ABC DRIVE MELBOURNE
WEDNESDAY, 5 JUNE 2019
Subjects: AFP raids, economy, Canberra.
HOST: Andrew Leigh is the ALP member for the seat of Fenner in the ACT, joining us from our Canberra studio. How are you going Andrew?
ANDREW LEIGH, SHADOW ASSISTANT MINISTER FOR TREASURY: Very well, Raf. G’day, Tim. How are you?
TIM WILSON: Good, Andrew. How are you?
LEIGH: Wonderfully well.
HOST: Tim, I’ll start with you, as a Government representative in some ways. Are you concerned by the raids? Are they an infringement on people's ability to report on government?
WILSON: Well, I'm always concerned about raids on media outlets. But we need to look at all these issues dispassionately and go through the reality, which is the allegations that there seems to be - that classified national security information or intelligence has been leaked. So the real issue is then the process by which the police then go and execute a raid. Now they had to get warrants to do so, so there's oversight in terms of the legal process-
HOST: A judge has to give a warrant?
WILSON: A judge has to give them a warrant and that's critically important. These are the sorts of safeguards we introduced in the laws and the powers that being executed and used have significant parliamentary oversight, as well as independent oversight by statutory officers. So we will wait and see, of course it's up to the AFP to answer to these-
HOST: But you're not concerned by the raids?
WILSON: I started by saying that I'm always concerned about raids and making sure they're executed and done properly, and my hope and expectation is that will be. But I'm sure everybody is watching closely, including myself.
HOST: Andrew Leigh, how do you respond to them?
LEIGH: Raf, both of these stories seem to me to be in the public interest and they were published quite a while back - one two years ago, one a year ago. So the question I have is why is it so vital for our national security that the government's referred to the AFP these two matters? And we’ve had, as you've outlined, a journalist’s home being gone through - including her kitchen, extraordinarily - and the investigations involving the ABC, an organisation that's already reeling under $84 million of cuts under this government, now being raided-
HOST: Are the cuts relevant to the raid?
LEIGH: Well, it's a tough time for journalists at the moment. You've got newspapers firing staff, you've got overseas organisations ripping off content. This is a difficult time to be an investigative journalist and raids like this make it harder still. So the government has a lot of explaining to do.
HOST: I might ask Tim and Andrew a bit more about that, but let's bring in Anne from Essendon. You too can call on 1300 222 774. Anne, what did you want to say?
CALLER: I just want to express my concern as a citizen who relies on the ABC for information and who knows that their relatives in the country rely on the ABC, especially when there's lots of bushfires. I'm very, very concerned about the cuts to the ABC-
HOST: So this is funding, this isn't about the rights? I just want to clarify what you're concerned about.
CALLER: Well, I'm concerned that these raids have come after the election.
HOST: Can I just, Anne, and I will put that to Tim Wilson but are you concerned about a News Corp journalists being raided or are you concerned just about the ABC?
CALLER: I think that News Corp journalist has the whole backdrop of very lucrative and rich people to defend them. I'm concerned about the ABC, which is after all the people’s broadcaster.
HOST: Let me put that to Tim Wilson. Tim?
WILSON: Well, I’m concerned about freedom of the press for everybody, but I'm also concerned about making sure that the law is upheld and enforced and that's why as information comes out about this particular case, these two cases - each one different - it's going to be critically important. Now, not being part of executive government I don't know why these cases were referred now. Of course, one of the challenges of having accountability in our system both legal and otherwise and political is that things take time and so that may be the basis why it's referred now. But I think drawing a parallel between the leak and the election-
HOST: Let’s put timing aside. So is it because - I think it's important that governments prosecute people if they leak secrets. It's clearly an important power for governments to have.
WILSON: It’s critically important for national security.
HOST: You're absolutely - no government’s going to give up that power and they probably shouldn't give that power up. But isn't the question whether or not it's appropriate for the police to raid journalists in the context of those two stories? There’s nothing about those two stories that is a threat to national security. Do you think either of those stories getting out is a threat to national security?
WILSON: I think it's very difficult for either Andrew or myself to comment. Now I understand why people would see it as being in the public interest, but equally just because something in the public interest doesn't automatically mean that it should be revealed-
HOST: But I ask if you think the stories were a national security risk.
WILSON: And I've said I think it's difficult for us to answer that because we don't have full information. So it's possible in the information presented so far that that may not be the case, but until we have all that information - that’s why we have such stringent processes and I've mentioned before about the warrant but also parliamentary oversight over our intelligence bodies, about how they act and I'm quite sure they subject matters will be asked about and reviewed, as well as independent groups or bodies like the Inspector-General on Intelligence and Security and the Independent National Security Legislation Monitor to look at these laws, to review them, to make sure they are applied appropriately.
