27 October 2013



Subject/s: Asylum seekers, Commission of Audit, PM Abbott’s Washington Post gaffe, second Sydney airport

Kieran Gilbert: With me on the program this Monday morning, the Shadow Minister for Citizenship and Multiculturalism and Shadow Assistant Minister for Communications, Michelle Rowland and also Parliament Secretary to the Treasurer, Steve Ciobo.

Steve Ciobo first to you, how much credit do you give the former Labor government for the decline in boat arrivals we’ve seen over the last month?

Steve Ciobo: Look I don’t really give them any credit, look we were elected Kieran to do a job and that was to repair the mess that the Labor party left behind when it came to boats. We know the story there. Labor left us a situation where they took a solution and created a problem, over 50,000 arrivals, over 700 boats. Labor pretty much adopted more positions than the Kama Sutra and they’re now going to claim they were the architects of the slowdown in boats. What we know is we took strong consistent policies to the election, the Australian people endorsed us at the election and we think in the fullness of time they will see that under the Coalition, once again, that we have slowed down the boats and hopefully we will stop them in time.

Kieran Gilbert: Scott Morrison is refusing to say whether any boats have been turned back, in fact refusing to commit to ever revealing if boats were or have been turned back. Here’s a little bit more of Scott Morrison speaking to Chris Kenny last night on the Viewpoint program.

Scott Morrison: (Inaudible) we are in the business of actually just getting the job done and that’s what our focus is at the moment and that’s why we’re not into a running commentary on it, we are just getting the job done. People want the boats stopped coming to Australia, that’s what we are elected to do and that’s what we’re getting on and doing.

Kieran Gilbert: Michelle Rowland, so whatever they are doing seems to be working, down 70 per cent over the last month or so.

Michelle Rowland: The reality is Kieran we simply don’t know, because this culture of secrecy that has beset this government and this Minister in particular, I mean you see his weekly press briefings are an absolute farce. They won’t say what country of origin people are coming from, they won’t detail anything which should actually be transparent and which the former government did detail. And I would point this out, the reality is that this Government is implementing the policies of Labor and the only thing that has changed is the media management, which has moved to a culture of secrecy.

Now it is fair enough for them to say they went to the last election with certain policies, well what polices did that include, that included buying boats, how many boats have they bought back? That included giving money to Indonesian fishing villages, how much has been given over? That included not only turning boats back, but also a range of other measures. The only difference we have actually seen is that they seek to introduce temporary protection visas, which we know from the evidence, only increased women and children getting on boats. So I fail to see how this Government can take any credit, if indeed boat arrivals have come down, because we simply don’t know, every question that’s put to the Minister is referred to as an “operational matter”. But, this is simply a process of implementing the former government’s policies.

Kieran Gilbert: Steve Ciobo when it comes to the reason given, this is an operational matter, in the specific instance of turning back the boats, that’s reasonable in the short time over the weeks around an operation, but months ahead, surely the government can divulge that information.

Steve Ciobo: You know I reject categorically the shrill claims that Michelle’s making about there being a culture of secrecy. I mean let’s be clear what’s going on here, we were elected to do a job and that was to clean up the mess that Labor left behind on border protection after adopting all matter of policies, ranging from people’s congresses to having agreements with Malaysia where we’d give them 800 and we’d take 4,000 back, I mean all sorts of crazy policies.

We made a simple statement that we would stop the boats and we’d do it through temporary protection visas, turning back boats where it’s safe to do so, on a number of these fronts we are already making significant inroads, we’ve seen a very big reduction in the number of boats coming to Australia. So there is no culture of secrecy, yes, granted we now do a weekly press conference where we answer those questions, and so from a government perspective, you know time will show us whether or not we are ultimately successful in stopping the boats, we know we have slowed them down significantly.

Kieran Gilbert: Okay, let’s move on, I want to move on. Let’s talk about the audit commission. The ACTU…

Steve Ciobo: Sure.

