Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
Disclaimer: The Parliamentary Library does not warrant the accuracy of closed captions. These are derived automatically from the broadcaster's signal.
Turnbull, Garrett at odds on Nguyen appeals -

View in ParlViewView other Segments

(generated from captions) Well, now to our Friday Forum in a week where there has been no parliament but plenty of politics.

The IR legislation has been the trigger for much of it. Bad polls for the Howard Government, a minor revolt by the Queensland Nationals, and another bout of leadership speculation. On a more sombre note, the Australian man on death row in Singapore, Van Nguyen, now seems to have little hope of a reprieve. So to tonight's guests to discuss some of these matters - Labor's Peter Garrett, the member for Kingsford Smith, he's in our Melbourne studio, and here with me in Sydney is Malcolm Turnbull, the member for Wentworth. Good evening to you both.

Good evening. Gentlemen, if I can start on the case of Van Nguyen in Singapore, it does seem that all the signs are that this execution will proceed next week. Malcolm Turnbull, has Australian Government done all it can do to plead for clemency, or has the approach been somewhat defeatist from the start? No, it hasn't been defeatist at all. It's been a respectful and relatively low-key approach, which is the approach that's best calculated to achieve a reprieve. You know, grandstanding and attacking Singapore is not going to help Mr Nguyen. The Australian Government, and Alexander Downer in particular, have been quite successful in getting clemency for convicted Australian drug traffickers, Australian drug traffickers... Not in Singapore. Not in Singapore, no. In Vietnam. But there are two Australians who were sentenced to death for drug offences, both of whom, following representations from Mr Downer and the Prime Minister, have had their death sentences commuted to life imprisonment. So, I think the approach was the right one. Sadly, very sadly, it hasn't been successful. Peter Garrett, how do you see this, particularly as we're hearing Singapore's attitude to all of this,

of course? It believes it has this no tolerance policy towards drug dealers and they believe, from their point of view, they're absolutely correct to have that. How do we fight that if we can? Well, it's very difficult, Maxine. They're, in a sense, setting the bar of their own national sovereignty and their complete policy framework on whether or not you'd reprieve a young Australian from the death penalty.

Look, like Malcolm and many others, I'm opposed to the death penalty, but I do think there are some difficulties there. It seems to me that one of the things that happened early in this case is the Government gave the impression that it understood that there were difficulties, in a sense, trying to impose your will on another sovereign nation, but they may not have really expressed strongly and firmly enough in that early stage the revulsion that many people feel to Mr Nguyen. about what was going to happen Notwithstanding that, I think it is very difficult, and there's essentially a bipartisan approach on this issue. I do know that Kim Beazley has written to Mr Howard proposing that both Mr Rudd and Mr Downer do a last-minute visit. While there's life, there is hope, but it doesn't seem too good at this point in time. Just still with you, Peter Garrett, do you think there is a bigger clash of values perhaps looming on this. In a more interconnected world, with, you know, the democratisation of travel, is it inevitable that, in fact, more of our nationals are going to be striking problems. How do we deal with these issues as they inevitably come up in the future? They're very challenging and I think the question is spot on. It's about the nature of globalisation, the fact many more young people are travelling and probably to places they wouldn't have gone 10 or 15 years ago and perhaps they're not well enough prepared with the necessary information. I know you do get stuff when you come through Customs that, you know, informs you of the rules and regulations

of other countries, but we probably do need, in some ways, to concentrate our efforts on educating people as to what the risks are in these places. But I think there's another, in a sense, broader issue, and that is that we are starting to see a harmonium of the global mind as to what is acceptable and not acceptable behaviour from countries. And I think we have seen that with this issue and I think we will see it with other issues in the future, and managing that for nation states is going to be challenging because, of course, there's another sector that's at work now in the world and it's the non-Government sector - it's civil society. And it's civil society - the lawyers in this case - who are, I think, very much driving the politicians, and it sets up an interesting and a challenging dynamic and I think we're going to see more of it. That's a reasonable point. Malcolm Turnbull, can you ever see, say, Chinese society