HOST: Andrew Leigh, are they a threat to national security, those stories? Can you can you make a judgment if they are?
LEIGH: I would share your view there, Raf. I would find it quite difficult to see what the national security angle is. And yes-
HOST: Can I try something on you, Andrew Leigh - that you and I can't tell what security layers were breached, if they were breached by somebody who's revealed information to the ABC. That you can't make a judgment on it?
LEIGH: Well that is different though, Raf, to directly going after journalists. I mean, we have plenty of laws including laws that were changed under the Gillard Government to protect journalists and many conventions that protect journalists. And that's because we recognise the unique role that the press plays in ensuring that we have a vibrant and open democracy. These raids have a chilling impact on investigative journalism and Australia needs investigative journalism. You think of the important work done by people like Richard Baker, Nick McKenzie, the work of Neil Chenoweth in the multinational tax space, Kate McClymont - these journalists have rooted out corruption and have ensured that we have a stronger democracy. Freedom of the press is an essential component of democracy and the government has a lot of explaining to do as to why these raids – coming one year, two years after the stories were published – are really appropriate.
WILSON: But this is the critical point, just for clarity, which is the government has already outlined they're not going after journalists. They're going after the questions around who is leaking this information-
HOST: It has a chilling effect on journalism.
WILSON: Well, there’s always going to be consequences associated with where people have access to classified information leaking it because we don't know the full information have gone through. But if we permit classified information to just be provided and just declare it in the public interest without full information, then we're also turning around and saying well they can keep doing it and so that's the basis In which by the police and the government are investigating consistent with the law and with appropriate oversight.
HOST: It’s 20 minutes past five. If I can, Andrew Leigh, I just want to bring in a call. Andrew Leigh’s there in Canberra, Tim Wilson's here is in Melbourne. Stephen is in Narre Warren. What do you want to say, Stephen?
CALLER: Oh I just wanted to ask what happened with Michael Cash when she refused to answer a lot of questions, got away with it. Maybe you need a number of whiteboards in this country to be, so you don't have to answer questions-
HOST: Is there a question in that, Stephen? I can turn that into a question.
CALLER: How does it fit in with the government saying you know we're happy for all this to go ahead, but when it's one of these senators being investigated it all goes hush hush. But the general public, you know, whether you're a journalist or not seem to be under the pump all the time whereas they get away with everything.
HOST: Look Stephen, thank you. I want to try and sharpen that into a question, Tim Wilson, if I can. There was an ASIO report leaked to the Australian newspaper that aided the government's argument about the medevac bill. No one's been raided. Michaelia Cash - the AFP didn’t even call her. There was a leak of a police raid from her office and the AFP didn't even call her. That's a bit odd, isn't it?
WILSON: Well I'm not trying to buck pass, but these are questions for the AFP. I would have thought that if there are those issues, that they need to be investigated appropriately, the AFP need to make their decision. I mean, the AFP don't just follow the whim of politicians and frankly that's a good thing. And regardless of who's in office, so the appropriate thing is it follows, their appropriate processes are followed, that when there is a necessary execution of a warrant to make sure there's proper safeguards and protections and that there's legislative appropriate parliamentary oversight. That's what I look for because that's ultimately what matters. Otherwise I'll leave the AFP to do their job. And of course, as these cases show, it doesn't all happen overnight and sometimes it takes time.
HOST: Andrew Leigh, feel free to respond to Tim Wilson, but is the ALP saying that the AFP timing is linked to government and linked to the election?
LEIGH: We simply don't know. The government has made the referral and whether it's taken the timing of the election into account is a matter of open for question. But your caller makes an important point. For example, earlier this year there were real allegations that parts of the Hayne Royal Commission report had been leaked out to the share market. As far as I'm aware, no one's been raided over that. We of course have the historical example of a top secret, code-worded document prepared by Andrew Wilkie when he was at the Office of National Assessments-
HOST: You’re going back now.
LEIGH: - being given to a journalist at the Herald Sun. Again, I'm not aware of any raids that have taken place in relation to that much more serious leak.
HOST: I'll get some traffic and I'll get to more of your calls.
HOST: Right now though Andrew Leigh is with us from the ALP in Canberra. Tim Wilson, Liberal MP, here in Melbourne. Tim, let's turn our attention to the economy. We've got some economic data today. It is not good news. We've got the slowest growth in a decade and the worst growth in the economy on a per capita basis in nearly 40 years. When's the government going to admit the economy is in trouble?
WILSON: I think that's the wrong characterisation. What we have - firstly for the past few months, five months since Christmas, a lot of people have been very nervous about the consequences of the forthcoming election which have now passed and-
HOST: You’re not saying the bad growth figures are Labor's fault?
