DAVID LIPSON: … first, to political matters much closer to home, I want to go straight to our political panel today. The Shadow Parliamentary Secretary, Simon Birmingham, joins us from Adelaide and, here in Canberra, Labor MP Andrew Leigh. Good morning to both of you gentlemen and happy new year.
ANDREW LEIGH: Morning, David. Morning, Simon.
DAVID LIPSON: Another big year in 2012. Andrew Leigh, I want to start with you. This alleged people smuggling kingpin in Indonesia. We’ve been chasing him for three years to try to get him extradited to Australia. He’s been behind bars. The Indonesian Government has said ‘well, you can’t really extradite him until he’s set free’. He’s been set free now and we hear today that, three days earlier, Australia dropped its efforts to bring him to Australia. Does this, do you think, damage the faith, out there in the public that there may be, that Australia’s doing everything it can to stop people smuggling?
ANDREW LEIGH: Well, David, as you know, we have tough rules around cracking down on people smugglers. It’s a repugnant activity and it’s something that no Australian wants to see continue but the way things work in Australia is we have an independent Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions. They make the decisions as to whether to proceed on cases and for very good reasons politicians like me don’t get involved in the DPP’s decision as to whether to pursue or drop a case so I’m not going to break that longstanding protocol on the program today.
DAVID LIPSON: How realistic is it really in the future for us to be able to extradite people smugglers? Is this just talk or is it a reality that this can actually happen?
ANDREW LEIGH: David, again, you’re asking me to answer a hypothetical question around the behaviour of the Commonwealth DPP and I think I want to be pretty careful on that for good reasons.
DAVID LIPSON: Fair enough. Simon Birmingham, I’ll get you to… any response to that, but also I want to ask you about what we heard was the urgency in the lead up to Christmas to find a way, a solution, for offshore processing. We had some last minute meetings between the Minister and the Shadow Minister for Immigration to try and nut out a solution but we haven’t really heard much since. Of course, they’re entitled to a holiday but where’s that urgency gone?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well, David, look, firstly to this alleged kingpin and the one area, perhaps the only area, this Government has talked consistently since 2007 when it comes to immigration policy is talking tough when it comes to people smugglers and I do think the Australian public are owed an explanation for this situation where for three years the Government has sought extradition of this alleged people smuggling kingpin from Indonesia and just before it was possible to actually facilitate that extradition those proceedings have been dropped and so a more fulsome explanation is warranted in this case and it should, of course, come from the appropriate authorities but the Australian public deserve some answers in that regard.
As for, of course, the broader issue of how you deter people smuggling activities and how you actually stop the flow of boats to Australia, this does remain an urgent priority, it does remain really important, but we’ve made it very clear that we expect the Government of the day to present options and we’re happy to discuss those. Scott Morrison and Julie Bishop engaged in those discussions and I’m sure they will be happy to engage in further discussions if Chris Bowen and Kevin Rudd and the Government come back with better options and further options and further developments from what they discussed pre-Christmas but really it’s the Government of the day that needs to be, of course, showing some leadership on this and not just hoping the issue drifts off the front pages.
DAVID LIPSON: Okay, well, on another matter, Simon Birmingham, federal Liberal MP Teresa Gambaro has apologised for her comments yesterday about new immigrants needing lessons on using deodorant. What was behind this? Was this a brain snap? Is there more discipline needed in the Coalition ranks before comments like this are made?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well, Teresa has apologised and I think she indicated that she believed she was taken out of context but, whatever the case may be there, she’s apologised. I know Teresa well. She’s a proud daughter of migrant Italian parents and she’s not just proud of her own heritage – I know she’s very proud of what many migrant families like hers have done in contributing to the growth of small businesses, the growth of our economy and, right across Australia, to the richness of our life so I think if the real Teresa Gambaro was sitting here and talking about these issues you would see somebody who I think understands the importance of immigrants to the entire richness and fullness of Australian life and that’s not the Teresa that I know, so…
DAVID LIPSON: What do you make of her comments, though, about deodorant and also about, you know, cultural awareness training on matters like pushing in in queues? Are they… you know, how do you view those comments?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Look, I don’t think they’re terribly appropriate remarks. Of course, she has apologised; she’s indicated they were taken out of context. I don’t know the context of the discussion she was having. Obviously, there are important issues about how, of course, migrants are integrated into the Australian way of life, how we accept people into Australia and ensure that they are successful when they get here and many waves of migrants have been successful. We need to keep working, as oppositions and governments, as a broad body politic, to make sure that current and future waves of migrants are just as successful at contributing to Australia as past ones and I’m sure that’s what Teresa would think as well.
