TRANSCRIPT: CAPITAL HILL WITH LYNDAL CURTIS, ABC NEWS 24
DATE: 15 October 2012
TOPICS: Asylum seekers; industrial relations; PM visit to Afghanistan.
LYNDAL CURTIS: Hello. Welcome to Capital Hill. I'm Lyndal Curtis. Today the Federal Government gave some of its responses to the review of the Fair Work Act - the ones it's accepted recommendations - mainly around tightening up on the laws on unfair dismissal claims. On the same day, Fair Work Australia has commenced civil action in the Federal Court against the former Labor MP now independent Craig Thomson. Both political leaders are overseas, the Prime Minister is traveling to India after a visit to Afghanistan, and the Opposition Leader is in Indonesia holding discussions with the Indonesian President. It comes after a weekend where more than 500 people arrived by boat seeking asylum.
Joining me to discuss these today are Liberal MP Steve Ciobo and Labor Senator David Feeney. Welcome to you both.
STEVE CIOBO: Good afternoon.
DAVID FEENEY: Good afternoon.
LYNDAL CURTIS: David Feeney, it's clear, isn't it, on the issue of asylum seekers that what you have done so far, which has not yet put in place all the recommendations of the expert panel, is not providing a deterrent?
DAVID FEENEY: Well, I think what's clear is that there is a pipeline of people smuggling activity that is bringing people to Indonesia and from Indonesia to Australia. And we've clearly seen that pipeline continue during a period of, I guess, uncertainty and I think it's reasonably clear, and the government has asserted this again and again, that that period of uncertainty was dramatically exacerbated by the failure of the opposition and the government to come to a common position around changes to the legislation in the aftermath of that High Court decision that created so much uncertainty around custom and practice in this area.
LYNDAL CURTIS: Is there a problem that processing of claims is effectively paused for those who have arrived since the expert panel recommendations were announced and adopted by the government, because the determination of what is an equal case for whether people get their claims processed in Indonesia or Manus Island or Nauru or Australia has not yet been made?
DAVID FEENEY: I think that's right. And I think the government's also made clear that we're going to start transferring people to those facilities when the legal arrangements around them are clearer, and of course, when those facilities themselves are in a shape to take people and handle them responsibly.
LYNDAL CURTIS: One quick question before I go to Steve - is it time to try again to convince the Parliament about the deal with Malaysia?
DAVID FEENEY: That is a question for Steve Ciobo and his colleagues I suppose. It's obviously something the government believes will be an effective solution in this area but the opposition of the opposition has made advancing that idea impossible.
LYNDAL CURTIS: Steve, do you think it's time to take another look at what your side of politics thinks of the Malaysian agreement?
STEVE CIOBO: I think that Senator Feeney has more front than Myer, frankly. It takes a certain amount of self-belief, which is obviously held by David in spades, to have the audacity to sit there and say that the problem is the opposition. Let's not forget where we've come from. The coalition in the final year had three illegal - three asylum seekers that were in mandatory detention centre. Since this government has come to power we've seen thousands, tens of thousands of people trying to claim asylum. Bear in mind, every single one of these asylum seekers is costing Australian taxpayers $170,000, in the last 12 months alone - we are more than 1,000 people over the estimate that the government made. And then I find it incredible that after having changed the laws and then reverting back to in many respects coalition policy, Senator Feeney and the Labor Party say oh the problem is all the opposition. They need to wake up to themselves.
LYNDAL CURTIS: Your leader is in Indonesia. He gave a lunchtime speech in which he said in order to get Indonesia's cooperation on what Tony Abbott says is a first order issue for Australia, Australia needs to cooperate more closely with Indonesia on its first order issues. Does that mean in some ways tying aid or development assistance or increasing that in order to get more cooperation from Indonesia on tackling people smuggling and even their agreement on turning back boats?