WILSON: No. I'm not saying that. Well I am saying that there are a lot of people, I can tell you because they came up to me in polling booths - small business owners, pensioners, retirees - saying they were terrified about the consequence of a change in government. I'm not talking mythical feelings-
HOST: You're claiming a bad growth rate on the imminence of Labor's policy-
WILSON: No, no - I’m saying elections always inform people's decisions and a lot of particularly investors those who invest which leads to job creation which creates the opportunity for growth were very mindful of the election. Now some of them were very mindful of the consequences of the continuation of the government and also of a change in policy-
HOST: So just clarify that for me. The low growth figure was because people feared Labor's numbers, yes or no?
WILSON: No, no, you're verballing me. I'm saying people were concerned about the election, the consequences of change in policy. There was the same happened to the property market where we saw the day, the weekend after the election, there was a spur in the property market. People were obviously holding out, waiting to say what the policy context-
HOST: You are saying that people's fear of Labor's policies slowed the economy down.
WILSON: There was absolutely a component of that, but the continuation of policies also had an effect as well. So we had that over the first half of this year. It has informed people's behaviour and, but we do know that employment is strong, that we will, there will hopefully be a significant return on investment now that we have clarity. Elections always inform economic activity and economic behaviour, particularly when you had a choice between a government that was seeking to improve the nation or a change in government which is wanting to change Australia.
HOST: Andrew Leigh, how do you read those growth numbers today?
LEIGH: First of all Raf, I have to say that listening to Tim blame the opposition for the growth figures is a bit like hearing a kid blame his invisible friend for being caught out doing the wrong thing-
LEIGH: The problem is they've got plenty of finger pointing, but they won't lift a finger to help workers. The Reserve Bank governor last night went straight to the heart of the matter. He said effectively that the Reserve Bank had had to cut interest rates because there wasn't sufficient work being done by the government on structural policies to help with job creation. He said unemployment should be closer to 4 per cent than to 5 per cent. Labor went to the last election with a strong productivity plan, a strong growth plan. We had a series of policies: an Australian Investment Guarantee, a new jobs tax credit, an energy policy and competition reform. The Coalition just had finger pointing and blame and now-
HOST: But they did win.
LEIGH: Absolutely. They won with a scare campaign. The problem is now you've got an empty slogan in a baseball cap in charge of economic reform.
HOST: Can I just pick you up, can I just pick you up there?
LEIGH: Of course.
HOST: Are you genuinely saying that you only lost because of the scare campaign? Surely the way you've actually presented your policies and some of the substance of the policy is also to blame.
LEIGH: We have a lot to look at in terms of our election loss. But I don't think any fair minded observer would say the government has been re-elected on a strong policy agenda. The lack of that strong policy agenda is one of the reasons why we've seen these appalling economic numbers. We’ve got a per capita recession for the last three quarters.
HOST: Maybe political parties just don't get that much of a say in the economy anymore. Maybe government’s just less and less important to the economy.
WILSON: Can I just clarify-
LEIGH: There’s an awful lot we can do, Raf. If you put in place a sensible energy policy, you put downward pressure on energy prices. We saw the government saying with its own national energy guarantee that that would drive down household power bills by $550 a year and that its absence would see energy prices rise. That adds to the cost of living pressures, which are seeing household debt now at record highs, government debt doubled, unemployment rising, energy-
LEIGH: We have a lot serious problems in the economy and we need a government that's focused on productivity rather than simply running a scare campaign.
WILSON: But this is - sorry, I want to disagree, Raf, which is of course political parties and the decisions they make can have a profound impact on the economy because and this is why I go back point and around what happened with the employment, what happened with investment, people were terrified about a change of government because of the consequences particularly of Labor's tax agenda and what-
LEIGH: There you go with the invisible friend again, Tim.
WILSON: Well, you can you can pretend that as much as you want - I know you live in the ACT, so you might be a bit cushioned from the reality of where people actually make money and make investments off their private capital.
WILSON: No, no - I'm saying that when you have a town that's massive, a massive government bureaucracy in comparison to people who put their own capital on line, put their own capital to employ people and grow jobs and grow the economy, that’s a bit distant from-
HOST: Why do you feel it necessary to insult a whole other batch of voters just to make a political point?
WILSON: No, no - I, I’m not - there is a situation he, Andrew Leigh seems-
HOST: Can I, can I-
WILSON: No, no - I’m going to keep going-
HOST: No, you’re not going to keep going.
WILSON: Andrew Leigh is making this point-
HOST: Tim Wilson, do you want me to turn your microphone off?
WILSON: Sure. Andrew Leigh is-
HOST: Tim Wilson, I would like you to address the idea that simply because you’ve not invested in a business, you can't make a decision about economic policy-
WILSON: No, I never said that. I had made the point-
HOST: That’s exactly what you said about all the voters in Canberra.
