SUBJECTS: Confusion over Ministerial responsibility for the Fair Work Act; Michaelia Cash’s outburst; Adani; Tim Wilson’s suggestion for tax reform.
DAVID SPEERS: Let’s get back to Canberra, joining us now is our Wednesday panel when Parliament is sitting, Craig Laundy and Joel Fitzgibbon. Thank you both for joining us this afternoon. There was a bit of confusion at the end of Question Time today Craig Laundy, about whether it is you or Michaelia Cash who is responsible for the Fair Work Act under the new Ministerial arrangements. Who is it?
CRAIG LAUNDY: Short answer is me, day to day operational administration and obviously within the portfolio in the lower House. But Michaelia will have interaction with the portfolio because she will represent it at Senate level in Question Time in questions regarding the portfolio, and obviously at Cabinet level for me.
SPEERS: Alright, so it is you. She is the senior Cabinet Minister but you are responsible for the Fair Work Act outside of Parliament.
LAUNDY: Yes. And the things that go with it like the Registered Organisations, the ABCC, those parts of that industrial relations policy platform.
SPEERS: Alright there you go Joel Fitzgibbon, did that clear it up for you?
JOEL FITZGIBBON, SHADOW MINISTER FOR AGRICULTURE, FISHERIES, FORESTRY AND RURAL AND REGIONAL AUSTRALIA: No, not really Speersy.
LAUNDY: What did you expect him to say?
FITZGIBBON: I just need to say that you are starting to enjoy these State elections too much. Who is the legal entity? The Act constantly refers to the Minister, someone has to be the legal entity at the Fair Work Commission for example, and I am still confused about who that is.
SPEERS: Well an answer on that one Craig, the legal entity?
LAUNDY: That’s me David. It is the same answer, I handle the day to day administration of the Act and in the lower House; and Michaelia obviously having interaction with it in Senate and representation in Cabinet as well.
FITZGIBBON: That is extraordinary. With greatest respect to Craig, I am sure he might get there one day, but he is not in the Cabinet, so you have a Cabinet Minister overseeing the portfolio but someone outside the Cabinet seems to be in charge. It is a bit like Bridget McKenzie, she is in the Cabinet and she doesn’t have any part in it. The whole thing is making a mockery of the Westminster and Cabinet system.
LAUNDY: No David, I disagree with Joel there. I had a great working relationship with Minister Sinodinos, sadly had to step down for a while for personal leave, I was given a whole heap of extra responsibility and Michaelia took over the Cabinet representation and again large chunks of that portfolio I was running day to day. The reality is, administratively, you have senior Ministers and junior Ministers and they divide the responsibilities up between them. Now the senior Minister won’t represent all parts but at the risk of boring your viewers –
SPEERS: Probably seen some eyes have glazed over. But what would have jumped out at a lot of people today was Michaelia Cash, your senior Minister Craig Laundy, the outburst we saw at Senate Estimates. Where she threatened to “name names” after hearing rumours circulating around females in Bill Shorten’s office. Now she later said that if anyone was offended she withdrew when Penny Wong demanded it. But what did you make of those comments?
LAUNDY: Look you have seen a very short clip. What was being overwhelmingly missed is in the lead up to where that got to you had Doug Cameron, Senator Cameron, asking a lot of extremely personal questions about Michaelia Cash’s staff and, to be honest, quite inappropriate. They were personal questions. And what Michaelia was pointing out was is this really where we want to go. If we do, where does it end? Does it end in rumours like this? So you know that is the reality. You have seen a very short subsection.
SPEERS: I think Doug Cameron was trying to establish whether political appointees had been made in the Minister’s office, along those lines. Michaelia Cash seemed to be suggesting something far more serious than that.
LAUNDY: My understanding is David was that he was also looking at relationships between staff and so I don’t think it was just appointees, I think it got very blurred and then it got very heated and you know. The question Michaelia asked was how far do you really want this to go; then used that as an example. I think these Senate Estimates, they are extremely heated at times, and we have seen that.
SPEERS: Do you think she should have used the example she did?
LAUNDY: She was pointing out by default, and that is why she said if anyone does take offence - the way it has been literally perceived in that short clip versus what lead up to it and the fact she was throwing it out as a hypothetical and that is why she said if anyone has taken offence, I withdraw. But what she was demonstrating was how far do we actually let this questioning go and how far do we then throw barbs at each other in Senate Estimates?
SPEERS: Well, Joel Fitzgibbon how did you take the comments from the Minister?
FITZGIBBON: David, the mighty Class of ’96 turns 22 I think on Friday and in my 22 years here I have never seen anything so extraordinary. It was pretty hard to misperceive what Michaelia Cash was saying. I didn’t see the questioning in the lead up but two separate people have told me the questions weren’t of a personal nature and people were surprised she reacted in such a provocative and outrageous way. I am told she is under enormous pressure in part over those police raids but I am concerned that Craig has just condoned effectively what she said. What she said was offensive to all women and offensive to everyone who stood accused and of course something she has already apologised for herself.
SPEERS: Well Craig I will give you an opportunity there. Do you condone what she said or do you think it was inappropriate?
LAUNDY: No David it’s not my job to condone. I’m telling you I’ve asked her office the pretext, the context – well the pretext of how it got to where it got to and the context of the discussion and they assure me and gave me the explanation that I have just given to you and I take them on face value.
SPEERS: So you’re saying it was appropriate what she said?
LAUNDY: The explanation put to me is that it is a hypothetical put to Doug Cameron, is this really how you want to go, is there where you wanted to go? If it’s in that context –
SPEERS: You’re satisfied she acted appropriately in doing what she did?
