6 July 2015
Transcript - #2015080, 2015

Interview with Richard Glover, Linda Burney and Rebecca Huntley, ABC Drive, 702 Radio Sydney

SUBJECTS: Greek crisis, ABC Q & A, Armidale school to co-education

RICHARD GLOVER:

The Monday political forum is in session. Linda Burney is the Deputy Leader of the Labor Party and the Member for Canterbury. It includes the suburbs of Elwood, Campsie and Roselands.

Rebecca Huntley, social researcher and writer for debriefdaily.com and Bruce Billson who is the Minister for Small Business and the Federal Member for Dunkley. He is in our Melbourne studios. Bruce welcome to you.

MINISTER BILLSON:

Richard, thank you for having me and best wishes to your listeners and other panellists.

RICHARD GLOVER:

Other panellists Linda and Rebecca with me here in Sydney.

Greece votes no to a deal that could have secured them more funding, saying it was tied to yet more austerity, which they’ve had enough.

The world meanwhile wonders what will happen next. We have just had the news that the Finance Minister has resigned. He says it is for the good of the negotiations. That seems to indicate that they want to go in with both a big stick and a bit of compromise. Do you have sympathy for the Greeks or have they dug themselves into this hole and how bad might the contagion be for Australian business, including small business? Bruce Billson?

MINISTER BILLSON:

Well Richard let us start with the second point first.

I think we are well placed as a nation to withstand any risks that might originate from the Greek crisis.

Our direct economic and financial linkages with Greece are frankly, quite limited and we do have the benefits of a comparatively strong economy, deep financial markets, good banks, well regulated institutions and a credible trajectory back to surplus.

So I think we are well placed, but we are monitoring it very closely and we are a party to some of the multilateral institutions like the IMF that are part of these discussions. I think everyone is now looking to the Greek leaders.

You mentioned the Finance Minister resigning, but the Greek Prime Minister and whoever the new Finance Minister is, bringing forward a credible alternative proposal. Because it is clear the lenders are looking for something quite specific and tangible if they are to send more funds into the Greek economy at a time when many of the citizens are already struggling and having a very difficult time of the repair task that is in front of Greece as a nation.

Certainly, my thoughts are with them but it just shows you that if you are reliant on debt financing, making sure the lenders are happy to journey with you is very much a precondition that we now need to find some common ground over.

RICHARD GLOVER:

You can understand why they voted no. Austerity sometimes works- I know that people in your government have talked about austerity being a useful tool sometimes. It has worked in Britain quite well, for instance, under the Tories and under David Cameron.

In this case though, it just didn’t work. They have had five years of misery; their GDP is gone to nowhere. They have got youth unemployment of 60%. The bailout plan they were offered sees GDP falling even further. The Europeans were being too tough weren’t they?

MINISTER BILLSON:

There is a long journey that has brought Greece and its European creditors to where they are now. I was listening to the President of the Athens Chamber of Commerce. Who, as I listened to him, spoke an awful lot of sense about the need to really get the Greek Economy going again, trying to look at ways of improving productivity and building the economic strength of Greece.

That is really at the heart of the longer term challenges. In the short term, it is about whether lenders are prepared and inclined to provide more funding. I don’t think we have seen anything at all like what is going on in Greece.

Even the budget repair task that our government has been undertaking is spectacularly modest compared to the seismic shift that is going on. Even looking domestically, Richard, you know even when there has been some better targeting of government outlays, not everyone has been thrilled with that.

It is quite a human response to be anxious about the changes and in this case they are substantial changes that really have challenged many in the Greek community and really undermined their sense of sovereignty as well.

RICHARD GLOVER:

Rebecca Huntley do you blame the Greek people for this? For the over the top pensions etc, or do have sympathy for them?

REBECCA HUNTLEY:

I have extraordinary sympathy for the younger generation of Greek men and women. In the same way as in Spain and some of those other what they call very unjustifiably ‘piigs’ countries.

You mentioned youth unemployment in Greece; it is also particularly high in Spain…

RICHARD GLOVER:

… Portugal, Italy and Greece.

REBECCA HUNTLEY:

… exactly, and I think one of the things that has happened is that they have seen generation after generation of pretty good, pretty cheap education government largess and now they are being asked to bear the brunt probably disproportionately of what has happened with previous generations.

I suppose the other thing that is kind of interesting from the point of view of the theory of how governments work is that this is a very stark example of what faces so many nations which is what the electorate wants.

What the leaders can sell to the electorate may in fact be diametrically opposed to the national interest of what the larger international or local community of nations wants. It is a very, very difficult situation.

RICHARD GLOVER:

… [inaudible] comes in and says look, I am going to stick up for you. We will say no to austerity, and everyone says, oh that’s great. Where is the plan? Where is the money? What does that mean?

