RN Drive

19 JULY 2016

EO&E

JONATHAN GREEN
Over to our Tuesday panel who are tonight Cabinet Secretary Liberal Senator Arthur Sinodinos and Dr Jim Chalmers, Shadow Minister for Financial Services and Superannuation, well this week at any rate. Welcome to both of you.

ARTHUR SINODINOS
Thanks Jonathan, thanks Jim. 

GREEN
Are you there Jim? We have lost Jim, Arthur it’s just you and me I’m afraid. We are alone here together. 

SINODINOS
Well, always good company a bit like when Jefferson dined alone.

GREEN
[Laughter] Indeed! Let’s look to your Cabinet colleagues, 13 of 76 lower house Coalition MPs now women. What’s the Liberal party going to do about this? 

SINODINOS
Look Jonathan, that’s a good question. Last year there was a report by the Menzies Research Centre which is associated with the Liberal Party which talked about the need to adopt targets and to back it up with policies across the State divisions so we can develop more of a culture that encourages more female candidates to come forward. We do have women’s councils in the Liberal Party which are a way of bringing forward female candidates, mentoring them, helping them navigate the preselection process. But clearly we need to do more to make sure that the pipeline of women in particular coming through is appropriate. We are quite a diverse party in the sense that if you look at the makeup of the party in terms of occupations and the rest, I think it’s a better mix and reflection of the electorate than Labor may I say. 

GREEN
But gender is a stumbling block?

SINODINOS
But I think this is an issue where we do need to do more. I think the approach the Menzies Research Centre suggested last year which was adopted by the Federal Executive of the Liberal Party is an approach that we need to follow through. But that sort of cultural change does take time. We have often seen in the past Jonathan that what happens is when we have a big election win like ’96 you get a much bigger pool of women potentially coming in. But the issue here is making sure in a structural sense that the pool, the pipeline, is there whether we are having a strong election or in circumstances where perhaps our prospects are not as good.

GREEN
Perhaps women don’t get the go in safe seats, so when some of the marginals come in to play the numbers increase. Marise Payne, Defence Minister who lost some of the key fundamental parts of her portfolio in the shakeup has said that if there is a strategy here around female representation in the party then it is clearly not working, do you agree?

SINODINOS
Well what I am saying is, the strategies that I have just mentioned, we need to keep working on and get that cultural change that we all want to see. In relation to Marise’s portfolio the fact of the matter is we are about to embark on the biggest peace time investment program we have seen in this country, bigger than the NBN for example. It is justified and it was based in part on departmental advice that it would be good to have two senior ministers in the portfolio, one focussed on delivering the Defence Industry Plan which was a major part of the pitch that we put to the electorate in the election.

GREEN
Delighted to say Arthur Sinodinos that Jim Chalmers joins us now via Skype, Jim, welcome.

JIM CHALMERS 
Sorry about that guys technical difficulties.

GREEN
That’s quite alright, I mean Jim Chalmers this female representation issue is a live one for the ALP too, it may well have a stronger representation but there is an issue there in access to safe seats, of women getting preselection yes, but how many in winnable seats for the ALP? 

CHALMERS
Well look anyone who thinks the situation for women in the Liberal party is acceptable is from another planet. The key statistic that people need to know is that in the House of Representatives the Liberal parties representation is 17% women and on its way down, on the Labor side it is 40% women and on the way up. That is the key difference between the two parties; there are less women in the House of Representatives representing the Liberal/National Parties today than under either John Howard or Tony Abbott. And this really does reveal a bit of an issue Jonathan I think, which is that Malcolm Turnbull pretends to be a champion of women but they have gone backwards in his reshuffle and they have gone backwards in the House of Representatives. He pretends to be a champion of small business but he has kicked small business out of the Cabinet. And he pretends to be a champion of multiculturalism at the same time as he gives that portfolio to someone who wants to make it easier to offend people on the basis of race.

GREEN
It’s tricky to make that claim Arthur Sinodinos isn’t it? Of being good for women with the numbers going backwards as Jim Chalmers suggests. 

