Interview on ABC 891, Breakfast with Ali Clarke and David Bevan
Topics: Captain Cook; Cashless Welfare Card; Warren Mundine; Sam Dastyari




David Bevan:    From Davos this morning good morning Simon Birmingham.


Simon Birmingham:     Hello David, Ali and listeners.


David Bevan:    You’re there bringing world peace are you and what’s the temperature?


Simon Birmingham:     The temperature is a whopping minus twelve degrees, so my maths says about a 62 degrees difference between where I am and where you guys are.


David Bevan:    Minus twelve


Simon Birmingham:     Yep. I just walked down the street to get back to the hotel room. It wasn’t a very nice walk I can tell you.


David Bevan:    Sarah Hanson-Young, you’re talking to us from southern Queensland. Where exactly are you?


Sarah Hanson-Young:  I’m in Goondiwindi this morning and about to head out to some of the farms around this area, this is cotton country. So right at the top of the Murray-Darling Basin where a lot of the water still is, is not getting down much further.


David Bevan:    And have any cotton property owners invited you onto their property?

Sarah Hanson-Young:  Some have actually. And there’s also of course some big farms around here that are kind of more corporate cotton farms, who are up to their neck in investigations at the moment. We know after the Four Corners report that a number of farmers, including Norman farming up here is facing criminal charges for dodging the taxpayer and the Commonwealth but unfortunately still all the water that was taken through those projects, still sits on the farms and I’m going to be able to see that as well. So I’m looking forward to being able to really understand the problems up here and how that’s impacting down in Menindee Lakes and of course in South Australia.

David Bevan:    And then of course in South Australia and Labor MP for Kingston, Amanda Rishworth. Where are you?


Amanda Rishworth: Look I’m very pleased to be in the ABC studios with both you and enjoying the Adelaide heat which is significant today but obviously tomorrow is pretty significant and obviously it’s a really important message for people to take care and check on your neighbours as well because this heat is pretty significant.         


David Bevan:    Well let’s go back to Simon Birmingham. Simon Birmingham, Bill Shorten the Labor Party leader says the Prime Minister has a Captain Cook fetish. Should we be spending nearly $7 million re-enacting something that didn’t happen?

Simon Birmingham:     We’re not re-enacting. This is marking the 250th anniversary, it’s a significant anniversary in terms of the types of events that were occurring and it’s reasonable to mark certain anniversaries in different ways. And in this case I think what we’re seeing as I understand it is a celebration that will be able to touch many regional centres of Australia. If you just did something that was purely a re-enactment of the limited voyages that occurred, the limited locations that were touched, then of course the vast majority of Australians would miss out.


Ali Clarke:        Did anyone else know this was coming? Simon Birmingham I mean, or is this a captains call ah la Tony Abbott when he just decided to give Prince Philip a knighthood.


Simon Birmingham:     I don’t know Ali to be honest there, I’ve been overseas for a few days now having trade discussions in Brussels and London, over our free trade agreement negotiations. So I’ve seen the announcement obviously.


Ali Clarke:        Were you happy with the announcement, I mean it’s given a pretty nice line to Bill Shorten when he said well you can focus on the past, where going to focus on the future.


Simon Birmingham:     I think it is pretty petty of Bill Shorten, is he suggesting that that the Hawke Government shouldn’t have marked the Bicentenary in 1988? Is he suggesting that we should never commemorate significant anniversaries in the history of our nation? I mean that’s a fairly preposterous and demeaning thing to think, as country we should mark significant occasion it gives us a chance to reflect on our history, what we’ve got right, what we’ve got wrong and from that learn for the future.

David Bevan:    Sarah Hanson-Young you’re on the record as saying Captain Cook arrived on Australia Day and he’d been dead before when the First Fleet turned up. So maybe getting a re-enactment is not a bad idea?


Sarah Hanson-Young:  One of those, one of those mistakes that a number of people have made and you know I won’t make it again, I can tell you, I learnt my lesson. But look this is ridiculous. Ali asked if this is like a captain’s pick similar to making Prince Philip a Knight here in Australia by Tony Abbott. It’s as wacky as. The problem is, almost $7 million. I’d like to think we could spend $7 million actually helping young indigenous and aboriginal kids access proper medical help or getting them into education programs and helping in that way. The idea that our Prime Minister seems obsessed with his version of history, his version of what happened. It turns out, it’s not the real version and no one else is as obsessed by it than he is. I think it’s a silly captain’s pick. He looks he looks laughable and he’s looking a little bit obsessive.     


David Bevan:    Although Amanda Rishworth one of the report’s, I forget which paper, it was described how there was a ceremony re-enacted yesterday in which some of the local Aboriginal people handed the Prime Minister a broken spear. In the same way that eventually after some some trouble between Cook and some of the locals up there 250 years ago, one of the locals broke a spear and handed it to him. It looked like it was actually quite a touching moment.


