Andrew Leigh MP
Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister
Member for Fraser
28 May 2013

TOPICS:                Funding the NDIS, advertising of live odds during sporting matches, election disclosure changes, the Government’s efficiency dividend, asylum seekers

Andrew Leigh: In public life it’s not good enough just to say that you support a worthy policy; you’ve also got to front up and say where the money is coming from. In the case of DisabilityCare, a reform that will

transform the lives of 410,000 Australians and their carers, you also need to say where that money will come from. And the Coalition today has said that they won’t back nearly $400 million worth of savings from the Private Health Insurance Rebate in order to fund DisabilityCare. So they need to be very clear with the Australian people today, does that mean they’re backing away from DisabilityCare entirely? Or are they going to make another cut elsewhere? Or are they going to raise another tax? Because it’s not good enough in public life, to support a principle you’ve actually got to say where the money is coming from. Happy to take questions.

Journalist:           Do you expect fiery debate in caucus today over live betting odds?

Andrew Leigh: I think that what the Prime Minister announced on Sunday is an important step forward. I think it really recognises that Australians are sick of seeing live odds throughout sporting matches, sick of having kids watch those and I think there will be a strong recognition in caucus as I’ve sensed in many conversations with Labor colleagues over recent days, that this does substantially change the situation for live odds

Journalist:           Does it go far enough?

Andrew Leigh: In my view it does. I think this manages to ensure that from the moment the players step onto the field to the moment they’re off the field you don’t have live odds and that’s been a chief concern that’s come back to me in my street stalls and my community meetings. It’s that promotion of live odds during the game that is of greatest concern to people.

Journalist:           If Stephen Jones puts forward a motion calling for the ban on gambling advertising before 8:30pm, will you be supporting that?

Andrew Leigh: Stephen is entitled to put forward a motion and I’m sure there will be good quality public policy debate in the Labor caucus as there always is. But it’s important to realise also that in a sense, in one important respect, the Prime Minister’s announcement goes further which is that it doesn’t simply regulate children’s viewing hours, it ensures that if a sporting match is on ten o’clock and the kids are staying up with Mum and Dad to watch it then the kids aren’t exposed to live odds throughout that sporting match.

Journalist:           Should taxpayers be funding the administrative costs of political parties running for the election?

Andrew Leigh: I think you’re referring to some stories that are around today regarding disclosure caps and funding. As I understand it, those discussions are still ongoing at the moment. Clearly the principles of public funding for elections and of disclosure caps are well entrenched in the Australian political system. The Labor Party would like to see those disclosure limits come down from $12,000 to $1,000 as we believe there should be greater transparency in the system

Journalist:           But why the need for tens of millions of dollars more money for the parties?

Andrew Leigh: As I understand it, these discussions are still ongoing. I don’t know where things have landed at, or if there has indeed been a landing on the public funding aspect. Certainly, that’s something that will become clearer in the coming days.

Journalist:           Do you think that political parties, your political party, does need more money [inaudible]?

Andrew Leigh: The principle of public funding for elections has been entrenched in our system for a long time and the notion of public funding is, I think, an important one. Arguing about ideas is healthy for a strong democracy and public funding is one aspect of that. Now, of course I’d like to see  a little more discussion about ideas and a little less mud-slinging in politics. But you can’t mandate what political parties and candidates will use those resources for.

Journalist:           Is your efficiency dividend impeding on the work of some of our spy agencies and security agencies to actually do the best job that they can?

Andrew Leigh: The efficiency dividend has been in place since 1989. It’s a policy that’s existed for a quarter of a century. It exists across government agencies and it’s something that has existed under the Hawke,

Keating, Howard, Rudd, Gillard Governments. So I think the efficiency dividend is now a regular part of Australian public policy.

Journalist:           [inaudible] agency’s been quarantined from?

Andrew Leigh: I think the efficiency dividend aims to encourage agencies to find savings and efficiencies where they can. But in the case of intelligence agencies, I’d certainly note that ASIO for example has received a substantial increase in funding in the latest budget.

