8 July 2014
Transcript - #2014018, 2014

Interview with Kieran Gilbert, Sky News AM Agenda

PRESENTER, GILBERT:

This is AM Agenda, thanks for your company. With me now Liberal frontbencher Steve Ciobo and Labor frontbencher Bernie Ripoll. Gentlemen, good morning to you both. Bernie Ripoll we haven’t had Labor’s reaction to the High Court injunction yet on the return of asylum seekers to Sri Lanka. What is Labor’s view?

RIPOLL:

The first one is that at least the High Court’s done what the government won’t do and that's acknowledge there is a boat, because somewhat of the key problems we’ve had in this area is just getting any information at all, being able to focus what actually is going on. Obviously, we are concerned. Everyone ought to be concerned about the process this takes us down and what the government’s actually doing in response. Obviously, we’ve also been concerned about these people’s lives and the risk they face if they are returned.

GILBERT:

There’s a lot on certainty around this policy now. It has, for all intense and purposes, worked in terms of successful arrivals. When you’ve got the High Court having an injunction like this there's a big question mark now over the validity of the policy isn’t it?

CIOBO:

Well it’s before the High Court so we’re sort of loath to make too many comments until we see what the decision of the High Court is. I’d stress this point Kieran: the policy is working; there's been no successful boat arrivals in Australia since the Coalition put in place these strong polices. It’s like coming up to six months or so.

In addition to that, we are of course continuing on in some respect with repatriation, for lack of a better term, of people back to Sri Lanka. That is entirely consistent with what the Labor party was crowing about in media releases. Frankly I’m a little bit surprised at Richard Marles from the Labor party is out there and others from the Labor party crowing about how they don’t think this is the right thing to do were now issuing press releases in November 2012 and April 2013 boasting about bow they were repatriating people back to Sri Lanka.

GILBERT:

I will get to that detail in a moment and put it to Bernie for his reaction but first of all I want to put to you a comment made last week by the Prime Minister. We’ve got it to put on the screen for our viewers just a reminder that the PM last week said on Radio 3AW speaking to Nick McCallum. “I would be very happy to give the Australian people an assurance that we are absolutely confident that no harm would come to anyone who’s been in our charge.”

How does he give that guarantee, particularly in the context now, 41 people have been dealt with by the by Sri Lankan police?

CIOBO:

In the same way that the Labor party did when they were sending I think in April 2013 issued a press release saying 1,000 Sri Lankans had gone back to Sri Lanka. The Labor party put 1,000 people or more back into Sri Lanka. We put much fewer numbers than that. The reason we put fewer numbers back is because, of course, there are much lower numbers coming to Australia now. In fact, no successful boat arrivals for more than six months.

I think we can provide that assurance because one; we’re acting in a way that's consistent with our international obligations based on the legal advice we receive. And two; we have successfully stopped the flow of boats.

GILBERT:

When you look at this point now and I’ll put it to you Bernie Ripoll, a couple of statements that we’ve got here from Chris Bowen, one from 27 November one from 23 November. The one then Immigration Minister saying ‘a group of 50 Sri Lankan men has been returned to Colombo today taking to 543 the number of Sri Lankans removed involuntarily since August. Another statement here, ‘five groups of Sri Lankan families have been returned to Sri Lanka today as part of the 11th involuntary removal this month.’ Labor did crow about these sorts of developments when in office.

RIPOLL:

The reality is Kieran that where it was possible for that to happen in a proper manner it did happen under Labor. I think it belies what the Liberals are saying, which is that they’re the only ones that were actually getting some results in this particular area. The reality is boats were stopping last year and had virtually stopped by the time the new government was elected.

Returned is good and is okay when the circumstances are right and when the conditions are right. What we did that's very different from what this government is doing is we were being upfront and honest about it and we had an open process. The international community as well as the Australian community could see what’s actually happening. The difference here is these guys are just not telling you what’s going on. We’re having a debate and a discussion about things we don’t know and we’re not sure about. That's the big difference.

GILBERT:

We’re going to move on and talk about the Clive Palmer bombshell, $9 billion this latest demand that takes the budget revenue whole of $34 billion. How are you going to manage that?

