Interview on ABC 891 Adelaide Breakfast with Matthew Abraham and David Bevan
Topics: Storing nuclear waste in South Australia; Same-sex marriage plebiscite; Senator Hinch; Investment approach to welfare

Matthew Abraham: It’s Super Wednesday when we bring in some super politicians. Senator Nick Xenophon, welcome, Senator for South Australia.

Nick Xenophon: Good morning.

Matthew Abraham: Kate Ellis, Shadow Minister for Vocational and Early Childhood Education. Welcome.

Kate Ellis: Good morning.

Matthew Abraham: And Senator Simon Birmingham, Liberal Senator, Education Minister, welcome.

Simon Birmingham: Good morning.

Matthew Abraham: You’re all surprised I’d go to Canberra for a holiday.

Simon Birmingham: [Laughs]

Matthew Abraham: I had a great time, I don’t know why you leave Canberra, why you’re all so keen to get out of there on a Friday night.

Nick Xenophon: Thursday night.

Kate Ellis: Did you do a tour of Parliament House while you were there Matt?

Matthew Abraham: No, no, didn’t do that. I went to the War Museum, that was good.

Kate Ellis: Yeah that’s fantastic.

David Bevan: Now are the three of you embracing Jay Weatherill’s nuclear future? Nick Xenophon?

Nick Xenophon: No.

David Bevan: Why not? Kate Ellis, let’s just quickly…


David Bevan: Yes? No? No for you Nick Xenophon.

Nick Xenophon: I’m just very wary about it. I worry what the impact will be on the state’s reputation. This is a decision that once it’s made the high level nuclear waste will be there for 100,000 years. It’s a decision that ought to be made by the people of South Australia via a referendum, not by a citizen’s jury and I am worried that South Australians may be railroaded into a process that doesn’t involve their consent.

Matthew Abraham: Kate Ellis?

Kate Ellis: Look, I mean I think it’s actually been really positive the way that we’ve been able to have a debate to explore the evidence to have a look at the facts behind this and I guess the question ‘am I embracing a nuclear future?’, I’m not sure that I’m there yet, and I think there are significant concerns that there are scientific questions that we still need answers to. But of course I absolutely support the fact that the State Government is looking at ways that we can create jobs and that we can boost the South Australian economy.

Matthew Abraham: Wouldn’t there need to be a change to Federal Labor policy whatever happens for this to get up? So we can have all this great exercise, citizens jury, a couple of million dollars on a royal commission and Bill Shorten and you and your colleagues, Mark Butler can just go ‘nah’.

Kate Ellis: Well, in terms of Labor policy, yes, there would need to be a debate following the outcome of the royal commission, but the…

Matthew Abraham: Well there’d need to be a change of policy would there not?

Kate Ellis: …Federal Labor platform does not have the power to stop the South Australian Government from making whatever decisions that they choose to make. If we were in government, then yes, there would need to be a change in federal platform. But I don’t think that anyone is looking to rush this process and rush this decision making and I think it’s- I mean I actually think it’s been really positive that it has shown that there can be really controversial issues where people are quite divided in their opinions that we can have a sensible debate about and I think it’s been played in a really positive way to this day.

David Bevan: Just so everybody understands where this debate is moving from, as of today if we had a Federal Labor government given Federal Labor current policy, this would not be allowed to happen.

Kate Ellis: Well what we’ve said as a Federal Labor Party is that when we get to this end of this state government process, then if Federal Labor needs to have a look at our current position then we will do so. But we’ve just said there’s no point pre-empting that when all of this may come to nothing.

Matthew Abraham: Simon Birmingham?

Simon Birmingham: We’ve made clear that if South Australia chooses to go down this path then we would work cooperatively in terms of the types of changes to federal law that might need to occur, but it is a matter of course for South Australia. You know, my personal view is if the economics stack up and if the safeguards stack up then it is something that from a perspective of creating new economic opportunities in South Australia we should be willing to be open to, but of course those are two very big questions that it’s right and proper we have thorough analysis of those safeguard questions and the economic questions to make sure that if we go down the path it’s going to be worthwhile in the long run in terms of generating jobs and opportunities.