REBECCA HUNTLEY:

Reading today some of the reports, there is an interesting tone or an interesting kind of thread through all of the economists talking about it which is, we don’t really know what is going to happen.

And this strange kind of awe about what will happen when the banks suddenly collapse and nobody can take money out. Kind of an Armageddon-ish kind of tone.

RICHARD GLOVER:

Which we all learned during the Global Financial Crisis, no one actually really understands how all this stuff works.

REBECCA HUNTLEY:

Me included.

RICHARD GLOVER:

Linda Burney?

LINDA BURNEY:

I’m not sure how much I can add to the analysis of both Bruce and Rebecca. One thing that I do know is that whilst we may not have a big reliance on Greece in terms of trade, the connection between Australia and Greece is very strong.

I represent Canterbury which has a very high Greek population. Look at Melbourne for example. So there is that emotional and real connection in terms of people. What I do know….

RICHARD GLOVER:

How come, this is a tough question, how come the Greeks came to this country, worked their guts out, paid taxes, were really important to the community and yet back home, they didn’t seem to work at the same rate, they didn’t seem to pay taxes.

LINDA BURNEY:

Well I can’t answer that.  I have no idea what the answer to that is, except that what I do know is that the Greek community, whom I absolutely admire, ah put so much importance on their home country, on language, on culture, on faith and are proudly Australian.

So there is that enormous connection and I know that the Greek community in the area that I represent are desperately worried about what is going on in Greece, are supporting their families financially.

I don’t know the way forward, I think that Armageddon synopsis is probably true, but what is also clear is that the Prime Minister -an absolute conviction politician took it to the people and the people said after five years, as you pointed out, clearly no.

That might mean that the banks will run out of money and there does not appear to be a plan B and I think that’s the major concern.

RICHARD GLOVER:

I remember, years ago, doing a report on Kastellorizo, which is this island between, it is Greek but it is near the Turkish, near Turkey. A lot of Australians came, a lot of people came from there to Australia in the 1920’s actually.

I remember going there to do this report for the Sydney Morning Herald years and years ago. There was a guy who was rebuilding the family house. He had imported the workers from Melbourne. He had imported Greek guys from Melbourne, because in his view, they worked harder than the guys from the neighbouring island.

LINDA BURNEY:

It is an extraordinary culture. The Greek community all know each other, they know what island they’re from, or what part of Greece and once that has been brought to this country, it has been done so well in terms of also the Australian identity and how they fit in it.

I think it is a deeply concerning issue in Greece. The way forward, I hope there is a way forward but in terms of the World Bank and  the mandate that has been given to the Greek Prime Minister, it seems unclear to me on the way forward.

RICHARD GLOVER:

We will hope. Linda Burney, Rebecca Huntley and Bruce Billson are here. Barnaby Joyce pulled out of tonight’s Q&A saying Mr Abbott has banned front benchers from appearing on the program.

Has the PM got a point or is the government just denying itself oxygen at a time when Mr Joyce has an important Agriculture policy to promote? Bruce, you’re down there in Melbourne, so I can’t tie you up and offer you as an offering to Q&A, but has the PM got it right on this? 

MINISTER BILLSON:

I am not quite sure where that story has come from because I haven’t had any such guidance from the Prime Minister. Certainly when Q&A has approached me in recent weeks to consider being a part of a panel, my primary focus to be honest with you is, will there be any discussion about small business and family enterprise?

Will there be anything to do with the economic portfolio where my responsibilities are within the Abbott Government. It is through that prism, Richard, that I have looked at when to participate and when no to.

RICHARD GLOVER:

Answer me this then, given the right agenda, would you be willing to go on tonight or next week?

MINISTER BILLSON:

I would but not in the immediate short term. I think the ABC has acknowledged itself that there is work that needs to be done and a review and analysis of Q&A is important and they have instigated that themselves.

That is a credit to the ABC. I think that recognises what from the outside looking in seems to be some fundamental flaws in the program. I look at the beginning….. sorry Richard, you go on…

RICHARD GLOVER:

Given the program though is going on, Banaby Joyce for instance tonight has got really a program, a white paper on agriculture that has taken a long time to develop. Why not take the chance to get the message out?

MINISTER BILLSON:

Richard, with much experience being interviewed by very astute ABC presenters, including your good self, sir, I suspect the ag paper might get a nano-second or two’s time and then it would move onto the usual content.

I think, whilst the review has been foreshadowed, it is perfectly reasonable to look at what the new Q&A may look like once that review has been concluded. If it does recommend any changes and that would be the time when I might re-consider, once I had a sense of the topic that was in my area of interest and responsibility.

