20 March 2015
Transcript - #2015026, 2015

In the role of: Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasurer [23 December 2014 - 20 September 2015]

Interview with Patricia Karvelas, RN Drive, Radio National

SUBJECTS: Malcolm Fraser, AC, CH, GCL, Federal Budget, Same Sex Marriage

KARVELAS:

I have to start here because it is the topic that everyone’s talking about, Kelly O’Dwyer, your reflections on the death of former Liberal Prime Minister, Malcolm Fraser. What will Mr Fraser be best remembered for?

O’DWYER:

Well, he is an iconic figure in our nation’s history but also in terms of our Liberal Party’s history, as the 22nd Prime Minister of Australia. He was a large man with a large personality and I think he will be remembered for standing up for those things that he believed in. Somebody who championed the cause against apartheid, somebody who was prepared to stand up and talk about the importance of being economically responsible when Gough Whitlam was not prepared to do that. That is why he had such a sweeping victory in the election against Gough Whitlam. I think he was a man much admired by many people. No Prime Minister is ever perfect, but today is a day to celebrate his main achievements. His environmental achievements, the Great Barrier Reef under his Prime Ministership for instance, was declared a marine park. I think that is a wonderful legacy to have left the nation.

KARVELAS:

He of course resigned form the Liberal Party in recent years and he had a difficult relationship – was very critical for instance of your current Prime Minister, Tony Abbott. I wonder as the years roll on now and we reflect on this time, how will the Liberal Party remember him? Do you hope that the Liberal Party treats him like the strong leader he was? I know there is a difficult reconciliation and very different views on Malcolm Fraser.

O’DWYER:

People do have different views and certainly I had the good fortune of not only meeting with Malcolm Fraser but actually inviting him after newly being elected as a member of Parliament, to a community forum that I was holding in my electorate after he had published his book. While we didn’t agree on everything, particularly in relation to some of the current policy discussions, he was fascinating to talk to. I think it’s important for us to be able to celebrate our history and celebrate his achievements. And like the Labor Party, we can sometimes be pretty tough on some of our leaders, whether they’re serving or whether they’re past leaders. I think that we should honour those aspects of his leadership that I think we can all agree on and admire, and there are many.

KARVELAS:

On RN Drive my guest is Kelly O’Dwyer, Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasurer. And if you’d like to text me your views, our number is 0418 22 65 76. Let’s get to the Budget, because you are the Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasurer, the budget is your thing—do you think a dull budget is the right approach because the Prime Minister tells us that after all the shock and awe, the budget you know, was in the worst state imaginable, now we’re going to have a dull budget. Don’t we need more than a dull budget to really fix the emergency we’re in?

O’DWYER:

Well I think people are reading an awful lot into a couple of words here that were mentioned by the Prime Minister. And I think people are probably making a little bit of mischief about what was a pretty straight statement. What the Prime Minister is essentially saying is that we are not going to have a budget of surprises, one of the lessons I suppose we learnt form the budget in the previous year was that there were some people who were surprised by some of the measures that were taken in that budget and what is clear to us is that when you are bringing forward a package of reform, you need to do that in a way that takes people with you on the journey and that is not all announced on budget night. And I think that, looking back, perhaps we could have released some of those packages a little bit earlier so that we could have explained in a bit more detail the necessity of those changes and also given people an opportunity to provide a little bit of feedback before bringing those measures to the Parliament. So when the Prime Minister talks about a dull budget he’s not stepping away from the need for reform. Let’s not forget it’s not just the Prime Minister and it’s not just the Coalition that’s talking about the need to repair our budget, it’s people like Dr John Edwards who was a former adviser to Paul Keating, a man who was appointed by Wayne Swan to the Reserve Bank Board, who said very explicitly there is a ‘budget crisis’ that we need to act now to fix the structural deficit going forward.

KARVELAS:

I’m not having a discussion, I’m not contesting whether there was, but it is extremely different language now. I think that it’s remarkable the U-turn on the language. We had this budget emergency and, you’re right, we had some others other than just Government Ministers arguing it, and now it’s apparently that we are tracking O.K.—the Prime Minister’s changed his entire line.

O’DWYER:

Well, no, no, no, we haven’t said that there isn’t more to do, we have absolutely said that there is more to do, and we’ve said that in the most recent Intergenerational Report that’s been delivered – the 4th Intergenerational Report – provides a very good snapshot of where we are as a nation and the different path we could have been on, and the paths that we might choose. Prosperity is not predestined Patricia, and this is the point that the Prime Minister makes, and this is the point that the Coalition makes. We are in a very different position today form the one that the Labor Party inherited all of those years ago when they first came into Government. They had no net debt, they had money in the bank. That meant that when the Global Financial Crisis hit, that meant that they had real shock absorbers that were able to deal with that. Today, if we were to have an economic shock, we don’t have the same shock absorbers that would be able to take that heat. Let me give you an example of how things can get out of control very quickly. You only have to look at the example of Ireland just before the Global Financial Crisis. Now they had 11 per cent net debt to GDP, which everybody said by world standards isn’t really all that significant. They were hit by the Global Financial Crisis and within six years it was up to 90 per cent and their unemployment shot up to more than 10 per cent—and that’s general unemployment, not youth unemployment. Now Australia’s is actually four percentage points ahead of that. We’re about 15 percent net debt to GDP and while some people might say that’s not an issue, I say that we need to be very, very careful because the path that we are on is a path that could mean that we are in dangerous territory if we are not careful. Now Glenn Stevens, the Reserve Bank Governor, has said if you make changes now, over time those changes will mean that we can start to repair the structural deficit. That is what the Government has been advocating, that is what is critical for us to be able to achieve in this upcoming budget – we are committed to that budget reform.