CIOBO:

This is a real challenge for us Kieran. I’m not going to pretend otherwise. The Coalition is firmly committed to making sure Australia lives within its means. We recognize that we made tough choices in the budget but there are choices that are necessary to make sure that we don’t indebt future generations of Australians to living with huge amounts of interest paying on debt.

The Labor party left this country with $1 billion a month being borrowed. Borrowing $1 billion a month just to pay the interest on the debt Labor accumulated. Now Labor, the Greens, the Palmer United Party and others are all running around saying ‘let’s just keep spending, let’s just keep spending.’ They also, to cap it off, say let’s oppose any additional revenue.

Now, at some point the Australian people recognize we cannot continue to borrow more money to keep spending without any additional revenue.

GILBERT:

Can you repeal the mining tax as a separate move to these other measures, which were meant to be funded by the mining tax like the school kids bonus, the $9 billion. Can you separate the two and repeal the mining tax?

CIOBO:

I think in some respects it’s hard to Kieran, the reason being because we were always upfront with the Australian people, even in Tony Abbott’s budget and reply speech when we were in opposition. We made it clear that because the mining tax was raising basically no revenue and because there were $16 billion of expenditure, that is all money that had to be borrowed because it wasn’t going to be funded by the mining tax. That we were going to abolish for example the school kids bonus.

We’re upfront about that. We could not have been more clear.

GILBERT:

It won’t happen now…

CIOBO:

At some point the Labor party, the Greens and the crossbench are going to have to come up with their alternatives. We are the only party in Australia today that have outlined a legitimate way for us to live within our means. Everyone else keeps saying to the Australian people, “don’t worry about it. We’ll keep spending. Don’t worry about the debt.” But at some point mate, you need to actually live within your means.

GILBERT:

Does the populism need to be put to one side for things like the school kids bonus in terms of making those savings? Because they’re not sustainable are they, $34 billion dollars in a revenue haul now for the budget.

RIPOLL:

Kieran, let’s get a couple of things straight first. One; this is a grossly unfair budget. The Australian people know it’s an unfair budget and the Senate knows it’s an unfair budget. The other is that when this Government, the Liberal Government came to power they first thing they did was backload the dip and load up as much as possible. We’re seeing now that their budget position unravelling because it’s not a good position. It unfairly targets families. It puts in place new taxes that were promised not to be there.

GILBERT:

All of this though about the mining tax and the schools kids bonus and related measures were promised months and months and months after the election… surely the Government has got a mandate for that?

RIPOLL:

Kieran, we made it very clear going into the election last year that we were opposed to what …

GILBERT:

You were in government…

RIPOLL:

We did not win the government, that's right. They’re in the senate and we’re entitled to vote as we promised our constituents and the Australian people. If the government’s not happy with the makeup of the Senate, the government has a choice about how it deals with that. The senate is the master of its own destiny and if the senate believes that this is an unfair budget and decides to oppose budget measures that is up to the Senate. I can tell you it’s not just the Senate that thinks this is not a fair budget, so did the Australian people. That's reflected across everywhere we go.

GILBERT:

Where to from here? In terms of the money. You’re part of the Treasury team, the Parliamentary Secretary to Joe Hockey. What’s going to happen?

CIOBO:

Let’s be clear about what will happen. If the Labor party and the Greens and the crossbench continue to have their way this country will continue to go and sink deeper and deeper into debt. We will …

GILBERT:

Will you go to a double dissolution on the issue?

CIOBO:

At the moment, we are the only party that's laid out a credible plan, Kieran. We recognize that we’re doing not what’s popular but we’re doing what’s right. The Labor party and the Greens and others are the ones that are out there saying ‘don’t worry, vote for us, support us because we’ve got your back.’ You know what Kieran, it’s easy to be Santa Claus. It’s a lot more difficult to actually be the mature adult in the room and say the spending needs to be curved.

Now in terms of what’s going to happen. If Labor continues to oppose our initiatives then Australia will continue to get into more debt, Labor had us a massive debt spiral. I don’t see a solution until Labor recognizes the folly of their ways.

GILBERT:

Gentlemen we’re out of time, my apologies. We got to wrap it up there. Steve Ciobo, Bernie Ripoll, thank you gents.