9 November 2016
Transcript - #2016069, 2016

Interview with Raf Epstein and Mark Dreyfus, 774 Fight Club

SUBJECTS: US elections; immigration; refugees; two-party voting system; backpacker tax

RAF EPSTEIN:

Mark welcome.

MARK DREYFUS:

Good to be with you Raf.

RAF EPSTEIN:

And Kelly O’Dwyer joins us, she is the Minister for Revenue and Financial Services, a local Liberal MP as well. Kelly, thanks for joining us.

KELLY O’DWYER:

Great to be with you Raf, and to you also Mark.

MARK DREYFUS:

Hello Kelly.

RAF EPSTEIN:

Let me play, because Kelly you’re not the foreign minister, but I’m going to ask you a foreign minister question. However let me give you a little burst of Julie Bishop, the foreign minister of course, her response to what looks like being the result in the United States.

JULIE BISHOP:

At this stage, it would appear that Donald Trump is most likely to claim the presidency. The Australian government is ready and prepared to work with whomever the American people in their wisdom choose to be their president. It is too early to say what a Trump administration foreign policy would look like.

RAF EPSTEIN:

Too early to say, Kelly O’Dwyer, but is it a big wake-up call for your Government?

KELLY O’DWYER:

Well certainly the Turnbull Government has been reaching out to both the Clinton teams and also the Trump teams to make sure that we have a close working relationship with whoever actually does claim the presidency because as the foreign minister has said, it’s still too close to call, although it does look like Mr Trump will be the next President of the United States. But there is still one poll left open until about 20 minutes time, in Alaska, which will then close and then obviously the serious business of counting will continue. Look, the truth is, America is incredibly important to Australia, they are our major security ally, they are our second largest trading partner, they invest billions of dollars into Australia, so who becomes the President of the United States is, of course, very, very important to us.

RAF EPSTEIN:

But is it a wake-up call, Kelly O’Dwyer, you’ve got One Nation on the ascendency in the Senate, I don’t know how many Labor votes go to One Nation but I’m sure there’d be more Liberal votes that go to One Nation. Yes or no, a brief answer, is it a wake-up call for your Government specifically?

KELLY O’DWYER:

I don’t think you can compare US politics directly with Australian politics. We’ve got very different societal structures here in Australia and we’ve got a fantastic system whereby people can move from a position where they might have a very significant disadvantage in their upbringing but through strong education, through support, through our social welfare safety net, which we strongly support, they are able to transform from that position into a much better position because we have such opportunity. I think one of the real challenges for the United States right now, is that the middle class is being squeezed quite significantly. They don’t have the same universal health care system, there are a lot of people over there who are hurting quite significantly but here, I think it is very different.

RAF EPSTEIN:

Mark Dreyfus, is it a wake-up call for Labor?

MARK DREYFUS:

I think that there’s rising levels of inequality in the United States and, regrettably, also rising levels of inequality here in Australia. There is much higher levels of inequality in the United States and I think we see in the unexpected success of Donald Trump, not in the whole election because we don’t yet quite know the final result, but clearly there’s unexpectedly large votes in a whole lot of states for Donald Trump that were not expected. He’s tapped into some kind of sentiment of disenchantment and resentment with the status quo and large sections.

RAF EPSTEIN:

But surely Labor needs to listen to that message as well doesn’t it?

MARK DREYFUS:

I think we listen all the time, Raf, and that’s the job of politicians, is to listen very hard and I agree with Kelly, I don’t think you can draw too many comparisons between Australia and the United States but rising inequality has got to be something of concern to all countries in the developed world. America’s got a lot of similarities with ours but their political system is very different and particularly, there is much higher inequality, shocking levels of inequality in the United States. We’ve got a lot of good things going for us in terms of, I think, social cohesion, in terms of having a really universal health care system, which Labor is certainly going to fight to retain. They don’t even have that in the United States at the moment.

RAF EPSTEIN:

Can I just put one other point about this to you, Kelly O’Dwyer, Rowan Dean joined us before from Spectator Australia, right wing commentator. He thinks the number one issue now is immigration. I know you’d love to talk about the legislation, which I’m happy to get into, but just on the idea of immigration being the new defining issue, it clearly had an impact with the Brexit vote. Do you think, Kelly O’Dwyer, that immigration is becoming the most important issue for the biggest group of voters?

