30 April 2015
Transcript - #2015028, 2015

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

Interview with David Lipson, Sky News AM Agenda

SUBJECTS: Bali executions, Indonesian relations, Budget, same sex marriage

LIPSON: We are joined now by Liberal front bencher Kelly O’Dwyer, and Labor front bencher Jim Chalmers. Kelly O’Dwyer, first of all, Indonesia it seems – certainly the President – is unfazed by Australia’s response, even though it is unprecedented for us to withdraw an ambassador in this way. Should the Government have gone harder?

O’DWYER:  I’m not a commentator on how the Indonesian Government reacts on these matters. But I will say this, it is very serious for us to withdraw an ambassador, and it is a serious expression of the Australian Government’s very deep disappointment that our pleas for clemency in relation to these two young men were not headed. As you know, we took all efforts at all levels of Government to try and plead for mercy in relation to the death penalty. We recognise that the crimes committed by these two men were serious. We also recognise that they went through a period of rehabilitation, and we believed that there were very strong grounds on which to have clemency provided by the President. Now, our pleas were not headed, we have withdrawn our ambassador. That is very serious. We do not understate the gravity of what we have done. We will have discussions with our ambassador back in Australia once the families have departed Indonesia, and we will then take stock and see where we go from there.

LIPSON: Jim Chalmers, the Foreign Minister has not ruled cutting aid to Indonesia, currently our second biggest aid recipient. Would that be appropriate?

CHALMERS: Look I’m with Kelly, David on what she just said about the strong response to the barbaric and appalling act that happened in Indonesia earlier this week, and like a lot of Australians, I thought it was heartbreaking to the see the families huddled together in their grief, and also heartbreaking, as Kelly said, to think that their genuine ten year journey redemption was cut short by an executioners bullet. All the other matters about our relationship with Indonesia, our very important relationship with Indonesia, covering a whole range of areas including aid, I will leave that for Tania Plibersek and others to comment on. But right throughout the process, we have supported the Government in their strong response, whether that involves pulling our ambassador out and any other issues that they want to consider.

LIPSON: There has been a very big expression of outrage over these deaths, the two Australian’s put to the firing squad. Jack Waterford in the Canberra Times today, Kelly O’Dwyer, makes the point that we are only outraged when Australia is involved in death penalty cases. Should we actually be pushing for this argument against the death penalty when Australians are not on death row? Would that be more effective?

O’DWYER: Well I disagree with that statement. Australia has taken a very strong stand against the death penalty in many international forums. We have taken stands in the UN and other international forums that have looked at this issue. We have been strongly opposed in all cases, and we have pressed the case for the abolition of the death penalty. So it is not true to say that we only engage in this issue when it comes to Australian citizens. We have taken a strong stance on behalf of the nation because most people in Australia, and I don’t speak on behalf of everybody in Australia, but most people in Australia abhor the death penalty. We work in conjunction with the Labor party on this issue. We are completely united in opposing the death penalty. We do believe it is barbaric and shouldn’t be used – that there are other, more effective punishment methods that can be used to deter people from committing serious crime. And we will continue to make that stance at every forum, and at every opportunity.  

LIPSON: Jim Chalmers, I suppose the point that lots of people have made is, for example in the United States, people are put to death every day, and although many Australians are opposed to the death penalty, you don’t hear a whole lot of outcry to that.  

CHALMERS: I think Jack Waterford’s point is well made, that all of us, on all sides of politics who do oppose the death penalty need to have a think about whether we can do more to make the case against what is an barbaric and appalling act that happens, as you say, right around the world. I think that this case has focused the minds of more Australians on the death penalty. On the Labor side, we certainly want to work with anyone who wants to step up their efforts and campaigns against the death penalty around the world.

LIPSON: Okay, I want to change topics and look at a story in the Australian Financial Review this morning about Australia’s AAA credit rating. Goldman Sacks the latest to warn that it could be under threat. Kelly O’Dwyer, how seriously does the Government take those warnings? 

O’DWYER: Well of course the Government takes very seriously any risk to our AAA credit rating. The biggest risk of all, of course, is that the Labor Party gets back into office and we see further downgrades of our AAA credit rating.

CHALMERS: Take some responsibility Kelly.  

