TRANSCRIPT: FIGHT CLUB WITH RAFAEL EPSTEIN, DRIVE ABC 774
TRANSCRIPTION: PROOF COPY E & OE
DATE: 8 NOVEMBER 2012
TOPICS: Defence budget; US elections; concession speeches.
RAFAEL EPSTEIN: Welcome to Fight Club and we welcome to our arena Senator David Feeney. He is the Parliamentary Secretary for Defence, he is an ALP Senator for the state of Victoria. David, thanks for coming in.
DAVID FEENEY: My great pleasure.
RAFAEL EPSTEIN: And Josh Freedenberg is with us. He is the Liberal member for Kooyong and aspiring shadow foreign minister but that’s down the path. We’re not going to start any battles between him and the deputy leader. Josh thanks for coming in.
JOSH FRYDENBERG: Good afternoon Raf and I didn’t write that line I promise.
RAFAEL EPSTEIN: We all know Josh has a great interest in international affairs. He used to work in fact for Alexander Downer, something he did in a former life. We will ask him about Australian politics in a moment, but first let’s discuss what seems to be the inevitable result that Barack Obama has won the election. We should point out that counting hasn’t finished. I don’t think voting finished everywhere either but the TV networks are calling it for Barack Obama.
Let’s start with you David Feeney. Does it make a big difference to the Australian Government who wins?
DAVID FEENEY: Well I think it’s no shock to say the Labor party has natural affinities with the Democratic Party, just as the Liberal Party obviously do with the Republicans. Having said that, we’re all professionals, we all get along and work with each other. But it’s a handy thing for us I think that Julia Gillard already has a very close and warm relationship with Barack Obama and it’s nice to see that will continue and of course that’s being selfish a little.
Good for us in the defence space as well because we have a good established relationship with our US counterparts and that will be borne out at the AUSMIN discussions in early November. So it means continuity and I guess we’re happy with the political complexion and what that means too.
RAFAEL EPSTEIN: Is it good for the Labor Party electorally that you’ve got a more left-leaning administration in DC? It means you’re that much safer. Not that foreign politics influences federal politics much but it’s one less spot fire that you’d have to fight if you had a republican administration. You might have a difference there or a problem.
DAVID FEENEY: Well as I said we always, Governments from the US and Australia always make it their business to get on well and professionally regardless of those politics but listen I think it means we’re dealing with a Government whose values are closely aligned to our own and that obviously makes life easier.
RAFAEL EPSTEIN: Josh, how does the Coalition feel about Barack Obama’s seemingly inevitable victory?
JOSH FRYDENBERG: Well look Barack Obama has been a very good friend of Australia. He has pivoted the US toward Asia. The US have more than 70,000 military personnel in Japan and Korea and effectively act as Australia’s strategic guarantor. America’s our biggest investor in Australia so they’re importantly economically, they’re important politically and they’re important from a strategic perspective. So we would welcome Barack Obama’s victory. Likewise, Mitt Romney has a lot going for him too and a great background in business. No doubt if he’d been elected by the American people he would have done a good job. But I actually think David’s being a little cute right now because he’s afraid that if Mitt Romney had got elected, the comments by Wayne Swan about the Republicans, calling them cranks and crazies…
RAFAEL EPSTEIN: Didn’t call them all cranks and crazies.
JOSH FRYDENBERG: …He called the republicans cranks and crazies and Bob Carr on his blog called Mitt Romney bloodless, now that would have come back to haunt him. David is proud to say that Australians and the Americans have a good defence relationship. That’s true. But what he’s not prepared to say is that the Americans are very unhappy with Australian because we’ve been cutting our Defence spending. We’re now at the lowest level of defence spending as a proportion of GDP since 1938 so we spend 1.54% of our GDP on Defence and do you know what the Americans spend Raf? They spend 4.7% of their GDP.
RAFAEL EPSTEIN: They spend more than the next 20 or 30 countries, even I know that.
JOSH FRYDENBERG: Absolutely, but they’re doing the heavy lifting for Australia and that cannot continue indefinitely. This government has actually reduced defence spending very significantly. You go throughout the region, India spends more than 2%, South Korea spends more than 2.5 %, the Singaporeans spend more than 3.5 % and I’m afraid to say the Gillard Government has let the Australian people down with their cuts to defence spending.