David Bevan: But in terms of the raw politics here though, there’s a lot of opportunity for a ruthless state opposition to exploit this surely, that is after it will be – what is it, 16 years of Labor government the best you can offer us is turning the place into a dump.

Simon Birmingham: Well you could take that argument and I think Steven Marshall and his team are being quite responsible in not just turning this into yet another scare campaign. I mean I remember way back as a candidate, an unsuccessful candidate at the 2004 federal election facing the scare campaign against a low level radioactive repository in South Australia – and that of course was a …

Nick Xenophon: [Indistinct]

David Bevan: Don’t blame [indistinct] for that.

Simon Birmingham: …ridiculous scare campaign…

David Bevan: Run by Mike Rann and the Labor…

Simon Birmingham: By Mike Rann and the state Labor government of which Jay Weatherill was a member at the time…

David Bevan: Well he was a cabinet minister…

Simon Birmingham: Exactly. Steven Marshall is showing a lot more responsibility allowing this debate to occur right now without engaging in these type of scare tactics…


David Bevan: Kate Ellis, I mean you’re shaking your head. 

Kate Ellis: I am shaking my head but I’m also conscious of the fact we may be about to get into an argument about what happened in 2001. But I think it’s quite different. It’s quite different when we’re talking about a state making key decisions for the future of this state versus when we’re looking at the Federal Government forcing something upon the people of South Australia and the Government of South Australia, without consultation and without our will.

David Bevan: A scare campaign over a low level dump, that’s fair cop because nobody’s ever going to get really hurt. But if it’s something that would actually change this state for 100,000 years, it’s in a different league. 

Kate Ellis: No all I’m saying is that I think that what happened in the past was that we saw the Federal Liberal government trying to put something on South Australians without consulting with us and without engaging in the sort of dialogue and debate that we’ve seen in recent months. So I think it was quite a different case. 

Simon Birmingham: I don’t think Mike Rann ever allowed consultation, I think he ran straight to the scare tactics.


Kate Ellis: Again, I’m not sure- I’m not sure what purpose of us…

Simon Birmingham: Please watch the Facebook screen, the smile on Kate’s face is priceless.

David Bevan: Lizzy says tell Kate I will never vote for her again if she supports a nuclear dump.

Kate Ellis: Thanks Lizzy. I will keep that in mind.

David Bevan: Well you will won’t you? You would.

Kate Ellis: I certainly would and I actually think this comes back to your point about Steven Marshall and the state opposition and the politics around this. I mean what I’ve seen is that the politics around this are not down key party lines. I have heard from many people recently when I was at the Norwood shopping centre in Steven Marshall’s electorate, I had a number of people say to me that they are Liberal voters but they would never vote for their Liberal Party and for Steven Marshall unless he stood up and opposed this and equally I’ve had Labor voters who have said to me, ‘where are the jobs coming from?’, ‘what is the future for my children and grandchildren?’ and ‘if you stand in the way and engage in a scare campaign and don’t jump on board then I’ll never vote for you’ and the politics of this are really difficult which is why the decision needs to be made on policy in the best long term interest of the state.

Matthew Abraham: Nick Xenophon?

Nick Xenophon: This decision is a reversible decision. Once we go down the path, if we go down the path of a high level nuclear waste facility dump, whatever you want to call it, it’s irreversible. The state will be known as the world’s nuclear waste repository, dump, whatever you want to call it because it’s so irreversible, because it will last 100,000 years in terms of that nuclear- the radioactivity of that waste, it ought to be a decision of the people of the state. It is such an irreversible decision that ought to get the consent of at least this generation of South Australians.

Simon Birmingham: I do note that Nick currently rails against having a plebiscite on one question but wants to…

Nick Xenophon: Oh c’mon there is a big difference- there is a big difference…

Simon Birmingham: …to have a referendum on a different question.

Nick Xenophon: Hang on a second. There is a big difference. This is an irreversible 
decision. This is a completely irreversible- this is an irreversible decision. Once you go down the path of having a nuclear waste dump in this state, that’s it, we will be known as the state which is a high level waste repository.