KARVELAS:

So should you be boring us in the budget or should you be actually be putting forward and arguing them early if it’s about taking people with you, perhaps doing that, but arguing for serious structural reform of the budget which is what you said you would do?

O’DWYER:

Well, absolutely that is what we will be doing and the starting point has been the release of the Intergenerational Report, to explain to people the path we’re on, to explain that under Labor we were heading toward 122 percent net debt to GDP which is over Italy and just tracking below Greece at 171 percent. We don’t want to be on that path. That is a path to economic annihilation. That is not a path that we should be on. We need to be on a very sensible, prudent path. We know that we can do that if we can stimulate our economy. We have to get the policy settings right and we’re going to be announcing some packages in the not too distant future around small business, around tax reform, around the need to make sure that business has the confidence to be able to grow, to employ people, to create more jobs.

KARVELAS:

I would be interested to see the devil in that detail. My guest on RN Drive is Kelly O’Dwyer, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasurer. I want to move to an issue that you have been outspoken on in the past, because it is coming to a head again. On marriage equality, you’ve strongly supported a conscience vote. David Leyonhjelm now, he’s made it very clear as a Senator that he wants this to all be dealt with next week—there’s a Thursday deadline next week. How’s this going to proceed, is this going to come up in the Party Room on Tuesday?

O’DWYER:

Well look I’m not an expert on Senate procedure being a House Member. I understand there is a Private Member’s Bill in the Senate and that usually there is a pretty long speakers list. I’m quite confident on this issue there will be a quite a long speakers list so I am not sure whether or not that issue will be resolved next week, whether it would be taken to a vote, but in terms of your broader point—is it the sort of issue that would be raised in the Party Room?— well the Prime Minister himself said before the last election, he said that the issue of same sex marriage and the issue of a conscience vote, is one that should be dealt with by the new Party Room. That’s a commitment he made, that’s a commitment that I am very confident that he’s going to honour. I am sure that while there are a number of different views within the Party Room—the Prime Minister has a view, I have a different view on this issue—this is part of the great, wonderful, broad church that is the Liberal Party. While there are different views on the merits of same sex marriage, I think a lot of people do believe that it is important to have a free vote on this issue because people ..

KARVELAS:

So, will it be someone in the Party Room that moves a motion to have this discussion? I am just wondering procedurally how this might work out because there are pressures on the Prime Minister at the moment – we know this – to not allow a conscience vote? This is a real issue.

O’DWYER:

Well I’m not sure that’s right because the Prime Minister himself has actually said, before the last election, and he’s repeated, that it’s entirely for the Party Room to determine this issue. That is appropriate and I’m very confident that he’s going to honour that commitment that was made before the last election, and I think it’s right and appropriate that he does because the Party Room has changed since the election. Now, I think as Liberals, it’s pretty clear that a free vote on an issue such as this is something that we would very much expect and, despite the fact that there might be people of different views on this particular issue, some of those people even with views to support the current status quo, would be pretty supportive of the need for there to be a free vote. I mean we’ve had a great, wonderful history of free votes in our Party Room. It’s very different to the Labor Party who do actually have..

KARVELAS:

Is it your understanding that the Prime Minister supports a free vote?

O’DWYER:

Well look, I can’t speak for the Prime Minister, that’s a question that you should put to him.

KARVELAS:

But I’m assuming you’ve asked him, colleagues of yours who support same sex marriage have asked him?

O’DWYER:

I’m not going to speak for the Prime Minister. I think that’s a question that you need to put to him. He certainly though is very cognisant of the views of the Party Room. He said this before the last election. I really don’t think there is any issue in this issue being discussed in the Party Room more broadly. You know there are lots of other issues that we are also dealing with at this point in time. The Labor Party I think have been all over the shop on the issue of same sex marriage. I mean they’re the Party that actually says that you can be thrown out of their caucus by crossing the floor. Now we’ve had Ministers who’ve been very famous..

KARVELAS:

But they (the Labor Party) had the free vote on same sex marriage.

O’DWYER:

On this issue, only on this issue, and only because they’re trying to create a bit of a political point of differentiation but their history has been one where you get thrown out of the caucus if you cross the floor. Now our history is completely different. If you cross the floor in the Liberal Party Room your pre-selection isn’t threatened, it is seen as an act of conscience.

KARVELAS:

Would you like to see it dealt with in the next couple of weeks? Would it be your preference as someone who advocated marriage equality?

O’DWYER:

I think this is an issue that will come up from time to time. I am not aware that there is any legislation before the House at this particular time. I am not aware that there is any vote that’s going to be taken next week but certainly you know my view—my view is that I do support same sex marriage. I do believe however that it’s important to have safeguards for churches, for synagogues, for religious institutions that don’t wish to marry people and I think that is the current situation today – they’re not forced to marry anybody that they don’t want to, and I don’t think that that situation should change.

KARVELAS:

Kelly O’Dwyer, thank you so much for coming in and joining us on RN Drive.

O’DWYER:

Great pleasure Patricia.

KARVELAS:

That’s Kelly O’Dwyer and she’s the Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasurer on RN Drive. I’m Patricia Karvelas.