O’DWYER: Just let me finish Jim, you’ll have a go. In 1986 and 1989 we saw, under the Labor Party, a downgrading of our AAA credit rating. In fact, it was downgraded on more than one occasion, with Standard and Poors and Moodys. It is very serious when that happens, when there is a downgrading, as it has a flow on impact to our banks, which means that they cannot access money at the same rates, which then has a flow on impact to businesses and to customers who borrow from those banks. So, lets not underscore the impact of a downgrading. It is very serious, but we are the only Party who is talking about reducing…   

LIPSON: But how realistic is it though that that may happen as a result of the political impasse, the weak growth, and the commodity collapse, which are the three facts that Goldman Sack’s points to.

O’DWYER: Well we are the only Party that is actually looking at reducing spending, which we need to do in order to get our fiscal situation back under control after the exponential increase in spending over the past six years of the Labor Government. We know that we cannot continue on that trajectory. The Intergenerational Report was very clear that if we continued on that path, we were going to see net debt to GDP ratios of about 122%. That’s in the realm of Greece. We know that on the current path that we are on, we have reduced that by more than 50%. Now that’s still not good enough. We know there is more to do, but most of those savings that we want to make are being held up in the Senate. $30 billion worth, but the Labor Party simply wants to play a game of obstruction, wants to play with the lives of Australians and their futures. It is a serious issue, it is one that the Labor Party needs to take seriously, and we really want them to come on board in a way that is more than simply saying ‘let’s increase taxes’, but let’s also look at ways to reduce spending.   

LIPSON: Jim Chalmers, does Labor take responsibility for one of those factors I mentioned, the political impasse, and will it be any more amenable to the Governments attempts in the future to deliver savings?

CHALMERS: Well, on the Labor side, we have made a very constructive contribution to this conversation about budget repair in the last couple of weeks. We have made a very constructive suggestion of a policy that has been worked up with experts around the concessions in the superannuation system, on top of another well considered policy about the tax paid by multinational companies in Australia. Kelly mentioned before, when you asked about the AAA credit rating, she forgot to mention that for the first time in Australian history, under Labor, we had AAA credit ratings from all three of the big ratings agencies. That is a very proud legacy of the Labor Government, and it is also objectively a fact.

O’DWYER: Two of them were restored under the Coalition Government.

CHALMERS: It is also objectively a fact that the budget situation has gotten worse since the election, not better. One of the key promises that Tony Abbott and Joe Hockey made was that they would improve the budget bottom line, and it has gotten worse. So we do take very seriously the warnings about the AAA credit rating. We have made a constructive contribution to this conversation about improving the bottom line. We will continue to do so because the way that the Government has gone about it, and the reason why their first budget was such an abject failure, is because they went about it the wrong way. They’ve asked the most vulnerable people in our community to carry the heaviest load. We think there is a better way, and the Australian people agree with us. 

LIPSON: Jim, what are you thoughts on the prospects though of a downgrade. Do you think that is likely or possible?

CHALMERS: Well I rely on the comments that have come from some of the agencies and some of the institutions who have made that commentary. I think we always have to take that sort of warning seriously. We always need to work to ensure that our fiscal policy, our budget bottom line is as strong as it can be. The Government has one way to go about that, which has failed because its fundamental unfairness. We have a better way to go about it. We have made a genuine contribution to the conversation about Australia’s budget, and will continue to do so right up until the election.

LIPSON: Jim, I want to get your thoughts on the Labor Party conference in a few months time, and in particular Tanya Plibersek’s push to bind the Labor Party to a vote in favour of same sex marriage. Is that a good idea? 

CHALMERS: There will be a range of conversations between now and the conference about that issue. I am personally a big supporter of marriage equality in this country. I think it is wrong for a modern, inclusive, forward looking nation like ours to exclude people from the institution of marriage. So I am someone who is a big campaigner and a big supporter of marriage equality. I start from the position that we need to give marriage equality the biggest chance of success. That is how I look at this particular issue, and it remains a fact that the biggest impediment to marriage equality in Australia is the fact that the Liberal Party bind against it, when we know that there are Liberal Party members who support marriage equality.

LIPSON: Are you saying that the vote in Labor should be binding? 

