Transcript: Interview with Philip Clark, ABC 666



Subject/s: Royal Commission into the banking and financial services sector; ABCC; Return of Parliament

It’s all ‘go’ up in Parliament House, isn’t it, today? Two of the participants are here in the studio with me, Angus Taylor, Federal Liberal Member for Hume. Morning Angus, how are you?

ANGUS TAYLOR: Good thanks, Phil.

CLARK: And Federal Labor Member for Canberra, Gai Brodtmann. Gai, good morning to you.


CLARK: Looking forward to this? It’s sort of historic in a way, isn’t it?

TAYLOR: It is, it is historic.

CLARK: So what happens today? Both the Senate and the Reps are all together in the one big room, and we’re listening to the Governor-General say, well, here you are all back again, brand new Parliament. The notice paper’s all clean, so nothing’s left from the old Parliament, this is a brand new Parliament, isn’t it?

TAYLOR: Well, in form I suppose, but in substance we’re still dealing with the important issues which we’ve been dealing with for some time, the ABCC and now the truckies.

CLARK: Can I put this to you, Angus, why is disruption in the building industry the issue which the Government thinks is the most important thing, which we should recall the Government for? It’s not indigenous deaths in custody, it’s not health and education, it’s not university funding, it’s not a whole range of things. It’s disruption for some large multinational and big corporates in the building industry, that’s the big issue facing Australia. Polling doesn’t support it, why do you think it is?

TAYLOR: Well, I don’t think you’ve characterised it the right way there, Phil, and the reason is as we make this transition from the mining boom to a more diversified economy, one of the things that’s got to happen is an enormous investment in our cities, in transport infrastructure, in hospitals and schools and so on, and that investment is threatened by the behaviour in the construction industry. You know, I’ve watched the cost of building buildings, building mines, building all sorts of things double or triple over the last ten years or so, and that is totally unacceptable, and we know part of that is the disputation that’s been going on in this industry. So this is crucial to Australia’s economic future and it’s why it’s been a big issue for us since before the last election, this didn’t turn up yesterday.

CLARK: Well, it’s an issue, is it the biggest issue? See, this is a Parliament that’s been prorogued and called back to discuss this number one issue, and you’re saying this is the biggest issue that faces Australia?

TAYLOR: Let me put it in perspective. When the mining boom happened we saw construction investment rise from about thirty billion dollars a year up to about a hundred and thirty billion. Now, that’s falling back and we want to encourage it in housing, we want to encourage it in roads, in rail and other infrastructure. If the cost of doing that is too high we just don’t get bang for our buck. So this is enormously important to that transition for the economy, and it’s why we are so focused on it.

CLARK: What’s Labor going to do about it, Gai?

BRODTMANN: Well this is a complete and utter stunt - let’s call it for what it is, Phil. We’re recalling all the MPs from right across the country, all the Senators from right across the country together for this extraordinary sitting session. And it’s great for the Canberra economy, I know that the hoteliers and the restauranteurs and the taxi drivers are very happy. But it is costing the Australian taxpayer a huge amount of money, hundreds of thousands, possibly millions to get us all back for what is a complete and utter stunt. Let’s just call it for what it is.

CLARK: Well it’s certainly costing millions.

TAYLOR: I’ll tell you what’s costing more is the cost of building things in this country.

CLARK: But your task is to convince people, Angus, that this is the biggest issue. Because I think if we polled people you’d probably find that people are more concerned about health, they’re more concerned about what’s going on in their schools, they’d be more concerned about what’s going on in Whyalla, than they would about these issues.

BRODTMANN: And if they’re so concerned about it, then why aren’t they prepared to negotiate with the crossbenchers? I mean, listening to the crossbenchers over the last few days, it appears that there has not been any genuine attempt at negotiation with them.

TAYLOR: Well, that’s just right. It’s the terms of those negotiations that matter. But look, this is a big issue. It’s not the only issue, it’s true, that Australians are concerned about government spending, and the prospect of having a Labor government that would spend and tax more, and in the process act as a sea anchor for the economy. They want jobs, they want opportunities, they want investment in their roads and rail, and that’s why we’re focused on these things.

CLARK: The polls might tell you the opposite, though, Angus. This morning you’ve got two polls that indicate that people are warming to Labor and cooling on the coalition, what’s gone wrong?

TAYLOR: Well, I’ll tell you what was very clear in those polls. It’s that two thirds of Australians, two thirds of Australians, want a government that focuses on managing its spending, that acts responsibly, that makes sure we live within our means -

CLARK: Why has the gloss come off it?

TAYLOR: Well, just let me finish, the reason Australians are so focused on that is they know, and they’re seeing this in the Canberra economy, if we manage government carefully, then we create jobs, we create opportunity, and that is absolutely central to what we as a government are seeking to do and will seek to do beyond the next election.