STEVE CIOBO: I think what Tony is addressing there is the issue about the nature of our relationship with Indonesia. We've seen some glaring examples in the past 12 months of this government making knee-jerk policy decisions. We saw the way this government destroyed, effectively, Australia's live export trade off the back of a 'Four Corners' program and that for Indonesia was a massive issue and this is the point that Tony is making. If we're going to have a relationship, we need to have solid discussions based on mutual respect. That solves issues like the live export issue for Indonesia and, at the same time, means an open dialogue when it comes to border protection for Australia.
LYNDAL CURTIS: Given the comments from Indonesian Government spokesmen, including their Foreign Minister in Canberra a few months ago, have been that Indonesia is very reticent about the policy to turn back boats, is there a door open, do you believe, that they could be convinced to accept that policy if Australia did more on Indonesia's first order issues?
STEVE CIOBO: I have no doubt about that. The reason I have no doubt about it is because the coalition we've done it previously. The former Howard Government, when it was safe to do so, would turn back boats. That's the same policy this coalition is proposing to take to the next election. The reality is it works, unlike Labor's failed approach to asylum seekers. The reality is it's costing $170,000 per person.
LYNDAL CURTIS: But the Indonesian government has said that - more recently - that it does not believe that Australia should be turning back boats.
STEVE CIOBO: Look, I mean, from my perspective this is about results. The Australian people can look at the two policy platforms of the Labor Party and the coalition. We have a policy that worked, three people in detention, Labor destroyed our policy, they had a solution and turned it into a problem. We've had now thousands and thousands of asylum seekers, it's costing Australian taxpayers billions of dollars that have not been budgeted for. Which, don't forget, this government is borrowing the money from places like China and overseas to pay for the fact they can't pay for all of this expenditure and that's the reason why we know we can fix it if we're re-elected.
LYNDAL CURTIS: On Steve's final point there - the more asylum seekers that arrive the more cost goes up for the government, isn't this?
DAVID FEENEY: Of course. And that's unwelcome and everybody gets that, but I mean the important point here is that Steve's policy, the one he's spruiking here on this program, doesn't survive the most cursory of assessment. We know that turning back the boats doesn't work and it stopped working under the Howard Government, we know that. The Royal Australian Navy has told us that. Of course our Nashan partners tell us that. It doesn't work because refugees and people smugglers adapted. These vessels are now scuttled at sea, they're damaged at sea.
STEVE CIOBO: That's happening now, David. That's happening now.
DAVID FEENEY: Absolutely. That's why turning back the boats doesn't work. These people deliberately put themselves into a circumstance where Australian mariners or other international mariners are required to rescue them. Turning back the boats is a slogan that doesn't actually help anybody reach the policy solutions here.
LYNDAL CURTIS: We might move on now to the question of industrial relations. The Workplace Relations Minister has responded to around 17 of the 53 recommendations of the Fair Work Act review. He says he wants to negotiate with the unions and employers on the others. David, isn't that effectively redoing the work that the review did because the review took submissions from employers and the unions? Why do you need to effectively renegotiate their points?
DAVID FEENEY: I guess the government believes in continuous improvement. And what's happening here is that the national workplace relations consultative committee produced a series of recommendations. Those that are already now agreed between employers and trade unions and are generally understood to be helpful are going to be progressed as quickly as practicable. That's really the minister saying this is work that I can do now that will solve problems now. And in particular, assist small and medium sized businesses, and those issues which are more contested, those which still have debate around them, he'll keep working on the parties to try to reach a consensus. That's just a minister doing their job.
LYNDAL CURTIS: Steve, the government has accepted the Fair Work review's recommendations on unfair dismissal laws. Do you believe that the changes the government has taken up will do enough to prevent vexatious claims?
STEVE CIOBO: Oh look they're an improvement. There's no doubt about that. You know, I think back a couple of years ago, I and others made a number of criticisms about the changes that Labor made to unfair dismissal at the time. We said it would simply see the introduction of go-away money having to be paid by small businesses and medium sized enterprises and that in turn would lead through to higher unemployment. We've seen all those things come to pass. What the government's now doing is going back and changing their policy to reflect more along the lines that the coalition first espoused. I'm pleased to hear that David says he believes in continuous improvement. The good thing about your government is that you will be able to do that to your woeful policies for years to come yet. I'm pleased you're continuously trying to improve, mate.
