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Panel discussion led by Kieran Gilbert (with Bronwyn Bishop): AM Agenda: 1 November 2010: Victorian elections; East Asia Summit; COAG; private member's bills; Peter Fisher

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The Hon Richard Marles MP Parliamentary Secretary for Pacific Island Affairs

Panel discussion led by Kieran Gilbert (with Bronwyn Bishop) on AM Agenda

Subjects: Victorian elections; East Asia Summit; COAG; private member's bills; Peter Fisher

Transcript, E&OE

1 November 2010

KIERAN GILBERT: Joining me this morning on AM Agenda to look at all of the issues of the week ahead, the Parliamentary Secretary for Foreign Affairs Richard Marles, from Melbourne, good morning, Richard.

RICHARD MARLES: Good morning, Kieran.

KIERAN GILBERT: And from our Sky News Centre the Shadow Minister for, the Shadow Special Minister of State Bronwyn Bishop, Bronwyn Bishop thank you very much for your time as well.

BRONWYN BISHOP: Great pleasure.

KIERAN GILBERT: I want to start in Melbourne though, Richard Marles the Victorian Premier heading to Government House today, the campaign starts tomorrow. This is a real test for him and his government isn't it given as I say, the Greens' vote is looking very strong in the polls?

RICHARD MARLES: Well, look this is going to be a tough fight here in Victoria. It's, of course, a government that's been in power since 1999 so everyone understands the fight is ahead for John brumby but I think that he's very much up to the task. This is a really good government, John Brumby's a very good economic manager, the OECD regard Victoria as one of the best regional economies in the world. And speaking as somebody who lives in regional Victoria I think John Brumby's been arguably the most important state politician we've ever had in terms of regional Victoria so there's a lot of positives out there and I'm confident that he's going to put up a good showing and we'll see this government get re-elected.

KIERAN GILBERT: Bronwyn Bishop it was the worst state for the Coalition, I think, at the recent federal election if not the worst certainly one of the strongest states for Labor. Any hopes for Ted Baillieu that he might be able to pull off an upset here?

BRONWYN BISHOP: Well, I think Ted Baillieu is surprising people. I think earlier on it was thought that the Labor Party would have an easy ride and then suddenly Ted and his team have started to emerge as putting up a real challenge and I think you certainly wouldn't

want to write them off. I think they're certainly in there with a chance.

KIERAN GILBERT: Okay, let's look at Julia Gillard's overseas visit now, Richard to you, the focus at the weekend at the East Asia Summit was very much on this asylum plan. Julia Gillard made reference to it in her remarks before she left, she left Vietnam. I want to play those to you then get both of your responses to it.

JULIA GILLARD: I'm pleased that there is a specific paragraph on this question in the Chairman's statement.

KIERAN GILBERT: Yeah, specific reference in the communiqué, Richard but it's a long way from a commitment to the regional body itself, this regional facility itself and, indeed, a long way from having it built.

RICHARD MARLES: Well, look the first thing is that Julia Gillard went to the East Asia Summit to raise this issue. It's been, formed part of the communiqué at the end of the summit so I don't think you get better than that. She's raised this issue in a number of bilateral meetings that she's had and, of course, she's going to Malaysia today and she'll also be going to Indonesia. We understand that this is an issue which is only going to be solved with the help of our neighbours. It is a regional problem and so it needs a regional solution. She's raised it and I think this has been a really important foray and her part into the foreign policy world and I think she's done a great job at this summit.

KIERAN GILBERT: Is there a risk, Richard, that they're just simply being polite with the Prime Minister there but there's, I mean as I say, reference in a communiqué is different and a long way from having the bricks and mortar built in East Timor?

RICHARD MARLES: Well, you wouldn't expect the bricks and mortar to form part of a communiqué from a summit of this kind, What you're wanting to do at a summit of this kind is to raise attention around the issue itself to make sure that it's put on the agenda and Julia Gillard did that. We have never said that this is going to be something which is able to be built overnight. This is a processing centre which is going to take some time to deliver but what's important is that we understand this to be a regional problem, we understand that to have a long term solution to this issue you need more than a three word slogan, you actually need to work with your neighbours to come up with a solution to the problem. We're doing that and our minds are very much in the long term about trying to get a solution to this problem going forward and I think that we can do this and I think this is an important step forward.

KIERAN GILBERT: Bronwyn Bishop does this show that Julia Gillard is being serious about this approach or this policy solution? She's mentioned it at the East Asia Summit, today Kuala Lumpur tomorrow Jakarta and President Yudhoyono, so she's certainly speaking to the right people about it all?

