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Meet The Press -

View in ParlView


July 22nd 2007


GREG TURNBULL: Good morning and welcome to Meet the Press. Well, this morning we'll take a look at
the great Australian dream that's become a housing affordability nightmare. The high cost of
getting into a first home has become a little bit like the weather, everybody complains about it
but nobody seems able to do anything about it. And it's set to be one of the battle grounds in the
coming election.

OPPOSITION LEADER KEVIN RUDD (July 8): It's time Mr Howard's Government accepted that we have a
housing affordability crisis which is affecting working families, instead of Mr Howard's response
that working families have never been better off.

TREASURER PETER COSTELLO (July 15): Here's the Labor stunt machine at work. They want to make it
look as if they've got some plan on housing. When you ask them, "Does it mean house prices will
fall?" they say no. The Shadow Minister for Housing, Tanya Plibersek, is our guest this morning,
and later we'll hear from the President of the Law Council of Australia on the rights and wrongs of
this extraordinary case of Dr Mohammed Haneef. But first a look at what the nation's papers are
reporting this Sunday July 2. In Sydney the 'Sunday Telegraph' says "Howard old and sneaky." Labor
party polling suggests the PM's battlers have deserted him. In Brisbane, the 'Sunday Mail' has
"Haneef focus switches to photos." Police investigating whether Dr Mohammed Haneef was part of a
plan to attack a landmark building on the Gold Coast. However, in Melbourne the 'Age' talks of
"Government play to jettison Haneef and end backlash". The Government plans to deport Haneef to
contain the political fallout. And the Sunday 'Herald Sun' has "U-turn on drugs policy." It says
that Greens have reversed their soft drugs policy in a bid to appeal to middle Australia. Well, the
Federal Labor Party has convened a housing affordability summit in Canberra for this week, and
spearheading this exercise along with Kevin Rudd and shadow Treasurer Wayne Swan is Labor's shadow
Minister for - among other things - Housing, Tanya Plibersek, welcome to the program.


GREG TURNBULL: Peter Costello has this summit in his sights to say that it's just another Kevin
Rudd stunt. Is it and assuming you don't agree that it is, what can it possibly achieve?

TANYA PLIBERSEK: Well, it's a serious attempt to bring all of the people in Australia who are
concerned with housing policy, I mean, builders, developers, academics, people who advocate on
behalf of community housing, and public housing tenants, together into the one room to talk about
what we can do to improve housing affordability in Australia. It's not going to solve all of the
problems of the world in one day, we've never said that it will. It will bring some of the best
brains in the country together to discuss our 'Housing New Directions' paper which sets out dozens
of options for improving housing affordability and have those people concentrate on the things that
are really going to make a dent on the housing affordability problem.

GREG TURNBULL: One thing to clarify is part of the scoffing that might go in your direction when
you talk about housing affordability summits is that people say "What can you possibly do about
house prices?", but of course your briefer is wider than that. It's about the rents, the rental
market and it's about community housing.

TANYA PLIBERSEK: We're looking at three distinct areas. We're looking at affordable rental
accommodation. At the moment there's plenty of tax incentives to encourage people to get into
housing as an investment category, but most of the tax treatment is more favourable if you're
investing at the high end of the market. We want people investing at the affordable end of the
market as well so that ordinary families can afford to live in those homes. We're looking at first
home buyers in particular. It doesn't matter to me whether a house in Woollahra costs $2 million or
$4 million. What I'm concerned about is whether ordinary families can afford to put a roof over
their heads and we now know that in most capital cities around Australia you have to be earning
more than $100,000 as a household to afford the average mortgage. Well, that makes life very
difficult for young families.

GREG TURNBULL: Sorry, another issue that you've addressed of course is also the difficulty in
getting together a deposit. And there's been talk about a scheme of salary sacrifice or tax benefit
to help people to get a deposit together. How would that work?

TANYA PLIBERSEK: We're looking at something a lot like superannuation, so that you take it from
your pre-tax income, it's taxed at a concessional rate and on withdrawal. People would have to make
a commitment to save in that vehicle for around five years, they would only be able to withdraw it
to put towards a deposit for a first home. And we thing think that is a good way of helping people
with a deposit gap, instead of just - there's always calls to increase the first home owners grant,
we know that has the potential to be inflationary. We're worried that just tipping more money into
the bucket would drive up house prices.

