Sky News Karvelas (2)

10 December 2017




SUBJECT/S: Australia-China relations; Sam Dastyari; citizenship; Turnbull Government’s harmful and divisive postal survey; marriage equality


PATRICIA KARVELAS: Jim Chalmers, welcome to the program.




KARVELAS: Do you support the Prime Minister's tough talk on China? The Prime Minister has declared China has interfered in Australian politics and that's a day after Beijing criticised the PM for merely just suggesting that was the case during a speech in Parliament. Is he right to take such a strong stand?


CHALMERS: I think every country including Australia is entitled to safeguard their sovereignty. They're entitled to make the best kind of arrangements they can to make sure that their democracy is unhindered with. I think that's what the Prime Minister was attempting to do. I think there was a lot of the usual sort of breathless hyperbole from the Prime Minister and a lot of political opportunism. But I think fundamentally Australia does have a right to safeguard its sovereignty, and that's what the updated national security arrangements should be all about.


KARVELAS: So given the criticism we are now getting from Beijing - I think at least three times now we've had pretty significant criticism of this new policy that's been announced and the legislation that the Government wants to push and the implications of that and the language around foreign interference – do you think Australia should be putting its foot down on this? Is there bipartisan support on this?


CHALMERS: I think China's statements are a matter for China. Our job is to play a constructive role in coming up with the most effective national security arrangements. I think we've had good form on that for some years now, working with the Government on the proper legislation, improving it and strengthening it where we can, getting the briefings from the Government and playing that role in the Parliament. I think that's the way that we should be approaching this update to our national security arrangements as well.


KARVELAS: Immigration Minister Peter Dutton was on Sky this morning and says that Bill Shorten still has significant questions to answer about what he told Sam Dastyari before the New South Wales Senator allegedly gave counter surveillance advice to Huang Xiangmo. Isn't that right? I mean, I hear from Labor people consistently, you know, Sam Dastyari didn't have this information anyway so it doesn't matter. Well, actually he clearly had obtained something from someone. There are other questions that haven't been answered. Isn't it now time for Labor to front up and provide a really full statement about why Sam Dastyari felt he should be saying this?


CHALMERS: Patricia, a few things about this. Firstly on Peter Dutton: Peter Dutton is notorious for sniffing out political opportunities in these sorts of things and not trying to get to the right set of national security arrangements. That's what's so troubling about the promotion that he's about to receive. I don't think he has the temperament or judgement for that kind of job. He is notorious; he is a repeat offender when it comes to this breathless and overblown rhetoric and hyperbole. On the substance of your question, Sam Dastyari has given, twice now, detailed accounts to the Australian Senate, which is the appropriate thing to do. He has said repeatedly, as has Bill Shorten and others, that he badly misjudged and badly mishandled this whole episode. But at the end of the day, nobody's policy was changed. Labor's policy is entirely unchanged. No national security breaches have occurred. And what we've seen is Bill take decisive action against Sam and sack him from the roles that he had in the Labor Party in the Senate. What we've got now, whether it's Peter Dutton or Malcolm Turnbull or others, is that they want to continue talking about this because they don't want to have to defend things like cuts to penalty rates, or tax cuts for the top end of town.


KARVELAS: Well aren't they talking about it because there are still questions around what Sam Dastyari did? How can Labor still stand by him? His position seems untenable. We know that one person has told the Sydney Morning Herald it's untenable. Do you think he deserves to stay in Parliament as long as he likes?


CHALMERS: I think Sam has given an account of this episode in the Senate. He's actually done it twice now, and Bill Shorten's been asked on an almost daily basis. I think that the facts are on the table, and Sam has said that he misjudged and mishandled the episode. I think in being demoted decisively by Bill Shorten that he has paid a penalty for that misjudgement and that mishandling.


KARVELAS: Do you think he can every come back?


CHALMERS: Time will tell. He has a lot of work to do to restore credibility. It is a big deal to go back to the end of the queue in a Labor Party operation which is as talented as ours is. So he has a lot of work to do to restore that trust, to restore that credibility.


KARVELAS: You think he can restore that trust?


CHALMERS: I beg your pardon, PK?


KARVELAS: You think he can restore that trust?


CHALMERS: I think time will tell. I think he will put all of his effort into restoring that trust and credibility. Time will tell whether he will be able to. I think he is someone who cares very much for this country and has a contribution to make to it. How long it takes him to get back into people's favour is really not in my hands.


KARVELAS: All right, on citizenship, if Katy Gallagher is found ineligible, will the other Labor MPs who are in a similar position also quit? This is also after the High Court rules.


