10 November 2013



Subject/s: Parliament, natural disaster in the Philippines, climate change, asylum seekers, GrainCorp

GILBERT: With me on the program this morning the Shadow Minister for Citizenship and Multiculturalism and the assistant Shadow Minister for Communications, Michelle Rowland in the Sky News centre. Thanks for being there Michelle Rowland, and here in the Canberra studio the Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasurer Steve Ciobo. Steve Ciobo first to you, the message from Tony Abbott, the adults are in charge, how much will rest on the performance of MPs, the behaviour of MPs in this Parliament to see if that promise will be met.

CIOBO: Well I don’t think it’s that dissimilar to previous parliaments, I mean the comment isn’t directly perse about the behaviour of MPs, obviously there’s a high standard expected at all times and we all know that. But what it’s actually about is our approach to policy. It’s about that we intend to be very different to Labor’s approach, we saw so many examples of Labor cabinet ministers who would say that the Prime Minister would walk in and demand that there be a policy brief and two days later something being pushed through Parliament. Our approach is going to be very different to that, our approach is going to be calm, it’s going to be methodical, it’s going to be purposeful and that’s what we talk about when we say about being the adults in the room.

GILBERT: Do you think it will be a different tone though…

CIOBO: Absolutely.

GILBERT: Given that the hung parliament was the driver of it…

CIOBO: Well…

GILBERT: Many say that the then Opposition Leader, now Prime Minister, drove much of it himself.

CIOBO: You know Kieran, Labor says they are always the victim of circumstance, it was a consequence of the parliament being the way the parliament was, I’m not going to say that wasn’t a factor, but lets not discount that Labor had a very haphazard approach to how they were going about governing our nation, some policy backflips, they’d introduce legislative changes that no one knew anything about including for example cabinet ministers, so we are going to set a very different tone, we’ve attempted to do that already, we want to be calm and purposeful in the way we go about governing Australia and that’s going to be our consistent regular approach from this point forward.

GILBERT: Michelle Rowland do you accept that there will be a different tone of this parliament inherent in the fact that this is no longer a hung parliament scenario?

ROWLAND: Firstly Kieran can I put a call out to the many community members that I have in the Blacktown Local Government Area who have Filipino background and tell them that our thoughts and prayers are with them in this very sad time.

I’d also like to say in terms of your question about the parliament, look, I don’t think that there’s any doubt that this will be a very different opposition to the one Tony Abbott led in the last parliament. For a start this is an opposition that is going to be going in not just purely negative, and not just with the intent of bringing down the government before the next election, and let’s face it that’s what Tony Abbott’s intent was every day of that parliament. We have already demonstrated even before Parliament goes back that we are party of thinkers, we are a party of people who want to put forward strong policy, strong alternative policy and we’ve seen that even in the last couple of weeks from many members of the Labor side, including people like Andrew Leigh who’s been very forthright, I for example gave a speech last Friday to a very significant multicultural group where I laid out the methodologies and the priorities for Labor going forward in the portfolios that I’m responsible for. So we’ll be a very constructive opposition that goes to the next election with policies rather than with slogans and as for the adults being in…

GILBERT: Michelle Rowland…

ROWLAND: The room…

GILBERT: I’ll let you conclude your answer there on that particular message to Tony Abbott.

ROWLAND: I was just going to say in terms of the adults being in charge, well they don’t like adults when Australia has to get its information about asylum seekers policy from the Jakarta Post, or where you’ve got frenemies within the frontbench of the Government at the moment wishing that Barnaby Joyce did in fact resign over GrainCorp, so I don’t call them adults at all quite frankly.

GILBERT: I’ll come back to Steve Ciobo on both of those matters, but I do want to ask you about something that you touched on in your first answer and I should follow up on of course the awful typhoon that hit the Philippines, there’s been some criticism about the Government’s level of support on this, what do you say about the amount that’s been offered by the Government, is it appropriate?

ROWLAND: Look I think Australia should do everything it can. As to the quantum, I have seen reports that it is not, some people criticising it as not being sufficient. Look I would hope that in times like this it doesn’t become a political, and I don’t want to politicise it at all. And we’ve even seen other regional issues, other regional crises that natural disasters that happened during the last parliament, where initially a certain amount was pledged and then that was increased, look I hope there is bipartisan support for Australia to do as much as it can because this about people’s lives and rebuilding.

GILBERT: I have no doubt that there is bipartisan support in expressing our condolences right across the board to the people of the Philippines.