GREG TURNBULL: You wouldn't increase that first home grant but you wouldn't ditch it?

TANYA PLIBERSEK: We certainly wouldn't ditch the first home owners grant. We don't want to start
handing out more lump sums because in the past that has had an inflationary effect and we don't
want to make the patient worse with the medicine we give.

GREG TURNBULL: With inflation, over time that $7,000 first home grant just will whittle away, won't

TANYA PLIBERSEK: To be honest, it's already whittled away in a sense because very soon after the
first home owners grant was introduced, within a couple of years, house prices had in fact doubled.
So, I guess you could argue that it wasn't much use at all the way along, but we're not intending
to take it away from people because they've factored it into their savings plan. You don't save for
a house overnight, you might make 5-year or 10-year plans.

GREG TURNBULL: You talk about house prices doubling and you're the member for Sydney so you ought
to know all about that, for a lot of people I guess this is politically a two-edged sword for you
because you talk about housing affordability, a lot of people are happy that house prices are high
because they're sitting in one that they own.

TANYA PLIBERSEK: And they're worried if their kids and grandkids will ever be able to afford a
house of their own. If you're buying and selling in the same market, you might be happy your house
has gone up in value, but whichever house you want to buy has equally gone up in value. So, yes,
people count on their houses as part of their retirement savings, they're happy that the value has
gone up but they don't want to see housing become unaffordable for other families including their
own children and grandchildren.

GREG TURNBULL: What about the great 1980s experiment of tinkering with negative gearing? Is
negative gearing a sacred cow that can't be touched by any side of politics in Australia?

TANYA PLIBERSEK: We're not touching negative gearing.

GREG TURNBULL: So that's a yes?

TANYA PLIBERSEK: We are interested in looking at ways of attracting investment into the lower end
of the market and there might be things that you could do in the tax system to improve that,
including this proposal for a national affordable rental incentive scheme that we've talked about,
but we're not touching negative gearing.

GREG TURNBULL: We'll take a break there. When we return with the panel, the leadership tension in
the Liberal Party and what's in it for Labor. And the biggest shock of the political week was not
the Howard biography, but rather what possessed Kevin Rudd to go into an FM radio studio and allow
himself to be given an electric jolt for getting a quiz question wrong.

RADIO HOST 1: Pick it up. KEVIN RUDD: Arrgh!

RADIO HOST 2: This is so inappropriate. You do this.

RADIO HOST 1: The next PM of our country!

GREG TURNBULL: You're on Meet the Press with our guest this morning, Tanya Plibersek. And welcome
to our panel, Jennifer Hewitt from the 'Australian' and Philip Clark from Radio 2GB. Well, when the
latest round of leadership tension emerged between John Howard and Peter Costello, Kevin Rudd at
first resisted the temptation to capitalise on it.

KEVIN RUDD (Thursday): I think the internal tensions within the Liberal Party are a matter for the
Liberal Party. I just intend to talk about positive plans to deal with the cost of living for
working families.

JENNIFER HEWETT, 'THE AUSTRALIAN': But Tanya, obviously this is a great gift for the Labor Party,
what's been happening with the Liberal Party - particularly John Howard and Peter Costello. But
despite the leadership tensions they have managed to deliver a very strongly growing economy. What
the Labor Party seem to be saying is, "Trust us, we feel your pain and we're from the Government
and we'll be here to help."

TANYA PLIBERSEK: Well, we have had some good economic times undoubtedly and most of that is based
on a fantastic mining boom that has gone on for much longer than anyone could have hoped. It's
great news, and the real problem for the Government is that so many people feel that they haven't
been part of that. That we've still got, despite the fact that we've had good economic times, that
they're being locked out of it because they can't afford a home, because grocery pries have gone
up, petrol prices, childcare, they're paying more for private health insurance. On the one hand,
the PM says to people constantly that they've never been better off, on the other hand, people
don't feel that they're better off

JENNIFER HEWETT: You're saying they're locked out. At the same time you've got record consumer
spending, places like Harvey Norman are saying there's record sales of plasma TVs. Aren't you
really just encouraging a culture of complaint in the community, unrealistic expectations?

