RN Drive with Patricia Karvelas (2)

27 January 2015


SUBJECT(S): Knights and Dames; Republic debate; Constitutional Recognition of Indigenous Australians; Abbott Government’s attack on minimum wage and penalty rates; Paid Parental Leave; Abbott Government cuts to child care

PATRICIA KARVELAS: Kelly O’Dwyer and Jim Chalmers, welcome to the first RN Drive for the year. You’re my, like, first people.

KELLY O’DWYER: Well, we feel very, very honoured Patricia.

JIM CHALMERS, SHADOW PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY TO THE LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: This might be the only thing that Kelly and I agree on today, Patricia, but we wish you well in your new job and we hope it goes great.

KARVELAS: Thank you Jim, thank you Jim. But I think I can get you agreeing on a few more things – a bit of bipartisanship goes a long way. Now, let’s start with this, because it is really dominating the news. Kelly, you are well aware of that. Do you support the decision?

O’DWYER: Well, look it’s a decision that was made by the Prime Minister. It’s the Prime Minister’s decision. It’s his decision alone to make. You know, different people in that position would perhaps make different decisions. The truth is, my view is a view that I know is shared by Barnaby Joyce and perhaps others, and many Australians, is that they would like to see honours really given to eminent Australians, distinguished Australians, those who have done amazing things not only for our local communities but also for our nation, and sometimes their contribution can be international in scope. So the decision’s been made by the Prime Minister. I think on Australia Day, we do have the capacity to honour eminent Australians and I think we have done that. I think Rosie Batty, for instance, was a superb appointment as the Australian of the Year. With that appointment she has raised the very serious issue of domestic violence and I’m very pleased that we’re now able to have a serious discussion about this.

KARVELAS: So, should she have been made a dame then?

O’DWYER: Well, look, in terms of the highest honours, I will leave that for other commentators to commentate on. But I think Rosemary Batty’s appointment was one where we can have a serious conversation about domestic violence, how that affects women and children. The Government has announced a package over four years of $100 million that will actually go towards practical measures to help women and children in situations of extreme violence and situations of great vulnerability. 

KARVELAS: Okay, well let me take you back to the knighthood because, look, I think Jim we’re all in furious agreement that Rosie Batty was a very good choice?

CHALMERS: Of course.

KARVELAS: But let me take you back to these knighthoods. So, you’re saying in diplomatic language – and I think all of your colleagues have said it in similar diplomatic language – that if you were the Prime Minister, and I know it’s a hypothetical but I want you to go there, I know you can…

O’DWYER: Gee, I’ve only just been promoted as Parliamentary Secretary…

KARVELAS: Well a lot of us would be backing another female Prime Minister. So if you were the Prime Minister you would not have awarded Prince Philip this knighthood?

O’DWYER: Well like I have said that I think Australian honours should go to eminent Australians – those who have made a distinguished contribution to Australia, and I think most Australians are in furious agreement about that. But look, I don’t want to be distracted by this particular issue because there are many things that I think we should be focused on this year. Very serious issues that we face as a nation.

KARVELAS: So are you frustrated that you have been distracted – are you annoyed by this?

O’DWYER: Well, look I’m not going to commentate on the commentary. I’m not going to be distracted by it. I think we should instead be focused on the issues that affect Australians – their lives and their futures. Let’s start talking about the fact that we need to reform our childcare system, for instance, to make sure that with childcare we have affordable and flexible childcare that actually meets the needs of the twenty-first [century] Australian family.

KARVELAS: Well, I’m going to hit pause on that, I really want to go there in this conversation but not yet. First I want to get Jim Chalmers, who joins us from Brisbane, who is the Parliamentary Secretary to Bill Shorten, on the Opposition Leader’s call for a republic this time. Now, given at the moment what’s on the agenda is constitutional reform to acknowledge indigenous Australians in the Constitution – and there is bipartisan support for that, should that not be the focus right now? Is a republic really front and centre and necessary? I mean, if we can’t even nail the other thing we’ve all promised to do, why are we having the other discussion?

