Interview on ABC Radio Adelaide, Breakfast with Ali Clarke and David Bevan
Topics: AFP warrants on AWU headquarters; National Energy Guarantee
David Bevan: Amanda Rishworth, newly promoted Shadow Minister for Early childhood education and representing the Labor party in the southern suburbs of Adelaide. Welcome to you.
Amanda Rishworth: Good morning, great to be with you.
David Bevan: And, Cory Bernardi, leader of the Australian Conservatives and South Australian Senator, good morning Cory Bernardi.
Cory Bernardi: Good morning, David, Ali and Amanda.
David Bevan: Amanda Rishworth, can we start with you. Do you question the independence of the Australian Federal Police?
Amanda Rishworth: Not at all, in terms of the role that the AFP do we have the highest regard, what we’re questioning is the Government, the Government has clearly misused their powers to direct the Commission, the Register Organisations Commission to investigate the AWU and what we’re questioning is the Government, they have clear questions to answer in terms of the role they played in directing the Register Organisations Commission to look into the AWU.
David Bevan: Simon Birmingham, can you answer those questions?
Simon Birmingham: Well the Registered Organisation Commission is a statutory body established by the parliament with independence, the ORC has chosen of its own independence to undertake these investigations into donations the AWU made when Mr Shorten was its head, and this is all about ensuring the hardworking money of hardworking union members is used in appropriate ways by organisations such as trade unions. Now the Registered Organisations Commission is an independent body made its decision to do so, it when independently through a Magistrate to get a warrant for a search, that the Australian Federal Police, another independent entity carried out.
David Bevan: So can you assure our listeners there has been no direction from the Federal Government to the Registered Organisations Commission to go ahead and do this work?
Simon Birmingham: Yes.
David Bevan: Amanda Rishworth, what’s the problem?
Amanda Rishworth: Well look I believe, there is still questions to be answered, why was for example the media alerted before the police arrived at the AWU offices. Is Simon Birmingham suggesting that Minister Cash or any of her staff have not been involved at all in any discussions with the Registered Organisations Authority or indeed with the media to alert them to the fact that the police were potentially going to the AWU. But I think there is a wider question here. And that is the Government has got form on this, we know that Malcolm Turnbull on his election night loss threatened to call in the police on that night, he also at the beginning of an election campaign, the police were called in to seize documents from staff members about the disastrous NBN. This is a Prime Minister that has absolutely run out of ideas, he spends more time talking about the Labor party than he does his own program and that is because he is desperate to somehow claw back some popularity.
Ali Clarke: Simon Birmingham, returning to you then. Has Minister Cash had any communication as Amanda Rishworth is suggesting and were the media alerted to this raid before the police even arrived?
Simon Birmingham: Well I’m absolutely confident that the media were not have been alerted by any Minister offices to these activities, that is certainly not the case, usually if there a raid been undertaken by the AFP there may be some very nominal notice given by the AFP to the relevant Minister, that such an activity is taking place. I don’t know whether that occurred on this occasion. But I can assure listeners that matters are held tightly and in-confidence at those matters because of their sensitivity. That is a normal function that would have been the case under Labor Government’s previously, let’s understand what has happened here, an independent body that was established to ensure that registered organisations like trade unions behave in accordance with the law, behave in a way where they look after member’s money and funds appropriately, is undertaking its work. Now I understand the Labor party feels uncomfortable about the fact that questions are being asked about the way the AWU politicised the use of union member’s money was Mr Shorten was the leader but that’s the inquiry they’ve launched, it will run its course, this is about seeking potential evidence that the ORC clearly wants or believes the AWU may have. And it is for them to then determine where it goes from there.
David Bevan: Cory Bernardi, do you have a problem with anything that has transpired in the last 24 hours?
