SKY News AM Agenda (8)

30 April 2015


SUBJECT/S: Bali Nine Executions; Budget Outlook; Marriage Equality; Justice Minister’s Ministerial Directive

DAVID LIPSON: Well, we’re joined now by Liberal frontbencher Kelly O’Dwyer and Labor frontbencher Jim Chalmers. Good morning to you both, but Kelly O’Dwyer first of all. Indonesia – it seems certainly the President is unfazed by Australia’s response even though it’s unprecedented for us to withdraw an ambassador in this way. Should the Government have gone harder?

KELLY O’DWYER: Well look I’m not a commentator on how the Indonesian Government reacts on these matters, but I would say this. It is very serious for us to withdraw an ambassador. It is a serious expression of the Australian Government’s very deep, deep disappointment that our pleas to clemency in relation to these two young men were not heeded. As you know, we took all efforts at all levels of Government to try and plead for mercy in relation to the death penalty. We recognise that the crimes committed by these two men were serious. We also recognise that they went through a period of rehabilitation. We believed that there were very strong grounds on which to actually have clemency provided by the President. Our pleas were not heeded. We have withdrawn our ambassador. That is very serious. We do not underestimate the gravity of what we have done. We will have discussions with our ambassador back in Australia once the families have departed Indonesia. We will then take stock and see where we go from there.

LIPSON: Jim Chalmers, the Foreign Minister hasn’t ruled out cutting aid to Indonesia, currently our second-biggest aid recipient. Would that be appropriate?

JIM CHALMERS, SHADOW PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY TO THE LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Look, I’m with Kelly, David, on what she just said about the strong response to the barbaric and appalling act that happened in Indonesia earlier this week. And like a lot of Australians I thought it was heartbreaking to see the families huddled together in their grief and also heartbreaking, as Kelly said, to think that their ten year journey of redemption was cut short by an executioner’s bullet.

All the other matters about our relationship with Indonesia – our very important relationship with Indonesia covering a whole range of areas including aid – I’ll leave that for Tanya Plibersek and others to comment on. But right throughout the process, we have supported the Government in their strong response whether that involves pulling our ambassador out, or any other issues that they want to consider.

LIPSON: We are, or at least there has been, a very big expression of outrage over these deaths – the two Australians put to the firing squad. Jack Waterford in the Canberra Times today makes the point, Kelly O’Dwyer, that we’re only outraged when Australians are involved in death penalty cases. Should we be actually pushing this argument against the death penalty when Australians are not on death row? Would that be more effective?

O’DWYER: Well, I disagree with that statement. Australia has taken a very, very strong stand against the death penalty in many international forums. We have taken stands in the UN and in other international forums that have actually looked at this issue and we have been strongly opposed in all cases. We have pressed the case for the abolition of the death penalty. It’s not true to say that we only engage in this issue when it comes to Australian citizens. We have taken a strong stance on behalf of the nation. Most people in Australia – I don’t speak on behalf of all people in Australia – but most people in Australia abhor the death penalty. We work in conjunction with the Labor Party on this issue. We are completely united in opposing the death penalty. We do believe it’s barbaric and shouldn’t be used, that there are other more effective punishment methods that can be used to deter people from committing serious crime. And we will continue to make that stance at every forum and at every opportunity.

LIPSON: Jim Chalmers, I suppose the point that some people have made is for example in the United States people are put to death every day, and although many Australians are opposed to the death penalty, you don’t hear a whole lot of outcry in relation to that.

CHALMERS: I think Jack Waterford’s point is well made that all of us on all sides of politics who do oppose the death penalty need to think about whether we can do more to make the case against what is a barbaric and appalling act that happens, as you say, right around the world. I think that this case has focused the minds of more Australians on the death penalty. And we certainly want – on the Labor side – we certainly want to work with anyone who wants to step up their efforts and their campaign against the death penalty around the world.

LIPSON: Ok, I want to change topics and look at a story in the Australian Financial Review this morning about Australia’s AAA credit rating. Goldman Sachs the latest to warn that it could be under threat.  Kelly O’Dwyer, how seriously does the Government take those warnings?

O’DWYER: Well, of course the Government takes very seriously any risk to our AAA credit rating. The biggest risk of course of all is that the Labor Party gets back into office and we see further downgrades of our triple A credit rating.

CHALMERS: Take some responsibility, Kelly.

