RN Breakfast interview: 21/03/2022

March 21, 2022




SUBJECTS: South Australian election result; Liberals cuts to Medicare; Senator Kimberley Kitching.

PATRICIA KARVELAS: The Labor Party says its crushing victory in the South Australian state election should have the Prime Minister “trembling” ahead of the federal poll in May. The ALP cruised to victory on Saturday on the back of a 7 per cent swing which, resulted in the first change of government anywhere in Australia since the COVID pandemic began two years ago. Mark Butler is the Shadow Health Minister and one of the most senior South Australians on Anthony Albanese’s frontbench and our guest. Mark Butler, welcome. 


KARVELAS: The Morrison Government says lessons will be learned from the South Australian election results. What are the lessons for Labor?

BUTLER: I think there are a lot of similarities in the approach of Peter Malinauskas, as Opposition Leader, and Anthony Albanese and his team, as the Federal Opposition Leader. Really, they're the only two opposition’s that haven't been essentially underwater through the course of this pandemic. And I think that's in part because both of us were resolved to play a constructive role through the pandemic. We backed the Government’s responses in those early months of the pandemic, as did Peter Malinauskas here in South Australia. Sure, suggesting improvements from time to time, but resisting the temptation to play politics at a time of national crisis. You saw other opposition leaders who didn't resist that temptation and are now frankly, footnotes in Australian political history. 

And the second thing, I think that's a similarity is that Peter Malinauskas, like Anthony Albanese, have been very busy preparing a focused policy agenda that would look beyond the pandemic. That would look at building a better future as we started to emerge from the pandemic, one focused on healthcare, on education, particularly of our youngest children, and on jobs, making more things here in Australia and job security.

KARVELAS: So they're not really lessons you've outlined to me, you're saying these similarities, are the lessons?

BUTLER: I think a campaign focused on healthcare is a very clear lesson that was the dominant theme of this election. And I think also realising that that while you hear Steven Marshall, the former Liberal Premier here in South Australia, Scott Morrison and Josh Frydenberg, consistently patting themselves on the back about the state of the economy, that doesn't reflect the real lives of working Australians. Household budgets are being smashed by flat wages, and rising household costs. So talking to the reality, the economic reality of Australia today, I think, is also a strong lesson out of the South Australian election.

KARVELAS: Mark Butler on Saturdays results, how confident are you of picking up the marginal seat of Boothby at the federal election and maybe even Sturt and Grey?

BUTLER: We haven't won Boothby since I think the 1940s. So those of us in South Australia are very clear that this is a very big mountain to climb.

KARVELAS: Are you getting 1940 vibes at the moment?

BUTLER: I'm getting on but I wasn't around in the 1940s so I'm not really sure about that, Patricia. But look, there were very big swings in Boothby. There's no doubt about that. Swings that were over and above the state wide swing you mentioned of 7 per cent. We've won seats in Boothby over the weekend and we've taken traditionally very safe Liberal seats right to the margin. We're ahead in one or two of those as well, that could fall our way depending on how postal votes go. 

So look, there clearly is something happening in South Australia, including in Boothby and our research shows and confirms that a lot of that has to do with Scott Morrison personally. One in two voters indicated in the research that they were less likely to vote Liberal or for Steven Marshall, once they learned that Steven Marshall was from the same party as Scott Morrison. I mean, he was a very clear drag on the Liberal vote here in South Australia. And in reports in The Daily Telegraph this morning, the New South Wales branch of the Liberal Party clearly feels the same, which is why campaigns in that state are now saying they don't want to be standing next to Scott Morrison, they'd prefer people like Gladys Berejiklian to support their campaign instead of the Prime Minister.

KARVELAS: Federal ALP President Wayne Swan says the outcome sends a clear message that voters have had enough of Liberal governments that are “out of touch with their lives.” The result should have all Federal Liberals “trembling.” Isn't that the type of hubris that cost Labor so dearly at the last election?

BUTLER: I think the result in the state election in South Australia is obviously not everything, but it's equally not nothing. As I said, there are lots of parallels about the approach that Anthony Albanese has taken over the past couple of years, and intends to take leading into the election, with the approach of Peter Malinauskas. There's no doubt Peter ran a terrific campaign supported by a united, talented team and a very talented and experience campaign director in Reggie Martin. We intend to learn as many of the lessons of that campaign as we can and spread them across the country.

KARVELAS: Simon Birmingham says Labor just got lucky former Premier Steven Marshall opened the South Australian border the day before Omicron was first reported to the World Health Organisation. Do you have Omicron to thank for the results?

BUTLER: I saw Simon Birmingham, who is obviously a close supporter and ally of Steven Marshall, really ducking and weaving yesterday on his interview trying to pretend that really, there were no particular lessons, it was all luck. It was all the fact that South Australian voters were misled. I think if that is the approach of the South Australian Liberal Party and the Federal Liberal Party, for that matter, that that's not going to be a good experience for them. There are very clear lessons for the Liberal Party to learn around healthcare. And as I said, around the economic realities being lived by Australians day to day. 

I think Omicron obviously was unfortunate timing for Steven Marshall, but frankly, he has himself to thank for that. A number of other states that were at the time COVID free, WA, Queensland and Tasmania, took a more cautious approach to opening up in November and December, while Steven Marshall was convinced by the Prime Minister Scott Morrison to open up on the day that he did. Now, Scott Morrison had been warned for months about the need to prepare for another variant and he simply didn't listen to those warnings and he didn’t act. Just like he didn't act on bushfires, just like he didn't listen and act on vaccines. So we didn't have enough rapid tests. The booster shot program was far too slow, the slowest in the developed world, and South Australians end up paying the price for that.

KARVELAS: So you mentioned that one of the lessons was obviously health really resonated. But health was almost, in terms of the analysis I've seen, almost singularly the issue that was hammered by Labor, particularly the ramping issue. Is that the lesson too? Don't crowd the agenda stick to one message and will that be health?

BUTLER: I think it wasn't the entire message of Peter Malinauskas campaign. As I said, there was a lot about the economic realities being lived by households in this state, compared to the sort of the daily patting on the back that Steven Marshall and frankly, Scott Morrison engage in about the economy being great. And also, as I said, early childhood education was a very strong focus of Peter’s in the campaign as well as it is of Anthony Albanese’s program. 

But there's no doubt that healthcare is a really dominant issue in politics, not just in South Australia, but across the country. It's never been harder to see a GP in Australia than it is right now, thanks to 10 years of cuts and neglect of Medicare by this Government. Aged Care is in crisis. And those two things are creating enormous pressure on our hospital systems in ramping and in pressure on our emergency departments, which was the dominant theme I think, in the South Australian campaign.

KARVELAS: Just on the death of Kimberly Kitching, who will be laid to rest in Melbourne today. If Labor doesn't have an internal problem with bullying, then don't you need to explain what happened to her?

BUTLER: I think today of all days, Patricia, I think is a day that we should be devoted to celebrating Senator Kitching’s life and mourning her loss at such a young age. And I think today of all days is not the day to go into a number of the claims being made and things being said over recent days.

KARVELAS: Okay, but you do think that at some point that needs to be addressed when obviously, you know there is some healing and closure? Obviously this is a really difficult time for people.

BUTLER: Today is a day for the people who knew Kimberly to get around each other, hug each other and as I said celebrate an extraordinary life that was ended far too early.

KARVELAS: Thank you for your time this morning.

BUTLER: Thanks, Patricia.