Cory Bernardi: No I’m backing the Government on this, the Labor party is simply running a protection racquet for any [Indistinct] of unions and they’ve done it in respect to questions over the AWU. They did it in respect to the Health Services Union, they’re in denial about lawlessness of the CFMEU and I don’t think that unions, trade unions where there’re is allegations or suspicions of misuse of member’s money should go untroubled and so if the Government through the independent authority wants to get to the bottom of the allegations, they should be able to do it, and Labor are simply trying to muddy the waters because they don’t like the allegations being levelled against them…
David Bevan: We have had, is there any evidence that the AWU did misuse those funds, the chap from the AWU was talking to Sabra Lane about half an hour ago, and he said it’s no surprise here we support GetUp, we don’t support everything they do but we think that broadly there in line with the best interest of our members, so what is the problem of giving them money?
Cory Bernardi: The questions is, was it documented? Was it authorised by the board? That is the real question because we know there are unions that have had history of misusing member’s money, we have had slush funds, we’ve had all sorts of things go on and if $100 000 or $10 000 or any amount of money has been sent to external organisations without authorisation, that’s in breach of the rules.
David Bevan: Amanda Rishwroth, the Prime Minister did make the point earlier today that GetUp is opposed to most of the industries which employ members of the AWU that’s a fair point isn’t it?
Amanda Rishworth: The first one I’d make, about some of the allegations that have been made, is the Government has already had an $80 million Royal Commission into unions, I mean there has already been this witch hunt and I think people would be scratching their heads about why more taxpayers money was being sent on the same day that we find out as a result of cuts to the AFP they have been limited in the drug smuggling operations they’ve been able to investigate so I think people would be scratching their heads and wondering why there is this constant obsession by the conservatives into unions, they just don’t like them, they don’t like the fact unions stand up for their members, demand that penalty rates are not cut, demand workers get decent wages and conditions, they just don’t like it and that is ultimately you know what we see from the conservatives in their union bashing. But I would say in terms of donations or advocacy there are lots of businesses that donate to political parties, there are a number of organisations that support and back in conservative side of politics and others that back in the progressive side of politics. Is the liberal party really suggesting that we shut down every organisation that disagrees with them, is that really what we’re talking about here because that sounds like a police state
Simon Birmingham: So two quick points there, one in relation to businesses, registered employer organisation are subjected to the Registered Organisations Commission just like trade unions, it treats both sides completely equally when it comes to all of their activities including whether their using funds appropriately. Also, it’s an outright lie from Amanda Rishworth to talk about funding cuts to the AFP.
Anne Rishworth: It is not
Simon Birmingham: Since 2014 we have boosted funding by $1.5 billion, just last year we added an additional $321 million into the budget of the AFP, frankly the only cuts that occurred to the AFP were between 2010 and2013 when $128 million was stripped out.
Ali Clarke: Are they the figures you were looking at Amanda Rishworth?
Amanda Rishworth: No, and this is actually the figures.
Ali Clarke: What are your figures then? If Simon Birmingham comes back and disputes what you say?
Amanda Rishworth: This is not what I’m saying, this is actually what the Commissioner of the AFP said, Andrew Colvin who confirmed he was having to absorb budgets cuts of a $184 million, I’m not saying this Simon, it is your Commissioner of the AFP that said this. Under the provisions of Senate Estimates. It’s just not right.
David Bevan: And Simon Birmingham, do you have a problem with the federal opposition asking questions based on ABC news reports?
Simon Birmingham: Well I don’t have a problem with Federal oppositions asking any questions at all that that they want to ask, now there seemed to be an amazing coincidence I guess in terms of the opposition asking questions about an ABC report that appeared at the same time as the opposition was wanting to ask those questions at the same time that the AFP I gather was appearing before Senate Estimates, that it all was a remarkable coincidence, perhaps that’s all it was. The opposition was entitled to ask their questions.
David Bevan: Well again, big deal, so what if political parties and journalist’s talk all the time and they provide information to each other, there is an exchange, now sometimes it can get a little too close, but your office provides us with information which we use to use to conduct interviews, so does the Labor party, I’m sure the Australian Conservatives would correspond and talk to journalists all the time, saying we think you should follow this line. So what is the big deal here?
