ABC RN Breakfast (4)

02 February 2017



SUBJECT/S: Malcolm Turnbull’s $1.75 million donation to Liberal Party campaign; renewable energy and coal-fired power stations


FRAN KELLY: Jim Chalmers is the Shadow Finance Minister. Jim Chalmers - hello welcome to Breakfast.



KELLY: You've accused the Prime Minister of buying the election with this political donation. As we heard there, Scott Morrison says that's a grubby political smear. What do you say?


CHALMERS: Well that was a typically breathless and unhinged spray from Scott Morrison. Nobody takes him especially seriously anymore. He should spend his time on his commitments to jobs and growth and fixing the Budget...


KELLY: Well it's a pretty serious thing to say, to accuse the Prime Minister of this country of buying an election.

CHALMERS: The point we're making is that the Prime Ministership of this country should be determined by the person who has the better policies for Australia, not the person who has the most zeroes on their bank balance. For Malcolm Turnbull - and now Scott Morrison - to pretend that somehow this is some big-hearted act of philanthropy, I mean, give me a break. If he thought that this was entirely defensible, it wouldn't have taken seven months for people to drag out of him what is the biggest personal donation in Australian political history, which changed the outcome of an election.


KELLY: Yeah, but a lot of people listening might say: "Well, give me a break. Why do you think we voted how we voted? Do you think we voted because the Prime Minister made a donation or we voted on the policies?"


CHALMERS: I think ultimately the Australian people will make a judgement on this and whether or not they think it's a good development that one of the leaders who can find $1.75 million down the back of the couch to spray around in the dying days of an election campaign, whether that's a good outcome or not; or whether that's a good development for our democracy.


KELLY: Yeah, but Malcolm Turnbull has a lot of money. No one doubts that. He made it himself and he gives away a lot and everybody knows that and he has for a long time and he made that point again on 7.30. Doesn't he have the same right as any other Australian to make a donation? Is it just the size of the donation you're concerned about here?


CHALMERS: I make no comment on the other donations that Malcolm Turnbull might have made in the course of his career and in the course of his life. The issue that we have, and the concern that we have is that in the most recent election, we've just discovered that the biggest personal donation has been made by one of the candidates for the Prime Ministership. We think that the Prime Ministership should be determined by policies and by ideas. Obviously, Turnbull didn't have the strength of his convictions or the ability to make the policy case, so he reached for the wallet. That's a legitimate point for us to make, Fran.


KELLY: What proof do you have that the donation made any difference and it wasn't the policies and ideas? As we understand he made the donation after the 1st of July. The election was on the 2nd, wasn't it?


CHALMERS: The timing of the donation is largely irrelevant, Fran.




CHALMERS: Because $1.75 million from Malcolm Turnbull's pocket to the Liberal Party, whether it happened on the 1st of July or the 3rd of July or any other date is not the material thing. The material thing is in a very tight election, one of the candidates has the capacity to kick in the biggest political donation in Australian political history and it's entirely legitimate for us to ask the question, as the Australian people will be, whether that is a good development or whether we think that's a bad development for our democracy.


KELLY: And is it the principle or the size? Are you suggesting politicians should not be able to make donations to their parties?


CHALMERS: Politicians have made donations to their parties over the years. This is the biggest one that has ever been made. The Prime Minister himself obviously thinks something is pretty dodgy here, otherwise it wouldn't have taken seven months for the figure to be dragged out of him. It was dragged out of him on the 7.30 program last night with great reluctance from the Prime Minister...


KELLY: ...well for the reason that you hop into him as Mr Harbourside Mansion.


CHALMERS: Malcolm Turnbull raised that language himself last night in trying to smear every Prime Minister or candidate for Prime Minister who's ever lived at Kirribilli House, including John Howard by the way. So that's obviously something that he's very sensitive about. The point we're making is that this is an enormous donation. A lot of Australians will be very concerned about a donation of this size and its capacity to change an election.


KELLY: So I get to that point again - it's the size of the donation. You're not suggesting that politicians should not be able to make donations, but you would put a limit on them?


CHALMERS: Well that's for the Australian people to decide and for people to debate and discuss in the months ahead...


KELLY: ... What do you think?...


CHALMERS: ...We've got a series of proposals on the table for donation reform, which is really to try to bring down ...


KELLY: ....Which doesn't go to this issue though, does it?


CHALMERS: Well that's the first priority. I think that's a very important change that needs to be made. We've got an open mind about all kinds of other changes, about faster declaration of donations and all the rest of it. Malcolm Turnbull says that he believes in faster declaration at the same time as he kept this hidden for seven months.


KELLY: Malcolm Turnbull does believe in more timely disclosure and it looks like that is something...


CHALMERS: ... He says he does...


KELLY: And that looks like something we now have agreement on. He also says that only Australians should be able to donate and influence Australian policy. In other words, we should end foreign donations. Do you agree with that?


CHALMERS: We're up for a conversation about all of those things, Fran. We do think that the donation laws can be tightened up in this country. We always want to play a constructive role in those changes. But it's important as well to remember that, yes, Malcolm Turnbull says he believes in quicker disclosure, but it is seven months since the election and this enormous donation was dragged out of him, kicking and screaming by Stan Grant last night.


KELLY: Well, I don't know that he was dragged out last night.


CHALMERS: Have you seen the footage, Fran? 


KELLY: I did, I watched it last night.


CHALMERS: Very untidy footage!


KELLY: I watched it last night. Clearly he knew he had to get it on the table, but he also last night in that interview made the point that the CFMEU and other unions, in his words, buy influence in Labor with their major donations.


CHALMERS: Businesses make donations and unions make donations and that's been the case for some time. It should come as a surprise to nobody that the industrial wing of the labour movement supports the political wing of the labour movement. We've got similar objectives when it comes to ...


KELLY: Jim Chalmers, I just lost you there. Are you there?


CHALMERS: I'm here, Fran. Can you hear me?


KELLY: Yeah, I can. I mean, yes, the labour wing does donate to the political wing. Also, Labor does impose on its MPs doesn't it, a requirement to pay part of your salary? Four to six per cent I think it is to the party? It's a smaller scale, but same principle.


CHALMERS: Much smaller scale Fran. It's a small levy that the state branches levy on the members of state and federal parliaments. I think that's done by multiple parties and I can tell you it's not $1.75 million.


KELLY: You're listening to RN Breakfast. Our guest is the Shadow Finance Minister Jim Chalmers. Can I just ask you finally, the Government is exploring the option of using the Clean Energy Finance Corporation, we believe, to fund so-called "clean coal" or super-critical efficient coal-fired power stations. Would Labor accept taxpayer support for that kind of technology?


CHALMERS: The Clean Energy Finance Corporation is a policy triumph really of the former Labor Government. It's doing very good work and we want to make sure that the investments that it supports are the ones that are best for the future of Australia. I think it's interesting that the rest of the world is investing in renewables and Malcolm Turnbull's talking now about more coal-fired power stations. He believed in renewable energy once, before he tried to out-Tony-Abbott Tony Abbott in this area. We want to see money from the CEFC going where it can do the most good and the future of energy in this country is renewables.

KELLY: Well he says he's agnostic on clean technologies if the CEFC accepts that these new power plants will deliver cleaner energy. You happy to go with that?


CHALMERS: Well the CEFC's got their own very robust rules about where they invest and the tests they apply to proposals that they put before them and that's a good thing, but I think in principle, I think most people would agree that the job of the CEFC into the future is to make sure that we've got the best possible renewable energy in this country.


KELLY: Jim Chalmers, thanks very much for joining us.


CHALMERS: Thank you, Fran.