Opinion pieces, speeches & transcripts

Transcript: ABC News Breakfast, Saturday 29 June

June 29, 2019


SUBJECTS: G20, Ministerial Standards, Tax cuts. 

JOURNALIST: Time for our Saturday Poly Panel and this week we are looking at the latest on the G20, also Christopher Pyne's plum new gig and the resumption of Parliament which is returning this week.
Joining us now from Hobart is Liberal Senator Eric Abetz and from Melbourne, Labor MP Andrew Giles.
We'll start off with the G20 in Japan. Eric Abetz, the Prime Minister sat down with Donald Trump before the summit got underway. What’s Australia hoping in its influence with America?
ERIC ABETZ, SENATOR FOR TASMANIA: Australia is clearly a trading country. Our country, our economy, relies on exports. Therefore when there are trade tensions between major players such as China and the United States, whilst they’re having their sparring match, it's quite often the case that smaller nations become the collateral damage. That's why it's quite right for the Prime Minister to be looking further afield for other trade deals, for other trade negotiations, to ensure that we are always in front of the game, to ensure that no matter what happens between China and the United States, we are able to have a position where we can be a friendly trader with both of them but also with other countries.
JOURNALIST: Andrew Giles, do we have any influence in big talk fests like this today? President Trump will be sitting down with President Xi. Isn't everything going to take place in that room, not with us?
ANDREW GILES, MEMBER FOR SCULLIN:  Well obviously that is a really important debate, but Australia was pivotal in getting the G20 together and I think it has shown itself to be really important in that international forum. It is our space where we can demonstrate, as Eric said, as a trading nation, that we have an interest in shaping the rules of trade, where we can put forward the view that is shared by both major parties in Australia. That nobody wins in a trade war. It is vitally important that we are in these forums; it’s vitally important that we can advance our national interest and well as our interest in more cooperative world order.
JOURNALIST: Eric Abetz, you were talking earlier about the importance of maintaining ties to both the US and China, do you see a time as these tensions are escalating that Australia might have to choose between the US and China, and what choice would we make?
ABETZ: I think that we don’t have to make such a choice, that’s hypothetical and we need to look after Australia’s interests. Not only trade but other considerations as well - humanitarian. I think that Australia is sufficiently positioned as a result of a host of governments before the current one and this government is continuing on that path. That is, to put Australia first in these considerations, that’s what the people in Australia expect, that’s what Prime Minister Morrison and Trade Minister Birmingham are pursuing. And I think Australians would be right behind them in that pursuit; put Australia first, continue friendly relationships with both, but also look further afield.
JOURNALIST: Andrew, the US Secretary of State told the Australian newspaper this week, that Australia’s going to be very important in terms of America’s position on Iran and the Prime Minister Scott Morrison said that he will assess any request any request from the United States regarding what Australia’s support for their position on Iran ought to be as it comes, does it worry you?
GILES: What’s happening in Iran and its relationship with the United States as well as issues in the region are obviously concerning to anyone, but I do think that this is one of those areas where we need to hasten slowly, I think that has been the position of the UK Foreign Secretary in recent days as well.
JOURNALIST: Let’s move onto our second topic, Eric Abetz, your former colleague, former Liberal Defence Minister Christopher Pyne has a new job, he is now a defence consultant to an advisory firm called EY. Under the code, former ministers are not meant to take part in any lobbying or advocating or having any relationship with business for 18 months after they were Minister. Is this an appropriate role or does it breach standards given that Christopher Pyne would have been impartial to a lot of information as the defence minister?
ABETZ: I think there are some issues here, quite clearly, people do expect a standard from the Ministers and then former Ministers to ensure that which they have learned and gleaned from their Ministerial roles are not exported into other roles from where they can potentially gain financially. So I think there is a real issue there, but I trust that Christopher Pyne has organised with EY to ensure that those standards are maintained.
But is it a concern? Yes.
Can it be overcome? I also believe that is the case and I look forward to a full disclosure being made.
JOURNALIST: Cross bench Senator Rex Patrick say’s the Prime Minister should direct Defence and other Government agencies to cease awarding any contacts to EY until that 18 month period has expired, would you support that?
ABETZ: Well I think that’s a headline grabbing statement by the Senator, good luck to him, he’s got his headline.  But with these things it is always a matter of mature consideration of the matters involved, there is an issue here, I acknowledge and accept that, but I wouldn’t pump it up to the manner that Senator Patricks has. That said, let’s wait and see how it evolves in relation to what the actual agreement is between Mr Pyne and EY.
JOURNALIST: But Senator I’m a bit unclear about what you’re waiting to see, like what would require clarification here, obviously if he has been in a position of knowing all kinds of things about the Governments likely Defence posture, and he is now in a position to give that information to a private consortium for personal gain, what else is there to know?
ABETZ: Oh well, it is what he’s actual detailed role is or will be with EY and I’m not briefed on that, that’s why I am unable to comment. But I do concede as did right from the outset that there are issues here, but my view is, let’s arm ourselves with all the facts before we come to the sort conclusions and high handed approach of Senator Patrick.
JOURNALIST: Andrew, do we just need tougher clearer laws?
GILES: Well in the first instance, I think we need the Prime Minister to uphold his Ministerial standards of conduct. It seems to me that this is a very clear cut breach and the onus is on the Prime Minister to hold his former Minister to account and to set the standard.
I think that takes me to the really big issue here and that’s that we know that Australian’s are frustrated and often cynically about the state of our politics, and it seems to me that this is an example of exactly why that this is the case. We need as individual politicians to set a higher standard but I also think we need to set clearer guidelines to ensure that there is no bleeding of public office holding into private interest.
