Politics with Michelle Grattan

Politics with Michelle Grattan


Michelle Grattan, Chief Political Correspondent at The Conversation, talks politics with politicians and experts, from Capital Hill.


Stirling Griff and Skye Kakoschke-Moore on life in the Senate  

Nick Xenophon’s two new Senate colleagues, Stirling Griff and Skye Kakoschke-Moore, are no strangers to the political process, having both worked with Xenophon behind the scenes.

In a joint interview, they tell Michelle Grattan about their contrasting experiences in becoming politicians. Kakoschke-Moore says she has had the benefit of being around Xenophon for nearly six years. “So I understand the way he operates,” she says.

Working as a Xenophon adviser, she learnt the ropes of the Senate. “It is so rule-driven and so procedure-driven that I have a great deal of sympathy for people coming into this who have had no exposure at all to the inner workings of Senate procedure.”

Tanya Plibersek on marriage equality and education funding  

In the wake of Labor’s rejection of the proposed same-sex marriage plebiscite, speculation has fallen on whether Labor will maintain their planned policy of enforcing a binding vote on marriage equality after the next election. Labor deputy leader Tanya Plibersek tells Michelle Grattan she doesn’t think the issue will come up at the party’s next national conference.

“I know that the Liberals are trying to whip up some notion that this will be reexamined at the next national conference. I don’t hear anybody in the Labor Party calling for this to be [...]

Mark Dreyfus on George Brandis’ solicitor-general controversy  

A contentious move by Attorney-General George Brandis to restrict access to legal advice from the solicitor-general is continuing to raise controversy and questions about its legal validity. Shadow Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus tells Michelle Grattan that he sees this as “the most extraordinary power grab by the Attorney-General in the history of the office”.

“We already know that he’s held up requests. Why? I can’t say, but the deputy secretary of the department giving evidence to the Senate committee last week said that one of the requests had t [...]

Simon Birmingham on the new VET loan scheme  

A new vocational education and training student loan scheme will aim at putting a stop to rorting by dodgy private colleges. Education Minister Simon Birmingham tells Michelle Grattan the new scheme is being built from the ground up. 
“First and foremost, [there will be] strong barriers to entry for the types of vocational education providers who can offer loans as part of it,” he says. 
The reforms will see the number of courses available drop from than 800 to “somewhere around the 300 or 400 mark”, Birmingham says. “There a [...]

Scott Ryan on the same-sex marriage plebiscite and political donations  

Monday’s government-Labor meeting over the proposed same-sex marriage plebiscite ended in a stalemate. But Special Minister of State Scott Ryan tells Michelle Grattan the government has made it very clear it will consider in “good faith” any proposal that Bill Shorten and the Labor Party bring forward.

“The meeting was an opportunity for them - even if they didn’t have the power to make formal suggestions - to actually say ‘these are the terms upon we want to come back to you in a week or two’,” he says.

Ryan gives no encouragement to the view that if the plebsicite legislation is defeated, the government could move to a parliamentary vote. “The government’s position I think, and we’ve done this on a number of issues, is t [...]

Politics podcast: Peter Jennings on Turnbull’s trip to the US  

At next week’s UN General Assembly, Malcolm Turnbull will be among many leaders responding to the large movements of refugees and migrants across the world. Peter Jennings, executive director of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, tells Michelle Grattan that the purpose of Barack Obama’s meeting is to get other countries to accept more refugees through legal channels.

“I don’t think he’s going to make much headway because at the moment the Europeans are closing their doors rather than opening them. But I wouldn’t be surprised if we see significant pledges of new aid and Australia will probably be doing the same thing at that meeting,” he says.

While Turnbull is in the US, he will take part in a dialogue on cyber security. J [...]

Don Watson on the rise of Trump  

Earlier this year, Australian writer Don Watson visited the United States, observing the race for president. Rather than examine the “rust belt” or “down-at-heel” cities, Watson chose America’s heartland.

“I found in Wisconsin many of the underlying themes of this election. And that sort of Gothic quality of the United States where everything has a very deep and often dark story behind it.”

