3 August 2015
Transcript - #2015045, 2015

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

Interview with Hellen Dalley, The Dalley Edition, Sky

SUBJECTS: The Speaker; Member’s Expenses; Trans Pacific Partnership; Free Trade Agreements; South Australia; Economy

DALLEY:

The debacle over the Speaker's role and continuing revelations over Bronwyn Bishop's liberal use of taxpayer funds to pay for helicopters and limousines to carry her around, culminated in her finally resigning yesterday – after three weeks. The issue basically dominated the winter break and was threatening to cause mayhem if she continued in that prestigious role when Parliament resumes. It also seemed to be threatening the PM's credibility and his leadership acumen. How does the Government now try and rebuild trust with the community and get back to the script of governing the country? I'm joined now by Liberal MP and Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasurer, Kelly O'Dwyer. Kelly O'Dwyer thanks for joining us and congratulations I think, you gave birth not so long ago.

O'DWYER:

That's right. Thanks very much Helen.

DALLEY:

Yes.

O'DWYER:

It's still early days but it's fabulous so thank you.

DALLEY:

Oh good. Alright well I hate to bring you from that lovely joy back to politics but did Bronwyn Bishop have to go in order to save Tony Abbott's own job?

O'DWYER:

The Speaker made the decision herself that she felt that she had let the Australian people down. She felt that she had acted outside of community standards and she apologised for it and I think that it was a very heartfelt apology. She gave the apology several times over the course of the day – Friday last week – and I…

DALLEY:

But that was separate to the resignation. She was apologising for the action, she called the helicopter ride ridiculous, but she still said I'm not resigning and yet yesterday, when she did resign, there was no mention of a sorry again or talking responsibility for what she did.

O'DWYER:

I think it's very clear that she is very sorry for the events that occurred and I think she has apologised for that. The finance department is looking into entitlements, both of the Speaker and we know that there is going to be a review more broadly of entitlements. I must say, I don't particularly like the word entitlements because I think it conveys the wrong impression. We should be talking about expenses here rather than entitlements because it isn't an entitlement as such but rather a work expense…

DALLEY:

A reimbursement of an expense.

O'DWYER:

It's very clear that any taxpayer money that is used needs to be used properly and for proper purposes. The Australian Taxpayer needs to have confidence that it's being used in that way. I think the Prime Minister is entirely right to have called for this review and we look forward to its findings.

DALLEY:

Just following up on that first question about was it done to sure up Tony Abbott – there's a very large headline in the Oz today – Bishop sacrificed to shore up PM – it's claiming exactly that and reporting that the PM averted a backbench revolt over his handling of the Bishop scandal by her going. Is that true?

O'DWYER:

I only know what I read in the papers too but I can say this, I am very confident that Bronwyn Bishop made the decision independently and I'm very confident that Tony Abbott, as Prime Minister, has the full support of not only the backbench, but the Ministry and the Australian people.

DALLEY:

Were some backbenchers and some frontbenchers so despairing of the situation continuing that some were threatening to withdraw their support for Bronwyn Bishop when Parliament resumes – as this front page article asserts?

O'DWYER:

You'd have to ask the journalist who wrote the article because…[inaudible]

DALLEY:

…Well you're in there. Do you know the backbenchers? Do you know the frontbenchers? You know how they were thinking. Was there talk of a possible revolt?

O'DWYER:

I'm not aware of any such speculation. I know that this issue has been a very fraught issue. I know that there are very strong views, that the behaviour was wrong and the Speaker herself said that the behaviour was wrong and she has subsequently apologised for that behaviour and I think now that she has resigned, I think that it is very clear that it was a very sincere expression of her apology and I think we can now talk about a few other things other than this issue.

DALLEY:

Alright well I haven't quite finished with this issue I'm sorry to say. Do you think the fact that both the Prime Minister and Ms Bishop were digging in – they seemed to think that they could tough this issue out – so was it voter anger that was perceived or was it backbench and frontbench frustration that did bring change?

O'DWYER:

You're asking me to speculate on…

DALLEY:

…No I'm asking you what happened.

O'DWYER:

You're asking me to speculate though on why it took the period of time that it took. I think the Speaker herself said she wished she'd made the apology two weeks earlier than she did.