DAVID FEENEY: It's good to see you're lifting the standard of debate here, Steve.
LYNDAL CURTIS: One more quick question about unfair dismissals. Do you believe that any businesses particularly small businesses should be exempt from unfair dismissals or have the changes that the government's accepted, are they enough to help small business deal with unfair dismissal claims?
STEVE CIOBO: Look, I'm on the record already. I do believe in exemption. From my perspective, that's my personal view and if my perspective, the steps that we take there come back to one single thing, which is that I heard, for example, Bill Shorten last week in the Parliament waxing on about how the government had created X number of jobs. Lyndal, government doesn't create any jobs. No jobs at all. All jobs in this country are created by the private sector, are created by small business people who are prepared to risk their capital in many cases their homes to employ people. If you make it harder for small businesses to employ people, then they won't employ them. So the easier you can make it, the greater the likelihood that they'll pay people.
DAVID FEENEY: I'm sure Mitt Romney said something very similar to that in the debate just a few nights ago.
LYNDAL CURTIS: Does the fact that Mr Shorten is wilting longer to deal with all the recommendations of the Fair Work review make it harder for you to press the opposition to release its policy, because your policy isn't settled, is it?
DAVID FEENEY: Well, no, that analogy doesn't hold up. Of course the great question about the coalition is how are they going to advance a policy that doesn't do what they really want to do and that's WorkChoices. For us, the difference in workplace relations is very plain.
STEVE CIOBO: It's pathetic, David!
DAVID FEENEY: We're talking about here making amendments to a piece of legislation so with the benefit of experience, we can make sure it's working as well as it can.
LYNDAL CURTIS: A question on one quick issue. Craig Thomson will face Federal Court action now. Fair Work Australia has started Federal Court action over alleged breaches of the registered organisations provisions and Health Services Union rules. David, does this mean this continues to be a political problem for Labor?
DAVID FEENEY: Well, obviously Craig Thomson has maintained for a long time now that he's innocent of these allegations. I guess these allegations are now going to be tested and due process will play its proper role and of course the proper role for politicians in that due process is to not make comment, not to prejudice those proceedings, and let justice take its course.
LYNDAL CURTIS: Steve, there's been a lot of talk over the last few months about how far politicians should take an issue when there is court action under way. Will the court action that Fair Work Australia is taking mean that the opposition winds back its criticism of Craig Thomson?
STEVE CIOBO: We certainly won't be taking a backward step when it comes to Craig Thomson. His is a tainted vote. I'm glad they're bringing action against him. Frankly, I think that Labor needs to take a dose of its own medicine. Bear in mind the Prime Minister herself felt appropriate to comment extensively on Julian Assange, likewise, the Attorney-General as the first legal officer of the country has made many comments on the Slipper/Ashby affair then the Labor Party tries to lecture us about not making comments on Craig Thomson. No-one takes these guys seriously. They try to uphold different standards all over the place.
LYNDAL CURTIS: We’re nearly out of time. David, you have a role as Parliamentary Secretary in the Defence area. The Prime Minister visited Afghanistan. She says as others have that things are on track for the transition to Afghan-led security in 2013. What are called rogue attacks or insider attacks are still troubling, though, aren't they?
DAVID FEENEY: Of course they are. While I guess our military analysts might take some broader comfort from the fact that the Taliban have now been degraded to the point that they are evolving more as a terrorist organisation than a genuine insurgency, any of their tactics that put our people at risk and of course those green-on-blue attacks that you describe are one of those causes immense concern. Of course it does.
LYNDAL CURTIS: That's where we'll have to leave it. We've run out of time. Thank you very much for your time today.
STEVE CIOBO: Thanks Lyndal.
DAVID FEENEY: Thank you, thanks Steve.
LYNDAL CURTIS: And thank you for joining Capital Hill. Please be with us at the same time tomorrow. Goodnight.