Sky News AM Agenda (35)

14 December 2017




SUBJECT/S: Australia-China relations; foreign donations laws; Sam Dastyari; Bennelong by-election; Commonwealth Bank allegations; MYEFO


KIERAN GILBERT: This is AM Agenda. With me now is Shadow Finance Minister Jim Chalmers. Jim Chalmers, thanks for your time. We've seen reports on the front page of The Australian today that the Ambassador to China, Jan Adams, has been summoned by the Chinese foreign ministry. Are you concerned by that development?


JIM CHALMERS, SHADOW MINISTER FOR FINANCE: I think that's happened as a consequence of the last couple of weeks of debate about our national security arrangements. I think it's actually a welcome thing that we have the opportunity to update our national security laws. Every country has the right to protect their own sovereignty. I think where it become unfortunate is where we have the Prime Minister with this sort of breathless hyperbole which is unnecessary inflammatory. But on the substance of the issue, we have the right to update our national security laws. Labor has actually led the conversation when it comes to things like a foreign interests register, or banning foreign donations. We look forward to playing a constructive role in that updating of the laws.


GILBERT: So you support the overall measures and obviously we've the departure of Sam Dastyari in terms of him recognising his own mistakes and misjudgements here, but you believe the Government has been too provocative, poking the Chinese in the eye for want of a better phrase?


CHALMERS: I think as Penny Wong said yesterday, some of Malcolm Turnbull's rhetoric has been needlessly inflammatory. There's nothing wrong with a country like Australia seeking to do whatever is necessary to protect its sovereignty. We've had some initial briefings, I understand, on the proposals to update our national security laws. The point I'm making is that we always play a constructive role in that. We always try to be bipartisan where we can. Those efforts to update the laws are hindered, rather than helped, by language which strays into language which is unnecessarily inflammatory at times.


GILBERT: Do you think that Labor also need to be cautious, because in Bennelong obviously things are heated ahead of the by-election on Saturday, but some of the language about being China-phobic and so on, that's probably going too far the other way, isn't it?


CHALMERS: I don't know about that, Kieran. Obviously we always need to exercise care when it comes to language about relationships with other countries, but I think the way our campaign has conducted itself in Bennelong has been exemplary. I think Kristina Keneally in particular is such an extraordinarily strong candidate. She's the underdog of course; we start that race something like 10 points behind. It's a very big Liberal margin that we're confronting there. But we're giving ourselves every chance, because the people there care less about the polls and the political commentary and more about Malcolm Turnbull's cuts to health and education; they care about local issues, so we'll know on Saturday how we went.


GILBERT: But Kristina Keneally and others have been critical of the website established by the Coalition and the campaign in this race, saying that it's smearing her or whatever else. But isn't it just about accountability for her previous life as a New South Wales premier?


CHALMERS: As you just said to the person you just had on being interviewed a moment ago, there are some lies on that website. There's a responsibility on the Liberal Party to actually tell the truth about Kristina Keneally, who is a very, very strong candidate. But you can tell that they are very desperate. They're playing dirty. They're in the gutter as they always are, because they are very worried. They know that any swing to Labor in Bennelong in Labor on Saturday is a big problem, because even in that 10 per cent seat, a swing to Labor would represent a big problem in some of the more marginal and more vulnerable seats around the country. I think what worries them most is that Tony Abbott has signalled that no matter what the outcome is in Bennelong on Saturday that he intends to continue that cage match in the Liberal Party over the leadership. He has said that he is prepared to fire another salvo after the Bennelong by-election. What that tells the Australian people is that 2018 in the Liberal Party will be no better than 2017. It will be poisoned by that infighting, that dysfunction and that division which characterised the year just gone. 


GILBERT: You obviously have known Sam Dastyari for a long time. Seeing him, not dissimilar in age to yourself, he's gone. His political career is over. But it's very hard to fathom the misjudgements made though, suggesting to that individual to leave the phone inside and that sort of thing. 


CHALMERS: You're right, Kieran I'm very sad to see Sam go. He is a friend of mine. He will continue to be a friend of mine. He did the wrong thing. He made a big misjudgement. He mishandled this really badly, by his own admission. He's done the right thing now in not returning to the Senate. I think that the political system needs people like Sam to the extent that there's a lot of unfairness and a lot of injustice in our society and Sam did an extraordinary job shining a light on that, whether it be victims of banking scandals, whether it be unfairness in our multinational tax arrangements. Really right across the board Sam was a champion for fairness and for justice, particularly on the economy.


GILBERT: But he never left the role of secretary it seems. He was always trying to be the rainmaker in terms of donations. He couldn't give that up.


CHALMERS: I don't know about that, Kieran. Obviously he made a big mistake and he's paid the price of it, but if you look at the totality of Sam's contribution, he really did shift the conversation on economic justice in this country. We shouldn't forget that. He will get a lot of criticism; he has got a lot of criticism, and some of that is deserved. But let's look at his whole contribution to the country. He loves this country. He loved serving the people of New South Wales in the Senate. He has given that away, but he's done some good things - we shouldn't forget those good things as we talk about the other things he's paid a price for.


GILBERT: One of the things you talk about is the banks, and we've seen AUSTRAC are going to make another submission to the Federal Court today in relation to the Commonwealth Bank, which it says relates to a systems error on the money laundering matters. Do you accept that explanation?


CHALMERS: From day to day to day, there are so many scandals that have come to light over the last few years. These allegations are extraordinarily serious. What troubles me the most is that this sort of behaviour is the sort of behaviour that Malcolm Turnbull spent so long trying to protect from scrutiny. Even now he says a Royal Commission into the banks, and into this kind of behaviour is, in his words, "regrettable". The other thing that is very troubling, which the Australian people would be very worried about, is to know that when Malcolm Turnbull sees these kinds of allegations and this kind of behaviour, his response is that he wants to give the big four banks a tax cut. More than $10 billion of Malcolm Turnbull's $65 billion big business tax cut goes to the big four banks alone. I think it beggars belief really that when Malcolm Turnbull sees this kind of behaviour, he's so out of touch that he thinks the best response is to reward them with a multi-billion dollar tax cut.


GILBERT: We've got the MYEFO out of Monday, and in relation to that the Government pushing ahead with cuts to higher education. But more broadly, it looks like the Budget bottom line is going to be on the improve again and updated on Monday by the Treasurer.


CHALMERS: We've got pretty substantial improvements in the global conditions, Kieran, so the Government really has no excuses for the much bigger deficits than they were planning to have in 2014 compared to now. The deficit for the coming year is 10 times bigger. We've got gross debt the highest it's ever been - more than half-a-trillion dollars. We've got record net debt. So we have improving global conditions, but we have a Budget that's still in a mess really for one reason: because Malcolm Turnbull is so determined to give the biggest tax breaks to the top end of town. That $65 billion big business tax cut, tax cuts for millionaires, refusing to deal with the tax concessions at the top end of the tax system - that's why we have this record and growing debt. I think it says it all about the warped priorities of the Government that they want to attack students and universities rather than ditch that $65 billion tax cut, which would do much more to fix the mess that they've made of the Budget.


GILBERT: Jim Chalmers, appreciate it as always. We'll talk to you soon.