SINODINOS
Well as I said before in this election we did lose seats in the Liberal Party and that effects clearly, particularly women because we lost a number of women in NSW, but before Jim came on I was referring to the cultural change that we are undertaking through setting targets at state level and the policies that we are implementing to support that. We want structural change we don’t want top down change and we don’t want hypocrisy from the Labor Party where you have someone like Kim Carr at the moment seeking to avoid being relegated to the backbench and stopping a woman like Linda Burney coming through.

GREEN
Fair point isn’t it Jim Chalmers, that happens a bit. 

CHALMERS
You’re not on strong ground here Arthur. 

GREEN
But no that’s the case isn’t it Jim Chalmers with Kim Carr, on the outer with his faction it would seem ahead of your frontbench announcement next week and there are two women potentially, Ann Aly maybe or  Linda Burney perhaps who could take that frontbench position? Kim Carr staging a rear-guard action to knock the women off?

CHALMERS
Well look I have seen a fair bit of that commentary Jonathan on the TV today and on the radio and in the papers. But the reality is the composition of our frontbench isn’t determined until Friday, nobody is in or out yet apart from the leaders. So that will be determined…

SINODINOS
Well Jim are you going to stand up for Linda Burney against Kim Carr? I mean you have the opportunity on this program to support her coming to the frontbench. 

GREEN
Fair call, Jim?

CHALMERS
Well of course not, I mean the difference, Arthur is being ridiculous, in the Liberal Party…

GREEN
Why is that ridiculous? Who would you back for that frontbench position Jim Chalmers?

CHALMERS
Because in the Liberal Party Malcolm Turnbull sits down and makes a list right? And he has demoted women right?

SINODINOS
He hasn’t demoted women at all they are still in the Cabinet, he has rearranged some responsibilities.

CHALMERS
He has taken responsibilities off Kelly O’Dwyer and he has taken responsibilities off of Marise Payne that is a fact.

GREEN
This Jim Chalmers, in the ALP, is a caucus responsibility to nominate that frontbench. You are a member of the caucus, who do you favour Linda Burney or Kim Carr?

CHALMERS
Well we will decide that on Friday.

GREEN
No but who do you support?

SINODINOS
Well don’t you have an opinion in the Labor Party Jim? Don’t you have an opinion? You can’t express an individual opinion?

CHALMERS
I can express an individual opinion. My individual opinion is that I value the process so much that the first people to know who I will or won’t be supporting won’t be yourself Arthur, it will be the people involved that’s how our party room works.

GREEN
Let’s move on from that, I mean Arthur Sinodinos a Ministry here of 42. Is that just too big? I mean is Malcolm Turnbull…

SINODINOS
No no hang on, it, it is 30 Ministers and 12 Parliamentary Secretaries. What you are referring to here is that the Cabinet is 23, and there are 7 outer Ministers and then you have the 12 Parliamentary Secretaries who we designate as Assistant Ministers. In the case of the Cabinet, the National Party were as a result of the election result, able to claim an extra seat. But I have to say the Cabinet has been performing quite well, really particularly in recent times there have been no leaks from the Cabinet, it works very well as a collective. I think the Prime Minister was quite satisfied to have a Cabinet of this size.

GREEN
Some commentary around today though that Malcolm Turnbull trying to be all things to all people, sort of an ‘all shall have prizes’ front bench. Is that a sign of weakness from the Prime Minister?

SINODINOS
No, I don’t believe it is because there are some very important jobs in the Cabinet and the fact that we’ve now got in Defence two senior Minister’s, one handling Defence and international security policy, and another one to handle the biggest peace time investment plan we’ve seen in this country, is an indication that our priorities have shifted and when the priorities shift, you shift the personnel to get the job done and I think it’ll work very well.

GREEN
But that’s not really answering the question, there are a lot of people there and the sense from that is that we’re trying to placate a whole lot of interests, a whole lot of factions within the party.

SINODINOS
Well I can go individually through each of those people in the Cabinet and tell you the contribution that I’ve seen them make across the table as Cabinet Secretary and they’ve all been very good and they’ve worked together as a team, they’re knitting as a team and I think the Prime Minister is happy to take them forward as such a team.

