National Reform Summit, Republic, Marriage Equality on SKY

27 August 2015


SUBJECT/S: National Reform Summit; Trade Union Royal Commission; Republic; Marriage Equality

GILBERT: This is AM Agenda. With me now, the Liberal Senator Zed Seselja and also Parliamentary Secretary to the Opposition Leader, Jim Chalmers. Gentlemen, good morning to you. Jim, let’s pick up on this Reform Summit yesterday. Interesting intervention by the Opposition Leader about the approach to construction sites and needing to govern from the middle, basically, was his message. But if that’s the case, why don’t you support the reintroduction – reinstatement – of the building watchdog, the ABCC?

JIM CHALMERS, SHADOW PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY TO THE LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: I thought Bill made some really important points yesterday about trying to make sure that our workplaces are more cooperative so that we can build productivity, so that we can make them safer, so that we can work together to make sure that there’s more prosperity and more opportunity to go around.

When it comes to the ABCC, we have zero tolerance for bad behaviour, whether it be on construction sites or elsewhere. We think that the appropriate way to deal with that bad behaviour is via the Police or the Crime Commission, and that’s why we don’t support the ABCC which we think is excessive and unwarranted.

GILBERT: And as Jim and his colleagues have made the point, the Crime Commission has the standing powers of a Royal Commission, so if you wanted to look into it, Zed Seselja, I guess you could. The language at least from Shorten yesterday, you’d be welcoming that, wouldn’t you?

SESELJA: Well, I think the language is good if it meant something. I mean, they talk about not having cooperation on our building sites. It’s really difficult at the moment, if you see some of the evidence coming out of the Royal Commission, it’s difficult to cooperate when there’s extortion going on, when there’s thuggery going on, when billions of dollars in productivity is lost as a result of some of this behaviour. So, it’s actually a really critical economic reform and when we did have a Building and Construction Commission, we saw more productivity on our building sites, and we did see some of the worst of that behaviour curbed. Labor got rid of that. Now as we try and reintroduce it, their union masters have told them to vote no, and of course they do, and the Greens vote no, and along with some of the independents, they’ve been able to stifle that. So, you know, if Bill Shorten is serious, he’ll stop defending this kind of criminality, this kind of corruption that’s been exposed and only a tough, specific cop on the beat through the ABCC has proven to get to the bottom of this and to curb these kind of excesses.

GILBERT: Alright Jim, your reaction to that this morning?

CHALMERS: I think it’s interesting that Zed is trying to squeeze one last little bit of political advantage out of a deeply flawed Royal Commission. That Royal Commission is in serious jeopardy when it comes to its credibility to deal with these sorts of issues. We think the most important place to deal with bad behaviour where it exists – we should have zero tolerance for it – it should be dealt with by the cops, and by the Crime Commission. And if the Government was fair dinkum about it, they would agree with that point.

GILBERT: Dyson Heydon reveals his position tomorrow, Jim Chalmers. Is your expectation and that of your colleagues that he will go – that he will pull the pin?

CHALMERS: Look, I can’t predict what the Royal Commissioner will do tomorrow. I think like everyone we will wait and see. I think it is true that the Prime Minister should show leadership in this instance and ask him to step aside. I think it’s been shown that when we have someone leading a Royal Commission who’s prepared to speak at a Liberal Party fundraiser and we’ve got a Prime Minister who’s prepared to defend that kind of behaviour, then the Royal Commission does have a serious credibility problem, when it comes to perceptions of bias. That’s our view. We’ve been making that point for some time now, but I don’t know what he will do tomorrow when he makes his decision known.

GILBERT: Yeah, well he’s taken a bit of extra time to consider it, Zed Seselja. In the interests of the Government, you would hope that he’d remain and hand down the report because if he does step down that will wound the Royal Commission further in terms of the political credibility of it, won’t it?

SESELJA: Well, I’m certainly not going to give him legal advice. He will make his decision based on the law as he interprets it, I am sure because he is a distinguished jurist, and that’s what the Labor Party is trying to forget in their smearing of Justice Heydon.

But let’s be clear – and I want to respond to something Jim said before – he said, well, we don’t need an ABCC because we’ve got the Police. I hope then, Jim, that you won’t support the calls that we’ve heard from the CFMEU where they’ve been critical of the police who have charged some of these individuals with pretty serious crimes. So as soon as the Police have acted, the CFMEU have said well that’s politically motivated. I hope you wouldn’t joint the CFMEU – in fact you should be condemning the CFMEU – for being so critical of our police forces when they do act to deal with police action on our building sites and of course, they’ve acted after evidence has emerged at the Royal Commission.

CHALMERS: Yeah, I certainly support our police, Zed. I certainly support our officials, our Crime Commission –

SESELJA: So you disagree with CFMEU?

CHALMERS: Well if you let me just finish answering your question, Zed. You’ve asked me a question and I’m responding to it. I’ve just said that I support the police 100 percent. If there’s bad behaviour it should be cracked down on. I don’t have the view that you’ve described. I think our Police do a great job. And where there’s bad behaviour in our workplaces, whether it be on construction sites, or anywhere in the country, it should be cracked down on. I’ve said that repeatedly.

GILBERT: In Jim’s defence, he has done that. In terms of a few of the other issues around though, let’s look at the republic. The Prime Minister says that it was sprung on the Treasurer. In his words on the Seven Network this morning, Zed Seselja, he says the fact that the Treasurer is now going to chair this friendship committee, he believes it was sprung on him a bit by Peter Fitzsimons.

SESELJA: Look, I haven’t seen those particular comments from the Prime Minister, and I just don’t know in terms of the background, in terms of what Peter Fitzsimons had to say. But I’d just make a couple of points. One is I don’t think this will be the highest thing on Joe Hockey’s agenda. The highest thing on his agenda will be growing the economy, controlling the budget. That is absolutely fundamental for the Treasurer.

