ABC AFTERNOON BRIEFING
MONDAY, 7 OCTOBER 2019
Subjects: Josh Frydenberg voting against the Banking Royal Commission; Extinction Rebellion and the Government’s inaction on climate change; Newstart; pill testing; Tony Abbott; Bill Shorten; Labor’s election review; the drought.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: I want to bring in my panel, Labor's Andrew Leigh and the Coalition's Andrew Laming. Welcome to both of you.
ANDREW LEIGH, SHADOW ASSISTANT MINISTER FOR TREASURY AND CHARITIES: Thanks, PK. It’s great to be with you.
KARVELAS: Just on that bank issue, I want to start with you Andrew Leigh. Josh Frydenberg putting a lot of pressure on the banks, saying customers should vote with their feet. Do you agree with him?
LEIGH: I certainly agree with the substance, but I think Josh reckons that Australian voters have the memories of goldfish - that they’ll forget that he was trying to give the big banks a company tax cut, that he fought against the royal commission, voted against it 26 times, and only supported it after the bankers’ own association backed it. He's hoping that Australians will forget that Josh Frydenberg campaigned against the Future of Financial Advice reforms, wanted to remove the best interest requirement. All of this is on Josh Frydenberg’s record, so his is very much a record of cosying up to the big end of town. We wouldn't have had a banking royal commission if it wasn't for Labor’s pressure.
KARVELAS: Right now, the government has supported the Royal Commission. In fact, it's even outlined a timeframe for acting on its recommendations. Josh Frydenberg is heaping pressure on the banks. Do you think customers should also leave these banks if they don't pass on the full rate cut?
LEIGH: Look absolutely, and Labor's last term in office saw us do more to make it easier for customers to leave by abolishing mortgage exit fees. Josh Frydenberg could do more too, by acceding to the competition watchdog's request to hold a competition inquiry into the banks. At the moment he's refused to back that. Labor has said that we believe that that inquiry ought to go ahead. If the ACCC thinks that there's more that can be done to promote competition in the banking sector, they should absolutely go ahead with that inquiry.
KARVELAS: Andrew Laming, I'll bring you in. Do you think that inquiry should be backed by the government? What do you personally think given the banks are clearly not listening to this tough talk from the Treasurer?
ANDREW LAMING: Well, the public is very happy to hear tough talk from both sides of politics. We're dealing with energy companies later, banks are the same, in the same boat. But let's be honest - as we approach zero interest rates, it's harder and harder to get banks to pass on these full interest rates wherever you are in the world. Obviously, they’ve also got to be making sure that they can make a money, make money, as they’re lending as much as they are borrowing. So this will be a global problem getting banks to pass this on, but it's appropriate that the government puts all the pressure on that it can.
KARVELAS: So do you think there should be a competition inquiry then?
LAMING: Ah well. I mean, we have plenty of inquiries. We've got a whole heap of recommendations to implement. So that's the first priority. But you're quite right. I mean, everything the government should be doing is making sure it's strengthening competition, not reducing it, or making it easier for big banks compared to smaller ones.
KARVELAS: Andrew Laming, I want to stay with you just on a different topic. Climate protesters are set to cause disruptions across the country with more extinction rebellion demonstrations planned for this week. And of course a lot of this happened in Brisbane – it’s your home town, if you like. What are your thoughts on the protests and some of these suggestions that they lose their welfare, that they face mandatory sentences or minimum sentences? What do you make of those suggestions?
LAMING: I think the laws of the land as they stand are appropriate, as long as police are applying them. They can take a more permissive approach and leave protests to drag on for hours. But fundamentally if one's on income replacement, you’ve got to be meeting your mutual obligation to the government and those rules should be constant. But what you're seeing Patricia here, and started at the last election, is this division geographically between inner city Australians who will be grossly concerned about climate. As you move about 15 kilometres out of the major cities, increasingly this behaviour by extinction rebellion just exemplifies the excesses of the elite and how much they enjoy playing in this space to the chagrin of many who are just trying to keep food on the table, their children safe, getting to and from school and keeping a job. And these were exactly the issues in the ring of fire in southeast Queensland that saw massive swings to the Coalition that never takes its eye off that priority.
