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Karvelas SkyNews Melbourne

E & OE

KARVELAS:

Mitch Fifield do you know of another thing happening right now?

FIFIELD:

I don’t.

KARVELAS:

Why would we?

FIFIELD:

I was so excited yesterday. What a fantastic story for the Western Bulldogs. I’m a Hawthorn supporter so I didn’t think I would feel emotionally invested in the match but I couldn’t help myself. 

KARVELAS:

I was born in Footscray so I had a soft spot, but we’re a Sydney Swans family, so to be perfectly honest with you, not a good outcome for the children. 

FIFIELD:

No.

KARVELAS:

Not a good end.

FIFIELD:

No, conflicted.

KARVELAS:

And that booing. They were very nasty to the Swans. 

FIFIELD:

I think that was entirely predictable.

KARVELAS:

And it worked.

FIFIELD:

You’ve got a Victorian team against an interstate team in the Grand Final. There will be a bit of passion expressed. 

KARVELAS:

Just a bit, it wasn’t polite.

Let’s get to the politics. Liberal Senator Cory Bernardi has urged the Coalition to support policies more like One Nation, should you be doing that? Is that a good idea? 

FIFIELD:

We have our own policy agenda. We have our own vision for the nation. And that's what we should pursue. 

As you know we are very focused on the business of budget repair. We’ve had some success with the passage of the omnibus bill.

As a party we warmly embrace immigration, but we recognise that what the Australian people expect is that you have secure borders. And when you have secure borders then the Australian people are much more comfortable with a high immigration intake.

But we’ve got our plan and we should pursue it. 

KARVELAS:

He says the reason you should embrace these policies is to reconnect with voters. Do you need to reconnect with voters?

FIFIELD:

You’ve constantly got to earn the trust of the Australian people. It’s not something that you just do during the course of an election campaign. It’s something that you have to do day in, day out as a Member of Parliament. And day in, day out as a Government.

KARVELAS:

Do you agree with his thesis though, that you need to have these, kind of I suppose you have to say more right wing policies, harder line on immigration, harder line on Muslims, to try to appeal to this base. This base that is leaving you?

FIFIELD:

Well I don’t accept that our base is leaving us. We won the election. It was a tightly fought contest.

But something that we also have to recognise is that there is always a bit of a footloose vote on the right of politics, particularly in Queensland. It manifests itself in different ways. We saw the Joh for PM exercise, we had the first iteration of Pauline Hanson and One Nation, the Palmer United Party, Pauline Hanson again, returning to the Parliament. So there is always a bit of a footloose vote. 

And what we want to do, as a Coalition, is have a broad appeal. And the Liberal Party and the National Party working together in Coalition I think provides very broad appeal for the Australian community. 

KARVELAS:

Of course Victorian voters and you’re a Victorian Senator, demand something very different to what Cory Bernardi is calling for. 

Does that concern you? Is that why you’re arguing for the sort of centre ground, centre right ground. That actually across the country the story is a different one?

FIFIELD:

Elections are always fought and won in the centre. I think on occasion, commentators forget the fact, and I certainly know the opposition forget the fact, that we actually won the election. 

We are governing. We are getting on with the people’s business.

KARVELAS:

How do you explain Newspoll? 

Because you’ve had a couple of wins, absolutely significant wins in my view. Omnibus Bill, absolutely significant. Super changes, backpacker changes that you’ve articulated now. You’re clearly getting some runs of the board but you’re not being rewarded for it. Why not?

FIFIELD:

It's early days in a new term of Parliament. We’re not looking at the polls. What we want to do is good policy. And I think John Howard was absolutely right when he was Prime Minister and he would constantly say that good policy is good politics.

If you get the policy right, if the Australian public are convinced that you’re pursuing their interest, rather than your own, then ultimately that’s recognised at the ballot box.

KARVELAS:

Did you look at the results of that Newspoll into the Plebiscite?

FIFIELD:

I saw them in the paper, yes. 

KARVELAS:

There seems to be almost a fifty-fifty split of your own Coalition voters who half support the Plebiscite and half support Parliamentary vote. Does that concern you?

FIFIELD:

We took our plebiscite proposition to the election. It was a very clear policy. No one was in any doubt what it was.

