SUBJECTS: Turnbull’s performance in Parliament, Family payment changes, Corey Bernardi, Shoalwater Bay compulsory land acquisition.


DAVID SPEERS: Craig Laundy and Joel Fitzgibbon are pairing up. Thank you very much for joining us this afternoon. Minister, Shadow Minister.


SPEERS: It is indeed. Let’s start with what we just witnessed in Parliament this afternoon.


SPEERS: Well they certainly were in Parliament this afternoon. Craig Laundy, what did you think of the PMs performance, was this the sort of thing you’ve been waiting to see for a while?

LAUNDY: Look we have a job to do and there is a consensus on our side of politics that Bill Shorten is a fraud. He is the leader of the Labor Party and he has never swung a hammer in his life. Joel to his credit is an auto electrician so he comes from good working stock. Bill is a private school Melbourne boy and we think he’s professing to be something he’s not and we are going to call him out and I enjoyed that this afternoon a lot.

SPEERS: You enjoyed it? It was a far more personal attack.

LAUNDY: I’m a publican and my father has always said, if you lead with your chin, be prepared to get knocked out. Bill Shorten has been playing the politics of envy. Malcolm Turnbull comes from nothing and has been successful. He never mentions that and he wants to label him Mr Harbourside Mansion. You lead with your chin Dave, there’s a risk you could get knocked out. I think this afternoon he got knocked out.

SPEERS: Do you take objection to anything the PM said this afternoon?

FITZGIBBON: Well Craig nominated my trade and small business background as my key credentials. I’ll just say that I think his credentials have put him in good stead too.

SPEERS: Enough with the niceties.

FITZGIBBON: I have to say the consensus in his party that Malcolm Turnbull did well is not much of a nomination. I think there are a few problems with Malcolm Turnbull’s performance this afternoon. One it’s not Malcolm - he is trying to be more like Tony Abbott every day to ward off the attack from Tony Abbott. Two, it was too shrill and angry and therefore it wasn’t prime ministerial. More importantly, we put up a motion about these changes in family arrangements, payments etc and he didn’t make any mention of it. That’s a Prime Minister avoiding the topic.

SPEERS: He didn’t get into the detail of the motion.

FITZGIBBON: His policy is weak.

SPEERS: Is this the new politics? The new world we are living in, where this sort of aggression and – ignore the substance of the motion and go for the personal attack. It reminds me of a politician who has come to prominence recently.

FITZGIBBON: You make a very important point. We are in a new normal and I think some people we are seeing in politics across the globe, whether we like it or not as politicians, is driven in large part by mistrust of politicians and the last thing they want to see is the antics they saw from Malcolm Turnbull in the House today. They want to see sensible calm people talking about serious policy and doing the right thing by the country.

SPEERS: I’m not seriously likening Malcolm Turrnbull to Donal Trump because I don’t think you could (inaudible)

LAUNDY: I think Australians are grown up and smart enough to understand that the floor of Parliament is a very heated place. Let’s not muck around. Especially in Question Time and we were in the heat of battle. What you have seen with others you may liken the performance to, is they are doing it in the cool calm of a press conference or a talking, National Press Club environment or what have you. I think you can’t throw the baby out with the bath water which I know Joel wants to try.

SPEERS: You ask 10 people out on the street, who are your favourite politicians or Parliamentary performers? They will say Peter Costello, they will say Paul Keating and why is that? It’s for performance like that isn’t it?

FITZGIBBON: Well I’m not so sure about that.

SPEERS: Keating’s favourite lines, what were they?

FITZGIBBON: I am very close to Paul Keating and I used to love his performances.

SPEERS: That’s what I’m saying.

FITZGIBBON: I’m one of those inside the [inaudible]

SPEERS:  “It’s like getting flogged with a wet lettuce”.  “I’m going to do you slowly”.

FITZGIBBON: The punters, even back then, often would be turned off by those performances and it is an even more difficult era now. I don’t think they do accept that it is the heat of battle and we have to be in there punching one another and being all personal about it. I don’t think that’s what they want at all.

SPEERS: To the substance of the PM was saying about Bill Shorten, is there some hypocrisy at all in Bill Shorten’s attacks on Malcolm Turnbull for being wealthy when he is certainly enjoyed the support of wealthy business figures over the years.

