20 August 2015
Transcript - #2015047, 2015

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

Interview with Patricia Karvelas, RN Drive, ABC Radio National

SUBJECTS: China Free Trade Agreement, Foreign Investment, Same Sex Marriage, Trade Union Royal Commission, Victorian Liberal Party, Return from Maternity Leave

KARVELAS:

Let's go straight to Parliament where it has been an intense day in Federal Politics. The Government has been focussing hard on the China Free Trade Agreement today while there are yet further leaks from within its own ranks.

PRIME MINISTER:

I am trying to educate the slow learners there. I'm reading the Department will only enter into a project Labour agreement where it has been satisfied that Australians have been provided first opportunity for jobs. Where it has been satisfied that Australians have been provided first opportunity for jobs. Let's have no more racist lies. No more racist lies from Members opposite.

KARVELAS:

That was Tony Abbott calling out Labor's objections to the deal. Curious for your thoughts, do you see racism in Labor's opposition to the China Free Trade Agreement? The Prime Minister does and he was prosecuting that case very strongly today. 0418226576, I'd love to hear your views. Meanwhile the Liberal Party is facing scandals in Queensland and in Victoria and on this very busy day Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasurer Kelly O'Dwyer is my guest. Hi Kelly.

O'DWYER:

Good afternoon Patricia.

KARVELAS:

Now let's get to the China Free Trade Agreement which dominated question time today. On this issue of labour market testing, now chapter 10 of the Agreement which deals with movement of natural persons says that Australia will not impose labour market testing for certain categories of Chinese temporary migrants. Doesn't this validate the concerns of the Labor Movement. That's what they're pinning this all on isn't it?

O'DWYER:

The Labor Party have been incredibly dishonest in representing their case on this. They're alleging that we are somehow introducing completely new rules for those people who are going to be coming in on 457 – visas that somehow we don't have to go through market testing. That's not the case. There are arrangements. Under the China FTA, that a Chinese company that invests more than $150 million in certain Australian infrastructure projects, must use Australian workers but, if they cannot get Australian workers to do the job – if there are no qualified Australian workers to do the job – then they can bring in a limited number of qualified workers with certain skill requirements for a very limited period of time.

KARVELAS:

Also under the proposed Free Trade Agreement the Government has agreed to remove mandatory skills assessments as part of the immigration process for Chinese electricians. Isn't that a fact?

O'DWYER:

No, the people who come in to do particular jobs, who say that they've got a particular skill set, need to have a comparable level of qualification in Australia so it is not correct for the Labor Party to try and pretend that people are going to be coming in from overseas who are unskilled doing skilled jobs.

KARVELAS:

Why not just change the working of the MOU and make it clear there's an iron clad guarantee that Australian workers will get first look in because given some of the details and some of the clauses within this deal, there are grey areas and this is why the union movement is getting some traction on their campaign, isn't it?

O'DWYER:

Well the union movement I note did not kick up a fuss about the standard labour market testing requirements when Labor was in power and they are the same requirements that we have in place right now for 457 Visas.

KARVELAS:

What is the process for verifying the qualifications of an electrician from China for example? I imagine that it could be a complicated process in itself. The rules and the regulations are very different in our two countries.

O'DWYER:

Well I know that we certainly conduct audits and I know that Senator Michaela Cash, who is the Minister responsible for this, has recently found people to be in breach of their requirements under the 457 visa program and those people have been prosecuted as a result of that.

KARVELAS:

Now you've announced new penalties and conditions for foreign investment in the Australian housing market. Can you outline the details of that?

O'DWYER:

Today the Treasurer brought in a very important Bill, in fact a couple of Bills, that were debated together. We realised that there was real concern in the Australian community around the issue of non-resident foreign investors being able to purchase existing properties, existing homes. That is not allowed under our foreign investment framework and despite many examples of their being breaches under the previous Labor Government, not one prosecution was taken through the court process. We realised that we need to enforce the rules and we need to close the loopholes that we found existed. This means introducing new civil penalties which means that people who have made purchases illegally cannot profit from those purchases and those people who are doing that will lose any profit that they have made whether that is the capital gain or whether it's a percentage of the purchase price or the sale price. We've also increased the criminal penalties at the same time and brought into place new third party penalties so people who are aiding and abetting people to break the law are also going to find themselves faced with both civil and criminal penalties as well.