We took it to the election. We won. We are now duty bound to seek to give effect to our election commitment. Which is what we’re doing. 

KARVELAS:

Sure. But when you go back to Parliament in a week, it’s almost certain now that Labor will block and announce, finally, they have taken their time which I plan to raise with my next guest. But they will block the plebiscite which means, it’s over. Does that mean that there is a chance to revisit this issue of how you do it within this Parliament?

FIFIELD:

Let’s see you know Patricia as the Manager of Government Business in the Senate I am by nature a legislative optimist. I’ve got to be hopeful in that particular gig that I have. I never count anything down, until the vote has actually occurred. The Australian Labor Party should recognise the fact that we took this to the election. What the Labor Party are asking us to do is break an election commitment. We’re not going to do that. 

KARVELAS:

You’ve adjusted other election commitments, to be fair. Superannuation, it’s a fairly different policy to the one you took to the election. But you were prepared to do that.  

FIFIELD:

The fundamentals of our superannuation policy are still there. We wanted to make it a fairer system. We’ve done that. Yes there have been adjustments, and you can always make adjustments. But what we aim to do is to secure the passage of the Plebiscite Bill. The Australian Labor Party should support that. There are so many people in the Labor Party who want to see same-sex marriage become a reality. And the best and fastest way to ensure that happens is to allow us to honour our election commitment so that there can be a plebiscite in February next year. 

KARVELAS:

But if it doesn’t work out. If it doesn’t. And they do block it and your optimism has been wasted. That would be sad for you, personally, but another moment where your optimism doesn’t quite work out for you.

Would you be prepared, or do you see a scenario that it would be revisited in the Party Room to have a conscience vote?

FIFIELD:

We are focused on one thing. And that is seeking the passage of the plebiscite bill. The Australian Labor Party should support that. 

Look, there is no great issue of moral principle on the part of the Australian Labor Party. Bill Shorten has previously supported a Plebiscite. There is no philosophical reason why the Australian Labor Party should find themselves unable to support that which we took to an election, that which was endorsed at the election. 

KARVELAS:

Just on this fight now, it has become the emissions target fight. The energy policy, I know it’s not your area, just broadly. Josh Frydenberg today called for a national discussion on the growing reliance on renewable energy sources. As being, these concerns about the sort of ambitious targets particularly by Queensland, obviously South Australia. 

You might want to have this conversation. But was it really right to sort of start slamming a state in the middle of a black out?

FIFIELD:

I think it’s entirely appropriate for the Energy Minister to raise the issue of renewable targets. We have a target at the Commonwealth level. The State targets are out of whack with that. 

And the reason I say that it’s appropriate is, yes, we all recognise that the black out in South Australia was caused by a significant weather event. Whether there were other factors at play, in terms of the actual structure of the South Australian electricity industry, well that’s something which will come out over time.

It’s appropriate, I think, when Australians, and particularly South Australians, are asking themselves questions about energy security and about energy reliability for this issue to be put on the table. And Energy Ministers are gathering Friday of this week to discuss just that. 

KARVELAS:

Just on Wyatt Roy, is everyone being a little cruel to Wyatt Roy? Isn’t it his right to defy travel advice?

FIFIELD:

We’re all incredibly fond of Wyatt, and any concern that has been expressed is really, just out of a desire to look afer Wyatt’s welfare. 

But also, when you’re someone who has been an elected figure, people around the country will look at what you do. And we want to make sure Australians don’t think that it’s wise to go into, potentially, harm’s way in a war zone. 

KARVELAS:

So he’s almost, if I can use this term, I don’t know if it’s appropriate, but a role model and he’s not using that role effectively 

FIFIELD:

Anyone who has a public profile has to think about how their actions will be perceived and if others may follow them. 

KARVELAS:

I want to get to your portfolio. Labor support the removal of the reach rule with these media reforms you’re pushing, but wants a review into the two out of three rule. I know that’s currently under way, the Senate submissions closed, I think within the last week?

FIFIELD:

That’s right. 

KARVELAS:

Stephen Conroy was one of the biggest opponents of that particular change. He’s now gone, in very unusual circumstances, I always thought it was a little odd the way he resigned but that’s another discussion. 

But he’s gone are you more confident that there might be a shift there? Do you think there is any indication that there might be?