O’DWYER: Well, just let me finish Jim. You’ll have a go. In 1986 and 1989 of course, we saw under the Labor Party downgrading of our triple A credit rating. In fact, it was downgraded on more than one occasion with Standard and Poor’s and Moody’s. It’s very serious when that happens, when there is a downgrading, because it has a flow on impact to our banks which means that they can’t access money at the same rates which then has a flow on impact to businesses and to customers who borrow from those banks. So, let’s not underscore the impact of a downgrading. It is very serious. But we are the only party that’s talking about reducing –

LIPSON: How realistic is it though that that may happen as a result of the political impasse, the weak growth and the commodity collapse which are the three factors that Goldman Sachs points to?

O’DWYER: Well, we are the only party that is actually looking at reducing spending which we need to do in order to get our fiscal situation back under control after the exponential increase in spending over the past six years of the Labor Government. We know that we cannot continue on that trajectory. The Intergenerational Report was very, very clear that if we continued on that path we were going to see net debt-to-GDP ratios of around about 122 per cent. That’s in the realm of Greece. We know that on the current path that we’re on, we have reduced that by more than 50 per cent. Now that’s still not good enough we know there is more to do. But most of those savings that we want to make are being held up in the Senate – thirty billion dollars’ worth – by the Labor Party that simply wants to play a game of obstruction wants to play with the lives of Australians and their futures.  It is a serious issue. It is one that the Labor Party needs to take seriously and we really want them to come on board in a way that is more than simply saying lets increase taxes but let’s also look at ways to reduce spending.

LIPSON: Jim Chalmers, does Labor take responsibility for one of those factors I mentioned - the political impasse - and will it be any more amenable to government’s attempts in the future to deliver savings?

CHALMERS: Well, on the Labor side, we’ve made a very constructive contribution to this conversation about budget repair in the last couple of weeks. We’ve made a very constructive suggestion of a policy that’s been worked up with experts around the concessions in the superannuation system, on top of another well considered policy about the tax paid by multinational companies in Australia. Kelly mentioned before when you asked her about the AAA credit rating, she forgot to mention that for the first time in Australian history, under Labor we had AAA credit rating from all three of the big ratings agencies. That’s a very proud legacy of the Labor Government. It’s also objectively a fact –

O’DWYER: Two of them were restored under the Coalition Government.

CHALMERS: It’s also objectively a fact that the budget situation has gotten worse since the election not better. One of the key promises that Tony Abbott and Joe Hockey made was that they would improve the budget bottom line and it’s gotten worse. So we do take very seriously the warnings about the AAA credit rating. We have made a constructive contribution to this conversation about improving the bottom line. We’ll continue to do so. Because the way that the Government’s gone about it and the reason that their first budget was such an abject failure is because they’ve gone about it the wrong way they’ve asked the most vulnerable people in our community to carry the heaviest load. We think there’s a better way and the Australian people agree with us.

LIPSON: Jim, what are your thoughts on the prospects though of a downgrade, do you think that is likely or possible?

CHALMERS: Well, I rely on the comments that have come from some of the agencies and some of the institutions who have made that commentary. I think we always have to take that sort of warning seriously. We always need to work to ensure that our fiscal policy – our budget bottom line – is as strong as it can be. The Government has one way to go about that which has failed because of its fundamental unfairness; we’ve got a better way to go about it. We’ve made a genuine contribution to the conversation about Australia’s budget and we will continue to do so right up to the election.

LIPSON: Jim, I want to get your thoughts on the Labor Party Conference in a few months’ time and in particular Tanya Plibersek’s push to bind the Labor Party to a vote in favour of same-sex marriage. Is that a good idea?

CHALMERS: Oh look, there will be a range of conversations between now and the conference about that issue. I’m personally a big supporter of marriage equality in this country. I think it’s wrong for a modern, inclusive, forward-looking nation like ours to exclude people from the institution of marriage.  So I’m someone, who is a big campaigner or a big supporter of marriage equality.

I start from the position that we need to give marriage equality the biggest chance of success. That’s how I look at this particular issue. And it remains a fact that the biggest impediment to marriage equality in Australia is the fact that the Liberal Party bind against it, when we know that there are Liberal Party members who support marriage equality –

O’DWYER: You’re dodging that, Jim.

LIPSON: (inaudible)

CHALMERS: I beg your pardon, Lippo? 

LIPSON: Are you saying that the vote in Labor then should be binding?

CHALMERS: I think it’s a conversation that’ll be had between now and the conference. Our current positon of course, is that it’s a matter for individual MPs to determine. When I consider this issue between now and July, I’ll be thinking about the best way for marriage equality to succeed in the Federal Parliament because I think it’s an important change that is long overdue for our brothers and sisters who deserve marriage equality in this country. And I think if we work backwards from what gives it the best chance of success, then we need to factor in the fact that the Liberal Party currently binds against it.

