Transcript of interview with Laura Jayes (and Tim Watts MP)Sky News – Lunchtime Agenda
Tuesday 3 June 20141:45pm
SUBJECTS: Emissions reduction, penalty rates, Medicare co-payment, Clive Palmer, the Budget
LAURA JAYES: Welcome back to Lunchtime Agenda. Joining me now on my panel of politicians is Labor MP Tim Watts and Liberal MP Tony Smith. Now Tony, first to you. It appears from the ambition that Barack Obama overnight has moved. Is it time perhaps that this Parliament has a rethink?
TONY SMITH: We were very clear before the last election what our policy was. That was to abolish the Carbon Tax and to pursue Direct Action, which will reduce our emissions by five per cent on 2000 levels by 2020. Now that’s a bipartisan target. Our great difference is…
JAYES: Lower end of the target?
SMITH: Well it’s a bipartisan target. I think it’s still a bipartisan target, isn’t it Tim? And it’s something we took to the Australian people. Now, we’ve been very clear about that, we’re focused on the here and now, and we’re focused on abolishing that Carbon Tax as soon as we can and implementing Direct Action.
JAYES: And Tim Watts, overnight what we did see from Barack Obama was somewhat of an endorsement of Direct Action?
TIM WATTS: Oh look, I’d reject that. What President Obama’s done is he’s said: “we’re going to set a binding 30 per cent reduction target by 2030, and states, you go away and work out how you can best achieve this result”.
JAYES: It’s not an endorsement of an emissions trading scheme.
WATTS: It may well be. Many states are already pursing in the United States…
SMITH: It’s a stretch, it’s a stretch.
WATTS: …emissions trading systems. But we should be very clear is what President Obama’s done is he’s set a binding target. That’s not the case with the current Government’s policy; they’ve set a five per cent target but if the set of magic beans the Government buys with its Direct Action policy doesn’t achieve a five per cent target, we’re back to square one. It’s not the Government’s problem, according to Tony Abbott.
JAYES: Kevin Rudd over-promised and under-delivered, you’d have to say, when it came to the Copenhagen Conference. Since then, there’s been almost a growing apathy towards direct action on climate change. Why do you think that is?
WATTS: Oh look, I reject that. Clearly there was a lot of momentum behind strong, decisive action on climate change in 2007—there were a lot of global factors contributing to that. Clearly the need hasn’t reduced since then though, certainly amongst my Caucus and my branch members.
JAYES: But you’d admit the global action has somewhat reduced since then?
WATTS: No, absolutely not; in fact, quite the contrary. Action has substantially increased, particularly in China, the United States, our European colleagues. In fact, our G20 colleagues are pushing for this to be added to the agenda of G20. Unfortunately the current chair of the G20, Australia, is resisting these issues. This is another area where Australia has been left behind the world.
JAYES: Tony Smith, on climate action, Tony Abbott always said that once the rest of the world moves, Australia will move. Isn’t this quite a big shift for Barack Obama?
SMITH: I think you’ve got to see it in context. I mean, I’m interested in Tim’s remarks, it sounds like he’s changing policy, but I’ll come back to that. As I said, see it in context. Couple of points, the points you made earlier in your interview with your first guest, there are a lot of elements that are like Direct Action; Direct Action has an emissions reduction fund at its centre to clean up power stations. We want to clean them up, rather than close them. And it’s one announcement. Now, you both mentioned Copenhagen. A lot was said before Copenhagen, a lot was said in the lead-up to Copenhagen. And there’s a long way to go. There’ll be lots of conversations but our focus is
JAYES: Would you be happy to see the Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, take your plan, as is, to the table, compared with the Obama plan, it’s far less ambitious; will that be a little bit embarrassing, do you think?
SMITH: Not at all. We said we would have a more effective means of dealing with climate change. We’ve had that policy for a long period of time. We took it to the election. It’s been our policy for some years now. And our aim is to legislate it and start making a difference now.
JAYES: Okay, I quickly just want to ask you both about natural gas. IPAA says that as of July 1, gas prices will go up 17 per cent, largely due to the massive export market. Tony Smith, first to you, is this something the Government could address here and now?
SMITH: I think you’ve got to be very careful when you’re dealing with long investments that you’ve had in this space. My understanding—limited though it is, Laura—on these matters is there’d be numbers of contracts in place. So, I haven’t seen the detail of what’s there, but I heard you make reference to it in your earlier interview.
JAYES: Tim Watts, long- or short-term, should that be addressed?
WATTS: Look, natural gas will clearly play a significant role in reducing our carbon emissions. Any further intervention in that space is not something I’d really look into.
JAYES: Okay. Peter Costello, just in the last two hours, has said that he sees many jobs being created in the service sector in the next couple of years, and that if it were him, he would look at addressing that and addressing penalty rates; Sunday loadings. Tim Watts, first to you, is this a conversation—this is a conversation, I should say—that many are crying out for. Is it one that we should have in this building?
