03 December 2013



Subject/s: TPVs, extended sittings, second Sydney airport

Lyndal Curtis: Now to today’s political panel and joining me to discuss the day are Labor Shadow Minister Michelle Rowland and Government Parliamentary Secretary Steve Ciobo, welcome to the program.

We will begin with the question of what’s next for temporary protection visas. The Immigration Minister Scott Morrison was making his case in the Parliament for Labor to rethink its position.

Scott Morrison: This is the Prime Minister Tony Abbott. This is what he looks like. This is the one you should be following because he has the strongest border protection measures that this country has ever seen. This is the leader of the Greens. This is not the the person you should be following. This is not the person you should be following. This is the Prime Minister you should be following, the Leader of the Opposition should note.

Last night the Greens and Labor teamed up to repeat their failed history once again, but the government will not bow to people smugglers.

Curtis: We’ll get to Morrison and TPVs in a minute, but Scott Morrison was telling Labor they should not be following Greens. This is happening at the same time that Joe Hockey’s negotiating with Christine Milne over the debt ceiling, so should you really be issuing that sort of warning?

Steve Ciobo: I think what Minister Morrison was talking about was a comment that was made by the former Foreign Minister, Labor’s Bob Carr, who said that when it came to border protection, the Labor Party should not be a cigarette paper width away from the Coalition. That’s what he was making reference to. Unfortunately we’ve seen Labor continuing to reject the view of the Australian people. The Labor Party seems to have blinkers on. They’re completely focused on being in lock-step with the Greens when it comes to border protection or lack of border protection.

We make no apologies about being tough on border protection. We’ve seen our marked results since we adopted our policies and came to government with Operation Sovereign Borders with nearly an 80 per cent decline in arrivals.

Curtis: That was after Labor reintroduced offshore processing and put in place both the deals on Papua New Guinea and Nauru.

Ciobo: And if you look at the eight week period after Labor made that until the swearing in of the new government to where we are today, what you see is that under the Coalition’s policies, so we’re comparing apples with apples, Labor post announcement and Coalition coming to government and there’s a 79 per cent decline in arrivals.

I know Labor, after presiding over 55,000 people arriving in Australia, with a complete shambles with border protection likes to pretend their policies delivered a solution but no-one believes that.

Curtis: Michelle, Labor unwound practically everything you put into place when you came into government. You put in place the current offshore processing regime. You put in place bridging visas with no work rights. Why are you taking a stand on temporary protection visas?

Michelle Rowland: This has long been Labor Party policy, Lyndal. It’s quite clear that out of all the Howard era policies that were put in place, temporary protection visas were the least effective. They would be even less effective now and have negligible effect, if any, because as the explanatory memorandum quite clearly states this is supposed to be a deterrence mechanism. If you’re already in Australia there’s no deterrence. The deterrence mechanism started in July when Labor introduced the Papua New Guinea arrangement. So that is the deterrent that exists now. We’ve completely taken any chance of settlement in Australia off the table and TPVs will simply put Australia back on the table.

Curtis: Wouldn’t they at the very least here give people work rights which they didn’t get under your scheme?

Rowland: Well I also think you need to look at what TPVs actually did; they put more women and children on boats because and in the end people on TPVs by and large ended up being settled in Australia.

I find it quite hypocritical to hear that Labor’s allegedly in bed with the Greens on this when at the same time the Liberals voted or sided with the Greens on the Malaysia arrangement, and now they’re having negotiation on debt.

Curtis: Steve, do you know what solution the government’s going to come up with to deal with the Senate’s disallowance of temporary protection visas?

Ciobo: We’d like for the Australian Labor Party to listen to the Australian people. But I’ve got to say Lyndal as a government our policy focus is clear, as has been our commitment from day one about what we are going to do to reinstate Australia’s border sovereignty.

Unfortunately, the Labor Party just doesn’t seem to get it and frankly having listened to Michelle’s answer, I can’t help but think Labor are delusional. Part of Michelle’s answer was to say TPVs under the Howard Government saw more women and children coming. This is coming from a Labor member of the Parliament who presided over 55,000 people coming when under the Coalition, at the handover in 2007, there were three people in detention.

Curtis: You have made that point, I was wondering if there was an answer to my question.

Ciobo: What we’d like for Labor to respect the will of the Australian people. If Labor still continue to refuse that, if they still continue to snub their nose at the views of Australians, then we will have to look at what other options we’ve got.

Curtis: Michelle, will you accept any other option on this?

Rowland: They can’t even say what they’re going to do. They’ve let Scott Morrison out of witness protection and he says he is going to come up with some big solution. Let’s see what they’re proposing.