LAUNDY: Her explanation to me, and I take her at face value and in good faith, that fits into the context of a much broader discussion.
FITZGIBBON: David please I just have to respond to that. Nothing, nothing could justify what Michaelia Cash did before Senate Estimates. She just threw a dead cat on the table and made outrageous allegations and obviously had no way of in any way backing them. Nothing justifies it.
SPEERS: Alright, let’s move on, Joel Fitzgibbon because we saw a fair bit of pressure on Bill Shorten in Question Time this afternoon. The suggestion from Malcolm Turnbull is he tells coal miners one thing and then tells Geoffrey Cousins the head of the Conservation Foundation another while on a free trip up to the Great Barrier Reef. What is Labor’s position on coal mining?
FITZGIBBON: They have gone for the man again and not the ball. They have gone for character rather than policy. I don’t see anything in what Bill Shorten allegedly told Cousins that is inconsistent with Labor’s long held position and that is that this coal mine and indeed every coal mine every project has to be able to stand on its own two feet in environmental terms and in economic terms and we shouldn’t be using taxpayers’ money to subsidise them and it appears to be that is what he said to Cousins and I think that is consistent with what we have been saying.
SPEERS: Geoffrey Cousins is more direct than that. He reckons Bill Shorten was a lot firmer in saying if elected Labor would actually stop the mines.
FITZGIBBON: Well I wasn’t in the room when this discussion allegedly took place but I know what Bill Shorten has said and that is if we were in Government and we learned that there had been fraud involved in the environmental approvals we would act under the laws of the day to ensure the right thing is done. I just don’t see the inconsistency, I don’t see what the fuss is about frankly.
SPEERS: Alright Geoffrey Cousins may have missed that important caveat that if fraud is established you would block the mine.
FITZGIBBON: Again David, I wasn’t in the room but I haven’t read anything today from Bill Shorten that has been reported that is inconsistent with our long held position on Adani.
SPEERS: Craig, is that so terrible to say that if they are guilty of fraud we can stop them going ahead with this Adani mine?
LAUNDY: David it doesn’t matter who Bill Shorten speaks to- insert name here – when it comes to believing the person he speaks to irrespective of who it is or Bill Shorten, I’m with the person every time. And because this is just the latest example of being caught out saying, you know playing to a view of a relevant audience and then when you are outed, backtracking and trying to cover your tracks. It’s just a long, long list and happens all over the country. The audience may change, the issue may change but the approach he takes doesn’t. This is the latest demonstration. Look the people in my electorate get it, they don’t trust the bloke and I think there is good reason for it. This is just the latest demonstration of that.
SPEERS: Alright but Craig Laundy, if there were fraud found on the part of the part of this company, should they go ahead with the mine?
LAUNDY: David that would be a matter, if someone has got allegations of fraud, whether it is Geoff or someone else, report it to the relevant authorities. It’s not my role to be a commentator on alleged fraud. If that’s the case, send it to the relevant authority. The issue here is not that one subset of a line through up in a smoke screen, the issue is the bloke is carrying on around the country; imagine how well, trust me being in the flippers, the snorkels and the goggle and having paddling off the back of the boat in the barrier reef saving it. That plays a lot better in Batman than standing up on the CFMEU picket line saying I’m for you, I’m for you, I’m for you. That is the balancing act. He is sitting on a fence here and as my father has always told me the only guarantee in life is if you sit on a fence you end up with splinters.
FITZGIBBON: David can I just say, this attack on Bill Shorten is coming from a bloke, Malcolm Turnbull, who has given up anything he has ever stood for in public policy terms during his adult life. Same sex marriage, whether it be climate change, the list is long. So he is hardly in a position to be throwing stones.
SPEERS: A final one, we spoke to Tim Wilson a little earlier on. He gave an adjournment speech just before parliament rose last night talking about the need for tax reform and spending cuts amongst other things. Tax reform in particular. He’s not necessarily saying we need to reduce the GST but he is kind of hinting of that Craig Laundy saying we do need to find a way to ensure the tax burden doesn’t fall so heavily on working Australians. What about those who are living off assets and investments. Do you agree there is a need for that type of tax reform?
LAUNDY: I don’t understand the context of the question here. The taxes off income off assets is exactly the same as it is if you’re a PAYE employee. So I don’t understand the context of what he is arguing and I must admit I haven’t listened to his speech or read the transcript of the speech. Of course the tax reform we are interested in is reducing taxes, be it company or personal because we believe the best people to spend the money they earn are those who do the work and earn it; it’s the entrepreneur that put their house on the line and takes on bank debt and backs themselves and employs people or the people that entrepreneur employs.
SPEERS: There is a bit of a difference isn’t there? Capital gains tax does have a discount if you hold the asset for 12 months.
LAUNDY: Yeah but the investment that you’ve got it in presumably generates income and you pay income tax at the marginal rate let alone the investment that would also be most likely to be a business or something of that effect that you would have employees working for so you can’t view these things. The problem with our tax is that it is extremely complex and the interrelationship between all the different levels – again my father has still got his first red scooter. But you know he is not a big seller of assets so what difference would a Capital Gains Tax discount make to someone who doesn’t sell assets? They are not going to pay it anyway and are going to keep re-investing and growing the business and living off it but paying PAY tax as they do.
SPEERS: Well I think some people do sell assets perhaps your father is not amongst them. There you go. Craig Laundy and Joel Fitzgibbon, we’ll have to leave it there. Look forward to catching up soon.
FITZGIBBON: Thanks David.
LAUNDY: Thanks David.