27 May 2014
Transcript - #2014014, 2014

Interview with Keiran Gilbert, AM Agenda, Sky News

PRESENTER, KIERAN GILBERT:

With me on the program today, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasurer, Steve Ciobo and also Labor front-bencher and employment spokesman, Brendan O’Connor. Brendan O’Connor, your reaction to this assessment by the PBO [Parliamentary Budget Office] – It’s pretty clear isn’t it? An endorsement of the Government’s position here.

O’CONNOR:

Well, I don’t think so, I think Mathias Cormann is exaggerating the claim, I mean Mr Bowen doesn’t say there’s an emergency the way in which the Government has been suggesting. Everyone accepts –

PRESENTER:

A crisis, yes though, he says that.

O’CONNOR:

Everyone accepts that there needs to be, um, fiscally and responsibility to the situation we are in. But what we don’t do, what we don’t want to see, is imposing the burden on low and middle income earners, lower and middle income families.

PRESENTER:

Do you accept a crisis, but not an emergency?

O’CONNOR:

What we said is we’ve always will respond, and that’s why we’re gonna respond to the measures in a responsible way, but it’s not, it’s clear that this Government has exaggerated and concocted the crisis, the contrived crisis, to inflict pain on ordinary families in this country, which is completely contradictory.

PRESENTER:

You’re saying it’s contrived, and the Parliamentary Budget Office says it’s not.

O’CONNOR:

The Budget Office has said there are, that we need to look at the trends and the outgoing years, no doubt about that, I mean this is all about priorities in the end Kieran. It’s about what you, where, of course it’s about taxes and expenditure and it’s about what you dedicate your resources on. And we would say, to fix some of the issues here, or to respond to the challenges that this country has, does not mean that this Government has authority or

license, given its commitments before the election inflict such pain on ordinary families the way it’s choosing to do so through the Budget.

PRESENTER:

Obviously it’s a matter of priorities Steve Ciobo, Labor accepts there’s a challenge, or whatever word they’re going to use to describe this, but it’s a matter of priorities and where you find the cuts remains the core of their argument, doesn’t it?

CIOBO:

Well I think the first thing is I welcome Labor’s sudden change to now acknowledging there is a problem. I mean it stands in stark contrast, frankly, to the language that we’ve had from Bill Shorten and others now for so long, who keep saying there’s no crisis, there’s nothing to worry about, the music hasn’t stopped, let’s just keep doing what we’re doing. But importantly Kieran, is this, what’s clear is that Labor’s approach has not changed from the past six years. So Brendan can sit there and make all these motherhood statements about ‘oh well it’s all about targeting’. But you see there washing their hands of any responsibility, because in their response to the Budget, they’ve got $38.5 billion of spending that they want to put back into the Budget. And in fact, Labor’s failed approach even sees them today still standing opposed to $5 billion of savings that the Labor Party itself actually initiated.

PRESENTER:

But is 38 billion a correct figure, given they’ve said they’re ‘gonna back the debt tax now?

CIOBO:

Yeah, but then they’ve got other changes, for example, increases in foreign aid spending, that they want to roll back in. So what we continue to see from the Labor Party, is that they want tens of billions of dollars of more spending.

PRESENTER:

But they’ve said they’ll scrap the PPL, that’s about $20 billion, isn’t it?

CIOBO:

But it’s fully funded.

O’CONNOR:

Twenty-two billion.

CIOBO:

But the key is, with the PPL, is that it’s fully funded.

O’CONNOR:

Through taxes.

CIOBO:

And this is the problem that Labor’s got, you see, because they’re trying to be too clever by half. Because ultimately their problem is this: On one side of their mouth they’re saying well we’re going to stand up for everybody, we’re not going to accept any changes to pensions indexation, we’re not going to accept any changes in a range of other areas. And on the other side of their mouth they’re saying ‘oh yes, no, we think it’s important to be fiscally conservative, we think it’s important to get the Budget back on track’. The problem is, is that those two things are incompatible, Labor’s not got a plan, only the Coalition has put forward a solid plan to get Australia back on track.

PRESENTER:

So is Labor going to be under increasing pressure, Brendan O’Connor, to provide some sort of alternative, rather than, simply, pick the eyes out of this budget?

O’CONNOR:

Well, we will certainly outline an alternative, but we’re not the Government, and we of course, unlike the Government, didn’t make such commitments such as there’ll be, the no new taxes, uh, which the Prime Minister said before the election. We have made savings, let’s be very clear here, we were introducing savings that were blocked by the Coalition.

CIOBO:

That now you’re blocking.

O’CONNOR:

Increasing the Private Health Rebate –

CIOBO:

Now you’re blocking your own savings.