Kieran Gilbert: …are calling for an early disclosure of the report. They want a bit of input into this, isn’t it fair enough for interest groups, not just the union movement, but anyone to have some sort of input into what is such a far reaching commission of audit?

Steve Ciobo: Look of course, we welcome input and there’s no doubt will be a public debate that runs parallel with the commission of audit over the next several months. Look from my perspective we welcome everybody to have their say about what should be taking place, in many respects that’s what government is all about, but we are not going to slow down the process of reforming government, we’re not going to slow down the process to find efficiencies and productivity improvements that need to be found if we’re going to get spending under control, and if we are going to get government back on track to restoring Australia’s bottom line.

Kieran Gilbert: Is there any prospect of an early disclosure of the report, Joe Hockey indicated that it would be released around the May Budget, and it seems, the concerns seem to be the recommendations will be released as they’re being adopted?

Steve Ciobo: Well I mean it will be part of the Budget process Kieran, the commission of audit has a very big job to do, they’ve got to look at the governance of our nation, they’ve got to look at where there are opportunities for there to be efficiency gains, where we can deliver services in a productive way for the Australian people. Now obviously that requires some policy incorporation, that will be done through the Budget process and so we will release their recommendations and people will get to see the government response to it as part of the Budget process which is going to take place in May.

Kieran Gilbert: Michelle Rowland, Steve Ciobo as Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasurer, sounds as if the Government is going to be consultative, do you support that?

Michelle Rowland: Look I think it’s very important that the public has their say on this before the proposals are actually acted upon. I think it is very important that before any of this is put to a Budget process that there is transparency, not only for people that represent unions as the ACTU has asked for, but also other levels of government and the public generally. For example I note that in the Commission of Audit’s terms of reference that there is a reference to state and local governments, now as someone who comes from a local government background, I am very concerned that local government should not be the end point of any cost shifting and that is certainly something that has been occurring over the last couple of decades, and I would also point out that it was only in our biggest period of reforms in the Hawke/Keating years when we had unions, business and governments coming together under the Accord, that we enjoyed some of the highest levels of productivity, low industrial disputation and economic growth in Australia.

So I think it’s only proper that we have a transparent process before it actually goes to the Budget process. I don’t see how this would in fact be slowing down this commission of audit which the government is intent on doing, but I think it’s crucial that we have public consultation into this because we know that achieves the best outcomes.

Kieran Gilbert: Steve Ciobo?

Steve Ciobo: Well look, I think Michelle endorsed what I said. There will be public consultation, there’s opportunity for people to have their say of course about any decision the government makes, and as I said I expect and anticipate that there’ll be wide ranging discussion around the commission of audit running parallel with the commission’s operations themselves.

But that notwithstanding, make no mistake Kieran, the Coalition government will be a very different government to the former Labor Government. We’ve got a job to do, we’re going to get on with making decisions in a methodical way, there’s not going to be the same showmanship that there was with the previous Labor government. But by the same token as a consequence of a more, I guess, intensive and directed approach to governance, we’re going to get the runs on the board and we are going to do it a safe pair of hands kind of way. And frankly it stands in contrast to Labor who might have been big when it came to consultation, but were very poor when it came to delivery.

Kieran Gilbert: David Rowe in today’s Fairfax papers has written a story Steve Ciobo, quoting a leading US commentator on foreign policy and suggesting that Tony Abbott’s use of Washington Post interview to brand his Labor predecessors as “wacko” and “embarrassing”, that that could set back the working relationship with the Obama Administration. Did Mr Abbott go a bit too far in his frank assessment of the former Labor government in that interview with the Washington Post? Aren’t you meant to reign in your criticisms when on the international stage?

Steve Ciobo: You know I think Kieran the relationship between Australia and the United States is long, it’s enduring and it’s robust. The reality is the friendship we have with the United States is perhaps the strongest friendship we have with another nation state and frankly if people are genuinely concerned about national embarrassment, then I think the cold hard reality is this, Labor was the international embarrassment because they kept changing Prime Ministers. We had situations on the world stage people wouldn’t know who the Prime Minister from Australia was that would be turning up to important trade talks or to important bilateral and multilateral discussions. So frankly I think if we are quite genuine about what is going to cause international embarrassment for Australia that past track record needs to be left behind us, we need a strong stable pair of hands and we have that with Tony Abbott.