DALLEY:

Yeah.

O'DWYER:

And she acknowledged that last week so I can't give you an answer to that Helen. That's something that you'd need to direct to the Prime Minister and to the Speaker.

DALLEY:

Alright, you say the Prime Minister has the full support of his Party.

O'DWYER:

Of course.

DALLEY:

Does it raise for you any qualms about his political judgement that he let it go on for so long?

O'DWYER:

I think the Prime Minister has very clearly addressed this issue. The Speaker has resigned. She has resigned of her own volition. She has apologised for her behaviour. The Prime Minister has separately brought about a review into MP's expenses. He's done that very clearly, very deliberately, to ensure that Australians have confidence in the system that is in place. And where there needs to be changes, the Prime Minister has said he will talk with the Opposition to make such changes.

DALLEY:

Do you think that the root and branch review that has been promised by the Prime Minister will restore faith that the community has in both sides of politics? There is a perception rightly or wrongly, that there are snouts in the trough.

O'DWYER:

I'm very saddened that there is that perception and I'm saddened for a number of reasons – not least of which is that we want to be able to get talented people into public life and I think where there are such smears over the character of people who go into public life, it's a huge disincentive for people to follow suit. What I would say is that I think most MPs do do the right thing and there are some instances where bad judgements are made and there are some instances where people wilfully make decisions that are against entitlement. Unfortunately that is the situation, and we see in corporate life as well that can sometimes happen just as it can in everyday life. People can make bad judgements. We have to put in place a robust enough system so that people can have confidence in the system that runs the expenses for MPs. The Prime Minister himself has said that that's what he's doing and I'm very confident that that's what will be done.

DALLEY:

I guess the other thing this issue has done is it has wasted the valuable time of the winter break. It's been lost time for the Government, the only message getting through has been about this and even Joe Hockey of course just basically closed down a press conference last week because he was only being asked about this issue. Do you think it's been a wasted winter break?

O'DWYER:

I don't think it's been a wasted winter break at all. I certainly know from what I've been doing in my electorate in Higgins that it's actually been incredibly productive. I've been out talking to small businesses about our small business tax cut. Getting more than 1.5 per cent off their tax bill – that has been hugely important in giving small business encouragement to grow and to create more jobs.

DALLEY:

Are they telling you that they're going to take more people on because of that 1.5 per cent tax cut?

O'DWYER:

It's not just that, it's the whole small business package – that's one element of it. Getting a right off for the purchase of goods up to the value of $20,000 – an instant right off for that – is also incredibly important in boosting the economy and giving business the confidence to invest in their business and grow. So, yes I am hearing that from the small businesses that I talk to. I am hearing that when I get out and about in my electorate. It is incredibly important that we have those discussions and I know that my colleagues have not been wasting any time in having those discussions in their own electorates.

DALLEY:

I'll finish this discussion with who would you like to see replace Bronwyn Bishop as Speaker?

O'DWYER:

We're very lucky that in the Liberal Party we have a lot of talent and I know that there have been a number of names that have been mooted. I'm very confident that all of them have great ability to do the job but I will be having those discussions with my colleagues. I don't believe in lecturing my colleagues through the media and it's going to be a matter for the Party Room to determine – as is right and proper.

DALLEY:

Alright well there are a couple of front runners. Sorry we are just running some pictures of Andrew Southcott – I can't quite see that, those pictures – and I think that Tony Smith is one of the other frontrunners but of course the Government does want to try and get back to the script of running the economy. They want to talk about more jobs, the TPP, Government support – as we understand – for South Australian manufacturers will come up this week. Let's talk TPP first. Is there any hope? Do you think there will be an agreement? Andrew Robb has done such a lot of work on it but it did fall apart at the weekend. How can Australians be assured that our interests won't be sold out to America's interests who are really the dominant player in this agreement.

