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Transcript of radio interview with Patricia Karvelas: ABC RN Drive: 10 September 2018: Peter Dutton's au pair and constitutional cases; immigration; newspoll; China.

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SUBJECT/S: Peter Dutton’s au pair and constitutional cases; immigration; Newspoll; China.

PATRICIA KARVELAS, PRESENTER: Chris Bowen is the Shadow Treasurer. Welcome back to RN Drive.

CHRIS BOWEN, SHADOW TREASURER: Good to be with you Patricia, good evening.

KARVELAS: So it emerges that the greens have dropped the no confidence in motion against Peter Dutton for misleading the Parliament over his granting of visas for two foreign au pairs. Labor was prepared to support it. Does this mean you will go it alone on this?

BOWEN: Well look my understanding is The Greens have indicated they would rather that motion be considered after the Senate inquiry into the whole affair. That was the last update I had so, it wouldn’t come on this week, it would come on at a different time but that’s really a matter for them. They are the ones who proposed the no confidence motion. Obviously we lack confidence in the Government in its entire entirety so look we will continue to ask questions and take appropriate stances on the matter but the status of The Greens motion is a matter for The Greens.

KARVELAS: Labor has spent much of today pointing out that the Ministers had declared support for Malcolm Turnbull and then not back to him for the leadership but we already knew that. What was the point of the exercise beyond embarrassing the Government?

BOWEN: Well a couple of points I think Patricia. Firstly, what you say in Parliament matters and when you are in Minister you are actually meant to resign for misleading Parliament so it’s a serious matter and very clearly these ties were misleading. I mean they were already talking to Peter Dutton and offering him their support when they were

just standing in the dispatch box and declaring undying loyalty for Malcolm Turnbull so that’s point one. Point two, when they are prepared to do that about one thing how do they have any credibility on anything else ever? When they are attacking Labor policy, when they are making assertions at the dispatch box, those assertions that they were with Malcolm Turnbull and they had given assurances of loyalty. Remember, on the Tuesday they got up and said ‘We are providing Malcolm Turnbull with assurances of loyalty’ and at the end of the week were voting against him. They don’t have any credibility on anything at any point.

KARVELAS: The Opposition says his legal advice that Peter Dutton is ineligible to sit in Parliament under section 44 of the Constitution because of Commonwealth payments to childcare centres he owns, have any of the crossbenchers agreed to support your no confidence motion?

BOWEN: Well I haven’t had any discussions with crossbenchers but I am not handling that matter. Their defense is that they have legal advice, that they are okay. It’s pretty obviously the case that so did Barnaby Joyce and look how that ended. He had Solicitor General‘s advice, Peter Dutton has Solicitor General‘s advice. I’ve got to say with due respect to the Solicitor General it’s not very strong advice, heavily couched advice and that advice makes clear that only the High Court can ultimately determine the matter so I think it’s fair to say that his advice is weaker than the advice that Barnaby Joyce had and of course the High Court decided to disagree with the Solicitor General so very clearly this should go to the High Court, the best way for that to happen would be for Peter Dutton to do what Barnaby Joyce did and refer himself.

KARVELAS: If the current numbers don’t change then you can’t actually refer Peter Dutton to the High Court so what’s the strategy then?

BOWEN: Well we will continue to pursue the case. I mean we think he should be…

KARVELAS: It just continues to be disruption and theatre right?

BOWEN: Well no, it’s a serious matter referring someone to the High Court. Now it would be best done I think everybody would agree, it’s best done on a non-partisan basis by self-referral. I mean we have always said that. But obviously where Peter Dutton is point blank refusing to do so and his vote, here is the great irony Patricia, his vote is the one vote last time which avoided him being referred. He voted against his own referral and that motion was carried by one vote to avoid referral to the High Court. So he is relying on his own questionable vote vote to keep himself out of the High Court. I mean if he’s got nothing to hide, if he’s so confident of his position before the High Court why wouldn’t he agreed to clear this matter up by sending himself to the High Court, as others have done including Barnaby Joyce?

KARVELAS: Media reports today have highlighted that Labor allowed the nanny of soccer star Alessandro Del Piero into the country on a tourist visa. Now you were Immigration Minister in one of these instances, she was a nanny, she was working but

given a tourist visa. How is that different to what Peter Dutton did?

BOWEN: Well it’s extraordinarily different and it’s a pretty desperate attempt by Peter Dutton to change the conversation. The big difference is of course that I did not exercise any Ministerial power or intervention. This was approved by the Department just as hundreds of thousands of other visa applications are approved by the Department every year. My powers were not invoked in this instance, I didn’t know this individual. In fact I confess to you Patricia, I’m not a big football person, I’m not a big soccer fan so I didn’t know who he was. I did not intervene to see that visa approved. The Department approved it in the normal way. Very different, very different to the Peter Dutton au pair cases.

KARVELAS: But we are seeing now these leaks or these cases being shared in the media of times Labor acted. Doesn’t this just shows that it’s a murky space, both this Ministerial intervention...

