Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
Transcript of interview with Peter Van Onselen: PVO Newsday: 25 July 2017: euthanasia law; Abbott/Turnbull; super portfolio; penalty rates; citizenship

Download PDFDownload PDF




SUBJECTS: Euthanasia Law; Abbott/Turnbull; Super Portfolio; Penalty Rates; Citizenship.

PETER VAN ONSELEN: Brendan O’Connor, thanks very much for your company.


VAN ONSELEN: That’s a very patriotic tie you’re wearing there. I didn’t know you were such a defender of the Australian flag?

O’CONNOR: Of course I am. It’s a good tie, a new tie that my wife bought and I’m happy to display it for the first time on your show.

VAN ONSELEN: An exclusive here on Sky News. Let’s get in to some of the issues. There’s an issue away from what we’re really going to spend most of our time talking about. Just keen to get your thoughts, this Bill that Premier Andrews down in your home state of Victoria is bringing to State Parliament. Euthanasia is a state by state issue, I get that, not a federal issue. But just on a personal level, if you were voting down there is it something you are broadly in favour of? Or is it something at a conscience level you are opposed to?

O’CONNOR: I’m in favour of assisting people to die with dignity. I think there are a lot of complications as to how that is administered.


O’CONNOR: But Peter, I’ve lived enough life and seen enough things and know enough about how people have dealt with this issue to know that firstly people do have a right to make decisions about how they may finish their life. And also I know that we place medical staff in particular, and sometimes family members, in a very difficult situation

when we pretend there is not already some form of quasi assistance for people to deal with how they die and prevent just unimaginable pain and indignity.

And so, whilst I’m not going to pretend I know how to put it in place, in principle I support the approach taken by the Victorian Government. I wish the Premier, the Minister for Health and the Parliament well. And I think in good conscience, despite some reservations about ensuring against risk of abuse, I’m in support of us engaging and implementing such an approach. Not just within the state of Victoria - but I would hope ultimately nationally.

VAN ONSELEN: Well said. I think I probably agree with almost everything you’ve said there. We’ll see what happens with the issue in Victoria I guess as a test case at that state level and if, as both of us seem interested in, as long as the practical impediments are put in place it gets rolled out more broadly.

Let’s move on the something else just quickly before we get on to some of the matters around your portfolio, as well as the news of the day, what about this best leadership credentials poll you might have seen in The Australian. Malcolm Turnbull all over Tony Abbott, 58 per cent versus 23 per cent. That’s a big difference here, isn’t it, between this Abbott/Turnbull showdown, which is a non-showdown versus what happened between Julia Gillard and Kevin Rudd. Kevin Rudd was always a contender, if I could put it that way. Tony Abbott isn’t, but it’s causing the same destabilisation for the Government.

O’CONNOR: Look, it’s an interesting poll, but I recall we got absolutely smashed in the 2013 election even though we looked at the polls Gillard vis-a-vis Rudd, Kevin was prevailing. There’s a large vote for Malcolm Turnbull that wouldn’t vote Liberal in their lives. They just see, I think, Tony Abbott as more of an ideologue, perhaps. And people probably worry more about ideologues than people who don’t stand for much, which is Malcolm Turnbull.

I think the value of those types of polls are often overstated. As you know ultimately the most important sort of assessments are who people are going to vote for, which political party, and people will debate about that. But I’m sure the sort of hard heads in the Liberal Party will look at that. Equally, the warriors of Tony Abbott will continue to argue that he did well in the 2013 election.

The fight continues in the Liberal Party. There does not seem to be any way that the Prime Minister can end it.

VAN ONSELEN: Well let me ask you why, in the context of this going on is Bill Shorten putting himself out there with things like fixed 4 year terms, and more particularly, his whole war on inequality. Its reminiscent of some writings about this, which have ultimately moved to things like a wealth tax - you saw the Government yesterday accusing your side of politics of perhaps wanting to put in other arrangements for Family Trusts - is this opening a whole new battle ground that your side of politics does not need to open up, given where the polls are at?

O’CONNOR: Well, Bill Shorten made clear that we are not going to roll up into a small target, and not present ourselves with a plan to combat the problems that beset our nation. We were going to be a bold Opposition, we were going to be honest with the Australian people, and Bill Shorten has identified an inherent problem with the current system to the extent that some people are getting a bigger share of the pie than others.

Now, if that’s down to hard work - of course that’s fine. But if that’s down to just being favoured - and there are parts of the system that favours one Australian over another - then Bill said let’s examine that. It is true to say that people feel like they are not getting their fair share. They are not getting the dividend that they expect. You know this.

You go to wages. Profits were very high last year - wages were flat lining. Productivity has been growing - but not commensurate with wage growth. So, even in my portfolio, you can see people being precariously employed, under-employed, exploited, underpaid, and they are now struggling with the penalty rates decision. If you look at the Budget for example, the only workers who will be paying tax increases will be those earning under $87,000 a year.

This is not some theoretical debate that Bill Shorten wants Federal Labor to wage. These are real issues going on, and they are real decisions that the Government can choose to support or not support.