Simon Birmingham: Well I think people would find it crossing that line if it were to be the case that the ABC timed the publishing of a story to assist or to coincide with questioning by the opposition.
Ali Clarke: Would that be like Amanda Rishworth saying that the media was tipped off that these raids were going to go ahead, that kind of coincidence?
Simon Birmingham: Well let’s understand here. This is a question that crosses into how the integrity of the ABC operates and that’s the question that is posed there, the opposition is free to ask any questions in question time they want, but if the ABC were to be, I’m not saying they were, but if they were to be, colluding with the opposition to time stories to suit the oppositions questioning strategy, then I think that is a fair question, given of course the high regard we all expect the ABC to held in.
Ali Clarke: Well Simon Birmingham, David Bevan are flat out colluding with each other in here. So it’s not us, I’ll let you know that much. Let’s move on to power. This morning Jay Weatherill was on the program, and he’s saying that states won’t support the Commonwealth’s National Energy Guarantee without seeing some modelling which underpin it. Here is a bit of what he had to say?
Jay Weatherill (excerpt): It is incapable of being accepted by anyone because it is just doesn’t have any detail, it’s a mere shell and we are sort of really back to where we sort of started from, there is basically consensus you need to have a market based mechanism to put a price on carbon, so everybody knows what the future looks like in terms of certainty and they haven’t done that. So doesn’t matter what you describe this thing whether it’s an emissions trading scheme or the emissions intensity scheme, or clean energy target or now there new name the NEG, I have even forgotten what that stands for, you’re really just back to where you started from, that is what price do you put on emissions, where do you set the emissions level, and that all comes back to whether your serious about climate change, whether you believe in climate change, or whether you’re like Tony Abbott and you think it’s all crap.
David Bevan: Is that what the debate has degenerated in to whether or not you believe in climate change? Amanda Rishworth?
Amanda Rishworth: Well I do think that is the fundamental question here, but I think it’s much broader than that, we’ve had a Prime Minister that has had two other ideas I guess first an emissions intensity scheme in which a lot of work was done modelling, there was consensus with industry and those other environmental groups about the best way forward. Then we had a clean energy target once again consensus in the business industry, states and territories were talking about how they might develop that, the opposition says look we’ll offer bi-partisan support and as a result of Tony Abbott’s pressure that has been thrown out the door. Quite frankly it’s not just about reducing emissions while that is an important part, the lack of direction and stagnation of this debate has meant that energy prices have gone up, so it is a price issue, and is actually about working on a long-term system that will attract investment and drive energy prices down and there has been nothing from the Coalition’s latest iteration that suggests that this will actually be effective. What we’ve heard from them is it may in three years’ time reduce your power bills by 50 cents, I mean that is the extent of what we’ve been given in a half page letter. So it’s no wonder the states territories aren’t taking it seriously.
David Bevan: Cory Bernardi?
Cory Bernardi: Both the Government’s and opposition’s electricity policy are a load of nonsense they are not going to deliver reliable baseload energy and affordable price. If you want to cut emissions then you’ve got to open up the nuclear option and you also have to look at new coal-fired power stations, if we spend instead of funding renewable energy to the tune of $60 billion over the next 15 years or so, if we spent that building coal-fired power stations we would not only met our Paris agreements which I think are nonsensical anyway, we could do it, and we could have reliable based load energy right across the power.
David Bevan: Amanda Rishworth, The Climate Change Authority, the independent Government body that advised the Government on climate change mitigation says your party’s policy of a 50 per cent renewable energy target by 2030 would add almost $200 a year to household energy bills.
Amanda Rishworth: They didn’t model our policy. I mean they modelled a fictitious policy, which was given to them by News Limited. I mean this policy had some sort of emissions intensity scheme that was linked to an international price of carbon of $69 something in that order, that has never been our policy.