WILSON: That’s not exactly what I said. What I said was that Andrew comes from a town which is mostly government. If you want to pretend that's not the reality that's your choice. That's 100 per cent reality, so that’s a pretty simple observation. Whereas in, in communities like in Melbourne, like in Sydney, like in-
HOST: I find it completely bizarre that because you don't run a business, you can't make a judgment about economic policy-
WILSON: I never said that. I never said that. I said that-
HOST: Well, why can’t a person-
HOST: Why can’t a public servant make a decision on policy?
WILSON: They can make a decision on policy. Whether it's properly informed when you-
HOST: What, so all public servants aren't properly informed?
WILSON: No, I never said. You are massively verballing everything I’ve said. Andrew Leigh lives in a city-
HOST: - told me things that sound like rubbish, Tim Wilson, I’m going to draw you up.
WILSON: No, no - you're happy to have drawn me up. What we have here is we have Andrew Leigh who lives in Canberra. We've accepted it's a government town. He's more than welcome to make decisions about policy, but what I'm saying is-
HOST: I’ve just got to remember not to hand my ballot paper in. Because I work at the ABC, therefore I can't possibly comprehend economic policy.
WILSON: Raf, this is the most bizarre comment you have made. It is a government town. What I'm saying is people on the ground who invest, who grow jobs and create opportunity outside in other parts of, outside of Canberra in other parts of the country, have a different perspective. And I can tell you people turned up in the ballot boxes-
HOST: You didn’t say they had a different perspective. You said they couldn’t properly make a decision-
WILSON: No, I didn't say that. I said that there's a different perspective on this. You need to go back and review what I actually said and what I can tell you is people on the ballot boxes were terrified about a change of government, particularly around Labor's tax agenda and what it meant for the economy and investment and that's part of it, that’s part of the economic picture. Now we can pretend otherwise but that's the reality.
HOST: Andrew Leigh?
LEIGH: Reluctant as I am to inject facts into this, I would point out that in the ACT 63.8 per cent of workers are employed in the private sector. It’s a two-thirds private sector town and I suspect my constituents would take a pretty dim view about being dismissed offhand by Tim Wilson-
LEIGH: - But fundamentally the reason Tim's taking swipes at Canberrans is because he is part of a government which has no plan for boosting living standards. Living standards are now growing more slowly under the Liberals than they did under the previous Labor government. We've got interest rates which were at so-called emergency levels in 2016 yesterday being cut by another quarter per cent with a quarter per cent further cut to go. That is an indictment on the way in which the government has managed the economy. The fact is that-
HOST: Andrew Leigh, I just don’t want to rerun the campaign. I will come back to you. I want to ask you both for a prediction, if I can. I know it's a dangerous thing to ask, but if I can ask for a prediction. The government's forecast for growth in the next financial year is 2.75 per cent. At the moment we are at 1.8 per cent. That would be a big jump into the next financial year. I'll give you both just 15 seconds, if I can confine you to that. Tim Wilson, is the government going to achieve that 2.75 per cent growth rate?
WILSON: [inaudible] but I agree there is a big gap to meet in order to do so. But the critical thing is we're delivering a key tax plan to reduce the tax liabilities on low and middle income earners and all workers to try and put ourselves in a position so we can grow the economy and create investment, jobs. And the biggest risk to that was a change of government.
HOST: Andrew Leigh, are they going to meet their growth target in the budget?
LEIGH: When I speak to business they're deeply worried about the lack of an agenda from the government. They're concerned that the housing market is fragile. They're concerned that the government isn't engaging with international trade tensions. So I don't think that target is going to be met. I'm really worried about the government's lack of a plan for the future and its razor thin surpluses leave us from doing a little fiscal firepower if there is a serious downturn.
HOST: I am going to bring in Tony from Blackburn, because I think he's going to have a go at one of us. Tony, what do you want to say?
CALLER: Oh look, I just want - a couple of points. I just want to express my extreme disappointment at the electorate. The re-electing this bunch of dinosaurs, we're gonna have another three years of nothing.
HOST: You're out of time, you're out-
CALLER: Absolutely impartial, of course, But also, Raf, I’d love to hear what both of them have to say. I’m just a bit annoyed with your interjections all the time. Just let them say what they have to say.
HOST: Okay, Tony. I'll leave it there. I didn't expect either of those to be the commentary. Tim Wilson, thank you for coming in.
WILSON: Thanks for having me, Raf.
HOST: He's the Liberal member for the seat of Goldstein here in Melbourne. Andrew Leigh has been joining us from Canberra. He is the ALP member for the seat of Fenner. Andrew, thanks so much.
LEIGH: Thank you, Raf. Interject any time.
Authorised by Noah Carroll ALP Canberra.