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Transcript of interview with Patricia Karvelas: ABC Afternoon: 20 Novemebr 2019: infrastructure; economy; Porter speech; marriage equality; Robodebt



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MATT THISTLETHWAITE MP

SHADOW ASSISTANT MINISTER FOR FINANCIAL SERVICES SHADOW ASSISTANT MINISTER FOR THE REPUBLIC MEMBER FOR KINGSFORD SMITH

E&OE TRANSCRIPT TELEVISION INTERVIEW ABC AFTERNOON BRIEFING WEDNESDAY, 20 NOVEMBER 2019

SUBJECTS: Infrastructure; Economy; Porter speech; Marriage equality; Robodebt.

PATRICIA KARVELAS: I want to bring in my panel, Labor's Matt Thistlethwaite and LNP MP Keith Pitt join me today. Hello. The government today made this big announcement to bring forward this infrastructure spend, but already it's been critiqued by economists who say it's just not big enough, it won't have enough of a stimulatory effect. I imagine you obviously welcome it, but do you think there's room for more?

KEITH PITT: Well firstly it's great to be with you, great to be with your viewers. We're always looking to do more and in fact the Federal government has a substantial infrastructure investment package on the horizon and committed $100 billion dollars over ten years, we have brought forward some of that expenditure in particular States which have been announced already and in Queensland today that's $1.9 billion dollars worth of project, but I think we need to have a common-sense approach to these things. They take time, they take engineering design, they need contracts and tenders to be awarded, they need to be built those, tenders need to be issued and contracts issued and all of those activities are done by State governments, not by Federal governments particularly for roads and bridges and in some cases railway lines but clearly not the inland rail. So I'm pleased that the Queensland Labor Government's finally seen some sense, there are other projects that we would obviously like them to commit to now but they put forward what they can afford at this time and those amounts have been brought forward. So $680 million dollars in additional funding into Queensland from the Federal government, around $600 million dollars from the State Labor government and obviously over $600 million we already had committed for projects into the next year. Look, I just think that's good news for jobs.

KARVELAS: Matt, is it is it good news? Does Labor welcome today's announcement?

MATT THISTLETHWAITE, SHADOW ASSISTANT MINISTER FOR FINANCIAL SERVICES: Well, we welcome the additional investment in infrastructure, Patricia, but I fear that it might be too little, too late. The thing about economic indicators is that they tend to be lagging indicators, so you often don't realise there's a problem until it's too late and particularly the employment indicators and growth figures and we've had the Reserve Bank, the IMF and the Opposition for well over a year now saying to the government that there is a problem with the Australian economy, it's getting worse and that you need to act. And they've acted today, but I

just fear that it may be too little, too late and it won't be enough. That's why Labor's also been saying that you need to look at bringing forward the second stage of the tax cuts, look at things like penalty rates for people working in hospitality industries, even the rate of Newstart. All those will make a difference in terms of stimulus, particularly around consumption that we badly need as a boost to our economy at the moment.

KARVELAS: Matt, let me put this quote from the Prime Minister’s speech tonight to you. He says a responsible and sensible government does not run the country as if it's constantly at DEFCON 1, whether on the economy or any other issue. Is that what Labor's suggesting? That you just kind of throw money out and its crisis and Armageddon?

THISTLETHWAITE: No, we're not suggesting that at all. In fact you'd have to say that the Reserve Bank generally take a responsible and conservative approach to the management of our economy and they've been calling for stimulus like this….

KARVELAS: Sure and the government’s delivered stimulus today, but they haven't quantified that kind of stimulus.

THISTLETHWAITE: But the Reserve Bank and the IMF have been calling for this for well over 12 months, Patricia, and the government's only acted today. And they're known well in advance that this has been a problem. They have had consumption in the doldrums for well over a year now, wages growth has been low for the last five years, inflation has been very low and growth has been trending down for well over 12 months. You need to act quickly. That was the beauty of what Kevin Rudd did in the wake of the global financial crisis, he acted very quickly and decisively with stimulus and we managed to avoid recession and this government's been dragging its heels for well over 12 months now. I just fear it's too little, too late.

KARVELAS: Keith isn't that at least in some part, isn't there a point in that there have been calls for a long time now, the RBA obviously being a key player they're saying that we need stimulus, shouldn't this have happened earlier? The government's have been in power for a while now since the May election.

PITT: We're taking a considered approach. I mean you only have to look at history to know what happens under the Labor Party, cash for clunkers, pink batts, school halls, I mean the list goes on. So we are very cautious with the taxpayers money, we are ensuring that it is spent appropriately on projects that matter. But the point that I really want to make is that the government is not the only game in town. We need business to be out there investing as well, it's business that employs right across the country and business relies on confidence. So I'd say and I've said this publicly before I'd say to the Labor Party stop talking down the Australian economy, it is going along well compared to others around the world. What we've done is brought forward money we already had committed in conjunction with State governments and as I said earlier we simply can't deliver those projects without the States, that's just the reality of our Federation. So I'm pleased that the Queensland Government's got on board, I'm pleased that some of those projects are in the regions although obviously I'd like to see more. But we do have other measures which are out there which are waiting for State government commitments. If you look at the dams infrastructure program we have for Queensland where we're yet to see that start now, we've had a billion dollars investment announced in New South Wales and they're really getting on with it. So I'd say again to Queensland, the Queensland Premier, this is your opportunity to shine. Come out, support those infrastructure projects but actually get them started.