CIOBO: I mean that is the case Kieran and on these issues of natural disasters as tragic as they all are, and they all are tragic, we’ve seen now expected up to 10,000 fatalities, I mean it is truly horrific and of course condolences but across the parliamentary isle from both sides of the chamber we join together, we’re bipartisan on these issues, we’ll provide whatever support we possibly can, that’s absolutely the case.

GILBERT: Indeed.

Now I want to just tap into a little bit more of what Tony Abbott said in that video message, particularly on the carbon tax, it sounded a lot like the message, in fact the whole video message, sounded like the argument and message from Tony Abbott before the election as well.

CIOBO: Well look, guilty of being consistent. I mean we’re guilty of saying to the Australian people this is what we’ll do if you elect us and now we are going to follow through on that. We made it clear that from our perspective the last election was a referendum on the carbon tax, so we’ve got a clear mandate from the Australian people to repeal the world’s biggest carbon tax and that is our first order of business this week.

It’s a new parliament, we’re looking forward to getting stuck into it, we’ve got a heavy workload ahead of us and one of the first things, well not one of the, the first thing we are going to do is to remove the world’s biggest carbon tax. Only Labor needs to decide where they stand on this, it’s only the Labor Party that stands between Australians having lower electricity prices and a lower cost of living versus digging their heals in and ignoring the wishes of the Australian people and saying we don’t care what Australians voted for, we’re going to stand by our arrangement with the Greens and were going to continue to have the same policy that we’ve always had.

GILBERT: And you can’t really argue with the consistency of message Michelle Rowland, and the fact that Mr Abbott had argued for this and promised this would be the first legislation that they would put to the Parliament day in day out in the lead up to the election. I will put the same question that I put to Senator Wong a bit earlier, are you worried about the political flak that Labor will cop over the coming months by taking this stance?

ROWLAND: Well firstly I’ll say in terms of that video, that video didn’t go far enough, it should have had a bit of cut from when Tony Abbott said if we are going to deal with climate change we should have a simple tax, it should have had that in it as well. Talking about consistency, what a load of rubbish, what a load of rubbish, this was party that went to the 2007 and 2010 election promising to put a price on carbon, so I have no doubt that we are on the right side of history, this is the right policy, I still haven’t found someone on the Coalition side who can explain Direct Action, it’s a friendless policy, you can’t find any reputable economist or environmentalist who supports it and it’s no wonder then, that they are looking forward.

Well I am looking forward to going into the Parliament, being able to debate markets versus subsidising polluters, I am very happy to do that, we are on the right side of history, we are on the right side of science, we’ve seen a war on science from this government, cutting the CSIRO, just ignoring all the facts on climate change, so I am very happy to go into the parliament and debate, I support markets, I support a market based mechanism for dealing with climate change, which is scientifically…

GILBERT: But, hasn’t Labor suffered because you’ve gone well ahead of the rest of world, now on the international climate talks under way this week in Warsaw, the government isn’t sending a minister, they’ve got an Ambassador there doing the job, now they argue now, The Australian newspaper reports this morning, that the Government will be in the mainstream of international negotiations and won’t sign on to a post-2015 deal, Michelle Rowland, unless other major economies do the same, now isn’t that a fair benchmark and didn’t Labor suffer because you were so far ahead of the rest of the world?

ROWLAND: Well I don’t accept that for a minute. We have seen countries around the world, some of the biggest economies in the world, putting a price on carbon and I don’t think that Australia should be the one to actually go in say we’re going to use something that isn’t a market based mechanism, in fact you won’t find anyone in the world who supports what the Coalition is proposing. And I will also say this, when you talk about political flak, the fact is we went to the 2013 election with a promise, with a commitment to bring forward the end of the fixed price on carbon by one year, we actually abolished the carbon tax as part of our policy, but the question becomes what do you want to replace it with, do you want to replace it with subsiding polluters or market based mechanism, I believe in markets.

GILBERT: Steve Ciobo I want to ask you about the international climate talks, because you don’t have a minister there, it sounds like the government isn’t giving your officials there any power to sign on to anything that will cost the government any money, so have you given up on these climate talks?

CIOBO: We have Australia’s climate change ambassador at these discussions, so let me reject completely this notion from Labor that we are not interested to making the world and the environment a better place and we’re not interested in forward looking policy, we are. We have a climate change ambassador, for goodness sake, this person’s core job is to deal with exactly these kind of international arrangements…

GILBERT: But no power to agree to anything…

CIOBO: Because ultimately it’s got to be decided by the Parliament right, so let’s have the appropriate person, who in this case is the climate change ambassador taking part in the talks, developing up what agreements there may be that may flow from it and then we’ll look at those agreements, that is the appropriate course of action to do and it’s entirely consistent with what countries do all around the world.  But, the point I’d make is this, I have been sitting here listening to Michelle, talk about how they want to be a new, positive Labor Party and how the Labor Party wants to be positive and not just be obstructionist, but all I have heard from Labor in response to us as a new Government is negativity about climate change, how they’re going to support the world’s biggest carbon tax, how they want that to stay in place, negativity about what is happening with border protection, negativity about climate change, so you know I think it’s a classic example of Labor saying one thing and doing another.

