DAVID LIPSON: First, to more disturbing claims of sexual abuse within Defence. The full report from law firm DLA Piper has now been released and, among other things, outlines 24 cases of rape in the late ’90s alone and none of them are believed to have gone to trial. Also, claims that sections of the military may have been infiltrated by people seeking access to boys. A Royal Commission is still on the cards.
STEPHEN SMITH: They do raise very serious allegations and they do raise matters which are deeply sensitive and they will shock some people and that’s why we’ve been dealing, not just myself and DLA Piper but also in more recent times the Attorney-General… dealing with these matters very thoughtfully as we work through the best judgements we can make.
DAVID LIPSON: Let’s go straight to our political panel now and joining me is the Liberal Senator Simon Birmingham and also the Parliamentary Secretary for Climate Change, Mark Dreyfus. Thank you very much for your time this afternoon, gentlemen.
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: G’day, David, Mark.
MARK DREYFUS: Good to be with you, David.
DAVID LIPSON: Simon Birmingham, the Opposition so far has taken a bit of a cautious approach to talk of a Royal Commission. Why is that? Why wouldn’t a Royal Commission be a good idea at this point?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well, David, I think we need to understand that we’re dealing with very personal cases here and some very sad cases as well and what’s important is to progress those cases, to deal with those individual issues, and, of course, to deal with any cultural issues that exist in the defence forces that need to be fixed. Now, whether a Royal Commission is the best way to do that is something that I think is a fair question to ask so we’ll look very carefully at the report, we’ll look very carefully at the Government’s response, but, really, we think the top priority needs to be on addressing these individual cases sympathetically and recognising that in far too many instances that old adage that ‘justice delayed is justice denied’ seems to have applied and that we need to bring some justice to these individual cases at point.
DAVID LIPSON: … as I mentioned, the Prime Minister is in Queensland at the moment, the Opposition Leader in WA. They’re both pushing on with their carbon tax and anti-carbon tax campaigns as the case may be. Today, Tony Abbott was at a supermarket, trying to draw attention to the increase in the cost of living that will be attributed or is being attributed to the carbon tax but he’s accusing the Prime Minister once again of hiding out from this debate. Let’s hear what he said today.
TONY ABBOTT: … we are now on day eight of the carbon tax and not once so far has the Prime Minister gone to a small business to explain to small business why she is making their life so much more difficult and I say to the Prime Minister: do not try to hide from the small businesses of Australia; the 2½ million small businesses of Australia…
DAVID LIPSON: Simon Birmingham, the Prime Minister is, of course, hosting Community Cabinet in Brisbane tonight. She will be answering all sorts of questions on any topics that the public there feels fit to ask. Is she really hiding out here?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: [initially inaudible]… Prime Minister promised she would burn out her shoe leather trying to sell the carbon tax and then when it came to last week, of course, this was going to be the great threshold point for the Government. In the end, the Prime Minister is being incredibly selective about where she goes, what she does and these Community Cabinets… we know from previous history that they’re not always as open as perhaps we’d like to see them to be but the key point here, the key point as Tony has made, is that small business is directly affected by the cost pressures passed through on this carbon tax and there is no assistance in this package for small businesses so why won’t the Prime Minister front up, talk to these small business owners who are genuinely concerned, and actually hear some of those who are really at the coalface of dealing with this issue.
DAVID LIPSON: Mark Dreyfus, is the Prime Minister afraid of small business?
MARK DREYFUS: That’s nonsense and Tony Abbott knows it, Simon Birmingham knows it. Yesterday the Prime Minister was meeting – I met with her – with a group of small businesspeople here in Brisbane and tonight we’ll have the Community Cabinet in Ipswich which Simon well knows is open to the public. What’s really interesting is that Tony Abbott has been running his deceitful campaign, continuing up until now, but he’s about to run away to the United States from what he said was going to take up… the fight that was going to take up the rest of his political life and I think that’s the real question for Simon to answer here – why is Tony Abbott running away to the United States for a couple of weeks?
DAVID LIPSON: Mark Dreyfus…
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Nobody’s buying that, Mark. Let’s not start tallying days overseas for the different leaders because I know which one will end up way out in front.
DAVID LIPSON: Simon Birmingham, will Tony Abbott have enough steam in the tank to go through all the way to the next election on this route as he has been for the last 18 months?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well, as you say, David, it’s been 18 months of genuine campaigning on this issue and we will keep campaigning on it because we know the carbon tax is going to do harm to the Australian economy, to jobs, to competitiveness and to the cost of living. We know that businesses are already doing it extremely tough out there, that it’s a really difficult business operating environment and you only need look at the situation with Darrell Lea, and the threat now to 700 jobs at Darrell Lea, to see what a difficult environment it is and to know that increasing their cost pressures, as the carbon tax will do, doesn’t make that any easier for businesses like Darrell Lea. That’s why we’ll keep campaigning on this…
DAVID LIPSON: So are you blaming the carbon tax specifically for Darrell Lea’s announcement today in any way?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: That’s not what I said but it is a fact that the carbon tax will increase cost pressures for businesses right across Australia, increase their electricity costs and major input costs and that makes it harder for them to do business. The carbon tax certainly won’t help Darrell Lea. It can only harm them.
DAVID LIPSON: Simon Birmingham, what do you make of the polls today?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Oh, well, David, what I think the polls show very clearly is that Labor’s stunts, Labor’s cash splash, their cash spending, their ‘cash for you’, doesn’t work with the Australian people. The Australian people can’t be conned and ‘cash for you’ won’t translate into votes for Labor because people recognise that, in the end, this cash has to be funded and it’ll be funded out of debt that future generations will have to pay back and that, of course, millions of households are going to be worse off under the carbon tax which this is all meant to be masking over so people have made their mind up very clearly – when I talk to them about the carbon tax and these issues, they’re not about to change it in a hurry. They understand that it threatens their cost of living, hurts jobs and competitiveness for Australia. It’s a pretty clear cut case.
