FAIRFAX BREAKING POLITICS
MONDAY, 15 JUNE 2015
SUBJECT/S: Government paying people smugglers; Citizenship changes; Marriage equality; Tony Abbott’s Royal Commission
CHRIS HAMMER: Andrew Leigh is the federal MP from Fraser here in the ACT and he's also the Shadow Assistant Treasurer. Good morning, Andrew.
SHADOW ASSISTANT TREASURER ANDREW LEIGH: Good morning Chris, how are you?
HAMMER: Now what answers do you want to hear from the Government about what has been happening with people smugglers?
LEIGH: Chris, we really need to know whether or not Australia has been paying people smugglers. This goes to the very heart of the Government's competence on asylum seeker policy and their willingness to be honest with the Australian people. What more important issues could there be in public policy than whether you're doing your job well and whether you're being honest about it?
HAMMER: But the Government has said they want to stop the boats; they have been successful in doing it. They've said they'll do whatever it takes – what's the problem?
LEIGH: Three-word slogans are no substitute, Chris, for public accountability. Australians have a right to clear and direct answers. After all, if payments are being made then they're not the personal funds of Liberal ministers, but Australian taxpayer resources. So taxpayers have a right to know how their money is being spent.
HAMMER: And if taxpayers are happy that they are stopping the boats, it is a big issue, what's the problem?
LEIGH: Australians have a right to accountable government. That's not just a Labor notion. It's fundamental to who we are as Australians and to our constitutional framework that ministers front up and honestly say how taxpayer resources are being used. I'm deeply troubled about – as Richard Marles has outlined over the weekend – the opaque nature of how the Government has approached this really important area of public policy. We want to know that they are making the problem better not worse.
HAMMER: Is it a concern that when these reports emerge both the Immigration Minister Peter Dutton and the Foreign Minister Julie Bishop denied them outright?
LEIGH: Well we've got a Government that is at sixes and sevens with itself and that's been occurring quite frequently in this area. We've seen, on the citizenship changes, an unprecedented leak from Cabinet, clearly exposing the division and backbiting within the Abbott Government.
HAMMER: Well on citizenship since you mentioned that: will Labor have the courage to stand up in Parliament and oppose any legislation that is likely to fail before the High Court?
LEIGH: Chris, we usually prefer to see legislation before we announce a position on it. I know that's an old-fashioned view, but when the Government brings the legislation forward, we'll make a decision on that.
HAMMER: You don't need to see the legislation to answer the question: will Labor oppose legislation that is likely to fail High Court? It's a statement of principle rather than dissecting a piece of legislation.
LEIGH: Chris, the fundamental question on this is when the Government is actually going to bring its legislation forward. Bill Shorten, in the last sitting week, asked directly when Labor would be provided with a briefing on these changes. When would we be told how the Government plans to make this scheme operate, whether it's a court that’s making the decision or the Minister, under what standard of proof and with what appeal rights? We know none of that at the moment and it would be irresponsible of me to state a position on legislation we haven’t seen.
HAMMER: So what do you think the motivation of the Government is here? Is it to fight terrorism or is it to wedge Labor?
LEIGH: Well I think the Government needs to be focused on the challenge of global terrorism. We've seen a significant challenge in the Middle East, I recommend to people David Kilcullen's Quarterly Essay as a very thoughtful statement of the challenges that Australia faces in that area. So the threat is live, but we need to deal with it in ways that are appropriate and reasonable and will succeed in their goals rather than making the problem worse.
HAMMER: Speaking of politicians answering questions, allegations have arisen of what happened in the AWU back when Bill Shorten was heading the union. Now, he's said he's happy to appear before the Royal Commission but doesn't want to talk about these allegations until then. That could be August or September – why doesn't he do what Julia Gillard did when she had allegations from her past, simply hold a press conference and say 'okay all questions, I’m happy to take them.' Because the Government is going to hit the Opposition Leader with this in Parliament this fortnight isn't it?
LEIGH: It's clear that the Government would like to use their Royal Commission as a political witch hunt, that's been obvious from the outset and Bill Shorten will calmly and confidently stand behind his record of arguing for better pay and conditions for Australian workers. That stands in stark contrast to an Abbott Government whose ministers have said there's a wages breakout – despite the fact that wages growth is the lowest in more than a decade – and which has argued for cutting wages.
HAMMER: Okay let's put wages growth to one side, just say he's happy to defend his role, we'll why not do it in, say, a press conference.
LEIGH: He has been doing it in a press conference, Chris. I think I've read three transcripts of Bill Shorten's press conferences over recent days, in each of which he has been asked questions on these issues. Bill has a proud record of advocating for workers. You just have to see him in a workplace – I've been with him in building sites and kitchens, talking with workers and engaging in their needs, and that's what he did during his time in the union movement.
HAMMER: Just finally, the Fairfax-IPSOS poll, I know you don't like commenting on polls but there are two areas there: same sex marriage and housing affordability, you must be delighted the Government appears to be on the wrong side of both of these issues?
LEIGH: Well let me do the poll dance for once, Chris. I think these are important results which do show, once again, that on the issue of same sex marriage Australians are where the Irish, the British, the New Zealanders, the Americans are, very much feeling this is a change whose time has come. I was chatting with a church minister last week who said that he supports same sex marriage not despite being a clergyman but because of being a clergyman. When he asks himself the question: what would Jesus do? he feels very comfortable supporting same-sex marriage. Strong results like this reflect that many Australians of diverse faiths are comfortable with the notion that same-sex couples shouldn't be excluded the right to wed.
HAMMER: Okay Andrew Leigh, thanks for your time.
LEIGH: Thank you, Chris.
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