CHALMERS: I'm not real keen to get into the hypotheticals of the High Court. We saw what happened when the Prime Minister stood up in Parliament and made a statement which turned out to be completely wrong about Barnaby Joyce. It's a matter for the court now because the Senate did the right thing and worked in a bipartisan way to refer Katy, who was sick of the distractions. We're confident that she took reasonable steps to renounce her dual citizenship, but that's up to the courts now.




CHALMERS: The real thing that happened last week, which might have been missed by a lot of people in the euphoria - the important and understandable euphoria about marriage equality - is that in the House of Representatives - the Prime Minister and the Liberal Party actually voted against working together to refer everybody with a cloud over their head to the High Court. In doing so, they voted to prolong this mess, this debacle, rather than end it. I think that speaks volumes about the Prime Minister's approach. We've referred Katy, we've referred David Feeney - a self-referral in both of those cases. We should've been able to work together towards an end to this process. Instead, the Prime Minister voted to make it go on and on and on well past Christmas.


KARVELAS: We know the names that you had in your list that you wanted to refer, but you didn't. But today Mark Dreyfus has raised Josh Frydenberg again. But he wasn't on your list. Do you think Josh Frydenberg has questions to answer?


CHALMERS: I think the main people with questions to answer were the people on the list. I think someone like Jason Falinski, for example, has some pretty serious questions to answer. And I think one of the consequences of not referring those people, not working together and voting in a bi-partisan way to refer all those people to the High Court is that there will be ongoing questions about him and about others. I'm not really that keen to get into the Frydenberg issue. I know that the family's circumstances are very similar to Mark Dreyfus'. As Mark said in his interview this morning, our priority was the people on the list, and I think the consequence of the Prime Minister running interference on that referral means that we will have many months more of unanswered questions when we could have done the right thing and refer it before the Parliament rose.


KARVELAS: Acting Special Minister of State Mathias Cormann mentioned in a tweet that you had a bit of an argument with him about - I watched this to and fro, I have an exciting life as you know watching ministers and shadow ministers fight with each other online, it's my favourite thing to do - but he says that this postal survey cost $80.5 million and obviously the Government's pleased that it was cheaper than the original proposition. Why did you take issue with that?


CHALMERS: If you follow Twitter as closely as you just said, Patricia, you'll know that I'm a pretty reluctant keyboard warrior. I don't usually relish the opportunity to get into those kinds of barneys on social media. But I thought what Mathias did by tweeting his delight that he saved a few million dollars on a really divisive and hurtful process that a lot of people in the community found very difficult to deal with - it made a lot of people in the gay and lesbian community feel like rubbish - and for him to crow about saving a few million dollars on that, I thought that was deeply insensitive. When I saw it, I couldn't stay silent on it. I'm proud that I raised it. I've had a lot of good feedback about raising it, because we got to a wonderful outcome on Thursday afternoon with marriage equality in this country, but it's long overdue. The process that the Government inflicted on people was deeply unfortunate, deeply hurtful, so I thought it was insensitive for Mathias to crow about the cost coming in a few million dollars under what they expected.


KARVELAS: What should they do with the savings?


CHALMERS: The money goes back onto the Budget bottom line. There's not a lot of money sloshing around in the Budget, which is one of the reasons - though not the key reason - why we opposed the original $122 million that they budgeted for this divisive and unnecessary postal survey. People have come up with all kinds of suggestions about investing it in mental health. No doubt those suggestions will be debated in the weeks and months to come, but in the first instance that money returns to the Budget. I don't think that's the main consideration here. The main consideration that I raised is we got to a great outcome, but the process was far from a good one. A lot of people were hurt by it, and I don't think we should have Coalition ministers like Mathias Cormann crowing about the process.


KARVELAS: Do you think it's the biggest achievement of the Turnbull Government?


CHALMERS: Well, they're pretty thin on the ground, as you know. I wouldn't describe it as an achievement of the Turnbull Government. I think, as I said in my contribution to the Parliament and as Tanya Plibersek said in her contribution, that terrific outcome we got on Thursday night happened despite the Prime Minister, not because of him. We should have got it done in the Parliament without that postal survey. We shouldn't have put people through that kind of judgement that the rest of us are not subject to. So I wouldn't describe it as an achievement of the Turnbull Government. What the Turnbull Government is all about is showering largess on the top end of town at the expense of people who work and struggle. This achievement was really led by the community. It's a consequence of so much hard work and campaigning by so many people over a long period of time, so I wouldn't describe it the way that you have described it.


KARVELAS: Jim Chalmers, thank you so much for your time tonight.

CHALMERS: Thank you, Patricia.