RICHARD GLOVER:

Months off I guess.

MINISTER BILLSON:

I am not sure how long that will take but that is the prism through which I look at those invitations.

RICHARD GLOVER:

Rebecca Huntley, has the PM got it right on this? He is very angry about the program and Bruce Billson says the ABC itself has admitted that there is a problem.

REBECCA HUNTLEY:

My view is that whilst there might be some justification for criticism, this seems to have been blown out of all proportion. From the point of view of the electorate, there might have been concern that this individual was on, concern at what he was saying, concern about the idea that Q&A seems to be a left wing love fest.

If it is a left wing love fest, make sure the best possible government ministers are on to present the best possible arguments. Perhaps a reason why Barnaby Joyce should not go on.

But I laugh, having been on Q&A with Barnaby Joyce, I do love the fact that he is just two ears. He is a genuine politician. 

RICHARD GLOVER:

The great retail politician with the possible exception of Bruce Billson.

MINISTER BILLSON:

The positivity, you know that is where I come from.

REBECCA HUNTLEY:

The thing I would say about this and this is the problem with the previous Labor Government and to some extent the problem of this government. Is the electorate really are over what are essentially marginal issues.

They really want, the main concern that they have. The main concern is about direction of the economy, where are the jobs coming from? I think there is a real problem if the government overblow this stuff about the ABC.

It seems like this is where they see the main heat and light of the political discussion. It is ridiculous.

RICHARD GLOVER:

In terms of….

MINISTER BILLSON:

You just mentioned a couple of great topics that Q&A might turn its mind to. My critique is they so rarely consider themselves to be sufficiently relevant to have a decent chunk of the program addressing them.

I walk down the street in my electorate or travel around the country in my ministerial roles, the things that people talk to me about rarely get a look in at all on Q&A and I guess that is something that I hope the review…

REBECCA HURLEY:

But don’t you think that is a separate issue than what seems to be the issue now, which is less about the conversation and more about that this individual cam e on the show, said some stuff that was problematic and there feels like an opportunism and a chance to beat up on the ABC.

That being said, Barnaby has always been a great defender of the ABC, so I am sure he will come on again. The other problem I have is that if this is just for the review process. What is a different Q&A going to look like? But it sounds like it isn’t necessarily a blanket ban on people to go on but really that cannot be sustained. It is an important show.

LINDA BURNEY:

I think it has gotten ridiculous. It has been absolutely out of proportion and I believe that the Prime Minister is playing politics and has found a very good way to kick the ABC and kick it for a very long time.

I watched that show and there was a really important issue to do with Aboriginal land rights, there were a big delegation of Aboriginal people from Central Australia and that got no exposure because of the blowing up of the Zaky Mallah stuff.

I watched Barnaby Joyce on Insiders on Sunday morning and he seemed incredibly relaxed and looking forward to going on Q&A and it just seems extraordinary to me that he has now got a directive from the Prime Minister to say that you are not to appear.

RICHARD GLOVER:

Of course, some critics of the ABC would say that example of Indigenous issues is exactly what they are talking about. The fact that the program might be about Indigenous rights, it may be about gay marriage, it may be about a topic such as maybe euthanasia and that the sort of things that Bruce Billson wants to talk about, that Barnaby Joyce wants to talk about, agriculture, small business is not on the agenda. That’s what they would argue.

LINDA BURNEY:

They may argue that but I think that Q&A covers an enormous array of topics. I like Rebecca have been on the show myself. It talks about issues - well the show that I went on was to do with racism which is important.

But it just seems to me that whatever you think about the decisions that were taken by the ABC, it does not make sense to me that there is such an important forum that the government would not want to participate in.

If they do not want to do it, if they want to let the Labor Party get on there and have a free swing then that is fine. There are reviews underway and it seems to me that they are important things that Barnaby Joyce should be talking about and it will be fascinating to see whether Malcom Turnbull appears in two weeks’ time.

RICHARD GLOVER:

Bruce Billson, we will move on but let me ask you this, are there dangers for the Prime Minister in this? I have no doubt about his passion.  He was outraged by what happened on the program he has spoken about it.

But once he conflates that particular crime as he sees it into what can sound like an attack on the whole ABC, is he in danger in the fact that in conservative electorates, much like Labor electorates, and certainly in the country for instance, there is enormous affection for them?

MINISTER BILLSON:

I agree with you, there is extraordinary affection for the ABC and particularly in the country where you will find the ABC is very connected with its community. The reporters, the presenters are a part of the community. They sense the rhymes and the rhythms of the community and respond very much with relevant content.

I think what the ABC is at risk of doing is spending its whole time justifying itself to its own.

