ABC RN BREAKFAST
TUESDAY, 9 FEBRUARY 2016
SUBJECT/S: Stuart Robert; Malcolm Turnbull’s plan for a 15 per cent GST on everything; High Court decision
FRAN KELLY: Bill Shorten welcome back to Breakfast.
BILL SHORTEN, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Good morning Fran.
KELLY: Malcolm Turnbull has asked his Departmental Secretary to check whether his Minister has contravened ministerial guidelines, you don't know whether he has or not. It's premature isn't it to call for Stuart Robert’s sacking. Why not wait for this report back from Martin Parkinson?
SHORTEN: I think that all the signs aren't promising for one of Mr Turnbull's Ministers. At the heart of this is there's been a breach of ministerial standards. There's a statement of ministerial standards which the Government has and at 2.20, it says "a Minister shall not act as a consultant or advisor to any company, business or other interests, whether paid or unpaid, or provide assistance to any such body, except as maybe appropriate in their official capacity as Minister". So that's the standard and I think that there's a lot of explanation required about what this fellow was doing, Minister Robert was doing in China and what the exact context and all the detail of what's gone on.
KELLY: Well what we do know from the Minister's own words is that he was in China in a private capacity, he was on official leave at the time, he paid for the trip himself. Given that what could he have done that was inappropriate?
SHORTEN: Well as you say there will be an investigation but I believe there isn't detail which we know. Who paid for his trip to China? Did Minister Robert inform the Minister of Defence, the Department of Defence or the Prime Minister of his trip to China? What precautions did he take? Who sponsored his Chinese visa? What did he say was the purpose of his trip, was it tourist, work or official?
KELLY: But is there any evidence to show that he was actually doing work there? I mean he was there, yes at a signing ceremony with a friend who was involved in the company. Is there anything actually inappropriate about that and for it to be inappropriate would it have to mean or suggest kind of personal gain?
SHORTEN: Well the company’s website indicates that they believe that he was there in an official capacity.
KELLY: The Chinese company’s website?
SHORTEN: Yes, and also his friend who he's witnessing or endorsing the agreement of is a $2 million donor in just two years to the Liberal Party. So I do think there are questions, clearly Malcolm Turnbull does, otherwise he wouldn't have authorised an investigation by his Departmental Secretary.
KELLY: I guess we're sort of both operating in the dark though because it all goes down to intent doesn't it. Just because the Chinese company quotes Assistant Minister Robert acting on behave of Australian Department of Defence offering his congratulations on behalf of the Government doesn't actually mean that that's what actually transpired, does it? It just means that's what the company could be big noting itself?
SHORTEN: This is not usual conduct. We are not satisfied that we've got all the facts and I think you yourself have just said we're in the dark here about what’s happened. This also goes to Malcolm Turnbull's judgement, he's lost two ministers, he may well loose a third minister.
KELLY: Yeah but this didn't happen of Malcolm Turnbull's watch, this happened in 2014 when Tony Abbott was Prime Minister?
SHORTEN: I did notice yesterday Malcolm Turnbull was quick to put some of the blame back on Tony Abbott. The real issue here is that Malcolm Turnbull's the one who promoted him. Robert's became a party defector from the Abbott camp and became a partisan of Turnbull. You've got $2 million in donations. The Opposition is not satisfied that we know all the facts and we will not rest until we do.
KELLY: Is the implication though, is what you believe, that Stuart Robert, then the Assistant Minister for Defence helped Paul Marks clinch this deal with China?
SHORTEN: Well, we want to see whether or not the statement of ministerial standards is being complied with, that is what I referred to you earlier. Was the Minister acting as a consultant or advisor to a company or a business or other interests, whether paid or unpaid. Did he provide assistance to such body, except as maybe appropriate in his official capacity as Minister.
KELLY: Isn't there a more benign explanation to all this, in a sense that the Australian citizens would be lucky if all our Ministers and more of our politicians use their own time and money to go over to China and get to make connections there and get to know people and understand the culture, it's an important relation for us. We'd all be better off if that happened, wouldn't we?
SHORTEN: Well that idea that someone goes and visits another country and makes friends, I can't argue with that. But this is a Government Minister, this is business transactions where $2 million has been donated to the Liberal Party at the same time. No, it is not satisfactory on what we know and we want to know more and the Government needs to explain this in a very timely fashion.
KELLY: So the Prime Minister has asked for an investigation into this, would you be satisfied if that investigation clears Stuart Robert, will you be satisfied with that?
SHORTEN: Let's wait and see what the investigation turns up.
KELLY: You're listening to RN Breakfast. Our guest is the Opposition Leader, Bill Shorten. Bill Shorten can I turn to tax reform now the GST is all but dead it would seem and talk of an increase. You helped kill it off with your relentless supermarket campaigning, have you also killed off the prospect of a decent tax cut for workers? No GST, no tax big tax cut is there?
SHORTEN: Well first there's three points in that, first of all Malcolm Turnbull given the opportunity to stop the waffle and be clear to the Australian people would not rule out a 15 per cent GST on everything. So the first point is that Malcolm Turnbull seems to be completely unresolved about what to do about the GST in the short term. Clearly Scott Morrison, Senator Sinodinos and others want to be seen as to be reformers in the Howard mould. Malcolm Turnbull has received a lot of pressure in recent weeks from marginal Coalition MPs who felt the impact of Labor's campaign and those marginal seat MPs they’re not necessarily anti a 15 per cent GST that just don't want to lose their jobs over it. So Malcolm Turnbull's caught between the devil and the deep blue sea, on one hand, I believe, he is supportive and yesterday he indicated he could see the theoretical basis of the GST going to 15 per cent was good. But he doesn’t want make a hard decision because he's not convinced that the Australian people want a 15 per cent GST. I can be very clear through your radio show to any Liberal Party MPs listening Australians do not want to 15 per cent GST. The second part of your question was does this kill off tax reform and -
KELLY: A tax cut for workers?
