Subject: Bernard Finnigan; GST; Climate Change Targets;


MATTHEW ABRAHAM: Joining us now on Super Wednesday, we have Liberal Senator, Minister for Education and Training in the Turnbull Government, Simon Birmingham. Welcome.

SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Good morning everybody.

MATTHEW ABRAHAM: Federal President of the ALP, Labor MP for Port Adelaide, Mark Butler.

MARK BUTLER: Good morning.

MATTHEW ABRAHAM: And Sarah Hanson-Young, Green Senator for South Australia. Welcome to the program Sarah Hanson-Young.

SARAH HANSON-YOUNG: Thanks for having me, guys.

MATTHEW ABRAHAM: Simon Birmingham, to you first. And before we get onto matters of money, GST, superannuation and that whole mix, Bernard Finnigan has been found guilty of obtaining access to child pornography. In your view, should he either resign from the legislative council, or be expelled?

SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Matthew, he should go. He should go as quickly as possible. Ideally his long-standing friends in the Labor Party would get him to resign and get him to resign today. If there are other means required to get rid of him then he should go, and frankly we should be at the conclusion of this process, looking at why it has taken four and a half years for this to be resolved. The old saying that justice delayed is justice denied, well I think the South Australian public and taxpayer have been bled for far too long by Bernard Finnigan through this process, and the justice system has clearly failed us.

DAVID BEVAN: Well, is that fair? Because he is entitled to take whatever defence measures the court deems are appropriate. And so he’s entitled to hire himself a QC, he’s entitled to argue every point. And when that right is taken away, we all suffer.

He is David, of course, but it should not take four and a half years to resolve a matter such as this. Four and a half years he has been sitting there. Since he was a Labor Party member and Minister and leader of the legislative council, he’s been sitting there continuing to vote with the Labor Party on most occasions, continuing to draw the taxpayer’s salary as a Member of the Legislative Council. Four and a half years we’ve seen delays in tactics, and fine the judicial process must follow it’s pathway – he is entitled to be treated as innocent until proven guilty, that’s been the appropriate approach to be taken – but it should not, I don’t think any reasonable South Australian would think, take four and a half years to resolve matters such as this. And there needs to be a look as to why it is that it’s taken this long.

DAVID BEVAN: Mark Butler, Labor MP and national president of the Labor Party. What are your views about this former Labor MP and what he should do now? Remembering that at the time of these offences he, Bernard Finnigan, was the third most senior person in the Wran Government.

MARK BUTLER: Well I think Simon is right. This has gone on for a very, very long time. Of course we are a society built on the idea that you’re entitled to face charges in court and defend yourself, but this seems to have gone on for a very, very long time indeed. But notwithstanding all of that, he has now been found guilty and he should go, and we should move on from this distressingly awful saga.

MATTHEW ABRAHAM: And we go to you Sarah Hanson-Young, Green Senator to South Australia.

Well of course he should go.


SARAH HANSON-YOUNG: Of course he should go, and he should go today, really. But the question I’ve got is that in the big scheme of things, yes he was entitled to his case being heard in court and to the justice system, but being able to sit in the Parliament was a bit rich through all of that. And I think in any kind of general pub test people would’ve thought he should’ve resigned from the Parliament and fought his battle in the court as a private citizen away from the public eye.

Even though he maintained his innocence. So why should somebody who views them self has innocent have to give up their income and their work?

I think being a Member of Parliament comes with a higher level of expectation, and rightly or wrongly that’s the way it is. And we have MPs who are in hot water politically in the Parliament and have to step down for much less serious things than child pornography. And I think just in the general rule of what we want from our parliaments, whether it’s on the state or federal level, is we want people who model the best of our communities and are able to represent their constituents.

MATTHEW ABRAHAM: So if a Green Senator is charged with an offence, they say I’m absolutely innocent of this, you’re saying they should resign their position in the Senate?

SARAH HANSON-YOUNG: Look, I think Matt when you’re talking about issues like child pornography – it’s a personal opinion of mine is what I’m expressing – is that I think things like that, how can you concentrate on your work as a Member of Parliament when you’re fighting to say you’re innocent of charges like that?