RAFAEL EPSTEIN: David, you talked about AUSMIN, so that’s where various politicians and officials get together from the United States and Australia. Do you think the Americans are actually worried that one of the things that you’re cutting is the defence budget?
DAVID FEENEY: Well I think firstly that the comments about Wayne Swan go to an interesting issues and that perhaps is some of the political lessons that might be found …
RAFAEL EPSTEIN: I’m happy to go there but let’s first talk defence budgets.
DAVID FEENEY: …Well I think the Defence budget is fairly easily dispatched. We are the twelfth or thirteenth largest defence spender in the world. We are spending more on defence now than at any other time in our history. There’s quite a dramatic modernisation program underway. Defence has had to make savings in recent years and that’s not been easy and obviously as someone working in the Defence space, that has been a challenge. But let’s be very clear about this, the Liberal Party isn’t promising to spend more, there’s not been a single commitment from them amongst all of their bleating that they’re actually going to step up to the plate with more money for Defence. It is like everything else in the political debate: something the Liberal Party will comment on but not commit to. So I guess it’s very easy for us to dispatch the question of defence spending.
The United States is now of course finding itself in the position where it’s cutting its own Defence expenditure and you’ll recall the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff there said the greatest threat the US faces is its own deficit. That’s something the Gillard government is dealing with decisively in this country and we all look to the United States to do the same.
RAFAEL EPSTEIN: Josh, all talk no action?
JOSH FRYDENBERG: Absolutely wrong. If you look at our track record, John Howard in 1996 he came to power…
RAFAEL EPSTEIN: We’re not talking about…
JOSH FRYDENBERG: …No, no, absolutely it’s important here because he cut everything in order to get the budget back into surplus and pay back $96 billion of Labor debt but he quarantined Defence spending. And what we will do is we will get the economy going again, we’ll get our budget back into surplus unlike these false promises from the other side and then we’ll actually be spending more on Defence. So we’re absolutely committed to spending more on Defence and you don’t have to take my word for it about the dangerous natures of the Government’s cuts. I mean General Morrison, the head of the Army, a guy in uniform, came out and said if the Government keeps on going this way then you will see our troops on the field put in danger. The fact that Generals in uniform are coming out and speaking publicly, the fact that other military figures like Peter Leahy and others have spoken out indicates to me that there is great tension between the Minister for Defence in this country and the uniform and we’ve seen $5 billion…
RAFAEL EPSTEIN: I don’t think there’s any doubt about that…
JOSH FRYDENBERG: …cut from defence spending just this year alone.
RAFAEL EPSTEIN: …I’ll just ask David about the Generals kicking up a fuss. Just let me give people a quick traffic alert.
RAFAEL EPSTEIN: If you’ve got a question for either David Feeney or Josh Frydenberg, do feel free to call. You might want to ask them what lessons we can learn from the United States, you might have a question you’ve just been burning to ask the Parliamentary Secretary for Defence or the Member for Kooyong.
Just before I get to the calls, David Feeney, Josh raises a very good point. General Morrison, a very well regarded man, it’s very unusual, he essentially runs the army in Australia, he has said effectively that the sorts of cuts you’re proposing endanger troops in the field. That’s an unusual call that means people believe it has substance.
DAVID FEENEY: Well I think when we’re talking about the remarks that were made by LTGEN David Morrison we need to be forensic about it; he’s obviously someone with whom the government works closely. I can tell you I like him very, very much. A great Australia and it’s important we be forensic about his remarks because General Morrison is a thorough professional. What he essentially said in a speech to the think tank, a speech that was well received by all of us was that the size of Australia’s land force at the moment is about right, its modernisation pathway is about right and we don’t want to see that long-term project undermined. He would of course say that. I happen to agree with him. He was certainly not saying that at this present time our forces are in danger nor was he saying that we will endanger life, but he was saying that Australia’s small Army, ten battalions, be preserved and we don’t repeat the mistakes made in previous generations of reducing the overall size of the army. I think he’s right, the Labor Government has of course said it’s not reducing military numbers as part of these savings measures so we agree with him.
RAFAEL EPSTEIN: Josh will get a chance to respond to that but he can ram that into a response to some of the callers. Paul has called, hi there Paul.
PAUL: G’day, how’re you going?
RAFAEL EPSTEIN: Good, have you got a question for Josh?