FITZGIBBON: Well they were just assertions and were not backed or authenticated in any way. From what I have seen of Bill Shorten, I think he has a fairly modest lifestyle and yes, along the way like just about any politician would have spent a little bit of time listening to business leaders, as does Malcolm Turnbull.  So I think it’s hardly an act of hypocrisy. If Bill Shorten wasn’t talking to or listening to leading business people, he would be accused of only having a ear to the Unions and not talking to business so you can’t win can you?

SPEERS: No you cant. This is politics. Let’s briefly touch on the families battle which is going to be fought now. You guys have put forward here a comprehensive change here to all sorts of payments. Labor is not happy though, at those who are going to be worse off. You acknowledge that some will be better off though? Those with kids in childcare will be better off.

FITZGIBBON: The problem is, to make some people a little better off, particularly those in child care they have taken the money from those who can least afford to give the money up. While at the same time they are still proceeding with $50 billion tax cuts.

SPEERS: I was just talking about this with the Minister, one of the biggest losers when your child turns 17, so they will be in year 12, you would no longer get family tax benefit and he is saying: you don’t need it and you should be out working more and that is a good message to send to the child as well.

FITZGIBBON: David, when your child is 13 and he or she is still at school. You’re not getting any benefit from childcare changes but you’re losing family tax arrangements.

SPEERS: It will be 17 now.

LAUNDY: [inaudible]

SPEERS: That’s the thing, can mum or dad be working more when the child is 17. Can they look after getting to and from school and making themselves a snack?

LAUNDY: Also, I have a 17-year-old daughter who works.

SPEERS: The perfect example.

LAUNDY: That by and by is a personal example. The idea, and I know you had Christian on before and you went through this with him. David the reality on the front lines in Reid is that how this plays out is: you put your child in childcare, up until the point when the fee cost exceeds your net wage. Then you pull the child out and don’t work anymore. Now obviously we have done in these changes, what Minister Porter has done, is sensible because he has tiered it to favour the lower income worker and take away from the top end of the spectrum. So it has its own progressive rate if you like. That’s not unusual. What we are trying to do is increase participation of that lower and middle income earner who would traditionally drop out of the workforce in that one to five to six year old age group. I think it is a sensible change and is trying to make it more sustainable. Welfare payments, we know what they are now and we know what they are predicted to move to, We know we are in tight budgetary times, so we have to make the system sustainable at the same time.

FITZGIBBON: What about the below 25 year olds you are now pushing off NewStart? Even if you can justify these thing in public policy terms

LAUNDY:  You did that to single mothers…

FITZGIBBON:  …the welfare bill is growing and we’ve got to constrain it, it doesn’t change the fact some of the lowest income families and people in the country will have their wage cut. Now, you know, if you are a low income worker, pensioner or disability support pensioner, whatever it might be, if the Government comes along and says, look you are going to get $50 less each week now, that’s big hit if you are living week to week.

SPEERS: Well that’s true, it will be won’t it?

LAUNDY: If it’s targeted, as we’ve said we’ve moved from 13 to 16,

SPEERS: But as Joel said, job seekers up to the age of 25 will now not yet New Start, they will get Youth Allowance and it is about 50 bucks a week less.

FITZGIBBON: How is taking the energy supplement off all pensioners and denying them that end of year.

SPEERS:  The Energy Supplement in fairness, was for the Carbon Tax, that’s long gone.


FITZGIBBON:  But Malcolm Turnbull and Barnaby Joyce tell us every day that energy prices are through the roof.

LAUNDY:  And long gone and been grandfathered for those…

SPEERS: A complex policy space clearly for a while.  Corey Bernardi.  It must have been sad not to have him there in the Party Room yesterday, Craig Laundy?

LAUNDY:  Dave, I was.  I am very close to Corey and I was extremely disappointed with the decision he took.  I think it’s hypocritical to, you know, claim you are from outside the system, “the outsider”, when you have had 30 years within the system.  But the part I am most interested to watch is yes, he got elected on a Liberal ticket, he is now for five and a half years, his five and a half years at 200 Grand plus plus.  He’s got four staff applying for three more which takes you to 7.