MATTHEW ABRAHAM: Are any of you, and we’ll work back through you if we can, Simon Birmingham, is anyone uncomfortable though at almost a return to the village square? People throwing cabbages, in this case chasing him with their mobile phones, doing selfies, abusing him. The front page of The Advertiser this morning is dismissing of this deviant.

SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Matthew, look I understand public anger, and I think public anger is in part fed by the issue I raise: the four and a half year delay, the fact that he’s been found guilty now but is seen as somebody who has managed to hold off that finding while he has benefited from his office as a Labor Member of the Legislative council. Now, ultimately I would hope that all South Australians, angry though they may be, would focus their anger on how it is we get the system improved in the future; how we make sure that such delays don’t occur in the future. People have a right to be angry at Bernard Finnigan for the offences, but I think …

DAVID BEVAN: [Interrupts] I’ve just got to say, Simon Birmingham, I felt a little uncomfortable last night. What he is accused of doing is terrible, it’s a terrible thing, but I didn’t find it very edifying to see this man chased down the street, people shouting in his face. I didn’t think South Australia felt better for that.

SIMON BIRMINGHAM: And probably not, David, and the guy I would hope that people would find constructive ways to vent their anger. I hope that justice will now be served in terms of what occurs through the sentencing process and that he obviously should now pay the penalty of exiting parliament. Clearly that should have happened some year ago had the justice system been able to deal with this more expeditiously.

But the anger that people feel can be vented in more constructive ways than shouting abuse at him. It can be vented at a system that’s failed us and frankly that is what we need to improve and that is what the Government now needs to have a look at as to how it is they review this case and how it is they make sure that we don’t have this happen again.

DAVID BEVAN: And Mark Butler.

MARK BUTLER: Well I’m not sure what happened in the TV last night but the three of us were in Canberra so we didn’t see that footage but I think there is a general anger about child abuse and the use of child pornography in the community and I suspect that anger is heightened when the accused is a public official who is expected, we’re all expected to abide by higher standards of behaviour I think but the points Sarah made, that I’m sure are reflected in a whole lot of community attitudes, were a little difficult because at the end of the day what happened with Bernard Finnigan staying in the Parliament was in accordance with the constitution and the only other way in which Bernard Finnigan would have stepped down earlier because he was pushed out of the party as soon as these charges were laid would have been his own moral judgement and I think relying on Bernard Finnigan’s moral judgement is probably a pretty hopeless cause. So I’m not quite sure, I think Sarah’s right a whole lot of people feel very uncomfortable with Bernard having stayed in Parliament for four and a half years as an independent but given the terms of the constitution, and given the fact that these people when they’re put in this position tend to look after themselves and only themselves, I’m not quite sure how we deal with that.

DAVID BEVAN: And Sarah Hanson-Young.

SARAH HANSON-YOUNG: Look I think Mark makes a good point there that this is the way the current rules of law are. My point was more yes about if one was reflecting on their own behaviour, the ability to challenge your own charges in court such as child pornography and represent your constituents as a public figure, well you would- most reasonable people would weigh those up and go well I probably shouldn’t be staying in the Parliament. He didn’t do that and of course those- I didn’t see the footage either on the television because I was in Canberra but I can imagine the type of thing you’re referring to and of course it’s unedifying. This is part of the problem when you have public officials caught up in this type of situation, well part of that could have been relieved if he had taken himself out of the public eye.

MATTHEW ABRAHAM: Matthew Abraham, David Bevan, this is Super Wednesday with Simon Birmingham, Liberal senator, Mark Butler, Labor MP for Port Adelaide, frontbencher, National President of the ALP, Sarah Hanson-Young, very influential Greens senator for South Australia at just on a quarter to 9. Simon Birmingham, are you going to increase the GST to 15 per cent or not or are you going to slug Super? Where are you going to get the money from us from?

SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Patience, Matthew, patience.

MATTHEW ABRAHAM: Well you got a lot of balloons being floated, a lot of balloons being let off into that clear Canberra air.

SIMON BIRMINGHAM: We are going through a process of having a look at how we make the tax system the most efficient it can be to ensure that our economy grows, that we create more jobs through economic growth you can generate of course more revenue but we are not looking at the tax system to overall generate more revenue as a proportion of GDP, we are looking at tax reform to make sure we get economic growth and jobs growth in the future and everything we’ve said very clearly is on the table, we’re going to have a mature discussion about it and every single Australian will know before the next election the details of the policy which we will explain to you very clearly.