PAUL: Yes I have. Josh, when does military expenditure equate to military might? I say that in terms of the second presidential debate I think it was when Obama said that his military didn’t need more money, they just wanted to spend it better. So when does military expenditure equal military might? Isn’t it a new paradigm now?
JOSH FRYDENBERG: Well look there’s no doubt the more money you spend on Defence, you’re going to be able to buy more equipment, you’re going to be able to employ more military figures and soldiers in the field, so there definitely is a benefit to capacity. But you’re right to suggest you can maybe make some efficiencies in Defence an d you may not spend it on such infrastructure an d hardware that may be very expensive with a short life span for example and spend it across the field. You can definitely prioritise you’re defence spending but I do think the more money you spend the bigger bang you get for your buck.
RAFAEL EPSTEIN: Is that what you were after Paul?
PAUL: Yeah, that’s right, it’s things like efficiency and it just leads into that general thinking – that I think we need some sort of fact checking leading up to the next election. For example, forensically examining speeches and not just going off on tangents.
RAFAEL EPSTEIN: Well Paul you get that one started, it could not hurt the political debate in this country to have more fact checking organisations. Andrew has called from Preston, what’s your question Andrew?
ANDREW: Question for Josh. Josh, were you shocked at some of the extreme rhetoric that comes out of the far right of the Republican Party, particularly with regard to abortion and abortion from rape? Does it shock you that these people are within the mainstream of the Republican Party?
JOSH FRYDENBERG: Look, those comments certainly did shock me and they are not comments I would endorse or share. And I think they do reflect the political debate in the US is more partisan, there are more extremes, there’s no doubt about that. But I would challenge the assumption in your question that it’s part of the mainstream because I think Mitt Romney came out pretty quickly distancing himself from those comments. And I think any fair thinking American or Australian would do exactly the same.
RAFAEL EPSTEIN: But let me put a question to both David Feeney and Josh Frydenberg. Is the American political debate more bitter because they have voluntary voting therefore they need to say things to the side of the debate in order to encourage their supporters to come out to vote? David, do you think that is one of the reasons its more bitter?
DAVID FEENEY: Yeah I do, but I think there are some fascinating lessons in all of that because of course what we’ve seen in the US is the Tea Party phenomena and the sort of kidnap of the Republican Party to the extreme right and of course, the coarsening of the political debate there. You see it with Barack Obama and Obamacare, some of that stuff got quite crazy and I think the lessons for Australian politics is that sort of negativity that sort of perceived extremism means that ultimately the Republicans lost the race in America because they were seen as a bigger risk than Barack Obama.
RAFAEL EPSTEIN: But you’re allowed to be negative. You’re allowed to block your opponent; I mean that’s old politics.
DAVID FEENEY: But what you see in America is that’s now got to the point of deadlock and very little happens and I think Australians worry about that here too. So I think the lesson is the Liberal Party need to be saved from negativity and right wing voices that might try to kidnap it in the same way the Republican Party was kidnapped.
RAFAEL EPSTEIN: Josh, feel free to respond to that. The Liberal Party has flirted with the idea of voluntary voting, I know that some people have said in the past. Do you think that compulsory voting is one of the things that keeps the Australian debate a bit more mainstream?
JOSH FRYDENBERG: Yes I do and I’m a supporter of compulsory voting and I think that’s good for Australia because it gives everyone a stake in the outcome and whether it’s conscious or subconscious, people start to involve themselves a bit more in the political debate and I think that’s a good thing. Yes, there are some voices in the Liberal party who would prefer voluntary voting but I think that’s a minority voice. I think the difference between the US and Australian political systems Raf is that there’s more religion in the process in the United States and that obviously plays out in your discussions about evolution and discussions about abortion and we don’t see that in Australia as much.
There’s also so much more money. In this election, more than $2 billion was spent. Now, in order to raise more than $2 billion to fund an election campaign, there are so many vested interests and that’s not a good thing because it’s going to skew the outcome. And it’s not just big business, its big unions and it’s on both sides of the political debate. So I think money has corrupted the system somewhat and if you look at the voluntary voting figures, I mean in 2008 I think 58% of eligible voters went out and voted in the United States and some states like New Hampshire it was only something like 50%. That is so low. And if you hear the trouble people go to, to get out the vote, they put on barbeques at the voting booth, they get people to ring their neighbours, they hire buses and the like – that can’t be healthy. I like our system where everyone knows they have to vote, they get up early and they go and vote and then take their kids to Saturday sport. As my wife said to me Raf, what’s the point of having an election on a Tuesday? I mean people are working. Let’s get it on a Saturday when people don’t have to miss work to vote.
