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Transcript of doorstop: Armidale: 30 November 2017: New England By-election; banking royal commission; Malcolm's biggest bank flip yet; Senator Dastyari

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SUBJECTS: New England By-election; Banking Royal Commission; Malcolm’s biggest bank flip yet; Senator Dastyari

DAVID EWINGS, LABOR CANDIDATE FOR NEW ENGLAND: We’re in Armidale today as the Labor campaign continues leading up to Saturday the 2nd of December for the New England By-election and it’s a real honour to have Shadow Treasurer Chris Bowen lend his considerable experience to getting our message out. I’m going to get straight into it: The Government of Barnaby Joyce when Deputy Prime Minister, in collaboration with Malcolm Turnbull have cut spending to critical services including education and critical infrastructure including healthcare. They’ve also done nothing to support the penalty rates for thousands of workers in this electorate. Now these were all things that Barnaby Joyce supported. He supported all of those cuts, and now he’s in hiding not taking any interviews as far as I can tell. Now apart from that we’ve got problems with a Government that wants to give big business a $65 billion tax cut, and let’s be clear, when conservative Governments cut those critical services that people rely on, they pay for it by taking money from people who can’t afford it and giving it to big businesses that don’t need it because a lot of them don’t even pay tax anyway. I won’t stand for it and Labor won’t stand for it. Also, we’ve seen a backflip in the last 24 hours as Prime Minister Turnbull, now he wants to have a banking Royal Commission. Well, you know you couldn’t be more craven. This is a fella that only 24 hours ago was saying “No we can’t have a banking Royal Commission, it’ll take too long, it’ll cost too much money and previous to that that it would damage our banking sector”. Well that’s not our take on it at all, we’ve been calling for this for a long time, and so as I said earlier, it’s a real pleasure to have Shadow Treasurer Chris Bowen with me and I’m sure he would like to add something to that.

CHRIS BOWEN, SHADOW TREASURER: Well thanks very much Dave, it’s a great pleasure to be here in Armidale with our country Labor candidate for New England, Dave Ewings. He’s the underdog but he’s fighting hard. He wants to be and would be a strong voice for the people of New England in a reforming Labor Government. Now I was meant to be in Canberra today for a sitting of the Parliament. Malcolm Turnbull was too gutless to have the Parliament sit this week because he wanted to avoid a banking Royal Commission. We will talk a little bit more about how that panned out but it’s given me the opportunity to come to Armidale. So, for that and that alone, I thank Malcolm Turnbull, otherwise I would have been in Canberra today. It’s been a great opportunity to campaign with David and meet with local businesses this morning and Council this afternoon and to engage in important regional issues and listen to the concerns of the businesses and the local Government of this region.

Well today is that day that if there was any doubt the Turnbull Government became a laughing stock, a rolling joke. Today in the ultimate capitulation and surrender Malcolm Turnbull and Scott Morrison reduce to holding a press conference to announce a Royal Commission into the banks and Financial Services industry, one that they had resisted, opposed for 600 days. They voted against it in the Parliament 23 times, Malcolm Turnbull, Scott Morrison, Barnaby Joyce voted against a Royal Commission in the Parliament 23 times over the last 18 months. If the Liberal Party had listened to the Labor Party 18 months ago when we called for a Royal Commission into the banks, the Royal Commission would now be finishing. The Government would be implementing its recommendations. The Australian people and the Financial Services industry would be getting on with it. Instead we’ve 18 wasted months. 18 months of excuses, of delay, of obstruction, of denial from Malcolm Turnbull, Scott Morrison and Barnaby Joyce. 18 wasted months, the Australian people have every right to be furious with this Government.

Today, only with a permission slip from the banks, have they called a Royal Commission. The banks came out at 8.30am and said “We support a Royal Commission”. Malcolm Turnbull and Scott Morrison slink out a little while later and say “Yes we will have a Royal Commission”. Only with a permission slip from the banks. And what’s even worse, no consultation about the terms of reference, neither with the Opposition, which has been calling for the Royal Commission for 18 months, a decent Government would sit down with the Opposition and would say “Alright, we give in, this is your idea, let’s work together on the terms of reference”. They haven’t done that, but more importantly than that, no consultation with victims of the banking scandals over the last few years. And very possibly no chance for those victims to come forward and have their say at the Royal Commission based on one reading of the terms of reference. So this Government has made it up as they’ve gone along, and are not getting it right. A proper Government would now sit down, admit their error, work through the terms of reference, sure consult with the banks which I presume they’ve done but consult with the victims of the financial scandals and the indeed Opposition as well as they should do now with the appointment of the Royal Commissioner or commissioners, consult with the Opposition and it appears based on a quick reading of the terms of reference that at least one of the terms of references is designed as an attack on industry superannuation funds. This Government just can’t help themselves.

