24 July 2015
Transcript - #2015035, 2015

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

Interview with Kieran Gilbert and Jim Chalmers

SUBJECTS: Asylum seeker policy, renewable energy target; and parliamentary entitlements

GILBERT:

With me now are Kelly O'Dwyer and Jim Chalmers. Jim, it could be a difficult weekend for Bill Shorten. It's a must win this vote on the turnbacks.

CHALMERS:

It will be an important weekend for the Labor Party. Our national conference, unlike the Liberal Party's convention, is a serious conversation and a serious debate about ideas and policies. There are a range of issues that will be discussed this week, and that will be one of them.

GILBERT:

Ok so what do you think of the way he has handled it so far? Will it fly in terms of members of the left faction – I guess it is hard for you to know exactly what they are thinking – but what are the senior figures going to do here? You'd think that if they don't fall into line with Bill Shorten, a vote could go down and would be terminal for Bill Shorten potentially.

CHALMERS:

I think when it comes to asylum seekers Kieran, we all start from the basis of two things – one, it's a very difficult, complex policy area and secondly, we need to do what we can to prevent drownings at sea. I think it's reasonable for Bill to put on the table that we need to have the full suite of options if we're serious about preventing drownings at sea. Part of that is the regional solution that Labor put in place and another part of it, as Bill said, is turnbacks. I think that it will be a robust discussion at the conference. I think well motivated people can disagree on this issue but at the end of the day we'll have a policy which we'll take to the Australian people.

GILBERT:

Kelly O'Dwyer, I guess the point to be made here – and Bill shorten argues that Labor, whilst its record in Government had mistakes, they also had a solution at one stage which the Government – the then Opposition – blocked at the time and that was the Malaysia plan. So what are you criticising? This Labor Party's track record – that needs to be considered doesn't it? As part of any fair consideration of their record on this policy.

O'DWYER:

Let me first say Kieran, I'd like to believe Bill Shorten – that they are serious about turning back the boats. But unfortunately Labor has a very poor record in this regard. Labor went to the 2007 election, when Kevin Rudd was leader of the Labor Party, and they said that they would turn back boats. As soon as they got into government, they dismantled what was a very successful policy – put forward by the Howard Government – in August of 2008 which lead to more than 50,000 people arriving by boat. We saw children put into detention again. We had no children in detention at that time – more than 2,000 children were put into detention. We've now brought that back to less than 100 children and we want to get that back to zero. We saw more than 1,000 people die at sea. Labor talk the talk on this but when they are actually asked to implement and act on it, we see them completely divided. We see them dismantle successful policies and there is no reason to think that they would be any different in government again despite what it is that we hear Bill Shorten saying in the current circumstances.

GILBERT:

But Kelly O'Dwyer, shouldn't Bill Shorten get some credit for trying to show leadership on this issue which is obviously a very difficult one for his party. He is trying to lead the Party and your policy, which is basically the Government's policy, I thought you might welcome that.

O'DWYER:

I said I'd like to believe Bill Shorten on this and I think he has accepted reality in acknowledging we have the right policy. It's taken him a long time to accept reality on that but what is really going to be the test is whether they cannot just talk to the talk, but walk the walk. And the Labor Party is terribly divided on this issue. Already there have been senior members of the Labor Party come out and say that they officially oppose this and that they will do everything in their power to change the policy. And really, when you examine what Bill Shorten has said, all he has actually said is that they will look at a suite of options. He hasn't actually committed to turnbacks. If one was being cynical, one would say that they're weasel words.

GILBERT:

Alright, Jim Chalmers, your response to that? And I guess what is your sense of where the Party is at right now. Kelly O'Dwyer is saying that it's bitterly divided. Do you get that sense that that the passions are running that high on this issue? I know Anna Burke, for example, said that Labor should never support turnbacks under any circumstances – she said that within the last week.

CHALMERS:

Oh look this is an emotional issue for many people but we start from the basis that we agree – we need to do what we can to prevent drownings at sea. There's a very good reason why Kelly didn't answer your question about the Malaysia agreement, and that's because it reveals a very big difference between the leadership styles of Tony Abbott and Bill Shorten. Tony Abbott was given an opportunity to support something in the national interest which was part of a regional solution to this issue and voted against the Malaysia agreement – sided with Sarah Hanson-Young and the Greens. Bill on the other hand, he doesn't start from Tony Abbott's position of the same sort of grubby and low-rank divisive politics that the Prime Minister plays, Bill starts from the starting point which is what's good for Australia. Even if it has got a political cost for us, what's good for the nation; what gives us the best chance for preventing drownings at sea; and I think for that he should be commended.