SHORTEN: Well first of all, I've never believed that this Government's motivated by the best interest of workers and middle class and working class Australians. They've made promises about company tax cuts. I could never for the life of me see the point of putting a new tax on everything for every Australian so that they could pass on tax cuts to large companies and also this GST was becoming the magic pudding. You had some states vainly hoping, optimistically hoping, naively hoping that the money of the raised GST would go to make up the savage cuts to hospitals and schools inflicted by the Federal Liberal Government. No I don't think the Turnbull Government knew what was the problem they were solving, they didn't know why they wanted to increase the GST but they just think by doing that - they call it reform, not all change is good.
KELLY: Isn't that the point though, you talk about the magic pudding, isn't it just possible that the Prime Minister once he got he all the modelling in came to the same conclusion that Wayne Swan has come to, that Chris Bowen has come to, that you have come to that you can't do everything with this therefore it's not worth the complexity and the pain and has put it aside, you should be cheering him not criticising him. You're agreeing with him?
SHORTEN: For 5 months Labor's been criticised for opposing the increase in the GST, I didn't need to take up 5 months of the nation's time on a fruitless search for a flawed idea. The heart of this is that if we're going to get this country working and lifting and reforming, you don't start by slugging middle class and working class Australians with a 15 per cent tax.
KELLY: Okay but middle class and working class Australians are exactly the ones who are carrying the burden of bracket creep at the moment, what's your plan to ease the burden of bracket creep because no increased GST, no big pot of money to give a big income tax cut. How will you do it?
SHORTEN: Well you seem to make the view that the only thing that the GST should be used for was bracket creep.
KELLY: Oh no, not at all, what I'm saying is that did seem to be the only thing that would give the dividend that would allow a major income tax cut. Labor has shown us how you would get some money out of different tax changes, but that's pretty much committed. How will you relieve the burden of bracket creep?
SHORTEN: Well first of all you've just said that Labor's outlined some of the changes it will make and that's pretty much committed. Let me just take you to that before we dismiss it. Labor are the only people in Australian politics who have actually articulated how you fund proposals. We've said that we think that a lot more can be done to tax multinationals to pay their fair share. We've said that the superannuation tax concessions for high net wealth individuals are unsustainable; we've also said tobacco excise could be increased to help pay for some of the calls upon government services. We'll be outlining further measures between now and election, but something interesting is happening in Australian politics Fran, the Labor Party is actually putting up the fully funded proposals, Malcolm Turnbull by contrast promised new economic leadership 5 months ago. Remember he said on the day when he rolled Tony Abbott that what he could do better was provide new economic leadership, 5 months on, you have to ask what's the point of Malcolm Turnbull?
It is true that they have been considering a 15 per cent GST; it is true that yesterday both the Treasurer and the Prime Minister were invited to just say alright we're not going down that path. They are chronically incapable of making a decision in the interests of the Australian people. I think there's people beginning to become disappointed. They thought Malcolm Turnbull was a breath of fresh air after Tony Abbott, it's unarguable that he's a different person but when it comes to the substance Malcolm Turnbull says one thing and does another. It's not just on tax reform where he says it's a good idea but then doesn't offer any up front candid vision to Australians. You know, last week we saw 350 CSIRO scientists lose their job, yet he says that he believes in innovation. He says that he believes in marriage equality, but we've got a Tony Abbott inspired plebiscite which will cost $160 million. I mean that's another way of saving some money for the taxpayer; get rid of the $160 million you're going to spend on a plebiscite which is a glorified opinion poll. Labor will keep outlining our policies Fran and we've been doing that and we think that Malcolm Turnbull is proving to be a bit of a hollow man, that he doesn't have the courage of his convictions except wanting to be in The Lodge.
KELLY: Alright, well let’s talk about courage of convictions and asylum seekers, there's been a community backlash against the High Court decision on Nauru, now the Government's top medical advisor on immigration detention has told Senate Estimates that keeping children locked up is deleterious to their mental health. I know Labor supports getting the kids out of detention as does the Government but you won't let them settle in Australia either. So effectively children remain in detention on Nauru, what's your plan for getting them out, you say it's a third country resettlement but where would Labor settle these families?
SHORTEN: Since Malcolm Turnbull's been in office the length of time that people are spending in detention has doubled. I understand and I’m pretty sympathetic to the community backlash, I'm also sympathetic to the compassion and concern expressed by state premiers. The long term solution and it is just wrong and it is shameful for people who are going to be held indefinitely in detention. Yesterday I asked the Prime Minister what his plan was on that, and instead he just went out with some trite politics, just blaming Labor from 7 years ago. I do believe in regional resettlement, Labor has a clearly differentiated set of policies. What we would do for the people currently on Manus and Nauru in detention is we will roll up our sleeves and negotiate with some of the nations that we're friends with and say listen we've got some people we'd like resettle them. But I’ve also made it very clear that we would let the Children's Commissioner have line of sight to the circumstances to the people in detention; we believe that whilst Nauru and PNG are sovereign governments, we need independent, Australian sponsored oversight of all these facilities. We would also for the record engage with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, and put a lot more resources into assisting nations who are on the borders of conflict zones, so that we don't just regard it as Australia's problem in Australia but we'd be a good global citizen. Most importantly we would double the number of refugees we take in this country.
KELLY: Bill Shorten, thank you very much for joining us on Breakfast.
SHORTEN: Thanks Fran, cheers.
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