SUBJECTS: Coalition’s beleaguered ‘Big Stick’ energy policy; Labor’s plans to help small business; Medivac legislation; Ipsos poll; Labor’s housing affordability reforms.
LAURA JAYES: Joining us now is the Shadow Communications Minister Michelle Rowland, here in the studio with us. We heard Angus Taylor there - they want you to support their 'big stick' legislation. Are you on the side of energy companies, big energy companies, as he accuses you or not?
MICHELLE ROWLAND MP, SHADOW MINISTER FOR COMMUNICATIONS: Well he talked a big game about the ‘big stick’ for a long time and now it’s apparently all Labor's fault. These people don't know Arthur from Martha. We've had Bridget McKenzie saying one thing about the legislation, Mathias Cormann saying another thing, this bloke saying it's all up to Labor. We've made it very clear: this policy is friendless because it will actually increase prices. We're getting that from consumer groups, from industry groups, from generators, so you've got to ask yourself: what do these people actually stand for now that they've ditched, what is it, their 11th energy policy?
KIERAN GILBERT: Yeah, but divestiture powers is something that we see in the United States. It operates there quite, you know, smoothly in a capitalist society. Why don't we have that in terms of the energy companies? What else have you got to force them to heed the Government's demands here?
ROWLAND: Well, you're right that some countries do have divestment powers, but let's be very clear. This is probably the most extreme end of the spectrum. It's when you've exhausted everything that regulators can do, basically everything that governments can do, other than putting something in legislation to go directly to the private movement of capital essentially, and that coming from Angus Taylor. I don't know whether he's an agrarian socialist anymore or what he stands for. But let's remember this too, Harper, who conducted the review of competition laws for this
Government, has come out and slammed it. What - are they saying Harper's wrong now?
GILBERT: So you won’t back it? No way?
ROWLAND: We've said it's a friendless, bad policy.
JAYES: Looking at the agenda in the Parliament at the moment it seems that the government has lost control. Looks like they'll be brought to the table on a disability Royal Commission, but also on small business and giving greater powers to small business in terms of them being able to use more legal protections. So are you going to bring that forward this week?
ROWLAND: Well we'll see whether that comes on, but that is due to come into the House and this is actually a policy that I'm very close to, having announced it in 2016, which we called the 'Access the Justice' proposal. And essentially what this is is enabling small business to get protections from adverse cost orders so they can bring cases in the competition sphere. Sometimes these can cost tens of thousands of dollars and small businesses simply don't have the deep pockets to be able to do that. These are David and Goliath battles in many cases. But we brought this forward as a policy in 2016 because we thought it was important to have a body of law developed in this area and we would welcome this coming on. We note that it seems to have support from the National Party as well, and it is good policy that should be supported.
GILBERT: And in relation to the big political divide on the asylum seeker matters, do you accept fundamentally that Labor's position, the Government says, has weakened our border protection regime? Do you concede it has softened it to some extent, and if not, why?
ROWLAND: I don't concede that at all. We are in lockstep with the Government on the fundamentals of offshore processing, of boat turnbacks. Unlike the Government, we would advance more third country resettlement for these people. But this is the line that the Government has been pushing and has been pushing very loudly and one that they will continue to prosecute, irrespective of whether or not the medivac amendments went through. We always factored this in. We always anticipated that this Government, no matter what Labor did, would run these lines. They're running on the politics of fear and expect that to continue until May.
JAYES: You say you've factored this in. Did you factor in a poll slump, it would seem, in Ipsos? It's only one poll, but is this worrying?
ROWLAND: I'm not surprised. I'm not surprised that given the Government's hysteria running around talking about spivs and paedophiles and rapists coming to Australia, despite the fact that Malcolm Turnbull expressly said 'we know everything about these people'. Now, are they saying that Malcolm Turnbull lied to the leader of the free world?
But I am not surprised that given the amount of fear that has been stoked, certainly you saw that in Scott Morrison's speech on Monday. But I'll tell you this Laura: you don't need to scare people. They're already scared. I go around my electorate and people are scared about: are they going to keep their jobs, are they going to be able to ensure that their children have jobs of the future, are they going to be able to get to work on time because the roads are so congested, we have such a bad infrastructure deficit in Western Sydney. They're already scared. They're scared about high electricity prices and I've got to say, if this Government thinks the politics of fear will work for them, be my guest.
GILBERT: And does Labor need to, just finally we're almost out of time, but in terms of the discipline you've shown to this point, the commitment to some reforms not popular in some cohorts but do you need to stick to that and be disciplined behind that right now? Because obviously this could spook some people.
ROWLAND: We have been a very disciplined team under Bill Shorten and Tanya Plibersek, unlike this rabble that's onto their third Prime Minister. But you know, I will just end on this point: if they think the politics of fear will work, I just look to the last time that happened and that was in Victoria.
JAYES: Just on house prices, this is certainly an issue in your electorate and Greater Western Sydney, Sydney and Melbourne. At what point will Labor maybe take stock and have a look at your bold agenda when it comes to negative gearing and maybe tweak it? Is there any chance of that happening in the context of falling house prices in Sydney and Melbourne?
ROWLAND: Well look, we considered all of this as part of the policy and part of the essential motivators here was people have been locked out of the housing market and that is happening even with people who have two jobs, who are working hard, and this is what this policy is aimed to address.
GILBERT: Okay Michelle Rowland, thanks so much. Appreciate it.