SUBJECTS: Labor’s Election Review, Anthony Albanese’s National Press Club Address.
TOM CONNELL, HOST: So, self-reflection stops today which gives us a few more hours. Frontbencher Michelle Rowland is here in the studio with me to make the most of that. Thanks for your time.
MICHELLE ROWLAND, SHADOW MINISTER FOR COMMUNICATIONS: Pleasure.
CONNELL: We heard [Anthony Albanese] also talk about a culture that Labor needs to change, he’ll change Labor culture. Does the party have a culture problem?
ROWLAND: I think clearly the fact that we had an election loss when there were very high expectations of a win, clearly there were a lot of factors at play there and the report makes it quite clear that there wasn’t simply one factor, but a combination. I think not only because the review discusses this, but because it’s important for Labor supporters and Labor members to understand that this focus on renewal – yes, it is about returning to government – but it’s also about the movement. It’s about making the movement more representative of the people for whom we seek to govern.
We want to ensure that people vote Labor again because we’re seen as a party that represents them and their ideals. Clearly, there’s an issue there that the review highlighted so yes, we do need to change. It’s a hard thing to say, but it’s a fact.
CONNELL: What's the culture problem in your view?
ROWLAND: I think part of it has been what's gone on in some of the state branches, including in New South Wales - and coming from New South Wales again it is difficult to say, but it needs to be said that there's clearly been problems there that have been well-documented.
CONNELL: We've previously heard “well you know that sort of stuff was in the past, it’s no longer”. It’s still there is it? Is it lingering in some way? We've had recently ICAC obviously as well. What needs to happen? How do you fix that?
ROWLAND: Well, clearly we’re under a process of change within that organisation. We've got Michael Lavarch who's been brought in to lead that and some of the issues that have been identified have been rectified already. But I think it would be foolish to suggest that overnight people are suddenly going to start turning to Labor because we have said that we are going to have renewal. We have to demonstrate this to the Australian people and the report again makes that very clear.
CONNELL: Part of that obviously has to be policy first and foremost for most Australians. How should that actually be formulated? Is it up to Anthony Albanese? Is it the Shadow Cabinet? Is it Caucus?
ROWLAND: Well, I think what Anthony set out today was a good frame in that he's got a number of policy objectives and they are, in some cases, quite broad. So, a focus on infrastructure –
CONNELL: They’re kind of values, aren’t they, and what policies will they result in?
ROWLAND: They're not necessarily only values. I mean, there's a value of fairness that he mentioned today, but also talking about economic growth, productivity, ensuring that we do take action on climate change and we have a foreign policy –
CONNELL: But they’re not fleshed out policies yet, are they?
ROWLAND: They are not but I think it's very useful to have a frame, particularly considering one of the key criticisms in the Review was an avalanche of policies, and often at the last minute, that didn't connect with people and certainly didn't resonate in votes.
CONNELL: So he mentioned that Shadow Ministers are out there formulating policies based on his values. Is that what's happening right now? Are you formulating policies?
ROWLAND: They’re Labor Party values, but Anthony has set the frame of the broad parameters of policy within which each Shadow Minister will have their policies fitting in, and look –
CONNELL: So are you working on that right now?
ROWLAND: We're constantly doing that. I mean –
CONNELL: But, you personally as a Shadow Minister. He said “here are the five values”. Are you going away and going “right, here are some policies I need to come up with to fit this in my area”?
ROWLAND: That is the intention. We're not in the position of announcing policy –
CONNELL: It’s not happening yet. I’m not asking for an announcement, I’m just saying are you working on something right now?
ROWLAND: Absolutely, and I mean, you're always in touch with your stakeholders, particularly in my sector, you know in the industry, it's everything from the media to the telco sector. So all of that remains very relevant to people. People want to know that we are working on this and our key stakeholders want to know this as well.
CONNELL: So the other big aspect of this that we heard from the review is that there were a lot of spending policies, as a result tax policies and tax raising measures were needed to help to pay for it. Do you need to rethink that approach and do it the other way around? When you’re talking about jobs and the economy and aspiration and growth need to be at the forefront. Figure out your tax policies first, then figure out what you’ve got to spend.
ROWLAND: Look, I think it comes down to - it’s going to come down to this in the next term for us: we clearly are not going to have the same spending envelope that we had last time. All of our policies are under review, but I think it's very clear that we’re not going to go to the next election with exactly the same set of policies. And we also know, and it was it discussed even at the speech today, Labor spends a lot of money in health and education, as we should because people expect us to do that. They expect Labor to perform better in some of those key social areas, but the question will be: what funding envelope will we have for those things?
They will always be important Labor values.
But I’ll take one example. We had what I thought was an excellent policy to address a long-standing issue that so many of my constituents complain about and that’s seniors’ dental health. That was announced, I think, towards the last week of the campaign. Now, I don’t know how many people actually knew about this policy. But clearly it was an issue that people were concerned about –
CONNELL: Yeah, that gets to timing and strategy and so on –
ROWLAND: Absolutely, yes.
