SUBJECTS: PMs performance in Question Time; secret payment; Company Tax cuts; 18C, Queensland sugar dispute.
DAVID SPEERS: Shadow Minister for Agriculture Joel Fitzgibbon and the Assistant Industry Minister, Craig Laundy very good afternoon to both of you. That was a firey old Question Time this afternoon with both sides going at each other and a fair few personal jibes in there aswell. Let me ask is this the type of stuff your voters like to see?
JOEL FITZGIBBON, SHADOW MINISTER FOR AGRICULTURE, FISHERIES, FORESTRY AND RURAL AND REGIONAL AUSTRALIA: No it turns them off David frankly and Paul Keating was the best in Parliament House. He was the best, without challenge, parliamentary performer. They loved it, everyone in the beltway loved it, those that were fixated on politics loved it. But outside the beltway it didn’t play all that well. They saw it as being aggressive. You hear them talk all the time about the fear that school children will see us in action. It is not how the public want us to behave.
SPEERS: The PM
FITZGIBBON: Clearly he was angry.
SPEERS: Craig Laundy, the PM, you are close to him, is he angrier in Question Time this year, this last 12 months, than we have seen him previously?
CRAIG LAUNDY, ASSISTANT MINISTER FOR INDUSTRY, INNOVATION AND SCIENCE: Look, he is fired up. We are working our guts out to point out the hypocrisy of Bill Shorten. It is one thing to stand up there and ask question after question about penalty rates when you have made a career and got to where you are because you have traded away people’s penalty rates. You know David I have been saying it for two weeks. We have got to make sure we get the case through. do agree with Joel though to the point where ,not many people, you are a tragic if you do watch Question Time.
SPEERS: We love our -
LAUNDY: You love us! You are in the beltway. It is for the grabs at night time. That’s the reality of it.
FITZGIBBON: Craig says the PM is fired up- yes – by his advisers. I know how it works David.
LAUNDY: No, I can assure you mate - I’ve been speaking to him. We are all fired up.
FITZGIBBON: They say “you have got to go there and look angry. You have got to go there and get angry at Bill Shorten - no matter what they ask you. And if you digress –“
FITZGIBBON: Is this the Malcolm Turnbull that was elected to the Prime Ministership? Not only has he walked away from the policies…
LAUNDY: Of course it is!
FITZGIBBON: …policies he has been devoted to all of his life. He has walked away from his own personality David.
LAUNDY: What a load of rubbish! Come on!
SPEERS: The issue underlying a lot of this over the last fortnight is whether we should ban, and this is the legislation the Government is talking about, ban secret payments from employers to Unions and they are pointing to the secret payments that happened at the AWU when Bill Shorten was there. In principle, should secret payments like that be banned? don’t think we have heard Labor take a position on this yet?
FITZGIBBON: Well David this is all about us talking about Unions and Bill Shorten. This is the tactics.
SPEERS: You will have to vote on this at some stage sir.
FITZGIBBON: Their whole model, their whole modus operandi here is to suggest that workers lost their rights. You know how the enterprise bargaining agreements system works.
SPEERS: We are talking about secret payments – and if Labor gives it a tick we will all move on. Should Union members know when the employer’s paying the Union a bit of money on the side.
FITZGIBBON: I don’t think you can ever have too much transparency. I don’t have a problem with transparency but as you know, and Craig will know well, the NSW Division of the Liberal Party had its public funding withheld from the Electoral Commission not that long ago because they were hiding payments.
LAUNDY: Joel was it a yes or a no? Are you going to vote for the bill?
FITZGIBBON: Well there is no bill Craig. More transparency -
LAUNDY: There will be. There will be.
FITZGIBBON: Transparency is always good.
SPEERS: If there is a payment to a Union Official, Union members deserve to know.
FITZGIBBON: I don’t have any problem with that.
SPEERS: What about the secret payments that the Liberal Party gets from all these foundations? Tony Burke rattled them off in Question Time.
LAUNDY: But as far as I understand, all of those, the people making the payments to , have to disclose.