KELLY O’DWYER:

In Australia I think it’s an important issue but I don’t think that it’s the only issue. I certainly think people want to know that our borders are secure and that we have a fair and orderly system to provide assistance to those people who seek to come to our shores, to create new economic opportunities for themselves and for their families and who are fleeing persecution. I think we are a very fair people and we want to make sure that we have a very fair system. We’re also a very successful, as Mark says, multicultural society here in Australia, which has been, over many, many years, very, very cohesive. And of course, I think Mark and I would probably both agree that we don’t want that to change, it’s very, very important that our Australian values are very much preserved, you know, a fair go for everyone, treating women with respect, you know, rule of law being applied. All of these things are fundamentally important and they’re things that we as a Government fight for.

RAF EPSTEIN:

Mark Dreyfus, let’s tie in domestic issues. The Government want you to support their lifetime ban on people who are deemed to be refugees. They may not say it publicly but I’m sure they would tell you privately, Trump’s groundswell of support is a great reason for you to support their legislation.

MARK DREYFUS:

Well if that’s going to be the level of political debate that we descened to, heaven help the whole of Australia. This is a policy that the Government has not been able to explain. It’s a policy that, as you’ve described, a lifetime ban on coming to Australia, even as a tourist in 30 or 40 years’ time, no one in the Government has yet explained how that can possibly be related to secure borders, how that can possibly be related to the proposition that we stood for and continue to stand for, which is that if you come to Australia by boat, you won’t settle here, because it’s nothing to do with settling here, and the vague notion that Peter Dutton has expressed that somehow, he hasn’t explained it, it’s connected to third party resettlement, he simply has been shown to be ludicrous because the Prime Minister of New Zealand has exposed it. He has said he’s not going to accept anyone in New Zealand that would be a second class citizen because they would be unable to go to Australia even on a tourist visa. Now if that’s our nearest neighbour exposing the ridiculousness of this proposed policy, I’m not even sure why the Government is persisting with this other than, and this is pretty apparent, that they think it gives them some kind of wedge, some kind of political wedge, against Labor, and that’s a disgraceful basis for any legislation.

RAF EPSTEIN:

Kelly O’Dwyer, I’d love a response, I don’t know if you can clarify if there really is a country waiting in the wings, ready to make a deal off the back of this legislation?

KELLY O’DWYER:

Well the first point I’d make in response to Mark’s statements is that certainly there is no political wedge that we’re trying to drive here. This is a very real and serious attempt by our Government to honour the commitment that in fact the Prime Minister of the day, Kevin Rudd, made when he said that those people who come unauthorised by boat, without a visa, are not going to be allowed to resettle in Australia, period. Now that is what we are legislating for. We do not want to give any incentive for people to pay people smugglers for the opportunity to get in a leaky boat, to risk their lives, and to come here. We think it is incredibly important that there are lots and lots of people who are sitting in refugee camps right now, who would like the opportunity to come to Australia, and we, frankly, would like the opportunity for them to be given –

RAF EPSTEIN:

Can I interrupt, Kelly, I just want to ask if you agree. John Key, the conservative Prime Minister of New Zealand, he says your legislation would create two classes of New Zealand citizens, say they became New Zealand citizens. Would you tell me if you do concede to this or not, is it a specific punishment of someone who’s deemed to be a refugee if this law applies to them? Are you punishing those refugees to deter others?

KELLY O’DWYER:

No, what we are saying is we’re making it very clear that we’re honouring the commitment made by the previous Labor Government, which I note that the current Labor Opposition has walked away from yet again, they’re changing their policy again on border protection and on how they would actually deal with people who pay people smugglers to come here. We are simply saying that you will not be resettled in Australia. There are other countries that you can currently be resettled in. We don’t want to give any false hope to those people who have taken that journey to say to them that you are going to be coming to Australia. We know that when that happens –

RAF EPSTEIN:

That’s not punishing them.

KELLY O’DWYER:

Well let me tell you the serious consequence, Raf, when that happens. When Labor dismantled our border protection regime that was put in place by the Howard Government, where we actually had no children in detention, we saw an influx –

RAF EPSTEIN:

Forgive me Kelly, I’m not arguing, I don’t wish to argue with you about the consequences of Labor’s policy.