GREEN
No promotion for you in this reshuffle, Cabinet Secretary as you say, are you still under an ICAC cloud?

SINODINOS
No, not a matter of promotion, I am a member of the Cabinet, I am honoured to work in the PM’s portfolio and my focus, as it is of all our other people in the period ahead is to get our platform implemented in the new parliament.

GREEN
Jim Chalmers, are you hoping for – you know – something else in the new Labor front bench?

CHALMERS
Oh look, I’ll do whatever Bill wants me to do Jonathon. My first priority is to get on that list of thirty, which is what everybody is focused on now in that Friday ballot and if I get on that list again which would be a big honour, a big privilege, then it would be up to Bill what I do. I certainly like working in economic policy as I am now so if it’s that or if it’s something else it’s up to Bill and I’ll give it a good crack whatever it is.

GREEN
Tanya Plibersek could be jockeying for a position there?

CHALMERS
You raised a really good point before John and I’d like to pick that up before we lost it – what we’re seeing here is a Malcolm Turnbull who underperformed in the campaign is making these changes from a position of weakness and the difference is when Bill allocates the portfolios after Friday’s ballot, he will be doing so from a position of strength and he’ll be doing so with more women, with a greater emphasis on small business, and a greater emphasis on multiculturalism than Malcolm Turnbull has been and I think that’s a key distinction.

SINODINOS
Jim - he’ll be doing it doing it under pressure of having to accommodate different numbers from different factions, that’s the pressure he’ll be under –

GREEN
How’s that different to your party Arthur Sinodinos?

SINODINOS
Well because the Prime Minister selects his Cabinet, what is happening here is –

GREEN
Under pressure from various factions within the party.

SINODINOS
Yeah but the factional system within the Labor Party is rigid and very well organised and we’re seeing it play out at the moment in terms of who will get, for example, the support of the left faction, will it be Kim Carr? Will it be Linda Burney? There are huge pressures going on in the Labor Party over the next few days to work out who gets what. The factions dictate who they want and then Bill is just left to dole out the actual positions.

GREEN
I want to get to some policy stuff, the political panel here with Arthur Sinodinos and Jim Chalmers on RN Drive. Before we do that, just quickly, it’s been a big week for conversations around radical Islam migrations, Sonia Kruger, Pauline Hanson Q&A last night. Jim Chalmers, is mainstream politics sort of treading on eggshells here?

CHALMERS
Look I do think these are very sensitive issues and very complex issues so we need to be careful with our language. I thought Sam Dastyari did an outstanding job last night on Q&A. I watched him on that show calmly and carefully lay out why diversity is a good thing, why multiculturalism is a good thing and I think the point that Sam was really making and the point that I want to make is that at times like this it is important that we don’t turn on each other, we turn to each other and we need more understanding not less because extremists around the world and the recruiters around the world want exactly the type of division and disunity that some of the comments – whether we see it from Pauline Hanson or from others foster in our community. That’s exactly what they want, it’s what we need to resist. I think Sam did a great job and all parties; everyone with a voice, everyone with a microphone has a responsibility to build that understanding and build that tolerance because otherwise we’re just playing in to the hands of the people who don’t want a good outcome here.

GREEN
What’s the conversation Arthur Sinodinos in the Government about this about how to deal with this as a topic in the public conversation?

SINODINOS
I think a couple of points – the first is we’ve had a parliament elected by the Australian people, different people have been elected to it, people with a range of views, some the Government may agree with, others we do not agree with but the commitment we’ve made and Bill Shorten has at least mouthed is to make this parliament work so we’re going to sit down, talk with people about how we implement our platform.  The other point I would make is that if Labor was so concerned about Pauline Hanson, why did they accept her preferences in a number of seats that helped to get their people elected?

GREEN
Let’s leave that question hanging – twenty one minutes past six, and move on to some policy ideas. Now Senator, ABC 7.30 last night, Malcolm Turnbull had this to say about superannuation policy:

From recording—

MALCOLM TURNBULL
Of course there are some people which are unhappy with it, all of these Budget bills will go through the Cabinet process, they will go to the backbench committee, they will go to the joint party room and there is always consultation and work on transitional and implementation issues.

