SUBJECT/S: Abbott Government dysfunction; Tony Abbott’s Royal Commission




KIERAN GILBERT: With me now, Liberal frontbencher Simon Birmingham and Labor frontbencher Michelle Rowland. Senator Birmingham, first to you on the future of Joe Hockey. Is it safe?

SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well absolutely Kieran and I completely reject every single aspect of these stories in the Fairfax media today. Joe Hockey is a treasurer who is bringing the Budget back towards surplus, who has done a significant amount to manage to rein in Labor’s debt and deficit by a significant degree. He is a treasurer who is leading an economy with some of the strongest jobs growth in the developed world. More than 23,000 jobs per month being created this year alone. We’re seeing good strong reform to the way government works and to get efficiencies and the reduction of red tape across government. This is a government overall which I think has managed to deliver firstly a budget focused on budget restoration, secondly a budget focused on lifting business confidence and these are elements on which we will continue to build and Joe is of course leading an agenda in terms of the development of the tax reform white paper that will set the government and the country up -

GILBERT: So under no circumstances would Joe Hockey be dumped do you think, in your view would Tony Abbott consider this?

BIRMINGHAM: Joe Hockey has done a brilliant job on budget restoration, on job creation, and on developing policies that will take the Government right through the next election and beyond.

GILBERT: So under no circumstances the PM would consider dumping him?

BIRMINGHAM: As I said, I reject every aspect of the story, that one included. Joe Hockey as an integral leader in the Government has done such a great job on budget restoration, on job creation, on setting the Government up with a policy framework that will take us through to the next election and beyond.

GILBERT: Okay, let’s look at a couple of other issues. Bill Shorten, Michelle Rowland, is being the target today for $5000 allegedly obtained from a slush fund which was set up to circumvent Labor party rules. Not a good look.

MICHELLE ROWLAND, SHADOW MINISTER FOR CITIZENSHIP AND MULTICULTURALISM, SHADOW ASSISTANT MINISTER FOR COMMUNICATIONS: Kieran, as far as I’m aware, all of these matters and all of this funding was properly disclosed by the ALP National Secretariat and any other bodies in the appropriate way. I agree with Richard Marles, it comes as quite a coincidence that this is being brought forward, bearing in mind that this story was some months old. This is being brought forward on the day when Dyson Heydon is handing down his findings into himself. I find this to be a bizarre coincidence and I don’t think that this should detract in any way from the importance of what we are going to hear from Dyson Heydon this afternoon. An $80 million Royal Commission which we said from the start was Tony Abbott’s Royal Commission.

GILBERT: Senator Birmingham, your expectation ahead of Dyson Heydon’s statement this afternoon? Will he stay or will he go?

Dyson Heydon is a man of integrity, he has served the nation as a judicial officer for a very long time. Initially being appointed by a Labor government to the bench. I am sure he will deliver a ruling that is just as based in sound legal foundation and just as full of integrity as every other action in Dyson Heydon’s long and distinguished career. Frankly I find the continued hyperventilation of the Labor party when we’ve seen previous senior judges speak at Labor party fundraisers in the past without a peep of concern to be really quite hypocritical on their part. What we see today with the Bill Shorten story is another deeply concerning allegation about the way work money, superannuation money, is potentially used by the trade union movement and it’s another example of why it’s important that we actually have this type of robust inquiry that can put the trade union movement on a sound footing for the future, as Martin Ferguson has rightly acknowledged, a former Cabinet minister in multiple Labor governments. This royal commission can actually do the trade union movement and the Labor party a favour by wiping out these areas of corruption, by setting them up better for the future. They should be welcoming this, rather than denigrating this enquiry and trying to sidestep matters like Bill Shorten’s use of funding on multiple occasions.

GILBERT: Well it’s hardly sidestepping though, if he’s already fronted the commission and answered questions subsequent to the interim report from the royal commission including this particular claim.

BIRMINGHAM: But Kieran, let’s have a look at the first instance of public funding from Bill Shorten was funding to fund his election to the parliament which he did not properly disclose and he only disclosed just prior to going to the witness box some years later. Now we have this other allegations related to how he secured the leadership but all of it of course is far bigger than Bill Shorten and indeed the Labor Party. We need to look at what is happening in the union movement, it’s impact on productivity, how these types of slush funds are using workers money. This is valuable work the royal commission is doing and if the Labor party were serious about helping to clean up the act they’d be supporting the establishment of the registered organisations commission.

GILBERT: Michelle Rowland, the thing is for Labor now, beyond this Dyson Heydon issue is to make, well – if you overstep the mark in terms of defending the allegations of wrongdoing here it’s going to reflect badly on your side of politics, on the Opposition Leader if he’s going to be seen to be some sort of a human shield for corrupt and thuggish union leaders.

ROWLAND: I reject that, Kieran, and the reality is that Labor has said all along if there are allegations that need to be investigated they should be referred to the police, or any other regulator, or any other appropriate authority. There is no room for corruption or any other criminal activity by employers or employees or trade unions. We have said that from the outset. But I would be very careful if I was Senator Birmingham and the Liberals talk about slush funds. Have a look at what is going on in Victoria at the moment in the Liberal Party,  have a look at some of the allegations that came out a couple of weeks ago about bootlegging in the Southern Highlands in the Liberal Party’s own New South Wales branch. Australians want to be focused on the things that matter to them and if Senator Birmingham and others think this is the way they’re going to win the hearts and minds of Australians then they are sadly mistaken, because even as you saw from Senator Birmingham’s first answer, this is a Government that is absolutely paralysed, parroting the same old lines about anti-union rhetoric.

GILBERT: Senator Birmingham, your thoughts? Only about 30 seconds left.

BIRMINGHAM:  If Labor want to have a clean workplace environment they should support establishing the registered organisations commission so unions and union directors face the same scrutiny as company directors. Support re-establishing the building and construction commission so we can actually ensure that projects on the ground can be delivered on time. Now let’s see some genuineness from the Labor party in supporting reforms that can actually lift productivity and deal with these issues rather than rejecting them and criticising this royal commission.

GILBERT: Senator Birmingham and Labor frontbencher Michelle Rowland, thanks very much for that.