CHALMERS: Well first things first. I mean Kelly just joined the long line of Coalition MPs and Senators from the frontbench, the backbench and in between who think that the Prime Minister’s decision to award a knighthood to Prince Philip is a laughable, stinker of a decision. It makes him a figure of ridicule. It shows that he’s just diabolically out of touch. It’s a really divisive act on what should have been a unifying day; Australia Day.  That’s the first thing. When it comes to the republic, I agree that there are a lot of issues before us in federal politics and in the economics of daily life. Key among those are things like a GP Tax, the coming GST hike, attacks on workers in the industrial relations system. There are a whole range of issues.

But I think Bill Shorten is to be applauded. One for his advocacy of constitutional recognition of our indigenous people, first of all. But secondly, putting back on the agenda an Australian republic, which is an important way…

KARVELAS: … But we can’t even get the constitutional recognition of indigenous people sorted out and this has been going on for years. Why distract the issue now? I mean it muddies the water. I can say that Tim Gartrell, the head of the Recognise movement, some time ago said to me that he was worried that the republic debate would actually do damage to the constitutional recognition debate for indigenous Australians. Is that not the priority? 

CHALMERS: Well, Tim’s well known to me and he’s doing tremendous work when it comes to recognising our indigenous people in the Constitution. I agree that it is a really pressing priority, so does Bill Shorten. I think it’s important that we get that job done, first of all. But I don’t think that the conversation about constitutional change ends there. I think there are other important issues, republic being key among them. Because we do need to constantly think and re-think about what kind of country we are, what’s our national identity and where people fit into that story. So I think Bill is to be commended. Nobody could accuse Bill at any point of not focusing on the economics of ordinary, daily life, including the budget’s attacks on ordinary people in middle Australia. But at the same time, he’s right to put this issue on the agenda as he campaigns for constitutional recognition of indigenous people as well.

KARVELAS: It’s thirteen minutes past six on RN Drive. You’re with Patricia Karvelas, taking you right through to seven thirty. I’m joined for my first political panel of the year by Dr Jim Chalmers, who is the Parliamentary Secretary to Bill Shorten, and Kelly O’Dwyer, who is the Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasurer. We’re having… well you’re actually politely debating…

CHALMERS: Always polite.

KARVELAS: It’s all very civil I’ve got to say. No fisticuffs yet I’m wondering. There’s time still. The PM’s address to the National Press Club is on Monday, Kelly O’Dwyer. What can we expect?

O’DWYER: Well, we can expect that the Prime Minister will outline the vision for the country. The real need to make decisions about our economic future and why that is so important. I certainly know that I’ve had time to reflect over the Christmas period and into the New Year about the fact that I’m going to be becoming a parent for the very first time this year, so as much as I have always thought…

KARVELAS: Kelly O’Dwyer is pregnant – if you don’t know this, Kelly O’Dwyer is pregnant.

CHALMERS: Congratulations Kelly.

KARVELAS: You’re pregnant too, Jim.

CHALMERS: Well, Laura is!

KARVELAS: Your partner is. Babies being made as we speak.

CHALMERS: Hopefully not as we speak!

KARVELAS: Well, you know they’re growing.

O’DWYER: But the point I was trying to make is the need that we have to be very forward-looking and very responsible. The decisions we make today affect the lives of future generations of young Australians. And I think the Prime Minister will very much focus on that. Because to be a responsible government, you’ve got to make decisions today that will impact the future. And our economic prosperity is not guaranteed. Our economic prosperity only comes through having hard work, determination and a commitment to economic reform. Now, the first thing that we need to do is we need to repair the budget bottom line. We need to repair the deficit that was left to us by the previous government. I mean, Wayne Swan had an unenviable record of leaving deficit after deficit, year after year. And he left a trajectory of deficits…

CHALMERS: You might want to mention the Global Financial Crisis at some point Kelly, when you get a chance.