WATTS: Look, we’ve seen a bit of squabbling in the Liberal Party family in recent days but the one thing they’re all rock solid, rolled gold, locked in the same team about is that every member of the Liberal Party thinks that you earn too much money. That’s their message to the Australian people. They want to take your penalty rates, they want to take your weekend pay. The Labor Party’s message is that you don’t go about improving productivity in this nation by slashing wages. We’ve got a very good balance at the moment.
JAYES: Isn’t this about balance and boosting productivity? It’s been declining for between seven and eight years.
WATTS: We’ve got a very good balance at the moment. As I say, you don’t go about improving productivity by slashing people’s wages. The Australian people aren’t silly. They know they won’t work more efficiently and they won’t work harder for less money,
JAYES: Tony Smith, a good suggestion from your former boss?
SMITH: Well look, the point we’ve made on penalty rates is there’s the Fair Work Commission that can deal with these matters if businesses go there. In fact, the restaurant and catering industry did just that for restaurants and cafés. And the independent umpire considered all the facts and there was a link between the current penalty rates and employment in those industries, and bought down judgement that bought down some change. And it did reduce those rates for the very junior employees. Now, you’ve got to get the balance right, as you said, here. It’s absolutely critical. I mean, if you’ve got restaurants and cafés in high tourist areas—as they found—being closed on weekends, or the owners working those shifts—and as my colleague Dan Tehan has pointed out—young people being denied a job when youth unemployment is high. Balance is important, and that’s why we’ve said…
JAYES: Does it need to go further? Maybe, perhaps, not short-term but in the next couple of years?
SMITH: We’ve said Fair Work’s the right place, and they’ve got that capacity. The stories you’re seeing…
WATTS: You’re cheering them on though, aren’t you Tony?
SMITH: Well hang on. Look, if you’re elected let me ask you this. Are you going to overturn the Fair Work decision on restaurants?
WATTS: Oh no, we’re not going to be cheering along…
SMITH: Are you going to overturn…
WATTS: …the way the Liberal Party is at the moment. The Liberal Party desperately wants the Fair Work jurisdiction to take away…
SMITH: Do you respect that independent decision made in the restaurant and catering decision?
WATTS: Absolutely, and that’s why I’m not commentating on the results, unlike many, many members of the Liberal Party.
SMITH: Well you’re allowed to talk about the result; you’re a member of Parliament.
WATTS: There’s a co-ordinated campaign going on from Liberal MPs to take away penalty rates. They’re building to act on this in the future.
JAYES: But what’s the argument for it? I mean, there’s businesses that are crying out for them to at least be looked at. And not abolished altogether but perhaps made less generous. Do you even support something like that?
WATTS: We have a fair system to look at that at the moment.
JAYES: Okay. I want to move onto the Medicare co-payment. Tony Smith, Joe Hockey has warned today that if this doesn’t pass through the Senate that down the track, it will create a two-tiered system. You obviously agree with that?
SMITH: Well I do. And whenever in the health space we’ve had this sort of argument in the past, as Labor put forward in the 1990s—the 1990 Budget—Paul Keating upped the co-payment on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme and said in his Budget speech that the choice was a sustainable system or no system at all. Now, that was when Labor was prepared to confront these issues. And of course, the only co-payment that’s been legislated is the Bob Hawke co-payment, with Brian Howe as health minister, and they were led there by the review led by Jenny Macklin. Now, Labor know this but, of course, will be populist in opposition. And that’s all we’ve seen since Budget Day.
JAYES: Tim Watts, is it too politically difficult? Is that the way you see it? Do you see this as hitting Labor’s core base? That’s not a group of voters that you don’t want to upset? Or is this a fundamental, ideological view that you have?
WATTS: Oh look, there’s no doubt that Australians deeply treasure Medicare. It’s one of our great institutions. And they get very stroppy when politicians try and destroy it.
JAYES: But will the $7 payment really destroy that though?
WATTS: Absolutely. It undermines the fundamental premise of Medicare. It’s universal, affordable access. Now, this $7 co-payment, you know, you listen in Question Time and you hear the Health Minister say no-one will be disincentivised from going to the doctor. And then you hear Joe Hockey say it’s going to save us a quick fortune.
JAYES: Obviously there is going to be a lot of tinkering in this area, because as it is, it will not get through the Senate. Will you look at some of the ideas that are, no doubt, thrown around over the next couple of weeks? And what if it was means tested, for example?
WATTS: Well the proposal that’s been put to us to date, we will fight absolutely; we will oppose that in the Senate. And Tony Abbott has said that there’ll be no surrender on this policy. So the tinkering that you’re suggesting, I haven’t heard any of that from the Liberal Party so far.
