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Sky News First Edition

05 Aug 2013


KIERAN GILBERT: Let's take you live to Melbourne, and the Employment Minister Brendan O'Connor joins me. Mr O'Connor, thanks so much for your time this morning. First of all, I want to get your reaction to the Newspoll. Kevin Rudd's disapproval rating, as David and I mentioned, up six points. Is that a bit of a worry to start the election campaign?

BRENDAN O'CONNOR: Well, the Prime Minister made clear, Kieran, that we are the underdog going into the election. This is a challenging election but we have, you know, I think not only the record but the plans for Australia's future, and the Australian people get to decide over the course of the next five weeks, and I think, you know, it was an interesting start to this election announcement.

You organisation offered a debate to both the Prime Minister and the leader of the Opposition. The Prime Minister accepted that offer but, of course, Tony Abbott rejected it after saying that he would debate the Prime Minister any time, anywhere, as soon as the election was called. Now, Kieran, if he's not willing to debate the Prime Minister when asked, then he's not really fit to be Prime Minister.

KIERAN GILBERT: But can I - specifically on that poll, Labor's primary vote is flat. The disapproval for Kevin Rudd's the big, significant move. Since he returned five weeks ago, since he returned to the Prime Ministership, his disapproval rating has soared 11 points. That's got to be a bit of a concern as you start this campaign.

BRENDAN O'CONNOR: Well, let's just look what the Prime Minister's done in a very short space of time. He's forged a deal with PNG to deal with asylum seekers. He's made some very huge ground on bringing together education reform, realising the Better Schools program.

We've also had to make some very difficult decisions, Kieran, in relation to the announcement by the Treasurer and Finance Minister and the outlining, by way of an economic statement. So we've made some difficult decisions and, of course, you have to make those decisions but if you look at the decisions that we made, they're fiscally responsible. We don't - we make sure that we protect the cost of living pressures on families, but we have been up front with the Australian people. It is now incumbent upon the leader of the Opposition, Tony Abbott, to come clean with the Australian people about where he's going to find the savings, where he's going to cut to find the $70 billion hole that he has in his [indistinct]...

KIERAN GILBERT: They've said that they'll do that...

BRENDAN O'CONNOR: ...situation. Well...

KIERAN GILBERT: They've said they'll do that in the election campaign, but how can the Labor Party promise a new way? You've been in office two terms, six years. How do you say your slogan here is a new way?

BRENDAN O'CONNOR: I think we've seen in recent times very negative personal politics. I think we've got, in the Opposition leader, a very relentlessly negative Opposition leader, and I think people are sick of that fractious debate, and so I think we can do better. The Prime Minister's made clear he wants to engage with business, he wants to engage with the community and in ensuring that we deliver for the Australian people.

I think there's been evidence of that in the last several weeks where we've managed to strike agreements, not only within Australia with state governments - state Coalition governments, I might add, on education and disability care, but also forging agreements with other countries to deal with the very diabolical, difficult area of public policy, asylum seekers, and preventing people endangering their lives getting on an un-seaworthy vessel.

So I think there's been evidence of us working together, working with constituent parts of our society so that we can improve the lives of Australians. Now, what we've seen, by contrast, in that period though is just the relentless negativity by the Opposition leader who has no plans. He's come together to agree on our education plan after talking it down, trashing it for months and months and months, and apparently this week he's now...

KIERAN GILBERT: Okay, well, Kevin Rudd's...

BRENDAN O'CONNOR: ...a believer of our education reform.

KIERAN GILBERT: Kevin Rudd's opening speech was that he's the best one to manage the transition out of the China boom, but how do you make that case when there's been so much turbulence, dysfunction, within the Labor Government. Six Small Business Ministers in six years - you're one of them.

BRENDAN O'CONNOR: But if you look at the - there may well have been some changes, and we've certainly had some challenges dealing with a minority government, but I think the runs are on the board insofar as the big decisions. Nobody's going to pretend that we are perfect. There is no such thing as a perfect government, and we've made some mistakes, but on those big decisions, Kieran, in responding to the global financial crisis, the speed and scale of which meant that we saved hundreds of thousands of jobs. We were making those decisions when the Opposition leader was voting against those actual stimulus packages that actually protected our economy and indeed jobs in this country.

Now, I think people will look at us and say, well, they've made some mistakes but the big decisions they've got right, and that's why we've got - we're one of only eight countries in the world, Kieran, who have a AAA rating from all three agencies and that's why we've got such a good economic record. But there's more to be done, and the Prime Minister wants to make sure that he provides the opportunity for that to happen...


BRENDAN O'CONNOR: ...if we're, of course accepted by the Australian people.

KIERAN GILBERT: Brendan O'Connor, thanks for your time this morning. We'll chat to you again many times over this campaign. Appreciate it.

BRENDAN O'CONNOR: Yeah, thanks Kieran.

Media contacts: Minister's office (02) 6277 7320

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