Subject: (GST; Bronwyn Bishop)
KIERAN GILBERT: With me now from Adelaide, Liberal front bencher, the Assistant Education Minister, Simon Birmingham, and from Brisbane, Labor’s Graham Perrett; gentlemen, good morning to you. Senator Birmingham, to you first of all, the Treasurer and the Prime Minister have said for some time that the states…if there’s going to be any argument on the GST, that the states need to lead the argument. Well now you’ve got Mike Baird doing just that, is it time for Joe Hockey to get off the fence and say look, we support what Baird is suggesting, to put the revenue and the tax revenue on a sustainable basis?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well Kieran look, I think it’s welcome that we’re seeing State Premiers engaging in this discussion and that they are clearly coming to the table this week around discussions of the future of the Federation in an incredibly constructive manner and that’s what I would encourage all of the state leaders to do and I do hope they all come to that table to talk about how the Federation operates, how we can remove any duplication in the Federation, how we can make sure that the responsibilities of the states and the Commonwealth are as clear cut as possible, ensuring accountabilities are as strong as possible and that all of the future cost pressures are financed and ultimately, the GST is a state tax, it is a matter for the states and territories, but this week I’m sure we will have hopefully a proper and holistic conversation between the Commonwealth and all of the states about all of those different issues that frustrate people about the way our Federation works sometimes. The buck passing, the confusion about where responsibility lies and at the end of that I hope we can take a step forward and give some clarity about where those responsibilities should sit in the future.
KIERAN GILBERT: Graham Perrett, do you think that the electorate might be tired of scare campaigns on this issue and particularly if there is an appropriate set of compensation to go to lower income earners, as Mike Baird suggested this morning in The Australian, that those with incomes of less than $100,000 should receive compensation as part of any change to the GST and he doesn’t want the base broadened, he’s just talking about increasing the rate from 10% to 15%?
GRAHAM PERRETT: Well I agree with Simon that anything that will improve the Federation should be looked at, that’s what sensible governments do, be it Commonwealth or State. Obviously, the Prime Minister said 33 times before the election that there would be no changes to the GST and I’m sure he’s an honourable man who keeps his word, so that would seem to put those discussions…make them a little bit complicated, a little bit fraught and then you have that horrible situation where Simon and his team promised in the 2014 budget to rip $80 billion from the states. You can’t hold a gun to someone’s head, the State Premiers, and say “let’s have a conversation” that’s not a conversation, that’s like having a conversation with a blackmailer. This is not the sensible approach but let’s see what comes out of the meeting next week, but I’m sure the Prime Minister will keep his word, he did say it 33 times, looking forward to him keeping his word.
KIERAN GILBERT: Now, I mentioned in the introduction to the program, Senator Birmingham, that there has been criticism from some in the business community, some economists who are saying that there’s just not a significant or sufficient reform agenda for the government heading in to what you hope is a second term, should this for the basis for that?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well Kieran, we’ve always said that the discussions around the Federation White Paper and the Tax Reform White Paper would form the basis for a second term agenda. That we would take policies out of those discussions to the next election and that’s always been…I think this government has a very strong reform agenda on which to stand, has significant achievements in signing multiple free trade agreements in getting the budget back in shape, it’s by no means perfect yet but we are on the right trajectory towards re-establishing surpluses in the future and absolutely tackling many of the difficult areas of waste, but we also took to the last election, commitments to review the Federation, so these discussions about how it works effectively are an initiative of Tony Abbotts. To review the tax system, that’s an initiative of Tony Abbott and Joe Hockey’s and we’re doing this work in a comprehensive manner so that we make sound and sensible policy decisions rather than the Labor Party who seem to just want to latch on to saying “let’s bring back the carbon tax”.
KIERAN GILBERT: Graham Perrett, do you respect the fact that Mike Baird has had the political guts to at least put forward this difficult reform as he did with the privatisation of poles and wires and won an election on it?