BRODTMANN: Look, I think what they highlight is the fact that Australians are disappointed. They’re disappointed in a Prime Minister who has abandoned his ideals on climate change, on the republic, on marriage equality. They’re disappointed in a Government that has no plan. All we get from the Prime Minister is that ‘it’s an exciting time to be an Australian’, and that’s all we’ve got. There is no plan, there is no vision for this country. They’re disappointed by the constant backflips. The backflips over the GST, the backflips over the capital gains tax, the backflips over negative gearing, the backflips, potentially, on tobacco excise. They’re disappointed by a Government that has essentially stopped governing.

CLARK: Because this ABCC Bill is not Mr. Turnbull’s new idea, it’s just an old idea from the previous Government, in fact from the Government before that.

TAYLOR: Well, it’s the same Government.

CLARK: Exactly, but this is the criticism that’s been levelled at him, that nothing’s changed, nothing’s new. It wasn’t working under Mr. Abbott, he’s taken the leadership, but he hasn’t done anything.

TAYLOR: Well, it’s still important, Phil, and that’s the point. But I’ll tell you, Gai, your point about disappointment, the most disappointing thing we saw was the last Labor government, and the prospect that Australians face –

BRODTMANN: Angus, you’re governing now. You’ve been doing it for two and a half years.

TAYLOR: Gai, we have an election coming up, let me finish. We have an election coming up, we know that. Whether it’s July or September, we have an election coming up, and the critical question for Australians is: do they want another big-taxing, big-spending Labor Government?

BRODTMANN: They want a Government that’s going to govern, that actually has a vision for the country.

CLARK: If you’re talking about big-spending, big-taxing here, Angus, you’re in trouble here, aren’t you? Because as you well know, the Budget figures would show that you are the biggest-taxing, biggest-spending Government in Australian history.

TAYLOR: No, let’s look at the facts. What Labor did is it raised the growth of spending in this country to about four percent per year. We have contained that back to one to two percent, and that is the critical change. When you contain growth in spending to one to two percent, what it means is you can bring deficit under control and you can bring debt under control. When you don’t, which is what Labor did last time and what they’ll do again, with a fifty billion dollar black hole, you destroy jobs, you destroy opportunity, and Canberra’s economy is such a great example, we see jobs being created in tourism –

BRODTMANN: What have you done for Canberra’s economy?

TAYLOR: Let me finish, what you see is jobs being created in tourism, in education, we’ve seen this in the data today from Deloitte Access, and a responsible government can achieve those outcomes.

BRODTMANN: You sacked eight and a half thousand public servants! Canberrans are very concerned about what this next Budget is going to bring, in terms of more job losses. Is it going to be a return to the 2014 Budget?

CLARK: Mind you, Labor had a good hack at Canberra’s public servants as well.

TAYLOR: They sure did. But look at the facts. Today we’ve seen from Deloitte Access that the expansion we’re seeing in tourism, in education, outside of the Government sector, is very rapid and it happens if you open up new markets and if you are frugal in the way that you spend taxpayers’ money.

CLARK: Can I ask you this question too, Angus, if you asked people generally, putting aside the troubles in the building industry, the Government’s resistance to go after the big end of town, though, also bothers people, doesn’t it? I mean, the government’s instant rejections of suggestions that there ought to be an enquiry into banking practices, for example, that there ought to be an attempt to make big corporations pay their tax, etcetera. On the one hand, you’re lecturing people about living within their means, on the other hand big corporations seem to pay tax if they feel like it.

TAYLOR: Well look, in contrast to the construction sector, what we have in the financial services sector is a regulator. We don’t have that for the construction sector, we do for the financial services sector, and that’s ASIC. Now, I’m not claiming for one moment that ASIC couldn’t do its job better. There are bad things that have happened in the financial services sector. But what I am saying very clearly, and we are saying very clearly, is that we have a tough cop on the beat that has all the powers of a Royal Commission, and that’s why it’s so critical -

CLARK: It hasn’t been doing its job, has it?

BRODTMANN: It’s difficult when a hundred and twenty million has been cut out of it by this Government.

CLARK: Gai, would Labor have a full-blown Royal Commission, into the banks?

BRODTMANN: That’s what we’ve been calling for. And the thing is, Angus makes the point that ASIC has the same powers. It doesn’t have the same powers.

CLARK: In what way?

