22 JANUARY 2015
GILBERT: This is AM Agenda with me now the Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasurer Kelly O’Dwyer. Kelly, happy New Year it is the first time you have been on the programme, it’s good to see you. I want to ask you
O’DWYER: It’s great to see you.
GILBERT: About the difficulties the Government is facing a lot of problems for the Government at the start of 2015 though. The Higher Education reforms continue, the GP reforms, the Medicare reforms hitting snag after snag and the mood within the Coalition doesn’t look too great. Before I get you to respond I just want to play you an answer that Tony Abbott gave to Neil Mitchell this morning when he was asked whether or not he would be leader at the next election.
ABBOTT: Yeh that’s nonsense absolute nonsense.
MITCHELL: You will definitely be there at the next election.
ABBOTT: Look Neil, you know if there is one lesson to be learnt from the fate of the former Government in Canberra, maybe even from the fate of the former Government in Victoria is you do not change leaders. You rally behind someone and you stick to the plan. And we’ve got a good plan. I mean the point I keep making is we inherited a mess, we made a good start. There is a lot more to be done but we are on the right track.
GILBERT: Well a lot of your colleagues don’t necessarily agree with that assertion that you are on the right track Kelly.
O’DWYER: Well look it is very clear that we are the only party to actually to have a plan for our country. The only party that has a vision for our country. We want to grow our economy, we want to increase productivity and we have set in place an agenda to do just that. The Government provided to my own home State of Victoria, which the Prime Minister mentioned, just over three billion dollars for the East West Link. That East West Link would clean up congestion on our roads, it would make our city more productive and at the same time it would also deliver more than seven thousand jobs.
We were able to sign a number of free trade agreements last year. One with one of the most significant economic partners that you can sign a free trade agreement with – China. Certainly the most significant partner in our region and that has huge implications for our agricultural producers, for our resources sector, for our financial sector. So we are all about a positive vision for the future of our country.
Labor left us with an enormous mess. Labor has not talked about how they can clean up the mess that they created, billions of dollar of debt.
GILBERT: Ok, well look what do you say to the skittish colleagues on the backbench and elsewhere who have doubts, and have expressed doubts about the Prime Minister’s capacity.
O’DWYER: Well this is all rumour mongering and gossip that is being speculated upon in the media. It’s not the message I’m hearing. My colleagues are all united in wanting to make sure that we do the best job in Government that we can do in order to deliver for the Australian people. Now we were elected to get on with the job of getting rid of the Carbon Tax, we’ve done that. Now that’s got huge implications for the Queensland election because they were budgeting with the Carbon Tax of a hit of a hundred and eighty million dollars. Now that’s gone now, we have delivered on that and that’s a real positive. That’s a positive not only for that Government but for the people of Queensland.
GILBERT: Yeh you say its rumour mongering but it comes from somewhere and that somewhere is your colleagues. You might have a sense that they are united. The sense that I have is very different at the moment that they are very nervous and worried about the direction the Government is heading in.
O’DWYER: Well look we are all headed in the same direction. The truth is as I said to you before Labor left a huge mess. They inherited a position where we had fifty billion dollars in the bank and they turned that into more than two hundred billion dollars of net debt. Gross debt heading upwards over the next ten years of six hundred and sixty seven billion dollars. An interest bill that we are paying each month of more than a billion dollars. Now this is money that we cannot spend on other things. Other services like schools and education which means we do need to make some difficult choices.
Now we have been honest with the Australian people that we are going to need to make some difficult choices. We have got Ministers who are currently consulting on what some of those choices might look like and we are going to continue to have that conversation with the Australian people. The Labor Party itself though is not coming to the party. We’ve had Chris Bowen announce that in Government he is going to cut spending, won’t say what it’s going to be and he is going to increase taxes and again he hasn’t actually declared what that’s going to look like. So I’m not going to take, I’m not going to take…
GILBERT: On the issue of Higher Education you are talking about Ministers consulting. Of course one of them you are talking about is Christopher Pyne flagging compromise but even that has not budged any of the Cross Benchers. They remain, from what we heard yesterday, adamant that they are not going to support deregulation. Yet another stumbling block it seems for a very big reform that the Government wanted to get off to a good start to the year with.
O’DWYER: Well the Higher Education Reform Package is actually looking at increasing access for students to be able to get to universities and TAFEs and private providers. And we said in our package that the only way we can actually fund this is to increase eighty thousand new places for those students is to actually have a deregulation agenda. Where what we are simply asking people to do and students to do is pay a little bit more. Instead of the Government paying on average around about sixty percent of the cost of the students’ fees, we want to flip that to being around forty percent of the cost. So that there is…
GILBERT: Well it’s not going to get through; it’s not going to the Parliament by all the looks at the moment.
O’DWYER: Well the Education Minister is having those discussions. But at the end of the day we are talking about eighty thousand new places. Eighty thousand new places for students who otherwise wouldn’t have access and I think that’s a really positive thing.
GILBERT: Finally Michael Kroger is set to be the next Victorian Liberal Party President. You had another candidate that you were going to support. What are your thoughts on Kroger, the re-emergence of Michael Kroger as a party powerbroker in Victoria at least formally?
O’DWYER: Well I know that all these of sorts of contests excite media interest and attention and we had two people with public profiles who put their hands up for high office in the organisational wing of the Liberal Party. Again that’s always going to is bound to attract interest and comment. There is one candidate now so the presidency is resolved.
GILBERT: Okay Kelly thank you for that, appreciate it.