SKY News AM Agenda (6)

03 December 2015


SUBJECT/S: Mal Brough; National Accounts; GST

KIERAN GILBERT: In the meantime, let's go back to our discussion of domestic politics, and with me, we have Liberal Senator Zed Seselja and Labor frontbencher Jim Chalmers. Gentlemen, good morning to you. Zed Seselja - can Mal Brough - can he survive as Special Minister of State in the longer term?

ZED SESELJA: Well, of course he can. Obviously, there's a bit to play out. There's an investigation to take place, so I think it's important that we let those sort of things take their course.

GILBERT: Should he stand aside in the mean-time, just to give some breathing space to the Government and its message - particularly, the question I ask you is in the context of the innovation statement out Monday - does Malcolm Turnbull really want to be discussing Mal Brough when he's trying to set up his big set-piece to finish the year on innovation? He wants this dealt with, surely.

SESELJA: Well, I guess you don't make those kind of decisions based on the convenience of a particular statement, Kieran. I'd say that. You make it based on the merits, and obviously Malcolm Turnbull will make decisions and Mal Brough will make decisions based on the merits.

GILBERT: Alright, Jim Chalmers, your take on this. The one point that I would make when I ask you this is about Slipper. Labor is talking about judgement, but it was Labor who put Slipper as Speaker in the first place.

JIM CHALMERS, SHADOW MINISTER FOR FINANCIAL SERVICES AND SUPERANNUATION: Look Mal Brough should have gone already. For me, the decisive moment was when he was asked the same, identical question in the Parliament that he was asked on 60 Minutes. He gave a yes to one question and a no to the other question, even though the wording was identical. He should have gone already. It does go to Malcolm Turnbull's judgement, but not just in the sense that he's clinging on to him. But also the fact that he put him in charge of integrity in the Parliament in the first place, which are two big strikes against Malcolm Turnbull's judgement. And I think even if Mal Brough does hit the fence - whether it's today or tomorrow or next week or whatever - it won't hide the fact that Malcolm Turnbull thought he was the best person to be the guardian of parliamentary integrity, and that really is a problem for Malcolm Turnbull.

GILBERT: Alright, well I'll ask Zed about that in a moment. But is Labor's attack diminished by the fact that at the very core of this, at the start of this, was Labor's appointment of Slipper in the first place, if you're talking about judgement?

CHALMERS: I don't think you can objectively or realistically blame Labor for this absolute mess that Malcolm Turnbull has created. Putting Mal Brough in charge of parliamentary integrity and parliamentary standards was not Labor's doing. That was Malcolm Turnbull's decision. He did that after the 60 Minutes show aired. If you think about Malcolm Turnbull, everyone thinks that the defining feature of Malcolm Turnbull is that he's out of touch and that's true enough - you see that with the GST which will make everything more expensive. But the other thing is his judgement - and not just in this case. Don't forget he staked his leadership last time on a doctored email by Godwin Grech. This is a guy who staked his leadership on a doctored email. He was one of two central characters in one of the least honourable, most disgraceful periods since I've been around this building.

GILBERT: A doctored email of which he wasn't aware, but let's - 

CHALMERS: But there's a pattern of behaviour here.

GILBERT: A pattern of behaviour.

CHALMERS: When it comes to judgement.

GILBERT: You say it's a pattern of behaviour, but the thing is this was put together - this frontbench - very quickly after the leadership change.

CHALMERS: You can't make excuses for Malcolm Turnbull.

GILBERT: No I'm not making excuses, I'm just saying it was a mistake - flat out. I agree with you. To make Mal Brough, given the circumstances, the Special Minister of State was a flat out mistake. Why not accept that, move on and say, okay, stand him aside? If you want him on the Ministry, fine, give him something else.

SESELJA: Look Kieran, as I say, these are matters of judgement and I don't see that - at the moment. We've got a police investigation, right. We should allow that to take course. And other judgements about political considerations will be made by people far higher up the chain. But I think it's a bit unfair, and I think it's a bit unfair there from Jim to be harking back to 2009 and all these sorts of things. A lot has changed since then, and I think, frankly, that comparison is a little bit irrelevant.

