Speaker Bronwyn Bishop's role questioned - Breaking Politics

Claims that Bronwyn Bishop hosted a Liberal Party fundraiser in her Parliament House Speaker's suite was one of several topics discussed this morning in my usual Monday slot with Fairfax Breaking Politics. Here's the full transcript. 


MONDAY, 26 MAY 2014

SUBJECT / S: Federal Budget negotiations; Speaker Bronwyn Bishop and Liberal Party fundraising; Refugee resettlement and the mental health of asylum seekers.

CHRIS HAMMER: Joining me now in the studio is the Shadow Assistant Treasurer Andrew Leigh, Labor Member for Fraser here in the ACT, and Andrew Laming, the Liberal Member for Bowman in Queensland. Good morning gentlemen. 


HAMMER: Andrew Laming, is it time to start compromising on the Federal Budget? Christine Milne and Nick Xenophon say they haven’t even been approached by the Government as yet?

ANDREW LAMING: Well there is no time line on when you approach the Greens, but clearly politics is a game of compromise. It’s more important to win over the Australian people that the budget as a package is the right thing for the long term. I would be silly to say that there won’t ever be a compromise but that’s something for the treasurer and the leadership group but right now the package gets us back on track by 2017-18, something that could never have been conceived under the previous Labor government.

HAMMER: If you need to compromise, what are the policies that you would nominate as a backbencher in touch with your constituency which you think might be worth putting on the table? The Medicare co-payment, the Paid Parental Leave scheme?

LAMING:  First Chris, I’ll be campaigning not only for the budget in to be passed by the upper house I’d like to see it go even further. I think that there is room still to reduce government waste and there is room to better target welfare and there is room still to tweak our health system to get better value for money. Far from compromising I’ll be urging my leadership team to over the term of this government at least to go further.

HAMMER: So don’t go softer, go harder?

LAMING: Correct.

HAMMER: Andrew Leigh, is it time to compromise?

LEIGH: I think the government is recognising that no budget in the recorded history in Australia has gone down as badly as this one. That’s fundamentally not just because it breaks promises, not just because it has a slower return to surplus. (Andrew said before that a return to surplus in 2017-18 couldn’t have been contemplated. In fact, the books when the Coalition took over had a return to surplus a year before that.This budget increases the deficit.) But I think it’s fundamentally the unfairness. Don’t take my word on this. The modelling organisation that the Prime Minister once described as Australia’s most authoritative and reputable modelling outfit, NATSEM, has found that for families with children, the burden is 15 times as large for those in the bottom fifth than those in the top fifth.

HAMMER: Now, one of the principle cases that the Opposition is prosecuting against the Government is that of broken promises, including the promise not to raise taxes. Why then is Labor supporting the introduction of the so-called deficit-levy? You’re helping the Government break promises.

LEIGH: Well, it is as you say a broken promise Chris, that absolutely hits the nail on the head. We’ve applied a number of tests to our consideration of measures that we’ll support and oppose, tests of broken promises, of fairness and of what they do to get the budget into a reasonable position and we’ve decided on balance to support this. It’s not a measure that we would have introduced ourselves. Chris Bowen has made clear that it was a proposal put to him which he rejected.

HAMMER: So, if it’s a worthwhile measure or good enough for you to support, then why not make it permanent? All these other measures that are hitting middle and lower income earners are permanent, should the so called deficit levy be made permanent?

LEIGH: Chris, if we wanted to permanently raise income taxes at the last election, we would have been honest with the Australian people and said that we intended to do that. The Coalition made the opposite pledge: that they wouldn’t raise income taxes. In fact, Mr Abbott said that there should be no increase in taxes, no new taxes without an election. Extraordinarily, he’s then turned around and put a bevy of new taxes onto Australians. I think that a breach of faith with the Australian people is showing in the leadership murmurings that are going on within the Coalition party-room and the deep concern in the community which Andrew would have had reflected back to him in his street-corner meetings as I have.

HAMMER: Andrew Laming, are there leadership murmurings?