DAVID LIPSON: Well, the Coalition has confirmed it won’t be taking part, won’t be engaging, in the multi-party climate… in the multi-party asylum seeker talks, I should say, that have been set up by the Greens, the crossbenchers and the Government. They will be engaging with Angus Houston, who is conducting his own review into it, but they won’t be engaging in that political discussion. Simon Birmingham and Mark Dreyfus are still with me here on Lunchtime Agenda. Simon Birmingham, what harm would there be in engaging in this process? Why not?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well, David, perhaps that was a Freudian slip by yours before because, in the end, this multi-party committee does largely resemble the multi-party committee on climate change that came up with the carbon tax. Now, of course they’re two vastly different issues but, in the end, this is the group of people that have given the Government their majority, that can give the Government passage of its legislation through the Parliament if they so choose, if they can get the Greens and those crossbenchers onside, so that’s fine for the Government as a political tool. In the end, the Opposition has its policies. We will talk with Air Chief Marshal Houston and his committee sensibly about our policies. We’ll address issues with them and we’ll engage sensibly on that expert side but we’re not going to be used as political pawns in a political game by the Government in terms of some other committee process. We’ll work with the experts but we’re going to stand by our policies which have been proven to work in the past.
DAVID LIPSON: But, if you were part of that process, wouldn’t you be able to negotiate and perhaps drive the process forward yourself?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well, David, we, of course, will hope that Air Chief Marshal Houston will recognise that the Coalition’s policies have worked in the past and should be given a go again in the future and we continue to stand ready, if the Government recognises that and recognises that it was their undoing of those policies that, of course, has caused and aided this flux and flood of boats coming to Australia… that we’ll be happy, then, of course, to see our policies enacted but we don’t see as to why we should be signing up to what is really a political stunt by the Government. If they can work with this group of people, then they can get their own legislation through but we’ve got policies; they’ve been our policies from the Howard era; they’ve been our policies consistently in opposition; we haven’t varied and we know that they work because they’ve been proven to do so previously.
MARK DREYFUS: What’s really striking is that Tony Abbott’s actually scared of explaining his policy. We saw that at the weekend when he was on the ABC’s Insiders, he couldn’t explain his policy on turnback. We know that he was scared to raise it with the Indonesian President on Monday up in Darwin where the Indonesian President visited for this now annual meeting that’s been organised with our Prime Minister and our Government but Tony Abbott was too scared to raise with the Indonesian President his failed ‘turn back the boats’ policy because he knew what the answer would be…
DAVID LIPSON: … I want to pick up on one of the points just made there by Mark Dreyfus about the discussions that Tony Abbott had with the Indonesian President last week. Let’s just hear what Tony Abbott had to say about this today. Let’s take a listen.
TONY ABBOTT: … I am going to make it my iron rule, and it’s a very important rule if we are going to have the kind of candid and confidential relationship with the Indonesian Government that we need and that we used to have under Prime Minister Howard, I’m just going to make it a rule not to discuss the contents of confidential conversations.
DAVID LIPSON: Simon Birmingham, an ‘iron rule’ but, really, I suppose, what the question is, who decides what… well, he decides what’s confidential but why has this come now, this ‘iron rule’? The timing of it seems convenient for Tony Abbott, doesn’t it?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: This should be sensibly the case – that, when foreign leaders sit down, they have private discussions to try to address difficult issues and they shouldn’t be then aired instantly through the media afterwards so this should come as no surprise. This is something that the Government should accept itself as a fait accompli unless Mark wants to give us a detailed briefing on what the Prime Minister discussed with the Indonesian President. That, of course, would be terribly irresponsible for him to do so but somehow they seem to want to hold Tony Abbott to account for his failure to do so.
MARK DREYFUS: On the contrary, the Prime Minister and the President did explain what they talked about. Tony Abbott, as I say, was scared to raise his own policy with the Indonesian President and a spokesman for the Indonesian President has confirmed today that Tony Abbott didn’t raise it. Now, he should be prepared to raise…
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Are you telling us, Mark, that the public appearance… Mark, are you telling us the public appearance between the Prime Minister and the President outlined all that was discussed in their private briefing? Are you telling us, really, that’s the case? Because I doubt that very much.
MARK DREYFUS: What I’m saying is that it’s entirely appropriate for the Indonesian President and our Prime Minister to explain to the public the matters that they talked about, to agree on what they’ll say to the public they talked about. Tony Abbott’s too afraid to even raise his own policy with the Indonesian President because he knows that the Indonesians reject this policy.
DAVID LIPSON: Okay, well, asylum seekers was… look, I…
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: We all know, in a diplomatic sense, how these things work…
DAVID LIPSON: Sorry, Simon, I just do want to move on to one last topic before we have to go and that is in relation to the stoush between Labor and the Greens. We know that asylum seekers was one of the catalysts for this war of words that is ongoing. Today we heard Melissa Parke say that this was a confected non-issue. She told Fairfax Online that this war of words was really a mutually assured destruction for both parties. Mark Dreyfus, what do you make of this very public stoush?
DAVID LIPSON: Okay, well, I was hoping to get a response from Simon Birmingham but unfortunately we’re out of time. Apologies for that but thank you very much for both your thoughts today, Mark Dreyfus and Simon Birmingham…