CONNELL: But doesn’t it matter what way you do this. You've got the Leader and the Review saying you've got to talk about the economy and jobs and growth and all this type of stuff. Doesn't that mean you need to craft the policies around that first and figure out what you've got to spend on the other stuff?
ROWLAND: Oh, I think you’re right. I think you’re right. I think that's Anthony's intention today in setting out that these are the priority areas that we have. This is the frame; let's look at what we've got. We're clearly not going to go to the next election doing exactly what we did for the last one and then we examine: well, what can we do within the fiscal constraints we have?
Let’s face it: Labor governments are elected when they get the basics right, when they can demonstrate that we can manage the economy well, when we can demonstrate that we have an agenda for productivity, for economic growth. Once you get those basics right, it's essentially a license from the electorate to be able to do any other number of things that fit in with Labor values as well.
CONNELL: I want to get to a couple more topics as well. Truth-in-advertising was mentioned within this Review. How would that apply to Mediscare of 2016?
ROWLAND: Well, it's curious that all of a sudden truth-in-advertising is being debated by some people as being well, it ranges from everything from the posters that you have and we’re talking at the moment about the AEC - similar AEC-type posters that the Liberals had - versus previous campaigns that have been run. But, I think the reality is that the voters always get it right. That's my view: the voters always get it.
CONNELL: How does that fit in with truth-in-advertising? Are you saying that it doesn't have an impact on voters?
ROWLAND: No, I think it does have an impact where you have particularly social media, which is able to be disseminated so quickly and it's so difficult to contain. I hadn't seen anything like the scare campaign that we had with the death tax for example.
CONNELL: Well, a lot of people would say they had seen it with Mediscare for example, with the branding even using the Medicare card. How would that change apply to that? You couldn’t run that campaign again, could you?
ROWLAND: Well, the reality is that we wouldn't run that campaign again because that was the 2016 campaign -
CONNELL: But okay, a similar one, the same situation: whatever truth-in-advertising laws have brought in that you think should target the death tax then you wouldn't be able to run Mediscare on it.
ROWLAND: Well, look, I think it’s very clear that people had genuine concerns about the future of healthcare under the then Turnbull Government –
CONNELL: People could say that about Labor’s taxation –
ROWLAND: They certainly can, and they did. If we're going to have truth-in-advertising laws, then you need to respect that every party is going to be liable for this as well.
CONNELL: Surely Labor can see that that campaign run in 2016 could come a cropper if a truth-in-advertising law was brought in.
ROWLAND: Well, the reality is that the government already changed the laws in the last term of parliament to address exactly the claims that you make there. So I think the reality is, people –
CONNELL: That’s the Department of Communications though so there’s still a line there to run things.
ROWLAND: Well, look it was part of the electoral law changes that they undertook in the last Parliament. But you know, I have a view on truth-in-advertising and that is it's going to apply to everyone equally. I think it’s being used as an excuse in some circles to say that voters got it wrong during the election. Look some voters may well have been deceived, and I think many were deceived by what was going out on social media in particular, and the fact also is that a lot of this was being put out, not by political parties, but by third parties. You have to examine how that's going to apply to third parties as well, which makes it very hard.
CONNELL: Just finally Bill Shorten wasn't the only factor but it was a clear factor according to the Review, his unpopularity. Does that make it very hard for him to ever be Labor Leader again?
ROWLAND: I think he's made it clear that he doesn't aspire –
CONNELL: We know how these things work.
ROWLAND: Well, I think he's made that very clear –
CONNELL: He also wants to be there for 20 more years.
ROWLAND: Well, you know if he wants to serve in that capacity, good luck to him for –
CONNELL: Does it make it hard though? Do you think that’s going to hang around his neck forever?
ROWLAND: That he wants to stay for 20 more years?
CONNELL: That he was, that his unpopularity was a genuine factor in losing an election?
ROWLAND: Well, I think the report is very honest on that. It's brutally honest, to an extent, but look at Bill’s statement that he put out before the Review’s release. Look, let's face it during election night and even at the first caucus meeting, here was an individual who was clearly coming to terms with something that was highly devastating and unexpected for him as well. I think with six months having elapsed, I think that we do need truthfulness and that was borne out by the opinion polls at the time as well. I'll be the first to admit people would ask me about Bill’s unpopularity - and I would say it even on this fine network - I said, well that's clearly not coming through in the rest of the polls that we've got. Clearly his unpopularity isn't a drag on Labor being able to be successful in government. Clearly, that was not the case.
CONNELL: Or at some point, it bit. Michelle Rowland, we could talk about it forever but I know you're on strict instructions not to from your Leader. Thank you for your time today.
SUBJECTS: Labor’s Election Review, Anthony Albanese’s National Press Club Address.