Iraq, Ashby and the Abbott Government's first year - Sky AM Agenda, 8 September

This morning's Sky AM Agenda spot was dominated by discussion about the Abbott Government's first year - mostly because it takes a lot of time to list off all the promises they've broken to the Australian people. Here's the video and transcript:

E&OE TRANSCRIPT

TV INTERVIEW

SKY AM AGENDA

MONDAY 8 SEPTEMBER, 2014

SUBJECT/S: Australian military involvement in Iraq; James Ashby allegations; Tony Abbott’s unfair budget

KIERAN GILBERT: With me on the program this morning is the Shadow Assistant Treasurer, Andrew Leigh, and the Parliamentary Secretary for Communications, Paul Fletcher. Paul Fletcher, first to you: I guess the Foreign Minister is stating the obvious in many respects, that battling the ideology of a group such as ISIS is a lot tougher than winning militarily?

PAUL FLETCHER, PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY FOR COMMUNICATIONS: Well look, that's right. Foreign Minister Julie Bishop has spoken about the scale of the challenge and the fact that there's an ideology there as well as its physical manifestation in the form of this appalling terrorist organisation ISIS or ISIL. Obviously we are working with other western nations, led by the US, but we need to be realistic and I think Julie Bishop's comments have been directed towards advising the Australian population about the scale of the challenge, what can be realistically achieved. Of course we are focused on protecting Australia against the terrorist challenge posed by those who might return from fighting in the Middle East with terrorist groups like ISIS and ISIL. But also doing our part, along with other nations, to seek to protect the innocent, protect civilians in Iraq, and stand up for our values. 

GILBERT: Andrew Leigh, Australia at the weekend was announced as part of that core Coalition. The US President detailed that at the NATO summit over recent days, and this is very much where it has been heading for some time.

ANDREW LEIGH, SHADOW ASSISTANT TREASURER: Kieran, I think having a broad coalition is really important in this issue. President Obama spoke about the importance of involving regional partners, and particularly about getting Sunni-majority nations involved as well. For me, I spoke last week in the parliament about the tests that ought to apply to Australia's involvement. Gareth Evans laid out what I thought was quite a nice six-point test, of which the three most important notions were: whether it is a just cause, which I think it clearly is; whether we have a reasonable prospect of success in carrying out the arms drops; and whether we have legitimate authority. For me, those tests being passed, what the government is doing does fall within what Gareth Evans has called 'a responsibility to protect'. 

GILBERT: Let's have a look at a local story on a related matter: on the front page of The Daily Telegraph this morning there are reports that an IS flag had been auctioned at a mosque in Sydney with children and families in attendance. What's your thoughts, your reaction, on that?

FLETCHER: Of course it is extremely troubling if there is evidence of financial support being provided for ISIS or ISIL in Australia. Now, the issue the government has been focused on is the risk to Australian security when radicalised, hardened Australians who have been fighting in the Middle East with terrorist groups like ISIS or ISIL choose to return to Australia. We know that some 30 Australians fought in Afghanistan with the Taliban and other such organisations. Many of them, when they came back, sought to engage in terrorist activities. Thankfully many of them were captured and some are in jail still. But the key point is that there is significant risk to Australian safety. That's why the government has announced over $600 million of additional funding for ASIO, the Australian Federal Police and similar agencies to improve their counter-terrorism capacity. It's why we've announced that we intend to introduce legislation designed to address Australian citizens going into areas of terrorist activity to fight. So where the Foreign Minister declares that there is an area of terrorist activity, there will be a reversal of the onus of proof. You will need to demonstrate you've got a good reason to go there. These are significant measures that the government is pursuing to deal with the threat of terrorist activity in Australia. To the extent that what we've seen is evidence of support for the activities of ISIS or ISIL in Australia, that would be very concerning. But it tends to very much reinforce the case for the measures that the government is pursuing. 

GILBERT: Andrew Leigh, your reaction to that report this morning?

LEIGH: Kieran, like Paul I'm deeply concerned by these kinds of reports. In government Labor set up the Countering Violent Extremism program, and we significantly increased funding and staffing to ASIO in order that they might tackle the threat of home-grown terrorism. We need to make sure that we deal with this with all of the available resources. We know that in the past moderate Muslims have been a part of thwarting terrorist plots so we've got to make absolutely sure that we're engaging effectively with the local Muslim communities in tackling the scourge of extremism.

GILBERT: You're on AM Agenda and with me this morning is Andrew Leigh and also Liberal frontbencher Paul Fletcher. Let's now turn our attention to this story on 60 Minutes last night. Paul Fletcher, I want to ask you about these allegations from James Ashby: what did you make of it? Because prior to this, even in an affidavit, he says he wasn't offered any inducements. Now he says he was offered legal support and a job by Christopher Pyne, an allegation that Mr Pyne has rejected in a statement overnight.

