I was on 'doors' today, answering questions about some of the main issues in Australian politics. Here's a transcript.
21 JUNE 2011
DR ANDREW LEIGH - FEDERAL MEMBER FOR FRASER
PARLIAMENT HOUSE, CANBERRA
Topics: mortgage exit fees, refugees, live exports, burqas, climate change,
Andrew Leigh: Joe Hockey has today announced that the Liberal Party is going to do its best to bring back mortgage exit fees - fees which are unfair on Australian households for two reasons. Firstly, we should always trying to reduce bank fees wherever we can but secondly mortgage exit fee detracts from competition because they stand in the way of someone walking down the road to get a better deal. A front loaded fee, unlike a back loaded fee, allows someone to make a choice with their feet and gives us all a better banking system. But the decision on exit fees is really just symptomatic of what’s going on Australians politics today:
In the case of carbon pricing the Labor government is getting on with delivering a carbon pollution scheme which will deal with dangerous climate change and assist pensioners and households.
In the case of the mineral resource rent tax we’re putting in place arrangements that will see Australians get a fair share for the minerals that are their birth right – Tony Abbott says no.
And in the case of the National Broadband Network we’re creating infrastructure that will be the highway network of the twenty-first century – Tony Abbott says no.
At every turn Labor are standing up for families and Tony Abbott is standing in the way of serious reform.
Happy to take questions.
Journalist: Andrew on the exit fees question – isn’t it only that the opposition wants to block some exist fees, for example there is still support for mortgage exit fee bans against the big banks, credit unions and building societies but they want them to be lifted for non-lenders?
Andrew Leigh: Well one exit fee is one exit fee too many in my view. I think we should be promoting competition right across the spectrum, that’s what Labor’s reforms will do. From the first of July we will be scrapping all mortgage exit fees. For some reason that I can’t work out, frankly Joe Hockey wants a return to mortgage exit fees. Thinks Australian mortgage holders should pay higher fees. Thinks that they ought to have fees that stand in the way of competition ...
Journalist: ... but only if they’re with non-bank lenders.
Andrew Leigh: The point still stands. I don’t see a distinction here. I don’t see why any serious politician should be saying: what the Australian banking system really needs is some more mortgage exit fees. That I just don’t understand.
Journalist: Andrew, we had the 730 Report reveal last night that there had been $16 million paid out to pay the cost of mental health for refugees who had been inside the system. Doesn’t this prove, more than anything else, the shear madness of mandatory detention?
Andrew Leigh: Mandatory detention is a system, Stephen, that has been in place since the early 1990s. It’s important in order to perform health and background checks. But I’m a strong supporter of the expansion to the humanitarian intake that’s been put in place by this government.
I spoke in Parliament last night about the vast contribution that refugees have made to Australia. From Frank Lowy to Majak Daw, Australia has been enriched by its refugees.
Journalist: But on one hand Labor is increasing the intake, praising the contribution refugees have made and on the other hand you have several thousand people locked up suffering terrible mental health problems and costing the taxpayer millions of dollars.
Andrew Leigh: Well Stephen it has been a really major priority of this Government to get kids out from behind razor wire – to make sure that as few children as possible are in dentition. That’s not going to be possible in every case. If you have the instance of a 16 year old who arrives unaccompanied not speaking English it might actually take awhile to find a family who speaks the same language and is a suitable, caring home for that person. But Minister Bowen is very much committed to making sure that wherever we can, we’re getting kids out of detention. That’s an important value I think for all of us.
Journalist: Do you expect to see an announcement on the Malaysia deal this week? Have you been briefed on how discussions are going and has there been any breakthrough?
Andrew Leigh: This is important complicated policy. We’re dealing with a global challenge in refugee flows and we’re looking to find a regional solution. That regional solution has been praised by the UNHCR’s regional representative Richard Towle, whose recognised that if we can find regional solutions we’re in a much better spot than if each country simply goes it alone. I’m not going to set down timetables on that. The discussions are complicated and ongoing. But they are about trying to make sure that we boost the humanitarian intake while at the same time breaking the business model of the people smugglers.
None of us wants to see little kids put on boats with the tragedies like we saw at Christmas Island and that’s what this plan is about.
Journalist: Are we being a bit too lenient with our taking in of refugees? Figures show that we’re taking in many more than the average?
Andrew Leigh: Australia takes 1.6 percent of the world's asylum seekers. That to me seems a fair share. A decade’s flow of asylum seekers wouldn’t fill the MCG. This seems reasonable amount that we are taking given our level of development and also given the generous spirit with which I think many Australians view refugees.
We had a scholarship ceremony yesterday in Canberra City for recipients of the Canberra Refugee Support Scholarships. And these young refugees are just extraordinary people.
I spoke about one of them, See Mu Paw, an 18 year old Dickson College student in Parliament last night. She is an amazing young women and she’ll make a great contribution to Australia. So no, I don’t think we’re taking too many refugees.
Journalist: Yesterday in Sydney there was quite a landmark decision over the wearing of burqas. Do you think women should be allowed to wear full burquas?
Andrew Leigh: I think Australia is an open tolerant society and I don’t think we ban particular forms of dress. I don’t think we ought to be prescribing the tie that I wear out here this morning and I don’t think we ought to be banning burquas.
Journalist: One live cattle exports, is it acceptable that stunning is only optional in Indonesian abattoirs?
Andrew Leigh: I believe in the case of live animal exports we should be putting in place stunning. But this is a matter of finding a solution which can be lasting, which doesn’t affect Indonesia but also all the countries that receive Australian live exports.
The independent review is looking at live exports overall. It’s really critical for the industry that we find a lasting solution to this. I know that the exchanges I’ve had with cattle farmers, they’re as shocked as anyone by the Four Corners images and they want as much as anyone to make sure that we have a sustainable system of live cattle exports.
I frankly don’t understand why Mr Abbott would want to race back into the live export trade with the risk that we again have some of the shocking images that came on our TV screens just a couple weeks ago. I think we need to be calm, methodical about this and I think we need to get it right.
Journalist: If there is a plebiscite on the carbon tax do you think you’d win?
Andrew Leigh: Tony Abbott’s call for a plebiscite is just an extraordinary one. He says that there ought to be a plebiscite on the carbon price and then he says that he wouldn’t stand by the result.
Frankly Tony Abbott is on this issue, as on many, the erupting volcano of Australian politics. He’s all smoke. He’s all puff. Causes a lot of disruption to Australians but isn’t actually able to produce anything constructive.
If you like next time a Liberal Party spokesperson steps to this microphone ask them for their constructive idea for the country. Ask them for their optimistic vision as to what Australia ought to be. That’s what Australians want to hear from their politicians. Australians are an optimistic people and we want to hear politicians who have ideas, solutions, to the challenges facing Australia – not just the erupting negativity that we see day after day from Mr Abbott.
Thanks very much.
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