Sky AM Agenda

Andrew Leigh MP
Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister
Member for Fraser
3 June 2013

TOPICS: Asbestos in Telstra pits, DisabilityCare’s location in Geelong, Labor pre-selection for Batman, 457 visas

Kieran Gilbert:                   This is AM Agenda, thanks for your company. With me now Liberal frontbencher, Senator Mitchell Fifield and Labor frontbencher, Andrew Leigh. Gentlemen, on the asbestos issue, obviously very serious. Andrew Leigh, we’ve got this crisis meeting today. The Coalition are saying the buck should stop with the Government, do you accept that?

Andrew Leigh: Well Kieran, it’s important to understand how this process operates. The pits are leased by NBN Co from Telstra, and Telstra’s required to have done the appropriate remediation work beforehand. Clearly in certain of these instances that hasn’t happened and that’s why Ministers Shorten and Conroy are holding talks today in Canberra with representatives from Telstra and NBN Co. I understand Telstra is going to be putting on additional people to do the remediation, NBN Co will be putting on additional people to do the checks, and Telstra will also do a better job of keeping local residents informed about remediation because people are understandably concerned when they see signs talking about asbestos in their street. Telstra has got a hotline too, which I’m sure you’re able to put up for your viewers for anyone who’s concerned [1800 067 225].

Kieran Gilbert:                   Senator Fifield, do you accept that this could have happened under the Coalition alternative as well?

Mitch Fifield:                      Well, no! I mean, this Government, we’ve got to be fair, does have the Midas touch in reverse; everything they touch goes wrong. But everything to do with the NBN has been half-arsed from the outset. There was no business plan, there was no attempt to look at alternatives, there was no cost-benefit analysis. The NBN has been a disaster from beginning to end. The virtue of the Coalition’s alternative plan is that we would use what is colloquially called the existing legacy infrastructure. And that would mean that we would be disturbing far less of the pits than is the case under this Government. But look, when you have a flawed process from the outset, you do have, down the track, unforeseen negative outcomes and this looks like being one of them.

Kieran Gilbert:                   We’ve got the, as I said, those crisis talks, a bit later in the day we’ll take you to any developments when they happen a bit later with the Shorten – Conroy meeting today with the Telstra executives. Live as we speak on multi-view if you want to watch it is the announcement that Geelong is going to be the headquarters for the National Disability Insurance Scheme. We’ve got live coverage on multi-view, we’ll take you there live when the Prime Minister speaks but at the moment you can watch it, if you want to, via your multi-view service. Andrew Leigh, Tony Abbott says the Government is catching up here, because the Coalition has already indicated that they were going to do this.

Andrew Leigh: You’re talking about the DisabilityCare announcement?

Kieran Gilbert:                   DisabilityCare, and the headquarters in Geelong.

Andrew Leigh: Well, certainly having DisabilityCare up and running is something that would only ever going to happen under a Labor government. I’m very pleased that the Coalition has supported it, and that’s due in no small part to the advocacy of Mitch Fifield who’s a strong advocate for people with disabilities.

Kieran Gilbert:                   And the headquarters in Geelong?

Andrew Leigh: Well I don’t think anyone in the disability community really believes that we would have DisabilityCare today were a Coalition government to have been in office, it just wouldn’t have come on the radar. So, this is a great reform, it’s great to see that the headquarters up and running, supporting people with disabilities and their families. I’m always a supporter of public service jobs in Canberra, but I’m pleased to see DisabilityCare up and running now.

Kieran Gilbert:                   Senator Fifield, the local member, Richard Marles, says that this is a good development making, you know, moving headquarters for a significant government agency to a regional centre, so I want to get your thoughts on that, and also on Andrew Leigh’s suggestion that this would have never have happened under a Coalition government. I guess you might disagree with that.