CHALMERS: Well it goes to his judgement.

SESELJA: Well, I think it's irrelevant to this situation. So, there are claims that are being made - that's all they are at the moment, and I think we should put them into some context. Claims get made against politicians all the time. Many of them prove to be false, and these may well prove to be false.

GILBERT: As much as we're focused on this right now, and to wrap up the parliamentary year, the Government would want to be focussing on something else. You know as well as I do, Jim Chalmers, that most people in your electorate, most people around the country, won't probably even know Mal Brough, let alone the intricacies of this particular issue.

CHALMERS: Mal Brough misled the Parliament. I think one of the consequence of the focus on Mal Brough is that there was another misleading of the Parliament that went unnoticed which people in my community would care very much about, which is when Scott Morrison stood up in Question Time and said that the Liberal Party had not modelled an increase in the GST to 15%. We know from Peter Hartcher's story - and Peter was on just before us - we know that the Government has indeed modelled an increase in the GST to 15% which would make everything in our economy and in our community more expensive. And I think in my local area, people are red-hot about the likelihood of a GST increase from this Government.

SESELJA: Well, we don't know that.

CHALMERS: You've modelled it though.

SESELJA: Well what we know is that there's been reports. I don't think we can judge from the fact that there's a report that it is somehow a fact. But let's talk about the economy, because that is, as you say, that is what people are concerned about. People are concerned about the economy and we are seeing some good signs - in challenging times, there's no doubt there's still some great challenges in the economy, Kieran. But we are seeing some good figures, and I think we should be encouraged by that. I think that hasn't come about accidentally. It's come about through all sorts of important structural changes. You know, we got rid of the carbon tax, we got rid of the mining tax, we've helped stimulate small business. Now there's a number of factors in there, and we're not claiming victory in the great economic challenges. But a 0.9 per cent quarterly growth, we should be very encouraged by. We should be encouraged by the jobs growth that's being created. That's been quite significant, particularly over the past year. So there are some very, very good things happening and I think the average punter would be far more concerned about those issues.

GILBERT: And that was a surprise on the up-side wasn't it, a 0.9 per cent GDP figure for the September Quarter. You'd welcome that?

CHALMERS: Yes. And the headline number was very good. But to pick up on what Zed said about people out in the community. Chris Bowen highlighted a very important fact - in the GDP numbers the other day, there have been six consecutive falls in income per person, which matters greatly to people in your area and people in my area. Six consecutive falls in income per person - that hasn't happened since records were kept in the 1970's. It didn't happen in the eighties recession, it didn't happen in the early nineties recession. So the reason that people get so unhappy about Scott Morrison standing up and saying what a wonderful job he's doing is that people's living standards are actually going backwards. Six consecutive quarters declining income per person - that's what people focus on. That's why the shiny headline figure which we welcome, 0.9 is a good number of itself. But when you lift the bonnet of the Australian economy, there's a lot of issues in there when it comes demand, when it comes to investment and when it comes to people's actual living standards.

GILBERT: The one thing that you both agree on though is that the electorate that voters want, this place, they want you guys - both sides of politics - to be focusing on this issue. And whether it be the tax debate which is going to be front and centre next year or the innovation focus that the Prime Minister is going to be running from, running with from Monday. This is where the debate needs to be. Do you get the sense that voters are fatigued with the sort of navel-gazing, the Parliamentary fight, that we're seeing once again in the process with Brough?

SESELJA: Without a doubt. I mean, they hate that. They want the Government to focus on these things - growing the economy, growing jobs. Just to take issue with one of the things you said there Jim, there's some truth obviously in those figures, but one of the biggest things in terms of living standards of course is whether you've got a job. So we have seen hundreds of thousands of more people getting jobs - that's a good thing-

GILBERT: Sorry, I've got to interrupt you gentlemen. My apologies.