Kieran Gilbert: And it wouldn’t take much of a search would it Michelle Rowland for anyone in the US, who was inclined to look to see what Tony Abbott’s views were anyway on some of his predecessors.

Michelle Rowland: Maybe they could look up Wikipedia like some of his Ministers, but I will make this point Kieran, it is absolutely breaking rule 101 of international relations to be going around trashing former governments. Prime Minister Gillard and Prime Minister Rudd didn’t do that. And for a right-wing commentator to actually wince when these words were said, calling his predecessors “wacko”, calling previous policies “wacko”. I’ll address both of them, firstly I am sure he was being advised, “this is what the Tea Party people in the US would like to hear,” well quite frankly it just demonstrates that this is a person who is not a statesman, he wasn’t a statesman when Prime Minister Key addressed the Parliament some time ago, he wasn’t a statesman when President Obama addressed the Parliament, both times using the opportunities to have a political dig which was totally inappropriate. Which wasn’t a problem then, but is a problem now that he is the Prime Minister.

And I’ll also make this point, in attacking the NBN for ludicrously as he says, in a “wacko” sense, seeking to put fibre to every home just ignores the fact that US has a cable culture, this is a culture of people who have contestability in this area and really would have been left scratching their heads on a policy issue as well as a personal issue to think well why would this person a, be criticising what is a very sensible policy and b, why is he criticising his predecessors.

Kieran Gilbert: (Inaudible) the debate that keeps on giving and this is the front page of the Daily Telegraph, Simon Benson reports Steve Ciobo that Qantas and Jetstar have confirmed for the first time that they would fly services out of Badgerys Creek, that’s a bit of a positive endorsement for something that your boss, Mr Hockey is seeking to pursue.

Steve Ciobo: Look we know that a second Sydney Airport is a vexed issue, it’s not straightforward Kieran, that’s the reason why the debate’s been around for I think 20 odd years. The reality is though we need to look at what we can do to make Australia more internationally competitive when it comes to tourism, we need to look at what we can do to boost productivity in our nation, now quite clearly having additional ports of call, having additional opportunities to strengthen our national infrastructure when it comes to transport, freight, cargo, all those types of things are all going to be a shot in the arm for the Australian economy. They’re also going to be good strong anchor points to help drive tourism both domestic and international, which is all part of stimulating economic growth in this country. From a Coalition perspective I welcome the comments from Qantas, obviously there is still work to be done ultimately about what will happen with the second Sydney airport site, but fundamentally I think that any steps that as I said bolster national infrastructure, are a step in the right direction.

Kieran Gilbert: Michelle Rowland as a Western Sydney MP what are your thoughts on this, what would be a big boost to the local economy as well there?

Michelle Rowland: Kieran I have long been an advocate for employment growth in Western Sydney, but I think this debate has become somewhat skewed to think that an airport in Western Sydney is the only way we are going to achieve this. Firstly, I am in support of a second airport in Sydney and I think that Wilton as a site was examined and those findings would be in the new Minister’s hands now. But I would point out the fact that getting into the city from Western Sydney and from South-West Sydney is a major trauma already. Now unless we have significant investment in road and rail and other forms of transport infrastructure, simply building an airport in Western Sydney will not work.

And I would also point out that I think there are tremendous opportunities to develop land in Western Sydney for employment growth, here where your studios are in Macquarie Park is a fine example of that and I would certainly like to see more high-tech jobs come to Western Sydney, but I think that it is certainly the case that we can’t have an airport plonked in Western Sydney without a significant amount of investment in infrastructure, because otherwise we already see Sydney bursting at the seams, otherwise it simply won’t cope.

Kieran Gilbert: Michelle Rowland, Steve Ciobo, have a great day.

Michelle Rowland: Thank you.

Steve Ciobo: Thanks Kieran, have a great day.