John Mackenzie: You know I watched Four Corners on Monday night, Senator Ian Macdonald talking about some of these issues now that we are seeing across conservative side of politics at the state and federal level and there seems to be a real problem in selling a message. The message about, for example, the need to rein in spending and it was interesting talking to Keith de Lacy too, shortly after the state outcome became very clear here in Queensland, how he said how are governments at every level going to be able to take tough news to the electorate now when the electorate doesn’t want to hear it and they respond by throwing governments out and there was also discussion, I think it was in the Sunday Mail by one of the seniors in the Liberal Party in Canberra saying how he just hated watching the Liberal party at the federal level just tear itself apart, basically committing suicide so it’s interesting talking to, or listening to what Ian Macdonald has got to say, the LNP Senator here in Queensland. Now there’s a quote here today too in an article in The Courier Mail where it says LNP Senator Ian Macdonald told these people that “voters did not understand what they were trying to do”. In this case he was talking about the federal level, the Prime Minister and the Treasurer, that people, voters, do not understand what they are trying to do and this was similar to the problems faced by the LNP in Queensland. I just wish people at the top level at both state and federal level in fact would listen to what Senator Ian Macdonald has got to say, but you can because he’s on the line. Hello Ian.
Senator Ian Macdonald: Gday John
John Mackenzie: You’ve been speaking out very strongly on these matters, these matters whereby you’ve got people seemingly at the top level at both state and federal on the conservative side of politics, they’re just not in touch with what the voters are thinking
Senator Ian Macdonald: Well John the difficulty is that they are doing what is right but they’re not doing it in a very clever way and as I keep saying to them, look it’s no good being 100% right if you’re not in government to implement the right policy. I look at this whole issue and the recent leadership spat federally from the point of view of Australia. Some people will disagree with me, but I think most people will accept that it is in Australia’s interests that we have a Liberal government after the next federal election.
You do need Liberal governments every now and again to bring the economy back into order, to bring us within our actual spending ability and to do that, you’ve got to win the next election. But if you go ahead and do the things that need to be done all at once and don’t explain them properly, people won’t vote for you, therefore you won’t be there, therefore it’s in Australia’s interest that we do things carefully, methodically, we head in the right direction but we do it cautiously.
And I was very concerned particularly, 12 months ago almost now, when the co-payment came in, that hadn’t been discussed with the backbench, it hadn’t been raised in Parliament, it came completely from left field and on that night, I could have said then it was going to fail and it was going to turn the voters off. Fortunately 9 months later people are now agreeing with me and we’ve done something to fix that but it’s symptomatic of this whole problem that we do have to sell things and explain them a lot better
John Mackenzie: Ian, you’ve just hit the nail on the head. The fact that you and the backbenchers, after all your years of experience, weren’t approach for an opinion on that co-payment, I mean there are examples of this everywhere in recent – you’re going back to Howard also on Workchoices. Blind Freddy saw Workchoices had disaster written all over it, that even towards the end, heading into the election itself I don’t think John Howard realised how unpalatable that was. Similarly in Queensland with the asset sales, the minute that came out, right across the state there was this intense backlash, a severe backlash. Had they picked that up, once again, they would probably still be in power, we would still have an LNP in Government in Queensland. How is it that the top level lacked this wisdom even though they’d been around for quite some time, they don’t go to the backbenchers, they don’t get a feeling right across the party itself for these measures and therefore they make these dreadful blunders.
Senator Ian Macdonald: John I think it’s, as I say they are hell-bent, they’re totally focussed on doing the right thing, on fixing the economy that they lose sight of the impact on people and how that plays out politically as well. We do have to keep in mind that these things need to be done but most of these problems that we’re trying to fix do have an impact on individuals and sometimes we don’t concentrate enough on just how this impacts particularly on the lower socio-economic groups in our society. We have to be very conscious of that and I don’t think we are. And that’s why I’ve been asking them as we approach the next budget cycle to make sure these things are roadtested, to make sure they think through the impact across all sections of our community.
John Mackenzie: that’s a very good term, this roadtest. The advice you’re giving at the federal level, would you apply that exactly to the LNP in Qld
Senator Ian Macdonald: Absolutely, John. I did think, I must say, that the LNP had started on the right course with this Strong Choices campaign, I thought that was pretty good but they didn’t finish that off, and quite frankly John, a lot of people naturally enough in this game and I don’t complain about that, that’s the business we’re in, but there are a lot of people out there determined to get votes for themselves or away from the LNP by whatever means they could. And quite frankly some of the union campaigns against the asset sales were just lies. Similarly some of the campaigns by the Greens and Get Up against the LNP Government over the Great Barrier Reef were just lies and unfortunately our side didn’t counter those lies sufficiently well. But somewhere along the line we have to be able to make the people of Australia understand that you cannot keep spending beyond your means and, you know, a lot of people of course don’t worry about that too much because a lot of people never pay tax. As we advance as a nation there are going to be less and less people paying for the welfare bill and we’ve got to understand that as well, but we do have to try and say to people, look, you can have this today, but it’s your children and grandchildren who will have to pay in the future because it just doesn’t make sense going on the way we are. Somehow we have to get that message through better, we have to be a bit more cautious, we have to be a bit more consultative with the public generally to make sure they understand and perhaps as I say the important thing is to do it cautiously, incrementally, so we don’t frighten the horses first up.
John Mackenzie: Now you would have heard Michael Roach with that figure the other day, around 580 of these Green groups across Australia, most of them enjoying tax-free status, many of them funded very healthily from overseas. They have excellent relationships with the media across this country. You’re just talking about the failure to get the message across, clearly to me the conservative side of politics needs to establish stronger relationships with, for example, the press, stronger relationships with the television shows, with talkback radio etc. Is that possible? Is it, for example desirable in your view and is it going to be easily achieved?
Senator Ian Macdonald: Well you’re right John, we do have to try and build that relationship and many of us do try that. I have to say, and this isn’t a new or an outrageous statement, but regrettably the ABC and the SBS in particular have people there who seem to be there to run their own views on life and they are a particular type of person. They are, sort of, from the latte set around Sydney and that is a problem which nobody seems to be able to address. I mean I have a solution but I don’t think that its possible. That’s one of the issues. Also, John, we have to be a bit smarter about it because its always easier to make, you know, a negative comment. That Barrier Reef campaign, I mean, curiously Greens and Get Up were totally opposed to the LNP Government for Abbott Point and I hear within a week of being elected the Labor government is now supporting Abbott Point and you don’t see the Greens and Get Up out there. It’s just, you know, again a political reality that we haven’t been terribly clever at addressing. But we have to try and take the people of Australia with us, I mean, sure there are problems that we have to address with the Great Barrier Reef but we are addressing them I think and it is a resilient natural asset, it will accommodate some change but the way some of the groups go on you would think its destroyed at the moment. And of course every time they say that, it impacts on people, the places like Cairns, the overseas people hear what the Greens are saying and they are saying we won’t go to Cairns, we won’t go to the Barrier Reef because its destroyed. Well anyone in Cairns knows it’s not destroyed, it’s still magnificent and it’s just those lies that we have to try an counter and we have to try and do it more cleverly.
John Mackenzie: Good to talk to you Ian, thank you.
Senator Ian Macdonald: Ok, my pleasure John.