Amanda Rishworth: Look I don’t think anyone has got any problem with appropriately commemorating significant anniversaries in an accurate way. But what I can tell you is when I’m out at my street corner meetings, doorknocking. No one says look I want the priority of the government to be to build a replica ship and re-enact something that actually didn’t happen. And as was rightly put on Twitter yesterday, if we were going to re-enact Captain Cook’s voyage then South Australians wouldn’t even get to see it because he never came here. So I think when it comes to history and priorities and all the rest I think Scott Morrison’s got his priorities wrong and he should be focusing on the future and what those priorities are that people bring up with me which is about decent pay, it’s about good working conditions, about health, it’s about hospitals, it’s about education. They’re things that are on people’s minds, not building a replica ship.


David Bevan:    Let’s talk about a substantive issue. Something that’s very important that is the cashless welfare card. Your leader, Amanda Rishworth, Bill Shorten says he wants to roll that back and he’s quoted as saying yesterday that ‘we will work with the community to roll it back’, it’s already being used in Ceduna for quite a while. And there are plans to extend it to Queensland but ‘we will roll it back and come up with better solutions and we will actually help people who are down on their luck at the bottom of the cycle, down on their luck at the bottom of the cycle. That’s trivialising the sorts of problems that they’ve got at Ceduna?


Amanda Rishworth: Well firstly I mean I think the Auditor-General outlined that this program didn’t have any significant benefits. However in saying that, Bill Shorten was actually talking in Bundaberg and there was not community consent in Bundaberg. He wasn’t talking about Ceduna. When it comes to Ceduna there’s a trial going on. We supported that trial and we’ll see what the evidence is when it comes to that trial. The community is united and being properly consulted, then we’re not going to stand in the way


David Bevan:    So you won’t roll it back in Ceduna?


Amanda Rishworth: What Bill Shorten was talking about, was in Bundaberg. Now what we’ve said is it needs clear community consent and informed consent and that hasn’t been the case in Bundaberg. And so Bill Shorten was talking about that but when it comes to actually supporting communities that are dealing with drug and alcohol, cashless welfare cards are not the silver bullet. You need proper drug treatment. You need proper engagement in the community.


David Bevan:    I don’t think anybody is saying they are the silver bullet, but there are a lot of people on the West Coast who say it’s needed?


Amanda Rishworth: Well they may have said it’s helped and we’re not going to stand in the way of the community as a whole if it’s properly consulted and consents to such a trial, but that’s not in Bundaberg.


Ali Clarke: But there is consultation and I understand the idea of consultation. But the whole idea of a cashless welfare card is about control. Now if this works in different environments, you’re not going to roll it out in different places because you consult with them and they say no we don’t actually want that?

Amanda Rishworth: Well at the moment when you look at the evidence, the Auditor-General has been very very clear there is no evidence, no substantive evidence to say this is actually changing behaviour. Now, there is anecdotal evidence coming from Ceduna saying that it’s helped but of course we need community consent as well. There is no point enforcing these types of things on communities that don’t want it…

David Bevan: Maybe, maybe you do, maybe people who are not looking after their kids, you need to take away their money, and say I’m sorry but 80 per cent of the welfare recipient’s benefits need to be used just for necessities. I’m sorry.                                    


Amanda Rishworth: Well this is everyone…


David Bevan: We’re not going to have consensus on this…


Amanda Rishworth: Well this is everyone, this isn’t picking certain cases or identifying certain individual cases, this is across the board. So it’s not looking at individual circumstances about where people may or may not need that extra support…


David Bevan: Simon Birmingham?


Simon Birmingham:     Look an individual evaluation into Ceduna found that there are signs of considerable positive impacts. There is absolutely people in the Ceduna community and elsewhere where the trial has been undertaken who are positive about the fact that it is making a real difference, a real difference in terms of the fact that families have got more money to spend on food, on education, on housing, on things for their kids because less of it is going on booze and gambling, on all the things that are destroying those families and if that can be achieved, then it appears to be a positive sign, then frankly it’s reckless and irresponsible of Bill Shorten or Amanda Rishworth to say we will only do it if a community agrees to. If the evidence is there that we can do this effectively to take welfare payments, payments coming from taxpayers to families and making sure that they’re being spent on the things that will help those families to get the type of life and benefit and opportunities that those welfare payments are intended to provide. Well then we ought to make sure that we deploy those opportunities, not simply walk away from it, pretending that it’s too hard for government to do that or that government shouldn’t actually play a role in that regard. It’s really irresponsible to think that we just turn a blind eye and say ok we will just keep letting people spend too much money on gambling, too much money on booze and leave kids going hungry.