accepting that there is a world harmonium on some of these issues, as Peter Garrett says? Well, I'm not sure. Look, I wish there was a world harmonium on this issue, but I don't think there is. There are 80 countries in the world which still maintain the death penalty, including the biggest country in the world, China, and including a number of the, you know, most important states in the United States of America. So I don't think there is yet a global consensus, but we should all work towards that. There is an Australian on death row in China. Again, due to representation... And that's on drugs issues? Drugs issues again. And his sentence has been suspended for two years and his position is being reviewed and the hope is that it will be commuted. But, again, that's been due to very effective work by Mr Downer and his officials. So, you know,

the Australian Government has got a long history of representing - making representations - on behalf of Australians who are in strife overseas. The best approach is obviously always a low-key one. Let's turn now to, I suppose, one of the biggest domestic issues of the year and one that is still going to dominate 2006, and that, of course, is industrial relations. Still with you, Malcolm Turnbull, can John Howard win community support on industrial relations? He can certainly win the numerical argument in the Parliament, but can he win community support, because the polls this week indicate that he's certainly not doing it thus far? Look, I believe he will.

I believe Australia will, as the Prime Minister has said, after these changes have been made law, will wake up and see that the sky hasn't fallen in, that families are still enjoying weekend barbecues, enjoying holidays, enjoying Christmas together. And, really, the proof of this pudding will be in the eating, it will be in the experience of Australians after the law is passed. And every time Industrial Relations Law has been reformed by Coalition governments at the Federal level, or, indeed, back in Nick Greiner's day, here in NSW, the Labor Party has said, "The world is going to come to the end. "This is the ruination of the economy."

And every time... Those polls are telling you that people don't want a bar of this banquet, they don't want to get anywhere near eating this! I think what those polls tell us is that people are very apprehensive about the conflict that appears to have been created between the union movement and the Government and the, you know, amount of public agitation. There is a lot of confusion out there. You've only got to look at the speeches

in the House of Representatives from the Labour Party, and I read a large number of them before I gave my own speech. Alright. You spent millions of dollars trying to avoid that confusion. But, Peter Garrett, coming to you,

the problem for Labor, of course, is maintaining the rage on this issue because, as you know, John Howard has really two years until the next election

to neutralise this as an issue. Well, Maxine, the Prime Minister is very skillful in positioning the heavy hits and then giving himself some time and, in this case, a surplus budget - which we'll probably talk about in a minute - to cushion the blow. But these IR laws are significant changes to the way in which we've mediated between the rights of employers and employees. They are opposed by the majority of Australians. They're bad policy and, I mean, let's face it, the Government has just spent more money, I think, than any other single entity has within a short period of time trying to convince Australians of the merits of these laws and they haven't succeeded in doing that at all. Now, you're right to say that over time people's concerns will certainly focus on other areas, but I don't think in any way that they will disappear on this issue. There are many reasons for that, but one of the ones is simply this - these regulations provide - the laws provide - that many people on state awards will come across in a transition period to Federal awards, and when that happens, they'll find that their conditions are lessened. Young people coming into the work force for the first time, where they have to negotiate individually with an employer -

these things will be happening all the time and, of course, we will find, regrettably sometimes, individual employers that will take advantage of the opportunities they have to negotiate conditions away for people. So, I think there will be plenty of evidence in the market place, but I think, underneath all of that,

it's bad policy and Australians know it and they will wait until 2007 and they'll make a decision on it. I notice you've also, Peter Garrett, been campaigning with the James Hardie asbestos claimants in last week or so. Why is that? And what's that telling you about bargaining power? Well, look, James Hardie have taken far too long to come up with a compensation package that was agreed Well, look, James Hardie have taken far too long to come up with a compensation package that was agreed for the people who have suffered terribly with their health by being exposed to the products that they manufacture, that Hardie's manufactured. And I think Meredith Helicar, the chair, said 15 months ago that they'd move speedily to a resolution. We've had a heads of agreement in place for 12 months. They've moved themselves, in part, off-shore, and yet we still have a failure on their part to reach an agreement which would see all those Aussies that were, and will be, affected by this disease actually compensated. Now, I am not saying that Hardie's are an example of corporate responsibility in this area, but they're certainly a very poor example of what ought to be good citizen and corporate responsibility. And the only way we seem to be able to get them to move is to the campaign on them. Alright. Let me move to tax now - and another big issue this year