TANYA PLIBERSEK: We've also got 100,000 homeless Australians every night, half of them are under
the age of 24, 10,000 of them are children. We're talking about children in the Northern Territory
not going to school at all. How do those 50,000 young people get to school, get education and
training? We are living in a time of enormous prosperity, but it is wrong to suggest that everyone
is participating in that equally and that there's not much more to do to ensure that people do
participate equally in the prosperity that's around.

JENNIFER HEWETT: So you're more interested in helping people at the bottom rather than what used to
be called the aspirational voters?

TANYA PLIBERSEK: We're interested in making sure that ordinary people don't feel under the enormous
amount of pressure they feel at the moment just making ends meet. We've got more Australians than
ever before paying 30% or even 50% of their household income repaying their mortgages or on the
rent. They're finding it harder to afford all of their household expenses, and, you know, that's
putting a lot of pressure on families. We're seeing record defaults on mortgages as well, so there
is a group of Australians who are doing very well, who are spending up big, for sure, but there are
still a lot of people who are finding it tough to make ends meet and being told that they've never
been better off drives them crazy.

PHILIP CLARK, RADIO '2GB': Tanya, do you think - just look at the case of Dr Mohammed Haneef, the
Gold Coast doctor. Do you think he's been badly done by?

TANYA PLIBERSEK: I'm not privy to the private briefings, the security briefings, that the
Government are given and that a few members of the Opposition are given. Based on the information
that we were given, the private information we were given a few - the leader and so on were given,
we supported the Government's actions, but I've got to say that at a time when very strong powers
are being used by the police, what we'd like to see is that any evidence is tested as quickly as
possible in a court of law, because we need to ensure that the general public have faith that these
strong, exceptionally strong, powers are being used wisely.

PHILIP CLARK: You're running a bit dead of this. You're from the left of the Labor Party, normally
very concerned about the rights of Dr Mohammed Haneef, many have been critical of, including the
Law Council, but the ALP left has been quiet on this, letting the Government do the running - why?

TANYA PLIBERSEK: I'm always concerned to ensure that everyone gets a fair trial, but we don't know
what other information the police have given to the Government and to the Opposition. I don't know
that and I would be concerned to start making pronouncements without having a lot more information.

PHILIP CLARK: Do you think he should be deported?

TANYA PLIBERSEK: Well I think he should be tried as quickly as possible and as fairly of course,
and based on the information we had, we supported the Government's actions.

GREG TURNBULL: Does Labor have a strategy to avoid biting on a national security issue like this to
avoid giving the PM a sort of, you know, a 'Tampa' revisited opportunity to claim that Labor's soft
on terrorists as claimed back in 2001?

TANYA PLIBERSEK: Well, I think it's beyond politics, this sort of thing, Greg. If there is
information that I'm not privy to, it would be foolish for me and people like me to start making
pronouncements about what should happen. He needs to be given a fair trial, the law needs to work
as quickly and as effectively as it possibly can but without having the full information available
to us, it's just not sensible to start saying this should happen or that should happen.

JENNIFER HEWETT: Tanya, on another issue entirely, you were thinking or the Labor Party used to be
I think rather more supportive of paid maternity leave. That seems to have completely faded. Did
you get it wrong, why have circumstances changed so much?

TANYA PLIBERSEK: No, we had a proposal, as you will remember, Jennifer, for a baby care payment
that would be a 14-week payment that would be made equally to women in and out of the workforce
because women often move in and out throughout their working lives. The Government took that and
rolled it into a one-off baby bonus and we say that the baby bonus should stay. There have been
calls recently for an expansion of that or an extension of that to include extra paid maternity
leave on top of that. We'd love to do as much as possible for families with young children, but
we're looking at something that is potentially extremely expensive, so we're happy for the
Productivity Commission to look at it. We would love to find a way that doesn't put an unreal
impost on employers, that doesn't discourage the employment of women, we would love to find a way
of doing that, and we're happy for the Productivity Commission to look at it closely and see if
there is a way of doing it.

PHILIP CLARK: Just on the issue of union activism and union thuggery, Mr Rudd is facing issues
again, this time with the ALP's representative in Franklin. How many of these people will Mr Rudd
have to confront before the election? Is union activism a stigma in the Labor Party these days?

TANYA PLIBERSEK: It's certainly not a stigma in the Labor Party. We have a strong relationship with
the union movement historically and the work the union movement has done on combating WorkChoices
has been very important. Certainly in the case you're talking about in Tasmania we don't have the
full detail, we'll wait and see what the full details are. But what can I say? The relationship
between the union movement and the Labor Party is good, but Kevin will not tolerate thuggery and
that's perfectly fair enough too.