SPEERS: Individual donors to the Free Enterprise Foundation or the Menzies 500 Club or whatever they call these things, the individual donors all have to have “Billy Bloggs donated – “
LAUNDY: That’s my understanding. And the Prime Minister said that in Question Time. I am like the PM I don’t know all the ins and outs of -
SPEERS: So you are both in favour of transparency, which is a good start. The Company Tax cuts. I must say we didn’t hear a hell of a lot about that in Question Time – this is now down to the wire here. The vote is happening in the Senate probably tomorrow. Are you still after the full 10 year Company Tax cut plan?
SPEERS: Said with a lot of conviction there?
LAUNDY: Look it is in the Senate and I am in the House of Reps. The Manager of Senate Business will be negotiating with the Cross Bench. I am pragmatic. I know that we need Cross Bench votes to get it through. What it looks like at the end of that – mate, if you can predict this Cross Bench -
SPEERS: You will get something up to $10 million, businesses up to $10 million.
LAUNDY: You are a commentator and you can have those predictions. I am a participant and I have faith in the Senate team and that they will get an outcome.
SPEERS: With your business background, how important is it to give a tax cut to the whole lot, even the big corporates? We have seen them line up this afternoon, Qantas, BHP, Westfarmers saying we need a tax cut.
LAUNDY: Look, as I have said to you on this show before, tax is so complex. The Company Tax rate is just the start place. When you distribute outside of that you pay top-up tax. So the reality is, the argument is, about banks for example - “don’t give them a tax cut”. If you don’t give banks a tax cut you are really not giving the shareholders a tax cut. It is the shareholders that get the dividends outside of the bank environment and that is the simplest way I’ve got to explain it. If it stays inside the company format and retained and used to drive and grow the business which results in employment.
SPEERS: Which is the point all those CEOs were just making Joel Fitzgibbon, that is the way they are able to grow and hire people. Are they wrong?
FITZGIBBON: Well of course they would make that point David.
SPEERS: Are they fibbing?
FITZGIBBON: Let’s be honest about it. Of course lower taxes can be stimulatory in an economic sense. But so can investments in infrastructure. At a time when the cost of borrowing to Government is almost zero it’s a time to be investing in infrastructure that lifts the productivity of our economy. So that there are different ways of looking at these things.
SPEERS: Can we walk and chew gum?
FITZGIBBON: At the end of the day, this is about priorities and you can’t be handing out big tax cuts to the richest individuals and companies in the land while cutting benefits to low income families. So it is about priorities and we are very proud about where our priorities lie.
SPEERS: So all those things that Labor said in the past about the need to cut Company Taxes?
FITZGIBBON: Well it is great if you can do it David but Keating did the hard yards and offset tax cuts with other tax arrangements like Capital Gains, Assets Tests, etc. He did the hard slog. What this mob want to do, I hope you don’t take offence at the word here Craig, is just take this straight off the bottom line Craig without any of the hard work at the expense of the people in this Country who can least afford it.
SPEERS: It is not a bad point if you did approach this with some explanation of how you are going to pay for it – whether it is doing something with Negative Gearing, Capital Gains Tax, GST some other way of paying for this.
LAUNDY: The paying for it comes in results of an increase in the employment it generates over time. It does and the investment you get back in the business, guess what? When you reinvest in your business and you employ the local tradie to build what you need and you buy things off the local contractor what you need to put in your business.
SPEERS: The trickledown effect.
LAUNDY: It’s how business operates David. Exactly, which is why I can tell you how it works.
FITZGIBBON: You have to fund the tax cuts in the early years, where are you taking the funding from? You’re taking it from the companies (inaudible).
LAUNDY: We get to balance a budget Joel in four years time. It’s all there, it’s a 10 year plan funded. You want to take the money and do something else with it, that’s fine.
FITZGIBBON: They are prepared to do anything to get Pauline Hanson and others across the line in the Senate, they are so desperate.
LAUNDY: How’d you come up with that segue?
