Radio Interview - 2CC Canberra - 20 October 2020

20 October 2020


SUBJECTS: ACT election; Job Maker.

STEPHEN CENATIEMPO, HOST: It's time for our regular political panel joining us, as he does on a Tuesday representing the Labor Party, the member for Bean, David Smith. G'Day, David.


CENATIEMPO: And representing the Liberal Party, ACT Liberal Senator and Assistant Minister for Finance, Charities and Electoral Matters, Zed Seselja. Last week I called him Lord Voldemort, but apparently Genghis Khan is a better descriptor, Zed?

ZED SESELJA, LIBERAL SENATOR FOR THE ACT: Good morning, Stephen. Good morning, David, how are you, mate?

SMITH: Yeah good, good to be with you.

CENATIEMPO: Guys. I've got to say this, that it annoys me, these labels, they get thrown around in politics these days because once upon a time, political insiders who actually knew the nuance behind words like conservative and moderate or progressive use them. Now everybody throws them around without really understanding what they mean. David, I'll start with you.

SESELJA: Yeah, go for it, David.

SMITH: That's right.  Look, even as a simple observation, Stephen. I think if Labor was in the position that maybe the ACT Liberals were, we'd probably be dealing with criticism from an ex-chief minister too, but one from our side of the fence, if you like. So I guess it's probably something that comes with the territory where often ex-grandees like to have more than their two cents worth in these circumstances.

CENATIEMPO: Yeah and as I said, it tends to be directly correlated by the level of failure when their own political careers were going. Zed, I have said this, that there was nothing particularly conservative about the Liberals platform in this ACT election and nothing particularly progressive about Labor's platform. So it was fought on local issues where there were differences.

SESELJA: Look, as it always is --- and I think COVID certainly looms large --- I think of course, the lessons need to be learned. I do need to make the point that if the message and if the advice from Gary Humphries is that you just need to become a pale imitation of Labor and the Greens, as he seems to be suggesting, then why was it such a spectacular failure for him when he was leading the party and why alternatively, you know, if I'm the problem, according to him, why in 2012, when I last led the party, did we get the most seats we ever got? In my electorate of Brindabella, we get a record vote. We won the popular vote territory wide. What we lacked was partners, as Kate Carnell had with people like Paul Osborne. So let's go to the real issues rather than if it was as easy as being a pale imitation of Labor and the Greens, then why was it such a spectacular failure when Gary Humphries was in charge and why have we seen different results? 

In fact even if he was you know, he's criticising Alistair Coe's result… he actually got a much higher percentage of the vote than Gary Humphries delivered. So let's look at the real issues and I'd make this point because there's a lot of party members, volunteers, candidates who have worked their guts out during this campaign. Of course, they're disappointed that they didn't get there and then you've got a guy who I don't believe helped any of them, I don't believe lifted a finger to help, even though he is a member of the Liberal Party who's now throwing rocks when they're obviously dealing with a loss. I think the party will go through its own internal processes. It'll make its decisions on things like the leadership through the internal review. But these kind of prognostications from Gary Humphries, from such a position of weakness, given his own record, I think will be seen in that light, I think, by party members and party supporters.

CENATIEMPO: David, it may turn out that Labor goes backwards as well in its number of seats. It was almost a rebuke of both major parties. What do you think went wrong for both sides?

SMITH: Well, Stephen, look it clearly wasn't a rebuke of Labor in the South and I think one of the interesting things about Hare Clark is that you can actually see some differences across different electorates and at times you get value for your vote and sometimes you don't. But I reckon the key issues that actually Labor really ran on in this election and certainly in Murrumbidgee and Brindabella were around competence and about experience and I think that's where the election was probably really won and lost.

I think we can often get distracted by other issues as you mentioned earlier. But that was the agenda that resonated most to the voters, but particularly in the South. But look, Hare Clark does some interesting things and it's quite a brutal system. So we're, seeing a number of candidates, and now probably former members from all sides to an extent, who actually probably had done some really, really good work but still fallen on the other side of the electoral ledger.

CENATIEMPO: Yeah, it's interesting --- I always call it Duckworth-Lewis and if it rains on Election Day something will happen. But let's move on to federal politics where you guys are both involved. JobMaker will come before parliament this week. The program is going to see a wage subsidy for businesses who take on workers under 35. David, Labor has flagged concerns about the impact on older workers but I think we've got to do something seriously about this generational youth unemployment problem we've had, don't we?

SMITH: Look, Stephen, there are certainly issues for youth unemployment, but look we've always welcomed the concept of wage subsidies, particularly in these circumstances and I understand that there are particular challenges for youth employment.

However, whilst we have estimates, we're pretty keen to ensure that we're across the operation and integrity of the scheme, that we're able to ask questions about the eligibility criteria. Look I've got a real concern for those who are above 35 who might be just left on the shelf and that, you know, that's got to be devastating for many families across Australia as you can imagine. But look, there's time for that. We don't need to rush this through the parliament this week. As we've said we've got estimates this week.

CENATIEMPO: Zed, how do we stop older workers --- and I'm loathe to use the term older workers because people over 35 obviously aren't that old --- but how do we stop them from falling through the cracks?

SESELJA: Well, there's a couple of things. The fact is that the stats show that those aged under 35 are four times more likely to have lost their jobs or had their hours cut. So we know that a lot of the impact of this COVID recession has been felt on those aged under 35 and that's why JobMaker is so important and the hiring credit is so important. We've also got support for older workers as well. We have had for a long time and that's going to continue because we recognise that there are sometimes different challenges for older workers who have left the workforce and may need to retrain and we know the difficulty in those older years that we shouldn't be leaving under thirty-fives behind, because what happens and we know the stats that if you fall into unemployment for a period of time in your 20s, the odds of you getting back into long term, full time employment, they increase [and] it becomes harder the longer you're out of the workforce. So it's pretty desperate that we do absolutely everything we can to help those young people who have suffered under this recession more than anyone else back into the workforce.

CENATIEMPO: Gentlemen, there are plenty of other things I want to talk about. Unfortunately, we spent way too much time talking about somebody that doesn't matter. David Smith, member for Bean, thanks for your time.

SMITH: Thanks, Stephen.

CENATIEMPO: And, ACT Liberal Senator Zed Seselja, thank you, we'll catch up again next week.

SESELJA: Thank you, Stephen. Thanks, David.

CENATIEMPO: They'll be back with us next week here on the program.