DAVID BEVAN: We have a go- if GST’s too hard, I noticed on AM this morning, one of those who were baying for you to make it harder for people to sock money away in super were described- superannuation contributions as low hanging fruit. Is that the easy option for you rather than tackling GST?

SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well the GST we’ve been very open is on the table, it’s not necessarily too hard but it’s a question of whether that will give us the outcome we want, which is a more efficient tax system and it’s one piece in a very large puzzle, as are superannuation reforms. But I think in superannuation it is fair to say that you’ve got to look at not just the impact on the tax system, but also the impact on the retirement system and the superannuation exists to be able to encourage Australians to provide for their own retirement and their own savings in retirement and it’s not about transfer of wealth to other generations. It’s about giving Australians the incentives to ease the burden on pension system in the future and to make our social welfare system and pension system more sustainable in the future and those questions are all being very thoroughly looked at as part of a tax reform process.

DAVID BEVAN: Mark Butler, Opposition Environment and Climate Change spokesman, are you delighted at the GST being back on the agenda?

MARK BUTLER: Well this is a debate that’s fast running out of control for the Prime Minister. On superannuation if you look at the front page of The Financial Review and the front page of The Australian there are two stories with fundamentally inconsistent views about- from the Government themselves about what they’re going to do on super. So people are rightly very confused about what their intentions are there but in relation to the GST I think people are rightly asking the question what’s the problem that Malcolm Turnbull’s trying to solve here? He wants to increase the cost of everything by either 5 per cent if it’s already subject to GST or in the case of health and education and fresh food and vegetables by 15 per cent, yet we still don’t know what the problem he’s trying to solve it. The Treasurer says there’s no revenue problem, although the Premiers of New South Wales and South Australia and other states have rightly pointed to the ongoing $80 billion hole we have in hospitals and school funding, that’s apparently not a particular problem for Malcolm Turnbull. We’re not sure whether he’s looking at raising the GST, or company tax cuts or… it’s a complete shemozzle.

DAVID BEVAN: [Talks over] Well that’s why Jay Weatherill’s open to a discussion on the GST.

MARK BUTLER: Yeah but it’s a complete shemozzle because the Prime Minister won’t actually define the Australian…

DAVID BEVAN: [Talks over] Well Jay doesn’t think it’s a shemozzle, Jay thinks it’s good to have a debate. You won’t have a debate.

MARK BUTLER: Well the Prime Minister would be well served to outline exactly what the problem he’s trying to solve is.

DAVID BEVAN: Well maybe you should talk to [indistinct].

SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Let me happily do that if I can guys, because I think there are very clear problems that the Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, and others have been talking about. The problem that our income tax system through bracket-creep is going to drive more and more middle Australians into the second highest tax bracket, so there’s a potential [indistinct]. So you have to work harder. Company tax rates are uncompetitive with many of those countries who are vying for investment from global companies, and Australia of course needs investment to be able to grow our economy. These are the types of problems which we are very clearly talking about and which are trying to address…

MATTHEW ABRAHAM: Well let’s give Sarah Hanson-Young a say here.


MATTHEW ABRAHAM: Hang on Simon Birmingham, we’ll give Sarah Hanson-Young a go here, Greens Senator for South Australia.

SARAH HANSON-YOUNG: Oh well I just find this extraordinary. You know we had the last few years under Tony Abbott of the claims of the big tax on everything being taxing polluters for polluting the atmosphere, and now we actually have a proposition for a great big tax on everything including health and education and fresh food. I mean come on; there are lower hanging fruit options out there for raising revenue. It is tackling those unfair superannuation contributions or capital gains tax or negative gearing; all things which overwhelmingly benefit the wealthy. And if we’re serious about fairness in reforming the tax system then they are the things that we would be having a very good debate around.

MATTHEW ABRAHAM: Sarah Hanson-Young before you leave us, and Mark Butler and Birmingham we’d like your thoughts on this as well, but according to the Sydney Morning Herald at the first plenary session in the ministerial meeting regarding climate change, this before we all get serious in Paris, of all the countries that spoke only two received strong applause; Australia and Canada. That’s according to Mr Hunt the Environment Minister. Apparently Australia is back in the climate change debate. Sarah Hanson-Young.