From studio—

GREEN
That, Arthur Sinodinos, does not sound like an ironclad guarantee that super policy will be implemented.

SINODINOS
Well we can’t guarantee that the parliament will accept all of our proposals. All we can do is put them up and put them to the test, make the case for them, in this case the case for fairness because our superannuation reforms will put more money or at least money in to the retirement accounts of low income people and women coming in and out of the workforce. We think it’s a fair reform. Labor say in principle they support it which is great but they seem to be sort of equivocating on being specific in terms of that support. I would encourage Jim, whatever influence he’s got in the Labor Party, to get them on board. These are important reforms and if Labor support them and the Greens and others support them, they will get through the parliament.

GREEN
We’ll get Jim’s view on that in a second but can you guarantee, Arthur Sinodinos, that the reforms that came from the Budget, that you campaigned on, that the Australian public voted on, will be the ones that will go into legislation?

SINODINOS
Well, I can guarantee that is the legislation that we will put up. Now, that will be subject to consultation in the normal way, as the Prime Minister said, And often that means that it has to go, as in this case, to a policy committee, to the Economics Committee, who will look at that, look at the implications of the legislation. But the whole point of this –

GREEN
So that may be no?

SINODINOS
No. What I’m saying is it will go through a proper process which means when we put the legislation up, it will be the best possible legislation to implement what we think is a fair and important reform.

GREEN
But it might not be what we voted for?

SINODINOS
Well, I encourage you to encourage the Labor Party and others to vote with us for what we put up in the campaign. That would be great.

GREEN
Jim Chalmers, is that the ALP position; you’re right behind the changes as put forward in the Budget?

CHALMERS
We’re trying to come at this, Jonathan, in a constructive and pretty open-minded way, as we’ve been saying all along. But the reality is we’re not asking Arthur to guarantee an outcome through the Parliament; we’re just asking him to guarantee an outcome through his Party Room. And what we had in the election was a pretty remarkable thing where the Liberal Party said to the Australian people: hey, can you sign up for something we can’t even guarantee will get through our own Party Room because some of our own people don’t support it. And Turnbull just last month was saying it was absolutely iron clad there would be no changes, and now he’s flagging changes. So you can see that it’s a bit of a moving target, it’s a bit hard for Labor to come to a position on Government changes which haven’t finally landed. But we’ve tried to do the right thing here, as much as we can, we’ve said we do support better targeting those tax concessions at the top end of superannuation. We had our own policy on the table since April of last year. The Government instead dropped these big, drastic changes on the table on the eve of an election. That is the worst possible way to make superannuation policy. We won’t make the same mistake the Turnbull Government has made, rushing to a conclusion on these changes because they have big consequences for people’s retirement incomes. So we think the changes should be independent and comprehensively reviewed. If at the end of that, there are workable and fair changes that can be implemented; we’d be up for that. And if there aren’t—some of the issues around retrospectivity we’ve expressed concerns about—they need to be ironed out. We have come at this the right way, the way the Australian people expect –

GREEN
Sounds like both of you have kicked this into the long grass. I mean –

SINODINOS
No, not at all. We want change. Labor can come on board, we can talk productively about this. We can get change in this Parliament.

GREEN
Do you support, Jim Chalmers, or does Labor support, the $1.6 million lifetime cap on transfers to tax-free retirement accounts?

CHALMERS
You need to look at all these things together, Jonathan. It’s pretty hard just to isolate one bit or another because in superannuation, as you’d appreciate and Arthur would appreciate, it’s the interaction between the various measures that matter. So we’ve got to sort out some of those other tricker ones first, like the retrospective part of the $500,000 non-concessional cap. That’s really the one that’s attracting the most criticism. You need to go through all of them together, independently, constructively, carefully, and then come to a view. A lot of these measures, even though some of them are backdated, a lot of them don’t come into next year, so we’ve got the time to do that work, to do it together, if necessary, to get to a good outcome. Not just to help repair the bottom line but also to make sure we get the right superannuation system in the national interest. We’ve been pretty constructive; we’ve resisted the temptation to just pull it apart as many people have urged us to do. We’ve tried to come at this the right way. But when the Government is so hopelessly divided over it, it’s a bit hard to negotiate. It’s –

SINODINOS
Oh come on, come on Jim. We had a Party Room yesterday and –

CHALMERS
And Senator Abetz was just on the TV saying that you gagged him!

