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Lateline with David Lipson


Senator Fifield, thanks for your time. We've just heard the latest from Nice, what's the latest message from the Government's perspective?MITCH FIFIELD:David, like most Australians I cannot understand what would be in the mind of the people undertaking these sorts of attacks. Obviously our thoughts are with the French people. And at this stage we know three Australians have sustained injuries. Things could no doubt develop further. But any Australian who is concerned about family or friends, they should certainly contact the Department of Foreign Affairs Consular Advice line.

DAVID LIPSON:Moving to domestic matters. And the crossbench in the Senate, you had a significant role in the last Parliament and at times dealing with the crossbench, how big a role will you play in this Parliament?

MITCH FIFIELD:I had the great privilege of being the Manager of Government Business in the Senate in the last Parliament and it'll be up to the Prime Minister as to which roles we play in the new Parliament.

David it would be fair to say, the Senate always has been and will continue to be a many splendored thing. We know that governments of the day very seldom have a majority in the Australian Senate. There was a brief period of time under the Howard Government where that was the case.

So it's always incumbent on the government of the day to make the case and to work cooperatively with the Senators that the Australian people have returned.

DAVID LIPSON:There were considerable problems getting the Government's agenda through in the last Parliament. What will you and what will the Government do differently this time?

MITCH FIFIELD:We did have some significant successes in the last Senate, David. We achieved the abolition of the Carbon Tax. We achieved the abolition of the Minerals Resource Rent Tax. There were a number of important budget savings measures which we secured through the Senate.

Obviously, we didn't have the cooperation of the Australian Labor Party which was extremely disappointing. You hope the party that aspires to be the alternative government, would put the national interest ahead on occasion. That didn't happen. Let's hope we can take Bill Shorten at his word that in this Parliament, in this Senate, the Labor Party will take a different and more constructive approach.

DAVID LIPSON:But if Labor doesn't cooperate, you'll need to turn to turn to that crossbench. Last time you needed six of the eight crossbenches to get legislation through the Senate. This time we don't know the final outcome of this Senate, but it may be more like nine of 11 crossbenches. Is that going to be more difficult?

MITCH FIFIELD:In the last Senate we had 18 crossbenches when you include the Greens …

DAVID LIPSON:I'm not counting the Greens in that nine.

MITCH FIFIELD:It will probably be a similar number, maybe one or two more crossbenchers. I'm very optimistic and very positive about the new Senate. Those who will be independent crossbench Senators have put their hands up to run for Parliament for the right reasons.

And I think the important thing with crossbench Senators is to apply the ordinary rules of human engagement. Too often, members of parliament will leave those at the door. But if you deal with people where they are, and work back from there, you can have good outcomes. There is no point having as your starting point dealing with someone where you want them to be or where you think they should be. You've got to deal with them where they are and work back from there and you can achieve some good things. I'm very optimistic about this new Senate.

DAVID LIPSON:On company tax cuts, Labor and the Greens have already put their positions forward. Can you really see Nick Xenophon's team or Pauline Hanson supporting company tax cuts for businesses with a turnover of more than $10 million a year?

MITCH FIFIELD:Nick Xenophon is someone who has a history as a great supporter of small business. Pauline Hanson, we know, has worked in small business. These are people who have put their hands up for the right reasons. I'm sure there will be good will and that we can work through legislation constructively together.

DAVID LIPSON:So you can work through the small business changes. What about bigger companies, that's the centrepiece of the Government's economic plan?

MITCH FIFIELD:We spent eight weeks through the Federal election campaign talking about our budget. Our budget was in effect our election manifesto. So we took that to the election. We spent eight weeks talking about it, putting it to the Australian people. We have been elected as a majority government. So it is absolutely our intention to put our agenda to the Parliament and to argue for it.

DAVID LIPSON:And you may have an even bigger problem though in your own party, particularly when it comes to superannuation. We may see this, we will see this play out on Monday when the Party Room meets for the first time since the election. Some conservatives within the Party are not going to stand for it, they say, some of the superannuation changes that the Government has put forward. Will the Government entertain the idea of changing that superannuation package?

MITCH FIFIELD:David, we have done something which hasn't been done for a long long time, and that is, we delivered a budget on the eve of a Federal election. Our manifesto, our platform, was clear for the Australian people. We spent eight weeks talking about that. And that includes superannuation. And we have been returned as a majority government. So it would be passing strange if a government that was elected with a majority didn't seek to implement the platform that it took to the election. And that's what we'll seek to do.

DAVID LIPSON:So does Malcolm Turnbull owe the conservatives anything or will they need to pull their heads in?

MITCH FIFIELD:I think there is a misapprehension which you can forgive people for forming if you read some of the commentary. We don't have people walking around our Party Room with big C's stamped on their foreheads as Conservatives or big L's as Liberals. We are all there, we are all behind Malcolm Turnbull. We all ran on the platform that we took to the election, yes there …

DAVID LIPSON:You're not all behind Malcolm Turnbull. You are, but not everyone in the Party is. It seems, there have been a number of break outs just days after winning the election.

MITCH FIFIELD:Sure there is a little bit of noise about the traps, but the overwhelming majority of colleagues are united behind Malcolm Turnbull, ran on the platform we took to the election, and want to set about putting that in train.

DAVID LIPSON:Would the Government be better served with another Conservative in Cabinet to rebalance, as some have suggested?

MITCH FIFIELD:I think we have a very balanced Cabinet and a very balanced front bench. Ultimately, appointments to the Ministry are matters for the Prime Minister, and no doubt he'll have something to say about that in the very near future.

DAVID LIPSON:There was a push earlier in the week from some Nationals for Fiona Nash to take on more responsibility in your portfolio – communications – perhaps more oversight of the ABC and perhaps the nbn in the bush as well. Are you planning on giving up any of those responsibilities?

MITCH FIFIELD:I'm very relaxed in the gig that I have. I'm enjoying it. I've had a terrific working relationship with Fiona Nash who is the Minster for Regional Communications. She has responsibility for some important projects for regional Australia such as the Mobile Black Spot Programme. But whatever is the Prime Minister's wish in relation to portfolios, would be fine with me. I'm enjoying what I am doing but anything the Prime Minister chooses to give me, I'll be happy with.

DAVID LIPSON:Well we'll see early next week. Mitch Fifield, thanks so much for joining us.


Thanks very much David.


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