KARVELAS: Ok. But just on that, you don't think that there should be a toughening up of the penalties that protesters face?
LAMING: No. I think the laws as they stand absolutely adequate, if they are applied. And that's the big if.
KARVELAS: Ok, so you don’t agree with Peter Dutton, who says the actual laws should be changed?
LAMING: We've got great laws, if they're applied appropriately. And obviously it's a state matter as well. The Queensland police are completely armed with the powers they need to move protesters on, particularly if they're either causing damage, nuisance, blocking traffic. It's actually quite easy to do – whether they do it or not should be the question.
KARVELAS: Andrew Leigh, do you back the protesters and if any potential disruption they may cause?
LEIGH: Patricia, as the late Lionel Murphy put it, there's a right to be an agitator. Peaceful protest is an important part of a democratic society. Big changes in our past history, from racial and sex discrimination laws, Indigenous recognition in the constitution – all of those came about following peaceful protest. So I would urge people to obey the laws - I certainly I agree with Andrew there - but I can understand why people are infuriated. When they're seeing around the world countries are reducing their emissions, and yet seeing emissions rise in Australia. It’s regional Australia that's hit as hard as that by urban Australia. You're seeing extreme weather events causing havoc in far north Queensland. You've got the risk of us losing the Great Barrier Reef, our great tourist asset, and you've got impacts on agriculture right across the country of unchecked climate change. We need to be part of the solution there, Patricia. We need to be a country which is reducing emissions, putting downward pressure on energy prices in the process - because as a result of setting a clear future target for policy, we also ensure that we get more renewables investment.
KARVELAS: Changing the topic again, this is actually something I'm going to explore a little later on Afternoon Briefing with the KPMG modeller who did this work. Andrew Laming, there's a growing number of welfare groups and business groups calling for a rise in Newstart, and today KPMG has suggested the government increase the benefit by nearly $100 a week. What do you make of that?
LAMING: These reports are pretty cheap. I mean, you've just got to commission a group like this to run a report. It's easy to do the economics to prove that you need to raise payments. Obviously the evidence on whether there was will on either side of the political divide was in May 2019 at the last election. Labor's desire to do this was zero. So you know they're happy to do an inquiry and a review, only to make sure that payments are adequate for the costs of actually living in Australia. But these sort of ambit claims of $100 a week here and there are easy to obtain, easy to trumpet, but in reality there's not a KPMG party out there, Patricia. They're not putting their neck on the line for it. They're running a report and putting their name behind it. They could have made it 50 or 200, and it makes no difference.
KARVELAS: Okay. But do you think that the current rate of Newstart makes it difficult for jobseekers to actually even front up to job interviews? I mean, that's what business is even telling us.
LAMING: Definitely not. It isn't preventing them turning up for job interviews-
KARVELAS: So what, business is making it up?
LAMING: That's incorrect. That's right. That's not right-
KARVELAS: Why is business saying it then?
LAMING: Because they can say anything they want in a free country, Patricia, but it's rubbish.
KARVELAS: But what's the motivation for business – the BCA and other groups - to say there should be a rise and Newstart to identify their own work, where they don't think people can front up and be job ready because they’re on such a small amount of money. Why would they sort of fabricate that?
LAMING: Cheap headline. Who knows? You have to ask them, to be honest. These payments can be-
KARVELAS: Well, they’re saying they're not fabricating. I have asked them questions about this. So on what basis do you say that they just making it up?
LAMING: Well, I'll put it this way Patricia. I meet more people without a job than the entire board of the BCA does every week of the year, and I talk to them, and those individuals can get to a job interview with the payments they receive. They can have a $200 bonus if they're in the appropriate age group and I want to go on PaTH. So what am I saying to those that make those comments? Complete rubbish. A cheap headline.
