIERAN GILBERT: I want to play for our viewers some comments made by David Cameron as he announced that he was going to quit the Parliament. Here he was, a former Prime Minister saying that former prime ministers don't make proper backbenchers. Let's have a listen.
DAVID CAMERON: But in my view, with modern politics, with the circumstances of my resignation, it isn't really possible to be a proper backbench MP as a former Prime Minister. I think everything you do will become a big distraction, and a big diversion from what the government needs to do for our country.
KIERAN GILBERT: A distraction, a diversion, David Cameron says. The relevance to the local situation I guess doesn't need to be spelled out for our viewers, but is this something that your own party's grappling with right now, the fact that a former Prime Minister remains on the backbench?
STEVEN CIOBO: No, not at all. Tony has made it very clear as a former Prime Minister that he intends to continue in his role, and I say more power to his arm. This is someone who obviously has been Prime Minister for our country. It's not without precedent for Prime Ministers to have remained in the Parliament, so it's hardly new in that respect, but as a former Prime Minister, you carry a certain amount of weight and gravitas. That's actually a benefit. You can use that especially as an advocate for your constituency, so while I also understand where David Cameron's coming from, that's his viewpoint, and clearly Tony Abbott has a different attitude.
KIERAN GILBERT: Yeah. I think his friend Tony Abbott would disagree, as you say. Trade Minister Steve Ciobo. Thank you.