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.


Politics podcast: Chris Richardson on the state of the Australian economy  

Ahead of next week’s mid-year economic and fiscal outlook, the government has been hit with the sobering news that real GDP shrank in the September quarter. Deloitte Access Economics’ Chris Richardson offers some context to the gloomy figures.

“Perhaps a better way to describe it is the numbers have been artificially good for a while and now they’re looking artificially bad. The bottom line is that for four years now, Australia’s economy has been growing just a little bit below trend and that’s partly because the boom in China has peaked. China has slowed and that is throwing some challenges our way.”

Richardson tells Michelle Grattan he sees a lot that is missing from the debate about how to strengthen the economy and the budget.

“If you asked the person in the street - they’re aware that there are challenges but they don’t really know what they are and that worries me because getting good policies requires a good understanding from the ele [...]

Nick Xenophon on working the new parliament  

As the curtain falls on the year, one of the most powerful players in the new parliament looks back on his successes. Nick Xenophon nominates whistleblower protections and procurement law changes negotiated alongside the government’s industrial legislation as major achievements.

“The government has agreed to sweeping changes to whistleblower protections in this country. Compensation for whistleblowers will be built into the registered organisations legislation that will apply to unions and employer organisations but most importantly it will also apply to corporations and to the public sector in the next 18 months and we’ve already begun the process on that.

“The other big achievement, just a few days ago was with the ABCC legislation. The government has agreed to procurement law changes which will mean for the first time we’re more in line with some of our major trading partners,” Xenophon says.

Xenophon tells Michelle Grattan that his team will [...]

Josh Frydenberg on climate change and the 2017 review  

After ratifying the Paris agreement on climate change, the government is looking ahead to its 2017 review of climate change policy. Energy and Environment Minister Josh Frydenberg tells Michelle Grattan the government will have more to say about the review before Christmas.

“The key is to ensure we’re on track to meet our 2030 targets, which is a 26-28% reduction in our emissions by 2030 on 2005 levels. We did beat our first Kyoto target by 128 million and we’re on track to beat our 2020 target by 78 million tonnes. But clearly the 2030 target is a larger one and a more challenging one,” Frydenberg says.

“We’ve got some good mechanisms in place but we’ll be looking at the overall settings to ensure we meet our Paris commitments.”

With some in the Coalition rattled by the growing popularity of One Nation, Frydenberg says: “The way to deal with it is to listen and to understand people’s concerns as to why they have left some of the major parti [...]

Jenny Macklin on Labor’s approach to welfare  

In times of budgetary constraint, the cost of Australia’s welfare system has been regarded by many in the Coalition as a burden and a drag on economic growth. Shadow Minister for Social Services and Families Jenny Macklin has a different take.

“Sadly I think the Liberal-National Coalition have an ideological view that the welfare system is too generous - even though the international evidence is completely to the contrary…our social security system is one of the most tightly targeted in the world,” she says.

For Labor, the message is that cuts to welfare and social services increases inequality - damaging the wider economy.

“You’ve got the International Monetary Fund, the OECD, other very big international players telling us that increasing inequality is a constraint on growth. So what Labor is saying is that we want to… use all the different levers available to us to reduce inequality through the tax changes on negative gearing for example, throu [...]

Barnaby Joyce on the state of the National Party  

Earlier this week, footage aired of Attorney-General George Brandis speculating that Queensland’s Liberal National Party might demerge. But Nationals leader and Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce says this won’t happen.

“It’s not going to happen. You know why? Because the people who make that decision is not George, or myself or anybody else, it’s the membership and the membership would have to decide they want to do it and I haven’t heard any big swathes of members having meetings saying that want to demerge.”

Joyce tells Michelle Grattan the Nationals need to differentiate themselves from the Liberals.

“I think people clearly understand there’s a difference between the National Party and the Liberal Party. They recognise the qualities in both. If there wasn’t a reason to differentiate then you would amalgamate. So I’m very - always have been - parochially National.

“When I first came into politics back in 2005 and we got do [...]

Rory Medcalf on the security implications of Donald Trump’s presidency  

For allies of the United States, the reality of a Donald Trump presidency has just begun to sink in. Former Australian diplomat and intelligence analyst, Professor Rory Medcalf, who heads the National Security College at ANU, tells Michelle Grattan that for Australia, the shock of the Trump presidency will mean that we have to think much more seriously about what our foreign policy and national security looks like with an unpredictable American ally.

“I do think that Australia knows now that we can’t simply rely on the strategic direction that America is setting in the Asia-Pacific or the Indo-Pacific region, because I suspect under Trump, for quite a while, the Americans won’t know that themselves,” he says.

“A lot of old certainties are now in question. I think that countries like China and Russia are going to feel emboldened, particularly Russia. I think US allies around the world are going to be feeling anxious and there is this potential for a ripple ef [...]

Julian Leeser on section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act  

Many in the government have clamoured for changes to be made to section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act. Liberal backbencher Julian Leeser, however is not one of them.

The member for the northern Sydney seat of Berowra tells Michelle Grattan there are definitely people within the Liberal Party who share his view that Section 18C “achieves a good balance between allowing people the freedom of speech which is necessary in a democracy like Australia but also protecting racial minorities from racial vilification and racial slurs”.

“But the thing that I think unites everybody in this debate, regardless of your view on Section 18C, is that the process underscored in the QUT case and also in the Bill Leak case, just didn’t work as well as [...]

Kim Beazley on the US election  

Kim Beazley’s time as Australia’s ambassador to the United States came to an end earlier this year, but he is riveted by next week’s presidential election.

“When I was the ambassador to Washington I just missed politics every day. In this year, I am missing the United States every day,” he says.

Beazley tells Michelle Grattan that [...]

John Blaxland on The Secret Cold War - The Official History of ASIO  

In the third volume of The Official History of ASIO series, historians Dr John Blaxland and Dr Rhys Crawley examine the organisation’s role in the years leading to the end of the Cold War.

Blaxland tells Michelle Grattan that this is a story about looking at Australia in the ‘70s and ’80s “through the glasses of an ASIO officer or an ASIO agent”.

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.

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