SPEERS: We’re going to get to sugar, we will don’t worry. Just on this, do you accept this is a tough sell at a time when the company penalty rates are being cut or proposed to be cut for a lot of workers?
LAUNDY: It’s the right thing to do by the workers of Australia, not just the owners of the businesses whether they are publicly owned, which the vast majority of the profits we heard about in that 20 per cent increase in the December quarter are. You are talking about stimulating the economy and growing the economy off the back off it. Is doing the right thing when it’s not popular at times hard? Yes it is. Does it mean you walk away from it, no you don’t. You have to prosecute the case and this, take for example this line, tax cut for millionaires. Are they saying, that the tax rate, the 49 cents in a dollar and his mob want to go to, sorry to borrow your term mate, but they want to go to that, you become a joint venture in the life of everybody over 180 grand a year.
FITZGIBBON: Walk in to any of your pubs Craig and ask the punters having a schooner of beer where they think they are going to benefit from your tax cut for the big end of town. I know what answer you would get mate.
LAUNDY: Joel, you want to increase taxes across the board, we want to decrease them, we get that. You want to try to spin that into an argument that we are not fair? We won’t accept that.
SPEERS: Let’s move on, Craig Laundy, you just said doing the right thing gets hard and when it gets hard, you don’t walk away from it. 18C, you’ve taken a pretty strong line on this until now. I don’t think we have spoken since your government took a decision on this. It gets hard now for you doesn’t it? What’s your position?
LAUNDY: Look David, I’m part of the team. I prosecuted the case, I fought the fight and I explained my position and went up hill and down dale for four years. I stood in the party room on that last morning and made my position clear again, but I was outnumbered. If that’s the will of the team, I accept that. You take the good with the bad in politics.
SPEERS: So you’d vote for the change if it came to the vote?
LAUNDY: If it comes down and it’s how it is and it’s the wish of the party to vote for that, then yeah I’ll vote for the change.
FITZGIBBON: The amazing part about that David is that the moderate good guys in the Liberal Party, like Craig, are the majority and yet they have been rolled by the minority in the conservative right. Some things are very wrong within the Coalition.
LAUNDY: No I don’t accept that premise.
SPEERS: Just on this though and it doesn’t look like it will get through the Senate either, but the process changes? Is this going to (inaudible)?
FITZGIBBON: My understanding is the Government, after the bill was introduced in the Senate has now put forward some amendments without any consultation or warning that go to the process. I think this might be the beginning of a new argument. This is not really about providing people with the legislative guarantee to abuse people on the basis of their race, this is really about process. I suspect that’s where the Government is trying to go now but again it’s very unusual to introduce those amendments after the bill is introduced.
SPEERS: We’ll see how it technically plays out, but at the end of the day after seeing with Bill Leak and Queensland University case. Does Labor support some process change? I know you have to see the detail but do you support some process change?
FITZGIBBON: Labor is always happy to have a discussion about these matters but there hasn’t been any consultation and I am advised the amendments as they stand and have been introduced now are not acceptable to us, no.
SPEERS: Is this issue going to hurt you in your electorate?
LAUNDY: The complication here is that I am not a lawyer and some of these changes are very technical. The introduction of the everyday person test and harass. I have been speaking to those in the party who are lawyers trying to get my head around what the changes mean and they see it as a modernisation and they have explained it as a modernisation of the law and bringing it into line with community expectation, driven off the back of Bill Leak and QUT.
LAUNDY: I have to prosecute the need for the changes. As I say, I have to explain what the changes are and why we have made them. Who knows what they look like yet, but I think we can all be, and Joel not yet because they have to form a position, but the thing you don’t want to see and this was even Gillian Triggs herself. You don’t want to see, Bill Leak and QUT style situations. Vexatious complainers and expensive bills are racked up. I believe we need procedural change to make sure those cases are dealt with quickly and inexpensively.
SPEERS: Let’s finish on sugar. The context here is Pauline Hanson is boycotting Government legislation until she gets a code of conduct for the sugar industry. The sugar industry was deregulated years ago. The Government I am told is ready to go with a code of conduct and they have had it looked at by the Solicitor General and so on. What’s Labor’s view on this? Is this re-regulation?