FLETCHER: Well Kieran, one of the reasons, I guess, this was newsworthy at the time was that Mr Ashby was a staffer to Mr Slipper, who you might recall was briefly and disastrously appointed as Speaker by Julia Gillard, by the Gillard Labor government in that time of chaos and disorganisation that unfortunately Australia had to endure. So it's a bit of a throwback to that time of chaos, to appoint somebody in Mr Slipper who, as events demonstrated, was not a good choice to be Speaker of the House of Representatives. Mr Pyne has made a very clear statement, he's simply made the point that he had no specific knowledge of the allegations made by Mr Ashby and that the first he knew about Mr Ashby suing Mr Slipper was when he read it in the newspapers. Mr Pyne makes the point that this is a dispute between individuals and not one that includes him or any other member of the government.

GILBERT: Andrew Leigh, your response to that comment from Paul Fletcher this morning, and the comments from Mr Pyne via his statement?

LEIGH: Well Kieran, it's a pretty sordid saga. Previously Tony Abbott has said that no Coalition member of parliament was involved, now Mr Ashby seems to be saying that there were three: Christopher Pyne, Wyatt Roy and Mal Brough who were involved. So we do want to have these questions answered. I think Australians need Mr Pyne to clearly put this behind him so we can focus on some of the concerns in his portfolio: the $100,000 degrees, the broken promises on education funding.

GILBERT: So what do you expect him to do, beyond making a statement? He's rejected the claim, what more would you like to see from him?

LEIGH: Well I think that there's clear discrepancies there between what Mr Ashby has said happened and what Mr Pyne has said happened. It's a pretty sordid saga and it appears that this is a case of: 'you help us get rid of one of our enemies and we'll assist you'. 

GILBERT: Should there be a further explanation and response from the Prime Minister and Mr Pyne, Paul Fletcher, to end this saga once and for all?

FLETCHER: Kieran, I think what Australians expect is that the Abbott Government will get on with the job of fixing up the chaos that we inherited from the Rudd Gillard Rudd Labor Government. One of the instances of that chaos was appointing Mr Slipper to be the Speaker of the Parliament. Just remember he was Speaker because he was supported by the Labor party. As events have transpired that was not a good choice. That was the Coalition's view at the time, and we made that very clear.

GILBERT: But Mr Abbott did say that no Coalition MP was involved, this claim suggests there was. Does it warrant a response?

FLETCHER: These matters have been thoroughly canvassed, there's been litigation. There's nothing here that should distract the government from its key task, which is turning Australia around, correcting for the chaos that we inherited from the Rudd Gillard Rudd Government, and getting on with things like repealing the carbon tax. We said we'd do that and we've done it. Repealing the mining tax, we said we'd do that and we've done it. We said we'd stop the boats and the boats are stopping. So we are getting on with the job of governing Australia. Unlike the previous government we're not focused on internal machinations. We're focused on what's important for Australia.

GILBERT: This comes, of course, one day after the first year anniversary of the Abbott Government. Andrew Leigh, as Paul Fletcher pointed out there, they do have a number of achievements or promises that kept. These are the big ones: repeal of the mining and carbon taxes, stopping the boats. It is only the first year in government, obviously there's been a few hiccups, but all new governments face them, don't they?

LEIGH: Kieran, you're right that the Coalition hasn't broken all of the promises it made before coming to office, but it has broken many of them. While Mr Abbott was giving himself a big tick yesterday, I think many pensioners who are having their pensions cut, people in the health and education sectors seeing about $80 billion pulled out, people who are subject to the new taxes that Mr Abbott promised wouldn't be levied, people like these would be wondering if this is really the government that said they'd be before the election. The smashing of promises like plates at a Greek wedding has been extraordinary over recent times. And it's the brazenness with which Mr Abbott – who said before the election that he would be distinguished by his promise-keeping – has kept on saying that he's not breaking promises. Last week we had another broken promise in the freeze on superannuation, which will take money out of the retirement savings of low income Australians in order to put money back into the bank accounts of mining billionaires.

GILBERT: Ok let's go back to Paul Fletcher on that. As you've said, some big commitments have been honoured, have been met, but has that been undermined by the fact that other commitments have not been? Is the trust issue now one for Mr Abbott to face?

FLETCHER: Well we have, as I've mentioned, repealed the carbon tax, repealed the mining tax, the boats are stopping, we're getting the budget under control. We were left a chaotic mess in budgetary management terms by the previous government: on track to two-thirds of a trillion dollars in debt, $123 billion of deficit. We're working hard to turn that around and making good progress. We've got a $50 billion roads and infrastructure program underway. We've got Free Trade Agreements signed with Korea and Japan; Labor talked about this for six years but never landed it. We got those two delivered by Andrew Robb as Trade Minister. It's a terrific achievement for Australia, a terrific achievement for our trade prospects and prosperity. Now Andrew Robb is hard at work on whether he can get a Free Trade Agreement with China. We've had 100,000 new jobs created since the end of last year. So we inherited a chaotic legacy of mismanagement and we are focused on delivering on the key objectives that we set for ourselves: to make Australian stronger, to get our economy performing well and to allow the potential of this country to be realised.

GILBERT: Ok gentlemen, we're out of time. Paul Fletcher and Andrew Leigh, thank you both very much this morning.         

ENDS

MEDIA CONTACT: JENNIFER RAYNER 0428 214 856


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