VAN ONSELEN: What do you make of this new Guardian Poll on the idea of a new security agency - does it give Labor pause for thought?

O’CONNOR: Well, I’ve always been open to the idea of this, Peter. I think you mentioned my comments earlier that the motivation in this seems to be placating Peter Dutton. I think in large part that seems to be the motivation. The reason I raised that was that there was a point when Malcolm Turnbull did not believe that Peter Dutton should even be on the National Security Committee of Cabinet, even though he had a Security Ministry - which was absurd. He sacked him from that committee, and he went from sacking him to giving him all the non-defence security agencies, and that just seemed to be a very big change in his approach.

Now, having said that, I spend a lot of time with my counterparts. I’ve been the Immigration and Home Affairs Minister. I have dealt with countries in Asia within our region, the United States, countries in Europe and of course there are many countries that have homeland security or home affairs portfolios, and I think there are some significant risks.

I would say this, if the country ultimately continues down the path as announced, if that were to occur then you would really want to enhance Parliamentary oversight over the agency and the Minister. Whilst the Prime Minister has relied upon the fact that there are comparable countries with similar agencies, what's different in those countries is that the power of the Parliament to examine the conduct of the agencies is far greater than is the case in this country.

So I think if you are going to be serious about putting all of those agencies together under one Minister, then it is vital that the Parliament has very significant oversight to mitigate any risks of abuse of power, because it is one almighty sized portfolio and it's certainly prone to abuse if not properly checked and properly examined.

VAN ONSELEN: Yeah well there are so many facets to it, it really is a super portfolio as you mention.

Can I get your thoughts on the whole penalty rates debate. We've talked a lot about this over time, and flagged it as a big issue in the election campaign. It's not getting that much traction though. Why is that?

O'CONNOR: Look, I think certainly out there people are concerned about it. Everywhere I go, and it's raised with Bill when he's out at Town Hall meetings, it’s clear that people are concerned.

I guess the decision has been made, but what's going to happen now is there are going to be cuts to those workers every year for the next three or four years, we're going to see that continue. You can be assured when the Parliament resumes, Federal Labor will continue to prosecute its argument. It's just clearly unfair.

And I just quickly want to go to why we believe it's unfair. You've got the lowest wage growth in more than 20 years in this country. You've got the Government wanting to increase taxes on the bottom 80 per cent of workers. A large proportion of those workers are going to lose real income because of the penalty rates decision.

Now, we say, in combination these things are just so unfair for those people who are working hard trying to make ends meet. So you might not see it on the front pages of the newspapers Peter, but let me tell you it resonates. When I speak to community groups, or when I'm talking to workers, or indeed just talking to people who are worried about their grandchildren -

VAN ONSELEN: Grass roots?

O'CONNOR: I think it is a grass roots issue and people understand it very quickly. I mean, there is a practical part to this about just not making people's wages fall, but it is also very symbolic. Which side are you on when we see growing inequality? You know it is true to say that we have had pretty good success in our economic story for this country, economic success over 30 years. We've seen wage growth occur, but even in that period where wage growth has occurred - say over the last 25 years - it's been much more fortunate for those at the top end.

Now what sort of society do we want to live in? What we want is a society where the economy grows, where people are forwarded opportunity, where people have access to higher education and access to good jobs - and so if we do that, we’re going to make sure that there’s business and consumer confidence.

But look at the contrary. If we see people precariously employed, a government not responding to widespread exploitation and underpayment, increasingly people asking for more work but not being able to find it - 1.1 million underemployed at the moment - you’re seeing that having an effect on consumer confidence.

The great spenders in our economy, as you know, are working class and middle class families. They spend almost all of their income. Now, if you start undermining their sense of security, you undermine their confidence in the market and indeed confidence in consumption - that will have an immediate effect, and we believe it is already having an effect.

So, we think the penalty rates decision and our response to it is not just a practical way to mitigate the effect. It’ll take a larger role, one that is a symbolic ‘where to from here?’ for this country. Do we want to follow the path to a low wage, low productivity, low waged society? Or do we want to go for high skill, high wage society?

Well, we choose the latter. Higher investment in education and skills, better and more secure jobs, and indeed partnering with business to do that. We can’t compete on wages in the region - we should be looking to invest in our most important resource, Peter. It’s always been our people. That is even more so now in a knowledge-based globalised economy.

VAN ONSELEN: One final question, it’ll be remiss of me not to ask you Brendan O’Connor. I am led to believe that you are yet to provide documentary evidence about your British citizenship. Now, I know what the vetting processes are like in Labor so I suspect you’ve got it. But you can’t like the look of you and Malcolm Roberts being two peas in a pod, he’s refusing to provide the same. You can do it right here for us on Sky News.

O’CONNOR: Well, I can assure you that I’m entirely consistent and compliant with the constitution. I’m an eligible member of the parliament and I can assure you that is the case and I feel no compulsion to respond to the breathless enquiries of the media.

VAN ONSELEN: I hope I wasn’t breathless just then. But we appreciate your time Brendan O’Connor, thanks for your company.

O’CONNOR: Thanks very much Peter.