Simon Birmingham: What a remarkable allegation Amanda, you’re suggesting that the Climate Change Authority modelled a policy given to them by News Limited. No, the Climate Change Authority.
Sarah Hanson-Young: No it is not our policy.
Amanda Rishworth: It is not our policy Simon. It is not the parameters of our policy. Our policy was a closed system, an emissions intensity system but that is not, we have been.
Simon Birmingham: What would that do to power bills?
Amanda Rishwroth: Excuse me, we’ve been working with, trying to work with you to look at a clean energy target, look at how we can achieve bi-partisan support, a policy that Malcolm Turnbull said had a lot of merit. Of course that has now been thrown out.
Cory Bernardi: I told you it was nonsensical.
Anne Rishworth: What we know is that investment in renewable energy will actually drive down power prices.
David Bevan: Well it hasn’t in South Australia?
Cory Bernardi: The circular logic is breathtaking.
Amanda Rishworth: Well there’s.
David Bevan: Amanda Rishworth, we’ve got more renewable energy than anybody else in the country and we’ve got some of the highest power prices, so that doesn’t work.
Amanda Rishworth: We need a system that, the coal-fired power stations are closing down, not because of any policy…
David Bevan: No no but just on the point Amanda Rishwroth, you say about renewable energy will drive down prices, we’ve got more renewable energy than anybody else but we’ve got some of the highest power prices.
Amanda Rishworth: Investment in renewable energy, the cost is coming down and what we need is..
David Bevan: You want more?
Amanda Rishworth: No no, what we need is policy from the Federal Government that gives investment certainty, we need more investment in energy, we need more investment in not only renewable energy, in storage as well, as other sources of power but without any policy from the Federal Government, no one is investing.
Cory Bernardi: Amanda has just demonstrated complete lack of understanding of electricity markets and the requirement for baseload power generation. You know what you’re not going to get it at night time Amanda, your experiment in South Australia has been a disaster and it has been exported all over the country. Until you can front reality we’re stuck in this.
Ali Clarke: Simon Birmingham, Federal Education Minister and representative here, can I just put to you then the same idea I put to the South Australian Premier Jay Weatherill, that people are so sick of the political in-fighting to get to wherever we need to be to open up our electricity bill and see it cheaper. So if the state leaders, sure the Labor state leaders are asking for more detail on your policy, will you give it to them?
Simon Birmingham: Last week when we released the advice from the Energy Security Board that proposed the establishment of the Electricity or Energy Guarantee, we made clear that we had already asked them for further modelling to be done and that modelling would be shared with the state leaders, so we’re absolutely providing more detail. But listening to Jay Weatherill there, talk exclusively about putting a price on emissions to reduce emissions shows that he has learnt nothing from the blackout in South Australia. He’s [Indistinct] to none of the advice from the energy regulators or market operators, which has been that you have to balance emissions reductions objectives with reliability targets as well and the thing that the National Energy Guarantee that we have proposed has done, it actually puts in place an arrangement that brings together reliability so you can be confident that the power is there when you need it, together with meeting out international obligations, unlike the Labor party’s policy the projections are it will show price decreases over a period of time, now all of that will be subject to further modelling and analysis.
Ali Clarke: And when will that be available?
Simon Birmingham: Even with all the political bashing that Jay Wetherill is undertaking, he has left the door ever so slightly ajar to support this, because he should support it because it is the way to guarantee the lights go on when you flick the switch, and we meet the rest of our obligations.
Ali Clarke: Apologies Simon Birmingham but we’re up against time. But when will that modelling be in?
Simon Birmingham: That modelling will be produced in the next couple of months and be provided through the usual COAG process.
Mark Butler: Next year?
Simon Birmingham: No, I think there are plans to have further information to the leaders this year.
Ali Clarke: Great, thank you very much. Simon Birmingham, Federal Education Minister, Amanda Rishworth, newly promoted shadow minister for early child hood and education and development and Cory Bernardi, leader of the Australian Conservatives, thank you for your time.