BRONWYN BISHOP: Look, absolutely not. This is not a serious policy for this government at all and I think you can call Julia Gillard very easily satisfied because really, I think, what she got is a polite put down. The fact of the matter is that if she was serious she would reopen

Nauru; she would introduce, reintroduce Temporary Protection Visa's and be serious about stopping the boats coming. The bottom line, what we're sending out are the soft messages, what the Indonesians have previously called the sugar on the table, we've heard so many comments in the media this morning saying that we are making it more and more attractive and that you can expect more and more boats and boat people to come. The illegal arrivals are just that and we are very serious about saying that we want people to come through the front door not the back door, the Labor Party isn't and the sight of opening up our defence bases to put the illegal asylum seekers in just, just a nonsense. There is no sincerity in this policy at all, it will never happen.

KIERAN GILBERT: Richard Marles ...

RICHARD MARLES: Can I just say ...

KIERAN GILBERT: ... well, one of the points, I'll let you respond but I want to put one of the points that Bronwyn Bishop made there and it refers, I think in part to The Australian newspaper report today where it's quoting senior Pakistani official charged with fighting people smugglers, he says the government is sending all the wrong messages with its recent

policy reforms.

RICHARD MARLES: Well, look, I don't think that's right at all, I think we're sending a message that we want to have a long term solution to this problem. We know that there are a lot of people on the move at the moment, there are a lot of refugees on the move globally and every country is feeling this issue particularly at the moment and I think the notion that people in villages in Afghanistan or Sri Lanka are, you know, folding or opening the pages of The Australian newspaper ...

BRONWYN BISHOP: Oh for goodness sake.

RICHARD MARLES: ... every morning to work out exactly what the policy of the Australian government is patently ridiculous. But can I just say in relation to what Bronwyn was talking about. Nauru was not a processing centre, Nauru was a holding centre, Nauru was a backdoor to this country, and almost everyone who went to Nauru ended up in Australia. It is not a solution to the problem, what we need to have is actually a regional processing centre, one which is being done in conjunction with the United Nations and Julia Gillard met with the Secretary General of the United Nations to talk through this proposal with him ...

KIERAN GILBERT: But, so, so Nauru was under the auspices ...

RICHARD MARLES: ... so we actually have a centre which deals with this issue.

KIERAN GILBERT: But Richard, Nauru was also


KIERAN GILBERT: ... under the auspices of the UNHCR. Let's talk to, get Bronwyn Bishop's response though to this idea that most of the people that were on Nauru ended up here anyway so, you're talking tough Bronwyn Bishop but ...


KIERAN GILBERT: ... did you really deliver when in government?

BRONWYN BISHOP: Absolutely we did, when we were in government we stopped the boats coming. We had a permanent solution ...

RICHARD MARLES: You built a backdoor called Nauru.

BRONWYN BISHOP: ... the rot started when the Rudd government abolished Temporary Protection Visas, it's been a downhill run since then and I feel sorry for Richard having to defend the indefensible.

KIERAN GILBERT: Alright, let's move on. COAG and the state Commonwealth relations, we've heard all this talk about cooperative federalism, Bronwyn bishop, now we're hearing that there's going to be a review, that Ken Henry's going to review this, the COAG

Agreements between the states and the Commonwealth that there's too much on the agenda, that under Kevin Rudd it was too cluttered but at least, I suppose, he had a go. It wasn't one of the bright points of the Coalition government reforming this area was it?

BRONWYN BISHOP: Well, I suppose what you're seeing is the contrast whether or not you utilise the Section 96 tied grants or whether you have these broad outcome agendas. COAG has become enormously bureaucratised. From my personal preference I always like I bit of competitive federalism, I think it shows up better results and I think it's become mired in bureaucratic process. Having attended those Ministerial Councils as a Minister I have to say that I do think there is a great need for a tightening up of the process and hopefully this review might actually do something ...


BRONWYN BISHOP: ... but unless we see some more competition being allowed to emerge between the states, and I think Colin Barnett is one who seems to be taking a lead in this area, I think Australia is poorly served by being over bureaucratised.

KIERAN GILBERT: Richard Marles, is this, is this reform a welcome one and is the agenda on the COAG table just too cluttered particularly, I suppose, given the strains we've seen in recent times? We've seen, you know, the rhetoric between the Prime Minister and the New South Wales Premier for one, cooperative federalism looks like it's very much under pressure at the moment?