O’CONNOR:

Reducing, basically, changing the Private Health Rebate to ensure that we made savings, finding savings for the higher superannuants, in terms of moving some of the concessions on some of the tax breaks for the highest superannuants in this country. I mean these are significant savings, and of course the Paid Parental Leave.

PRESENTER:

I want to look at the issue of government advertising because the Government is going to start an information campaign, that’s obviously struggling with its broader budget sell. Mathias Cormann was asked about this issue this morning, and the prospect of government ads.

REPORTER:

Minister, how can the Government justify a potential spend on government advertising, at the same time you’re telling everybody they need to share the pain and tighten their belts.

FINANCE MINISTER, MATHIAS CORMANN:

Well we have tightened the Government’s belt significantly. We for example, made $530 million of savings over the forward estimates, by reducing the number of government bodies by merging bodies where it’s appropriate, by eliminating waste and duplication across various government agencies. What we have to do though, and what is our responsibility to do, is to ensure that people across the community who are impacted by changes in the Budget are fully aware of how those changes will impact them, and how those changes will no impact them, and so we will do that in the usual way.

REPORTER:

Isn’t that your job now? You should be doing that for free shouldn’t you? Why should you spend taxpayer’s money about a budget they can easily – [INAUDIBLE]

CORMANN:

We are doing what needs to be done to ensure that people across the community are fully aware of how the budget will and will not impact on them.

PRESENTER, KIERAN GILBERT:

So will there taxpayer funded ads?

CIOBO:

Well what we’re going to be doing Kieran, is sending a clear message to the community about why the changes that the Coalition has put forward, are changes that are necessary. I mean the PBO has belled the cat, about this, the PBO has made it clear that Labor’s approach has failed, number one. And two; that things do need to change otherwise Australia will be in serious trouble. So that’s –

PRESENTER:

So there will be ads?

CIOBO:

Well I think it’s important that we are clear and upfront with the Australian people. And you know what Kieran, under Labor, under the Coalition, under all sorts of Governments, for a long time, there have been community messages that highlight on the facts. It’s not paid political advertising; it’s factual information, because frankly, the Labor Party is out there running a scare campaign. For example, the Labor Party says ‘oh, this is actually going to mean that pensions are cut’ – untrue. Fundamentally untrue; pensions are not being cut. But we’ve got the Labor Party out there pushing that line and I think it’s important that people understand the facts.

PRESENTER:

And it’s not a first, is it? Governments of all persuasions, including your own, ran ads.

O’CONNOR:

There’s no longer, probably, useful pointing to what the Prime Minister said before the election, ‘cause it never rings true after, but he said you don’t take money out of health and education to pay for government advertising. The reason why the Government has to find money and reduce hospital beds and teachers is because they can’t sell this budget, ‘cause this budget is a dud. The reality is that the Treasurer had a woeful performance, because what he’s trying to tell the Australian people is just a litany of lies and of course, broken promises. And therefore they’re going to use taxpayer’s money to spend.

But the bigger question today Kieran is; party room meets for the first time since the Budget and the Coalition MPs have an opportunity to tell the Prime Minister and Treasurer what their constituencies think about this budget. Now don’t be heroes in your electorates and cowards in the party room. It’s incumbent on them to tell the Prime Minister and Treasurer this budget is a woeful budget, a budget full of lies and indeed broken promises.

PRESENTER:

Their, the Labor Party, has helpfully handed out a transcript of the Prime Minister when he was Opposition Leader, Tony Abbott, Member for Warringah, and we’ve got the quote and this is what Brendan just referred to, as I say, delivered to us this morning, helpfully by the Labor Party: “Just on the subject of the Government’s advertising campaign, what we’ve got at the moment is a government which is taking money off schools and hospitals so it can spend it on ads and this is absolutely the wrong way to go.”

CIOBO:

Well there is a very, very big difference here Kieran. The first is that we are increasing funding to schools and to hospitals

O’CONNOR:

Oh, it’s nonsense.

CIOBO:

No, it’s not nonsense, it’s a fact. And see this exactly underscores the reason why we need to have an information campaign. Because Brendan just turned around and made a completely false –

O’CONNOR:

[INAUDIBLE]

PRESENTER:

Let’s just hear Steve.

CIOBO:

A completely false claim, that we were reducing the number of hospital beds and that we were cutting the number of teachers: one hundred per cent false and incorrect. And this is fundamentally the problem, so you know, as far as I’m concerned when we are tightening the belt across government, when we are making substantial multi-billion dollar savings across government and across government programs. I think it is appropriate that we have a non-political campaign to highlight facts and to make sure the information is out there for the community to stop the very kind of misinformation that Brendan and Bill Shorten are out there spreading.

