Transcript: Breaking Politics with Chris Hammer

SUBJECTS: Boat turn-backs, strike action by Australian Border Force staff

CHRIS HAMMER: Gai Brodtmann is the Member for Canberra, here in the ACT. Good morning Gai.
HAMMER: The Labor Party National Council is coming up, there’s a big stoush forming on turning back the boats and wider refugee and asylum seeker policies. Does the council, the conference, need to take a firm decision on whether the boats should be turned back or not?
BRODTMANN: Well as you say conference is coming up in July and the approach to asylum seekers, as well as refugees, will be discussed at conference. There’s a group that’s already been set up, that Richard Marles has set up. I’ve seen reports that it’s just made up of backbenchers but it is actually Shadow Parliamentary Secretaries, as well as union representatives, as well as rank and file members, as well as people from Labor for Refugees. And we’re going through parts of the platform that look at the asylum seeker and refugee issue, having very constructive conversations on that. So there is a process of discussion on this already taking place and there will be ongoing discussions in the lead up to the conference, and then there will be a number of resolutions put at conference.
HAMMER: So because of this process, does that mean that come the time of the conference, there’s going to be a refined consensus position and people can gather round or is it going to be an open debate do you think on the conference floor?
BRODTMANN: There’ll be an open debate on a range of issues and not just this issue. But what’s guiding all of us in the Labor Party are a number of fundamental principles. Primarily, compassion and humanity. Also the desire to stop people from making that dangerous journey on the boats, also the desire to stop the people smuggling trade, and the desire to ensure safety, security and transparency.
HAMMER: Critics would also then say there’s a desire to not put any difference between Labor and the government because this is an issue that Labor cannot win on and for political reasons Labor wants, elements of Labor, want there not to be any difference with the government on boat turn backs.
BRODTMANN: Well as I said, we are guided by those principles. And also just to add to that, we are guided by the need for us to ensure that there’s no negative impact on the regional relationships, and I’m particularly thinking here about Indonesia. So there are a number of fundamental principles that are guiding us in our approach to the platform, in our approach to asylum seekers and refugees, and in my view that have been guiding our approach to date. And you would have seen that in the speech that Bill Shorten made recently on our view on the asylum seeker and refugee issue.
HAMMER: One of those issues is non-refoulement, why is that being withdrawn from the Labor platform?
BRODTMANN: Yes I saw those reports today and I haven’t had a chance to go back through the platform and the latest iteration of where it’s at in terms of the draft. I saw the commentary on it from members of the party and I think Labor for Refugees also made some comments there too. I’ll have to go back over that because Labor for Refugees seems to be – well the impression I got from what was reported today – was that they seem to be comfortable with the existing language but I’ll need to go back over it.
HAMMER: So you’re involved with this process though. Is non-refoulement being withdrawn from policy platform or not?
BRODTMANN: Again I’ll have to go back over it because there’s been a number of conversations and as I said it wasn’t an issue that had been raised in the last conversation, the most recent conversation in the meeting I had, but that’s not to say conversations around the margins of those meetings didn’t address this issue.
HAMMER: Now the Labor Party conference is different to the Liberal one. The Labor Party conference decisions are binding of the parliamentary party. How sensible would it be for conference to really lock in the parliamentary party on this policy, or is it wiser to allow the parliamentary party room to move, if you like, because there may be developments, unforeseen developments, in the future?
BRODTMANN: It is our guiding document and it goes into a lot of detail, I don’t know whether you’ve actually read it. But I worked on the 2011 platform, I was actually chair of the national policy committee and it goes into a lot of detail in a range of areas. It is a guiding document for the parliamentary caucus.
HAMMER: And so how binding should it be? Or how specific should it be?
BRODTMANN: Well it goes into very specific detail in particular parts and it’s quite general in other parts so -
HAMMER: And so on this issue, what do you think?
BRODTMANN: Well I think on this issue we’ll have the conversation at conference. You’ve seen what’s already in the platform on a range of issues across the asylum seeker spectrum, on refugees, on skilled migrants, so we’ll have that conversation specifically when talking about turn backs, we’ll have that conversation at conference. As you know Richard Marles has acknowledged and Bill Shorten has acknowledged it is a complex issue and we’ll have the conversation there.
HAMMER: Okay let’s switch to what appears at least to be a local Canberra issue and that’s this whole round of negotiations around public service pay and conditions. Now there’s a strike I think today with customs and immigration officials. What’s that about?
BRODTMANN: From what I’ve seen, the customs officials are concerned not just about the below inflation pay rate but also a number of allowances that they currently receive. Customs and immigration have merged into this ‘Australian Border Force’ and there are concerns that these allowances won’t carry on into the new organisation. The allowances include an at sea allowance, working long hours, working in isolated areas such as Christmas Island, a firearms allowance, a fitness allowance and a range of other allowances that they’re concerned about losing, in addition to the below inflation pay rate.
HAMMER: So you think the government is using this amalgamation into this new Border Force as an excuse to reduce public service conditions?
BRODTMANN: Well that’s our concern. That’s the concern I have as the Member for Canberra and as a very, very strong advocate of the public service and our servants of democracy. And that’s the concern of the union and also those people who are taking action today.
HAMMER: So do you support the strike action?
BRODTMANN: I know from having been a public servant and from having 50 per cent of my electorate public servants and the other 50 supporting those public servants, I know that every public servant is altruistic. That they are proud servants of democracy, they are proud of the work that they do, they want to serve this nation and they want to do it in the best way possible. So they don’t take this action lightly. None of these people take this action lightly. It has come to a point where the government is obviously not prepared to negotiate or listen or consult and hence this action.
HAMMER: Okay Gai Brodtmann, thanks for your time today.
BRODTMANN: Thanks Chris.

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