Standing up for Canberra

Transcript: Breakfast with Philip Clark

SUBJECTS: Bronwyn Bishop; TPP

PHILIP CLARK: Joining me to chew over a few political issues for the week Angus Taylor, federal member for Hume joins us this morning, good morning to you.

ANGUS TAYLOR, FEDERAL MEMBER FOR HUME: Morning Philip.

CLARK: And Gai Brodtmann, Labor Member for Canberra joining us in the studio as well. Good morning to you.

GAI BRODTMANN, FEDERAL MEMBER FOR CANBERRA: Morning to you.

CLARK: Well Angus, it’s not Bronwyn’s fault, it’s the systems fault apparently. You’re an MP. You’re both in the midst of all this. This doesn’t pass the sniff test does it?

TAYLOR: Look I’m a relatively new Member of Parliament as you know, Philip. And I do take the view that this is an issue for the Parliament, not for the Government, you know. When I arrived in the Parliament, I applied the principles I always applied in my client work, actually as a consultant and you know, I walked past business class often from my short haul flights around Australia and I walked past parliamentarians on both sides who were sitting in business class and I just think it was totally inappropriate. I think what’s got to happen here is people have got to take responsibility for what they do, for spending taxpayers money well, and that’s what I attempt to do every day. But I do think there is some real soul searching that’s got to be done right across the Parliament on this issue.

CLARK: And would it have been better if Bronwyn Bishop had just fessed up and said “Look you know what? I’ve abused it. And I’m going to go.”?

TAYLOR: Look you’re the commentator here, I’m not. What I can do is say what I think we need to do from here and I think we all very clearly need to take responsibility for this issue. I think there is abuse. I think it is the minority and I think the majority that do the right thing. But, I think each one of us needs to take responsibility. What I would say Philip though, trying to get the rules right will never, ever completely solve the problem. There’s constitutional issues here and I think earlier on in your program you heard from Peter Phelps who’s talked about this for a long while. And ultimately each of us needs to take responsibility for spending tax-payers money well.

CLARK: Bill Shorten was not exactly leading the charge on this one, Gai Brodtmann because I suppose he knows well that there are probably people on your side who probably don’t come up smelling too well on this entitlements issue either. So a lot of the anger I think was just felt by the community generally, wasn’t it? That MPs ought to get their snouts out of the trough.

BRODTMANN: Well the great concern that we had was the fact that the Prime Minister allowed this issue to fester for 18 days without acting. Now the response should have been intuitive and it should have been immediate when these issues came to hand. Just on the Speaker, the former Speaker rather, we’ve got someone who says that she loves and respects the Parliament and that should have guided her initial decision when it came to the spending -

CLARK: Well she’s gone now; can we talk about the system though? And you two are involved in it. You’re entitled to things. Malcolm Turnbull this morning has said he doesn’t even like the word entitlements and I can imagine listeners don’t like the word entitlements either. I mean we’re all paid, we abide by the rules, everybody at work knows what you can claim and what you can’t. There are rules and everybody has to obey them. Why is it so difficult for MPs to devise a system that’s more clear cut?

TAYLOR: Well I don’t think it should be. This is the thing, I don’t think it should be. I think there was a culture in the Parliament of abuse of these things and it can cut across party lines, frankly, and it needs to be fixed. Look I tell you what, there’s a piece of legislation introduced into the House quite recently, whereby we took away the gold pass, the old gold pass, and I was the only Member of Parliament who spoke in favor of this legislation. I was the only one there. I tell you what, I thought that was appalling. I thought that was totally appalling. And I really do think the responsibility of every Parliamentarian, every Parliamentarian, is to just be sensible about this.

CLARK: Because the aftermath of the Slipper case was really that, at the end of the day the court said well there don’t appear to be any rules, and MPs can basically decide for themselves what’s Parliamentary business. Well that’s no good is it, Gai Brodtmann?

BRODTMANN: Well I think that, as Angus says, it is up to the individual to respond appropriately. We’ve got the system in place and yes we welcome the review of this system. And we’ve got two very good people running the review. But it is really up to each individual. We’ve all got the same set of guidelines and we all respond according to our own moral compass, according to our own approach to life. I have a very, very finely attuned sense of what is appropriate. My team has that as well. I’m always mindful of the fact that this is Australian taxpayers’ money. So I’m always thinking about the factory worker whose taxes have contributed. The farmer, the general community. I’m always thinking about that when I’m making a spend. Now we can have this review of the system and yes there has been some ambiguity in certain areas. But really it is up to each individual to respond appropriately to the system they have at hand, to be guided by their moral compass.

