SUBJECT/S: Labor Conference, MYEFO, IPSOS poll, asylum seeker policy, Newstart Allowance review, Governor-General appointment.

HAMISH MACDONALD: Former Treasurer Wayne Swan is the brand-new Federal President of The Labor Party I spoke with him a few moments ago.

WAYNE SWAN: Good morning.

MACDONALD: Bill Shorten says Labor is ready to govern, right on cue there is a new IPSOS poll pointing to a Labor landslide next year.  How can you possibly lose it from here?

SWAN: Well we don't get too carried away with opinion polls. It's true that we've been ahead in almost every poll for the whole time of this term but we said we don't take the support of the people for granted. We understand we've got to go out there and earn it and I guess this conference is a demonstration of that - four hundred people over three days ,eight hours a day being accountable not just to the party but to the Australian people because it's in public. So you know we're out there outlining our policies if we want to earn the support of the Australian public.

MACDONALD: But does it make it hard going into an election year though, having all of those polls behind you and a very clear indication of disenchantment with the current Government because you know you are really being set up for something big here.

SWAN: Well we don't take it for granted we've got a comprehensive strategy to fight inequality and spread opportunity. And we understand that we need to take the time to talk to the Australian people about those detailed plans. There's no small target strategy coming from the opposition this is a comprehensive strategy to fight inequality and spread opportunity, to make the country more prosperous and fairer that's why we've got a set of fair go policies.

MACDONALD: Today's economic update the MYEFO confirms a budget surplus for next year it will be bigger than previously forecast. That will set up a sizeable war chest for the Government going in to an election coupled with the Coalition's record on economic management. That gives the Coalition something pretty strong to campaign on doesn't it?

SWAN : Well they don't have a great record on economic management but the economy's been far weaker than it should have been over the past five years. Revenues have increased since 2013 by $100 billion. So most of the improvement that they will show in MYEFO is from increased tax revenue completely contrary to the Government’s description of what's going on in the budget.

MACDONALD : Give the Government some credit though for getting the budget back to surplus.

SWAN : Not for the return of the tax revenues, I mean revenues have been depressed basically since the end of 2007 early 2008. And they're just starting to return that's the impact of the aftershocks of the Global Financial Crisis. It's not because of the good work of the Government at all, it's not because of expenditure restraint, it's because of increased tax revenues but the Government's rhetoric is completely contrary to all of that.

MACDONALD : We know you were the Treasurer, we know that you never managed to deliver a surplus, surely you can give this Government some credit for getting the budget to that position.

SWAN : I do not give them credit for the $100 billion increase of revenues since 2013. They have come back because economic conditions are globally coming back.

MACDONALD : But they have taken decisions that meant that money has not been spent elsewhere. That has meant that they are now able to say that the budget will be back in the black.

SWAN : It is very good that the budget is coming back to surplus and so it should be with that increase in revenues but the Government's rhetoric is somehow this is a consequence of expenditure restraint. It’s nothing of the sort, what it is, a record-high tax take by the Liberals.

MACDONALD: Bill Shorten says Labor's biggest opponents at the next election won't be the Coalition it'll be the distrust disengagement and cynicism that's rife among voters. The turmoil in Australian politics outdates just this government it also existed when Labor was in government do you accept the ALP needs to shoulder its share of the blame?

SWAN : Yes I do, but I think all political parties do and all political parties all around the world. The polarization and disengagement is not as great here as it is in many other countries but I absolutely do. Which is why the Labor Party has put such a high premium on unity, I mean we've had the same leadership team for the past five years, the Government has had five leadership teams in five years. So we've learnt our lesson from our period in government and there is high priority on unity because it's disrespectful to the people to be dis-unified and of course this Government has radiated uncertainty and desperation and disunity almost for the whole time of its Government.

MACDONALD : It is hard though to keep that unity in government.

SWAN : Too right

MACDONALD : How certain are you that this will be maintained if indeed Labor wins the next election?