RICHARD MARLES: Well, can I just say that the competitive federalism model that we saw under the Howard government put the whole state of federalism into a catatonic fit. I mean we saw complete paralysis on this issue. Under John Howard there was no move in terms of getting reform in relation to federalism, in terms of getting unified legislation on anything whatsoever. The Howard government essentially threw its hands in the air and did nothing on this all. This is hard reform, it's not just a matter of the federal government biting the bullet on its own reform decisions, you've actually got to corral eight other governments in the process so this is difficult stuff but ...

KIERAN GILBERT: But Richard did the Rudd government try to be too ambitious in this area? Are there too many reform items on the COAG agenda?

RICHARD MARLES: Well, look I think having the review is fair enough, but I think the point you made in your initial statement on this is right, we're having a go and we've actually had some really good achievements. I mean, you've got standardised business reporting which has come out of this process that's worth $800 million to the Australian economy every year; we've got a streamlined system of registering business names that's worth $1.5 billion over eight years and even if you look at occupational health and safety that, you know, this is a very important reform ...

BRONWYN BISHOP: Well, it's failed ...

RICHARD MARLES: ... we've got an agreement ...

BRONWYN BISHOP: ... New South Wales pulled out.

RICHARD MARLES: ... sure, well, we've got a fight with the New South Wales government but the important thing is we're actually having that fight and the culmination of that fight, one hopes, will lead to, for the first time, a national system of occupational health and safety. So, we're addressing the issue, the Howard government completely put their head in the sand.


KIERAN GILBERT: Well, let's get Bronwyn's response before, we've got to take a break shortly Bronwyn.

BRONWYN BISHOP: Yeah, look, what we've got to see, we've had reciprocity agreements on the table for a long time, they need to be implemented but more particularly until people are prepared to address the problem of vertical, fiscal imbalance we will not see a real truly federal policy because the states are forever losing their tax base and yet they're being given more and more things they've got to pay for. Then they try and unload it into local government and we get into a terrible administration mess. Those are the issues that really have to be addressed.

KIERAN GILBERT: Okay, time for a quick break, we'll be right back, stay with us on AM Agenda.

Welcome back to AM Agenda, with me this morning Bronwyn Bishop at the Sky News Centre and in Melbourne Labor's Parliamentary Secretary for Foreign Affairs Richard Marles. I want to look now at Greg Hunt, the Shadow Environment Minister's called for a judicial inquiry into the pink batts scheme. He made that call yesterday; he's going to introduce a private member's bill along these lines. He was on Australian Agenda yesterday.

GREG HUNT: The Auditor General, and this is not a criticism, is only empowered to investigate the operation of the Department in implementing the program, not in the position to investigate the link between the four tragedies and the program, not in the position to investigate the providence, the nature, the quality of the policy and the advice received by the ministry from outside of the executive and not in a position to investigate the executive. This has been the greatest failure of public policy in a single program since the Second World War, in my view, and it must be the subject of a full judicial inquiry.

KIERAN GILBERT: Richard Marles in Melbourne, this, these sorts of things, these sorts of private member's bills can cause a real headache for you in the current Parliamentary environment. They provide a real threat.

RICHARD MARLES: Oh well, in terms of the process of the Parliament, you know, we welcome a new paradigm. We're working with it and I think these sorts of private member's bills from across the Parliament are going to, you know, provide some interesting debate within the Parliament. So, there's no problem with that. In terms of this particular bill, though, can I say that it is a political stunt. We're not going to have any time with it. You know, what you're seeing with the Opposition is a complete refusal to accept the umpire's decision. We've had the Auditor General's report; as Greg Hunt was talking about he didn't like the outcome of that so he's moving down the path. We've had the Hawke Report, he didn't like the outcome of that either so we're getting this private member's bill. We understand the need for accountability and transparency which is why we've had these reports, which is why we're having monthly reports of the way in which the program's going. But our focus is on getting it done, completing the inspections, making safety the first priority and we're not going to be, we're not going to be put off the track by political stunts of this kind.

KIERAN GILBERT: Bronwyn Bishop, the Coalition did call for the Auditor Report, that was delivered and it seems, what 's your response to that assertion from Richard Marles that these various reports that have been delivered, you don't like them so you'll keep pursuing one till you find one that does suit you.

BRONWYN BISHOP: Kieran, I am very offended that Richard could call the death of four young Australians and our concern about that a stunt, I find that offensive. Secondly ...

RICHARD MARLES: That's not what I said.