O’DWYER: Well I was still speaking. You will get a go, Jim, you will get a go. A trajectory of deficits of course that would add up to more than 667 billion dollars if no change was made. Now, we’ve committed to economic reform where we’re going to actually be taking over 170 billion dollars off that by the decisions we’ve made. Now we’re being frustrated in the Senate by the Labor Party who are blocking their own economic changes, their own changes that they committed to actually putting through – five billion dollars’ worth – they’re now blocking it because they’re being obstructionist. I think that they’re not thinking about those future generations because debt today is really the taxes of tomorrow. And it will be paid for, but it will be paid for by our children. So if you want to talk about fairness, let’s talk about intergenerational fairness and I think that the Prime Minister in his message to the nation will talk about the achievements that we’ve had to date in stopping the boats, in putting in place the infrastructure that we need to build the roads for the twenty-first century. He will also be talking about the fact that we have been able to implement serious reform. But we need more to do on this front.

KARVELAS: I’ve got some interesting feedback coming through. And I’ve got to say even though we’re talking about all sorts of things, we’re not only talking about the knighthood, they are all about the knighthood. It is dominating political debate – you can’t get any way around it. Sue from Hobart says “I can’t work out whether Tony Abbott is in a time warp or from another planet. His political priorities, judgment and values are becoming more strange and erratic.” Kelly?

O’DWYER: Well, look, each person will have their own views on this, as they will on a lot of other issues…

KARVELAS: Is this the problem though, that increasingly on your side of politics are starting to think it? It’s one thing that people who traditionally do not like the Prime Minister are thinking this, but we’re now seeing Liberal voters thinking this.

O’DWYER: Well as I said to you, Patricia, I’m not going to comment on the commentary. I’m focused on the issues that make a real difference to people’s lives.

KARVELAS: But you were hoping that this year would start off a lot stronger than last year ended. Are you feeling worried so far?

O’DWYER: I do think that it’s unfortunate that for the first twenty minutes of your program we have been talking about this issues and that we’re not actually talking about some of the economic reforms that are so vital and necessary. We’re not talking about the fact that we need to reduce company tax…

CHALMERS: Give Tony a call then Kelly, Tony put it on the agenda.

O’DWYER: … in order to encourage business to be able to employ people that will help grow our economy and help us prosper. I think it is unfortunate that we’re not actually having a discussion about that. I think it’s also unfortunate that we’re not having a discussion about the situation we were left, and how difficult…

KARVELAS: Well let’s move to one issue that is now on the agenda. The Productivity Commission is reviewing employment laws. Some people, particularly the trade union movement are talking about WorkChoices, a campaign has already begun. Jim, isn’t it fair enough that we review all laws. I mean, isn’t it standard practice that the Productivity Commission that gave birth, if you like, to things like the NDIS which I know Labor has obviously strongly supported and began. Why shouldn’t they have a look at the workplace laws?

CHALMERS: I think every Australian worker sees this for what it is, which is an opportunity for Tony Abbott, Eric Abetz and all of the Liberal Party nationally and at a state level, to give the best possible opportunity to revive WorkChoices. They’ve started this process by…

KARVELAS: Okay, I understand that they might do that, potentially – you never know – as a result. But at this stage, where it’s in its infancy, it is a review. Shouldn’t you give it at least an opportunity? This is the eminent economic think tank in this country that you support. It’s got bipartisan support, independent analysts. Don’t they have the right to look at the laws and come up with recommendations that then, of course, political sides can have a debate about?

CHALMERS: Well what they’ve done is they’ve opened up the future of penalty rates, the minimum wage, allowances, work hours – all sorts of issues that are crucial when it comes to the economics of everyday life. The Prime Minister already – you say we shouldn’t pre-empt these kinds of outcomes – the Prime Minister already has come out and said very clearly that he doesn’t support penalty rates. That impacts on a whole range of people, whether they work on the weekend, whether they work shifts overnight as my Mum did for many decades. So by the Prime Minister of this nation saying that he doesn’t support penalty rates, that pre-empts an outcome of this review. And what it shows us is that this is just an exercise to get to a pre-determined outcome which is to recommend a return of WorkChoices or something like it. It’s one of the processes that they have put in place with a diabolical end point. The other one is all the noise that has been made over Christmas about a higher GST applied to more goods and services. These are the two processes that the Government has put in place and the endpoint won’t be happy news for ordinary working people in middle Australia.