GILBERT: But on the Government’s position on the UN international climate talks, has there not been any backsliding here at all in terms of Australia’s commitment to these talks, as I say the first time since the 90s that we don’t have a Minister there…

CIOBO: Sure…

GILBERT: You’re not going to agree to another round unless every major economy signs on?

CIOBO: I’ll tell you what we’re not going to do, we’re not going to do what Kevin Rudd and the Labor Party did when they took an entourage of something like 300 or 350 people across to the Copenhagen talks, so Australia I think had the single biggest delegation or entourage there at an obscene cost, millions and millions of dollars for nought for the Australian people and only did one thing which was run up Australia’s debt and deficit. So what we’re going to do it appropriately, we’ve got our climate change ambassador there, he’ll be participating in the discussion, anything concrete that flows from that we’ll have a look at as a parliament and a Government.

GILBERT: Do you see this as Australia going from leading the world to the mainstream or are we in fact now at the back of the pack when it comes to dealing with this?

CIOBO: No Kieran, the last thing you would do as a responsible government to the Australian people is put a tax on our industries that give us a competitive advantage just so you can say, aren’t we the great guys globally, we’re the ones saving the planet, it’s rubbish. The reality is that Australia is such a minute contributor to global CO2 emissions that what we need to do is move in lockstep with our competitor nations, if we don’t move in lockstep with our competitor nations then the reality is we’ll lose jobs, we’ll lose investment and that’s going to mean a detrimental impact on Australian’s standard of living.

GILBERT: We are going to take a break on AM Agenda, we’ll be right back.

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GILBERT: This is AM Agenda and with me this morning the Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasurer, Steve Ciobo here in Canberra and in the Sky News Centre we’ve got the Shadow Minister for Citizenship and Multiculturalism, Michelle Rowland. On the issue of border protection and the boats, Steve Ciobo, we’ve seen some conflicting numbers from the Government, from Scott Morrison at the weekend saying that two boats have been rejected by Indonesia, saying they wouldn’t accept the return of asylum seekers to Indonesia, that was what Scott Morrison said, then the Indonesian officials quoted in the Jakarta Post saying it was three vessels and in the last couple of months every boat had been rejected. Is this a bad look given the different numbers put and the different messages made?

CIOBO: No, Kieran, I think in terms of the Australian public the only numbers they care about is what’s happening with the number of arrivals, and we know that the number of boat arrivals under the Coalition is down 75 per cent, so that’s the only number that matters, a decrease of 75 per cent of those coming to seek asylum.

The reality is this Kieran, we know that we had a complete shemozzle under Labor, we know that we had 50,000 people that arrived by boat, unfortunately and tragically 1,000 lives lost at sea and it was costing Australians around $12 billion. The Coalition has now brought that down by 75 per cent and we will over time I am very confident completely stop the boats. We have a new approach to doing it, we are not going to outsource our immigration policy to people smugglers, we are not going to provide a constant supply of information that they can then market their product out there, we are accountable by providing weekly updates, but most importantly the runs are on the score board, and that is that we are seeing a massive decline in the number of illegal boat arrivals.

GILBERT: And Michelle Rowland doesn’t the Coalition Government deserve credit for that, I know you’ll say the decline started under Labor, but it continued and improved even further in recent weeks under the Coalition Abbott Government?

ROWLAND: Oh I am going to say that and I’m also going to say this, I’d like to know where their turning back the boats policy has actually worked. They’re supposed to be turning back boats, they’re supposed to be buying boats, they’re supposed to have this heaps better relationship with Indonesia than Labor had. I have been lectured how many times in interviews and debates with members of the Government about Australia’s relationship with Indonesia when Labor was in Government saying that they could do it so much better than we could. This has gone, as Richard Marles said, this has gone from embarrassing to farcical. We have a situation where this Government is enjoying…

CIOBO: This you being positive Michelle. This you being all positive again.

ROWLAND: Listen, listen you’ll learn something, because…

CIOBO: Okay, sorry.

ROWLAND: You’ve seemed to have forgotten Steve that your last answer was basically the diatribe that you were giving six months ago, exact same diatribe you were giving six months ago because of two reasons, firstly, you can’t defend the fact that Scott Morrison has gone from being as the Herald described this morning, this omnipresent force and all of a sudden become this indignant kitten and secondly that this is implementing the policies Labor had since July this year, implementing Labor’s policy since July.