CLARK: And perhaps a more independent body who decides what you can and can’t do?

TAYLOR: That may help Philip. I think the thing that will actually help the most is transparency. What’s often forgotten in this debate is the reason this debate is happening, and the reason the Slipper debate happened, is because these things were made transparent. And we can make them more transparent.

CLARK: Can we pick you up on a point on that? The so-called ‘Minchin’ protocol named after a former Liberal Minister Nick Minchin. The Department of Finance investigates you if you think there’s been a transgression but the public never find out about these investigations, in fact indeed the current investigation into the Speaker will not be made public. I mean that’s no good, is it?

TAYLOR: Well I tell you what the public can actually see everybody’s entitlements. Now I -

CLARK: Well if anything goes wrong…there’s no transparency. 

TAYLOR: Well I’m actually talking about transparency in entitlements themselves. My point is very simple, which is transparency in the modern era of the internet and the digital economy and so on, transparency is very, very powerful. And I think in this review, a primary means of actually increasing that level of responsibility is to increase transparency. Now whether that’s reviews or in fact the entitlements themselves and getting them up faster, making it easier to see them, actually setting them up in a way of setting it up where an app developer can set up a very simple app where everyone can see their local members entitlements. I’m completely fine with that, Philip.

CLARK: In favour of such a thing?

TAYLOR: I think it would be a good thing, Philip.

CLARK: Gai Brodtmann?

BRODTMANN: Well there is transparency now both in the members declarations as well as our spend on entitlements. But it gets back to the point that I made before Philip, the fact that it’s up to each individual to respond appropriately. To be mindful of the fact that this is Australian taxpayers’ money. This is hard earned Australian taxpayers’ money and we need to be very, very respectful when we are spending that money.

CLARK: No question about that. Alright, who would be a good next Speaker? I see Bruce Scott says he is not going to contest the next election, I don’t know whether that rules him out or not. Who should it be, Angus? Who’s your hand up for?

TAYLOR: Look I’m not going to get into the pros and cons of who the next Speaker should be. There’s been a lot of talk this morning about increasing sort of the level of decorum and the quality of debate in the Parliament and I think that’s good discussion. I do think –

CLARK: Because that didn’t happen under the previous Speaker, who was very partisan, and the numbers show it.

TAYLOR: It didn’t happen under the previous four Speakers actually and three of those were nominated by the Labor Government so this is not a new problem, Philip. And we can get partisan about it but the truth of the matter is the quality of the debate, particularly in Question Time, I think is below what I would like to see.

CLARK: Angus, would we benefit from a less partisan Parliament?

TAYLOR: Well look we are a democracy and a democracy is a battle for ideas and we shouldn’t shy away from that. On the other hand, I do feel like when I go into questions sometimes, I’m going into a rugby game. And I don’t think that’s how it should be.

BRODTMANN: It’s turning people off.

CLARK: Which people don’t like anyway.

TAYLOR: No they don’t. And -

BRODTMANN: No they don’t like it, and they’re disengaging with the democratic process as a result of that.

TAYLOR: I don’t think this is a new problem but I think raising the decorum in the Parliament would be a good thing.

CLARK: Alright look let’s hope something come out of the entitlements review. I think after a long term of service, I’m entitled to be cynical of whether that’ll happen. Just quickly on the failure of the TPP talks, I mean I know it’s a subject of interest to you, Angus and also to you, Gai, as well. The thing didn’t get up in Hawaii on the weekend so it’s off the table, maybe until the current US President leaves and gets a rev up from somebody else. Is this a big loss for Australia?

TAYLOR: Look I’ve always taken the view that bilaterals were going to be easier than multilaterals and of course China, India, Japan and Korea are all bilaterals. They were always primary targets for the government. It’s disappointing that we’re not making more progress with multilaterals like the TPP. But we should stay on it.

CLARK: Gai?

BRODTMANN: There are significant benefits that do come from these trade agreements in terms of more jobs and improved conditions for the general community, but as you know we’ve had some concerns in some areas and -

CLARK: But a loss, generally, that the TPP didn’t get up?

BRODTMANN: Well I think let’s just see what happens with the negotiations. Our primary driver on this is to ensure that this meets the national interest.

CLARK: Alright Angus Taylor, Liberal member for Hume, good to talk.

TAYLOR: Thanks.

CLARK: Let’s hope something comes out of the review. Labor member for Canberra, Gai Brodtmann, good to talk as well.

BRODTMANN: Thanks very much.

CLARK: Let’s hope something does come up. And as I say I think all of us would agree that a bit of transparency on this would be a wonderful thing for all of us. Thanks for that.