RAFAEL EPSTEIN: Try and tell an American that Australia has a better system for distributing seats and counting votes, you don’t get very far. In a moment we’re going to talk concession speeches, in a moment Mitt Romney is due to speak shortly, we’re going to talk about what makes a good concession speech.
RAFAEL EPSTEIN: Josh Frydenberg is with me, he is the Liberal Member for Kooyong, also Senator David Feeney from the ALP, and the Parliamentary Secretary for Defence. Just to let you know it’s coming up to 9 minutes to 5 o’clock, Mitt Romney is due to speak shortly. If we need to we will delay the news and play that for you after Mitt Romney has spoken. We don’t know when Mitt Romney will speak, someone’s just come out to put something on his lectern in Boston so while we are on the topic of concession speeches, let’s think about what makes a good one.
Now this man is known to very many of you. He was eventually kicked out of the White House, one of the greatest journalistic involvements in politics. I’m talking of course about Richard Nixon, have a listen to a concession speech he gave. He was running for Governor I think in 1962, have a listen to the end of this grab of Richard Nixon speaking to some journalists. This haunted him for 8 or 10 years.
I leave you gentleman now; you will write it, you will interpret it, that’s your right. But as I leave you, I want you to know just think how much you’re going to be missing. You don’t have Nixon to kick around anymore.
RAFAEL EPSTEIN: You don’t have Nixon to kick around anymore. Not quite the Cheryl Kernot dummy spit but certainly something that followed him around. Now of course the other really difficult thing to have done, to have said, would have been, being Al Gore in 2000 after the Supreme Court says yes you are the popular vote but no you did not win the election. Have a listen to Al Gore.
While we at hold and do not yield our opposing beliefs, there is a higher duty than the one we owe to political party. This is America and we put country before party. We will stand together behind our new president. As for what I’ll do next, I don’t know the answer to that one yet.
RAFAEL EPSTEIN: One of Al Gore’s better speeches. Josh Frydenberg, you’ve probably been to a few concession speeches in Australia, I’ve been to a few. Important, as it’s your one chance to frame perceptions of you, particularly if you’re about to bow out of politics. What makes a good concession speech?
JOSH FRYDENBERG: I think you’ve got to avoid bitterness, I think that really important. Because no doubt you’re being eaten up inside, you can point to a lot of reasons you think you lost, but then is not the time to, you save your barbs for later after a bit of reflection. So I think that’s the most important thing. And then to obviously thank all the people who have worked so hard for you because as a leader, as an incumbent or a challenger, so many thousands, and in the American case millions, of people have gotten behind you, given up time and money and you have to thank them. And I think what Al Gore did quite well there actually was to just talk about the purpose of politics.
John Howard, lost in 2007, I thought he gave a fantastic concession speech because he actually lost his seat as well as the election but there was no bitterness, it was all very positive about the country.
RAFAEL EPSTEIN: Look I’ll ask David Feeney about concession speeches in a moment, but while we wait for Mitt Romney, this is John Howard, the Prime Minister, stepping down after what was 11 years when he also lost his seat on the night. I think he knew at the time of this speech that Maxine McKew had taken his seat from him.
My fellow Australians. A few moments ago I telephoned Mr Kevin Rudd and I congratulated him and the Australian Labor Party on a very emphatic victory. This is a great democracy but I want to wish Mr Rudd well as he assumes the mantle of the 26th Prime Minister of Australia and I want to say there is no prouder job in the world that anyone can occupy than being Prime Minister of this country.
RAFAEL EPSTEIN: That’s John Howard speaking in 2007 at his concession speech. Before I ask David Feeney to give me his opinion I just want to give you a little update.
[traffic update ]
RAFAEL EPSTEIN: Mitt Romney has come out onto the stage, he is addressing a crowd in Boston. It’s being billed as a concession speech. We don’t know what he’s going to say, we’re going to take this feed from ABC24.
[concession speech, Fight Club end]