DAVID LIPSON: Okay, I want to move on to the motor industry and we’ve had news that Ford has secured a deal which includes $34 million in Federal Government funding – taxpayer funds, if you like. Also, reports today that Holden will be getting its hands on about $100 million in assistance to help these industries, or these companies, through very difficult times in the industry. Andrew Leigh, there’s so much talk from the Government and from others about being anti-protectionist and criticism of governments overseas that protect their industries. Why is the motor industry here any different?
ANDREW LEIGH: Well, David, I think it is important for Australia that we operate in an international economy where trade flows freely. Australia has historically done best at times when we’ve engaged with the world in trade, as, indeed, in immigration. What we’re doing is investing in research and development. We know that future manufacturing jobs will be underpinned by strong investment in science, research and innovation. That’s where the former Howard Government fell down – they didn’t put enough money into those fundamental building blocks for manufacturing jobs and that’s what we’re doing.
DAVID LIPSON: It is still propping up the industry, though, isn’t it? It’s money that they would otherwise have spent themselves.
ANDREW LEIGH: David, it is perfectly appropriate for a government to invest in innovation. That’s what we’re doing. This is like investing in your education system and your schools and your universities. You also invest in allowing people to make technological leaps, particularly where they’re building technologies that other companies can then use, that have what economists would regard as spillovers to the broader economy as well as, of course, creating those good manufacturing jobs. Labor are… we’re proud champions of manufacturing. We had a Future Jobs summit last year to discuss the challenges of manufacturing and this is again part of us ensuring that Australian manufacturing stays strong.
DAVID LIPSON: Simon Birmingham, do you support this sort of investment – taxpayer investment – in innovation and technology?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well, David, when it comes to innovation and technology, these are absolutely areas that government should be putting in place policy frameworks that encourage innovation and technological investment and if that is what the Holden deal is about then that is probably a good thing and perhaps Andrew knows more about the detail of it than’s been publicly released because I don’t see the language that Minister Carr’s been using or Holden themselves have been using about this funding and this agreement as being specific, though, just to innovation.
It does seem that, of course, there is a broader component to this to keep Holden’s operations in Australia and, as a South Australian, of course I welcome that. I want to see Holden continue manufacturing activities here in Adelaide and that’s important to me but I also think there’s a broader global issue here, David, and that is that when you talk to the automotive industry, when you talk to Holden, the conversations usually open with them highlighting other countries around the world who do the same sorts of things, who plough hundreds of millions of dollars into attracting or propping up or luring automotive manufacturing plants and, of course, it happens in a range of places in a range of ways but, globally, there’s got to be a question here that governments can’t afford to keep undertaking these activities. The South Australian Government, the Federal Government – both are in deficit. Now, of course, if the rest of the world’s doing it, there’s pressure on Australia to do it and we do want the jobs and the industry here, but in global trade talks, as they go forward over the next couple of years and decades, of course, it will probably take, I think it’s important we start to not just have the discussions about tariffs and those types of areas of protectionism, but about these other forms of protectionism that have emerged around the world where many, many governments are putting hundreds of millions, ultimately billions, of dollars into private sector activities and those global companies are taking advantage of it, so there’s a global conversation to be had here and I hope this Government, when it comes to its trade discussions, will start to put these issues on the agenda and try to get forums like the G20 [Group of Twenty Finance Ministers and Central Bank Governors] to discuss whether they can really afford to keep propping up industry around the world like this.
DAVID LIPSON: Okay, Andrew Leigh, Simon Birmingham, unfortunately we’re out of time for this panel. We’ve got to get to some other news, particularly New Hampshire [New Hampshire Republican presidential primary], but thank you very much for your time and insights this morning.