SINODINOS
And it did not –

CHALMERS
Senator Abetz was just on TV saying he was gagged –

GREEN
Hang on Jim, hang on Jim.

SINODINOS
And, Jonathan, my point being we had the Party Room meeting yesterday. Yes, one senator did raise matters relating to this. But the point is everyone in that room accepted there’s a process to take this forward and if we get Labor and the Greens and others on side, we will get real reform in this Parliament, we will make this Parliament work.

GREEN
It is true though, Arthur, that Eric Abetz, the one voice that was raised in dissent yesterday was on TV this afternoon, on Sky News, saying the debate was yet to come.

SINODINOS
Well, that’s why we have policy backbench committees. That’s why we have good, formalised processes which give everybody an opportunity to air these in a relatively straightforward and sensible way.

GREEN
Let’s go to a nice, simple one: backpacker tax. New Nationals Cabinet minister, Matt Canavan told ABC AM this morning that the backpacker tax is too high. Here is some of what he said:

From recording—

MATT CANAVAN
On reflection the rate chosen, which was the non-resident tax rate of 32.5 cents, is too high and potentially makes our industry uncompetitive. That’s why we’ve announced this review, Barnaby Joyce in charge of that review. And I’m sure the outcome of that review will be a more competitive option.

From studio—

GREEN
Looks like the fix is in there, Arthur Sinodinos. Barnaby Joyce in charge.

SINODINOS
Well the review, Jonathan, the review is ongoing and should report soon. We would aim for a Budget-neutral outcome, if possible, because it’s like a lot of matters which will be coming up over the next few years—and Jim will appreciate this with his strong economics background—we also have to keep in mind the pressure that is coming on our AAA credit rating and the need for us as a Parliament—not just as an Executive but as a Parliament—to make sure that whenever we’re making changes in one area that potentially expose us to a loss of revenue or increased spending, we need to keep an eye on the overall Budget bottom line.

GREEN
It’s interesting though to have a review of a taxation issue being determined almost entirely within the National Party.

SINODINOS
No. Richard Colbeck was in charge of this before the election. Barnaby is taking this forward, that was announced during the election. Barnaby is a member of a coalition, so there are as many rural and regional members who are Liberal members as there are National Party people who have an interest in this. So he’ll do something that’s in the interests of the Coalition; not just the National Party.

GREEN
Jim Chalmers, will Labor support the lower backpacker tax?

CHALMERS
Oh look, we’re participating in the, sort of, you know, consultation with the affected people around the place. We went to the Government before the election and said if there was bipartisan support to scrap the thing, we’d be in that. It’s a bit more complex than that because it’s about a five hundred million dollar saving and Arthur is right about the need given the state of the Budget to be careful about these sorts of decisions but we’re a part of those ongoing conversations. We don’t think it’s been handled as delicately as it should be. We do know there is pretty big divisions between the Nats and the Libs in the Cabinet which Arthur was pretending before is all harmonious.

SINODINOS
No, no, there are no such divisions. Not like the left and the right of the Labor Party over who gets the front bench I can assure you Jim –

CHALMERS
So the Canavan position is the same as your position is it? The Canavan, Joyce, Sinodinos –

SINODINOS
Yeah it is and the Canavan position and the Sinodinos position is it is good to have a review and let’s look at the outcomes of the review.

GREEN
I’m feeling a lot of love in the room. We will watch with interest for the review of the backpacker tax and look, thanks to both. A lot to get through there but you conducted yourself with aplomb gentlemen. Thank you for your time Cabinet Secretary, Liberal Senator Arthur Sinodinos and Dr Jim Chalmers joining us there via skype. Dr Chalmers is Shadow Minister for Financial Services and Superannuation.

 

-ENDS-