Simon Birmingham: I think the people and I may not be…

Matthew Abraham: [Interrupting]…Is that a bit of a low blow having a go at- you’re opposed to a plebiscite, correct?

Nick Xenophon: Because I think the Parliament can determine that. It is something that can be done and undone by Parliament. Once you have a high level nuclear waste dump in the state that is it.

Simon Birmingham: Though I’m not one of them I think the Australians and South Australians who oppose changing the nation’s marriage laws feel pretty deeply that that is a very significant change to Australian society and that’s why many of them want to have a say on it, Nick.

Matthew Abraham: Kate Ellis. The plebiscite’s a bit of- you’ve knocked it off really haven’t you?

Kate Ellis: Well, no, we haven’t knocked it off.

Matthew Abraham: Not you, the Labor Party.

Kate Ellis: What we have said is we believe in representative democracy, that that is what politicians are elected to do is to make decisions and if the public don’t like it then they vote them out at the next election. There is absolutely no reason why we should waste up to $200 million on a plebiscite over marriage equality but this government can just decide on their own that they’ll cut pensions or that they will not boost veterans’ entitlements or that they won’t boost school funding, there’s a whole lot of important positions…

David Bevan: But wouldn’t that mean you’d never have a plebiscite? Is there anything you would have a plebiscite on?

Kate Ellis: Well my personal view is that the plebiscites that we’re talking about are not binding, they are massively expensive opinion polls. Now I think there is a case for referendums.

David Bevan: So I ask you, Kate Ellis, would you ever have a plebiscite on anything?

Kate Ellis: I’m yet to see an argument for a plebiscite.

David Bevan: On anything? Do your job, you’re an MP.

Kate Ellis: Do your job.

Matthew Abraham: With the exception of referendums…

Kate Ellis: Well obviously when you seek to change the Constitution you need to go to the public and their vote is binding and there is a purpose to the referendum. There is no purpose to a plebiscite which is not even binding on the MPs that will then go into the Parliament and have to vote, it’s a waste of money.

Matthew Abraham: While we’ve got the three of you here, the two senators, the human headline, now the human senatorial headline, Derryn Hinch, has been in the news because he’s had a liver transplant, has meant to have sworn off the booze, he damaged his own liver from excess alcohol, alcohol abuse, his ex is now saying that he’s drinking again. He’s saying not a lot. What do you feel about that, the ethics of that?

Nick Xenophon: Well if you ask how many times…

Matthew Abraham: I’m looking at you, I’ll come to…

Nick Xenophon: I’m a virtual teetotaller apart from five mills at a wedding or a…

Matthew Abraham: I think that’s what he’s saying now.

Nick Xenophon: What’s he saying – no, no I don’t water it down. Look, I’ve discussed this with Derryn, he actually was quite open when I sat down and spoke to him before he started in the Senate. He says he does have some watered down alcohol, that’s what his – he’s checked it with his doctor, they say it’s okay – okay with it. He’s had it medically checked and he’s very grateful for the second chance he’s been given but his primary cancer was not in the liver as I understand it just from memory from what Derryn told me and certainly the alcohol that he drank probably didn’t help but it wasn’t the cause of his liver cancer.

Matthew Abraham: Simon Birmingham. Have you had a sit down with Derryn Hinch?

Simon Birmingham: I haven’t had a sit down with him on this topic.

Matthew Abraham: Or a drink?

Simon Birmingham: He did from memory of his maiden speech which went for a little while, covered a lot of ground.

Nick Xenophon: Forty-seven minutes.

Simon Birmingham: Forty-seven minute maiden speech. He did from memory canvas this at some point in that maiden speech and make reference to watering down his wine so that he could still have a tipple every now and then. I think the ultimate question is if the medical advice is to the contrary of what he’s doing, is there an ethical question about the fact that he’s benefited from a transplant? Well I think if he’s acting against medical advice, yes, he wouldn’t be the first person to do that of course, that’s a matter that he has to explain. He has basically explained it by saying his doctor’s given him the okay and that he believes he’s acting in accordance with his doctor’s views, so if that’s the case then all well and good.