PRESENTER:

Well there’s a fair bit of information, misinformation or otherwise, I’d be interested in your view on this; a National Party MP, the latest to do this, Andrew Broad MP says that ‘the information about the Budget crisis has not been sold well’ the campaign, the message around the Budget has not been convincing. That’s another Coalition MP, to, well, several now who have spoken out about their concerns. Would you expect them to raise these in the party room this morning when it gets underway in about an hour or so?

CIOBO:

Well I don’t know what they’re going to raise, I mean if they’re raising it in the media, then they may raise it in party room. But importantly Kieran, none of us are expert salesmen, we’re not employed in this job to be salesmen, what we’re employed to do is to make decisions in the national interest, that’s our number one priority and that’s what we try to bring as our number one skillset: Decisions that are in the long-term, best interest of Australians and importantly on the next generation of Australians because we want to leave Australia in a better situation than we inherited it. Labor failed to do that, now if people want to make the claim that we’re not great salesmen, so be it, but what we are going to do is stand by the importance of a decisions we’re making. And we’re going to highlight and contrast the Coalition’s approach about living within our means and Labor’s approach which says ‘status quo is fine, let’s keep borrowing tens of billions of dollars, there’s no need to make any changes’.

PRESENTER:

What do you say to your colleagues, though speaking out very publically with their concerns?

CIOBO:

Well look, I don’t have a problem with members of the Government speaking their mind. I mean, that’s what their elected by their constituents to do.

PRESENTER:

They’re nervous though, they’ve been copping a lot of flack

CIOBO:

Well that’s your assertion; I speak to colleagues and obviously had a lot of conversations in my own electorate over the past week. And people are saying to me they understand that it’s a tough budget but recognise that we can’t keep doing what has been Labor’s approach indefinitely.

PRESENTER:

Ok, we’ve got to go to a break, and when we come back we’ll look at one of the Members of Parliament who arrived in a Rolls Royce. A Rolls Royce apparently once owned by The Queen, I’m told. A quick break, back in a moment.

COMMERCIAL BREAK

PRESENTER:

This is AM Agenda, with me this morning is Brendan O’Connor and Steve Ciobo. I mentioned before the break, I don’t think we’ve got a picture of it yet, but if we do get it I’ll show you, but Clive Palmer arriving in a Rolls Royce this morning. And your advice is that it was owned by The Queen, I mean in a time of ‘austerity’ as people are saying and the tough budget, what do you make of that arrival?

O’CONNOR:

Well I was giving the doorstop at the time of his arrival which, I guess, distracted the media. Well, Clive is Clive, he’s a big individual, if it’s his role – good luck to him. If he wants to present that way of course that’s entirely up to him. But he as an important job, by the way, particularly after June, with the new Senate. And I’m sure we’ll engage with Clive, like we’ll engage with other Members of the House of Reps and the Senate in order to defend the Australian people from this nasty Budget.

PRESENTER:

It was quite a grand entrance, but does it really matter given we all know he’s worth a lot, whether it’s a billion or more or less.

CIOBO:

Frankly, I couldn’t care what car he drives, but I do think what matters is that he applies himself to actually making some decisions in his role as party leader of PUP and someone who’s got a number of Senators as part of his party. Ultimately, of course the message is straightforward; we’ve got a plan to get Australia back on track. Labor doesn’t. We would like the Palmer Party, the same as we’d like the Labor Party and the Greens to respect the necessary changes that we’re trying to make and ultimately to allow the Government to make decisions in the national interest.

PRESENTER:

Let’s get a bit more indication from what Labor’s going to do on the family payments, this morning, Jenny Macklin has said something in terms of means testing, but not going as far as supporting a freeze. What is Labor’s view on the family payments?

O’CONNOR:

That goes back to what Chris Bowen, Bill Shorten, and others have said. That we will look at the measures but Jenny Macklin made clear that we won’t be supporting the freeze. That, I think, was in a story this morning, on the family tax benefit and the way in which –

PRESENTER:

But you will support a means testing? A further means testing?

O’CONNOR:

We will look at, like we did in Government, which by the way when we made those changes to save, we got howled down by the Opposition you know about starting a class warfare, what we will do is look at the measures and see what, consider our response in a methodical and considered way, that’s what the Australian people expect of us. There are some things that we will never support, the co-payment, that is the doctor tax, the petrol tax, there are some things we will never –

PRESENTER:

Why not the petrol tax? You supported a carbon price? This is like a carbon price.

O’CONNOR:

First, the way in which, this is an ambush by the Government –

PRESENTER:

And the Carbon Tax wasn’t?