and, again, bound to be a big issue next year, Malcolm Turnbull? And every year. Yeah, and every year! (Laughs) Well, how do you think your proposals have weathered the year

and how do you see them also in relation to what we heard the Treasurer say yesterday - he is now suddenly flagging simplification? Well, that's good. The Treasurer's identified several thousand pages of the Tax Act which are redundant. Why has it taken him so long, one could ask? Well, you can address those questions to him. I'm asking you! C'mon, Malcolm, have a go! (Laughs) I can't speak for the Treasurer, but he's identified them and they going to be removed and that's good. But getting back to substantive tax reform in terms of, you know, the way tax is levied and rates and thresholds and so forth, I think the debate has moved along very well. There are a lot of people participating in it, as there always will be. You've seen the Business Council of Australia's work, you've seen the Chamber of Commerce and Industry's work. They're renewing their engagement in that debate, as, of course, are all the professional organisations and as, of course, are members of Parliament on both sides. Ok, but what are we going to see in 2006? You want me to predict what's in the budget? Yes, I do. Right! (Laughs) We've got this thumping surplus. Yet again, Treasury can't predict the surplus. What are we going to see in 2006? Well, who knows? That is most definitely a question you have to ask the Treasurer. That's really enlightening! Peter Garrett, let me come back to you. Looking back over this year, was Labor's biggest miscalculation to oppose the Budget tax cuts, because certainly Kim Beazley's rating started going down from that point on. I don't think so, Maxine. I mean, I think that was a principled move. And, I mean, if you talk about tax cuts - and, look, Malcolm has made a valuable contribution to this debate - we'd certainly like to see tax relief, particularly for middle- to low-income earners. And remember that the tax cuts that were on offer for those middle- and low-income earners in the last Budget were very meagre. So I think Kim did the right thing. Yeah, but let me just pick you up on that though. I mean, Kim Beazley opposed the tax cuts but not very long after that we got different messages from people like Lindsay Tanner and Wayne Swan who have been talking around the same set of issues - and, indeed, Craig Emerson as well - about the need to bring the top rates down. Well, I think those two issues can coexist with one another and you can certainly take the positions up, Maxine, that that is something which we ought to do. $14 billion is sitting there for Treasurer Costello. He is being influenced by Malcolm - we think that's a very good thing - I'm not being mischievous... No, not at all. (Laughs) ..but we do want to see genuine tax reform and that means not only looking at marginal tax rates and how those tax rates cut in, but also delivering genuine tax relief to medium- and low-income earners and also looking at the welfare to work issues. It's going to be absolutely fascinating, Maxine, because there's another dimension which you haven't raised yet, and, of course, it's the succession issue for the Liberal Party and from the Prime Minister. "Does he stay or does he go?" to paraphrase an old Clash song. And if he stays,

what position does Mr Costello take in the short term,

just before that Budget comes down? Well, Malcolm, you can answer that. Does he stay or does he go? Well, I, um...that's another question that you've addressed to the wrong person. But let me just...just on tax.

C'mon! It's nearly end of year, you know, end of term.

Be bold! We can't have end of term madness getting too extreme. I want to take up what Peter said about the Budget tax cuts, because the Budget tax cuts did deliver cuts, tax savings, to people right across the board. Now, obviously, the tax savings in dollar terms were higher for people on higher incomes.

