4 December 2018
Subjects: Party Room Changes, Malcolm Turnbull, pre-selection decisions, encryption legislation.
KIERAN GILBERT: Joining us now, the Defence Industry Minister, Steve Ciobo. Minister, thanks very much for your time. As one of your colleagues said to me this morning, I mentioned it just a moment ago, you needed an answer to the question from voters, how do we know this won’t happen again?
STEVEN CIOBO: Look, absolutely. We’ve heard, and we’re making it very clear to all Australians, we’ve heard what they’ve said. This is a reform that means that they can have certainty that who they’ve elected is going to remain as Prime Minister, and I think it’s a very successful change that will help to change the culture in Canberra.
LAURA JAYES: You’ve already rolled two leaders. Does this send a signal that you just don’t trust the party room to do it again?
STEVEN CIOBO: No, what this sends a signal is that we’re listening. We’re listening to Australians. We’re making sure that we respond to what it is that Australians have been saying to us, and it’s as simple as that.
KIERAN GILBERT: But in relation to what Laura says, though, is it all a bit too little, too late, a bit of symbolism?
STEVEN CIOBO: You know, Kieran, it certainly is not symbolism. I mean, this is a significant change in terms of the way the party room operates. We can’t change what’s happened. What’s transpired in the Labor Party, what’s transpired in the Liberal Party, has happened, but this is something that we can do in a very constructive way, in a consultative way, in a way that demonstrates that we are listening to what Australians say. We’ve made this profound change, which we think will help to address, at its core, the issue that people are concerned about.
LAURA JAYES: Minister, what role should Malcolm Turnbull play up in the lead up to the election?
STEVEN CIOBO: Well, look, it’s up to Malcolm to make decisions about whether or not he’s wanting to intervene on a regular basis in public discussion. He’s made comments previously about that. As far as I’m concerned, I’m not going to be running a commentary on Malcolm Turnbull, as I’ve just said last week to the two of you. My focus is upon those issues that matter to Australians; how the economy’s going, what we’re doing to create jobs, what we’re doing to get tax rates down, how we’re balancing the budget, the first surplus budget that Australia’s had now since the Coalition was last in power.
KIERAN GILBERT: One of the other reasons that was put to me by another one of your colleagues this morning, as for the timing of all of this, was late last night, people were surprised by it, but the view among some of your colleagues is that they don’t want this to dominate the whole final week, that you’ve got other things to do, basically, and talking about yourselves is not essentially where you want the debate. You’ve got to deal with this rule change, fine, but you don’t want it to dominate.
STEVEN CIOBO: That is precisely what’s happening. The government’s moved, we’ve moved swiftly, we’ve heard what Australians have said, we’ve implemented this change, and this brings assurance to Australians that who they vote for will be Prime Minister.
KIERAN GILBERT: But you don’t want it to dominate the news cycle as well.
STEVEN CIOBO: What we’re going to do is keep getting on with the job. We’ve got a lot to deal with. As a government, we’ve made some incredible inroads. We’ve restored the nation’s finances, which, you know, you can’t not speak enough about. I mean, the fact is … Well, I should say you can’t speak enough about. The fact is that we have gotten the nation back on the path to a surplus budget. We’re putting record amounts of money into our defence force, we’re boosting Australian business, we’re reducing taxes, we’re giving everyday Australians tax breaks as well, we’ve created 1.2 million jobs, and that’s up against Labor. Where we want the contrast to be is between what we’re doing and what Labor’s doing, because Bill Shorten’s over there, with his assault on ambition, who’s going to impose $200 billion of new taxes, more taxes on everyday Australians, and we think that is not the right recipe for this country.
LAURA JAYES: You say you’ve got a lot to deal with. The Prime Minister also needs to deal with internal issues. We’ve seen that in the pre-selection decisions over recent days. Can you explain to the public why the Prime Minister has intervened to save Craig Kelly but not Jim Molan?
STEVEN CIOBO: Well, I don’t agree with the way in which you characterise it, Laura. When you’re in leadership, you have to take decisions and you have to make calls about what you think is the right way forward, and that’s precisely what Scott Morrison’s done. He’s not afraid to take decisions. He’s not afraid to take hard decisions. What he’s done, with respect to New South Wales, is, in the same way as the party room did last night, listen to what people are saying and take a decision to make sure that the party moved forward. That’s, I think, a very good call.
KIERAN GILBERT: Do you feel that enough has been done now, in terms of those pre-selections, these rules, to keep people in their place, so to speak? Because as Laura asked earlier, there are still questions as to how some of the key figures within the Liberal Party will behave over the coming months, not the least of which the former member for Wentworth.
STEVEN CIOBO: Well, Kieran, frankly, as I’ve said multiple times, all this party stuff, it might be interesting to some people, that is not where I’m focusing. I’m just not going to provide an ongoing commentary about what the party’s up to. What I’m saying is that the Prime Minister is a man of character. A man who’s not afraid to take tough decisions. A man who has demonstrated through his track record in stopping the boats, in his time as treasurer that set us up now, to bring us back into budget surplus. A man who’s dealing with issues like terrorism and making sure we deal with encryption. This is what Australians elect the Coalition Government to do. They elect us because they know Labor cannot manage the economy, and they know that in order to be able to fund the essential services that Australians want, health, education, those kinds of things, you’ve got to make sure the nation’s economy, the nation’s finances, are in good order. That’s what I’m focused on.
LAURA JAYES: Well, is Labor and the government close to a deal on encryption, because that bipartisan process has seemed to have completely broken down in the last week?
STEVEN CIOBO: Well, I hope so. There can be no doubt, Laura, that Bill Shorten’s under immense pressure. You’ve got this radical Labor left that are in the Australian Labor Party, and they’re trying to steal ground away from the Australian Greens, and these are the people that stand in the way of us taking decisive action to make sure that we deal with the threat of terrorism. Unfortunately, we’ve got to realise that we have our intelligence agencies, our police and others, who are engaged in an ongoing skirmish with terrorists, people who would seek to do us harm, and we need to make sure that there’s a full suite of powers available to our intelligence and law enforcement agencies to keep Australians safe.
KIERAN GILBERT: You had a crack at one element of the Labor Party, but you give credit to a big chunk of the Labor Party, the majority, by the looks of it, that want to get something done and get it done by the end of the week. This Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security always acts responsibly-
STEVEN CIOBO: Sure.
KIERAN GILBERT:… or generally does, in the nation’s interest, and it, again, at the moment will, under Andrew Hastie and Anthony Byrne, figures from both sides of politics. You’d give them credit for that, wouldn’t you?
STEVEN CIOBO: If they get there, yes, absolutely. I mean, make no mistake, Kieran, we want the Parliament to act in a bipartisan way. The government is doing all it can to make sure we can achieve bipartisan consensus. What we’re also saying is that we won’t be held to ransom, so if Bill Shorten can’t get his camp in order, then the government will take decisive action to move forward on this. So the appeal to the Australian Labor Party is, by Wednesday, we need Bill Shorten to pull together, you know, the different factions within the Labor Party, get them in the one tent, and then we’ll be able to do something in a bipartisan way, which would be a big positive.
LAURA JAYES: Minister, thanks so much for your time.