Topics: John Setka; Manus Island detention centre; household energy costs; legislating tax cuts.




David Bevan: …Super Wednesday panelists, in the studio Amanda Rishworth Labor MP for Kingston.


Amanda Rishworth: Good morning.


David Bevan: Rex Patrick, Centre Alliance Senator for South Australia and everybody’s new best friend.


Rex Patrick: Good morning. 


David Bevan: And on the phone line Simon Birmingham Minister for Trade Liberal Senator. Good morning to you.


Simon Birmingham: Good morning. Rex has always been a friend…


Amanda Rishworth: Yeah, now he is.


Simon Birmingham: Whether we always agree is a different thing (indistinct).


David Bevan: Now you want his vote, he’s your best friend.


Ali Clarke: Alright let’s head to John Setka, now he’s the CFMEU boss who’s defying a Labor bid to get him out of the party. Now for those who haven’t been keeping up, he plans to plead guilty to criminal charges of having used a carriage service to harass a woman last year. But he has also made comments about former Australian of the Year Rosie Batty. He says those comments were an outright lie and he doesn’t want to leave the Labor Party. Amanda Rishworth should he be in?


Amanda Rishworth: Well look there’s a process underway. His membership has been suspended from the Labor Party and Anthony Albanese our Labor leader has signalled that he will go for expulsion.  Of course the reported comments that John Setka made really are out of step with Australian values.


Ali Clarke: He told the national meeting of unionists that men have fewer rights since Rosie Batty raised awareness about the scourge of domestic abuse in Australia, that’s the allegation.


Amanda Rishworth: Which really suggests that the serious issue of domestic violence, family violence, that Rosie Batty has done so well at highlighting really diminishing that work is out of step with Australian values and Labor Party values and so I think that Anthony Albanese has made that quite clear. He as the Labor leader has said that he will move this motion at the National Executive and I think it’s appropriate that that those processes take its place. But he’s been very clear about his views.


David Bevan: But Setka says he’s been taken out of context, is this just another reason to get rid of Setka, people like your leader, a lot of people in the Labor Party don’t want him around so this is a good reason to get rid of him. He says he’s being treated unfairly, taken out of context.


Amanda Rishworth: Well there’s a process that will be finalised at the next national executive meeting of the Labor Party but anyone that knows the work of Rosie Batty, anyone that knows, in the face of absolute devastation that she stood up against you know what is a scourge in Australian society in terms of family violence, has really made this issue on the front of everyone’s mind, to diminish that work and to denigrate that work I think is out of step with what the Labor Party stands for.


David Bevan: Simon Birmingham is Anthony Albanese doing the right thing?


Simon Birmingham: Well it’s just so long overdue in terms of John Setka and there is a bigger issue at play here as well. John Setka is emblematic of the (indistinct). 


Ali Clarke: Sorry Simon Birmingham, we were having issues with your phone line.


Simon Birmingham: Sorry?


Ali Clarke: That sounds good where you are now.


Simon Birmingham: Sounds better?


Ali Clarke: Yes.


Simon Birmingham: The CFMEU been fined $16 million for breaking the laws around Australia, there’s more than 70 different CFMEU officials facing charges before the courts at present. John Setka, may be the one getting all the headlines and some of his comments are clearly far more outrageous, far more out of step and defensive, but there’s a whole cultural problem through this union (indisinct) serious about actually having standards of conduct and they ought to disaffiliate the unions and stop taking their donations.


Amanda Rishworth: Well of course it’s not surprising that Simon Birmingham is anti-union anti-worker.


Simon Birmingham: I am not anti-union, I am anti people who break the law.


Amanda Rishworth: Well you are, any reason to bash the unions who stand up for workers’ rights is usually what you do and you’re cheering on the penalty rate cuts coming on the 1st July.


Ali Clarke: But Amanda Rishworth, to a point I think that I think Simon Birmingham is getting to why is comments about Rosie Batty the straw that broke the camel’s back, when last month this same person said that he plans to plead guilty to criminal charges of using a carriage service to harass a woman last year?


Amanda Rishworth: Well of course those have to play out before the court and I don’t want to prejudice any court proceeding but…


Simon Birmingham: Not any of the 70 different court proceedings.


Amanda Rishworth: Well they are not, they are industrial laws Simon, not not the law that we’re talking about, the criminal proceedings.


Simon Birmingham: So it’s okay to break those laws?


Amanda Rishworth: No no no I’m not saying that, I’m saying you’re really making it very, you’re making this attack a general attack on the union movement. Obviously I don’t want to prejudice, I

don’t want to prejudice any court, any proceedings before the court but these comments made about Rosie Batty really denigrate the work that she’s done and out of step with the Labor party.