CHALMERS: He’s not going real well at that Zed.

SESELJA: Well, let me finish. When it comes to the republic, I agree with Joe. I’m one of those people who think it would be a good thing if we had an Australian head of state. There are all sorts of Parliamentary Friendship Groups and if Joe wants to be part of a Parliamentary Friendship Group with a Labor representative, well, you know, that’s fine.

GILBERT: But yesterday, some of your colleagues, Senator Seselja, kicked up a stink saying that the Treasurer shouldn’t be focussing on this at all, he should be dealing with the economy and even publicly copping criticism from the likes of the WA Senator Dean Smith. You know, I’m absolutely supportive of Joe Hockey in adopting a Friendship Group if he wants to, there’s no problem with it, but in terms of economic management right now, the Government’s had some issues – isn’t that a distraction?

SESELJA: Let’s put this in context. Parliamentary Friendship Groups operate across the Parliament and you know, frontbenchers, backbenchers are part of these. We’re all part of them. I’m part of them. I’m sure Jim is part of some of them. It’s not your main focus, but it’s just part of what you do as a parliamentarian. So I don’t think you should be criticising somebody for being part of a Parliamentary Friendship Group.

GILBERT: Jim, that’s fair enough?

CHALMERS: Yeah, look I’ve got Zed’s view on a republic, I’ve got Joe Hockey’s view on a republic, I agree with them. I hope that they’re successful in dealing with some of the more backward-looking elements in their party and I also hope on all of our behalves that Joe’s a better spruiker for the republic than he is as a manager of the Budget. That’s one point.

I do accept that there are other important issues in the political conversation in Australia, including of course how we rebuild the economy and create jobs that last. But I don’t accept that the republic is a peripheral issue. I think the republic is an absolutely crucial issue. It goes to the way that we think about ourselves. It goes to the way that we say to Australians that you are capable and qualified to be the Head of State in this country. And it goes to how we carry ourselves in the region as a forward-looking and a forward-leaning country – a confident country – and not some kind of relic of a colonial past. So while I know that there are lots of important economic issues around, jobs and growth and productivity and all of those important economic issues, I don’t accept for one second that it’s a peripheral issue. I don’t accept the Tony Abbott backward-looking view that we’re not capable of making this change. We should  make this change.

GILBERT: Let’s look at something else that’s been described as a distraction in recent times, but obviously a very important issue to many Australians and that is same sex marriage. The latest development on that is that Julia Gillard, the former Prime Minister, has now come out in support of it, saying that Parliament should have a conscience vote and vote in favour of it. This is all well and good now, Jim Chalmers, but when she was Prime Minister, she had a very different view and the suspicion is that she was under the orders of some union leaders who didn’t want her to change her view or be honest about her true view on this. What’s your take on it?

CHALMERS: Look, I’m delighted by what Julia said last night. I’m really proud of her. I think it would be unfair to single her out as the only person who has changed their mind on marriage equality. I think it’s been one-way traffic really when it comes to that. A lot of people have changed their mind from being reluctant on marriage equality the last time it came before the Parliament to supporters of marriage equality, including a large number in the current Caucus in the Labor Party. And so I do think it’s one-way traffic when it comes to people changing their mind. Julia Gillard is one of those people, I’m proud of her, as I said. I’m not particularly surprised that she’s come to this view after she’s reflected on it carefully and with her usual degree of consideration and thought, and I think it’s great that she’s joined the ranks that I’m in as well as big supporters of marriage equality. We can do this, we should do it, we should do it in this Parliament. And if we can’t do it in this Parliament, we should do it within the first hundred days of a Shorten Labor Government.

GILBERT: Alright, let’s hear from Senator Seselja who disagrees with you and I on the issue of same sex marriage, and I guess you’re going to disagree with Jim’s take on Julia Gillard’s conversion on this issue.

SESELJA: Yeah, well look who knows what was driving her view before. You’ve talked about whether or not she was given orders by union leaders. Certainly, Martin Ferguson has had a lot to say about that this week, about Labor Caucus members getting orders from union members or union leaders. Whether that’s true or not, I don’t know on this issue. But the good news for Julia Gillard, is given that she’s changed her view is if we go to a vote of the entire Australian people, she’ll have another chance to vote on it. She’ll have a chance having voted against it, she’ll have a chance to vote in favour of it and I think that’s a really good thing if we get to that point that all the Australian people can have their say.

GILBERT: And it should be a plebiscite?

SESELJA: Well, look I think that’s probably the right way to go but I think that there’s some discussion to have around that. I think the main principle is that you put it to the people, because we have put it to the Parliament many times – many times – and those in favour of it simply say that every time the Parliament has rejected it, that’s not good enough. Well the Parliament has made a judgement many times, and we say, well why not put it to the people?

GILBERT: And that would be a definitive result once and for all, Jim Chalmers – no ifs or buts if there’s a popular vote. In terms of certainty, doesn’t that make sense?

CHALMERS: Look, 95 percent of Julia’s speech last night was arguing against a plebiscite for very good reason. We get sent to Canberra to represent our communities and make decisions on their behalf. You’ve got to wonder why people like Zed want this job if they want to contract it out. It’s not a Constitutional change, it’s not something that should be a referendum. We should be able to decide. We should do it this term, and if not then, then we’ll fix it after the Government changes hands.

GILBERT: Alright, we’re out of time, sorry. I know you wanted to interrupt again.

CHALMERS: I bet he did!

GILBERT: But we’ll have plenty of time to chat about it into the future. Jim Chalmers, Zed Seselja, gents – have a good day. Back in just a moment here on AM Agenda.