KELLY O’DWYER:

But it’s relevant to this point I think Raf.

RAF EPSTEIN:

I know it’s relevant, but I’m not sure I’ve hand an answer to the question – do you think it is a specific punishment of the people who it applies to, Labor says it’s about 3,000 people but either way, do you think it’s a specific punishment or not?

KELLY O’DWYER:

No, it is an honouring of the election commitment that we made and the promise, in fact, that the former Labor Government also made to ensure that we’re not going to have a situation as Labor did, they needed to open 17 new detention centres where more than 8,000 children arrived and were put into detention, where more than 50,000 people arrived and actually had to be housed in sometimes pretty horrible boarding houses as well in this country. I mean we had a situation in this country where we did not have control of our borders and we didn’t have an orderly immigration scheme and we didn’t actually allow for those refugees who are coming from refugee camps to be resettled here in Australia, and that’s quite wrong.

RAF EPSTEIN:

Mark Dreyfus, a quick response, but surely the result in the States, surely that makes you think again about your stance on asylum seeker issues, it must make you at least review your positions.

MARK DREYFUS:

No, we’re a different country from the United States, let’s wait and see the final result because it seems like it’s about half-half, we haven’t even got the final result, before we get into drawing conclusions from it. But just on Kelly’s propositions, it’s quite false and the Government, this is a Government from whom words have no meaning. What we said on 19 July 2013, and Kevin Rudd’s actually made this very clear in op-eds in the last week, and statements that he’d made, is if you come to Australia by boat, you will not settle in Australia. Now the last time I looked, coming here on a tourist visa, which is what this proposed new law is about, is not settling in Australia. And in answer to your question which Kelly wouldn’t answer, of course it’s imposing a penalty on this hapless group of people who are on Manus and Nauru, people who’ve arrived by boat and some of them are now in Australia who’ve arrived by boat since 19 July 2013. And probably, according to a range of international lawyers, it’s in breach of our obligations under the refugees convention because we agreed as a country when we signed that convention not to impose penalties on people who simply come here seeking asylum and we’re singling out this group of people for reasons that the Government has not, and I think can’t explain, as to why it is they need to have this law that would impose a lifetime ban on people coming on a tourist visa. It is ridiculous as Bill Shorten said pretty much as soon as the announcement was made.

KELLY O’DWYER:

Well I think we have in fact made it very, very clear and I think anybody who’s actually listened to our conversation would understand that.

MARK DREYFUS:

Well we said there’s no reason being expressed.

RAF EPSTEIN:

Kelly and Mark, if I can press pause, I need to get to the traffic, we’ll return with both Kelly O’Dwyer and Mark Dreyfus and some of your calls, traffic first with Chris Miller. Kelly O’Dwyer is with us, she’s the Minister for Revenue in Malcolm Turnbull’s government. Mark Dreyfus is with us as well, Shadow Attorney-General. Randall is in Geelong, Randall what did you want to say?

CALLER:

I just think that obviously, people might be over-analysing the election result and all that with saying that Donald Trump supporters are obviously disenfranchised white males and all that. You look at what’s been happening in the last few months with the Brexit vote as well, they’re missing the point that people are so disenchanted with the two-party political system and even in Australia, the recent double dissolution election where more power was handed to the Senate rather than given obviously the power Malcolm Turnbull wanted to control the Senate. People are sick of the two party system and the way that the politicians actually represent the people, yeah there might be the small groups that are obviously angry and want America want to be great again, and Brexit vote they’re fearing for the global economy, but the majority of voters are just so sick of politicians not actually coming up with a proper vision for our countries and making things better for us, rather than just, they’re just serving their own self-interests, what can we do to get elected next time and if we don’t, well we’ll wait until the other side basically becomes incompetent and then they’ll eventually have to vote us back in. People are just so sick of the two-party system and that’s what’s happening.

RAF EPSTEIN:

Randall, look thank you, a quick response from both of you, sick of the two-party system and a lack of vision, Kelly O’Dwyer.