SARAH HANSON-YOUNG: Well if we’re back in the debate it’s because there’s a lot of conversation about Australia needing to put some more serious targets on the table. I mean if we go to Paris with the lack of ambition currently before this Government then we’re going to look like a laughing stock.

MATTHEW ABRAHAM: Yeah, but do you applaud Greg Hunt’s work? Apparently he achieved a breakthrough in a six-year deadlock regarding global emissions.

SARAH HANSON-YOUNG: Look, I think Greg Hunt has been flip-flopping all over this issue for years. You’ve got to remember he was one of the biggest supporters of the idea of an ETS and pricing pollution, then he had to shut up about that when he was under the rule of Tony Abbott. Now Malcolm Turnbull’s in the hot seat let’s see [indistinct] serious.

MATTHEW ABRAHAM: [Interrupts] Well the times might suit him Sarah Hanson-Young.

SARAH HANSON-YOUNG: Well we need to [indistinct] the target.

DAVID BEVAN: [Talks over] do you… Sarah Hanson-Young do you love the environment or do you hate Hunt, which is it?

SARAH HANSON-YOUNG: Well look, we need to be seeing some serious targets being taken to Paris, and otherwise… otherwise we will simply… we might get some applause for finally saying something, but we’re not going to be really at the table with the big kids.

MATTHEW ABRAHAM: Now Mark Butler you’re the climate change spokesperson for the ALP.


MATTHEW ABRAHAM: Have you… are you doing one of those little fairy claps with the little fingers, or…

MARK BUTLER: I’m not even bothering to do that Matthew. But I mean I think there’s undoubtedly a deep sense of relief around the world that Stephen Harper and Tony Abbott who were regarded as the two real hold-outs on a proper process at Paris have both been deposed. There’s no doubt about that, and there’s a sense of relief here in Australia as well in the climate change sector. But there is a very deep contrast between Canada and Australia. I mean Justin Trudeau is not just a change of face, he’s come in saying that he is going to review the inadequate targets for pollution reduction that Canada had under Stephen Harper, and he is going to introduce an emissions trading scheme, but Julie Bishop yesterday confirmed there is no change… there is no change to Tony Abbott’s policies at all, in spite of the fact that there’s undoubtedly a much better vibe from the new Prime Minister on climate change policy there will be no change in substance we’re assured. And that’s going to be a real problem I think.

MATTHEW ABRAHAM: Simon Birmingham just finally, Liberal Senator for South Australia.

SIMON BIRMINGHAM: I’m not at all surprised that Greg Hunt was warmly received and got a round of applause. Our targets that we’ve announced are to reduce emissions by between 26 per cent and 28 per cent from 2005 levels by 2030. They’re the highest per capita reductions amongst developed economies. It’s a reduction potentially up to 52 per cent on a per capita basis. That’s a huge contribution, and I don’t hear Mark Butler suggesting the Labor Party is committed to higher targets, I don’t hear him saying they have different targets, all I hear is criticism.

MARK BUTLER: I’ve criticised them pretty openly there Simon. They put Australia well at the back of the pack

SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Okay but what are your targets Mark?

MARK BUTLER: Well we’ll have more to say about that in due course. We’re not the Government…

SIMON BIRMINGHAM: [indistinct] Paris is in… Greg Hunt’s already in Paris.

MARK BUTLER: Yeah but we’re not the Government. We’re not the Government in Paris representing the nation, putting targets that everyone accepts are very much back of the pack targets.

SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Up until now very importantly Australia’s targets have been bipartisan though, and this is an important break from the Labor Party if they are not supporting bipartisan targets.

MARK BUTLER: You can be assured we won’t go lower.

SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Yet you’re not saying what they are.

MARK BUTLER: You can be assured we won’t go lower Simon.

MATTHEW ABRAHAM: We’ll watch that space. We will. Simon Birmingham we’ll let you go, Liberal Senator and Minister for Education thank you. Mark Butler, Labor MP for Port Adelaide, he’s a climate change spokesman, he’s National President of the Labor Party, thank you. And Sarah Hanson-Young, Green Senator for South Australia, and she speaks on immigration and early education for the Greens. Thank you.


MATTHEW ABRAHAM: That’s the all South Australian Super Wednesday.