MICHAEL ROWLAND: We're joined in the studio now by the Minister for Employment, Skills and Training, Brendan O'Connor. Minister, good morning to you.
BRENDAN O'CONNOR: Good morning.
MICHAEL ROWLAND: Firstly to the Newspoll today, it shows the Government certainly has its work cut out for him, the Coalition according to these figures heading for a fairly steady and convincing victory.
BRENDAN O'CONNOR: Well, the Prime Minister made clear that we're the underdog going into this election, but I think we have a good record on the economy and a good plan for Australia's future, and that's what really matters, really making sure we manage the economy well in what is, of course, very volatile times globally. We did so when confronted by the global financial crisis, supporting jobs, maintaining a strong economy, low debt, contained inflation and so on. We'll do that in times in the future when confronted with such difficulties, and we'll support families, and that's really important. So you could be economically responsible on one hand, Michael, but you ensure that you do the right thing by health and education and you look to those needs of Australian families when making very difficult decisions.
MICHAEL ROWLAND: Are you worried, though, drilling down into those Newspoll figures, that the honeymoon period for Kevin Rudd seems to be well and truly over? His satisfaction rating has fallen four percentage points. The Prime Minister has been back in the top job for, what, about six weeks. Voters have had a chance to look at him and, according to these figures, they are not very happy about the way is he doing his job as Prime Minister.
BRENDAN O'CONNOR: I think the Australian people will be looking at the choices and what they will see with the Prime Minister is someone who has a great record when it comes to responding to the economic challenges. A very volatile global situation, and indeed a good record in responding in the way in which he did as Prime Minister, and at the same time making sure that when we are economically responsible, we protect and support jobs, and we protect cost-of-living effects on families. Look at the decision we made recently with the economic statement by the Treasurer and Finance Minister. We made some tough decisions, but we protected families in making those decisions, and we supported jobs.
What we know, of course, is Tony Abbott's plan is to cut $70 billion from expenditure which will mean, of course, slashing jobs and we've seen this already in Queensland with Premier Newman, cutting jobs which of course affects many, many families, and has terrible consequential effects to the economy and to further jobs in the private sector. Now, that's the recipe from Tony Abbott.
MICHAEL ROWLAND: Now the Government is poised to announce new assistance today for the car industry. What are you hoping to achieve with that?
BRENDAN O'CONNOR: Well, we believe we need to make sure we build things in this country. The automotive industry, the car industry is important for many parts of Australia and we believe that investing in the right way, we can ensure we build upon what is, I think, some very innovative things happening in the car industry. So you need to ensure that there are high-skilled jobs. We can create niche markets for Australia in exporting cars in the region and beyond. We've seen - we've done it already in the past. We can continue to do that.
What we have, of course, is the Opposition talking about tearing out $500 million from the car plan. That will of course see a lot of jobs lost around the country.
MICHAEL ROWLAND: You don't worry this is good money after bad, given where the car industry is going? You've got Ford already pulling out of the country, Holden not so sure about its long-term future prospects.
BRENDAN O'CONNOR: But it's tied to the proper changes, is tied to skills, ensuring that they adapt to the needs of the market, and so it's not unconditional investment. It's investment based on good decision-making and we want to see that we continue to build cars in this country. That's, of course, a contrast to the Opposition who want to see that industry founder [sic], and eventually fail. That's a recipe for disaster in Australia. We would be left as a country with services but no manufacturing base, and that would be terrible for many, many families.
MICHAEL ROWLAND: The Prime Minister made a virtue yesterday of promising to run, in his words, a positive campaign versus what he describes as a negative campaign coming from Tony Abbott. You, Brendan O'Connor, have been through a lot of campaigns in the past. Realistically, how long do you think this period of positivity will last, given the contest could still be very tight as we head to the finishing line?
BRENDAN O'CONNOR: We've seen in recent times a very negative period of politics. We've certainly seen a relentlessly negative Opposition leader who has no plans. We've seen him backflip on education just recently, join the Government, he says, in the education plan that he has been trashing and talking down now for months and months. Now, why would he do that? Well, he does that because he has no plans of his own - no plans in education, no plans in health and other areas of very important public policy, and so we want to focus on finding agreements with state governments. We want to focus on working with business to ensure that we continue to have a strong economy, and that's why the Prime Minister said he wants to focus on the positives, and not indulge in this negative personal politics that unfortunately we've seen for too long now.
MICHAEL ROWLAND: But there he was yesterday accusing Tony Abbott of having part of his campaign funded by the tobacco companies. Can you promise there will be no negative ads by Labor over the next five weeks?
BRENDAN O'CONNOR: Well, I think that was in response to some of the questions around our decisions to ensure that we focus on preventing people taking up smoking, which I think is a very important area of public policy. We've done some very good things in that health area, and it is true to say that the Liberal Party continues to take money from tobacco companies, and I think that is an issue that goes to values of a political party, and I think the Prime Minister had every right to underline that point.
MICHAEL ROWLAND: No negative ads? If the Prime Minister wants to be positive...
BRENDAN O'CONNOR: Well, I think we are being positive. I think the way we've started certainly this campaign...
MICHAEL ROWLAND: [Talks over] But the way election campaigns run. Negative ads, love them or loathe them, they are a key part of them...
BRENDAN O'CONNOR: I can assure you, I will respond to attacks on our record and our plans if the Opposition chooses to attack them, but I think we can focus on positives. We do have - look at what we're doing with the NBN, rolling out the NBN, which is so vital to businesses, to health and education services in this country, supporting jobs, joining state governments to - with an education plan that is going to mean, on average, $1.6 million extra for every school in this country to help our kids.
That's our future, and I think we can focus on positives because we have a plan. The reason why the Opposition cannot focus on positives is that they have no policies and no plans for Australia's future.
MICHAEL ROWLAND: And finally, Minister, speaking of campaigns, I want to bring up the front page of the Daily Telegraph. You've probably already seen it this morning, a very strong message against the Labor Government. Do you see the News Limited tabloids running a particularly anti-Labor campaign here as part of this election?
BRENDAN O'CONNOR: Well, look, that is quite an extreme front page. The private organisations have the - they can choose as to how they decide to conduct themselves in terms of reporting, but I think the Australian people will see through partisan reporting. I think the Australian people are wiser than that and they will make decisions on what they see is what is in the best interest of their families, their communities and this nation, and even if you do have areas of the media acting in such an extreme partisan manner, I think that will not, in the end, affect the judgment of the Australian people.