David Bevan: Senator Rex Patrick, are you happy to see John Setka go?


Rex Patrick: Yeah I agree with Simon on this one, this is long overdue and I also agree with him about the conduct of the CFMEU over time, we do need to do something about the unions that are basically rebellious and treat that rebellion as just a cost of doing business or the court fines that they receive.


David Bevan: About this time yesterday former Adelaide journalist Natalie Whiting was filing this report which would be played on ABC radio stations throughout the country. Let’s hear a little bit from the 12 o’clock news bulletin.


News presenter: Refugees on Manus Island say 50 people have now self-harmed or attempted suicide in recent weeks. The latest, a man who set fire to himself, PNG correspondent Natalie Whiting has details.


Natalie Whiting: There’s been a dramatic increase in self-harm and suicide attempts on Manus Island since the Australian election result. Many of the men still on the island were hoping Labor would win and take up New Zealand’s offer to resettle 150 people. Refugees on the island say in the latest self-harm incident a Somali man set fire to himself. Photos of the man on the ground covered in firefighting retardant with security officers standing alongside him have been posted to social media. He’s being treated at the local health clinic. Refugee and author Behrouz Boochani  says 50 men have self-harmed or attempted suicide in recent weeks. Natalie Whiting, ABC News Papua New Guinea.


Ali Clarke: Simon Birmingham, how are we supposed to feel when we hear stories like that?


Simon Birmingham: These individual cases are tragic and we urge people to reach out to use the resources that are provided in terms of support for health care, clinical treatment and mental health care, and it’s available in terms of services on Manus. And what we’ve managed to do is over a period of time, whittled the numbers down significantly because there have been no new arrivals, there’s been successful resettlements, all children were resettled now some time ago. It’s been hundreds of people who’ve been resettled as part of the US agreement but critically all of this as well has been ensuring that we have no new arrivals which means no more people going into any of these circumstances.


David Bevan: So is this the price we pay to stop the boats?


Simon Birmingham: Well David all of these policy measures have been integral to stopping the boats.


David Bevan: So the answer is yes.


Simon Birmingham: And in stopping the boats and giving us that security around our borders, it’s given us a circumstance that means you no longer have anybody new going into any of these detention circumstances.


David Bevan: So that’s the price we have to pay to stop the boats?


Simon Birmingham: Well that gives us the pathway to ultimately have nobody in detention. At the end of the Howard years, there was nobody in detention and our mission is to have nobody in these circumstances. Now on Manus people are essentially now free to move around, it’s not a detention circumstances such in any event. There’s support for those who can be able to return to their homes if that’s available to them, and we continue to work on other resettlement options when necessary.


David Bevan: Well if it’s so great why 50 men self-harming or attempting suicide?


Simon Birmingham: Well David I can’t speak for the individual cases of those and I’m not saying that it’s so great but I am saying that every effort has been done to ensure that there are support services available as well as continued efforts to deliver resettlement and resettlement as I say that has seen the vast majority of the thousands of people who were in detention when we took office, resettled in different circumstances around the world or return back to their homelands.


Ali Clarke: Amanda Rishworth?


Amanda Rishworth: Well look I mean obviously it’s very disturbing to hear these sorts of reports and hear about the desperation of these individuals. I think the government has been very very slack when looking for third country options. There have been a number of countries including New Zealand who have said they are willing to resettle these individuals and the government has refused. So while Labor has absolutely committed to offshore processing, indefinite detention was not part of that plan and it shouldn’t be part of the Government’s plan. They should be working to resettle these individuals not indefinite detention for six years which they’ve committed to.


David Bevan: Rex Patrick?


Rex Patrick: We need to strike a balance here. Australians would expect us to be compassionate and act with humanity in respect to these people. It is a tricky situation, in this instance I agree with Amanda that we need to work as a priority to get these people resettled.


Ali Clarke: Look at you, you’re agreeing with the Libs, you’re agreeing with Labor. This is why you are the man of the moment.


Rex Patrick: Well that’s what happens when you sit in the centre of politics.


Ali Clarke: So let’s get to the tax cuts we were talking about this before and having a little bit of a joke that…


David Bevan: Well Pauline Hanson wants the, in order to get her support for the tax package, she wants the Federal Government to look at the Bradfield Scheme which is a 1930s plan to divert water from the north of the country to the south west Queensland and South Australia. She wants a coal fired power station and I think everybody in her electorate is going to end up with a unicorn. What do you want?