O'DWYER:

Well you're right in saying that Andrew Robb has done a tremendous job in pursuing the TPP agreement. That's off the back of successfully concluding a free trade agreement with Korea, with Japan and also with China. And we see that those free trade agreements are going to open up huge economic opportunities for our services sector, for our agricultural providers. Free trade agreements basically ensure that we have new markets and we can create new jobs so that's the first point. The second point on the TPP is that we are 90 per cent there. Andrew Robb has said that there has been a huge amount of work going into talk about how we can get the most advantage for Australians in this agreement. You always of course need to make some concessions but there are some concessions that we're not willing to make if it is contrary to our national interest. I know that Andrew Robb particularly has been pushing for an even better deal for our sugar producers – that's something that's very important. We want to see that encapsulated in a deal and that's why we're not prepared to sign up to any old deal, we're only going to sign up to a deal that's in our national interest and if it's not in our national interest, we won't sign up.

DALLEY:

Kelly O'Dwyer, there's another exclusive on the front page of the Australian talking about – despite backing away from the pre-election pledge to build 12 submarines in South Australia – that the PM will announce this week a plan to build the Navy Frigates in both South Australia and Victoria. Is that sort of spending – $20 billion is being suggested – is that something that the Treasurer and yourself support?

O'DWYER:

You're asking me about an announcement that hasn't been announced so it's a hypothetical question. Look, obviously whatever is announced tomorrow will be for the Prime Minister to outline. I know that the Prime Minister…

DALLEY:

…Well it's already in the Australian – they got the drop so I don't see why you can't talk about it.

O'DWYER:

I haven't seen the article that you're referring to. What I would say is that the Prime Minister and the Cabinet are in South Australia at the moment to talk about how we can grow the economy and that is the number one priority of this Government – to create the right policies that can help us grow our economy, increase our productivity and create jobs. The Prime Minister is talking about that, not only in the context of what we can do to boost manufacturing in this country, but also in terms of how we create the right tax policies as well that will encourage and incentivise new businesses to start and for those businesses that are already there to grow and to prosper. We've got a tax white paper review that is currently going at the moment. We are keen to have reform of our taxation system that will see us lower taxes and make them simpler and fairer so that we can make sure that we are competing properly in that global war for talent and that we are also competing in that global war when it comes to our company tax rates as well.

DALLEY:

More spending of taxpayer's money in states like South Australia, certainly there is a very high unemployment rate there, to perhaps shore up Government seats also sounds a bit like the age of entitlement that Treasurer Joe Hockey, when he began as Treasurer, swore had to stop.

O'DWYER:

I'm not sure what your question is there Helen.

DALLEY:

Well is it handouts to manufacturing which the Treasurer said when he came to be the Treasurer, he said those sorts of handouts had to stop.

O'DWYER:

We're not into giving handouts but certainly where we can incentivise and provide encouragement to industry, the Government will take an approach that is sensible and prudent. As I said to you, I'm not aware of the announcement that you're referring to. I haven't seen the media article so I can't give you a comment on that specifically but I'm very confident that if there is an announcement tomorrow that the Prime Minister will explain in full exactly what is being proposed.

DALLEY:

Alright – one final issue – the Government is also proposing legislation to require all superfunds to have at least one third independent directors and an independent Chairman from July first next year. Now this is seen by the strong performing industry funds as the Government wanting to favour the four profit bank-owned super funds. Is that the reasoning behind it?

O'DWYER:

No it is not the reasoning behind it. There have been a number of reviews into the superannuation system and there have been very clear recommendations in almost all of those reviews that we need to have appropriate governance standards and those governance standards include the need to have independent directors. It's pretty hard to argue against having independent directors on a superannuation fund. People who can, without being seeing to be conflicted in any way, provide the appropriate governance of those funds. When we consider how much money is actually in superannuation – more than $1.3 trillion in the Australian superannuation system – it is very important to make sure that that money is being safeguarded and properly safeguarded.

DALLEY:

Do you think you'll get support for that?

O'DWYER:

I can't see the arguments against having independent directors so I do think that most people would agree that you should have appropriate governance standards and I would be very surprised, unless they are people who are really in the union pocket – who don't want to see independence on super funds that they control, I'd be very surprised if people didn't agree to what is I think a very reasonable request.

DALLEY:

Alright Kelly O'Dwyer we've run out of time. Thank you so much for joining us.

O'DWYER:

Pleasure