Mitch Fifield:                      Well, look the credit for the NDIS has to go Australians with disability, their carers and the organisations that support them; they’re really the ones who put this on the map. But when it comes to the Geelong headquarters, the Government has been playing catch up, but Sarah Henderson, our candidate for Corangamite, and Peter Reid, our candidate for Corio, have been calling for the headquarters in Geelong for quite some time. And we can’t forget that the Victorian government have had $25 million on the table for the best part of the year, to support and encourage the establishment of the NDIS headquarters in Geelong. So, this really is, I think, a Liberal win. The Victorian government were pushing for this hard, and we’ve said all along that the NDIS headquarters shouldn’t be in Canberra. Today is a good day.

Kieran Gilbert:                   Alright, let’s move on. The Batman pre-selection; I’m interested to get your thoughts on that. We heard from Mary-Anne Thomas earlier, the, I think, front runner when it comes to the female candidates at least. But David Feeney, is the front runner overall, the Labor party powerbroker, played a crucial role when having the Prime Minister assume the role and dumping Kevin Rudd. Tanya Plibersek , Penny Wong, Jenny Macklin all endorsing Mary-Anne Thomas, an executive with Plan International, that children’s development agency, but not the Prime Minister. What’s going on?

Andrew Leigh: Ah, look Kieran, my view is that people from different jurisdictions shouldn’t be diving into pre-selections elsewhere. Certainly, as I recall, Mitch Fifield didn’t dive in the pre-selection where Zed Seselja got rid of the incumbent Senator Gary Humphries here in the ACT, and I think he was probably right to do that.

Kieran Gilbert:                   But on the principle of having more women in parliament?

Andrew Leigh: Well I’m a strong supporter of affirmative action, in the ACT Labor has more women than men, Labor has more women than men in the federal parliament; and I think that’s a great thing. Overall you can see our affirmative action program has delivered far more women in parliament, far more women in cabinet then you’ve seen before. Certainly Labor significantly leads the Coalition in terms of women in parliament across Australia, affirmative action is a key part of that, and it’s important that we maintain that.

Kieran Gilbert:                   Including the first female Prime Minister?

Andrew Leigh: Absol –

Kieran Gilbert:                   That’s a decent record. Senator Fifield?

Mitch Fifield:                      Well look, we don’t need affirmative action or quotas in the Liberal party to get talented people, like Julie Bishop, Sophie Mirabella, Susanne Ley, Kelly O’Dwyer into comfortable, um, what you might call safe, conservative seats. So…

Kieran Gilbert:                   So the reason you don’t choose women is because you have few people of talent?

Mitch Fifield:                      No, what I’m saying is, we don’t need quotas or affirmative action to get good women into safe seats in the parliament. The Labor Party does, we pursue a merit approach, but I have to say in relation to Batman, I’ve actually got a bit of a vested interest here; I live in Batman, and I don’t particularly want David Feeney as my local member and I’m very much on the Martin Ferguson it’s-time-to-reconsider-your-decision-and-stay-Federal-Parliament camp. Martin’s a good guy, I think it’s to the discredit of the Australian Labor party that he doesn’t feel that he can remain in this parliament or serve in this Government any longer, so Martin Ferguson, please reconsider, what have the people of Batman done to deserve David Feeney?

Kieran Gilbert:                   Well I don’t think there’s much chance of that. But…

Andrew Leigh: Does he get your vote if he stays, Mitch?

Mitch Fifield:                      Well look, he gets…

Andrew Leigh: But if you want him that much, surely you should be offering to vote for him.

Mitch Fifield:                      Look, Martin has always got my second preference.

Andrew Leigh: [Laughter] oh, come on!

Kieran Gilbert:                   I don’t think your vote counts much. Labor holds it by 25%, don’t they?

Mitch Fifield:                      Well, I’ve spoken to Martin, he does appreciate my second preference.

Kieran Gilbert:                   I’m sure he would.

Andrew Leigh: Look, Martin’s was a great career. There’s no taking anything away from that. The career through the union movement, the career in politics, and those testimonies to him in the House of Reps were pretty impressive.