Now we are happy to have a full range of inquiry into financial services including superannuation but this Government can't help themselves but to arrange a witch hunt in relation to industry funds. So, let's see their appointment of a Royal Commissioner or Royal Commissioners but so far their track record on this first stage after this humiliating back down, this backflip of all backflips by Malcolm Turnbull, they can't even get the terms of reference right. Now we stand ready to work with the Government on the terms of reference or the appointment of a Royal Commissioner. Governments shouldn't always consult with Oppositions about Royal Commissioners except that where this Opposition, this alternative Government has shown leadership by announcing the Royal Commission 18 months ago and this Government has so thoroughly delayed action they should be consulting with us but more importantly with the victims groups and consumer groups when it comes to financial services. Happy to take any questions.

JOURNALIST: The Coalition has criticised Labor saying that Labor has been giving victims false hope.

BOWEN: Well this is a Prime Minister who today accepted a Royal Commission. Now he says it is “regrettable”, I mean he doesn't believe in it. Now the people who are giving victims false hope are the Government by not consulting them on the terms of reference of their Royal Commission. Now if we were writing the terms of reference of a Royal Commission I would consult broadly with the financial services sector but also with consumer groups and victims groups. I would actually have a thorough process, I would work with the Attorney General, with the Attorney General’s Department, with Treasury and have a thorough going terms of reference. This Government, as they lurch from crisis to crisis, makes it up. Now this Government which has provided false hope, I mean how many false starts have we had over the last 18 months? It seems like every week they come out with a new excuse as to why not to have a Royal Commission and a new alibi as they propose some other half measure. All of which has come to naught because today, dragged kicking and screaming we finally have the Labor Party’s position vindicated after 18 long months and a Royal Commission established.

JOURNALIST: So do you support this Royal Commission at all? Do you like the idea or are you just totally against it?

BOWEN: Well we have supported a Royal Commission for 18 months. We are very glad that the Government has finally called one but they are doing so for the wrong reasons. We are not impressed with the terms of reference we’ve so far seen, we will keep an open mind about the Royal Commissioners. I'm not going to comment on who they are before we know who they are but I warn the Government if they don't appoint thoroughly credentialed experienced and respected Royal Commissioners then we will be pointing that out. If they make a good appointment we will equally give it a tick.

JOURNALIST: What would you like to see in those terms of reference?

BOWEN: Well I would like to see victims consulted. I'd like to see a very clear opportunity for victims to be making their case, for consumer groups to be laying out their concerns. The banks will make submissions to the Royal Commission, they will

be lawyered up. They will be making all sorts of defences to the Royal Commission, that's perfectly appropriate. They deserve to have their say, absolutely they do, but so do those who have been the victims of bank scandals, so do consumer groups, so do community groups, so do farming groups and representatives of rural industry. They all deserve to have a say. The terms of reference, what we have seen so far certainly not what we would be agreeing to, not that we will be consulted or have a say but if the Government was fair dinkum they would in this instance say "This is something the Labor Party has called for for 18 months, we might sit down with them and work it through".

And we would do so very constructively. But as I keep saying, and more importantly, they should be engaging with all those groups, community groups, rural groups, victims groups, consumer groups, it wouldn't take long, take a couple of days of proper consultation. We wouldn't criticise them for that if they came out today and said we are going to do a bit of consultation on the terms of reference. They wouldn't have had any criticism from me, I would have said that's appropriate but they haven't done that. They just lurch from crisis to crisis.

JOURNALIST: Is this just a PR stunt by the big four banks?

BOWEN: Well the big four banks can explain why after 18 months of resisting a Royal Commission this morning they gave the Government a permission slip to do so. They wrote them a note "Dear Government, we give you permission to hold a Royal Commission into us” and Malcolm Turnbull the shallow shell of a Prime Minister that he is, Prime Minister in name only, then decided to cave in and hold a Royal Commission, only then. Now we've been told all sorts of horror stories, that a Royal Commission will be a disaster, it would be a waste, by the Government and by the banks. With respect. That has all changed today. Frankly Bill shorten and the Labor Party have been vindicated today. I mean from Opposition as we have in so many other areas of economic policy, we have led the debate. Now Malcolm Turnbull has lost control of the Parliament, the Cabinet and today the economy.

JOURNALIST: Do you think it is just the writing of approval from the big four banks or do you think there were other pressures that caused the Prime Minister to cave and backflip?