BRODTMANN: Well, ASIC looks at individual cases, Royal Commissions look at systemic trends. And what we’ve got happening in the banks at the moment is systemic. It’s concerning, the fact that we’ve obviously got serious cultural problems. The Australian people underwrote the banks during the Global Financial Crisis. They place trust in the banks. We have a strong banking system, but that trust has been eroded, and that is of great concern. What you see is thousands of Australians who have been ripped off, who have had their life savings vanish as a result of advice from the banks, and it does warrant a Royal Commission. This is particularly concerning. Trust has been eroded, respect has been eroded. We need to restore that and a Royal Commission will do that.

TAYLOR: Well, talk about political stunts. Labor could have called for this a year or eighteen months ago and they didn’t. Look, we have ASIC. We’re always open to ways to make ASIC more effective. We recognise that there has been bad behaviour in financial services, but the critical thing is to help our regulator to succeed.

BRODTMANN: Well, you could do that by reinjecting a hundred and twenty million dollars, and that’s equal to about two hundred jobs. Greg Medcraft acknowledged the fact that they couldn’t do a number of investigations because of the funding cuts.

CLARK: Would Labor reverse those cuts that have been made to ASIC, and the budget and staffing cuts that have been made?

BRODTMANN: Well, at the moment we’re just focusing on this Royal Commission, and calling for the Royal Commission because we do think that the problems, the systemic problems that exist in the banks warrant a Royal Commission.

CLARK: But one of the criticisms that have been made about ASIC is that its capacity to operate has been reduced by Federal Government budget cuts, including from your side as well. So I’m saying, will Labor pledge to restore those cuts and those funding levels?

BRODTMANN: As I said, the focus is on this Royal Commission, calling for a Royal Commission to deal with these systemic issues, these significant cultural issues.

TAYLOR: I think Labor’s budget black hole just got a little bit bigger, but the point I would make here is that Labor’s solution to every problem is ‘throw money at it’, Phil. And we know from years of experience, that is rarely the answer to any problem. The answer to most problems is to get on and really focus on what matters. We do need to help ASIC to be as successful as possible, but throwing more money at it, which is Labor’s solution to every problem, is not the answer.

CLARK: Alright, so, if the ABCC Bill passes there will be no early election, is that the go Angus?

TAYLOR: Well, that will be a matter for the Prime Minister, but what is very clear is that if the ABCC Bill passes, and I certainly hope it does, then one of our triggers for the double dissolution will have disappeared, and no doubt the Prime Minister will make the decision at that point. I mean, the critical issue is whether the crossbenchers and Labor is going to do the right thing this week by the truckies, and by the construction sector and by every Australian.

CLARK: Gai, presumably Labor is keen to promote a message that these are not the biggest issues on the agenda. As far as Labor is concerned, if you had a special sitting of Parliament, what would you be bringing to it?

BRODTMANN: We’d be focusing on education and health and schools. What matters to Australians, what matters to every Australian.

TAYLOR: How are you paying for it?

CLARK: Well let’s put some specifics on that.

BRODTMANN: We’ve actually outlined how we’re going to pay for this. We’ve outlined a hundred billion dollars in measures to fund our priorities. Our priorities, that are completely in accord with our values and our vision for this country, particularly in terms of funding better schools, better hospitals. We’ve made it clear how we’re going to fund that, and we’ve made clear our path to budget repair. So we have actually outlined a budget repair process. We’ve outlined what we are going to do on schools. This Government hasn’t. I mean, we saw the Prime Minister come out with that crazy idea on the states and the territories levying their own taxes, and essentially he has abandoned funding for public education, it’s outrageous. They have no plan, no vision. We are crystal clear on our plan for the country, crystal clear on our vision for the country. We’re crystal clear on how we’re going to achieve it. We’ve got plans for budget repair. We’ve got plans for our priorities for schools and hospitals.

TAYLOR: But Gai, the numbers don’t add up. There’s a fifty billion dollar black hole already, and now you’re talking about adding costs like a Royal Commission, and more funding to ASIC. Look, at the end of the day, Labor’s numbers never add up, and that’s the great challenge that the Australian economy faces.

CLARK: But Angus, the debt and deficit crisis that we began with, and that you are trying to sell us, isn’t being addressed by the Government either.

TAYLOR: But, Phil, it is. Because what we’ve done is that we’ve slowed the growth in spending.

CLARK: The treasurer has already said there’s not going to be any substantial tax reform.

TAYLOR: We have slowed the growth in spending. If your spending is going up slower than the overall economy, debt and deficit come under control. Labor cannot do that.

CLARK: We could talk about the proportion of spending as a proportion of the GDP and you wouldn’t be happy with those numbers.

BRODTMANN: I’m worried about what all this means for public servants in Canberra.

CLARK: Alright, okay. Angus Taylor, Federal Liberal Member for Hume and Gai Brodtmann, Labor MP for Canberra, thanks to both of you.

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