SWAN :  Well I think that was really the point of Bill’s (Shorten) speech yesterday. I mean he was talking to not just the party but the public about the importance of unity of purpose. And that goes to the very core of what we're presenting here at this conference but I think it also goes to the core of the policies that we're putting in place as well. I mean reducing inequality and spreading opportunity goes to the heart of so much of the disillusionment that is out there where people feel they're not getting ahead and they're not getting a fair go, that brings disappointment and it brings pessimism. Our job is to get the policies in place to give people the confidence to be optimistic about the future.

MACDONALD :  But on that point about this disillusionment and disappointment, I noticed that you called the current Prime Minister a grinning fool in a baseball cap. Isn't it exactly that kind of language those well personal attacks that turn so many voters off?

SWAN : Well I think it's been pretty sad really to watch the current Prime Minister move around the country in a way which is so un-Prime-Ministerial.  I think there's an enormous disillusion.

MACDONALD : Do you think that description helps raise the tone of our political debate?

SWAN : Well the Prime Minister was at the G20 nothing could be more important for the future of this country than our standing of the world and I don’t think his behaviour was up to scratch.

MACDONALD : But what about your language, do you regret that language?

SWAN : No I don’t.

MACDONALD : I mean it’s really serious point.

SWAN : Well it's a very serious point, sometimes you have to give colourful language to get it through.

MACDONALD : The big theme of the National Conference is a fair go for Australia. The low level of the Newstart Allowance has come to symbolize inequality for many in this country. A Labor Government would review Newstart within its first 18 months in office but the ALP it seems won't actually commit at this stage to increasing the payment why not?

SWAN : Well when we're doing our platform, we don't tend to go through and insert numbers in the platform. The flexibility is there for the Parliamentary Party to make the policy within the framework but there is a very strong understanding in the Party and also in the Parliamentary wing that there does need to be a substantial increase in Newstart over time but that’s a decision that will be taken by the incoming Government it won't be taken by the Labor Party.

MACDONALD : But unless you can put a number on it and make it clear what sort of increase, it will be this idea of a fair go for all starts to sound pretty hollow.

SWAN : But we haven't put the numbers in our platform for what we are spending on healthcare or the rest of it. The fact is that within our framework we give the flexibility to the parliamentary wing, the leadership, the incoming cabinet to take those decisions, that's entirely appropriate.

MACDONALD : Do you have an idea of how much would be adequate I mean $39 a day effectively on this $272 a week?

SWAN : There does need to be a substantial increase we acknowledge that we have said it very clearly and there will if we come to government.

MACDONALD : But do you have a view on what sort of money a person needs to be able to survive a day, a single person with no children?

SWAN : Well those numbers are floating around, there does need to be a substantial increase but it's not the role of the party to be putting numbers in our platform without doing it for any other benefits. We don't do it for family payments, we won't be doing it for unemployment benefits but we will be moving in that area very substantially.

MACDONALD : Speaking of being bold which is obviously the promise that Labor is making. Are we going to see actually the exact opposite of courage over the next few days in terms of whether or not policy clashes play out on the conference floor?  I mean Labor is saying it that wants to be brave it wants big ideas but then it seems to feel a bit uncomfortable about some of these policy debates.

SWAN : Well, I don't know if you've been watching conference. I've sat through the whole day yesterday. There was some pretty good the debate yesterday and there will be a very good the debate today, if you're looking for blood on the floor you won't find it Hamish. Because what people want is unity of purpose, they want strong passionate debate but they want unity of purpose that’s what they're getting.

MACDONALD : We now know who Australia’s next Governor General will be it is the retired General David Hurley currently the New South Wales Governor. Labor says it supports this selection but what about the way in which this was handled by the Government were you taken by surprise, were you adequately consulted?

SWAN : No and its disrespectful to Mr Hurley, I mean to throw him into that announcement, into the middle of a political debate on a day that everyone knew the Labor Party would be out there having a policy debate, the Prime Minister would be out there attacking it and for the Prime Minister to stand there beside the appointee and engage in that sort of politics I think was un-Prime-Ministerial which is the point you and I were talking about before.

MACDONALD : Does it taint the stewardship of the next Governor-General?

SWAN : Look I think he's a fine individual, I mean we could have a debate about what type of candidate we wanted but Mr Hurley is a fine individual.

MACDONALD : Wayne Swan thank you very much.

SWAN : Thank you.



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