MONDAY, 11 FEBRUARY 2019
SUBJECTS: Kerryn Phelps’ amendments; Banking Royal Commission; Closing unsustainable tax loopholes; Tim Wilson’s and Ian Goodenough’s abuse of parliament.
KIERAN GILBERT: With us now in the Canberra studio is the Shadow Assistant Treasurer, Andrew Leigh. With so much at stake and you're just three months out from the election, Labor can't afford to be giving the Government mileage on this issue can it in terms of border protection generally?
ANDREW LEIGH, SHADOW ASSISTANT TREASURER: Kieran this isn't about the politics, it's about the policy. We need to make sure that people who are sick on Manus and Nauru get the medical attention they need. And of course we have to make sure that the people smuggler trade doesn't resume. Labor put a stop to it with the refugee resettlement agreement in 2013 and I'm shocked that the Government is now encouraging people smugglers back into business as part of their political strategy.
LAURA JAYES: Shouldn't you, should Labor have committed to supporting this crossbench bill before having this ASIO security briefing that's happening this morning in a couple of hours time?
LEIGH: Laura, we've got two straightforward principles. We believe that people who are sick should get the medical attention they deserve and that the minister should have final discretion over security issues. They are fair principles that Australians would fundamentally agree with. The Government seems to be running from pillar to post at the moment. It's like Scott Morrison has two buttons on his desk, one marked ‘fear campaign’ and the other marked ‘blame Labor’ and he's just jabbing away at them as hard as he can right now.
GILBERT: Labor wants final discretion for the minister. That's not what was afforded though by the amendments to this particular bill, there were final discretion when it comes to security and medical grounds but that was it. How do you achieve what you want without giving the Government exactly what it wants on this front?
LEIGH: We'll listen to the experts on this and if there is a middle way through that achieves the goals that we've consistently outlined, we're certainly open to that. What's really important though is that the Government doesn't run around encouraging people smugglers and looks after asylum seekers who need medical treatment. Hundreds of them have been transferred to Australia for medical treatment already, hundreds are still here. It oughtn't be beyond our wit to exercise compassion for people on Manus and Nauru while making sure we've got strong borders. Let's not forget, those people are still there because Peter Dutton hasn't done his job, because he hasn't engaged with countries like New Zealand, he's put all his eggs in the United States basket and now five and a half years on, people are still languishing in these offshore camps.
JAYES: But Dr Leigh, you say Labor will listen to the expert advice, your leader Bill Shorten will be getting that expert advice in this briefing this morning. If the briefing does say what we know has been released publicly now that this could lead to a thousand people potentially arriving in Australia next week, will Labor support this bill or will it support the Government's alternate bill?
LEIGH: Laura I don't want to pre-empt what will come out of those security briefings. I'll leave that to Bill and his team.
JAYES: Sure but will you listen to the experts in this case, if they make such warnings, do you back pedal, do you not support this Phelps bill?
LEIGH: Laura, I'll leave it to Bill to determine what comes out of those meetings but Labor's principles have been absolutely rock solid and consistent. Ministerial discretion and compassion for people who are sick on Manus and Nauru.
GILBERT: Can you achieve this though and move on. Obviously, the big focus in a political sense for Labor right now is the banks. You want to get this dealt with, are you confident you can do that within the next 24 hours and then turn the focus where you and the rest of your party want it and that is to put pressure on the Government over the issue of the Royal Commission and its response?
LEIGH: And the rest of the country, Kieran. I mean this is a Royal Commission that the Government voted against 26 times and is now saying that they don't want to implement-
GILBERT: You concede that you'd need to get beyond this as quickly as possible so you can focus on that?
LEIGH: The country wants us to focus on cleaning up the banking sector after the most seismic report into the Australian banks that we've had in our history. This is absolutely a first order priority for the nation. We believe Parliament ought to sit for a couple of extra weeks if necessary in order to pass the legislation, in order to implement the Hayne recommendations in full. What you're seeing out of the Coalition is what you saw when they ran against the future of financial advice reforms, when they voted against the Royal Commission. Yet again, they don't want to back in the experts on making sure that we've got a squeaky clean banking sector. You've got a Government which is so chaotic, so internally divided they can't even unite around a leader, they can't even work out what their ethical standards are with people like Ian Goodenough and Tim Wilson. This is a Government which is unable to focus on issues like wage stagnation and banking scandals. So of course, that's where Labor wants the focus to be.
JAYES: Are you more nervous, just a little bit Andrew Leigh by today's Newspoll, are you afraid that maybe older Australians might take Chris Bowen's advice?
LEIGH: Laura, I always take elections with a modicum of trepidation. I'm aware that it has only been three times since World War II that Labor has come from Opposition into Government. That's a huge mountain to climb and that's why Bill Shorten and Chris Bowen and Jim Chalmers and the Labor economic team have been so focused on building policies that close tax loopholes so we can extend early childhood to three year olds, so we can properly fund our public schools, so we can reduce our elective and emergency surgery waiting lists. You can't do those things and have the biggest tax lurks in the world, including unique tax breaks like refundable franking credits.
GILBERT: On that issue, you touched on Tim Wilson, we're going to talk to him after the break but when you talk about his mistakes on this, what exactly has he done wrong except trying to scrutinise that particular policy from Labor when it comes to excess franking credits?
LEIGH: I'm not sure we've got time to go through all of it, Kieran, but just the highlights. Tim Wilson has been running an inquiry in which he has been colluding with a family member in order to hold hearings at a time that was suitable for Geoff Wilson. He has potentially been engaging in data sharing, there's been suggestions that confidential elector data may well have been shared with a private firm. He has been running a campaign which has been an inquiry into an Opposition policy. Now, committees don't normally operate this way. Committees normally scrutinise Government business, and if we had a Government with economic policies that's what they could be doing. So this whole thing stinks to high heaven. Tim Wilson needs to step down as the chair of the economics committee. His position is simply not tenable.
GILBERT: Well, he will join us after the break and we'll get his thoughts on your critique. Thank you very much Shadow Assistant Treasurer, Andrew Leigh.