Kieran Gilbert:                   What does it say about the Labor party today if he doesn’t feel he can continue? He obviously feels that you’ll walk into a brick wall at the election, and wants to get out.

Andrew Leigh: This isn’t a bloke that walked into Parliament yesterday, Kieran. Martin is somebody who has had a significant career in federal politics, longer than most people serve in the federal parliament. He’s chosen to choose to exit at a time of his choosing and I think that that’s a great thing.

Kieran Gilbert:                   Let’s move on, and talk about the 457 visa issue, Simon Crean, another former ACTU boss, long serving minister says that the unions have gone about this the wrong way in calling for a crackdown. He wants to see the evidence of rorts happening if you’re going to announce greater fines and so on.

Andrew Leigh: Sure.

Kieran Gilbert:                   So what’s going on here? Is the Government beating this up to be a distraction to try and play xenophobic card?

Andrew Leigh: No, let me give you the evidence. We’ve done a survey recently of employers who employed 457 workers and that found that 15% said that they could’ve sourced that labour locally. Now that’s against the program. The program is meant to be one which says you can bring in temporary migrants from overseas if you’re unable to find a local to do the job. But 15% of employers say in these surveys that actually there was a local that could’ve done the job. That’s a concern because when you have people breaking the rules…

Kieran Gilbert:                   Simon Crean’s asking, why would employers do this? Why would they be seeking to not go to Australian workers first, it defies common sense.

Andrew Leigh: You have a range of reasons why people might look at overseas workforces. Certainly that one of the things I’ve heard speaking to local unions in areas where they’ve got 457 workers is that employers will sometimes go for overseas workers because they want a workforce that is more compliant, that less likely to band together for better pay and conditions because they’ve only got a temporary stake in the job. Whereas when you’ve got workers who are there for long careers, they’re willing to stand up for occupational health and safety, for good pay and conditions. And they’re principles that I think are important.

Kieran Gilbert:                   If that’s the figure, according to the data that Andrew Leigh has referred to there, 15%. That’s certainly not a small number, that’s something that warrants investigation, isn’t it?

Mitch Fifield:                      Well look, we don’t want to see anyone abusing the system, but the Minister has been spectacularly unsuccessful in actually demonstrating where the rorts are. A couple of weeks ago he just randomly plucked a figure out of the air, I think it was ten thousand cases of rorting, and then when asked to back it up, he couldn’t produce a single example. Now, sure, in any system like this, there will be people who aren’t doing the right thing. But…

Kieran Gilbert:                   Under the Coalition, if the Coalition wins in September as all expectations and polls suggest, will you, would we see an expansion of 457 visas?

Mitch Fifield:                      Well, there’s been a significant expansion of 457 visas under the current Government. Now, 457 visas will reflect the shortages that are there. There’s no target or magic figure for the appropriate number of 457 visas; they’re driven by need. That’s how the system should work. Look, what this Government has been doing is seeking to use 457 visas as a mechanism to raise xenophobia in the Australian community. Now, the Australian public aren’t racist, they’re not xenophobic. I don’t think that this Government’s campaign will work, if the Government proposed some common sense changes then sure, we’ll look at those, but I think that it’s been pretty unedifying; the Government’s approach to 457 visas over the past few months.

Andrew Leigh: For the Party that’s talked about a ‘peaceful invasion’, who talks about ‘illegal arrivals’, to now be suggesting that we are raising xenophobia, is a bit rich.

Kieran Gilbert:                   I’ve got to interrupt gents, in fact we’re out of time for the program, but good timing, Julia Gillard just got to the stage to the lectern there at the launch of the NDIS headquarters in Geelong. Let’s cross there live…

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Cnr Gungahlin Pl and Efkarpidis Street, Gungahlin ACT 2912 | 02 6247 4396 | [email protected] | Authorised by A. Leigh MP, Australian Labor Party (ACT Branch), Canberra.