KARVELAS:

I'm just a bit confused on this issue. The Prime Minister has prosecuted this case today very strongly in question time about the arguments Labor's putting against the China Free Trade Agreement as being racist. It's quite a strong claim to say that an entire political party is being racist by opposing a deal and yet when that same argument is being made about this crack down on foreign investment in the Australian housing market, many people have argued that it has xenophobia attached to that that the Government itself is being racist. You've said that is not the case. Isn't there an inconsistency there?

O'DWYER:

It's not the case. This is about the enforcement of existing rules.

KARVELAS:

But that's what Labor's saying too, that they are looking at the enforcement of the Free Trade Agreement and the way that workers are being employed. Why is that racist and this isn't?

O'DWYER:

Well look, I don't use those words when I talk about this issue. I think it is important to understand that people need to have confidence that, where we do have rules, that those rules are being enforced and, where those rules are not adequate, that we strengthen them. In this case we have brought in legislation that strengthens the penalties, that transfers power to the Australian Taxation Office out of the Treasury, to make sure that we have a team that is properly resourced to be able to audit and enforce penalties against those people who are doing the wrong thing, making sure that they are tracked down and that they are prosecuted for any breach.

KARVELAS:

On RN Drive if you are just tuning in my guest is Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasurer, Kelly O'Dwyer. What do you make of the Prime Minister's claims today that Labor's opposition and the union movement's opposition to the Free Trade Agreement with China is racist. 0418 226 576. Is it racist or is the Labor Party entitles to raise these issues? I want to move on to another issue that has been pretty big today too Kelly O'Dwyer, the Deputy Leader of the Liberal Party, Julie Bishop, has said she's not philosophically opposed to same sex marriage. Here she is:

JULIE BISHOP: While maintainingCabinet and Party solidarity on our current position, that's why I think that there are many people in a position such as I am philosophically, who want to have their say in the sanctity of the ballot box.

KARVELAS:

That's Foreign Minister Julie Bishop treading a very fine line there, trying to maintain the Cabinet position against same sex marriage but also signalling that it is not her private view. On this topic, Kelly O'Dwyer, it looks as though a plebiscite is now the lead option for a public vote instead of a referendum, there's these two competing options that have been out there. When would you like to see a plebiscite happen?

O'DWYER:

Well I think the sooner the Australian public can have their say on this issue the better. That's my view and I think that the question needs to be conveyed to the Australian public for their consideration. It needs to be a very simple question. I think we should be having the discussion now about what that question ought to look like and then I think we need to set a date – set a date for the Australian people to have a say on this issue. I've been very clear with my views on this. I do believe that we should make a change to the Marriage Act to support same sex marriage but with protections for religious institutions who doctrinally have policies about who it is that they marry. I don't think that we should interfere with those religious institutions, but I do think that in other ceremonies where people are making a lifetime commitment to one another that we should acknowledge that as marriage between same sex couples.

KARVELAS:

So you say that you'd like a plebiscite sooner than later, does that mean before the next election?

O'DWYER:

Well I certainly think that that should be part of the consideration because we have a number of items on the agenda following the election. I don't think that we ought to be having this issue debated at an election. There'll be a whole host of other issues that we are looking to debate on election day and in the lead up to the election and we have the indigenous recognition that will be occurring with the change to the Constitution potentially after that, so I do think that these are separate and distinct issues and when we look at a crowded timetable, we think about the best possible timing for people to have their say.

KARVELAS:

So you'd like it before the election Kelly O'Dwyer, how likely is that to be the case because the Prime Minister wants it to happen, not at the election, but actually even after in the next term. What are the problems that you see with the vote happening in that time frame?

