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Transcript: ABC News Radio

24 Jun 2013


Subjects: 457 visa reforms; legislative program; polls; leadership.

SANDY ALOISI: Julia Gillard - today marks the third anniversary of her rise to the Prime Ministership after the deposing of Kevin Rudd. But there's been no public celebration of that event. And three years down the track she's battling disastrously low poll figures and vocal internal dissent. And there's little time for reflection for Labor, with Parliament today opening its last sitting week before the election.

For a Government view on the week ahead, Marius Benson is speaking to the Trade Minister Craig Emerson.

MARIUS BENSON: Craig Emerson, good morning.

CRAIG EMERSON: And to you, Marius.

BENSON: A fairly hectic week ahead. You've got a lot of legislation that hasn't been resolved. You've got four, maybe five sitting days ahead. Is the 457 visa, the tightening of regulations on that, at the top of the list of things to do?

EMERSON: In the House of Representatives, that's right. That hasn't passed at this stage. And all we're seeking to do here is to bring into effect the original intent of that legislation, which is that where we actually have skill shortages, yes, you can use 457 visas. But where we have locals available to do the work, then there is an obligation on the employer, the applicant, to seek those locals out through advertising. It's a pretty simple proposition. And for that to be described as racist, as members of the Coalition have done, is absolutely disgusting.

And Tony Abbott has said that he would use the current arrangements as a mainstay of his immigration program. I'd add that he would use it as a mainstay of his industrial relations program, too. Because what he really wants is a compliant workforce that can be deported at the drop of a hat and so that Australian workers would have no bargaining power on wages and conditions at all.

BENSON: Three years today since Julia Gillard got the top job. Has there been any celebration in the Gillard camp?

EMERSON: No, no, we don't have time to celebrate. We've got this legislative program to implement. There's an enormous amount of legislation in the Senate, too, so they're trying to get through that. But we have had great achievements, and they include putting a price on carbon - a very gutsy decision. We see China is now moving in that direction. The Coalition again has said that would never happen; China would never come on board. Well, China is, and we are going to be part of a global effort to reduce carbon emissions.

President Obama this week is outlining plans in the United States to do it. So far from the science of climate change being "absolute crap", or the suggestion that it's been settled as being "absolute crap", there is a global consensus now that action is required, countries are moving and we have done that. That is a visionary policy from Julia Gillard. That's one of many. You know, the National Disability Insurance Scheme, very important; education reforms.

BENSON: Sure, but, yeah, a familiar list. You've said always that it was wrong to dump Kevin Rudd - that's still your view?

EMERSON: Well, look, that's history now, and we are looking to the future and the future means that we must unite behind Julia Gillard. Mr Rudd has said there are no circumstances in which he would return to the leadership. He should stick to his word on that. This matter should have been settled a long time ago; should have been settled, what, more than a year ago when there was a resounding ballot - but it wasn't.

More recently there was a vacancy declared at the behest of some members of the Parliamentary Labor Party, and only one candidate available to fill that vacancy. So let's get on, unite, we cannot possibly ...

BENSON: But it does remain unresolved. How do you resolve it this week?

EMERSON: Yeah, I was going to say: we cannot possibly be competitive in a Federal election, as we move towards a Federal election, if we're not united. This is not a new reality. It has always been the case that united parties have the capacity to be competitive. But if they're disunited then they cannot be competitive.

BENSON: And you're…

EMERSON: And I'm amazed that people can't see that reality.

BENSON: And Labor is demonstrably disunited. You had three Senators directly criticising the Prime Minister in the Senate last week. You had two backbenchers saying they'd prefer to have Kevin Rudd. Labor's demonstrably disunited. How do you resolve that this week?

EMERSON: Well, by Kevin sticking to his word, and that word was that there are no circumstances in which he would seek a return to the leadership. But whatever transpires during the course of the week in the House, in the Senate, anywhere else, it must be the end of it. I mean, if anyone thinks that, going into the community after this week, this matter can continue to be pressed by those who aren't happy with their positions in the Party or the Party's position overall, then that is complete folly. That would be the destruction of any chance of Labor winning the next election.

My view is that Labor can be competitive at the next election, but there is no prospect of that if this destabilisation continues. It must stop.

BENSON: Have you seen … is the destabilisation continuing now, as we speak?

EMERSON: Well, obviously, there's plenty of chatter in the media. And, you know, it would again be naive to suggest that this is a media creation. What I've just said at that moment, right now, is nothing new. I've never said it's a media fabrication. There obviously are people briefing the media. It must stop. We cannot go to an election as a disunited party. Indeed, we cannot leave this week as a disunited party. There is no prospect of us being competitive, of the Australian people putting their confidence in the Federal Parliamentary Labor Party as a competitive force in the coming election, if we are not united. We must unite behind Prime Minister Gillard.

BENSON: Craig Emerson, have you seen the internal polling reported in News Limited papers showing that you're going to lose half the Senate, 71 Members of the Lower House, at the next election?

EMERSON: No I haven't. And, again, it's a newspaper report. That particular newspaper has got things wrong many times before. I'm not saying they are on this occasion; I just don't know, because I haven't seen it.

BENSON: And the Newspoll? Pretty grim for you today.

EMERSON: Not a surprise at all, Marius. I mean, if you spend so much of the imagery - if that's devoted on television programs, on the nightly news bulletins, to internal party matters, where we're talking about our jobs and not the jobs of the Australian people - then these are the consequences. Why should anyone be surprised? Why should they be surprised that talking about leadership, talking about and demonstrating instability, exacts a price in opinion polls? It's the most obvious thing that I can possibly imagine. So people should not be surprised at the impact of this speculation on our standing in opinion polls.

It must stop. It must stop this week; otherwise we do not have the chance of being competitive at the next election. I call on all Caucus members to acknowledge that fact, that that is a reality. Get behind Prime Minister Gillard, and then we can be competitive.

BENSON: Craig Emerson, thank you very much.

EMERSON: Thank you. Thanks Marius.

ALOISI: Trade Minister Craig Emerson speaking to Marius Benson.

Media contacts: Minister's office 02 6277 7420

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