When really, the issues that the ABC Board itself has identified is that there is a justification in relation to this program to see whether it is as broadly representative as it claims it is in its introductions…

LINDA BURNEY:

Bruce, it is Linda.

MINISTER BILLSON:

Hi Linda, how are you? I was just about to move onto another point there…

LINDA BURNEY:

The ABC is a public broadcaster, like SBS, and they have a responsibility in terms of its charter to air views that perhaps not everyone would agree with. It just seems to me that this has become a political football that people are getting very sick of.

MINISTER BILLSON:

I think that is taking an important issue and frankly, politicising it. Because, the point that the ABC Board has made and that Minister Turnbull has made, is that the statutory obligation on the board is to ensure there is balance and objective and fearless reporting.

There is now an enquiry being activated to see whether those ambitions encapsulated in the law that the board is charged with implementing is being reflected throughout the operations of the ABC.

I think that is perfectly reasonable. I think when we talk about what content is and isn’t on the ABC, the judgement to exclude something is as significant as what you include. The voices that are invited to speak is as important as those that are not given that opportunity.

And when there is an audience that seeks to capture the broad range of interests of the Australian public it is not unreasonable to make sure that is exactly what is in the audience.

I do not see quite the mischief that some see, I think it is a great opportunity for some to run around and claim this is a big anti-ABC agenda.

I think it is all about having the ABC do what all Australian taxpayers hope it will do and that is discharge its responsibility with objectivity and partiality, fairness and credibility. And that is not just for the issues that might play out well in some parts of the electorate, but for all citizens and that is where I think the review should go.

RICHARD GLOVER:

Quarter to six is the time. Linda Burney, Rebecca Huntley and Bruce Billson are here.

[traffic report]

With us, Linda Burney the Deputy Leader of the Labor Party, Member for Canterbury, Rebecca Huntley, the social researcher, she writes for defbriefdaily.com and Bruce Billson, the Minster for Small Business.

The Armidale School becomes the first of the GPS Boys Schools to ditch single-sex education for co-education saying it is better for students, both male and female.

Did you go co-ed or single-sex and what were the pros and cons? Linda Burney?

LINDA BURNEY:

I went to a co-ed high school. It was in the country and it was a very small school comparatively.

RICHARD GLOVER:

Which one?

LINDA BURNEY:

It was called Leeton High School. I went to Whitton Public which had three teachers, two of the big family moved out of town.

I think that this school has taken a decision that is on its journey. I think co-education is really important.

One of my staff members who went to one of the GPS schools said that he is 23/24 now and he is only just beginning to learn to talk to girls. So whether that is instructive or not, I’m not sure.

RICHARD GLOVER:

I am quoting what some people say about the problems of co-ed, were you distracted by the boys Linda?

LINDA BURNEY:

I was completely distracted by the boys. But I still did very well at school.

RICHARD GLOVER:

Not that distracted.

LINDA BURNEY:

But quite seriously, I don’t think this is the big story it has been beaten up into. The school has consulted with its parents, talked widely and made a decision.

RICHARD GLOVER:

I don’t mean to beat this into a story, but it is a question in every parent’s mind, which way should you go? Rebecca?

REBECCA HUNTLEY:

I went to Sydney Girls High and it was the best of both worlds because we were in classes with girls but we had the boys over. But I have changed my view on this. I used to always think, co-education, great for boys and having been at a school with a whole lot of boys who had never been to school with girls and they were highly dysfunctional and continue to be.

Because often they then go to all-boys colleges and play rugby with boys and go to the bar.

I think things have changed in the 20 or so years since I was in uniform. I think that girls, I think that co-education is the way to go for both boys and girls in both cases. I think the girls I interview and talk to in their early teens, are pretty confident about standing up to boys.

RICHARD GLOVER:

They are not going to dumb down…

LINDA BURNEY:

That is right…

REBECCA HUNTLEY:

I think things have changed.

RICHARD GLOVER:

Bruce Billson, did you go co-ed or single-sex yourself and what do you reckon?

MINISTER BILLSON:

I have got a confession to make, I am busy googling away trying to work out what the heck is a GPS School …

REBECCA HUNTLEY:

It’s a posh school!

MINISTER BILLSON:

Is it? Okay, a posh school. Well I cannot claim to be a posh school student. I went to a housing commission estate secondary school of very modest means families and that was all we could afford.

RICHARD GLOVER:

But the girls were included?

MINISTER BILLSON:

Absolutely. Not just included, but I think this is what started my life being surrounded by ferocious and talented women. They were great gals and we learnt so much. My children go to mixed schools, co-ed schools because part of understanding how you get by in life and interact with people involves the other gender.

RICHARD GLOVER:

We have got to go, but thanks to my ferocious and talented women and Bruce Billson. Thank you very much Bruce.