GREG TURNBULL: Well, Tanya Plibersek, thanks very much for being our guest this morning.

TANYA PLIBERSEK: Thank you, Greg.

GREG TURNBULL: Up next - the legal minefield surrounding Dr Mohammed Haneef. And the cartoon that
caught our eye this week comes from Leahy in the 'Courier-Mail', depicting the veteran leadership
team of John Howard and Peter Costello as a safe pair of hands, albeit at each other's throats.

GREG TURNBULL: Welcome back to Meet the Press. Well, the detention, charging and subsequent
treatment of Dr Mohammed Haneef has been controversial at virtually every step along the way. It's
the saga of how a man went from being a respected doctor at the Gold Coast Hospital one day to a
huddled figure in prison overalls in the back of a paddy wagon. Bailed but still in jail, visa'd
but now persona non grata and then there was the controversial leaking of a record of interview by
Haneef's own barrister, Stephen Keim.

ATTORNEY-GENERAL PHILIP RUDDOCK (Wednesday): The appropriate place for that material to be used was
not in the media, but before the courts, and I believe it is a breach of the professional ethics of
those who saw fit to put it in the public arena.

GREG TURNBULL: Well, the Law Council of Australia has taken a close and outspoken interest in the
case, the Council's President is Tim Bugg, and he's our guest this morning. Well, firstly on that
Stephen Keim matter, was he right to release, to leak, that record of interview, and does that mean
that in future on the fringes of court battles we'll have a sort of spin battle?

LAW COUNCIL PRESIDENT TIM BUGG: The record of interview was in Dr Haneef's possession quite
properly and had been given to him. If he through his advisers chose to release it, then it may be
that no criticism should be levelled at what occurred. The Attorney was very quick to comment on
what happened too. The Law Council's had a lot of calls from the lawyers within Australia being
very critical of the Attorney's approach to this.

PHILIP CLARK: Mr Bugg, what do you think should happen now to Dr Haneef?

TIM BUGG: Dr Haneef has obviously got to be dealt with on the charge that he's facing and that
ought to be dealt with as quickly as possible, however, we would suggest that the Minister for
Immigration ought to consider giving him a bridging visa. I go back to the process that he was put
through before he was charged, namely, the detention process. We're very critical of that because
of the time it took for him to be processed, the fact that he was in detention without charge for
nearly 12 days. And if we skip over the charge itself, he then went through a bail application,
keeping in mind that to obtain bail he had to establish to the satisfaction of the court that an
exceptional circumstance for him to get bail, but immediately after that the Minister unilaterally
stepped in, withdrew the visa, which meant that he was to go into detention. Keep in mind also that
the withdrawal of the visa is designed to lead to someone's deportation. One queries why the
Minister would consider that when clearly Dr Haneef had to be in Australia to face the charge he's
been charged with.

PHILIP CLARK: You can see that that's what happened, having been perfectly proper. He's been dealt
with according to law. The effect of these laws were debated at the time they were passed in the
parliament. He's been dealt with perfectly in accordance with the law, hasn't he?

TIM BUGG: He's been dealt with in accordance with he law but going back to the legislation itself,
it wasn't debated fully at the time. We're very critical of the process that was followed in 2004,
the Law Council was critical of the possibility of indefinite detention. At the time we were howled
down and told that it was really fanciful that something like has occurred, would occur. We've seen
this legislation in operation and we now say it's time to review it, that there ought to be a cap
on this so-called "reasonable dead time" which saw Dr Haneef detained for up to 12 days before he
was charged.

JENNIFER HEWETT: Given the very real risk of terrorism, don't you think that the public would
rather be safe than sorry?

TIM BUGG: Look, the Government clearly has an overwhelming responsibility to protect the citizens
of this country from acts of terrorism. The Law Council deplores terrorism, we all do, however,
that doesn't mean that long-held rights are jettisoned without proper consideration. It may be that
those rights have to be somehow reduced to account for the threats that we face, but if we go back
to the detention process, there wasn't proper debate at the time the Senate committee which looked
into the proposed legislation recommended that there be a cap on the so-called dead time of about
24 hours to allow for differences in international time.

