ABC 774 Melbourne Drive

30 November 2017




SUBJECT/S: Turnbull getting permission slip from banks for a Royal Commission; Sam Dastyari


RAFAEL EPSTEIN: We're joined by Shadow Finance Minister Jim Chalmers. If the polls are any indication, he would be the Finance Minister after the next Federal election. Jim Chalmers, good afternoon.


JIM CHALMERS SHADOW MINISTER FOR FINANCE: Thanks for having me on, Raf. It sounds like you're in for a couple of rugged days down there, so I hope everybody stays safe.


EPSTEIN: Me too. A Royal Commission's a good thing, isn't it? It might have been a bit painful getting there, but it's a good thing to have it?


CHALMERS: We've been calling for it for almost two years, as you know, Raf. It's been Labor's policy to have a Royal Commission into the big banks. There's been far too many rorts and ripoffs in that part of the economy. So we've been saying for some time that we need to listen to the victims and the whistleblowers, the consumers, the consumer groups, and have a Royal Commission. I think it's pretty extraordinary today after something like 601 days since we called for that Royal Commission there's been 23 times in the Parliament that the Liberal Party have voted against the Royal Commission time and time again, as you said before. Malcolm Turnbull said it's a bad idea. Now we get him changing his mind today. But he hasn't changed his mind because he's concerned about the victims. We've got him changing his mind because he's concerned about his political situation.


EPSTEIN: It's the Nationals, isn't it? That's the reason we've got it?


CHALMERS: He's got a deeply divided Coalition. So he's actually admitted in his own press conference this morning that he's doing this for political reasons. There's no inkling that he's doing it out of concern for the victims of the rorts and the rip-offs. We have this extraordinary permission slip written by the banks earlier today which he pretends he had nothing to do with. I think it speaks volumes about him that we've had a couple of years of victims crying out for a Royal Commission. He ignores those calls, but as soon as the banks write him a little permission slip, he rolls over like a puppy and we have this Royal Commission. It's a good outcome. We'll work constructively on it, but I think people will see this pretty cynical announcement from the Prime Minister and they'll meet it with a fair bit of scepticism.


EPSTEIN: The true test of a Royal Commission is who runs it and the terms of reference, no? The terms of reference are broad. If they appoint a good person, it could achieve a lot.


CHALMERS: We want it to achieve a lot. We want it to get to the bottom of these issues and we've been saying that for some time. The Government put out some draft terms of reference today. We think it's a bit disappointing frankly that there hasn't been consultation on those to date. I think it speaks volumes again about the Government that they haven't consulted with the victims' groups, for example. 


EPSTEIN: But what do you make of the terms of reference?


CHALMERS: We're still going through them. We don't love them, is the best description of that, Raf. But largely because we want them to be based on a proper conversation with the people who have been affected. There's no evidence that conversation has taken place. It's not too late to do that. So we call on the Government to talk with people who've been affected by the rorts and rip-offs in the banking system. Also for our part in the Labor Party, this is our policy to have a Royal Commission, so of course we'll do our best to improve the terms. And, as you say rightly, it will also matter who they appoint to lead it.


EPSTEIN: Although there is substantial work already being done. We know about the Commonwealth Bank's problems with the ATMs and the potential money laundering because AUSTRAC have been given extra riding instructions; other watchdogs have got extra resources. The Government has not done nothing. They have done things, so that gives the banking Royal Commission a better starting point, doesn't it?


CHALMERS: There have been a lot of things come to light, you're right to say that; in all kinds of different ways. AUSTRAC's part of it, but not just that. There's been some terrific journalism, for example, which has uncovered some of these issues, particularly in the insurance industry. But I think that a lot of those measures that have been taken to now, a lot of those half-measures, have really been put in place by the Government as an excuse not to have a Royal Commission. There's been sort of bits and pieces when the political pressure has come on, they've announced one thing or another. But a Royal Commission is the most comprehensive way to get to the bottom of these things. That's why we've had it as our core policy. If the Government had adopted our policy when we announced it, we'd be at the end of our Royal Commission process and we'd be acting on the recommendations rather than going through this pretty bizarre dance now.