Rex Patrick: Yeah well I’m not going to comment on what Pauline Hanson wants, that’s a matter for her. What we want to do is make sure that if firstly, this is a $158 billion decision these tax cuts, and we have to make these sorts of decisions having done due diligence. We don’t have a situation where we grant tax cuts and then two or three years down track with a softening economy, we end up with cuts to health services, cuts to aged pensions or sorry aged care services, cuts to education, so we have to be very careful. In discussions with the government, one of the areas that we’ve raised is is energy costs. We have a situation where in South Australia 51 per cent of our electricity is generated by way of gas. Rod Sims tells us, he’s the chairman the ACCC, tells us that the gas price is about to rise and that means electricity prices are going to go back up. We might have a perverse situation where the tax cuts are granted, the disposable income that that attempts to provide people with then gets sucked up by energy companies, in fact mostly oversees energy companies and we end up back in in the same spot except we have less revenue.


David Bevan: Okay so what do you want from Simon Birmingham? He’s the Trade Minister we sell a lot of gas I think cheaper than what we sell overseas than what we sell here in this country.


Rex Patrick: Yeah the spot market price at the moment on the east coast market is around about $9.30, in Asia the same gas, it’s our gas, is selling for $7.70. That’s a perverse situation and you know it affects the entire economy. You know it doesn’t matter whether you run a fish and chip shop, whether you run a radio station or whether you run a chemical plant, energy is a key input to every aspect of the economy.


David Bevan: But those contracts selling overseas, I mean they would have been sorted out a year, two, three years ago and we’ve got to deliver we can’t not sell…


Rex Patrick: So Santos for example opened up gas trains in Gladstone to export gas and in doing so in their economic impact statement, they said that they would not be diverting gas from the local market to export markets and in fact they have breached that undertaking. We need to put Australia first, not these companies first.


David Bevan: Simon Birmingham has Santos breached its undertakings? 


Simon Birmingham: Well I don’t believe that’s the case David. Now we put in place mechanisms over a year ago now to be able to step in and if need be, regulate the flow of gas offshore so that we can provide… 


Rex Patrick: Just to be clear Simon, that was a negotiation between Nick Xenophon myself and Matt Canavan that put that mechanism in place and of course it hasn’t been triggered.


Simon Birmingham: No, it hasn’t been triggered because we extracted certain undertakings from the companies at the time that they had honoured for a period of time. All of that is being looked at again carefully in light of the current circumstances in gas markets. I mean, Australia wants to be an exporting country. We have recorded trade surpluses now for 28 of the last 30 months and natural gas plays a role in that, an important role in that. I think most listeners would be very pleased to hear that we now regularly export more from the country than we import and that that’s very good for our economy and the generation of jobs in Australia. So we don’t want to jeopardise that but equally, gas is important in terms of as an industrial source for manufacturing and to keep those costs down from manufacturing industry, as well as for households.  In terms of the tax cuts, I mean clearly we want Rex and Stirling and the cross bench to support it but first and foremost we want the Labor Party’s support on tax relief for hard working Australians.


David Bevan: But on this issue of the gas, does Rex Patrick make a good point and you need to go back and revisit the Santos contracts? 


Simon Birmingham: Well it’s not a matter of revisiting contracts, we have mechanisms…


David Bevan: Well make sure they are being enforced.


Simon Birmingham: We have mechanisms as we discussed that are in place, if need be we’ll sit down with the companies again and have a look at what further commitments need to be put in place. Of course what we’d really like to see as well is that those states and regions who stand against further development of the gas industry in Australia actually allow that further production to occur because that would be very helpful in allowing us to meet both our domestic needs and the export markets and that would be the best possible outcome for the country and that’s one that the gas companies want and we as a Federal Government want but unfortunately states like Victoria stand in the way of that and that’s something we will continue to put pressure on too.


David Bevan: At almost seven minutes to nine, last word to you Amanda Rishworth.


Amanda Rishworth: Look, I’d just make the comment that Labor is willing to pass the tax cuts that are meant to…


Simon Birmingham: Excellent.


Amanda Rishworth: …come into effect on the 1st of July, the stage 1 tax cuts which you made a promise and you’ve already broken. We’re happy to do that but what you’re doing Simon is playing politics tax cuts that don’t even come into effect until 2024. So if you want your tax cuts passed that start on the 1st of July just make sure that that’s the legislation on the table and we can deal with the 2024 tax cuts which is in two elections time, later on down track.


Simon Birmingham: Sorry Amanda, the legislation on the table will be the legislation that we promised to the Australian people at the election.


Amanda Rishworth: Of course, because you’re playing politics with it.


Ali Clarke: Look for a scary minute then I thought we were all going to end this as being best friends but there’s still some work to go.  Thank you very much to Simon Birmingham on the line, Amanda Rishworth in the studio with us and Rex Patrick, Centre Alliance Senator from South Australia.




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