If you make cuts to those at the bottom then you can't be surprised when there is a backlash against globalisation - Transcript, RN Drive

SUBJECT/S; Asylum seeker policy, Marriage equality postal survey, New book 'Choosing Openness'.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: I'm joined by Labor Shadow Assistant Treasurer, Andrew Leigh. Welcome back to RN Drive.
ANDREW LEIGH, SHADOW ASSISTANT TREASURER: Thank you Patricia, good to be with you.
KARVELAS: So Labor restarted offshore processing and the Coalition has of course maintained it in their 4 years in power. Do you both bear some responsibility for what we're seeing here, 6 deaths on Manus Island.
LEIGH: Patricia, the first thing to say is Labor's thoughts - like those of all Australians - are with the families of the deceased. We need to move slowly and deliberately when we're dealing with issues like this as indeed you did there with your comments on the Las Vegas shooting. We're dealing with a loss of life. Labor have asked to be briefed and certainly we're not about to start politicising that death.

KARVELAS: So are you suggesting that the Greens have politicised that death

LEIGH: I think that's fairly evident. I think you do need to be particularly careful around questions of suicide as the ABC always does. I think it is worth reminding your listeners of the Lifeline number, 13 11 14 and remembering that we're dealing with human beings here who are often in very fragile circumstances. I'm happy to talk about the policy questions as well but I think it's important that we do that separate from the tragedy that has occurred today.

KARVELAS: There are reports that other men at the facility are showing signs of distress, does there need to be an intervention to get them some help? What's your view from the Labor side of politics, are you concerned that it's not?

 LEIGH: Our concern is that these people have been languishing in Manus and Nauru for way too long. These places were never meant to be designed for indefinite detention, our refugee agreement said that if you came by boat you wouldn't be settled in Australia. It never said that you ought to languish in Manus or Nauru. The Government has been terribly slow in working out third country resettlement options. It's good that we have these fifty people going to the United States but that's happened after more than four years. We need the Government to act quickly and find third country resettlement options for people in Manus and Nauru. 

KARVELAS: What responsibility does Labor have to work with the Government now to find a solution? You say 50 is good in terms of the United States but of course Labor started this policy, you do have a joint responsibility to find a solution, not just to blame the Government for not finding one that you consider adequate.

LEIGH: Well Patricia, we've been encouraging the Government since day one to engage with other countries but frankly when you're talking about international diplomacy that's the job of the executive government. First under Scott Morrison and then Peter Dutton we've seen a Government that has been appalling slow in sorting out options for people in Manus and Nauru. They should have never have been languishing there for so long - 

KARVELAS: I've got to interrupt you, how do we know that for sure? What alternative would you have found?

 LEIGH: I think it's important not to put all your eggs in one basket. Not to just be thinking that you can do a deal with the United States, that'll be the only option. They should have been finding a plethora of countries who we're able to work with. We also said before the last election that we would increase Australia's commitment to the UNHCR and so we'd be able to use their good offices to find resettlement options for people in Manus and Nauru. People in my electorate are in touch with men on Manus and I've heard directly second-hand stories from them of the suffering of the people in those facilities. I know that these are serious issues and we need to get on and resettle these people as soon as possible.

KARVELAS: Just on another issue, your Tasmanian Labor colleague, Helen Polley, doesn't support same-sex marriage but she has told The Australian that the party pressured her to pretend to. She was told she could cost the party the election. Has she ever raised this issue? Have you heard her raise it?

LEIGH: Labor has a conscience vote on this. We have people who support same-sex marriage and people who don't. I expect the vast majority of Labor representatives will vote for same-sex marriage but some have the opposite view. Within the Labor Party, this is the stuff of civilised dinner conversation. Within the Coalition, it's a cage fight.

KARVELAS: You say it's civilised dinner conversation but here we have a woman on the front page of The Australian who says that she's being told to lie about her position. That does say something about the culture in the Labor Party, doesn't it?

LEIGH: I certainly haven't heard anything directly about - 

KARVELAS: She said this on the record I'm not fabricating this, she said it on the record.

LEIGH: I have nothing further to add to it, Patricia. I'm afraid I don’t know anything about the events here. Our position is to allow a conscience vote on this issue. Helen wouldn't be the only one in the Labor caucus to vote no - that's perfectly fine. We can have a civilised discussion about it.

KARVELAS: I guess the question is, do people on the Labor side who want to vote no fear that they can't advocate for that position?

LEIGH: I know nothing more than the reports that you and I have read in the newspaper today. You've got Bill Shorten speaking in favour of marriage equality, addressing big rallies and encouraging people to get their ballots back in. You don't have any members of Bill's leadership team challenging him on that. Within the Coalition, you have the Liberals and Nationals tearing themselves apart over this survey - which after all, Malcolm Turnbull didn't want.

KARVELAS: Just finally, you've released a book for the Lowy Institute on the benefits of globalisation. It's probably fair to say people around the world aren't that sold on globalisation right now, especially if you look at some of the outcomes in elections if you look at Brexit, the election of Donald Trump I would say they are pretty strong anti-globalisation sentiments there. How can you convince people of its merits when people are clearly disenfranchised by it?

LEIGH: Patricia, the case I make in Choosing Openness is that Australia has benefited in the past enormously from our engagement with the world through trade, migration and investment. But we need alongside openness a set of social institutions that allow us to fairly share the benefits of globalisation. One of the reasons of this populist backlash that you pointed to is that countries have seen rising inequality, they've failed to have the institutions that share the gains. And that's why Choosing Openness argues that twinned with openness must be redistributive polices, a great education system, a great healthcare system and a strong social safety net. We need also good wage institutions, we've seen penalty rates being cut for people working this long weekend, losing significant amounts out of their pay packet. And again if you make cuts to those at the bottom then you can't be surprised when there is a backlash against globalisation. 

KARVELAS: Okay so you're putting a case for a very different type of globalisation than the one we've seen. It's a vastly different model? 

LEIGH: It's twinning the social policies with opening economic engagement. Trade is just an extension of specialisation. If you don't cut your own hair and make your own clothes then you are benefiting from specialisation in the labour market. So too Australia with 1/300th of the world population benefits from trading with the world. With migrants we don't just get mouths to feed, we also get minds that can enrich our country; the next Victor Chang, Anh Do or Frank Lowy. And so the opportunities are there through proper engagement so as long as we deal with the inequality at the same time.

KARVELAS: And just before I let you go, would you like to see Darren Hayes and Savage Garden play at the NRL? Should Australians be given a better platform?

LEIGH: Well as a globaliser I think it's important to enjoy the best of the world. One of the things that I argue in Choosing Openness is that while many Australians consume plenty of overseas culture so if we too export our cultural successes to the world. You can't walk very far in Hollywood without tripping over Australian actors and actresses. We've got our entertainment sector taking on the world and I think it's perfectly reasonable to have international rockstars coming to Australia too. 

KARVELAS: Thanks so much for your time, Andrew. 

LEIGH: Thank you, Patricia. 


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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.