TOM CONNELL: Plenty to discuss as we begin another parliamentary fortnight, including a rogue sprinkler. Who might have been behind that? Joining me live now is Labor's Graham Perrett and Liberal Sarah Henderson here in the studio. Let's get to the bottom of this sprinkler. We don't really need the rain here in Canberra at the moment. Has someone just passed their own judgement on Clive Palmer?
SARAH HENDERSON, MEMBER FOR CORANGAMITE: I don't know whether Pauline Hanson might've set that up but certainly it did disrupt proceedings outside Parliament House this morning. The Senate is a moveable feast and we've seen that again today with the announcement by Clive Palmer establishing the United Australia Party with Brian Burston – so watch his space I say Tom.
CONNELL: Interesting moment because 2013 he had all this momentum. He was able to sort of get through interviews with some light-hearted comments he derailed things pretty easily in Queensland in particular. That's not going to be so easy this time particularly with what's happened with Queensland Nickel.
GRAHAM PERRETT, MEMBER FOR MORETON: People in Townsville are up in arms about the way Clive Palmer deserted them and that's why it was great to see our member, the Labor member actually standing up there, Cathy O'Toole asking questions of Clive Palmer because she's trying to get people paid that have gone years with Clive Palmer owing them money. So he's pumping money into billboards all around the place, says he's going to run candidates.
CONNELL: You've both got billboards in your area?
PERRETT: Yeah I've got one at the end of my street.
CONNELL: So what chance then if he has all this money again that he can make any sort of similar impact? Huge advertising spend, everywhere you look he's there. Do you think he's a chance of making a similar impact?
PERRETT: Look there will always be a bit of a protest vote against the major parties. But I think the idea of Clive Palmer harvesting that protest vote again after the massive disappointment he wreaked upon Australia last time around. I can't see that soufflé rising twice at all.
HENDERSON: Well Tom he has a billboard outside my electorate office as well –"make Australia great" well we think Australia's going pretty well at the moment with record jobs growth and building a stronger economy in the way that our budget has been received, so we're not sure that we need Clive Palmer to make Australia great. But he did make quite a mark in Corangamite back in 2013 when he disendorsed his candidate Buddy Rojek after Buddy decided to recruit volunteers by holding a party luring people with bikini clad women attending the party. So he certainly made a splash in Corangamite.
CONNELL: Was it effective? Did he get many people along?
HENDERSON: Well Buddy Rojek was disendorsed and I don't think the party went ahead. So no, it didn't go very well for Clive Palmer in Corangamite and you know I think Clive is very much on the nose there's no doubt about that. But this is a democracy, this is what makes Australia great is we are a wonderful democracy. Anyone can launch a political party providing they meet the requirements and we welcome the fight.
CONNELL: Albeit I think it’ll be a bit frustrating, distressing even, to some of these workers – they see him splashing out millions upon millions. Anyway we'll see where that goes. I want to talk about the ABC, do you think they have a bias problem?
HENDERSON: Look I think there are certainly issues at times with the ABC. I worked for the ABC for nine years.
CONNELL: Did they have a bias problem then?
HENDERSON: Well interestingly when I worked for the 7:30 Report John Howard then made some complaints about the 1996 election and we started to monitor the coverage for both sides of politics and in fact I think at the 7:30 Report our game did improve when I was with them and it is very very important that bias is watched very carefully at the ABC. There are some great journalists at the ABC but let me just say this very clearly while this policy motion was passed it's absolutely not binding in any way, it is not government policy, it's a stupid idea frankly. The ABC is a much-loved institution I know that better than anyone else and our publicly funded ABC is very much a part of its success and its future. But Tom, let's not forget the ABC is receiving more than $1 billion a year and it's very right and proper that the ABC is accountable for the way that money is spent.
CONNELL: And just on the bias you said when that was brought to your attention in 1996 you monitored things and they improved. Does that need to happen now? Do you think there is a bias at the moment?
HENDERSON: Look I certainly do think that the ABC has to be very very careful about giving equal and balanced coverage.
