From pitching to independents, their positions on US-China tensions, media diversity and personal faith, Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Opposition Leader Bill Shorten speak with Leigh Sales in their final campaign interviews on 7.30.
- Scott Morrison has ruled out negotiating with the Greens in a hung parliament
- Bill Shorten said Labor would claim a mandate if it wins on Saturday and expect the Senate to pass its measures
- Both leaders promised a pragmatic approach to dealing with China
Mr Morrison said the outcome of a hung parliament in the House of Representatives would demonstrate the Opposition had failed to convince the Australian public of its sweeping reform agenda, and argued the crossbench would be duty-bound to allow the Coalition Government to continue.
“I think there are strong cases to be made about the continuing incumbency of a government that has set out a direction,” he told 7.30.
“It’s Bill Shorten who has said the Government should change [and] for that to occur, he would need to have a majority of members in the House of Representatives to confirm that is indeed what the Australian people wanted.”
The Prime Minister wouldn’t rule out negotiating with independents, but dismissed any deal with the Greens.
Mr Shorten was asked how he would handle a hostile Senate crossbench and whether he would abandon his big-ticket spending measures on cancer, pensioner dental and childcare if his corresponding revenue measures failed to clear the parliament.
“What you’re raising is the spectre of a right-wing senate — [United Australia Party leader Clive] Palmer and One Nation — who survive off Liberal preferences, being able to block our measures in the Senate,” he told 7.30.
“If we get elected on Saturday … what we’ll be able to do is claim a mandate.”
The Opposition Leader said “mandate” might be a term often used by political commentators, but said it was particularly meaningful in this election because the Opposition had been “so upfront” about both its tax changes and its spending measures.
Mr Shorten also said Labor’s promise of a bigger surplus meant there was a “big buffer”, in case some of its tax reforms were blocked in the Senate.
“I’m not only confident we will get our reforms through the Senate, but we’ve also allocated, within our much better set of books for the nation, a very healthy surplus. So a particular measure does not sink or swim our policy proposals, because we’ve done our homework,” he said.
Leaders promise pragmatism on US-China tension
Mr Shorten said Australia needed a “more sophisticated” approach to China than viewing it “through the prism of ‘threat’ or ‘customer'”.
He said the United States was, and would remain, Australia’s “paramount friendship”, and promised to deal with President Donald Trump “professionally and pragmatically”.
Mr Morrison said his government had a “neutral” position on China’s Belt and Road initiative, involving ambitious infrastructure developments across more than 100 countries.
“There are individual Australian companies, though, who do participate in that and we seek to facilitate that as well and had no issues with that,” he said.
“It’s good for Australian jobs, Chinese growth, and its prosperity and its economy is a good thing for Australia.”
Mr Shorten said the policy was China’s, and did not comment further.
The Prime Minister would not be drawn on whether Australia would follow the US into any type of military action under Mr Trump.
“Australia has been with the United States in every major conflict for 100 years… and that’s why we enjoy, I think, such a close relationship,” he said.
“All of those issues are always considered on their merits, at the time, in Australia’s national interest, independent of anything other than what’s best for Australia.”
On the media
Mr Morrison was asked about the nature of his relationship with News Corp’s Rupert and Lachlan Murdoch.
“I probably know Lachlan a little better because he’s a bit closer to my age, and we both have young families and that’s the nature of any sort of personal discussion we often have — which isn’t too often,” he said.
“They [Rupert and Lachlan Murdoch] run a very large organisation and I seek to have relationships as Prime Minister with all those who have an interest in Australia.”
Mr Shorten said he had “become concerned” about media diversity in Australia, and the “shrinking number of operators in our media market”.
He also reiterated Labor’s pledge to increase funding for the ABC.
Questions of faith
Leigh Sales asked the Prime Minister how his Christian faith informs his politics.
“It is part of who I am,” he said.
“I’ve never sought to hide who I am and what I’m about and what drives me,” he said.
When asked to explain the beliefs of his Pentecostal church, the Prime Minister said he was not running for Pope.
“I’m running for Prime Minister. And the theological questions are not ones that are actually, I think, germane to the political debate in this country.
“I’m just saying my faith — which teaches me to love others, and that God loves everybody, and that we should be agents for his love in this world — is what I’ve always believed.”
When pressed on why he abstained on the same-sex marriage vote in parliament, the Prime Minister said he acted in a consistent way.
“I always said I wouldn’t stand in the way of that, if that was the will of the Australian people, and I didn’t,” he said.
Mr Shorten was asked to respond to the Prime Minister’s claims that he had “politicised” Mr Morrison’s faith.
The question was in reference to a spat in the final week of the campaign, where Mr Morrison did not immediately respond to a question about whether he believed gay people went to hell, before confirming later that he did not.
“I simply said I thought a prime minister should make it clear that they don’t think gay people go to hell,” Mr Shorten said.
Fear, service, vision
Mr Morrison said he was not interested in power, but said he was ambitious to serve.
“In my family, it’s always been about how you serve, not what you accumulate,” he said.
“My brother, he’s a paramedic. My father was a policeman.
“We’ve all chosen different ways to serve, that’s what we’re about.”
Mr Shorten said he was not afraid of what he might face if he won the election.
“Winning doesn’t scare me. What scares me is not fulfilling the hopes and dreams of millions of our people,” he said.
“What scares me is when parents go to work and one of their two salaries is chewed up by childcare.
“What scares me is you might die of cancer because you’re poor.
“What scares me is that black kids in this country are more likely to go to jail than university.”