Curtis: We might move on now, the Prime Minister’s threat to sit Parliament beyond the end of next week is not a new tactic. Prime Ministers and Leaders of the House in the past have made the same threat to interrupt MPs’ lead-up with more sittings if legislation isn’t passed. It’s a threat more often made than carried out. Steve is this a threat?

Ciobo: I wouldn’t use the term threat. What we want again is for Labor to respect the wishes of the Australian people. Whether it’s TPV, the debt ceiling to deal with the problem that Labor’s left, this mountain of over $400 billion of debt, we want Labor to respect the wishes of the Australian people, to stop being a problem and to get out of the way and let us govern in the national interest.

Curtis: Just to be clear, was Mr Abbott saying he would sit Parliament as long as it takes for the legislation to be I passed, or simply dealt with, because as I mentioned to Tony Burke the Greens have made this clear they’re happy to have a quick vote on the carbon tax repeal but they won’t vote for it, so if they vote against it will you seek to put it back Parliament straightaway?

Ciobo: We want to see what’s going to happen. I would love to crystal ball gaze Lyndal and know what Labor and the Greens will do with respect to the abolition of the Carbon tax, the mining tax the debt ceiling and of course TPVs. We want all of these issues dealt with. We don’t want to kick the can down the road. We think that the Australian national interest is more important than playing games. We want to hold Labor to account so the Australian people can clearly see what Labor is up to.

Curtis: Michelle, would any longer sittings of Parliament change your mind on things like the carbon repeal, the mining tax repeal, and the debt ceiling?

Rowland: Well, I’d actually like to hear some of the debate from the opposition, from the government; I would like a full and frank debate on things like the carbon tax. I’m yet to hear a member of the government clearly articulate the precise economic and environmental grounds for direct action. I’m yet to hear it. I look forward to hearing those debates in the Parliament.

Lyndal look, quite frankly, in the private sector, most people work up until Christmas Eve anyway. And you’re either working here in Canberra or working in your electorate. It’s all geography to me.

Curtis: At what point is that decision going to be made about whether Parliament sits any longer?

Ciobo: We of course have to watch what’s going on in the Senate. The Labor Party and the Greens have the majority of the numbers in the Senate. If they continue to snub their nose, if they say no we’re not going to back TPVs, even though as government we’ve got a clear mandate for that, if they’re going to continue to say we’re only going to allow a $400 billion debt ceiling, even though on Labor’s own numbers, they know that debt’s going to reach $430 to 440 billion, including the tabled, I think Treasury minute, from the Australian office of financial management…

Curtis: In a couple of years’ time.

Ciobo: No, we have a debt ceiling problem that arises within the next week or two.

Curtis: That’s $300 billion, the 430 doesn’t happen for a couple of years.

Ciobo: I know but this is the fundamental difference in approach, so all Australians are clear. The current debt ceiling is 300 billion. We’re likely to breach that in the next week or two, we want to raise it over what it’s projected to be. Labor wants to raise it below what it’s projected to be. And we’re saying that’s not good enough. We don’t want to kick the can down the road. Deal with it once and for all.

That’s why we’re going to force Labor’s hand on this.

Curtis: Michelle, is there the realistic possibility that Labor’s position on debt may become irrelevant if the government does a deal with the Greens to eliminate the debt ceiling altogether?

Rowland: Well, we’ll have to wait and see. I mean I haven’t been having meetings with them, I’m sure Steve’s been involved with that in his dealings as Parliamentary Secretary, dealing with Christine Milne and her colleagues the Greens in the Senate. So we’ll have to wait and see on that, this can that Steve’s been kicking down road, maybe that will come to a stop somewhere 

Curtis: Steve, do you know where you’re at with the negotiations with the Greens because they have offered, haven’t they, to remove that legislation on the debt ceiling but they want some transparency measures around where the borrowed money is spent.

Ciobo: That’s been the public comments thus far but the sad reality to deal for us as a government trying to deal with this issue once and for all, to provide certainty and stability to the financial markets and the international community at the very time when there’s a lot of economic tumult, the sad reality is this: the Greens are being more economically responsible than the Labor Party is. The Labor Party is only obsessed with political brinkmanship and not actually focused on the national interest, so of course, we’re going to look at what options we’ve got to provide stability, to provide certainty, and to deal with the issue once and for all and not be interested in playing the kind of stupid games that the Labor Party wants to play.

Curtis: Michelle, do you accept Steve’s argument?

Rowland: The hypocrisy, just the sheer hypocrisy. I mean exactly the same arguments made against Labor when we were in government.

Ciobo: We backed your increases.