BOWEN: There was no Ministerial intervention. I mean the two cases today Patricia with respect, one was with this soccer player’s nanny which was approved by the Department with no intervention by me and the other one was when Tony Burke was Minister and didn’t exercise his power either. I mean we both had powers to approve these visas, In both these instances we did not. I mean you couldn’t get a starker difference with the Peter Dutton affair. Now the Ministerial intervention is an important ministerial power, it’s there for cases which are compelling. You and I know the sort of cases it is often used for, I mean sometimes they come up in the media: a doctor working in a regional area for example who the community loves and nobody else will provide that service but they haven’t met every single element of the migration act and it’s common sense that they should be allowed to stay. That’s where Minister’s intervene regularly and of course Ministers are right to intervene, that’s an important power. Members of Parliament are right to raise those cases with ministers. When I was Minister for Immigration I had Liberal MPs and Labor MPs ask me to intervene. I would always weigh it up carefully, look at the Department's advice, it would go through a process. If it was compelling with common sense then I would intervene. If it wasn't then I would not. At no point did I ever intervene at an airport for example, against departmental advice. At no point during my three years as Minister.

The only occasion I ever had to get involved in an airport decision was when Sir Viv Richards came to Australia and forgot to arrange his visa, and the Department agreed that it was appropriate that he be let in. So this is very, very different. I understand that Peter is casting around trying to throw a bit of mud to change the conversation, I don't particularly blame him for that in the circumstances. But to compare two cases, both of which involved no ministerial intervention whatsoever with a case of an au pair where he did intervene, strikes me frankly, as pretty ridiculous.

KARVELAS: On another issue, we saw at the weekend a huge swing away from the Liberal Party in a by-election in New South Wales seat of Wagga Wagga, or as people always say to me, if you're a real person you just call it Wagga. But Labor's primary vote

remained much the same and an independent is now likely to win. What do you make of that, what are the lessons here?

BOWEN: Well I mean it's very tough territory for the Labor Party. I mean, Eddie Graham was the last Labor member for Wagga and that was many, many, decades ago. Six decades ago. So obviously we ran a great campaign with a good candidate. It was always going to be tough territory for the Labor Party. No question about that. It is highly conservative ground. The fact that such highly conservative ground swung so deliberately and clearly away from the Government and away from the Liberal Party I think should give the Liberal Party cause for concern both at the state and federal level.

KARVELAS: If you are just tuning in, Chris Bowen the Shadow Treasurer is my guest. No doubt you've seen the latest Newspoll, it has Labor easily winning a federal election but really interestingly Scott Morrison is already ahead of Bill Shorten as preferred Prime Minister. Now given Bill Shorten has been Opposition Leader for five years, does that concern you?

BOWEN: No, and I'll just say Patricia, I pay the preferred Prime Minister poll very, very little attention. Of course we are all meant to say we all don't read any of the polls, of course that's not true, of course we look at the polls. They are not a determinant of your action but of course we are political operatives, of course we watch the polls. But I think the two party preferred result is the much more important indicator.

It is very rare for a Leader of the Opposition to be ahead on the preferred Prime Minister ranking. Many leaders of the opposition have won elections but not as the preferred Prime Minister, and as soon as they become Prime Minister, magically they become the preferred Prime Minister. It is the pattern of history. So I don't give that any credence whatsoever.

KARVELAS: Okay so there are no lessons from it? Because he's only been the Prime Minister for two weeks and he's shot ahead.

BOWEN: Sure. I'm just saying, I just think generally the preferred Prime Minister ranking is a pretty irrelevant one to the results of elections.

KARVELAS: You've just returned from a trip to China meeting academics and participating in a round table on China's international outlook. What did you learn?

BOWEN: It was a very interesting trip, I undertook it with Julian Leeser the Member for Berowra and China Matters, the public policy initiative designed to focus public policy makers on the matter of China and its place in the world, and its relationship with Australia. So it was an important trip. It was a bit different to the normal trips to China in that it wasn't official and we didn't do too many meetings with Government officials. We did more with think tanks and senior business people.

Obviously there was a strong discussion about the current trade wars, or worsening

trade war with the United States, about China's role in the region and a lot of interest in Australia's perspective. Those discussions were very useful as we prepare for the possibility of Government, obviously it is a very important bilateral relationship which any Government needs to focus on and it's an important one for an incoming Government to be concerned about.

KARVELAS: What do you make of this blocking of the ABC website in China? Is it a retaliatory measure for the Huawei decision? How do you read it?

BOWEN: Look people can make that conclusion, it's not something which came up too often in our discussions, obviously more internet access is better and access to international new sites and respected ones like the ABC is much preferred. You can make the conclusion about Huawei but that's not something that particularly came up in our discussions in terms of that particular link.

KARVELAS: And you know that there are concerns about China's territorial expansion in the South China Sea and its buying of influence in the Pacific. How were those moves explained to you in these discussions? Do you see a cause for concern here?

BOWEN: Well this is always going to be a bilateral relationship where there are differences and disagreements. Absolutely. Our position as the Opposition on the South China Sea is the same as the Government's. But we do make the point that there are ways of communicating this and I think part of the reason that the bilateral relationship has been in such poor shape is that it has been dragged through the domestic political debate, frankly by the current Government trying to score political points on an important bilateral relationship. I think that is unfortunate.

I think you can have strong discussions with countries like China, you can put your point of view appropriately and strongly, but actually dragging an important bilateral relationship through the domestic political debate means it is very hard to get the relevant levels of nuance, of respect, of understanding, into that discussion. I think that is where the bilateral relationship has in many senses, suffered over recent months.

KARVELAS: Chris Bowen thank you so much for your time.

BOWEN: Good on you Patricia, it's always nice to chat.