CONNELL: Are they giving that at the moment?
HENDERSON: I think they do go off the rails from time to time. I mean they're not the only media organisation that do that.
CONNELL: Is there an example specifically?
HENDERSON: Look I just can't think of anyone in particular right now…
CONNELL: So is it a person, or an issue, or a story?
HENDERSON: I think there are times when we see that there's probably not enough of balanced coverage and I saw it firsthand Tom. I mean that was a while ago clearly when I worked for the ABC. But let me say the ABC has some great journalists, they do some great work. I would like to see the ABC put more money into regional Australia that is a really big problem.
CONNELL: Obviously Mitch Fifield has raised some specific concerns. Have you been working for them? You've been in the media, have you've been writing down an example, or a story, or a person that you think has a specific bias issue?
HENDERSON: Look I look at what I do locally with the ABC, they have a Geelong office which is very very badly funded, it's like working out of a cupboard. So again I would like to see a much greater investment by the ABC into regional Australia. And certainly I haven't had any issues locally, but yes there have been some issues, they have been properly addressed by the minister I think at times, and you know the ABC’s a very diverse and an interesting mix of journalists and program makers. But let's hope that so much of its focus goes not only into regional Australia but putting more of its money onto the front line into program production.
CONNELL: Graham Perrett, do you think there's any left-leaning element to the ABC?
PERRETT: I'm sure there'd be some left elements some right element. I mean it's the normal people, they'll have some views but there are lots of checks and balances as Sarah could attest if she’d talked about the editorial oversight and the like at the ABC. But surely it's rank hypocrisy from Sarah, who got elected at the time with a Liberal leader who said there’d be no cuts to the ABC – first budget massive cuts, most recent budget another wave of cuts to the ABC. And then complaining about country services, well of course the bush is going to be betrayed if you bring in budget cuts on the ABC. Because what will they do, they'll centralise back to the main cities because that's where the efficiencies are and the bush suffers. Now I could understand a National Party saying that, but Sarah's a member of the Liberal Party that actually had two massive slices into the ABC so that now they're actually cutting into muscle rather than any fat that was there. I see the ABC as being essential in the bush. I grew up in the country. I only ever had the ABC. So for you to sit here now and say, ‘oh they need to do more in the regions’ when you've been a part of the government that cut their budget.
HENDERSON: Please don't be hypocritical about this. Like the Labor Party, it imposed an efficiency dividend on the ABC and we have done the same. There are no cuts to the ABC. So let me just make this point, I’ve worked for three commercial networks…
CONNELL: Is it a freeze? We all know how inflation works. If you have a straight freeze you have to do more with less.
PERRETT: Media inflation is above the standard inflation, Tom.
HENDERSON: Tom, let me just, when I worked for the National Indigenous Television Network it would see $14 million a year. Now, I know the services weren't as extensive as of the ABC. But on world standards the ABC is very well funded, but frankly there are many examples of where they're not spending their money efficiently enough, both in program production and also in its management and I think the ABC can be more efficient. I've seen it firsthand, I mean when I worked at the ABC it took three people to record one voiceover, now hopefully and I'm sure things have changed but there is a lot of fat still in the ABC. And rather than the ABC’s managing director attack the government, as I think she's doing at the moment, we want to see the ABC focus on more efficient program production. For instance ten years ago it cost, on average, $400,000 an hour to make drama. It's now costing $1 million dollars an hour to make high standard drama. Why has there been such an acceleration of costs? So there are lots of practices in television, probably not at Sky where it's pretty efficient, lots of practices in television where I think we can find some efficiencies.
CONNELL: You’ve actually made me realise I'm probably in a bit of trouble after this much talk about the ABC. Of course, you are watching Sky News Live, we are out of time, and I know we wanted a couple more.
HENDERSON: Well that was easy.
CONNELL: Malcolm Turnbull obviously trumps you with the news conference, Sarah Henderson and Graham Perrett, thanks very much for your time.