Watson tells Michelle Grattan that what is happening in the United States now has “something to do with the religion of neoliberalism and the really nasty tactics of the Republican Party since Reagan”.

“We ought to be careful I think that we don’t go the [...]

Eric Abetz on the conservatives in the Liberal Party  

In the first sitting of the new parliament, conservatives within the government have muscled a proposed amendment to the Racial Discrimination Act onto the agenda. Senator Eric Abetz, a strong advocate for change, tells Michelle Grattan that he doubts it will be dealt with this year.

“It will be introduced and then I think it would make sense for it to go through the normal processes. It may well go to a Senate committee, things of that nature. So how it transpires - no timetable has been set but we did want to put it up there on the agenda so it could be dealt with in due course,” he says.

“We would hope that in the period of a three-year parliament, we can chew gum and walk at the same time and that there will be time set aside for what [...]

Fred Smith on The Dust of Uruzgan  

Fred Smith is no ordinary Australian diplomat. In postings served in the Uruzgan Province of Afghanistan, he built relationships with tribal leaders while continuing his side-career as a folk musician.

Smith, who has written about his experiences in a book, The Dust of Uruzgan, tells Michelle Grattan for the first three or four months he stashed his guitar under the bed.

“You know, I wanted to be taken seriously as a political officer and not seen as a folk singer. But eventually as I became more comfortable on the base, I got the guitar out and started writing songs and put together bands … and of course there wasn’t much going on on a Saturday night in Tarin Kowt so a lot of people would come,” he says.

Bob Brown on Malcolm Turnbull and the same-sex marriage plebiscite  

Since retiring from politics in 2012, former Greens leader Bob Brown has continued to offer sharp perspectives on issues of national debate. After giving the closing address at the Canberra Writers’ Festival at the weekend, Brown tells Michelle Grattan that Malcolm Turnbull should have “stood up to the right wing” of his party at the end of 2015.

“We now have a reactionary and conservative government. I don’t think that’s where Malcolm Turnbull wants to be. I think he would prefer to be a Bob Menzies, and his time’s running out.

“He either will stand up to that power base of right-wing reactionaries and conservatives, or he’ll be another prime minister who failed to reach their promise, and Australia deserves a very progre [...]

Derryn Hinch on becoming a senator  

Incoming Victorian senator Derryn Hinch has the potential to be an ally or an enemy to the government’s agenda. Describing his political philosophy, Hinch says he isn’t in the Senate “just to be opposition”.

“If I was in America I’d be a Democrat. I’m conservative on some issues. Very conservative. And that’s over law and order issues and I’ve campaigned on those over the years. If I’m a socialist about anything it’s about medicine and hospitals. … Socially I’m fairly lower case liberal,” he says.

In the early days of the new parliament, Hinch plans to try to lift the restrictions on press in the Senate, where current rules prevent Senators from being photographed unless they are speaking on their feet.

Karen Middleton on ‘Albanese: Telling it Straight’  

This week, political reporter Karen Middleton is releasing a book about the life and career of Labor frontbencher Anthony Albanese. At its heart is a deeply personal story of Albanese’s absent father.

As a boy, Albanese believed his father had died in a car accident shortly after his parent’s marriage. But at the age of 14 his mother told him the truth.

Middleton tells Michelle Grattan she came to know Albanese’s story over the years “sort of by accident”. “He had told a few people but not very many and he had kept this story about his father and his personal life very tightly,” she says.

Anne Aly on counter-terrorism policy  

When parliament returns later this month, Labor’s Anne Aly will become the first Muslim woman to take a seat in the lower house. Aly is an internationally renowned scholar on counter-terrorism and de-radicalisation.

In 2014, she was the only Australian expert invited to attend Barack Obama’s summit on countering violent extremism. Aly tells Michelle Grattan she has spoken with many people who have been involved in violent organisations, including former members of the Irish Republican Army, former right-wing neo-nazis, and violent jihadists.

Aly says most deradicalisation programs fail because all that they can do is remove the opportunity, the capability and perhaps change the environment.

