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Interview Sky News with Laura Jayes

JAYES:
The  Communications Minister Mitch Fifield, who joins me live from Sydney this  afternoon. Now Mitch Fifield, you aren't on Pollie Pedal evidently, but while  on Pollie Pedal Tony Abbott has today suggested that the government should  potentially look at compulsorily acquiring the Liddell coal fired power station  and its assets if AGL refuses to sell. This can be done in the name of energy  security. What do you think of that idea?

FIFIELD:
That's not  going to happen. And I should make the point at the outset that lycra doesn't  really suit me, Laura. But no, I don't think that that particular proposition  is going to happen. We're keen to see a situation where that facility can  continue. And we hope that there is someone who is in a position to do just  that.

JAYES:
Ok, so is Tony  Abbott just on a frolic of his own here, can you rule out that this has been  considered at any stage by the government?

FIFIELD:
Well Josh  Frydenberg has been very clear about the approach that the Government is  taking.

JAYES:
There seems to  be a bit of a power struggle at the moment within the coalition. On the one  hand, you have, Josh Frydenberg, other ministers, who are sticking to the  National Energy Guarantee, and then you have the Monash Forum. How damaging is  that? And do you think there is a middle ground that means there will be a  display of unity in the government, at least on energy policy?

FIFIELD:
There is unity  in the Government. The Party Room overwhelmingly endorsed the National Energy  Guarantee. But of course you do have colleagues who from time to time form  together in different interest groups, and discuss issues and put propositions  forward. That's part of a democratic process and a vigorous Party Room. But the  overwhelming majority of colleagues are absolutely on board with the National  Energy Guarantee approach.

JAYES:
If you could  just hold on there for a moment, we're going to go to your colleague  Agricultural Minister David Littleproud.
[break]
Let me ask you  about 30 Newspolls. The Prime Minister said today that he regrets setting that  benchmark, but he believes that he has the support of the party room. Would the  numbers be the same if there was a Party Room ballot, or would have some of  those numbers fallen away?

FIFIELD:
We collectively  made a decision in 2015 for a change. There were a number of reasons that we  did that. Firstly, we wanted to make sure that we had the economic debate front  and centre of the national discussion. We've achieved that. Every day we're  talking about jobs growth. Every day we're talking about reducing the tax  burden. 
But we also  wanted to get the Parliament working. We've passed over 200 bills since the  last election. We've re-established the ABCC. We've established the Registered  Organisation Commission. We've reformed the Human Rights Commission. We've  outlawed corrupting benefits. We've reformed school education funding. We've  reformed the child care system. We've legislated $34b worth of savings since  the last election. We've legislated the first tranche of company tax cuts. And  we're on track for the budget in balance by 2020/21. We wanted to get the  Parliament working. It is working.
But also  importantly, we wanted to make sure we were competitive. That we could keep  Bill Shorten out of the Prime Ministership. We've succeeded. We won the last  election. We won the Bennelong by-election. And every electoral outing the  Prime Minister has led us on. We've won. All those things we wanted to see  happen. All those things have happened. So it's a contented Party Room I can  assure you.

JAYES:
That's a long  list you've just been through minister, does that justify dumping Tony Abbott  as leader when he got to 30 Newspolls?

FIFIELD:
As I say, there  are a range of reasons that Party Room colleagues, as a collective, decided to  make a change.

JAYES:
You say the  Parliament wasn't working for example, but much of that has got to do with the  Senate make up which is out of control now, and out of Tony Abbott's control  then. What's the evidence that the Parliament is working better?

FIFIELD:
Well the  evidence is that we've passed 200 pieces of legislation since the last  election. And all those measures that I went through, a number of them were  stuck in the Parliament. Because of Malcolm Turnbull's leadership, because of  his engagement with the Senate and the crossbench, we have secured the passage  of that legislation. Those things weren't happening. We weren't talking about  jobs growth. We weren't talking about reducing the tax burden. These are things  that have happened under Malcolm Turnbull's leadership. And we're competitive.  We succeeded in keeping Bill Shorten out of the Lodge. And we want to continue  to keep Bill Shorten off the treasury benches. This is a guy who wants to rip  away money that Australians have worked hard for. That they've prepared and  planned for their retirement. But Bill Shorten says “look, I'm sorry, we're not  into people being self-reliant, we want to hit you with tax increases”. What  we're saying is ‘no'. That's not right. And we don't want Bill Shorten to be in  a position to do that.

JAYES:
Do you respect  Tony Abbott's right to speak out from the back bench? Of course his words carry  more weight, because he is a former Prime Minister, so what should he do with  his grievances or his policy differences? Should he continue what he's doing,  or do you see this as a breaking of a promise not to snipe?

FIFIELD:
Well look, Tony  Abbott laid out for himself the criteria that he would follow in his post-Prime  Ministerial life. So it's for him, and others, to assess against those  criteria.

JAYES:
Do you think  he's broken his own rules?

FIFIELD:
He laid out a  criteria for himself. And it's for him to determine whether or not he's  following that. But obviously as a backbencher, he has every right to speak, to  contribute to the national debate. But it's incumbent on me, and all of my  colleagues, to do everything within our power to put us in the best position to  keep Bill Shorten out of the Lodge. And all of us should focus on stripping  paint from the Labor Party.

JAYES:
Do you  categorise the policy differences as sniping?

FIFIELD:
Well it's for  commentators such as yourself to reflect on that. My job is not to be a  commentator or an assessor of my colleagues. My job is to focus on the agenda  in my portfolio.

JAYES:
Let's put it a  different way for you Senator Fifield. If there's a constant voice with an  alternative view on policy, do you see that as damaging your prospects for  re-election?

FIFIELD:
There's no  problem with colleagues contributing to the policy debate and putting forward  alternative views. Particularly those who don't hold executive office. Those on  the backbench. That's the trade-off. If you don't hold executive office, you  have a greater freedom to speak. But that freedom comes with a responsibility  that it should never be at the expense of the government's electoral fortunes.

JAYES:
Senator Fifield  can I ask you quickly about Facebook? We've seen 300,000 members or accounts  that were part of that data breach. The Privacy Commissioner is investigating.  Are there any more things that could come Facebook's way? Do you have any cause  for repercussions?

FIFIELD:
Well the  Privacy Commissioner, when this issue first arose a couple of weeks ago, said  they were going to have a preliminary enquiry. Since that time Mr Zuckerberg,  before the US Congress, has indicated that there could be 300,000 Australians  whose data may have been compromised. So the Privacy Commissioner in the last  couple of days has announced that they will be undertaking a formal enquiry to  determine if the Privacy Act has been breached. It's for the Privacy Commissioner  to establish what the facts are. But the Privacy Commissioner does have the  power to level civil penalties. The Privacy Commissioner does have the power to  enter into enforceable undertakings. As to what happens in this circumstance,  we'll have to wait and see what the findings are.

JAYES:
Senator, thanks  so much for your time.

[ends]