KARVELAS: Andrew Leigh, we've certainly got the view from Andrew Laming. What do you make of KPMG's figure, because Labor has now changed its position. You say there should be a Newstart rise, not just a review, because of the election it was just a review. Do you think it should be as high as what KPMG suggests?
LEIGH: Patricia, at the election we said that we would increase it and we would do that following a review. That's the same process we followed with the pension in 2007, which led in 2009 to the biggest increase in the pension in its history. Newstart is too low, and I think Andrew's callous approach to jobseekers isn't appropriate at a time when it's been a quarter of a century since the real rate of Newstart was increased. We know this isn't a payment people are on for just for a month or two. Sometimes people are on there for years. The social safety net is there for all of us. People like Anne Ruston seem to think that it's all going to go to drug dealers. In fact, the-
KARVELAS: Well, she denies saying that, just in the interests of fairness. She said she has been misrepresented.
LEIGH: It's certainly what she was quoted as saying. The impact that I believe you would have instead is seeing a flow through to consumer spending. So if you're worried about the state of the macroeconomy - and any serious economist should be right now – then as well as bringing forward infrastructure investment, as well as bringing forward the budget update, you should also increase Newstart because that'll put money into the pockets of job seekers who immediately look to spend it. That will be a better effect than we saw from the promised cash splash in July and August, which really has turned into a retail trickle and hasn't flowed through to retail sales.
KARVELAS: Again, changing the topic and something I know that's been happening in your world, Andrew Laming. You’ve said running a Facebook page titled ‘No pill testing Australia’ is part of your job and that you would have no hesitation asking you staff to help manage it. Can you take me through what the page is actually about?
LAMING: Sure. So pill testing in music festivals have been trialled twice in the ACT. I'm deeply worried about the principle of entering the illicit economy and starting to test pills. There’s a fair bit of evidence out of Europe that it can be done - in the Australian scenario, I'm not so confident. Our temperature and climatic conditions are completely different, as are our policing arrangements. So I definitely don’t want to see testing inside the festival and I'd like to see the highest quality testing - something called liquid chromatography - as the minimum that the state should be doing if they're intervening in this trade. Obviously there's a few very keen protesters out there, but I’m prepared to take them on and I use the Facebook page to do it.
KARVELAS: Why do you use it? Because pill testing advocates have accused you of shabby conduct, the way that you put this page together and they say that it's not appropriate. Why have you done it this way?
LAMING: I deeply apologise for offending their sensibilities. If they actually had a cogent debate on their page that'd be fine, but they don't. They won't tolerate any form of disagreement, even from the ABC whose documentary three weeks ago was torn apart by pill testers because they didn't like any suggestion that their front of house model should be questioned. So I'll do it. I’m a public representative. If you don’t like what I do, you’re welcome to vote me out.
KARVELAS: Okay, fair enough. I'm just going to give you a right of reply, Andrew Leigh. I'm not sure if you're invested in this issue, but you are in the ACT where this has happened.
LEIGH: I am, and it's an ACT Government issue, Patricia. I'm not sure why Andrew is spending taxpayer resources as a Queensland federal MP getting into the job of my ACT colleagues. They would point out, for example, that at a recent festival there were hundreds of pills tested. Two of them were found to be poison. Those partygoers didn't take the pills, and their lives were plausibly saved as a result.
KARVELAS: Ok. So Andrew Laming, there has been a critique that you're not using your own Facebook page. Why aren't you doing it that way?
LAMING: Look, we have a lot of traffic on a third party page and it's better and cleaner to do that. But they obviously run through our own central page as well. Having an issues page separate to a politician's page is usually a pretty good idea, particularly where it's a very, very busy issue and risks alienating everyone else who cares about different issues.
KARVELAS: Andrew Laming, Tony Abbott has blamed Malcolm Turnbull's ambition for his demise as being prime minister. What do you make of that? Was it Malcolm Turnbull’s fault?
