SUBJECT/S: Paris climate conference; Malcolm Turnbull’s plans to increase and broaden the GST; Tony Abbott’s divisive comments on Islam; Australia’s rich multiculturalism 







DAVID LIPSON, HOST: Joining me here at the desk is the Shadow Minister for Small Business Michelle Rowland, thanks very much for your company.


LIPSON: On climate change and it seems that we are approaching a deal on the Paris talks, would you consider it a success if Australia is signatory to a global deal on climate change, is that a success for the government?

ROWLAND: I think you need to look at two aspects of that David. Firstly, obviously we are hoping for a success. We are hoping for an achievable and realistic target that meets expectations, and I think a two degree limit is one that is achievable. We also need to look at the detail of mechanisms of how we are going to achieve this as a nation with our policies. So we would obviously need to see the detail of whatever is proposed. But I think the two things I would be looking at would be firstly, how is Australia going to achieve those goals? And secondly, as a key figure in the Asia-Pacific region, how are our nearest neighbours in the Pacific in particular going to cope with that? I know the talks have been extended for 24 hours so I hope that is a good sign that agreement is being reached.

LIPSON: Australia has gone to these talks with 26-28% targets, that’s the target the government has in place at the moment. You know Labor would go higher but using a price on carbon now that is still contentious in the Australian community, but I notice there has been support for example from the head of BHP in the last couple of days who suggested that a price on carbon if it was enacted across the world is a pretty good way to go. But without it enacted in other nations how would that work?

ROWLAND: I think there’s a couple of issues here. We have had in Australia for quite some time opposition from the Government to any form of market mechanism. I mean they have ridiculed it for six years or more. They’ve taken to Paris a policy of Direct Action which isn’t linked to a market based mechanism, and I note that Australia has been supportive of a market base and carbon pricing as part of these talks even if it isn’t part of a definitive agreement that we’ve seen yet. The challenge for this Government is whether or not it does pursue markets as a suitable mechanism and Labor has said we always believe in markets on this, but also how they deal with their own party mechanisms, they’ve still got people who don’t support market-based mechanism in this area. Some of them still don’t support the concept of doing any action on climate change. So that will be the real challenge for the Government.

LIPSON: Let’s turn to healthcare. There is something of, well, some have called it a crisis in healthcare going forward that it must be paid for and Jay Weatherill has said if we don't come up with a solution hospitals, not beds, but whole hospitals will close. What is Labor's plan to provide the funding that the health system needs?

ROWLAND: Well, I can totally sympathise with Jay Weatherill on this. This is a guy who has had billions of dollars ripped out of his state and he's having to manage that and come up with some alternative proposals. Labor's put a few policies on the table so far, including cutting back on the high-end superannuation concessions, multinational tax, and we'll be announcing more. We are not a party that supports regressive tax increases like the GST obviously. But I think we need to go back to a first principle here. The starting point for all these problems is the $80 billion cut from health and education for the states in last year's budget.

LIPSON: So Labor would reinstate that $80 billion?

ROWLAND: We would need to have a really good look at how the finances are going but I can tell you…

LIPSON: So that's not a guarantee?

ROWLAND: We're not in charge of the books, David. But we can absolutely guarantee that we have and we've seen this, we opposed those cuts and we know that the Government denied that those cuts even occurred for some time. And let's not forget, Malcolm Turnbull, as a senior member of the Cabinet sat around that table, had ticked off on all these cuts. Now he is at COAG where he's all talk about the need for action but no delivery. He is one of the key people that caused this problem in the first place.

LIPSON: But how would you pay for it? Yes, a few policies that do raise significant revenue are on the table and that's rare for an Opposition but it doesn't go nearly enough in covering all the things you want to cover including the costs of various systems, health, NDIS and the like. Jay Weatherill is the one pushing the GST, and he has said those opposed to the GST including Federal Labor, should consider the impact on families that can't get their healthcare needs met.

ROWLAND: Well I consider the impact on families when we have a regressive tax potentially being broadened to include healthcare. Jay Weatherill is stuck between a rock and a hard place here. His state has been done over by this Government and it looks like it's going to be done over again, and who knows what's going to happen with submarines. You've got to understand the predicament that this guy is in. Malcolm Turnbull was one of the people who caused the problems, Jay Weatherill has to think up solutions for his state. 

LIPSON: Should states be given a cut of federal income tax revenue?

ROWLAND: We would want to see all the details of that and how they intend to spend it, but I can tell you this, it is really something when you have a Prime Minister going to COAG who is all talk, and we have people participating from the states describing it as “shambolic” and people saying they've been involved in more productive dinner parties. Malcolm Turnbull is starting to sound like David Brent from The Office, he had that episode where he had to give a motivational talk and all he did was read from The Little Book of Calm. That is what Malcolm Turnbull is reminding me of at the moment. 

LIPSON: I want to turn to Tony Abbott and some of his comments this week, about Islam in particular. They're pretty controversial and he's been criticised for them but isn't this exactly the same difficult type debate we need to have at this time?

ROWLAND: I'm happy to have the debate but this is the point: Tony Abbott has said, and has expressed, and continues to hold views that are the complete antithesis of what our law enforcement agencies, security experts and what our social experts are saying we need to convey to the Australian people. I think it is really telling that he wants to portray this 'us and them' view of Australia when Australian Muslims are people who are contributing to our society, who find the whole notion of Daesh absolutely abhorrent. Again I see Malcolm Turnbull talking about it never being a better time to be alive in Australia, well according to the latest Human Rights Commission report, not if you're an Australian Muslim. I think that Tony Abbott's calls for a reformation in Islam should be seen, I prefer to see them in a more productive light. If you want to talk about having reform of our society, have a look at the ways in which citizenship has made Australia better, have a look at the ways in which Muslims have said we pledge our allegiance to Australia, we will raise our children here, we will get jobs and we will contribute to society. We have Australian Muslims that are captains of industry, who are leaders in sport. I've spent most of this week at school presentations and I see young Australian Muslims contributing to their schools, their parents contributing to their communities. So I hold great optimism and I think what Tony Abbott has been trying to do, for whatever point scoring he wants to get up on Malcolm Turnbull, whatever relevance he is trying to seek here, it is the complete antithesis of an optimistic, strong Australia. 

LIPSON: Michelle Rowland, thanks for your time.

ROWLAND: A pleasure.