BOWEN: Don't you think it's a bit extraordinary that the banks give permission at 8:30 and an hour later they come out and say “Yeah we will have a Royal Commission”? I mean is that a coincidence? "Oh we didn't know the banks were going to make this statement today, we would have held the Royal Commission anyway", seriously? Does anybody seriously accept that? Now of course they were also worried about a vote in the Parliament, that's why they cancelled Parliament this week but at the end of the day the Labor Party has consistently called for this for 18 months, against the ferocious opposition of the banks and the Liberal Party and today it has all evaporated in a puff of smoke and Bill Shorten’ s position and the Labor Party's position has been vindicated.

JOURNALIST: You talk about the Government being humiliated today and losing control. We have to ask about Sam Dastyari. That's got to be embarrassing for Labor?

BOWEN: Look, a couple of points. Sam has said consistently that he has made mistakes in this process, he has now paid the price twice. Sometimes there is a price to paid in politics, he has paid the price twice. Now Malcolm Turnbull and his Government Ministers can go on with all their shrill pretty ridiculous claims about Senator Dastyari. Bill Shorten has taken action. He has said that Sam has to pay a price. Sam has agreed with that and he has paid the price now twice. Now I think in politics that's what you do, you pay the price for your mistakes and Sam has more than paid the price now twice for his mistakes. He has made some mistakes along the way and he will be sitting on Labor’s backbench for some time as a result of those mistakes.

Now I am concerned to read reports in the media about classified ASIO information in the media. It's very important that the methods and targets of ASIO are protected and I would expect that the Government is taking action to determine how these reports have made their way to the media because it is largely unprecedented, largely unprecedented, I can't think of a precedent for those sorts of reports making their way to the public of ASIO activities.

JOURNALIST: Will there be more internal soul-searching (inaudible)?

BOWEN: Within the Government? Well I mean the Government has got a responsibility to ensure that the security of the security agencies is protected and whenever there is a breach of that, regardless of any political consequences, regardless of who the target is, if ASIO’s or other security agencies methods and targets are exposed I would've thought that should be of great concern to ASIO easier and the Government of the day.

JOURNALIST: What about the fact that a member of your Party though was tipping somebody and helping them to potentially…

BOWEN: He has denied that. He has made very clear that that from his point of view, it did not happen. He says he went to see the individual in question to tell him why he was cutting off relations with him and he felt it was common courtesy to do that face-to-face. Now I'm sure Senator Dastyari in the light of current events would reflect and say, “Was that the right thing to do?” but at the time he thought he was showing someone common courtesy.

JOURNALIST: Do you think he should quit Parliament?



BOWEN: He has paid the price.

JOURNALIST: Is that enough?

BOWEN: He has paid the price and he will make a contribution, ongoing, as a Senator.

JOURNALIST: Do you think this backflip will affect the confidence, voters confidence in Barnaby Joyce in Saturdays by-election?

EWINGS: Well my confidence in Barnaby Joyce is pretty low. I have been trying to get Barnaby Joyce to a forum or some sort with a debate for the last four weeks and I just don't know where Barnaby is. He seems to be elsewhere whenever there is hard questions that need to be answered from his time as the Member for New England but you know, this is an opportunity as I said from day one for the voters in New England to send a message. It is a great opportunity for them to do that. Going back to what Chris was saying about the banking Royal Commission. This is something that has overwhelming support nationally in the community and so to see the Government backflip, the Government which was until recently something that Barnaby Joyce had a leadership role in, I wouldn't be surprised if it eroded people’s confidence but we will have to see on voting day, on election day on this Saturday coming but I would urge voters to consider this and to consider, as Chris pointed out, Labors leadership to do the right thing by banking consumers and to shed a light on the rip-offs and the rorts that are being perpetrated by these people. When I've spoken to people in Armadale that have been at the thin end of the stick with this sort of treatment and we won't accept that. We will shine a light on it when we get the opportunity, we will take that opportunity and do the right thing.

JOURNALIST: Some candidates have suggested that they think this by-election is becoming pretty dirty. What do you think?

EWINGS: Well they are welcome to their views but can you elaborate a little bit more on that?

JOURNALIST: Dirty as in I suppose as in stalking claims and death threats.

EWINGS: Well that has nothing to do with our campaign and it certainly has nothing to do with me. We’ve I would say been running the hardest campaign out there and we are all here talking to the Shadow Treasurer and asking questions of me as the Labor candidate. We've been doing that for weeks and we've had regional communications Shadow minister and with had various Shadows in different portfolios here the entire time so we're just concentrating on that and I would say though, I don't condone that sort of behaviour one bit. You don't threaten people like that, that's a terrible thing to do. This is politics and we should have a grown-up civilised discussion, that's all we want. We want to thrash out our ideas and present them to the public so I don't condone those actions whatsoever regardless of who it is but it has nothing to do with what we are about and what I'm about and what the Labor Party is about.