LAMING: Look of course not. And even in the community Chris, it’s very important to say that those who are most white hot and indignant about these budget changes are mostly people that are not affected at all. When you go and talk to pensioners most of them have lived through tough times, they have seen budgets like this before and they understand that everyone tightening their belts tightly is our only way out of this.  It is interesting to see Labor rushing like honey badgers to support the two per cent levy on high income earners, all the people that didn’t get the $900 cheques of course. It’s a very inelegant solution. They simply pick out the people that didn’t vote for them and approve the tax hikes for them. But look we have a big picture for all of Australia, we need to have the economy back on track with budget balanced by 2016-17. These are [inaudible] budget surplus and never doing it, this is us mapping it out from day one. I think that people, after the shock subsides, are appreciating this is really the only way out of the mess that has been created.

HAMMER: You say the budget will be back into surplus by 2016-17 that you support in the Budget as a whole, but the reality is many of these measures [such as] the indexation on pensions, various payments, family benefits et cetera are due to come in on July 1st, but they’re not pass the Senate by then. What’s the solution? Do you push out the year the Budget returns to surplus or would the government be looking at making legislation retrospective?

LAMING: Chris it is a really good question but it’s also imponderable. Our goal is to get everything through the Senate. We understand in some cases the indexation that was chosen a decade ago simply isn’t going to work for us anymore.  Its correct also that the high income levy is time limited but let’s hope that when we get the budget back it surplus that 2017-18 that by that time we can also be looking at more flexible ways to support a welfare system once it is affordable. Right now we are dealing with Labor funny money, projections into the never-never, where they were completely un-funded. They didn’t have the money to make those promises and we are now wearing and bearing the brunt of that. Australians, after the shock, are starting to appreciate how tough it is going to be in 2014 to get us back on track but we are determined to do it.

HAMMER: Andrew Leigh, there will be horse-trading in the Senate? Will Labor accept any kind of retrospectivity in legislation going through the Senate? The government has put forward its budget, it has nominated July 1st for many of these measures. Even if it takes longer for the legislation to get through, should July 1st still be the kick-off day?

LEIGH: Chris, my preference always in tax legislation or changes in payments is not to do things retrospectively. I think you need a very good reason to do that and ‘we didn’t want to deal with minor parties’ doesn’t come down as a good reason in my book.

HAMMER: Andrew Laming, should the Speaker be able to have party political fundraisers in the Speaker’s office?

LAMING: Well under the Australian system the Speaker is a member typically of the Government and of course any government member and any opposition member can run a function in their suite. I confess and raise my hands that I have done the same thing in my suite. There are no rules about this. Of course Labor will say that they want an in independent speaker but it’s something that they couldn’t managed while in government either. Look, in reality you either ban it or you don’t and at the moment it is completely allowed to host supporters in Parliament House, so there is no fuss here except for the fact they are looking for a post budget headline.

HAMMER: But so much of the Westminster system is about conventions rather than black and white rules and laws. If no other Speaker has done this in the past, isn’t this setting a dangerous new precedent?

LAMING: Well everyone else has done it except the Speaker. I can’t speak for previous speakers, there is a long list of them. I’d be very surprised if they have never hosted any of their supporters in their suite. That would surprise me enormously. I don’t have the evidence with me, but I can tell you everyone else is doing just that.


HAMMER: Well, Andrew Leigh, isn’t that a fair point? If every other politician can have a fundraiser in their office or office suite, then why not the Speaker?

LEIGH: Because the Speaker is the referee Chris. This would be like suddenly, half-way through a tennis match, the umpire steps down and starts coaching one of the players. This is a $2,500-a-plate fundraising dinner for the Liberal Party run apparently in an unprecedented fashion by this Speaker. Now we’re just dealing with reports at the moment, I’m looking forward to the Speaker dispelling these reports, saying that this dinner didn’t happen. But if that’s not the case, if it actually happened, then we’d move from a position where the Coalition said that the Speaker wouldn’t sit in the Liberal party room to holding Liberal parties in the Speaker’s suite. Fundraising on the back of a Budget which is balancing off the backs of the poorest Australians for the Liberal Party, I think that would just make the Speaker’s position untenable.