SPEERS:  Because a back bencher doesn’t get…

LAUNDY:  Because he is a cross bencher – no way.  Do the maths you are talking what, seven at 120-130 Grand.  You are talking about the best part of a million bucks a year net for five and a half years and you watch – he will use it to start his own Party.  It is the taxpayer funding his Party.  Now that surely is everything that he, supposedly, and the so called “Convenient Conservatives” should stand against.

SPEERS: “Convenient Conservatives”?

FITZGIBBON:  Craig is now personalising the thing.  One thing you have got to say about Corey Bernardi is that he stands by what he believes in.  I might disagree with most of it but he has made a decision and on ideology and his philosophies in life.  But there are many reasons why this is so bad for Malcolm Turnbull and his Government, many reasons.  Including the fact that Corey’s defection began when Malcolm Turnbull executed Tony Abbott.  At some point he will be held to account for that.  That will help to put pressure on Malcolm’s leadership. 

SPEERS: I am interested in the point you made though there Craig Laundy, you think that he is milking the taxpayer and the Parliamentary System, the staff you get and so on, becoming a Cross Bencher rather than a Back Bencher in the Government, to bankroll his Party?

LAUNDY:  I think he should resign and stand at the next election.  And I am not making this personal Joel.  This man, he can.  There is precedence for it.

FITZGIBBON:…it is a casual vacancy…

LAUNDY:  And we will fill it.

FITZGIBBON: …Cheryl Kernot…

LAUNDY:  He should spend the next two and a half years on his time…

SPEERS: Which is what Cheryl Kernot did when she left the Democrats.

LAUNDY:  [inaudible] donations building his Party.  It’s worse because those staff have the ability, he is a Senator – he can fly around Australia so he could do fundraising – who knows?  This isn’t personal – Corey is a friend who I am extremely disappointed in- and have told him so.

SPEERS: His point though is the Conservatives have drifted away from the Coalition at the point of a leadership change at the election and since, we have seen that in the polls .  He wants to give them someone to fight for them.

LAUNDY:  He had the opportunity to do that inside the Party.  He did it , always done it.  Joel is right, he believes in what he says and stands up for what he says.

FITZGIBBON: What was it, September 15 when Malcolm took over, he has done that for a considerable period of time and he has not been able to effect the changes so he is taking another option.

LAUNDY:  He stood for re-election Joel on the platform of the Party for which nothing has changed and then after being elected, he got 2,000 votes above the line, 2,046 I think it is – and 345,000, sorry below the line, him personally but the Party got 345,000.  I don’t think as the man of principle that he is, I think he took the wrong course of action. 

SPEERS: Last one, this kind of slipped through yesterday while everyone was talking about Corey Bernardi:  the compulsory acquisition of land in Queensland, around Shoalwater Bay, that is the extended Defence base that Singapore wants to use, in a deal with Singapore for that, the Government has decided no more compulsory land acquisitions so farmers won’t be forced to sell – are you happy with that?

FITZGIBBON: It is a big win for graziers and all those who backed them and supported them.  The Government’s real crime here was keeping this a secret until after the election.   When they signed that deal with Singapore, they announced the money as if it was going to be a big injection into those local communities and deliberately kept a secret the fact that the money would be spent on expansion.

SPEERS: But are you saying there should never be compulsory land acquisition by Defence?

FITZGIBBON: I am saying they lied, they should have disclosed prior to the election that their intention was to expand Shoalwater Bay and therefore take out all that prime agricultural land.  If they declared that, and they knew this David, if they had declared that pre-election they would have lost Capricornia.

SPEERS: Barnaby Joyce had a crack at your time as Defence Minister , was there any compulsory land acquisition then?

FITZGIBBON: I see he only said that once and I reckon he has been advised to be careful.

SPEERS: Was there any?

FITZGIBBON:  Because Defence is such a big portfolio I couldn’t be absolutely sure.  But he hasn’t backed that assertion.  I suspect very strongly it is untrue, and even if I did sign off on something involving land acquisition, it wasn’t huge cattle properties on prime country in Queensland involving 60,000 head of cattle.  I can assure you never anything like that.

SPEERS: I can’t recall community concern like we saw…

FITZGIBBON:  It might have been a cycleway or a park or something.  It wasn’t anything substantial in my time I can tell you.

SPEERS: Gentlemen we had better move on, thank you both very much, looking forward to more  conversations with the two of you.  See you back here next week, Craig Laundy and Joel Fitzgibbon.


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