LAMING: Westminster democracies really struggle with two dominant individuals in the party. We saw the Rudd-Gillard era, exactly the same. Looking back since post, you know, George – post John Howard, excuse me, in the last 12 years we’ve had five very powerful figures, four of them being prime ministers. But so long as you have two of them both wanting to be PM the same time, it's an absolute basketcase. So what am I saying here? Malcolm was a great guy. Tony Abbott was a great guy. But they both wanted the same job. It's a nightmare. The minute they both gone, you can see the difference.
KARVELAS: Okay. But on the question of whether Tony Abbott destroyed his own government or whether it was Malcolm Turnbull, what's your take?
LAMING: Look, I think they destroyed each other. As long as one was out of the tent and one inside, it was an insurmountable problem. That's the point I'm making in answering your question.
KARVELAS: Okay, fair enough. Andrew Leigh, Bill Shorten says too many messages and a pledge to abolish franking credit refunds contributed to his election defeat. Do you still stand by the franking credits policy? Bill Shorten seems to have acknowledged that it was one of the main problems.
LEIGH: Patricia, we’ll review all of those policies through our usual processes over the next couple of years-
KARVELAS: What’s your take? Bill Shorten has now shared his. Do you think that the franking credits policy should go, and that it was a massive problem?
LEIGH: I don't think it was a massive problem. I certainly acknowledge that there was a scare campaign run against it. But Bill has appropriately shared his views. I think he did so very gracefully in that interview, acknowledging that perhaps having a full policy agenda which would have made us absolutely ready to govern was also an electoral challenge. That's something that we need to think about as we go to the next election, now at least two and a half years away. So we need to take our time, work through those policy issues. We've got the review from Jay Weatherill and Craig Emerson due to be handed down. That will go to a range of the structural issues. We need to make sure that we're careful and methodical in learning the lessons of the last election and not overlearning them, not jumping at shadows.
KARVELAS: Ok, but you said to me - I wrote it down - that you don't think the franking credits policy is a massive problem. Really?
LEIGH: If you look at where the swings took place, the swings against us were not in the electorates in Australia where the largest amounts of franking credits were claimed-
KARVELAS: But is that a good way to judge it? I mean, people can think that the policy is concerning and not even be a direct beneficiary of policy.
LEIGH: The policy will be reviewed, like out other policies we took to the election. We’ll go to the next election as a party of growth and opportunity, a party that believes strongly in egalitarianism, a party that will act on climate change. All of those things are clear, but the specific tax settings we have will be determined in 2022. As you’d want us to, Patricia - it's possible that the global economic circumstances and Australia's economic circumstances will look very different at that stage. So you want to calibrate your tax and other policy settings according to the macroeconomic environment.
KARVELAS: Just Andrew Laming, finally with you on an issue that just sadly won't go away. I think we’d all love it to go away. The drought, especially as a Queenslander, I'd like to put this to you. Would you like the government to accelerate its drought policy response? We had the NFF today say that if it thinks it's too short term, that the government hasn't been responding quickly enough after David Littleproud mentioned yesterday on Insiders that actually they were trying to take into consideration the NFF, the National Farmers Federation’s views. Would you like to see an acceleration and more money spent immediately?
LAMING: It's already a very large amount of money. We've had some opposition from the Labor Party in this, but if the National Farmers Federation is making a point, then I think you'll find that the Deputy Prime Minister would be listening very, very carefully. I'm an outer metro coastal seat, so I can't speak with great authority on drought policy, but definitely if drought’s a problem it's both the size, the scope and the rapidity of the response that matters. And if National Farmers Federation is saying things need to be faster, than that’ll definitely be hitting the mark in Canberra with that message.
KARVELAS: Thank you to both you.
LEIGH: Thanks, PK. Thanks, Andrew.
Authorised by Paul Erickson, ALP, Canberra