FIFIELD:

Well look, Stephen hasn’t been the Shadow Minister for Communications or the Minister for Communications for quite some time. Jason Clare had carriage until Michelle Rowland became the Shadow for Communications.

KARVELAS:

But he has a lot of power, he had a lot of influence on Bill Shorten. He was very passionate about communications.

FIFIELD:

He’s an idiosyncratic figure. 

But I always found Jason Clare extremely good to deal with. I’ve found Michelle Rowland very open and very positive in the engagement that we’ve had.

You’re right Labor have it clear that they would support the removal of the 75% audience reach rule. They’ve reserved their position on the two out of three rule. 

But it’s high time we got rid of both of these rules. Our media laws were created in an environment where the internet didn’t exist. The media laws that we have, had the perfectly good intention of trying to underpin diversity by constraining concentration of media ownership. But all of that becomes pretty irrelevant when you have the internet. And so the only organisations that are constrained are Australian media businesses on the traditional platforms of print, radio and TV. 

KARVELAS:

But given this new spirit of cooperation that we’re seeing in the Parliament, we have seen changes. I mean the omnibus bill to me is still an extraordinary moment of that kind of compromise where you were willing to abandon some of your own things like the baby bonus. Would you do that here too?

Split the bill, do the thing that Labor supports and then, you know, keep working toward your other goal?

FIFIELD:

I’m putting forward the bill as a package. I think it’s appropriate that both of these media rules are looked at together as a package.

Both of these media laws should be really, really straightforward for the Opposition to come to the table to agree that they are redundant and get rid of them.

There will still be ongoing protections. There will still be what’s known as the five/four rule, the two to a market rule, the one to a market rule. Things will still have to pass the ruler of the ACCC. And if there were questions of foreign investment involved FIRB’s role is still there. So there is still significant protections even in the absence of two out of three and the 75% reach. 

KARVELAS:

Just on the National Broadband Network. It announced the 800 million dollar effective backflip after insisting just last November, I think, that Optus’old Hybrid Fibre Coax infrastructure could be used for the nbn, now they say it can’t be. Isn’t that embarrassing? I mean just November there was a different position and now we’re seeing this quite significant backflip.

FIFIELD:

Not at all. It’s important to go back a little bit to 2011 when Labor were in office. They paid Optus 800 million dollars to shut down their network and migrate their customers across. 9 billion dollars to Telstra for a similar sort of agreement.

When Malcolm Turnbull became the Minister, he negotiated, for not one extra dollar, to have the option of using the Telstra and Optus HFC networks for nbn rollout if that made sense.

So Labor keep saying the Coalition Government paid 800 million dollars for something they’re scrapping. No, it was Labor that paid 800 million dollars. For not an extra dollar we just secured the right to have HFC as an option. 

As it turns out, we’re still going to have about two and half million premises nationwide connected using the Telstra HFC network. The Optus HFC network will still be used in the Redcliffe area of Queensland. But it’s proved to be more economical to use Fibre to the Distribution Point for about 400,000 premises that could have previously had access to the nbn through the Optus HFC. 

So this isn’t remotely embarrassing. What this is, is the demonstration of the wisdom of the multi technology mix approach that Malcolm Turnbull put in place. Which is nbn has the freedom to use the technology to deliver the nbn nationwide using that which will see it rolled out fastest and at lowest cost. And the great news Patricia, is that we now have more than 25% of the nation able to access the nbn, more than half of the country will be able to access it middle of next year. The whole project will be complete by 2020, and that’s 6 to 8 years sooner than would have been the case under Labor and at 30 billion dollars less cost. It’s a good story.

KARVELAS:

Mitch Fifield I’ve got to let you go, but you know, I know we’re not interested in tonight’s Grand Final because we had ours, but are you going for the Melbourne Storm for the Melbourne reason?

FIFIELD:

Look I would be a very ordinary Senator for the State of Victoria if I wasn’t supporting the Melbourne Storm. So I am hoping that we have a win for Melbourne, both in the NRL and in the AFL. 

KARVELAS:

Defying your Treasurer?

FIFIELD:

Absolutely, and consciously. 

KARVELAS:

Alright consciously, thank you so much for coming. 

FIFIELD:

Thanks Patricia.

KARVELAS:

That’s Mitch Fifield there Joining us there. 

[ends]