KARVELAS: You’re on RN Drive and I’m joined by Labor’s Dr Jim Chalmers, Bill Shorten’s Parliamentary Secretary, and Kelly O’Dwyer, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasurer. Kelly, right of reply?

O’DWYER: Well, look, this is typical of Labor. We hear the scare campaign being mounted yet again. The Labor Party is not interested in actually looking at the facts. They think nothing should change. Mind you, that’s Jim’s view, that might the view of some of his colleagues. It’s not the view of all of his colleagues, I might say. Andrew Leigh, who is the Shadow Assistant Treasurer, and Brendan O’Connor have both actually come out to say it’s fair enough to be able to actually review the laws as they stand. And the Government has made a very clear commitment to say that this is an independent report, we will look at what the report finds. We will then consider what recommendations we will accept or reject and we will then take that to the 2016 Federal Election for the people to decide.

KARVELAS: Okay, I want to take you back to something you raised earlier and I pressed pause on you – I want to press un-pause Kelly. I want to go back to childcare. Are we going to see this family Paid Parental Leave policy going to turn into one big whizz bang announcement in the budget?

O’DWYER: Well, obviously I can’t predict to you…

KARVELAS: Well you’re the Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasurer, you must have a hunch.

O’DWYER: I can’t predict to you what will be in the Budget, but certainly when you go out and talk to people about the issues that have a real impact on their lives, you hear time and time again that childcare and accessibility and affordability of childcare is one of those areas. We know that it is very difficult often for a second income earner to get back into the workforce if that is what they choose to do because of the accessibility and affordability of childcare as well as the interaction of our tax and transfer system which provides a huge disincentive for that second income earner to return back to work…

KARVELAS: Would you like to start talking about the upcoming budget rather than last year’s budget?

CHALMERS: They still haven’t passed the last one Patricia.

KARVELAS: I know, I’m wondering when you’re going to put to bed that Budget and start from scratch and say we’re now going to start building towards a new one.

O’DWYER: Well we’ve certainly started building towards the Budget, there’s no question about that. But Labor have to acknowledge that they have been very obstructionist in the Senate. Budget reforms, most of which have been able to be delivered, but some of which are actually sitting in the Senate at the moment, are being obstructed by the Labor Party for purely political ends. The Labor Party created, of course, the budget problem that we now face as a nation. And they have not been up front with the Australian people in saying we created the problem and we’re now prepared to actually put our shoulder to the wheel with the Government in helping to actually solve this issue…

KARVELAS: And Jim Chalmers on your side, are you willing to support a beefed up Paid Parental Leave Scheme?

CHALMERS: Look, we’ve got a Paid Parental Leave scheme…

KARVELAS: … One that includes superannuation, one of the main critical points that was not included in Labor’s scheme?

CHALMERS: Look, I think we’ve got a proud record when it comes to Paid Parental Leave. We introduced the first ever scheme in Australia which was long overdue. The point that Kelly makes about childcare – or the various points that she makes – the problem with them is that the Government has taken a billion dollars out of childcare. My electorate of Rankin just south of Brisbane is the one most adversely effected in Queensland when it comes to their changes to the Child Care Benefit, for example. So we would have preferred that they didn’t slug families in the childcare system. That’s their starting point. They’ve now got this process in place and Scott Morrison is supposed to be the saviour of childcare – god help us. So I think people would be very wary whenever Kelly or any of her colleagues talk about childcare. They know the attacks that have been made on the childcare system in the first year of the Government. They also know that at the same time as they took a billion dollars out of childcare, they gave a 1.1 billion dollar tax break to the biggest companies, the biggest multinational companies in our tax system. So I think a lot of what Kelly says sounds nice, but at the end of the day we should look at their record, not at what they say.

KARVELAS: Well, I think it will be very interesting to see how this all lands. Thank you so much to both of you for coming on my first program on RN Drive. Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasurer, Kelly O’Dwyer, and Labor’s Jim Chalmers

CHALMERS: Thanks Patricia.