BRONWYN BISHOP: ... the Auditor General only has the power to conduct a project audit, that's what it did and the point that Greg hunt made about his power's to look at the connection between the policy implementation and the death of those four young Australians was absolutely correct. Now, the only way you can look at the way that this mess was gotten into is to have the inquiry that Greg is calling for. The other point I would make very strongly is that the Minister refuses, Mr Combet refuses to release the details of the outcome of the inspections that are being done of the roofs that were subject to having the insulation out into. We have no idea what the failure rate was and this is a cover-up of grand proportions which can only be dealt with by having a full inquiry and I think that the government should be honest and should say, alright we'll have transparency and agree to support the private member's bill which Greg Hunt is going to bring forward.

RICHARD MARLES: (Inaudible).

KIERAN GILBERT: Alright, we'll let, yeah Richard respond if you like before we move on.

RICHARD MARLES: Yeah, look I mean, the notion that this is a cover-up is patently ridiculous. We've been ...

BRONWYN BISHOP: Then release the figures.

RICHARD MARLES: ... offering the Opposition, now we've been offering the Opposition ...

BRONWYN BISHOP: Release the figures.

RICHARD MARLES: ... comprehensive briefings on all of this which the Opposition has refused to take ...

BRONWYN BISHOP: It's not for the Opposition, it's for the people of Australia.

RICHARD MARLES: ... and instead has moved down this path ...


RICHARD MARLES: ... now we've made it clear that the inspections that we've been doing in relation to the non-foil insulation have not been random, they've been particularly targeted and so the numbers that they come up with in terms of a failure rate will not be representative. It also is going to do something to ...

BRONWYN BISHOP: People are entitled to know.

RICHARD MARLES: ... undermine the progress that we're making in terms of attacking those fraudulent operators in the system and that's what our focus is on as well as safety. So, to talk about a cover-up in circumstances where we've been offering a briefing, is very unfair.

BRONWYN BISHOP: It's not a briefing question, poor old Greg Combet, he might look like Clark Kent but he ain't no superman, he's got to be transparent in this issue.

KIERAN GILBERT: Okay, let's move on, another issue. Peter Slipper, the Member for Fisher on the Sunshine Coast in Queensland, he accepted, of course, the government's offer to become the Deputy Speaker, apparently now facing some grassroots problems, Bronwyn Bishop, within his local division of Fisher. Members, Liberal members, LNP members are calling for a meeting where they want to express and vote on a no confidence motion in their local member. What can come of this? Is, can there really be a revolt within the electorate? Or, I mean, Peter Slipper was elected and that's pretty much it isn't it?

BRONWYN BISHOP: Well, the question is if people want to speak out in their conference they will do so and I've seen some reports of that. Peter, of course, was the government's candidate, we put forward Bruce Scott, the government and the Independents elected Peter Slipper. Peter has been true to his word in saying he would vote with the Coalition and has done so. The question of endorsement is one for the LNP at their highest levels. So, I guess they've made their point of view quite clear but that doesn't stop people speaking in their conference and nor should it.

KIERAN GILBERT: Yeah, but is there a sense within the Liberal ranks that the people, you speak to many people within the Liberal Party itself, that this is just a small example of broader sentiment about Peter Slipper and his decision?

BRONWYN BISHOP: Well, I, as I said, we did put forward Bruce Scott and we were not successful in his being elected. Peter Slipper was elected but he did say he would continue to

vote with the Coalition and has done so. And, so no doubt when the LNP looks at those issues they will see that that's occurred.

KIERAN GILBERT: Okay, Richard Marles this is a difficulty for your new Deputy Speaker. Is it something which you would assume would happen to any MP if they've decided to go with the other side for a particular position?

RICHARD MARLES: Oh, well, I mean I think what we see here is the nature of the, the cut throat nature of Liberal Party politics. There's certainly not a particular embracing of diversity on their part but ultimately it's matter for the Liberal Party rank and file as to what

they do. I think the point that I would make is that in Peter Slipper but also in Bruce Scott and very much in Harry Jenkins, I think you've got a team who are managing the Parliament well and they're performing a very good role in what they are in terms of overseeing the House and the point that Bronwyn made is right, the undertakings that Peter Slipper made to the Liberal Party he's honoured.

BRONWYN BISHOP: I think it's important to point out Kieran, that if a Labor Party person had done what Peter Slipper did and accepted the nomination of the other side, he would've automatically been expelled by the Labor Party. We have much more tolerant rules, shall I


KIERAN GILBERT: Yeah, that's a fair point actually but we'll leave it on that point. Bronwyn Bishop thanks a lot for that this morning and Richard Marles appreciate your time as well.

BRONWYN BISHOP: Great pleasure to be with you.

RICHARD MARLES: Thanks, Kieran.


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