But that's only because they pay more tax. You've got to remember that the vast bulk of tax is paid by the top 40% of taxpayers. So, inevitably, any reduction in tax is going - in dollar terms -

will benefit people on higher incomes, because they're paying most of the tax. Now, the changes in the Budget that Peter Costello delivered earlier this year reduced the 17% bracket to 15%, and that was a direct benefit to low-income earners,

particularly to them, and in some income brackets reduced their tax in percentage terms very considerably. And what he also did was reduce the taper rates at which most benefits are withdrawn. And, again, that eased the transition from welfare to work. So, that Budget delivered for Australians on low incomes. And you are absolutely right, Labor's opposition to those Budget changes was absurd and it's completely in conflict with what Labor's economic spokesmen are saying today. Alright. Gentlemen, in the brief couple of minutes we have before we end, I want to finish on your joint observations of what has been the freshman year for both of you, and perhaps with you, Peter Garrett, first. I mean, what stands out from this year for you and how have you found the whole business of adjusting to, if you like, party discipline? Ah, look, I've had no problems with the adjustments to party discipline and I've enjoyed being in the Parliament. It is a privilege for us - it's not a cliche. I think when you come from some other part of public life or professional life you recognise the significance of it. Look, to be honest, it's still a bit of a blur. It's very busy and very intense. The thing I take from it is I think what people probably understand, and that is that you've got competing demands on your time. In Opposition, it's a fearsome job because you don't have the resources that Government has, I think, to do the job as well as perhaps you would like. The committee process, I think, is actually pretty good and I've enjoyed some of the committee work and some of the work that committees have done. I think it's been a terribly pity that Government has, frankly, abused its position

now that it has control of the Senate, curtailed debate on some of the important issues and, you know, allowed the Senate to consider important legislation for a day or a week, or these sorts of things. It really is important now that the Howard Government has control of the Senate for them to permit proper and appropriate examination of bills and competent and thorough debate, because this's what we're there for and that's what we get paid to do. Otherwise, lots of travel and, yeah, fascinating, absolutely fascinating. OK, but, Peter Garrett, I've just got to quote to you Mark Latham's book - and you'd probably be surprised if I didn't. He says the problem for Opposition MPs, particularly coming into the Parliament, is this - he says, "They have so little constructive work to do "that they spend their time gossiping with their colleagues "and big-noting themselves with journalists". Now, this is completely foreign to you?

(Laughs) Well, I can't speak for Mark's view on things, Maxine, because that's been very well rehearsed by many other people. What I know is, with the two standing committees that I'm on, with the caucus committees, and my responsibilities to Kingsford Smith, with the work I like to do on other issues, I'd like to propose some tax reform in the new year, which is about green taxes. Now, I'll certainly do that in consultation with colleagues, but I imagine it will take time to work that up. So, there's plenty for us to do if we want to do it. OK, and you've got a date on Lateline early in the new year to talk about that. Malcolm Turnbull, just to finish on you. I mean, how have you found it? You were a high-profile advocate beyond the Parliament before you ran for Wentworth.

How have you found the difference now being an elected representative, in terms of what you feel you can say as opposed to your previous incarnation?

Well, I've enjoyed it enormously. I think it's a great privilege, as Peter said, a very big responsibility. I enjoy representing the people of Wentworth. I think if you are curious,

if you're a curious and convivial person, I think Parliament is a great place because there are so many interesting people to meet and get to know, and we in the Liberal Party have a very diverse party room - that's, I think, it's greatest strength - and the issues you have to get across are very diverse. So, I've enjoyed working and talking on economic matters,

tax, and finance, which have been pretty familiar to me, but also getting stuck into issues like sustainability. Peter mentioned committees. I'm on a few committees too, and the Environment Committee's report on sustainable cities, which is really a vision for the sustainability of Australia, not just our cities is a...that report is a very, very worthwhile piece of work and was a great privilege to work with colleagues from the Coalition and, indeed, from the Labour Party in producing that work. Let's see it come into law! (Laughs)! (Laughs) OK. Let's see it in law! I mean, John Button is right, isn't he? It does feel like boarding school, right? How are you adjusting to that?

Well, I did go to boarding school, unfortunately, but the difference is that at boarding school

the bells ring at regular intervals and at Parliament they just ring at all sorts of odd times and sometimes very close together. And people tell you what to do! Gentlemen, for our final political forum for the year, I thank both of you. Have a good final break next week and we'll see you in the New Year. Thanks, Maxine. Thanks, Maxine.