Journalist:           That’s only to pay for the influx of asylum seekers and assessing them for national security, isn’t it?

Andrew Leigh: Well ASIO has received a substantial injection in funding reflecting the challenges that we face in a rapidly changing security environment…

Journalist:           But they’re also facing challenges in terms of cyber-attacks. Last night it was revealed that the blueprints have been stolen to that building. Is this really the time that money should be pulled away from these agencies?

Andrew Leigh: Well as I’ve made clear to you, ASIO has seen an injection of funds not a withdrawal of funds…

Journalist:           Are you concerned with the blueprints being stolen?

Andrew Leigh: …and on operational matters, I wouldn’t comment on specifics,  but I would say on the issue of cyber-attacks that this is an issue that was raised as an important priority for Australia in the Defence White Paper at the start of the year. We’re seeing a rise in cyber-attacks globally. That’s reflected in the United States in particular, but also Australia is at risk of these attacks and we need to make sure we’re prepared to deal with them.

Journalist:           Laura Smyth is going to be arguing in caucus today for more clarity over the ‘no advantage’ test, do you agree with that? Do you think there should be a clearer timeframe around that?

Andrew Leigh: I think the principle of the ‘no advantage’ test is a simple and straightforward one, which is that if two asylum seekers are in a refugee camp, the one who can afford to pay for the people smuggler shouldn’t get an advantage over the family that can’t afford to pay the people smuggler. That’s an issue of fairness but it’s also an issue of safety – about reducing the horrendous number of tragedies we’ve seen with maritime arrivals over recent years. So, that’s a principle I support. I’d like to see the Coalition back in all of the recommendations from the Houston Panel and not just cherry-picking the Houston Panel.

Journalist:           Do you think the Government, though, should be giving a clearer timeframe in terms of how long asylum seekers are going to wait under the ‘no advantage’ test?

Andrew Leigh: Well I think the most important thing with the ‘no advantage’ test is the clarity to asylum seekers. That you should not get on a boat and come to Australia because you won’t receive an advantage for doing that. That’s the point at which clarity is most important because that’s the point at which we can reduce demand for people smugglers and we can also ensure that there are fewer people getting on boats and fewer drownings at sea which is ultimately the thing that troubles my constituents most, it’s the issue that comes up most in community discussions; the horrendous number of ocean tragedies that have occurred over recent years.

Journalist:           [inaudible] yesterday showed 73% of people whose asylum claims were rejected are eventually overturned, does that show that the system is somehow broken?

Andrew Leigh: We have an appeals process and certainly that’s as it should be. I’m not going to comment on the specifics of legal claims except to say that it’s important that that review process exists and I’m a strong respecter of the courts. I was an associate to Michael Kirby a while back and certainly wouldn’t want to be suggesting anything other than these are honest public servants and decent judges striking different views as is normal in a democracy and a legal system like ours.

Journalist:           That data also showed that Hazara people had a much lower chance of having their decision overturned and they were putting that down to illiteracy. Do you think there needs to be more support for people who perhaps don’t have the same education?

Andrew Leigh: Well asylum seekers receive significant support through making claims and also there’s a large number of immigration lawyers who have been offering to act for high profile claimants. So I think there’s certainly support there and again that’s as it should be, that’s fundamental to our system. But you do need to look too at the clear differences between the parties here. There’s only one party in Australia that wants to bring down the number of asylum seekers Australia takes. As I understand it, for the first time in decades, that would be I think a horrendous decision from a moral and ethical standpoint, an awful signal to send to the world – that Australia is now putting up the shutters, taking fewer asylum seekers than we’ve done in the past. I think it’s deeply mean spirited of the Coalition to be bringing down the asylum seeker intake as they’ve now decided to do and of course just shows that they’re really just playing politics all along when they were suggesting to Andrew Wilkie in negotiations that they would increase it substantially.

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