GRAHAM PERRITT: Look, reform is hard. You need a leader who is prepared to go out there and talk about these things. You think of all the big reforms of the last 30-40 years, you’ve had courageous Prime Ministers, courageous Premiers. Obviously, Mike Baird is three and a half years away from an election, Tony Abbott is looking down the barrel of an election coming close, so he hasn’t shown a lot of courage when it comes to leading national conversations. He’s out there saying…you’ve got a Treasurer saying that the age of entitlement is over and the Parliamentary Speaker is flying around helicopters and they’re smoking cigars at the same time as attacking pensioners. They’ve got mixed messages; I’m yet to see any courage on the part of the Prime Minister and I’d be very, very surprised if any comes out in the next week or so.
KIERAN GILBERT: Senator Birmingham, you can respond to that, but also I guess, that comparison where you’ve got an attempt to try and have a sensible policy debate and yet Graham Perrett quite easily segues to this other ongoing debacle for the government and that is the distraction of the Speaker’s entitlements?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well people can choose to be distracted if they want and the Labor Party always love being distracted. As a government, we will focus on the real issues facing the country. We’ve got a good track record; we’ve grown 120,000 new jobs this year, some 290,000 since we were elected. Today we’ll celebrate the fact that working with Mike Baird, we have the Westconnex project in NSW that is 18 months ahead of schedule and will deliver a $20 billion economic lift to the NSW economy. So we’re a government with a big agenda and we’re getting on with that, undistracted by any of these other side issues and we will now have a proper conversation with the states and territories about how health and education responsibilities sit between the states and the Commonwealth, how all of these matters will be funded in the future with different cost pressures and we want to have those constructive conversations and Mike Baird is to be applauded for putting his views on the table, but I’m sure he is also somebody who will bring a constructive and conciliatory approach to those discussions and…
KIERAN GILBERT: …do you think that will give the Prime Minister and Treasurer encouragement, though? Do you think that will give them a bit of a boost on this? Because they’ve seemed reticent on it to say the least.
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: I think the Prime Minister wants to see consensus among the state and territory leaders around…
KIERAN GILBERT: …It’s not going to happen though, is it?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: …around how we reform the Federation, how we deal with tax issues. Let’s try to be optimistic about this, we’ve seen different state leaders show some leadership on this matter coming in to the Federation discussions, Mike Baird has to his credit. I’ve seen Jay Weatherill dampen down some of the scare tactics that Federal Labor have run about aspects of the Federation White Paper discussion and Jay Weatherill has encouraged mature debate, so let’s have those mature discussions and see what the end product is rather than try to pre-empt that.
KIERAN GILBERT: I want to play you a bit of what Bronwyn Bishop said at the weekend when asked about the Treasurer’s comments that her use of the chopper didn’t pass the “sniff test”. The issue was at a news conference on Saturday, if you didn’t see it.
[EXCERPT FROM PRESS CONFERENCE]
Simon Birmingham, your thoughts on that? Bronwyn Bishop under a bit of pressure has a whack at the Treasurer on the way through in trying to defend her use of the chopper.
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well maybe that was a funny thing to say, too.
KIERAN GILBERT: Ok. So, can she survive as Speaker?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Look Kieran, Bronwyn has acknowledged that there was an error of judgement. She has repaid the money, she has paid the penalty on top of that…We brought in that penalty regime so the rules are stricter and clearer than they were previously and I think it really is a case that we should be focussing on the big issues.
KIERAN GILBERT: Ok. Graham Perrett, your take on that. Is this something that will blow over for the Speaker and the government?