Ali Clarke:        It’s 14 minutes to nine. This is super Wednesday. That is the voice of the Minister for Trade Simon Birmingham, Amanda Rishworth, Labor MP for Kingston is in the studio with us and we also have the Greens spokesperson on trade the and environment Sarah Hanson-Young with us. Simon Birmingham, has Scott Morrison messed up the coup which was getting former ALP national president Warren Mundine by putting him into a seat without communicating to all involved and getting everybody onside. So now you have the person who is not going to be preselected now choosing to run against him as an independent?

Simon Birmingham: There are frequent preselection processes and decisions [indistinct]. That’s not unusual. Warren Mundine is an esteemed indigenous leader in Australia. He is somebody that we are proud to have as a potential Liberal candidate. And I think the Parliament will be a better place and the Liberal Party will be a better party and hopefully government, with Warren as part of that team.


Ali Clarke:        Couldn’t you have managed it better though?


Simon Birmingham: I think you can always look at what the internal handling and factors are…


Ali Clarke:        Could you have managed it better?


Simon Birmingham: What matters is, who’s on the field, who’s on the field at the next election. Internal party preselection’s, are just that, they’re internal party preselection processes, they of course have to be done in accordance with the various rules that parties have in different locations. What’s substantial though is whose name is on the ballot paper with the words Liberal Party next to it and that may well be it would seem Warren Mundine. If that’s the case then that would be a great coup for the Prime Minister and the party to have someone of Warren’s stature.

David Bevan: Amanda Rishworth, it is a little, look they’ve completely stuffed up the way they’ve managed it, but it remains embarrassing that the former ALP president now wants to stand as a Liberal?


Amanda Rishworth: Well it’s not embarrassing at all. Of course what you’ve got is Warren Mundine, who has made a choice to run for a different party. I assume that his values have changed. He obviously supports the Liberal Party’s plan to cut penalty rates, plans to cut health and hospitals, obviously values he’s now comfortable with. But of course what this has demonstrated is the chaos and dysfunction within the Liberal Party. You have the Liberal Party candidate that’s been preselected for the last eight months now running as an independent. So disillusioned by the whole party process that him and a number of the Presidents of the branches in the area are actually now running his independent campaign. So it just shows the absolute division dysfunction that we have under Scott Morrison and which is happening in the Liberal Party.


Ali Clarke:        All right, let’s listen to Sam Dastyari former Labor Senator. He’s in the jungle on a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here, reality type TV show. Look, I just want all three of you to listen to what he had to say. Sarah Hanson-Young. Have you ever been tired or agitated or sat next to someone in Parliament that was.


Sarah Hanson-Young:  Definitely sat in the Chamber, seeing people who are a bit tired and agitated, and in fact in my book, Unguarded, I talk about one incident where that occurred and I had another Senator at the time, it was a Senator who really behaved appallingly, made me think very hard about the standards of behaviour and how we treat each other in that place. I think sometimes there is the robust and rough and tumble and then there’s people who are just acting like morons. And I think it’s time that everybody think a bit more about what we’re doing in that place. We get paid a lot of money to do it. And I think Parliament, we should be going back next month with a view to lift the standards across the board.

David Bevan: Amanda Rishworth, is it anything like it was back in the old days, I reckon 40 or 50 years ago in the Old Parliament House it would have been the Wild West?


Amanda Rishworth: Look you hear stories about especially the old parliament where there were bars in the Parliament. I mean I think things have changed. And one of those examples is that I think about nine years ago the staff bar turned into a childcare centre. So it shows that change in parliament. And of course you know there’s the famous story of Tony Abbott not being tired and agitated, but tired and asleep and missing the vote during a critical time, during the global financial crisis. But you know you can always do better. But look I think culture has changed pretty significantly over the years.


David Bevan: Simon Birmingham, yes or no. Should there be a zero alcohol tolerance at least in the chambers. I mean other people are going to work they get drug tested before they can go to work?


Simon Birmingham: I’d be relaxed. Equally I think in the end thing, the public hold us to account. And if somebody is silly enough to go into the chamber drunk and get caught out , says something silly then the odds are that between their pre-selection or the next election they’re likely to lose their job. And I think the standards have changed, I think Amanda is right. We’ve seen significant changes compared to probably what was the case just a couple of decades ago. And I think the truth is that if you guys in the media were to catch somebody out doing the wrong thing appearing to have had one too many going into the chamber the scandal would be such there career would be finished and appropriately so.

Ali Clarke:        Well Simon Birmingham we’ll leave you in Davos putting on another fleece and extra scarf. Amanda Rishworth and Sarah Hanson-Young, thank you very much for your time as well.