HAMMER: Andrew Laming makes the point that there are no hard and fast rules when it comes to this. Does this kind of conduct need to become codified so everyone knows where they stand?

LEIGH: Many of these things as you put in your question to Andrew, Chris, are matters of convention. I think that if the Speaker has indeed not only broken the party’s pledge to not sit in the party room but has actually conducted fundraisers in the Speaker’s suite, then the Speaker’s position as an independent umpire in the Parliament isn’t possible and she would then need to step down.

HAMMER: Labor’s got all sorts of issues with Bronwyn Bishop, is it time for her to step aside?

LEIGH: It is, I think if this is shown to be true. If these rumours are dispelled then the Speaker would be in a different place.

HAMMER: Andrew Laming, I must let you react to that.

LAMING: Well, obviously Bronwyn Bishop never said that she would not be sitting in the party room. Other people may of, but Bronwyn didn’t and secondly if you are so concerned about impartiality of the speaker then obviously hosting some people like everyone does in your suite is no added insult. She does her job exceptionally well and the opposition don’t like it. But hosting supporters is something we all do on budget night on both sides of the political fence. Every year there’s been a budget.

HAMMER: Andrew Laming, just finally, reports in the Fairfax Press on the state of mental health of asylum seekers on Manus Island and Nauru are considerably worse than that of asylum seekers on Christmas Island and mainland Australia. Should we be sending or contemplating sending asylum seekers with these kinds of mental health issues to places like Cambodia for resettlement?

LAMING: Andrew and I will both share great concerns about mental health of anyone who is in the care of Australian authorities or nearby nations. Obviously Manus is run completely by PNG. Nonetheless every Australian would wish for speedy processing to identify genuine refugees and who adhere to the convention to see that they are resettled safely that can be Australia or anywhere else. But look, let’s be frank, they have come from appalling circumstances at home many of them will have mental health issues even  before they’ve arrived. I have great concern for those people that have seen first-hand violence but in the end you can only process as quickly as you can and the fastest resolution is to find third party countries to take them or if they are genuine refugees and on Christmas Island, Australia is one of the most welcoming countries in the world for them we simply have to shorten that period and for economic refugees who don’t comply through the convention. The reality is that they will have to go home and I am sure that must also cause some grief and concern and how the world works and that is how the treaty was structured in the 1950’s.

HAMMER: In seeking third world resettlement countries for genuine refugees, the Government is surely deliberately trying to make arrangements with countries that act as a deterrent. But isn’t that terrible for someone suffering from mental health issues, to try and settle them in a countries like Cambodia or Papua New Guinea which certainly don’t have the services to look after them?

LAMING: Services will be challenging but the people themselves and their democratically elected governments are places that I would have no problems with staying in large periods of time. I have spent long periods of my life in Afghanistan and also in East Timor so if you are fleeing life threatening violence I see no problem with Cambodia or any other of near Asian neighbours as a safe alternative.

HAMMER: Andrew Leigh, Labor has supported the PNG solution, in fact, it was your solution. What of this issue of resettling people with mental health issues in countries which don’t have the kind of health infrastructure to deal with them?

LEIGH: Well Chris, alongside a big increase in the refugee intake, we put in place the refugee resettlement arrangement as a way of preventing drowning’s at sea, a humanitarian goal. It is a harsh approach and it relied on refugees being resettled, something that hasn’t happened since the Coalition came to office. It’s a strategy which did see a significant drop, a 90 per cent drop in asylum seeker boat arrivals before the election and probably after the election, although the information is much more patchy. It’s harsh if implemented well, and as events in Manus have shown, it has not been implemented well by this Government.

HAMMER: Andrew Leigh, Andrew Laming thanks so much for your time today.

LEIGH: Thanks Chris.


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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.