GILBERT:

How much is at stake here though for his leadership on this issue? If he was rolled on it, it would be disastrous.

CHALMERS:

We have a different approach from the Labor Party to the Liberal Party, we have these national conferences and conventions to have a proper conversation about policy. And I say again, well-motivated people can disagree on the best way to prevent drownings at sea. We agree that we need to prevent those drownings. Part of that is a regional solution. We disagree on some of the other elements of that approach. But well-motivated people can disagree. We can have a proper policy conversation, out in the open, so that we get to the best available outcome for the Australian people.

GILBERT:

Kelly O'Dwyer, your response to Jim's criticism or critique there of Tony Abbott and his response to the Malaysia plan? Because if you look at that plan as it stood at the time, it was basically going to come up with a similar approach to what the Government ended up doing – in the sense saying that if you try and come, you won't stay, you'll be off to that particular country. You blocked it when in opposition.

O'DWYER: Well it wasn't the same. It absolutely wasn't the same. If Jim is actually now saying that the Labor Party policy is all about bringing back the Malaysian Solution, I'd be very interested to hear that because that of course capped the number of people who would be sent offshore and not resettled in Australia. That it was going to be overwhelmed very quickly, it was not going to be…

CHALMERS:

Just justify why you voted against it Kelly…

O'DWYER:

Jim I'm trying to answer the question, if you don't interrupt I'll happily answer it. Clearly that was not going to be a permanent solution. The Malaysian Solution relied upon the fact that there was not going to be a turn back policy which was part of the effective suite of measures that we have put in place in order to dismantle the people smuggling regime and to ensure that when we resettle people in Australia, we are resettling people from refugee camps, people who don't have the capacity to pay people smugglers to come to Australia. Under the Labor Party policies, we actually saw people denied places under that resettlement program because people were arriving by boat – more than 50,000 as I said. We are dealing with the legacy today. When we came to Government we were dealing with a legacy of 30,000 people who had arrived. This denied people the opportunity to come to Australia under our resettlement program. We are now increasing the number of people who are coming under our resettlement program because we have stopped that trade.

GILBERT:

We are going to take a break and I'll be back with Kelly O'Dwyer and Jim Chalmers.

*** COMMERCIAL BREAK ***

GILBERT:

This is AM Agenda and with me this morning, Parliamentary Secretary to the Opposition Leader, Jim Chalmers, and Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasurer, Kelly O'Dwyer. Kelly, isn't the Government, resorting here to a premature Carbon Tax scare campaign? Trying to re-heat that scare campaign off the back of the Labor renewable ambition, given the renewable energy target ambition, as articulated by Mark Butler yesterday, in terms of the way they are going to go about it, they're yet to finalise that. How can you say it's going to cost consumers more than the status quo without knowing exactly the way they're going to go about it?

O'DWYER:

Firstly, the reason Mark Butler had to come out yesterday is because the draft proposal was leaked by his own Shadow Cabinet because there are even those in Labor that are concerned about the path that is being taken here. It is very clear, and it's not our words, it's the words of people who are very experienced in business and consumers who are actually saying that a new Carbon Tax, an ETS – which is what's being proposed by the Labor Party – is going to increase the price of energy. And when you increase the price of energy, you decrease your productive capacity as a nation. We know we need to grow our nation and grow our economy which means we need to increase productivity. Anything that will increase the cost of energy will actually decrease it. That's point number one. The Labor Party we know have always been committed to a Carbon Tax, they said they'd learnt the lessons from the last election but we know that they haven't because they plan on introducing this again. We are committed as a Government to renewable energy and the Labor Party would like to claim that we're not but we introduced a renewable energy target during the Howard Government of two per cent, we increased it to 20 percent by 2020 and we have recently negotiated a renewable energy target with the Labor Party, of 23 per cent. That is practical and that can be implemented…

GILBERT:

The Government is also putting a cap on emissions here – and the price – but not being upfront about it in the sense that this Direct Action Plan that the safeguard mechanism under Direct Action hasn't been articulated, just the detail of that, that's going to impose a price on those that don't have business as usual levels in terms of their emissions. The Government through that mechanism will have a price of some sort as well.

O'DWYER:

We have actually outlined how the emissions reduction fund is going to work, but if I can just make the final point, this new target…

GILBERT:

There's still not enough detail – we don't know how it's going to work.

O'DWYER:

This target – you are asking me the original question about the Labor Party's policy which was a 50 per cent target now – a 50 percent target, is all about a press release and not about a plan. We have no detail, no modelling, no nothing about how it is going to work in practice – other than to know it's going to increase the cost of energy and it's going to increase the excess capacity that is already in the system. Now that's not to say we're not committed to renewable energy – we are – but it has got to be practical and it's got to be implementable.