GRAHAM PERRETT: Kieran, on the day that the Prime Minister, the head of the executive and the Leader of the Parliament, Christopher Pyne, dragged Bronwyn Bishop, not very reluctantly, to the Speaker’s chair, I made a speech and you can see it on my website. I made a speech about what I thought Bronwyn Bishop would be like as a speaker and she’s lived down to all my expectations. Obviously, anyone who thinks that it is acceptable to get a helicopter to travel 80kms or to go to a fundraiser and mention democracy is that the rule now? If I go to a Labor Party fundraiser that mentions democracy, I’m somehow able to have the tax payer fund that? I mean come on, this doesn’t pass any test. I was at the footy on the weekend, on Saturday morning I heard three different conversations going on with people that didn’t know I was nearby, talking about this. This doesn’t pass the “sniff test” , it doesn’t pass the “pub test”, it doesn’t pass any Australian attitude as to what the fair go might be. It’s more important that we do focus on the economy and the challenges that are coming our way. Simon is misrepresenting the challenges facing the economy, but we need to have a government that’s fair dinkum about it. The Prime Minister personally dragged Bronwyn Bishop to that Speaker’s Chair, she is his creature. Now I know no one’s going to put Bronwyn in a corner and he doesn’t want to have a by-election, she’s not going to sit on the backbench, but surely the Prime Minister needs to find a backbone and show a little bit of leadership.
KIERAN GILBERT: Senator Birmingham, the Prime Minister must be incredibly frustrated that this story dropped just hours after he was on the front foot over the carbon tax issue now distractions, not just for the next 24 hours, but for days after with more stories emerging, the fact that she’s taken, reportedly, another charter flight to Young to a fundraiser. He must be incredibly frustrated; do you think that it’s appropriate for Ministers to attend party fundraisers through the tax payer dime?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Kieran, one thing that I’ve learnt in my time in politics and I’m sure the Prime Minister has learnt in his much longer time in politics, is not to get frustrated by what you read in the newspapers or hear on the radio or see on the television screens, but to get on with the job that you have to do and that’s what the Prime Minister is doing. He’s getting on with the job of creating more jobs, of strengthening our economy, of dealing with issues of national security, of trying to work cooperatively with state and territory leaders around the structure of the Federation, they’re the big issues that he is getting on with and the rest of the government is getting on with and we won’t be distracted and nor will we be frustrated…
KIERAN GILBERT: …But should Ministers claim it in terms of going to fundraisers? The Treasurer didn’t deny that he’d done it before; I’m just wondering whether or not this is fair game? Whether Ministers are entitled to do this?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Kieran, people travel the country for all sorts of official events and yes, that couples in and links in with a range of other events that people have done over the years in terms of Party events that are held in concurrence with official duties. It has happened across all manner of Parties, every single political party has seen that level of dual engagement over the year, that’s all legitimate, within entitlements. With the matter of Bronwyn Bishop, she has acknowledged that there was an error of judgement in the way some of these issues were administered in her office, but let’s really focus on the big issues at hand instead.
KIERAN GILBERT: Do you accept, Graham Perrett, that it is within the rules? And I guess the other question is that from a Labor perspective, glass houses, should you be careful as a Labor Party that everyone’s books are in order, everyone’s expenses have been consistent with your attack on Bronwyn Bishop?
GRAHAM PERRETT: I’m looking forward to everyone in the Labor Party who took a helicopter flight to a fundraiser calling me to state their case. Obviously, a speaker has certain obligations. She’s put in that role to be independent. Obviously, Tony Abbott and Christopher Pyne decided to buck traditions and signs and symbolism of Parliament that have evolved over the last 800 years and have the executive drag the speaker to the chair. That was their deliberate decision, the message they wanted to give to the Australian public. So, I think the reality is that this is a problem for the Liberal Party and the National Party that are attached to them. They need to make a decision on what best serves Australian democracy. I’m not sure that the Speaker…I have to be respectful of the Speaker at all times and in all places, not just in Parliament House, Kieran. So, you know, I have to be careful, but there is a Parliamentary process and obviously the Speaker enjoys that position because she has the confidence of the Prime Minister. That’s what he said yesterday, that’s what he’s made clear, but I think the Australian people have a completely different view and I think they would prefer the Prime Minister look at some of those challenges as the revenue collapses come as some of the challenges related with trade, with cattle not going in to Indonesia now and unemployment on the rise, business confidence really in some difficult territory. We need to get this economy ticking along, not focussing on these distractions.
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: That’s welcome, Graham. I hope that’s what Bill Shorten does today!
KIERAN GILBERT: Gents, thanks for your time.