Rowland: No, no, listen, the whole idea about saying this is mismanagement, tough economic times. We went through the GFC under Labor and we came out in good shape. In all that time, Steve wouldn’t hear a bar of the fact that Labor was doing a good job, that we still had triple A credit ratings from the major agencies. All that time and here he has the hide to come here while he’s cozying up to the Greens and saying that they’re being more economically responsible. Gimme a break!

Curtis: Another issue, which is attached to the economy. The government appears to be closer to naming Badgerys Creek in Sydney’s west as the city’s second airport and there are suggestions it would be an airport that operates 24 hours a day. Not restricted by a curfew as Sydney’s main airport is now.

Michelle, some Western Sydney MPs, Labor MPs, have raised concerns about a second Sydney Airport at Badgerys Creek but this is an issue that’s been dealt with for 30 years. Isn’t it time for it to be built?

Rowland: Look it has been dealt with by successive governments. Even in John Howard’s first term I remember this arising and he was looking at even different options like Holsworthy as being a possible site. As an MP from Western Sydney, the concerns are twofold. Firstly in January this year, the Prime Minister said, “we’re absolutely not considering Badgerys Creek.” I didn’t see any candidates or MPs from the Liberal Party in Western Sydney putting out fliers or saying a position about Badgerys Creek being built and it being 24 hours.

And secondly, that precise issue of 24 hours and I see the comments from Warren Truss saying it needs to be a 24 hour airport. For those who’d say that people in Western Sydney are NIMBYs, let’s remind ourselves that Kingsford-Smith is not a 24-hour airport, but somehow it’s OK for Western Sydney to have a 24-hour airport.

Look, when I look at this issue and you look at everything that’s involved in an airport and I’m told about all the economic benefits, I’ve heard this a lot over many years, you cannot escape the fact that significant infrastructure needs to be built to cope with west, south-west and north-west Sydney as it continues to develop. You can’t just have a single road that links to you the M5, for example. Sydney is already bursting at the seams. My constituents and those of my colleagues deal with it every day. Unless that is properly addressed then just an having this notion we can plonk an airport in there put it on 24 hours and it will work is simply not feasible.

Curtis: Steve, while this is talked about as Sydney’s airport you’re from Queensland, from a tourism area, how important is it to get a second airport into Sydney for the economic benefit?

Ciobo: Well look Sydney Airport is notorious, of course. We saw only a matter of weeks ago there were delays that affected tens of thousands of people and no doubt cost the economy millions as a result of those delays. The idea of an additional airport at Sydney as you identified has been bounced around for a long time now. The difference between this government and what we intend to do is we intend to resolve this issue. We intend to move forward because it’s in the national interest. We want to grow the economic base of not only Sydney but Australia nationally. That means the provision of high quality infrastructure. I would say to Michelle and to all members in Western Sydney is this. We’re going to be a government that’s very big on infrastructure. Our focus is very much about building the roads of 21st century, providing high quality port and airport facilities. We believe if we do this effectively that’s about effective use of taxpayers’ money, it grows the GDP, grows Australia national interest and we think that’s a good outcome.

Curtis: So, would the infrastructure involve the sorts of things Michelle is talking about, not just one additional road, but other additional roads to that airport and the rest of Sydney?

Rowland: And public transport.

Ciobo: The Prime Minister has made clear that he intends his legacy to be infrastructure. In many respects all of those things are on the table. We are looking at productive infrastructure across Australia, that’s what we’re focused on and I hold it up in stark contrast to what we saw with pink batts and TV boxes for pensioners, $900 cash handouts, the kind of spending we saw under the Labor Party which was a complete waste.

Curtis: Although some of those $900 cash bonuses in particular went into the economy at a time it needed it?

Ciobo: A very small proportion. The reality is a lot of that money went overseas, a lot of was misspent.

Rowland: Where is your evidence of misspending?

Ciobo: The vast bulk of the money was actually saved. There is plenty of economic evidence to support each of those assertions.

Curtis: Michelle, Do you accept that a second Sydney Airport at Badgerys Creek would bring economic benefits for the residents in Western Sydney, could provide jobs in particular?

Rowland: Look infrastructure always has the capability to provide jobs. But you know what concerns me is that the whole notion of jobs in Western Sydney seems to be viewed through the prism of the airport being the only answer.

I would say we need to invest in high-tech jobs, high-paying, high-value jobs, and I’ve also heard about ideas that you can link some of the construction to Western Sydney specific employees. But at the same time, I would dispute that this is the single and the only notion for Western Sydney, the only solution. That’s what concerns me. I mean, the residents of Western Sydney, it’s been said to me, haven’t really had a full and frank debate on this for some time. Well it’s a bit hard to have the debate when you see comments coming out of the minister himself saying “this is it, take it or leave it.”

Curtis: On that note we will have to leave it. Steve Ciobo and Michelle Rowland thank you very much for your time.