Linda Burney on the 50th anniversary of the Wave Hill walk-off  

Next week, Australians will look back at one the most significant moments in the struggle for Indigenous rights. August 23 marks the 50th anniversary of the Wave Hill walk-off when Vincent Lingiari led a group of 200 Aboriginal workers and their families off a Northern Territory pastoral station in protest against their exploitative pay and working conditions.

Labor’s spokesperson for human services, Linda Burney, who at the election became the first Indigenous woman to win a seat in the lower house, tells Michelle Grattan the events of Wave Hill were incredibly important and continue to be.

Burney says the actions of Lingiari and the Gurindji people at Wave Hill were “heroic” and should be “fundamental to everyone’s education in Aust [...]

Tom Calma says Nigel Scullion should go  

The royal commission into the Northern Territory’s youth detention and child protection systems has had a shaky start. The Four Corners program that spurred the federal government into action has also raised questions about its previous knowledge of reports of abuse at the Don Dale detention centre.

Chancellor of the University of Canberra Professor Tom Calma, who is co-chair of Reconciliation Australia and a Northern Territory Aboriginal elder, tells Michelle Grattan that there was “little to no interest” by the federal government and Indigenous Affairs Minister Nigel Scullion into the numerous reports of abuse leading up to the Four Corners program.

He says it was “pretty much swept under the carpet at the Northern Territory level” [...]

Politics podcast: Tiernan Brady on the campaign for marriage equality  

Tiernan Brady was the political director of the “yes” campaign during the Irish referendum on same-sex marriage. With the government pushing ahead with plans for a plebiscite on the issue, Brady is in Australia to help advise local marriage equality advocates.

Brady tells Michelle Grattan one of the most important aspects of the Irish referendum was that they recognised that it should always be about “a real person”.

“It shouldn’t be a set of angry debates and loud interviews where people shout at each other…what it needed to be was friendly conversations, engaging; much more about having conversations at the dinner table, on the street and in the supermarket than in Parliament or on ABC or on the radio,” he says.

Jim Chalmers on Labor’s approach to the economy  

Labor begins its next phase in opposition with bigger numbers in the parliament and with a new level of confidence as it confronts the government.

Shadow Minister for Financial Services and Superannuation Jim Chalmers tells Michelle Grattan Labor has a pretty good record of “supporting what they can” of government savings measures. “The way I like to describe it is when it comes to the budget, you agree where you can and you disagree where you must…I’m someone who puts a lot of value in trying to find as many ways as we can to repair the budget bottom line,” he says.

Darren Chester on the Nationals’ success  

By increasing their numbers within the government, the Nationals were the surprise success story of the election, with a very local campaign. Minister for Infrastructure and Transport and Victorian National Darren Chester tells Michelle Grattan the presidential style of campaigning that is becoming more prevalent in Australia doesn’t suit the Nationals.

“We don’t necessarily benefit from that style of campaigning. That’s no criticism of our Coalition partners. It’s just that they tend to focus on the metropolitan seats where the leader of the day gets a lot of media coverage. Our media coverage and our profile comes through the local newspapers in small country towns, the local ABC or the local commercial television news service,” he says.

Wayne Swan on Labor’s next moves  

As a veteran of the Rudd-Gillard-Rudd years, former treasurer Wayne Swan is a politician with a great deal of experience with parliamentary instability. With the outcome of the election still uncertain, Swan tells Michelle Grattan Labor should approach the next period ahead in a very positive way.

“We put [forward] a comprehensive agenda for inclusive growth. What you saw at this election was the defeat of the Abbott-Turnbull agenda of trickle-down economics,” he says.

Swan says Malcolm Turnbull’s authority has been “shattered” and that he will find it very hard to assert any authority in his partyroom.

“His glass jaw-shattering speech after midnight [...]

James Pearson on the knife-edge result and business confidence  

The election has plunged Australia into uncertainty and placed a question mark over the country for companies looking to invest. Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry CEO James Pearson tells Michelle Grattan that businesses are disappointed there isn’t a clear result and that policies that are pro-business will now be harder to get through parliament.

“The call from business now is to get on with the job of leading and running the country and making decisions for the future,” he says.

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