GILBERT:

Alright Jim Chalmers, doesn't Labor have to be exposed here for not having done the modelling or have some detail as to just what the cost will be of this ambition to have renewables at 50 per cent of electricity generation within 15 years?

CHALMERS:

It is just laughable to hear Kelly pretend that they're for renewable energy. The Prime Minister, the Treasurer, all against renewable energy.

O'DWYER:

That's not true!

CHALMERS:

You are trying to abolish the Clean Energy Finance Corporation. Completely laughable that they support renewable energy. We just got a good example of the sort of breathless scare campaign that happens whenever the Labor Party tries to set the direction on renewable energy in this country. What makes the Liberal Party nervous is that they know that there's been a terrific response in the community to Bill's announcement this week about a 50 per cent target for renewable energy by 2030 – that's real leadership. People in the community know something that Tony Abbott and Kelly O'Dwyer don't understand which is that renewable energy is all about cleaner, cheaper, more reliable energy into the future and it's all about more jobs in the renewable energy sector. The Australian community understand that, the Labor Party understand that, the Liberal Party just do not have a clue.

O'DWYER:

An announcement without a plan is just wishful thinking.

GILBERT:

There's not a lot of detail is there Jim?

CHALMERS:

We've said that the detail on this policy will come before the election. We've said that we want emissions trading – not a Carbon Tax as Kelly alleges – but an emissions trading. Which Kelly used to believe in herself...

O'DWYER: Same thing!

CHALMERS:

Kelly used to believe in herself emissions trading. It's different to the Carbon Tax as Kelly knows. We've said that…

O'DWYER:

It's a price on energy.

CHALMERS:

We've said that we want to see half of our energy produced be renewable energy by 2030. That's a very important goal for Australia. It means more jobs in the renewable energy sector, it means cleaner, cheaper, more reliable energy into the future. That's something that the Australian people support. In my community there's tremendous take up of renewable energy. We're not a wealth community be any means, but people understand that this is good for the economy, good for the household budget and good for the environment.

GILBERT:

Kelly, just in terms of the Government's commitment to this issue, Australia is the only developed economy not to have said it's post 2020 targets heading into the Paris climate talks – are we a laggard on this issue?

O'DWYER:

Not at all. We're one of the very few countries that exceeded the Kyoto targets and it's all very well to say that we're going to announce certain targets but if you don't achieve them it doesn't mean anything. We had all these countries internationally say that they were going to have these spectacular achievements – well we actually just went about it and did it – and exceeded what it was that we said that we would do. We're all about implementation, Labor are all about talk, we're all about action and it's completely wrong for Jim to suggest that we don't support renewable energy. We have lead in our support for renewable energy but we are not going to increase the cost of energy for people in a way that is going to decrease our economic capacity, decrease our productivity capacity and decrease growth.

GILBERT:

I want to just finish with a chat about the Bronwyn Bishop saga and it continues today. More details emerging every day as to this trip to Europe. Kelly this is an ongoing sore for the government, the expenses drama, can Bronwyn Bishop, whilst she is on probation, is the damage too great? Can she stay on as Speaker? Because obviously Labor is going to continue to make much of this and will do so when Parliament returns as well.

O'DWYER:

Well the truth is that every Member of Parliament is responsible for their own entitlements, for signing them off. Every Member of Parliament understands what the rules are and where they don't understand them they can contact the Department of Finance to get clarification around that. I'm not going to commentate on what other Members of Parliament do with their entitlements, I don't think it is appropriate and I don't have that knowledge. Each of us is responsible for our own entitlements and very responsible for ensuring that taxpayer money is used as it should be and responsibly.

GILBERT:

Jim Chalmers, almost out of time but that's a fair assessment from Kelly.

CHALMERS:

Bronwyn Bishop's position is completely untenable. It has been a real failure of leadership that Tony Abbott hasn't moved her on already. They seem to be the only people in the country who think this is all above board and what really rubs salt in the wound for the Australian people is that at the same time that Bronwyn Bishop is flying around in helicopters to Liberal Party fundraisers, you've got the Government lecturing people about lifters and leaners and living within their means. That's what's making people so white hot, angry, out in the community on this issue.

GILBERT:

Ok. Niki Savva, just to finish, Niki Savva, wrote this morning: If Bronwyn had arrived in Geelong on a barge, surrounded by palm-waving eunuchs, it could not have been worse. So sense at least from one commentator as to how much damage has been done here. Jim Chalmers, Kelly O'Dwyer, thanks for that.

O'DWYER:

Thanks Kieran.