Matthew Abraham: Kate Ellis.

Kate Ellis: Look, my first reaction to this story yesterday was, ‘why is it anybody’s business other than Derryn Hinch and his doctors’, what he chooses to do in his own time…

David Bevan: I suppose a lot of public, it is an interesting issue isn’t it? A lot of public money goes into transplants.

Kate Ellis: Well and the only thing which has caused me to change my position a little bit on this is I heard some reports this morning that it’s actually a condition of getting a liver transplant that you will sign up and say that you will not drink alcohol. I don’t know if that’s true or not but that’s what I heard this morning and if that’s the case then you do have to think about the person who was next on the list for that liver or perhaps a few more down the list and the family members who may not have received a liver and how they would be feeling hearing this news but I have to say I just think that for this to be a front page story, surely this is a private matter. If it starts – if the reason he spoke for 47 minutes in the Senate was because he’d had more than a couple of watered down wines then it might be a public matter but otherwise…

Simon Birmingham: I don’t think – that certainly wasn’t the case.

Kate Ellis: No and I’m not alleging that that was the case but otherwise I just think why is it our business?

Simon Birmingham: I think Hinch himself has said that if he were still in the media he’d splash it on the front page too so he’s not arguing that there’s a privacy component there.

Nick Xenophon: Well I wonder whether it should be a criminal offence to water down grange.

David Bevan: Now before you leave us, the Federal Government has flagged major reform of the welfare sector, is the bottom line here that some people will be pushed off welfare, the question is whether they will be pushed into a job, whether they will land in a job. Simon Birmingham, what is your government up to?

Simon Birmingham: Well the bottom line is can we intervene to stop people spending a lifetime on welfare and the work that Christian Porter released yesterday shows that if you really drill down in the data, you can identify at an early age people who are at high risk of spending their lifetime on welfare and then you can try to look at what the policy solutions to help those people are and one of the examples he’s given are young carers, that there is a very high correlation between people who find themselves in the unfortunate, terrible, challenging position at a young age of caring for a sick parent or other family member, that even when they cease being a carer, they’re likely to spend the rest of their life on welfare, so if you can actually provide alternate support structures at an early stage, make sure that person finishes their education, gets some work experience whilst not harming the situation that they’re trying to care for then you’re increasing the chances of actually that person not spending their lifetime on welfare, so far from kicking people off, it’s about trying to get personalised targeted approaches.

Matthew Abraham: Hard to pick a fault with that isn’t it?

Kate Ellis: Well, except that when you drill down into the details, and I think what Jenny Macklin said yesterday is that the Minister’s speech raised more questions than it answered, we believe in smart investments to try and get people off welfare but what the Government is actually talking about is about cuts across the board. Now there’s a range of examples where one that was flagged yesterday was cutting people off welfare if their children don’t attend school and it’s been compared to the really successful program to get children vaccinated or else hit their child care payments, I think what we need to be careful of here is that whatever decisions government is making are designed to help those incredibly disadvantaged children and not to punish them for the decisions that their parents make.

Matthew Abraham: Nick Xenophon just quickly.

Nick Xenophon: I think Christian Porter’s ideas need to be robustly considered and debated, I think it’s a healthy thing to have this debate but what is missing here is that there doesn’t seem to be an industry policy to ensure there are jobs for people to go to and we’re going to have a tsunami of job losses in this state and Victoria particularly when the auto sector closes down. We need to have real jobs for people to go to.

Matthew Abraham: Nick Xenophon thank you. Senator Nick Xenophon, Kate Ellis, shadow minister for vocational and early childhood education and Jacques says he will vote for you if you support a nuclear waste dump.

Kate Ellis: Oh listen Jacques, you’re tearing me apart here.

Matthew Abraham: You’ve gone out ‘even stevens’ now and Simon Birmingham, Liberal Senator, Minister for Education, thank you…

Simon Birmingham: That’s what makes it a marginal seat, Kate.

Matthew Abraham: Simon Birmingham, thank you.

Simon Birmingham: Thank you.

Matthew Abraham: Liberal Senator and he is the Minister for Education.