JAYES: Okay. As of tomorrow, Tony Abbott will be overseas. As you’re aware, he’ll be heading to Indonesia first. Now, there has been a relationship in the deep-freeze, you might say. Do you see this as a first step to repairing that relationship with Susillo Bambang Yudhoyono? And is a day trip enough to do that?
SMITH: Well, the point I’d make is we’ve got a very close relationship with Indonesia, and the Prime Minister has a close relationship with the President. I think stopping there is a good thing to do. I don’t concede that the relationship is, you know, in a bad way. Of course, there are issues of tension on the policy front but I think they’ve got to…
JAYES: On that policy front, it’s been revealed in Estimates that seven exercise programmes—co-ordinated exercise programmes—between the two countries have been postponed since the election. That’s, you know, solid evidence that has affected, you know, the relationship; the policy…
SMITH: I always want to look at what’s actually said in Estimates, because I find Senate Estimates to be a misrepresentation factory, in my experience.
JAYES: Okay, Tim Watts, your reaction?
WATTS: Look, the relationship with Indonesia is crucial to Australia. It’s one of our most important relationships. And the Labor Party has been very clear for some time now that we fully support the Government’s initiatives to repair that relationship. We don’t want to politicise this at all. It’s a priority and the Government has our full support in that respect.
JAYES: Now, Clive Palmer has made it very clear that he’s not getting along very well with Tony Abbott or the Government at all at this point. He has made some pretty nasty comments towards Peta Credlin. Today, he has expressed some regret at making those comments but do you think he should apologise to Peta Credlin? Do you think they were sexist remarks? What’s your reaction?
SMITH: Oh I think they were grubby, they were wrong, and he should apologise. I note he’s refusing to apologise. But the other point I’d make, Laura, is other members of Parliament should condemn these remarks. Christopher Pyne outlined all the areas where he was wrong and inappropriate. And I’ve seen a few members of the Labor Party condemn the remarks today, as I’ve had Sky on—and that’s good—but I want to see more do that because it’s completely unacceptable.
JAYES: Now, Tim Watts, you condemned Clive Palmer’s comments on the doors of Parliament but some of your colleagues didn’t. Terri Butler, for one, refused to call Clive Palmer out on these remarks. Are you disappointed by that?
WATTS: Oh look, I wasn’t there; I didn’t see Terri’s comments. But I know Terri very, very well, and I know that her position on issues like this is pretty unambiguous. Look, I don’t know what she said but I know her as an individual, and I know she’s rock solid on these issues. And as Tony said, Clive Palmer’s comments were wrong and inappropriate. Peta Credlin shouldn’t have to put up with this kind of treatment. And not only that, it’s an unwelcome distraction from a piece of legislation that has plenty to attack on the substance. As I’m sure Tony might may agree.
JAYES: Tony Smith, when we see Clive Palmer and his public comments, sledging Tony Abbott, sledging the Government, do you see some ominous clouds ahead when it comes to negotiating some key parts of this Budget?
SMITH: Well look, we’re just getting on with the job of legislating the Budget. We’re not going to be commentators on it. People will make a judgement about Clive Palmer’s conduct and how he conducts himself in public debates, and I’ve made my position clear on what he’s said in the last 24 hours. But we’ve got to… we can’t avoid the difficult decisions in this Budget. We know they’re difficult, we know they’re unpopular. But there hasn’t been an alternative put forward.
JAYES: Tony Abbott said in Party Room today: “we’ve established in the minds of the electorate warm hearts, clear heads, and strong minds”. The polls wouldn’t indicate that, would you agree?
SMITH: Well look, obviously with the Budget, it’s very unpopular in some parts, of course. And there are difficult decisions; we don’t shy away from those. But what’s the alternative from the Opposition? Where do they want the deficit to be? I mean, this is a good question for you, Tim. If you don’t like the measures that are being put forward, what are your alternatives? Or don’t you have any? Or do you just want to keep running up debt? Now, we have to confront these issues on behalf of the Australian people—of course we do. And we’re doing that. And we’re doing that to be responsible. And we’re doing that to fix the mess.
JAYES: Alright, Tim Watts, your response?
WATTS: Well when Labor was in government, we introduced many billions of dollars’ worth of long-term savings to the Budget. Like the previous opposition, we won’t be revealing detailed election policies for an election that’s not due for two years’ time just yet. So, what’s good for the goose is good for the gander.
JAYES: So there’s room to move between now and the next election then?
WATTS: There’s a long time to go between now and the election.
SMITH: You’re voting against some of your own savings you put forward at the last election.
WATTS: We’re voting against some very unpopular and unfair Budget measures that Tony Abbott’s trying to introduce in this Budget.
JAYES: Well you can continue this debate in Question Time.
SMITH: We’d better get down there.
JAYES: Thank you. Tim Watts, Tony Smith; thank you for joining me on Lunchtime Agenda
SMITH: Thank you.