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James Cullen on Sky News First Edition: Ausgrid seeking ADF assistance, climate change policy, coal, Queensland LNP, Superannuation Guarantee.

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Powerlines in South Australia - Photo by Francesco Patrinostro on Unsplash

LAURA JAYES, HOST:  Joining me now is James Cullen, senior director of government relations at the Cornerstone Group, good to see you.  It was interesting there when I spoke to Ausgrid, they weren’t aware about the official knocking on the head of their request for army assistance.  Just quickly before we get on to other things James, I’ve never heard of … Ausgrid was saying: “oh no we don’t want taxpayers to have to pay for anything”. But if you call in the army, that’s essentially what happens.

JAMES CULLEN, SENIOR DIRECTOR, CORNERSTONE GROUP: There’s a cost, absolutely.  Laura, I think it sounds like we have to tidy up the internal communications between the State Government and the electricity providers, and distributors in this case.  

JAYES: And the State and federal Government too.

CULLEN: Yeah that’s right, and to be fair that’s something the Prime Minister’s put on the agenda in terms of the response to bushfires and the Royal Commission about looking at the overlapping powers when it comes to emergency management, and perhaps floods is another example of where we need to look at the role and when the Feds do step in.  To be fair to the State Government too, they’re obviously putting more resources in the field, which is what they need to do to clear it up.

JAYES: But if Ausgrid’s a private company, if they need to get more help to get people’s power back on, employ more contractors.

CULLEN: Get it done.

JAYES: Exactly.  Let’s talk about the Otis group, this story broke overnight on Channel 10.  A group of Labor MPs on the right, meeting ‘in secret’, having dinner in Canberra once a fortnight I think it is, and talking about shepherding Anthony Albanese into a more pro-coal stance.  Is that a fair description?

CULLEN: I think largely, yes it is. To be fair to Anthony Albanese, who I think he’s identified straight after the election that climate change and it’s impact and the communications that were happening with coal communities in particular had to change.  Something had to change.  And obviously those broader policy settings are something which the Leader and the Shadow Ministry are having a look at.  I don’t think it’s really any surprise that Joel Fitzgibbon’s got a strong view on coal.  

JAYES:  He’s the coal face, pardon the pun, he almost lost his seat.

CULLEN: Let’s be frank, Labor cannot keep on turning up to election after election with the same offering in policy areas like climate change, lose the election and expect to keep on going on.  So something needs to give.  There needs to be better conversations, two-way conversations and we need to be taking those communities with us.  We’ve proud working class roots, we need to be talking to those workers and taking them with us.

JAYES: You know how this works, Anthony Albanese doesn’t want to rush to a policy because, to be honest, the politics get in the way, and then the opposition picks it apart, the opposition being the Government, the other side picks it apart all the way up until the next election and becomes this big political fight.  So I understand why he doesn’t want to formulate a policy now, he wants to do it closer to the election, but by not doing that, you create anxiety within your own team and you’re always going to see these factional groups pop up, aren’t you, when they don’t really know what’s going on, so they’re trying to make something happen in their favour.

CULLEN: I think overall the Leader’s right to take his time, particularly on this area of policy, let’s be frank, climate change has been one of those areas of policy which has beguiled both sides of politics and it’s seen leaders die, particularly Liberal leaders.  So it’s going to be an issue for Labor MPs too.  The important thing is the feedback, and having a really clear policy process and a timeline internally to work towards getting there.  The reality is we’re going to be having public debates and conversations about climate change and it’s impact and how we respond to it for the next 12, 18 months and beyond, and that includes Labor MPs in restaurants when Parliament’s sitting as well.

JAYES: No Lazy Susan, I thought Scott Morrison’s…

CULLEN: Yeah that was cute.

JAYES: … barbs there were quite cute.  Let’s talk about the LNP, my colleague Kieran Gilbert, our chief anchor, reported yesterday that there was renewed talk about this breakaway group. Now this has been around for a couple of years, talk within Queensland for Queensland LNP members to actually sit in their own party room.  Now they meet anyway in Canberra in their own little group.  But to have that more formalised.  I picked up last year before the election where it was thought that Scott Morrison would lose, even by their own people in Queensland that preselectors were actually asking candidates, particularly in the seat of Moncrieff, whether they would be willing, down the track, to sit in a LNP group…

CULLEN: Sit separately.

JAYES: … so this is not new.  But it is significant, as Kieran reported, that this has come up once again after the week we’ve just seen.  Senior figures say they can’t see it happening.  But this has always been a problem.  If they’re not talking about a separate LNP party, they’re talking about de-merging the two.  In the end, the Liberals and Nationals in Queensland have very different policy ideas.

CULLEN: I don’t think, Laura, that’s going to go away.  If you look at the Queensland LNP project, it’s had some okay results at a Federal level, at Federal elections, but since it’s inception at the state level, with the exception of one Campbell Newman term, and obviously that ended spectacularly, it hasn’t really been that successful, and that tension’s always going to be there.  There is a really strong contrast between those coastal and rural Nats, and Brisbane inner city and south-eastern Queensland Liberals.

JAYES: I might just say that Labor probably has a few more problems in Queensland than the LNP.

CULLEN: The Federal results, absolutely right.  It goes to coal, for example, and those conversations on climate change which Labor needs to have.  I don’t think discussions around LNP and the de-merger are going to go away.  It’s going to keep on going.  What’s been surprising Laura is to go so quickly from such a tremendous thumping, against the odds victory less than 12 months ago, to the talk we’ve got now.

JAYES: Absolutely spot on there, at the leaks.  Just very quickly, Super Guarantee, there’s been renewed talk about this.  The Government always says “it’s in legislation”, do you think it’s going to stay that way?

CULLEN: I think the Government’s looking for all excuses, and look at the backbenchers talk, to try and freeze that, and to keep it at 9.5, or probably 10 per cent, leave it at 10 per cent.  I actually see there’s tectonic plates moving on the super debate, at the moment, if you read all the papers, it feels like compulsory super, the very reason behind it, is under threat.  I’m concerned about that because it’s been such a successful Australian story, and obviously I want the SG to increase to 12 per cent, but I think there’s a long way to play out in this debate and we need the players who support the Superannuation Guarantee increase to be out there and being heard, because they’re not really at the moment.

JAYES: Nope, and it’s becoming ideological as well.

CULLEN: It’s true.

JAYES: James, great to get a prediction, love it.

CULLEN: Thanks for your time.

JAYES: It’s fraught with danger, but thank you for giving it anyway.

CULLEN: Cheers Laura.

JAYES: See you next week.