6 February 2016
Transcript - #2016013, 2016

In the role of: Minister for Small Business and Assistant Treasurer [21 September 2015 - 18 July 2016]

Interview with Andrew O’Keefe and Tanya Plibersek

SUBJECTS: Tax reform; high court judgement on offshore detention

ANGELA COX:

For the inside word we're joined by Assistant Treasurer Kelly O'Dwyer from Melbourne and Deputy Labor Leader Tanya Plibersek. Good morning to you both. Thanks for joining us.

MINISTER O'DWYER:

Good morning.

TANYA PLIBERSEK:

Good morning.

COX:

First to you, Kelly. Now, some of the papers saying Malcolm Turnbull is failing to make decisions, being a bit of a ditherer. I think one of the papers said it was the Abbott Government with a better salesman. What's your response to that?

MINISTER O'DWYER:

Well, I would say this, it's very important that we understand that our prosperity as a country is not pre-destined and we need to consider things very carefully before we make any change. We are doing that with our taxation policy, we're kicking the tyres on a whole range of options. We know that we have had a lot of suggestions by State Premiers including Labor Premiers who want to see the GST increase, but we're not going to take action without understanding exactly what it involves. We want to lower the overall tax base and so we're making sure we kick the tyres before we take it to the Australian people for them to decide.

ANDREW O'KEEFE:

Tanya, it was one of the things after Mr Turnbull ascended to the top job, people were saying well yeah, we're kind of tired of our politicians governed being by the 24 hour news cycle, they should perhaps take their time to consider the big issues.

PLIBERSEK:

Well taking time is one thing but Malcolm Turnbull has had six months now and he said at the beginning that what Australia needed was decisive economic leadership. Essentially we have seen no real change from the Abbott Government. We've still got the $80 billion cuts to health and education. Yes, we are talking about a GST but we are just talking about it, there is no indication of when this will happen, what the rate will be, whether it will be a applied to health and education, how the money that is raised will be spent, whether it will be actually returned to the states to do something about the health and education systems that we are so concerned about. We hear a lot of blah, blah, blah from Malcolm Turnbull, but not much real action.

O'KEEFE:

It will all be revealed in the May budget apparently. Tanya, we just want to move onto another issue. Of course this week the High Court found that offshore detention is lawful. It left the question of ethics aside, but they said it’s lawful. You described Australia's asylum seeker debate as toxic, now given that Labor has pretty much supported the current detention processing regime, what are the toxic elements as you see them? What criticisms do you have of the Government position?

PLIBERSEK:

Well I think we have got a lot of debate at either end of the spectrum here and the truth is, that offshore processing is part of the Government policy and part of our policy because we want to see the end of people getting on boats, deaths at sea but we also believe, we believe, Labor believes, that people should be treated decently and humanely. There is no reason that processing times should have doubled under this government. The secrecy that is attached to Manus Island and Nauru; the fact that organisation like Save the Children that raise issues of welfare of the children on the island get sacked from their contracts; the fact that there is no transparency; no accountability - we believe there should be an independent children's advocate. We believe that these centres should be governed in a way that is transparent and accountable - where people are treated decently, they have the services they need -  healthcare, education, concern for the welfare of children, including their psychological welfare. There is different ways of doing this. A way that continues to send a message that people shouldn't risk their lives getting on a boat but doesn't treat them as cruelly and secretively as is the case.

COX:

Kelly, fair criticism?

MINISTER O'DWYER:

I don't think it's fair criticism at all. I think if you were to listen to Tanya just then, you would think that people are not treated in a humane and compassionate way. That's simply not the case at all. Under the previous Labor Government, we saw children who were in detention, in fact a record number of children who were in detention - more than 8,000 of course came unauthorised by boat. At the very height of children in detention, it was the Gillard Government, just under 2,000 children I think were in detention at that particular time, coming off a base of the previous Howard Government where there were no children in detention...

O'KEEFE:

Yeah but if we are talking about the manner in which they are detained, Kelly. You know they're so many people have come out in recent times who have been there and said that the conditions are inhumane. The only journalist that has been allowed in so far is one of the Government cheerleaders on this issue. How can we take the Government's word for this...

PLIBERSEK:

It's also the length of time, Andrew.

MINISTER O'DWYER:

It's important to understand as well Andrew, that for the first time, we have given children continuous education - this was something that was happening only very spasmodically under the previous Labor Government. We have been very, very keen to ensure that we do care for the psychological welfare of these children. We do know it's very stressful and that these families are under enormous stresses but we also know that there are a whole host of other families sitting in refugee camps who are not able to pay people smugglers who also want to have a good life in Australia. We want to be able to make sure that those people can come to this country as well.

O'KEEFE:

Sure.

PLIBERSEK:

Andrew one of the problems is that there is literally nowhere for these people to go now because the Government has failed to make any arrangements with other countries about resettlement. They had a deal with Cambodia. They ended up spending $55 million to resettle three people. That's why the processing times have doubled because they have absolutely failed to make any arrangement with any other country to resettle refugees.

MINISTER O'DWYER:

No, no, look, I have to respectfully say Tanya, that's not true. We are looking very carefully at all of the applications that come forward. We need to consider the security issues that are involved...

PLIBERSEK:

Where are you resettling people Kelly?

MINISTER O'DWYER:

We need to consider the backgrounds and bona fides of the...

PLIBERSEK:

Which country do you have an arrangement with?

MINISTER O'DWYER:

the bona fides of the situations that people say that they come from and we need to ensure that we consider their cases very carefully before making a decision. I don't think that's an unreasonable thing to do. I think that's the right thing to do...

PLIBERSEK:

Did you spend $55 million to...

O'KEEFE:

Kick a few more tyres by the sound of it. Listen Kelly and Tanya we have to leave it there unfortunately; no doubt we will continue this debate over the coming months before the election. Plenty more to cover as well...

PLIBERSEK:

Andrew thanks for raising awareness about ovarian cancer, it's great that the show is doing that. It's a secret killer because it's very late to diagnose. It's wonderful that you are raising the issue.

MINISTER O'DWYER:

I agree. I am a patron for it, and it is fantastic because it is such a deadly disease.

O'KEEFE:

Indeed. Thank you very much Kelly and thank you, Tanya for joining us.