KELLY O’DWYER:

Look I agree with one point that Randall made is I think that people are sick of Parliamentarians fighting one another and political parties fighting one another on issues that, frankly, they should agree on in the national interest. I think people want to see Governments being able to govern and get on with that job, and they’re very cynical when other political parties, whether they be in Government or whether they be in opposition, actually change their position based on not much other than their own political interests. I’ll give you one example – we recently had our Federal election and we took a whole heap of savings provisions to the election, which were banked by the Labor Party who wanted to spend the money in other ways. That’s fair enough. But when it came to then being in Government and we tried to legislate those, we had a big argument with them as to whether or not we’d be able to legislate all of those savings provisions and they walked away from a number of those measures. Now I think they’re the sorts of frustrations that people get really riled up about because they simply want Government to get on with doing the job they’re meant to do, which is making our society better, making our economy stronger, and giving opportunities for all Australians.

RAF EPSTEIN:

Mark Dreyfus, Labor’s lack of vision?

MARK DREYFUS:

I think people are actually frustrated with people like Kelly, who’s, a month after we cooperated with the Government to achieve very substantial Budget repair by cooperating with the Government to pass a Bill through both houses of Parliament, Kelly’s forgotten about it and is inventing this false lack of cooperation from Labor.

KELLY O’DWYER:

Well you didn’t agree to all the savings, Mark.

MARK DREYFUS:

Indeed we didn’t, because we had a difference in opinion –

KELLY O’DWYER:

So that’s the point.

MARK DREYFUS:

No, what you need to do is give credit, Kelly, where it’s due to Labor for engaging in Budget repair that’s fair, Budget repair that’s responsible. I thought Randall made a really good point, Raf, which is clearly there’s large parts of the US population that wanted to send a message to Washington here. That’s their way to explain this unexpectedly high vote for Donald Trump, not predicted by polls, not predicted by commentators, where someone who has never held elected office, has been preferred by seemingly a majority of voters in possibly a majority of states over someone who looked to be, arguably, one of the best qualified people ever to stand for President of the United States. It’s a surprising outcome.

RAF EPSTEIN:

Can I just ask you both, we’ve really only got 30 seconds for both of you, but if you don’t agree on the backpacker tax, you’ve got varying positions, Labor want them to pay 10 percent on the first dollar, the Coalition want them to pay 19 percent on the first dollar they earn when they come here. If you don’t both agree, they’re going to end up paying 32.5 cents on every dollar and that’s from 1 January next year. Kelly O’Dwyer, do you need to compromise more?

KELLY O’DWYER:

Well actually just to correct you there, Raf, I mean that’s the amount that they would actually have to pay now. It’s just not being enforced now because there have been three separate court cases that have been taken and 32.5 cents in a dollar is in fact what non-residents have to pay, and most backpackers are found to be non-residents, which means that they need to pay from their very first dollar 32.5 cents. Now we’re lowering that to 19 cents and we’re paying for it through an increase in the Passenger Movement Charge and also applying a higher tax rate to those backpackers on superannuation when they leave the country. It’s all paid for, we think that’s justified and it will actually help with our seasonal workforce. Unfortunately the Labor scheme is unfunded and we don’t know how on earth it can be delivered.

RAF EPSTEIN:

Mark Dreyfus you’re going to have to compromise or it’s going to be stuck at 32.5 isn’t it?

MARK DREYFUS:

Well indeed and it’s all ahead of us and there’s a vote to be had in the Senate. But it’s not unfunded, there’s Kelly again, Chris Bowen has been very careful to propose a savings measure that would make up for the difference. This is something that the Coalition Government has got itself into all sorts of trouble on. There’s been a huge reaction from the rural community, particularly people who have got picking activities, they’re very upset at the imposition of the 32 percent tax. At present it’s zero, it was zero up until the Coalition decided to impose the 32 percent tax, no one’s yet paid it because –

KELLY O’DWYER:

That’s just not correct, it wasn’t zero, it is the current tax law is 32.5 cents. You haven’t actually changed anything.

RAF EPSTEIN:

Sadly that’s unresolved but it’s unresolved in the Senate as well, I need to leave it there, thank you both Mark and Kelly.

KELLY O’DWYER:

No worries Raf.

MARK DREYFUS:

Thanks very much Raf.