EPSTEIN: Jim Chalmers is Shadow Minister for Finance. He's part of Bill Shorten's Opposition team. 1300 222 774 is the phone number. Jim Chalmers, I want to ask you about Sam Dastyari, but just let me bring people up to date. Bill Shorten was very upset about Sam Dastyari yesterday. Today he's already talking about Sam Dastyari's capacity to rebuild. People might know that the Senator gave surveillance advice to a donor; a donor that ASIO sees as a problem. Bill Shorten said that was his last chance, just the revelation that he said to the donor "listen, we shouldn't talk in front of our phones". Then we found out overnight that Sam Dastyari completely misrepresented what he said about Chinese expansion in the South China Sea. Jim Chalmers, how does someone completely forget a well-scripted answer at a Chinese media press conference completely contradicting the ALP's policy on China? Do you believe him when he said he forgot?


CHALMERS: I do. But I also believe Sam, and I agree with Sam, when he says that he has badly mishandled and badly misjudged this whole episode. That's Bill's view too and that's why Bill Shorten has taken that decisive action to strip Sam of his senior Labor positions in the Senate. 


EPSTEIN: Is it credible to say he forgot a well-scripted answer?


CHALMERS: I think so. Sam's come into the Senate twice today and said that he handled it badly. Misjudged it, mishandled it.


EPSTEIN: Have you heard the tape of the comments? It sounds scripted. I'm not sure I'd forget that. Stephen Conroy was Opposition Minister at the time. He was pretty firm on China. He would've known at the time of that press conference what Labor's policy was. Do you really think he forgot a scripted answer?


CHALMERS: I take Sam's word for it, Raf. He has given a thorough account twice in the Senate now today, as I was saying. He is his own worst critic. He understands, as Bill does, as I do and as all of the colleagues do, that this has been badly mishandled. He's paying a price for that now because Bill took that decisive action to strip him of his senior Labor positions in the Senate. I think that's the appropriate way forward and those sorts of mistakes that Sam made in this, he has been punished for them.


EPSTEIN: He's got nine lives, hasn't he? He keeps on making mistakes, he hasn't been kicked out.


CHALMERS: I think he'll learn from this mistake. 


EPSTEIN: Do you think he could ever get a proper frontbench position again?


CHALMERS: That remains to be seen, Raf. I don't hand out the frontbench positions. It's not up to me.


EPSTEIN: But do you think he's got the credibility to be a frontbencher even in Opposition or in Government? He had a legal bill personally paid for by a donor. He gets into a whole load of trouble about it. He knows this donor's a risk assessed as such by ASIO. He warns him about surveillance. He never denies actually that he's warned him about surveillance, completely misrepresents himself at a press conference. How many times can he stuff up before someone in Labor says he shouldn't be on the front bench?


CHALMERS: I think as he himself has said, and Bill's said, he's got a lot of work to rebuild that credibility. My personal view about Sam is that he is much better than the mistake that he'd made and I think that he will learn from it. However long it takes for him to rebuild that credibility after this mistake that he's made, I think that's possible. But he's got a lot of work to do.


EPSTEIN: Isn't the real issue that he's a crucial part of the New South Wales Right and he's raised too much money for the Labor Party that Bill Shorten could never kick him out of the Senate? He's sort of locked in there like a rock, isn't he?


CHALMERS: No, I just don't accept that sort of characterisation of it, Raf. I've heard others put that about today.


EPSTEIN: It's true that he's raised a lot of money for the party and he's crucial to the New South Wales right, though?


CHALMERS: There's a lot of people who've been party officials, who've been involved in fundraising on both sides of politics over the years. Sam has been the General Secretary of the New South Wales Labor Party, but I honestly don't think that is the issue here. I think the issue here is that Sam has fronted up, said he's done the wrong thing. He's been demoted fairly harshly by Bill Shorten, and in the months and years ahead he'll have to rebuild that credibility. I think he's up to it.


EPSTEIN: Trustworthy enough to share a frontbench with, in your mind?


CHALMERS: I'd be happy to sit next to him on the frontbench or on the backbench. Not in the near term obviously. He's got a lot of work to do as Bill has said. But in politics he has the opportunity, I think, to do that work and to show people he can make a serious policy contribution. He has made a big contribution on some of the issues we talked about at the start of this interview.


EPSTEIN: He was one of the big pushers for a banking Royal Commission.


CHALMERS: Precisely. I think there's a lot of people in Australia, and particularly in New South Wales in the state he represents as a Senator, where he has done a lot of good and we shouldn't forget that either.


EPSTEIN: Thanks for your time.


CHALMERS: Thanks, Raf.