KARVELAS: I'm sure there could be shining from lots of people at this time in history. Let's

just talk about Christian Porter's address to the National Press Club because he made some significant announcements, let's just start on the religious freedom part of that equation and I'll start with you again Keith Pitt. Would you like to see more changes to the draft bill? Christian Porter announced one change he will make in relation to aged care providers and hospitals, but do you think that this bill is adequate?

PITT: Well I think that's a debate to be had in the Parliament and obviously yet to be had in the sector. Obviously we'd like to put forward something which is perfect but we know that in terms of negotiation through both the House and the Senate things change. It's never a matter of what I want, it's a matter of what my constituents want and they've obviously been concerned for some time and some of those issues have been addressed and obviously there will be further changes as the debate progresses. This is a difficult issue to deal with that there is no way to legislate for every possible circumstance in this field. I think that's something which is recognised and well known. I think the Attorney General is doing a good job in terms of consultation and making changes were needed, but once again that the debate will happen in the House and the Senate and I look forward to seeing where it lands.

KARVELAS: Matt, an announcement was made today by Christian Porter, one change he'd like to make to the draft bill in relation to aged care facilities and also hospitals. What do you think of it?

THISTLETHWAITE: Well obviously we need to see the detail, Patricia, but I've got concerns about it, I've got to say. Let's be frank, this all comes about in the wake of Australians voting a few years ago for marriage equality in Australia and the government responding to some concerns that have been raised in the wake of that. That's the crux of what's going on here and in one case you've had Australians overwhelmingly voting to extend rights and privileges under our laws to same-sex couples in Australia and that's a great thing, it was a great advance that this country made. Now it seems that we're starting to walk back from that and put in exemptions, it started with religious schools, so that's being looked at. Now we're talking about aged care facilities, we're talking about hospitals. What's next, charities and other institutions? I'm just worried that this is the thin end of the wedge of walking back some of the progress that's been made by the country when we voted for marriage equality.

KARVELAS: They’re very strong comments from you Matt Thistlethwaite, so what does that mean in terms of what kind of action Labor should take? Because there will be pressure on Labor to either support or negotiate over this bill, what do you think should happen?

THISTLETHWAITE: Well at this stage it's an exposure draft and there's quite a bit of commentary going on around and the government said that they're going to make changes. There's plenty of government MPs that have said that they're not happy with it, so they're going to make changes. So it's quite difficult to reach a conclusion on it, Patricia, until you see the details. But the general approach that I will take is that I'm sceptical about it because I don't want to see a reduction in the rights that Australians have overwhelmingly voted for and that we legislated for in the last Parliament that I thought moved Australia forward and made us a better nation.

KARVELAS: Keith, is that what's happening here, that this is a reaction to the marriage equality laws that passed and trying to wind things back or to compensate for that legal reform?

PITT: Look, I think Matt's drawing a pretty long bow. You know, I'll be frank and upfront, it's one of the reasons I voted against the gay marriage proposal put before the Parliament. In my

electorate it was very close, practically a 50-50 draw in terms of the postal vote and I made a decision based on the legislation before the House which I thought was the appropriate one. So we are looking to make changes in terms of those protections, consultation is happening right across the country. I note the Attorney General said he's had some 90 sets of consultation given his role I think that's a very serious commitment to getting this right. But as I've said the debate will continue, it will happen in the House, it will happen in the Senate, it is a difficult issue but no one sends us to Canberra to deal with the easy ones, Patricia.

KARVELAS: Hey Keith, I'd be interested to know, I mean you know that the vote was a couple of years ago now, if you had your time again would you vote the same way?

PITT: Oh yes, I would. In terms of hypotheticals, but I'll put forward the same proposition, the postal vote in my electorate was pretty much a tie, it was a few hundred primary votes from recollection, I think some 20,000 didn't make a contribution or put forward their view. So I made a decision based on the legislation that was before the House, I put out a statement at the time and that's what happened. So you know that the Parliament tends to be and should be a reflection of the people, there was a ballot, the majority was supported and the bill passed.

KARVELAS: Just quickly to you Keith and then just quickly to Matt. I want to know, has there been a lot of complaints to your office about robo debt?

PITT: I wouldn't say there's been a lot, in fact you're testing my memory a little bit as to whether there's been any, I'd have to go back and look at our local database in our contacts with local constituents. It’s obviously been an issue and there's been changes announced today which I think are appropriate and it's an appropriate response.

KARVELAS: Matt Thistlethwaite, I'll give you the final word on that. Has this been a huge issue in terms of electorate complaints? Because I have heard that it is, but I'd like to know the evidence from the MPs who get them.

THISTLETHWAITE: Yeah, I've had upward of 20 complaints from constituents about this, Patricia, we've tried to meet with all of them. We've written off to the Minister on behalf of those constituents, in some cases we've had the sit decisions reversed, in others we haven’t. So I think that it's definitely been a big issue for constituents in my electorate and I've actually invited Bill Shorten to my electorate, he's come down and he's met with some of those people who have had problems with this system and it's been a disaster and thankfully the government's recognise that it's been a disaster and is doing something about it.

KARVELAS: Thanks to both of you for joining me.

THISTLETHWAITE: Cheers.

ENDS

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