JOURNALIST: How confident are you feeling aheard of the vote on Saturday?

EWINGS: Well I claimed again right from the word go when I was announced as candidate that I was the underdog but we have thrown the kitchen sink at this campaign and we will continue working right up to election day to do the best we can and to try and get the best result that we can possibly get. And I have every confidence because I know that we have left no stone unturned, but we have

knocked on as many doors as we can, we've spoken to community groups, Councils, peak industry bodies, businesses. We have consulted with as many people as weekend to present our ideas to them and get their feedback. So you know we have done everything we can and we can and hopefully we will be rewarded for it.

JOURNALIST: You mentioned that many Shadow Ministers have been up this way. Will we be seeing Bill Shorten in the next two days at all?

EWINGS: Well, Bill is always welcome in New England but as Chris alluded to with the Prime Minister playing all sorts of hijinks and messing the Parliamentary diary around, we would always love to have Bill here but we will get as many Shadows as we can and you know I would have to sit here and count them but it would have to be a fair few Shadows we’ve had, it would be around seven or 10 perhaps. You know that's a lot of commitment from our Shadow ministry to come up here. And having said that, they always are and they are always traveling Australia. Stephen Jones, the Shadow Minister for Regional Development has travelled to over 200 councils nationally since the last election so this isn’t just something we do during elections thought there is certainly more of an emphasis at the moment but our Shadow Ministers make every effort to get out to the regions all the time.

JOURNALIST: What do you take of Barnaby being noticeably quiet this election campaign?

EWINGS: Well if I was Barnaby Joyce I would probably be a bit quiet as well. Barnaby doesn't like having those hard questions asked. I have debated him before, last year and Barnaby doesn't articulate very well his ideas sometimes. He typically gets pretty angry and distraught etc. when talking about purely political things but you know what his strategy is and what his campaign have decided to do to manage that I have really got no idea but it would have been better had he fronted up, had he fronted me as the Labor candidate, the other candidates, give them their due respect. But also most importantly the voters. He needed to be out there telling them what his vision was just as we have been doing. We have taken every opportunity to put out our agenda to do the right thing by our kids in schools, to do the right thing in our health system, to protect the penalty rates of workers, to have a banking Royal Commission and to make sure that we don't give a $65 billion tax cut to big businesses, many of whom pay no tax at all.

JOURNALIST: Do you think he is resting on his laurels as far as last year's election win?

EWINGS: Look I guess you could hypothesize about it all day but really I can't control what Barnaby does or doesn't do as I've just said. He should be out here, he should front up to the community.

JOURNALIST: Do you think he was more open last year?

EWINGS: Yes, he was at the candidates forum in Tamworth where the other candidates including myself had a robust discussion and debate in front of a live and televised audience so I don't think there is any doubt that he was more available last year than he is now.

JOURNALIST: If you do win on Saturday, what will the people of New England gets from the local member?

EWINGS: They will get someone who wants to positively reform as Chris pointed out, someone as a Member of the Government hopefully if Labor gets elected into federal Government someone that will advocate for everybody in New England regardless of where they live, regardless of whether they work in agriculture, regardless of whether they are a uni student or a cleaner or a business owner and someone that will prosecute those Labor values and those Labor things which we are trying to get out of here. I'm very very hopeful that a Labor Government would bring forward our policy for renewable energy, 50% by 2030 and then that would flow on into places like New England given the resources we've got here.

JOURNALIST: Where do you stand on issues like mining and coal-seam gas?

EWINGS: Well all of those projects should happen on their merits. I've said on the public record I'm not a fan of CSG. I've had a look at the environmental impact statements but the legislation is there, the EPA requirements at both State and Federal level, more importantly at Federal levels with the water trigger which was implemented by the previous Labor Government around 2013. All that work is carried out by an independent scientific committee so they do those, they take those assessments and then decisions are made on those projects. So any project regardless of what sort of project it is has to meet the relevant criteria.

JOURNALIST: So it's not a flat out no?

EWINGS: I think some people tend to think that we can just arbitrarily shut coal mines down. Our policy is 50% renewables by 2030. There will still be coal exported and some coal used for energy generation in Australia into the future. I'm an ex-coal miner so I understand that people have a range of different views about renewable energy and about the energy transition but the fact is the economics mean that we have to make a proper transition to more renewable energy to keep power prices down and under the state Coalition Government, the Nationals and Liberals, we have seen the privatization of generation, transmission and distribution and prices have skyrocketed, so there is so much more that we need to do and we need to bring in that investment and create those jobs of the future.

BOWEN: That's a wrap. Thanks team.