JENNIFER HEWETT: But given the way that terrorism cells and particularly terror cells operate, 24
hours isn't very long to really investigate anything thoroughly. Don't you think that, really,
individual rights should be curtailed in the interest of the greater public good?

TIM BUGG: It depends how they're curtailed. There ought to be debate about their curtailment and
the problem we now confront in Australia is legislation to introduce speedily without proper
consultation and if there had been proper debate at the time, the Law Council believes that a more
sensible approach would have been followed. phyla Shouldn't the links though, between Dr Haneef and
his cousins and the people, the doctors and others in Britain who have been charged with serious
terrorist offences, shouldn't those links be properly explored before Dr Haneef goes anywhere?

TIM BUGG: They ought to be explored but ensuring that Dr Haneef's rights are protected. If the
investigating authorities say that a longer period should be allowed for investigation, they should
produce policy reasons for that - that didn't happen at the time. In fact, the Australian Federal
Police suggested that the cap on the so-called reasonable dead time ought to be 24 hours to account
for international time differences.

PHILIP CLARK: Do you think taxpayers should fork out compensation for Dr Haneef if indeed the case
against him collapses?

TIM BUGG: That's a matter for his lawyers to advise him on, but I don't believe that compensation
is the issue we're confronting. It's individual's rights and whether the process that's been
followed is now appropriate, having been put into operation.

GREG TURNBULL: Nevertheless, he's virtually been defamed by the state. If he were to be acquitted
or charges dropped against him, it's unlikely he'd be wandering the corridors of the Gold Coast
Hospital any time soon.

TIM BUGG: Clearly, it won't help his situation. The fact that the Minister, revoking his visa,
referred to his character and being determinate of what was going to happen to him. We're concerned
about that process. The unilateral process the Minister adopted, and people are entitled to ask
"Why at that time, why was it done? Why was he going to be put into detention in such a way that
would make it more difficult for him to consult his legal advisers in Brisbane?"

JENNIFER HEWETT: It's always going to be a question of balance, isn't it? Obviously the Minister
acted because he didn't want Dr Haneef wandering free. Isn't that a fairly reasonable position
given that in terms of the immigration issues, he doesn't have to have the same burden of proof
that a court would have to have?

TIM BUGG: But Jennifer, the doctor has been through a bail application, keep in mind the process
quite different from that being the Minister embarked upon. It was a process that saw Dr Haneef
through his advisers argue his case, put the matters that he wanted to put before the magistrate,
on the other hand, the prosecution could do the same. The Minister's process was quite different.
It was unilateral. We don't know what information was available to the Minister, and Dr Haneef had
no right under the legislation to have any input into that process.

PHILIP CLARK: You're not suggesting that the security of the country and a threat to terrorism
should be determined by a Queensland magistrate, are you?

TIM BUGG: The process is that the doctor can be charged under the Crimes Act. He has been. He's
taken before a court. The question of bail is argued. That magistrate, authorised by our processes,
brought up over centuries in this country, determined what his rights were, by taking into account
all the facts, from his perspective, from the prosecution's perspective, determined quite
independently - the executive arm of Government - that he was entitled to bail. He imposed quite
stringent conditions. He was obviously satisfied that it was safe to release him into the wider
community. But then immediately after that, the Minister determines quite unilaterally, based on
information that hasn't been tested, that he ought to be detailed.

GREG TURNBULL: Mr Bugg, just quickly and finally, the Law Council I understand will release a
report in the coming week prepared by Lex Lasry, the prominent lawyer, on the Guantanamo Bay
process. What's the point of that now that David Hicks is in the slammer in Adelaide and going to
be released in December?

TIM BUGG: Well, the Law Council considered Mr Hicks's case to be so critical to rule of law issues
that it engaged Mr Lasry to attend Guantanamo Bay on three occasions. This will be his third
report. The report will be very critical of the processes and the David Hicks case, despite the
fact it's no longer on the front pages of our newspapers, will forever be a stain on this country's
reputation internationally on rule of law issues.

GREG TURNBULL: And we're yet to see if we have another stain coming our way with the Haneef case. A
lot to play out in that yet and thank you for your presence here this morning.

TIM BUGG: Thank you.

GREG TURNBULL: Well thanks for being with us, Tim Bugg, and thanks to our panel, Jennifer Hewett
and Philip Clark. Until next week, it's goodbye from Meet the Press.