JOURNALIST: So you would like the standards changed?
GILES: Well in the first instance, I’d like the standards to be upheld, but I do think we need to take a hard look, not just post political employment, but more broadly at the standards of public life and public office.            
JOURNALIST: But how would you have the PM uphold those standards, Christopher Pyne does not work with him anymore?
GILES: Well there are probably are number of ways in which he could take action to uphold the integrity of the code of conduct. But the very least would be good to hear a strong signal from him as to how he thinks Mr Pyne’s conduct fits with the Ministerial code of conduct.
JOURNALIST: Well Parliament resumes this week, so you are getting set for that. Andrew Giles I might start with you. The Government’s tax cuts are going to be high on the agenda.
Has Labor decided whether it’s going to pass and support the full suite of tax cuts?
GILES: Well that’s a matter for Shadow Cabinet and Shadow Cabinet has yet made a decision on that, but what you’ve seen from Labor since the election is a determination to be constructive and recognition also that the economy is in a troubling state at the moment. Stagnant wages growth continues, growth is under pressure and we are seeing echoes from the IMF about how challenging the global environment is. That’s why we are moving to get the economy stimulated, we sought to engage the government in a constructive dialogue on this and it’s very frustrating, they seem to have no plan for the economy…
JOURNALIST: Sorry to interrupt to you, but some within your own party have expressed support for passing the whole plan, what are your personal views on that?
GILES: Well I’ll put my personal views to the party room! I think in the first instance, since I’m determined to see us push on with our current agenda, which is to bring forward the second tranche and also to see if further infrastructure spending, constructive infrastructure spending to boost productivity, to boost growth and I’d like to see the government recognise that we should have a constructive discussion about this. Not simply have them fixated on these decisions which won’t come into effect until 2024-2025 - where they haven’t been interested in providing us with the detailed costings on the impact.
JOURNALIST: Senator Abetz, Andrew just mentioned the headwinds that the global economy is facing, you know we were talking about the G20 and the trade war between the US and China. The reality is we just don’t know how much money is going to be coming into Government coffers over the next few years; it’s entirely possible that tax revenue will decline and that the surplus may not even eventuate. Is it responsible to be locking in this third tranche of tax cuts that go so far out when we don’t even know what’s going to happen?
ABETZ: It’s interesting that Andrew sees the need to stimulate the economy; the best way to stimulate the economy is to give tax cuts. He’s concerned about wage stagnation, well what better way to put more money into people’s pockets…
JOURNALIST: But we’re only talking about the third tranche which doesn’t kick in just yet?
ABETZ: …then to take less tax out of their pockets and if you as the government go to an election with a tax policy, as Labor did. One is accepted, the other rejected. Then I think it might be time for the Labor party to acknowledge, theirs was rejected, ours was accepted and it ought be given the green light, in the parliament to give expression to the will of the Australian people as determined on May 18th
JOURNALIST: …But Senator on the point of the stimulus effect of the tax cut, you can’t talking about need for a stimulus in 2024, we don’t know what’s going to happen in 2024.
ABETZ: Look none of us know what’s going to happen in the future but a government can set markers, can also set a climate where people know that as they progress through life, as they progress through various income brackets, that they have a government that is on their side to ensure that the tax burden is lessened. The top 10 per cent, roughly, of Australia’s income tax-payers share 50 per cent of the income tax burden, and that is also quite high by world standards and that is why the Government is setting the scene for long term economic growth, for long term economic stability, for long term cost of living reductions by putting more money into people’s pockets and that is what we were elected to do and that is what we’re going to seek the parliament to do when we resume next week.  
JOURNALIST: Well Andrew Giles this was a major policy for the Government in the election campaign, they won the election, isn’t it now up to Labor to facilitate or to help them implement that plan they were voted in to do.
GILES: Well they won the 2019 election Joanna, not the 2024 election. I’m concerned about the state of the Australian economy now and I’m prepared, as all my colleagues are, to take action to deliver Australian’s an effective wage rise, to stimulate the economy now. We’ve said throughout that we will have a proper look at the proposals that are contained in the third tranche. But it would be completely irresponsible to lock Australia into a decision like that without meaningful information, without a meaningful debate and also without Australians having an opportunity to consider its impact on our healthcare, our education spending and the other roles of government.
Josh I think pointed out to uncertainty in the global environment, also going to the uncertainty of our revenue position. We’d be completely irresponsible to lock Australians so far into the future on the basis of the last election. 
ABETZ: Well Andrew you can go to the 2022 election promising the Australian people that you will repeal the tax cuts that we seek to legislate now. That is open to the Labor party, but you know that you wouldn’t want to do that at the 2022 election and that’s why you’re trying to stifle the current Government’s mandate and this is where I think the people see through the Labor party’s posturing when it comes to taxing, because there is no tax the Labor party doesn’t like and we as Liberal-National party coalition always seek to lower the tax burden on the Australian people. Whereas we saw with the Labor party at the last election, it was about big tax, big spending, suggesting that government is the be all and the end all.  Whereas we believe it is the individually Australian that is the be all and end all, and that’s who we seek to serve.
JOURNALIST: A very quick reply Andrew Giles, we’ve run out of time.
GILES: On 1 July, on Monday, the first broken promise of the Morrison Government will become apparent and that its failure to deliver tax cuts to low and middle incomes. I think that say it all.   
JOURNALIST: Alright Andrew Giles, Eric Abetz, unfortunately we have run out of time, sorry about that. Thanks for coming in this morning.  
ABETZ: Thanks a lot.
GILES: Great to be with you.