SKY News AM Agenda (2)

11 February 2016


SUBJECT/S: Stuart Robert and ministerial standards; Andrew Robb’s Retirement; Negative Gearing and Tax Reform

GILBERT: With me to discuss the issues of the day now, Jim Chalmers. Jim - that's a fair enough response in relation to Turnbull's approach isn't it - that he's said to Martin Parkinson: okay you look at it and I'll respond accordingly?

JIM CHALMERS, SHADOW MINISTER FOR FINANCIAL SERVICES AND SUPERANNUATION: I think any outcome that doesn't see Stuart Robert sacked today is a complete farce. Malcolm Turnbull can hide behind a bureaucratic process all he likes, this is fundamentally about his judgement and his leadership. No objective person who looks at this case - a minister using his public office for private gain on behalf of a donor who gave $2 million to the Liberal Party and a donor who runs companies where the Minister has shares in those companies... It's black and white, it's a breach of the ministerial standards. If Malcolm Turnbull hangs on to Stuart Robert today, that will be a real black mark against him.

GILBERT: But if he received approval by the then Prime Minister and I'm told - a Government source has said to me this morning - that if he's had full approval from the Prime Minister of the day, it's the Prime Minister of the day who assesses and administers the ministerial code.

CHALMERS: Well that's a pretty outrageous and outstanding example of buck-passing. You know, you think about it: Malcolm Turnbull wanted to be the Prime Minister, he rolled Tony Abbott to get that privilege and that opportunity. He is responsible, the Prime Minister of the day is responsible, for enforcing the ministerial standards. They are there in black and white. They say you can't use a public office for private gain. I can't remember in the whole time I've been knocking around this building a more egregious breach of the ministerial standards than this one. If Malcolm Turnbull tries to hide behind Tony Abbott and a bureaucratic process, that's a total farce and it will be a real black mark against him.

GILBERT: But you know Martin Parkinson well - a respected public servant, one of the best in Canberra. Why not have him look at it, like Turnbull has done? Isn't that the right approach?

CHALMERS: This isn't about Parkinson. This is about Turnbull and Robert.

GILBERT: At least look at all the details rather than rush to judgement, like he's doing now.

CHALMERS: I think a commentator like yourself and anyone in this building knows what's going on here and they're trying to limp on to the end of a parliamentary sitting week. It's the sort of cynical politics that Malcolm Turnbull said he wasn't in to when he was trying to drag Tony Abbott down. This is fundamentally a question of leadership and judgement for the Prime Minister of the day. This is in Malcolm Turnbull's in-tray; he needs to decide on it. If at the end of the day, Stuart Robert is still a Minister, that will be a complete farce. There hasn't been a more egregious breach of the ministerial standards in a long time.

GILBERT: There's a photograph on the front of the Herald Sun and the Courier Mail, a few other papers - a dinner that was hosted by Stuart Robert, attended by the then Prime Minister, other Ministers. But that was in Opposition, hosting a Chinese businessman. Is there anything wrong with what you've seen there? That's what politicians do, isn't it?

CHALMERS: I think the real issue with that photo was who provided it to the media? As you know, behind the scenes in the Liberal Party in this building, there's a civil war going on between supporters of Tony Abbott and supporters of Malcolm Turnbull. There are other barneys going on between the Nats and the Libs and within the Nats and all of that sort of thing. But the fact that the photograph has surfaced does really make you question the unity and the stability of the Turnbull Government. It's very clear that people are dropping out photos and information to damage Stuart Robert and to damage Malcolm Turnbull.

GILBERT: Andrew Robb says there's a lot of unity, that you're going to have disagreements from time to time, but there's a lot of unity in this Government. As he departs, do you give him some credit for what he's achieved as Trade Minister? He's secured three big trade agreements, then the TPP. He might do India and Singapore this year. So that's quite a record.

CHALMERS: I think if you were looking for a word to describe the Turnbull Government, you wouldn't use unity, you'd use chaos. That's the first point. When it comes to Andrew Robb, I mean, it's a difficult situation for us because you try not to - as somebody departs the stage - you try not to dance on their grave too much or anything like that. I find it very hard to believe that a lot of these agreements wouldn't have been signed were it not for Andrew Robb. I don't think he's a particularly forceful advocate in the Government. By comparison with some of the other ministers he has looked good at times...

GILBERT: But he got them across the line, didn't he?

CHALMERS: … But a number of ministers on either side could have got these agreements over the line. I think this commentary that has emerged that it's all down to Andrew Robb's brilliance is probably a bit of a stretch. But having said that, he has been a minister for some time. I don't have anything personally against him. I wish him well.

GILBERT: But in terms of the negotiations, if you look at China, they were going for a long time under Labor. He got them done.

CHALMERS: I don't accept that another minister couldn't have got it done. I don't want to dwell too much on this, I don't want to get into Andrew as he's just said he's retiring. And particularly, he's had some very substantial personal challenges to overcome and we applaud that effort, of course, as well. But I don't accept this argument that somehow Andrew Robb was some kind of superhero in these negotiations. I think ministers on either side could have concluded them. I think it's good that they're concluded.

GILBERT: Well he's staying on as Trade Minister until the election, it looks like, to secure the India deal and the Singapore deal. He's certainly seen as a hero within Liberal ranks. Let's look at tax, though, because there looks like there's some areas of agreements now. The Government's looking at some of the issues around negative gearing if there are people - wealthy individuals - exploiting this area, and you've also got the superannuation area where the Government again is looking. So despite all the hot air at the moment, there could be quite a lot of agreement in terms of common ground on tax.

CHALMERS: Well, first and most fundamentally, the Government still can't tell us whether the GST of 15% is on the table or whether it's fallen off the table. That's the fundamental thing that the Government needs to clear up. They've been on both sides of that argument. They've said they wouldn't rule it in or out, then they ruled it in and out in the space of a few weeks. So we need that clarity first of all. Scott Morrison has been humiliated by the way that Malcolm Turnbull has managed this debate. Scott Morrison is desperate to jack up the GST. In the absence of that, he'd have to look for other ways to fund some of these other expectations they have raised on the Government side. Morrison over the last year has been on both sides of the negative gearing conversation…

GILBERT: What's your view though? Because you haven't been - you've said you're going to look at it, but still no detail.

CHALMERS: Well we've said for some time - Chris Bowen, Bill Shorten and others have said that it should be under consideration. My personal view is that when you've got a Budget which is in as bad a nick as it is now, the deterioration in debt and deficit since the Liberals took office has been extraordinary under Hockey and Morrison. When you've got a situation like that, I think you're mad not to look at things like negative gearing. That's my personal view - that there are opportunities there to help repair the bottom line. And the interesting thing about all of this, Kieran, is that while the Government dithers and while the Ministry self-destructs and they can't tell us where they are on tax and all the rest of it, we've already got all of these detailed plans out on superannuation …

GILBERT: But not on negative gearing. And on that issue of negative gearing, isn't it risky given the property market has been such an underpinning strength of our economy as we transition from the mining boom?

CHALMERS: I think it depends how you go about it. There is a range of different options that people have canvassed, you know, over the last few months about how you might go about it.

GILBERT: Like just targeting new homes for example?

CHALMERS: There is a whole bunch of different examples like that. There are other examples in the paper today as the speculation goes on about whether Scott Morrison is interested or not. All I'm saying is that my personal view is when the Budget is as bad as it is under Scott Morrison, I think you've got a responsibility to look at things like negative gearing.

GILBERT: Jim Chalmers, thanks for your time.