O’CONNOR:

Let me just say, that it was clear we were moving to a fixed price on carbon, I think if you want to measuring what was said equivocally and what was said between two leaders I think that Tony Abbott

PRESENTER:

Fuel excise is a price on carbon, is effectively a price on carbon, I just don’t see how the Greens and Labor can’t support it.

O’CONNOR:

This is going to be a huge imposition, and I tell you now, the constituents in my electorate, this tax on their petrol is going to hit them very hard. They’re struggling as it is, and every time they go to the bowser, as I staid the other day, you get petrol on your way to the doctor, you get taxed twice under this budget. And that’s just unreasonable.

PRESENTER:

All right I want to ask Steve Ciobo, about a report in The Guardian this morning, young unemployed could be denied welfare for longer than six months. This report suggesting that with penalties it could be eight months if people don’t make the right efforts to find jobs under this scheme. Eight months without any money will be tough.

CIOBO:

It might surprise you, I’m not a regular reader of The Guardian Kieran, so I haven’t seen the yarn, so I’m not sure –

PRESENTER:

Is that true?

CIOBO:

I’m not sure what they’re saying, but we’ve made it clear we expect young people will earn or learn, we will be providing maximum opportunity for younger Australians, that is those under thirty, to improve their human capital. That is to invest themselves in terms of their own education or alternatively be out there getting a job.

PRESENTER:

What’s your own view? If they miss appointments, is it fair that they should be bumped out from six to eight months? How do people survive if they don’t have a supportive family, or income?

CIOBO:

The way that people, younger Australians, should be doing, if they are genuinely unemployed looking for a job they should take jobs that are available. We’re going to make money available to them to relocate if they need to relocate, up to thousands of dollars, to relocate to somewhere where there is a job, and if they’re not doing that then we expect them to be learning. We expect them to be enrolled in a course, doing an apprenticeship, doing a diploma doing a degree, whatever it might be. So our expectation is that they actually make an effort, because you know what isn’t fair? What isn’t fair is for them to expect other Australian taxpayers to keep paying their taxes in order to prop them up.

PRESENTER:

Brendan O’Connor, that’s an argument that has a lot of support in the electorate, that final point and if there is that support of training and relocation, that means that young ones, if they’re in this position they need to be proactive about finding support.

O’CONNOR:

Labor supports the principle of earning or learning. However there are, at this point, more jobseekers than jobs. And because of the cuts to training and apprenticeships of one billion dollars, there are fewer places that are needed out there. So if you can’t get a place and you can’t get a job, you should not be taken off any benefits at all for six months, even if you’re looking for jobs, each and every day for six months you receive absolutely nothing. You’ll just see more homelessness, more people falling into poverty, less chance of getting jobs – ruining their future. I think that people must look for work, and they should be suspended if they don’t, but this is a very cruel measure. This doesn’t matter what you do, it doesn’t matter how legitimately you are looking for work, you’ll get no support at all? I think that’s harsh.

PRESENTER:

I want to ask you finally, both of you, the Manus Island report, Labor says it’s the Government that dropped the ball. But the arrangements under which this incident, tragic incident took place, were set up by Labor. Now isn’t it a bit rich for Richard Marles and Labor to be out there saying that Scott Morrison dropped the ball?

O’CONNOR:

Well look I haven’t read the report, only came out yesterday, clearly it’s comprehensive, I know Minister Morrison had a very long press conference yesterday, but this report is there for people to read. It’s been independently commissioned, there are issues about not anticipating the response when there was information about the riot about to occur. I will leave Richard Marles to answer the questions in more detail, he’s read the report, he’s

speaking at the Press Club today and it’s really for him to respond more comprehensively, given I haven’t, I’m not across the report.

PRESENTER:

Ok, Steve Ciobo, finally on this, it’s an Australian facility, but it seems that we’re in some ways not taking any responsibility for the outcome.

CIOBO:

I don’t agree with that Kieran, I mean we commissioned this report to take place, the Cornall Report. It’s been a comprehensive investigation; every single time something’s been brought to the attention of the Australian authorities we’ve made changes to try and improve the operation of the centre. But I think it’s also important, and look this is a tragic event, this is a tragedy that’s taken place, but I also don’t think it should overshadow the tragedy of twelve hundred people losing their lives at sea, you know and from my perspective both are abhorrent outcomes and the only real way that we can help to prevent deaths like this taking place is by stopping what was happening on our borders. Now we’ve been successful in doing that; there hasn’t been one successful boat arrival now for months, I think it’s a good outcome.

PRESENTER:

Steve Ciobo, Brendan O’Connor, thanks for your time, appreciate it.