Australia Post - 2CC interview, 7 January 2014

This morning I spoke to 2CC Summer Breakfast host, Chris Mac, about the importance of the universal service provided by Australia Post. The sale of Commonwealth-owned assets is being publically canvassed with a national review of competition law now underway and the National Commission of Audit due to report at the end of January. The full transcript is below.




SUBJECT/S: Australia Post, Medibank Private, Cory Bernardi and abortion, the regulation of Australian charities, Japanese whaling, asylum seekers and Abbott Government broken promises

CHRIS MAC: The Member for Fraser is Andrew Leigh. Andrew, a very good morning. You're talking to one of your constituents.

ANDREW LEIGH: G'day Chris. Good to chat with you.

MAC: Firstly, the ACCC, through Rod Sims, is apparently saying to the Government, if you want to make some money sell the remaining assets we have. We haven't got much left in the can to sell have we?

LEIGH: There's only a certain number of things Chris. While I certainly think you have to have a sensible conversation about these issues, I do wonder about the wisdom of selling off Australia Post. I wonder that there's not more National Party members, for example, in the bush, pointed out that their cost of getting letters around would be an awful lot higher if we let the free market rip for letter delivery.

MAC: I suppose it isn't exactly a GrainCorp issue but for the people who live in country towns it's probably as important as what happened to GrainCorp.

LEIGH: I would have thought so. I mean if you're in a small Australian country town and the postal service is an important link to the rest of the world. Australians cross-subsidise letter delivery. It's no secret that it is cheaper to deliver a letter in the centre of Sydney than it is in the back of Bourke. But we live in a country where we think it ought to cost the same amount of money to send a letter from one place to another and you shouldn't be penalised for living in a regional or rural area.

MAC: Now, while it wasn't said very loudly by the now Government, there was a suggestion they always intended to sell Medibank Private. That looks like that'll certainly be on the agenda for 2014 Andrew Leigh. But in doing that are there any legislative impediments? Do they have to get a law through or can they simply make an administrative decision to sell Medibank Private?

LEIGH: Chris, my understanding is they have to get legislation through Parliament which either means they'll be dealing with The Greens as they did in taking off the debt cap or dealing with Clive Palmer as they intend to do with their intention to abolish the mining tax. But our concern with Medibank Private is just to make sure that that doesn't drive up premiums. One of the roles that Medibank Private has been able to play is in putting a little bit of downward pressure on healthcare premiums. We've just seen the Government allow the biggest increase in premiums in a decade and in that environment they need to provide Australians with some reassurance that selling Medibank Private won't just see private health insurance go up and up and up.

MAC: If it goes up, and I don't think this is just cosmetics Andrew, if they do sell it, I wouldn't like it to still be called Medibank Private because it would give I would think a false indication that it's somehow still got that role. If it's purely out there as private, it's a bit like changing NBF changing it's name to Bupa really.

LEIGH: Well, the question then is whether you'd have to sell it at a discount. Part of the strength of Medibank Private is its brand and if the Government intends to change the name at the time then they're going to get less money for it. My guess is they're not factoring that into what they're doing. But I can see the argument you're making.

MAC: Just in terms of transparency, people say 'well you're Medibank Private'. It's like when they sold the Commonwealth Bank, I remember famously saying there's a lot of religion in the Commonwealth Bank. I tend to think there's a lot of religion in the heritage of Medibank Private. But let's move on. We're chatting to Andrew Leigh, the Member for Fraser this morning. Cory Bernardi, from your point of view Andrew is he the gift that keeps on giving?

LEIGH: Mr Bernardi is someone who is close to the Prime Minister. He was his parliamentary secretary until relatively recently and the views that he seems to be espousing are a long way out of the Australian mainstream. I think Australians pride ourselves in being a tolerant, multicultural country which recognises the fair go and doesn't rip itself to pieces over questions like abortion in the way the United States does. That's a pretty healthy characteristic and Mr Bernardi's comments, I think, would fit better in the extreme wing of U.S. politics than what aspires to be a mainstream Australia political party like the Liberal Party.

MAC: As soon as this story came up and being old enough to remember, I remember the name Bertram Wainer, who was someone trying to bring in virtually the system we have in place now to get rid of backyard abortions. He was a man who was dreadfully vilified in Victoria back in the 1970s. It just frightens me Andrew Leigh, that we have a situation here where these kinds of emotions. Now Luke Bona, our afternoons presenter here on Canberra Live between three and six, took a number of calls. There was one particular point, a lady rang and spoke to Luke and made the point that in terms of the statistics that were being offered in Cory Bernardi's book, apparently they didn't take account of the fact that there was no difference in terms of interpretation when they talk about numbers of abortions each year between those that are terminations and those that are miscarriages, which are apparently referred to, in the call that Luke took from this lady who had worked in the health profession, as being spontaneous abortions. And so, the numbers there may look higher than what they tragically are.

LEIGH: That's right. We don't split those out in those statistics. But I think the view shared by the vast majority of Australians is that abortion should be safe, legal and rare, recognising that if you try and criminalise abortion, effectively what you do is drive it underground and you end up with people engaging in what you describe as those unsafe backyard abortions in which women can end up being badly injured and can end up being infertile as a result. I think it's a pro-family policy to make sure that abortion is available as an option to women and also to make sure that counselling is there, and that kids are using contraception when they first have sex so they don't get into situation of an unwanted pregnancy in the first place.

MAC: Absolutely. Now, something that's a little more administrative but it does have some impacts here. There has been a bit of change, more than just tinkering too, changes in relation to the way we administer charities and how they are looked at particularly from a taxation perspective. What are these changes Andrew Leigh?

LEIGH: The Labor Government brought in place an Australian Charities and Not-for-Profits Commission Chris, and the aim of doing that was to simplify the red tape on charities; to make sure charities didn't have to keep on proving themselves every time they went to government. You had things like a charities passport. And getting rid of the old idea that the definition of a charity depended on laws going back to 1601 and instead bringing in a statutory definition of a charity. I'm a bit concerned as the Labor front-bencher responsible for this that the Coalition seems to be walking away from a set of reforms that were worked out with the charitable sector in order to reduce the red-tape burden on them. I don't know who has Kevin Andrews’ ear but whoever it is seems to be dragging him back to 1601 and saying you don't need to update charities' laws, you don't need a charity regulator, things are all fine as they are. It's not the message we heard when we went out and talked to the bulk of Australian charities.

MAC: Strange one. Time is starting to beat us. I want to get your views very quickly on a few things. Of course revelations of whales being caught and captured by the Japanese in the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary. And this other story that's emerged this morning of apparently a situation that occurred before Christmas where it's alleged but not confirmed that the Australian Navy has apparently taken control of a boat that was seeking asylum on the Ashmore Islands and given some sort assistance to the boat and turned back to Indonesian waters.

LEIGH: We know very little about what's going on with asylum seekers because of the veil of secrecy that the Government has thrown over this. But certainly I would like to know more about what's going on there. I think it's appropriate if our tax dollars are being used in a naval operation like this, that Australians know what's going on. With the whaling vessel, the clear pledge from the Government before the election was that they would be sending a boat down to monitor the whaling. We've seen that as another broken promise, joining a list of, by my count, at least a dozen broken promises by the Government. I think that people are just beginning to get that sense that maybe the Abbott Government isn't the Government they thought they were going to be before the election.

MAC: The honeymoon looks to be well and truly over. Andrew Leigh, thank you very much for your time this morning.

LEIGH: Good to chat, thank you.

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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.