Interview with Chris Uhlmann – ABC Capital Hill – Tuesday 15 September 2015






SUBJECT/S: Liberal Leadership

CHRIS UHLMANN: Jason Clare joins me in the studio. You are up against Malcolm Turnbull in a different position now but how would you say the NBN has shown his talents or otherwise?

JASON CLARE, SHADOW MINISTER FOR COMMUNICATIONS: I think Malcolm Turnbull was a failure as Communications Minister. Remember he promised that he’d build the NBN for $29.5 billion. Two weeks ago, it was revealed that cost had ballooned out to $56 billion. So it had almost doubled. Malcolm Turnbull almost doubled the cost of the NBN. It is just as bad as the work Tony Abbott and Joe Hockey did in doubling the deficit.

UHLMANN: Wasn’t the problem taking on this project in the first place, trying to roll this out around Australia rather than let the private sector do it? It was always going to blow out.

CLARE: The reason this has doubled is Malcolm Turnbull got his assumptions wrong in Opposition and then, in government, made mistakes about how hard it would be to move from a first class fibre NBN to building a second rate copper NBN. He just got it all wrong. It took too long to get the negotiations finished with Telstra. That means the rollout of fibre to the node is a year behind schedule and the rollout of the HFC version of the NBN is even further behind. That’s why it’s blown out so much.

UHLMANN: This has been the story of the NBN from the day that it was started – it was completely underestimated how large this task was going to be from the outset?

CLARE: I have said this is the right project for Australia. We lost the last election, we were flogged, but it wasn’t because of this project. People know the NBN is what Australia needs for the future. My major criticism of us in Government was that it was rolling out too slow. It is still rolling out too slow. On the night of the election, Tony Abbott said that he would build the NBN within three years and Malcolm Turnbull is the man to do it. It is now not going to take three years, it’s going to take double that, it will take more than double that, it will take seven years all up.

UHLMANN: Have you missed the mark in hitting him then because he hasn’t seemed to suffer much for this particular failure?

CLARE: I think that people will now see exactly how Malcolm Turnbull has failed in this area. He has made much of his economic credentials yesterday. I think it is very important we make the point that he has failed in his work as Communications Minister and if this is the way that he takes the bigger role of economic management, then we are going to see a repeat of the mistakes Tony Abbott and Joe Hockey made.

UHLMANN: If you fail in nailing that to him, you face a much more difficult proposition than you did in Tony Abbott, don’t you?

CLARE: I think it is even bigger than that. Malcolm Turnbull yesterday talked about style. He said the real problem is not the policies of the government, but the way in which you explain them. As long as you don’t use three-word slogans, everything will be okay. That misunderstands the problem at the heart of this government. The reason people were angry with Tony Abbott wasn’t because of the way he spoke, it was because of the broken promises, as well as the fact unemployment is going up, debt and deficit is going up. If the only reason that they switched from Tony Abbott to Malcolm Turnbull is style, then all they’ve done last night is switch from a second-rate John Howard to a second-rate Andrew Peacock.

UHLMANN: If I could take you out of the politics for the day and have a longer-term look at the way Australian politics has progressed over the past five or six years, that’s your party as well as this party. Is there something broken in Australian politics that we are seeing this turn over in Prime Ministers?

CLARE: I was thinking about this today. Barack Obama has been in office now for almost eight years and, in that time, he has seen now five Australian Prime Ministers. There is a problem here which is why the Labor Party has changed its rules so that you don’t have a repeat in the Labor Party, again, of what happened in the Liberal Party last night. Tony Abbott was just doing his last press conference and he talked about a political assassination. He basically described Malcolm Turnbull as a political assassin. He’s right to say that what happened last night is a repeat of what’s happened in the past. A first-term Prime Minister was hunted down and knifed before he even got a chance to go to the election. The point I want to make Chris is this – we were punished for that. The Australian people don’t like that. We have seen this movie before. First the Prime Minister gets knifed, then the leaking begins, then there’s an election and people throw out the lot that do this.

UHLMANN: We might just break for a minute, Jason Clare you can stay with us and talk us through this because that is the reasonably long driveway to the Governor-General’s residence. I measured it once before, I think it is around 2km. It would make a pretty brisk run, it is quite hilly as you can see the Prime Minister’s car approaches. This must be an extraordinary thing, Jason Clare, no matter what your position in politics, that man will be suffering greatly. You have been have been around leaders who have been through this.

CLARE: From a human point of view, I do feel sorry for Tony Abbott because everybody suffers defeats and disasters in their own life, normally it’s in private or just with family around. This man was very, very publicly humiliated and had his job ripped off him last night.

UHLMANN: The prime car now which is driven by the Prime Minister is a BMW, no longer a Holden. Holden has gone out of fashion, it is a very heavily-plated armoured car you can see, makes it hard to see through the front window and very low on the ceilings underneath because of the armoury, Right behind him close Federal protection from the Australian Federal Police. That is something Tony Abbott won’t have tailing him around for his days after this, at least not for much longer. Prime Ministers do get the opportunity to make a decision about whether or not to keep their protection. I think John Howard has decided that he can get by without it but others may well still be keeping theirs. Tony Abbott’s life is about to change very dramatically. Surrounded by people and staff with and all the honours that go with being Prime Minister. This is the cruelty of politics in Australia. Jason Clare, that one day you can be on top and the next day it can be ripped off you.

CLARE: From rooster to feather duster in less than 24 hours.

UHLMANN: There can hardly be a greater fall in Australian political life, this is something this man has spent 20 years trying to achieve it, had it for less than two and now it is gone.

CLARE: And I think one of the things we don’t do well in Australia – we talked about the problems of the constant churn of Prime Ministers, one of the other things we don’t do well is utilise the skills of our former Prime Ministers in their post-political life as well as, say, the United States does.

UHLMANN: I got that wrong. That wasn’t Tony Abbott. That’s Malcolm Turnbull unless I missed my guess. Alongside Malcolm Turnbull is his wife Lucy and Julie Bishop. They are making their way in to be sworn in. Sorry if I misspoke there. We were expecting to see Tony Abbott first and then Malcolm Turnbull. Obviously Tony Abbott has been and gone and Malcolm Turnbull is on his way in, to be sworn in as the 29th Prime Minister of Australia. We will be bringing that to you very shortly indeed as people hustle inside the beautiful front doors of that Campbell residence once owned by the man who had the sheep stations – well, that’s what’s said of Canberra quite famously, it was a good sheep paddock ruined, Jason Clare. I don’t necessarily agree. Seen that picture before, too.

CLARE: Reminds me, tangentially related, of the stories of John Curtin wandering around the fields near the Lodge during World War II when he brought the troops home to fight in Papua New Guinea and wandering around those fields with sheep. Not as many sheep around today, there were a few wolves last night, though.

UHLMANN: Canberra has changed a lot. That building hasn’t changed terribly much at all. It was the homestead of the Campbell family, it was surrounded by sheep station. It’s seen many a Prime Minister because, in the end, it was made the official residence of the Governor-General. Alright, we will bring that to you shortly. Jason Clare, thank you very much for coming in.

CLARE: Thanks, Chris