FITZGIBBON: John Howard deregulated the industry and things have been going along just fine.
SPEERS: Ask the cane growers if it is going along just fine.
FITZGIBBON: Regulation is not the problem. This is sleight of hand David. A code of conduct, Pauline Hanson knows this, Barnaby Joyce and Malcolm Turnbull know this, will not address the current dispute in Queensland. We are one inch from resolving that dispute, thanks to the very good guidance of the Queensland Government and this talk.
SPEERS: What’s the Queensland Government done?
FITZGIBBON: The Queensland Government provided the guidance and the arbitration and the mediation that has brought this dispute almost to a conclusion. All this talk of a code of conduct now only confuses the issues and threatens investment. A code of conduct properly designed can deal with behaviour that plays in the future but it can’t operate retrospectively somehow to resolve this dispute. Barnaby Joyce must know that?
SPEERS: But going forward would it be good if there was mediation and arbitration when needed?
FITZGIBBON: I’m a supporter of codes of conduct but they have to be properly constructed through consultation with all the stakeholders and this takes many, many months.
SPEERS: But in principle you’re okay with something like that going forward?
FITZGIBBON: Let me just say I’m really concerned about a code of conduct that’s been written on the back of an envelope in the last few days to buy Pauline Hanson’s vote.
SPEERS: My understanding is that it is more than a back of the envelope over a few days. What about you Craig Laundy, as a Liberal, is a code of conduct extra regulation on industry? We have a big foreign investor in Wilmar here.
LAUNDY: It’s not my area of ministerial responsibility, to be brutally I don’t know where the Minister’s responsible are up to on this, but what I will say is, Joel, God bless- put out a beautiful press statement today. I had a look because I was coming on to talk to you.
FITZGIBBON: You always read them.
LAUNDY: No, only if I want to sleep at night if I want a sure-fire cure for insomnia. I don’t read Joel’s press statement’s. But I had a read and he wanted to wack the Ministers responsible for bringing out the Productivity Commissions Report, and the Productivity Commission’s report was critical of things that we may potentially may…
FITZGIBBON: Like a code of conduct. It was highly critical of…
LAUNDY: But David here’s the point, the Productivity Commission report is a report put to Government which Government considers and then comes up with policy on the back of that. Joel is that’s the case? It’s not?
FITZGIBBON: The Government has had this report for five months, sitting on it. I urged them this week to release it and they finally flicked it up on Barnaby Joyce’s or Scott Morrison’s website. There has been no statement from Government ministers in response. That is highly unusual.
LAUNDY: And you always abide by Productivity Commission reports? What about the one that said get rid of penalty rates?
FITZGIBBON: On David’s point, Barnaby Joyce described his actions or his intended actions this week as a re-regulation of the industry he said that proudly because he plays to his base David but he’s not doing the growers any favours. He’s not doing the millers any favours.
SPEERS: We have to go.
LAUNDY: I just love the height of the hypocrisy again with Brendan O’Connor standing up in Question Time today about submissions to the Fair Work Commission about minimum wage when less than 12 months ago, they didn’t put one in and the quote from Brendan O’Connor was , it’s because we have absolute faith in the integrity of the process of the Fair Work Commission. You know what? It’s just the latest example today in Question Time…
SPEERS: It’s not a bad point right.
LAUNDY: It’s the truth.
SPEERS: A couple of weeks ago you were saying Fair Work Commission got it wrong and we are going to have to legislate, this time you’re willing to trust them again.
FITZGIBBON: I made the point a few weeks ago, that we which created a system which allows employers to make submissions but we never ever dreamed that they would make a decision to take money off people, which is effectively what has been done. I know Craig is an employer himself and he is a bit upset about all of that.
LAUNDY: It doesn’t affect me, as I left the business and Dad has a casual workforce.
SPEERS: Look we are right out of time. Thank you both very much. I’ll see you again soon. See you back in budget week actually. It seems a long time away.