O'DWYER:

Well I think what the Prime Minister has said is that it will be considered by Cabinet—that there will be a discussion within the Cabinet to consider appropriate timing. I think that he recognises that it is important for the Australian people to have their say on this issue, he recognises that. And as I said, I am but one voice in the Liberal Party Room but my view is that the sooner we are able to have this discussion the better.

KARVELAS:

And are there others who agree with you? You'd know, that you'd be talking to your colleagues, colleagues that agree with you on this position. There is a bit of a push for this to happen before the next election now.

O'DWYER:

Lots of people have got a variety of views on this issue. You will have heard from others who have a similar view and others who have a different view but I can only articulate Patricia what is my view.

KARVELAS:

Alright, I want to move onto another issue Kelly O'Dwyer if we can, on the Trade Union Royal Commission controversy. Today we've got the announcement that Commissioner Dyson Heydon had directed that any person who wished to make an application for his removal, that they recuse themselves and make a written submission yet the Commissioner himself will rule on his own future as the Commissioner. It kind of seems confusing to me, and odd. Do you think that the processes are now getting pretty dense?

O'DWYER:

Well these sorts of issues are not new in terms of bias and potential bias and how the legal profession considers those questions. There is a very clear process in order to deal with that and that is to make a direct application. It is for the person to then rule on that application and, if the parties who have made the application are not satisfied with the response they can take that on appeal to higher courts. I think that is perfectly understandable. It is a very clear legal process and I think if there are people who have concerns that they ought to test that in the right and appropriate forum. What I think is completely wrong is for particular individuals, political parties, the union movement, to try and improperly remove a Royal Commissioner without going through an appropriate legal process.

KARVELAS:

If Commissioner Heydon decides to stay, how hard will it be for the Commission to do its work with this shadow hanging over it?

O'DWYER:

Well I think it's disgraceful that somebody of his calibre and reputation is being smeared in this way simply because a number of people do not like what they are hearing coming out of the Royal Commission and I can understand why they don't like it because there are some very serious allegations and charges that have arisen as a result of the evidence being presented to the Royal Commission. We've heard examples, for instance, of superannuation funds that have been making payments to Union Officials of around about $93,000 for all of two days' work. We've seen arrests happen outside of the courtroom to do with bribery and corrupt activity because of the evidence that certain people have given in the commission. So it is not palatable a lot of what we are hearing but it is important that we don't sweep it under the carpet, that we are open and transparent in the way that it is dealt with.

KARVELAS:

And in Victoria you've got a few problems that have emerged today with the Liberal Party – State Liberal Party President Michael Kroger is alleging a former State Director of stealing $1.5 million from the Party over four years and I know Matthew Guy, the Opposition Leader in Victoria, has said it may have made a difference to the election outcome. Do you see it that way?

O'DWYER:

This is a great contrast of course to the way that the Labor Party deal with these things. When an issue arises that we are made aware of, we call in the Police, you know, we don't sweep it under the carpet. A crime has been committed against the Liberal Party and its membership and it is disgraceful and we have acted very, very swiftly so that it is dealt with and the Police have been called in.

KARVELAS:

I want to thank you for joining me. I know that you probably want to get back to Melbourne I am guessing given that it's the last parliamentary sitting week and it's been a very long week.

O'DWYER:

Well it's been a long week and it's been my first two weeks back having had some time off to do with my maternity leave so it's nice to be back here in Canberra and I always enjoy speaking with you Patricia.

KARVELAS:

I can't help but ask this quickly, how is the whole having a baby and being in Parliament House going given all the ongoing issues that Parliament House has with managing that issue.

O'DWYER:

Well we are managing it pretty well so far but ask me again in a month's time (laughs).

KARVELAS:

Ok thank you.

O'DWYER:

Thanks very much

KARVELAS:

And that's Kelly O'Dwyer, she's the Assistant Treasurer, she's not the Assistant Treasurer at all, she's the Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasurer, and she's joining us there to talk to us about Parliament.