SUBJECT/S: Resignation of Bronwyn Bishop; Blowout of NBN costs; Naval frigates and Tony Abbott’s broken promise on submarines.




SUBJECT/S: Resignation of Bronwyn Bishop; Blowout of NBN costs; Naval frigates and Tony Abbott’s broken promise on submarines.


KIERAN GILBERT: Welcome back to the program. With me now, Labor frontbencher Michelle Rowland. The Speaker has resigned, the PM has issued an undertaking to implement a review. Surely he’s responded in every way possible now to Labor’s demands here?

MICHELLE ROWLAND, SHADOW MINISTER FOR CITIZENSHIP AND MULTICULTURALISM, SHADOW ASSISTANT MINISTER FOR COMMUNICATIONS: The Speaker’s resignation, Kieran, was overdue and unrepentant. The fact that Tony Abbott now seeks to blame the system ignores the reality that this was the Speaker’s own error of judgement in her decisions. Her failure to recognise that and the fact that it grated not only with the Australian people, but with so many of her own colleagues on her side of the Parliament. So we should not lose sight of the fact that this has been brought on as a result of the government’s own actions.

GILBERT: So you don’t think a review is necessary?

ROWLAND: Labor welcomes any constructive review. You’ve pointed out that the Belcher Review that was done a few years ago is one in which the government can look into and take action on if that is appropriate.  I would welcome any form of review into this area in line with community expectations, but it should not be a disguise for the fact that all the investigations and the outcomes into the former Speaker’s use of entitlements should be made absolutely public.

GILBERT: Well that’s fine but she’s now resigned, what more can be done? She’s paying back the expenses relating to the chopper, the weddings, surely enough has been done now for Labor to drop it?

ROWLAND: This isn’t a matter of Labor dropping it. This is a matter of the Government realising that it has had a serious problem with how the Speaker used her entitlements and if the government wants to have an inquiry into the use of that in future then they are welcome to do that. Labor is open to any sensible reforms.

GILBERT: Do you think that in terms of some of these expenses that Labor is now vulnerable to similar attacks because obviously people are digging within the government, there might have been rorting the system on the Labor side.

ROWLAND: And that doesn’t surprise me Kieran, this tit-for-tat is something that I think was certainly expected. Again however, I don’t think that this should detract from the reality that the actions of the Speaker, the fact that it has been around for several weeks now that this has been a government consumed by its own desire to stand by her, to stand by the former Speaker’s own reluctance to give way to public opinion. The fact that we have had all of this working together and we’ve had a government that has been purely focused on this rather than on the economy and on serious challenges I think speaks volumes for the Prime Minister. Bronwyn Bishop was the Prime Minister’s pick. The words of the Prime Minister in relation to previous Speakers of the Parliament, as have the words of Christopher Pyne, in relation to previous Speakers: those words are now coming back to bite them.

GILBERT: Is it rich though for Labor to be making these suggestions that the PM waited too long to act and so on, given how long the former Labor PM Julia Gillard took to respond to the scandals around Peter Slipper and also Craig Thomson?

ROWLAND: We were voted out in 2013 and the reality is that there were a number of factors that contributed to that and I’ll make no bones about it. It was some of these factors that contributed to it, but here we are in 2015, at least we have an Opposition in this case led by Bill Shorten who is prosecuting sensible reforms, reforms that are needed for the future of our country and not looking back to the past as Tony Abbott is doing.

GILBERT: You speak of the tit-for-tat. Isn’t the problem here that the impact is right across the board, that people’s low estimation of politicians is simply hurt even further by scandals like this?

ROWLAND: Kieran, there’s no denying that these types of incidents obviously put in the public's mind an even lower opinion of public office holders. And that is a shame for the institution of Parliament itself. It’s up to all of us individual public office holders to make sure that we always act within the rules but also that we have a system that is transparent and that we all make those individual decisions in accordance not only with the entitlement, but also with community expectation. Often it does come down to individual decisions and obviously those decisions were made by the former Speaker.

GILBERT: So you agree with Malcolm Turnbull in the sense that you can’t regulate for people to exercise judgement?

ROWLAND: I think Malcolm Turnbull makes a valid point there. It does come down to individual decision-making. There is a lot of bureaucracy involved but that is there for a purpose. It’s there because it is public money. It is not my money, it is not Malcolm Turnbull’s money, and we do need to exercise proper judgement when it is used.

GILBERT: Let’s look at some other issues and recruiting workers for the NBN, as well as this commitment in South Australia and Victoria, $20 billion by the Prime Minister, according to Brendan Nicholson in the Australian this morning, to build 9 frigates. Is the Government going to get its message back on track in terms of economic policy on the NBN and the naval shipbuilding, do you welcome those two initiatives?

ROWLAND: Labor always welcomes initiatives that are putting more Australians into work but I think a few things need to be said about this. Firstly, in terms of the NBN. This was a government who was elected on a promise to build the NBN faster and cheaper. They are behind schedule and their costs have blown out. Originally they said it was going to cost $29 billion under them. That’s now blown out to $42 billion. So we wait to see what the next Corporate Plan will reveal in terms of its costs. And in terms of Malcolm Turnbull saying they are rolling out to scale, well they were supposed to be rolling out to scale in June 2014. It’s more than a year later. This is also a government that has broken its key promise to deliver 25 megabits per second to all Australians by the end of next year. That is simply not going to happen. This Government talked a big game when they were in Opposition but they failed to deliver.

GILBERT: Isn’t it mopping up the mess of what was left to them?

ROWLAND:  This is a government that’s been in for two years now. If he thinks that this is going to wash with the Australian public to keep saying that it was someone else’s problem and they’ve only got a few months left until the next election, then I don’t think he’s been listening to the people who are crying out for the real NBN.

GILBERT: And on the frigates, this announcement to be made relating to South Australian and Victorian shipbuilding. It’s obviously much needed but politically pretty popular as well as the competitive evaluation tender process continues to be held in terms of the submarines. At least this is concrete shipbuilding that is going to happen in terms of the shipyards in Adelaide and Victoria.

ROWLAND: We’ll scrutinise the details of this, Kieran, but let’s remember that this again was a problem of this governments own making. By announcing and breaking their promise to build those submarines in Australia, they not said in train a course of action -

GILBERT: They haven’t broken it yet have they?

ROWLAND: I’m talking about the submarines, and this was a government that promised they were going to build them in South Australia, but now we have seen so many jobs being lost as a result of the chaos that it was put into. Hundreds of jobs being lost. So we would welcome any new jobs here but I think we need to remember Kieran, is this a government that is really concerned about the jobs of Australians or just their own jobs, their own MPs in South Australia, Victoria, and those other states where they know they are vulnerable.

GILBERT: But the point I was making is that they haven’t broken it yet because they haven’t announced where the contract will go for the submarines. They could end up still building them here and honouring that commitment.

ROWLAND: One hopes that they would keep to that promise but we haven’t seen anything to indicate that yet. But as I said, we will scrutinise this detail closely because we want to ensure the shipbuilding industry in Australia has a guaranteed future.

GILBERT: Labor frontbencher Michelle Rowland, as always appreciate your time.

ROWLAND: My pleasure.