Monday Breaking Politics - Fairfax Media - 11 November 2013

This morning I spoke with Fairfax Media's Tim Lester about what's making news, notably developments that highlight the Abbott Government's aggressively marketed asylum seeker policy is shambolic.  Here's the full transcript:



Subjects: Asylum seeker stand-off with Indonesia, Warsaw Climate Change Conference, Grain Corp takeover.

TIM LESTER: There is debate about how many times it has happened in recent days but no debate over the fact that it is happening. Indonesia is turning back asylum boats that the Abbott Government would like our near neighbour to take. What does this say about the Abbott Government's asylum policy going forward? Every Monday Breaking Politics is joined by the Labor MP in Fraser, Andrew Leigh. Welcome in Andrew.


LESTER: First, does Indonesia's stance on tow-backs surprise you?

LEIGH: Not in the least Tim. This is what Labor has said for upwards of a year would happen. The Indonesian Government has been firm and consistent in their position on Mr Abbott's tow-back policies. That's why before the election he conspicuously failed to raise it with our Indonesian colleagues. I think calling the Government's asylum seeker policy ‘shambolic’ is probably being too generous. We're now learning more about what Australian navy vessels are doing through the Jakarta Post than we are through the official briefing from Mr Morrison. It appears now that the reason he wants a General to stand next to him is so that he can shield behind that General and refuse to answer questions. And, as to the ‘buy-back the boats’ policy, we've heard precious little of that in recent times. It's really disappointing Tim. This is a vital relationship for Australia. We must treat our Indonesia colleagues with respect. They are the fourth-largest country in the world; a very important relationship for Australia being dealt tremendous blows by the toing and froing, the back and forth that is this Government's asylum seeker policy.

LESTER: Tremendous blows? Is the damage to our relationship with Jakarta really that bad?

LEIGH: I think it is Tim. I think it is. The relationship with Indonesia is a vital one but you can see, reading the accounts in the Indonesian media, a real concern that the Australian Government is not treating Indonesia with the respect to which it is entitled. Policies like the boat buy-back were very worrying to Indonesia as were suggestions of payments being made directly in Indonesia for intelligence tip offs. These things would be deeply offensive to us were our Indonesian neighbours to suggest them in their political system.

LESTER: For all of this the Immigration Minister, Scott Morrison, is at least at the moment able to say in his briefings is that the trend is in the right direction, that numbers of asylum boats and asylum seekers are reducing. We're heading in the right direction, at least the policy at the core of this, is being achieved isn't it?

LEIGH: Since Labor put in place the Refugee Resettlement Agreement we've begun to see a decline in asylum seeker boats and frankly I don't think there's anything that the Coalition has put in place since winning office which could reasonably be said to have contributed to that. The turn-back policy clearly is having no effect because it isn't taking effect. The buy-back policy has been hidden and I don't think anyone believes that Scott Morrison hiding from the media is having any impact on asylum seekers coming to Australia.

LESTER: The Australian this morning reports that Cabinet has decided that there will be no new agreements for the Australian delegation going to the Warsaw climate change meeting; not allowed to enter new packs of any sort. How does that strike you?

LEIGH: It's a bit of a worry to me Tim. We are the 12th largest economy in the world. We are important nation on the world stage. Now, thanks to Labor, with a seat on the U.N. Security Council and the G20 meetings happening in Australia, we ought to be holding our heads up tall in any international negotiation - sending a delegation of appropriate seniority, which isn't happening, and treating other countries with respect and being willing to listen to their views and adapt ours in response.

LESTER: Appropriate seniority, you say, would be Greg Hunt going, the Minister, or...

LEIGH: ...I certainly believe it's either appropriate the minister or the parliamentary secretary attend these talks.

LESTER: The Minister is of course has got what he considers rather pressing matter of repealing the carbon tax this week, hasn't he?

LEIGH: Well, the Minister has gotten himself into terrible strife with his international counterparts. He's attacked the U.N.'s climate change chief, using Wikipedia has his main source to critique her and he's simply been unable take a stance which meshes with what's happening globally. Globally we're seeing over 30 countries putting in place emissions trading schemes. The Chinese city-wide emissions trading schemes are likely to be nation-wide after 2020. Australia has a system that's working to reduce carbon emissions. We're already seeing it having that effect. As the world's largest per capita emitter, why would you trash a policy that's working and go for a short-sighted policy that ends in 2020 and won't do the job.

LESTER: Because the electorate has told you do it, might be the answer from the Government and this week they introduce the legislation to scrap the carbon tax and you will sit in parliament with your Labor colleagues and effectively ignore the expressed will of the Australian people won't you?

LEIGH: Tim, I campaigned in the last election for a cap on carbon pollution and that's what I will do after the election. Mr Abbott might be prepared to behave like a weather vane to swing with whatever strategy he thinks best suits his political fortunes.

LESTER: He's swimming with the mandate isn't he? That's the point?

LEIGH: As am I Tim. I campaigned in the last election for a cap on carbon pollution and on the floor of parliament I will vote for a cap on carbon pollution. If Mr Abbott had behaved in the way I intend to behave in 2007 then in 2009 he would have voted for the same emissions trading scheme that he campaigned for in 2007. Mr Abbott's on the record of, at one stage, being correct in this debate, saying that an emissions trading scheme was a low cost way of reducing emissions. But he'll swing whichever way he thinks gets him the largest political advantage. I'll vote for what I think what's best for the Australian people and the planet.

LESTER: The Government, indeed the Federal Treasurer, has to make a decision on the potential foreign takeover of Grain Corp, the giant grain handler by December 17. Is this off/on, black/white decision?

LEIGH: It's not Tim. Foreign investment decisions are made typically with some conditions. My concern here is that having kicked the can down the road, having pushed the decision nearly to Christmas, that the Treasurer is looking now to make a decision which is going to satisfy his National Party colleagues by putting so many conditions on the sale that ultimately it's unworkable.

LESTER: Because the Nationals, of course, don't want the sale at all.

LEIGH: Well, Warren Truss has been quite clear that he thinks the Australian stock market will fall over if 0.2 per cent of it is purchased by Americans. Mr Hockey has pointed back, nobody, nobody, nobody will challenge him or bully him. So this is breaking out into a full-on war within the Cabinet. My concern is that ultimately where they land will be based more on politics than on good economics or based on making it look like Australia is open for business where in fact, putting so many conditions on the sale, that ultimately it can't go ahead.

LESTER: And what will that say if they do go down that track. What will that say about whether Australia is open for business or not?

LEIGH: Well, it would suggest that Mr Hockey was more concerned over the politics of foreign investment than making the right decision. If Mr Hockey wants to stymie this decision by placing so many constraints on it that the sale can't go ahead, then he might as well simply oppose it. But it's going to hard for him to [approve it] because his National Party colleagues, Barnaby Joyce, Warren Truss are very much in the fortress Australian mentality.

LESTER: So, to close, if you were in the Treasurer's chair and having to look at this, you'd give it a tick without conditions?

LEIGH: We'd make the decisions based on the national interest Tim. But this is a decision squarely for the Government. This isn't a decision the Opposition makes. Mr Hockey makes it and I think it's perfectly reasonable for us to talk about the pressures, challenges and the importance of him making a decision that's in the national interest.

LESTER: Andrew Leigh, welcome back to parliament this week and we'll look forward to talking to you again next Monday.

LEIGH: Thanks Tim.

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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.