Now these people were very happy to stand in front of billboards saying how many boats had arrived, now they’re hiding the boats, they wanted to stop the boats, now they’re hiding the boats, what boats have they bought? I don’t know.

GILBERT: Well let’s put to you about Scott Morrison the media management, he’s doing the weekly update, you say it’s accountable, but will he have to gradually increase that to be truly accountable and transparent?

CIOBO: You know Kieran, what we’re going to do is we’re going to work to the advice that’s been provided to us from those that are in charge of Operation Sovereign Borders, we know that this constant supply of information was a marketing tool for the people smugglers, we know that every time Labor put out a press release and let’s be frank they were doing it on a daily basis with the number of boats that were coming under Labor, that was an opportunity for the people smugglers to say look another one of our boats has arrived in Australia, come aboard, come aboard. We’ve stopped that flow…

GILBERT: With the help of the Opposition trumpeting…

CIOBO: We’ve stopped that flow…

GILBERT: Every arrival as well.

CIOBO: I mean you know, seriously, seriously, it wasn’t the Opposition that caused this problem, it was the consequence of Labor policy, but you know what I want to put that behind us in a sense that we are a new Government, we’ve got a new approach, we have complete resolve and determination to make a difference here and importantly Kieran we are making a difference, it’s down 75 per cent so Michelle can…

ROWLAND: No thanks to you.

CIOBO: So Michelle can get hysterical…

ROWLAND: No thanks to you.

CIOBO: But the reality is we are delivering a 75 per cent reduction in the number of boats, we’ll turn them around we’re it’s safe to do so…

ROWLAND: It’s going real well…

CIOBO: We’ll provide temporary protection visas and we’ll send people offshore.

GILBERT: Let’s move on. GrainCorp. Barnaby Joyce has apparently told colleagues that his position would be untenable if Joe Hockey, your boss in Treasury, if he does approve the GrainCorp sale on December the 17th when that decision is to be made. Enormous tensions within the Coalition already on this and the joint party room hasn’t event met, you’re meeting today for the first time.

CIOBO: Ah, well we are having a joint party room this afternoon and we’ll no doubt go through all the things that we want to discuss as a joint party room about the forthcoming parliament, we’ve got a big workload ahead of us, we’ve got to, you know, restore the Budget back to balance, we’ve got to pay down Labor’s debt, we’ve got to scrap the carbon tax, so we’ve got a lot to do.

GILBERT: You’ve got reign in the Nationals as well on GrainCorp, don’t know?

CIOBO: Well no, I mean the Treasurer will look at this, and look I have no problem with different people putting forward their different points of view, the reality is this is a contentious issue, we understand that there are people on all sides of the fence who want to have their say about what is the appropriate way forward here, from my perspective the Treasurer has made it clear, he’ll make a determination in due course so we’ll wait till a determination is made.

GILBERT: Do you concede that some of your colleagues feel the Nationals are trying to bully Mr Hockey?

CIOBO: I’ve got no doubt that there are people that have strong views. I mean that’s apparent. I don’t think that it’s bad to have strong views in politics, in fact I think politicians having strong views about what they think is in the national interest is exactly what we’re paid to do.

GILBERT: What if the Nationals start quitting over this issue?

CIOBO: You know Kieran let’s not get ahead of ourselves; people are reflecting their strong views and in some cases the strong views of their constituents, clearly there’s an argument from those that say we want foreign investment, it’s good for Aussie jobs, and then there’s the argument from those who say they’re concerned about this deal, it’s not in the national interest. Ultimately, the man who’s paid the big bucks to work this out is the Treasurer, the Treasurer will have a look at this, he’ll determine if it’s in the national interest and a decision will be made.

GILBERT: Michelle Rowland, we’re almost out of time, but that is the fact isn’t it that Joe Hockey has said repeatedly that he will make the decision based on the national interest, despite Labor and others trying to capitalise on this divide within the Coalition.

ROWLAND: Well he even on Friday in a speech that he wants more foreign investment, make the decision, make the decision.  Look this is one in which the Coalition are hopelessly divided and let’s make no bones about it…

CIOBO: Are you being positive again Michelle?

ROWLAND: These are same people…

CIOBO: Is this you being positive again Michelle?

ROWLAND: Well I positively want to see investment in Australia, as for you my friend you can’t even support what the Liberal Party is supposed to stand for which is free markets, go figure.

GILBERT: Alright Michelle Rowland, Steve Ciobo thanks for that.

CIOBO: Thank you.

GILBERT: Have a good week.