LIPSON: It does put some tension on the Liberal Party, Kelly O’Dwyer, in what I suppose hasn’t happened since Tony Abbott took office. He said that this would be put to the party room after or if he became Prime Minister and we are eighteen months in. Should it be discussed in the party room now?

O’DWYER: Well, look first Jim completely dodged your question there and he didn’t actually state his own personal position.  I think this is going to be a very big test for the Labor Party with their federal conference –

CHALMERS: What’s your position Kelly?

O’DWYER: I’ll come to that in a moment. Whether the left in the Labor Party are going to dictate policy to the many or whether or not there is going to be a conscience vote that people can express their own views on what is substantially a matter of conscience.  My personal view and the view that I have expressed on every occasion is that I believe strongly that we need to have a conscience vote on this issue. I am also a very strong supporter of same sex marriage but I recognise that there are other people with different perspectives on this issue and that those perspectives are deeply held.  Now I think this idea that you ought to bind people to a particular view within either party is quite simply wrong.  And I think that when there is a time for the vote to come before the parliament that everyone ought to be able to express their views and they should be able to do that in a free vote.

LIPSON: Okay we’ve got to take a break but we’ll be back with more in a moment. Stay with us

Commercial break

LIPSON: Thanks for your company here on AM Agenda – returning now to the reaction on the Bali Nine executions. After nine o’clock eastern we are going to be speaking with the Shadow Justice Minister David Feeney who has written a letter to his counterpart in government Michael Keenan in relation to a directive that was introduced in 2010 by Brendan O’Connor in government which specifically required the Australian Federal Police to take account of the Government’s long standing opposition to the application of the death penalty in performing its international liaison functions.  That in the most recent directives from the government has been omitted.  Kelly O’Dwyer and Jim Chalmers are still with me. Kelly O’Dwyer do you know why that has been omitted, was it deliberate and should it be reinstated as David Feeney is asking?

O’DWYER: Well, look I think we are confusing two issues here.  The Ministerial Directive is a very high level document that is supplied from the minister to the department, but there are lots and lots of policies that fall underneath that and there is a very direct policy on how the AFP ought to deal with matters that have to do with the death penalty.  Now that policy has been consistently applied by both the Labor Party and by the Government, it hasn’t changed, we have very clear rules around that and that guides how the AFP need to act in circumstances where people can be exposed to the death penalty in other countries.

LIPSON: Jim Chalmers, what do you make of this and Kelly’s response to that?  Is this something that needs urgent attention by the government?

CHALMERS: Well there has been a change, the direction has been removed by Minister Keenan and we need to know whether the removal of that direction was intentional or an oversight as the letter from David Feeney mentions. Minister Keenan does need to issue a full explanation today to explain why that direction – about working with international partners taking into account our opposition to the death penalty – why that direction has been removed from the document. He needs to do that as a matter of some urgency given the importance of the issue.

LIPSON: Kelly O’Dwyer, just broadly, do you think it’s reasonable that the AFP face questioning over this?  Nick Xenophon plans to put questions to them when they face a parliamentary inquiry soon?

O’DWYER: Well there have been a number of investigations already – two as I understand it into how this issue came about.  I think that it is very disappointing though that the Labor Party are trying to score base political points where there are none to score off the death of two men who have been executed only a day ago.

CHALMERS: That’s an absurd accusation Kelly. We are just looking for an explanation.

O’DWYER: I think it is really base, I think it is really disappointing and I think it is very very clear that the policy on this issue has not changed.  The Labor Party knows that and for them to be trying to put out in the media that there has been a change, as I said, has been disappointing when they have been working hand in glove with us putting pleas of clemency to the Indonesian Government.  Now I understand their political imperative but I think its base and it is really beneath them.

LIPSON: Jim Chalmers.

CHALMERS: The direction has been removed – that’s a fact.  All we are seeking is an explanation as to whether that was a deliberate removal of the direction or an accidental one.  I think it’s outrageous of Kelly to try and blow this up into anything other than what it is – which is one political party seeking an explanation from the government about why that direction was removed.  We make no conclusion about that until Minister Keenan makes an explanation. The sooner he can do that the better, so that the Australian public and the Australian Parliament can make a judgement about the removal of that direction - accidental or oversight - so we can have this conversation with the full information on the table.  But there has been a change, the direction has been removed and that needs to be explained as a matter of urgency.

LIPSON: Alright we’re out of time.  Jim Chalmers, Kelly O’Dwyer great to have your company.