CHALMERS: I think it is a conversation that will be had between now and the conference. Our current position is that it is a matter for individual MP’s to determine. When I consider this position between now and July, I will be thinking about the best way for marriage equality to succeed in the Federal Parliament, because I think it is an important change that is long overdue, for our brothers and sisters who deserve marriage equality in this country. I think if we work backwards from what gives it the most chance of success, then we need to factor in the fact that the Liberal Party currently binds against it.

LIPSON: It does put some attention on the Liberal Party, Kelly O’Dwyer, on what hasn’t happened since Tony Abbott took office. He said this would be put to the Party Room if he became Prime Minister. We are 18 months in, should it be discussed in the Party Room now?

O’DWYER: Well first, Jim totally dodged your question there and he didn’t actually state his own personal position. I think this is going to be a very big test for the Labor Party with their Federal Conference, to see whether the left in the Labor party are going to dictate policy to the many, or whether there is going to be a conscience vote where people can express their own views on what is substantially a matter of conscience.

LIPSON: What is your personal position Kelly?

O’DWYER: My personal view, and the view that I have expressed on every occasion is that I believe strongly that we need to have a conscience vote on this issue. I also am a very big supporter of same sex marriage. But I recognise that there are people with different perspectives on this issue, and that those perspectives are deeply held. Now I think this idea that you ought to bind people to a particular view, within either party, is quite simply wrong. I think that when there is a time for the vote to come before the Parliament, that everyone ought to be able to express their views and they should be able to do that in a free vote.

LIPSON: Returning now to the reaction on the Bali Nine executions. And after nine o’clock eastern, we are going to speak to the Shadow Justice Minister, David Feeny, who has written a letter to his counterpart in Government, Michael Keenan, in relation to a directive that was introduced in 2010 by Brendan O’Connor in Government, which specifically required the Australian Federal Police to take accounts of the Governments long standing opposition to the application of the death penalty in performing its international liaison functions. That, in the most recent directive from the Government, has been omitted. Kelly O’Dwyer, do you know what that has been omitted? Was it deliberate, and should it be reinstated as David Feeny is asking?

O’DWYER: I think we are confusing two issues here. The Ministerial directive is a very high level document that is supplied from the Minister to the Department. But there are lots of policies that fall underneath that, and there is a very direct policy on how the AFP ought to deal with matters that have to do with the death penalty. Now that policy has been consistently applied by the Labor Party, and by the Government, it hasn’t changed. We have very clear rules around that, and that guides how the AFP need to act in circumstances where people can be exposed to the death penalty in other countries.

LIPSON: Jim Chalmers, what do you make of this, and Kelly’s response to that. Is this something that needs urgent attention by the Government?

CHALMERS: Well, there has been a change. The direction has been removed by Minister Keenan. We need to know whether the removal of that direction was intentional or an oversight, as the letter from David Feeney mentions. Minister Keenan needs to issue a full explanation today to explain why that direction about working with international partners, taking into account our opposition to the death penalty, why that direction has been removed from the document. He needs to do that as a matter of some urgency given the importance of the issue.  

LIPSON: Do you think it is reasonable that the AFP face questioning over this? Nick Xenophon plans to put some questions to them when they face Parliamentary enquiry soon.

O’DWYER: Well there have been a number of investigations already, two as I understand  it, into how this issue came about. I think it is very disappointing though that the Labor Party are trying to score base political points where there are none to score, off the death of two men who have been executed only a day ago.

CHALMERS: That is an absurd accusation Kelly, we are just looking for an explanation.  

O’DWYER: I think it is really base, I think it is really disappointing, and I think it is very clear that the policy on this issue has not changed. The Labor Party knows that, and for them to be trying to put out in the media that there has been a change is disappointing, when they have been working hand in glove with us to try and put pleas for clemency to the Indonesian Government. I understand their political imperative, and I think its base, and I think it really is beneath them. 

LIPSON: Jim Chalmers?

CHALMERS: The direction has been removed. That is a fact. All we are seeking is an explanation as to whether that was a deliberate removal of the direction, or an accidental one. I think it is outrageous of Kelly to try and blow this up into anything other than what it is, which is one political party seeking an explanation from the Government about why that direction was removed. We will make no conclusion about that until Minister Keenan makes an explanation. The sooner he can do that, the better, so the Australian public and the Australian Parliament can make a judgement about the removal of that direction, accidental or oversight, so we can have this conversation with the full information on the table. But there has been a change, the direction has been removed, and that needs to be explained as a matter of urgency.