Subjects: Australian Republic; Royal Commission into Trade Unions, GST debate
PRESENTER: We like to fire up for this segment because they are two of the most experienced political operators in Australia from either side of the ideological divide and they are now going head to head right here on FIVEAA breakfast every Wednesday and they are the Member for Sturt and Industry Minister Chris Pyne and the Shadow Minister for Infrastructure and Transport Anthony Albanese. Good morning to you both guys and thanks for joining us again.
PYNE: Good morning David, good morning Will and good morning Anthony.
ALBANESE: Good morning team.
PRESENTER: Now, we’ve just had a royal visit here in South Australia with Charles and Camilla spending a pleasant afternoon in the Barossa Valley yesterday. This question is to both of you. Do you think that the goodwill that clearly exists in Australia towards the Royal Family shows that Australians don’t really have the passion for a Republic anymore?
PYNE: Who are you asking?
PRESENTER: Well I’m asking you both because you are both Republicans but you can go first Christopher.
PYNE: You can’t have any silence on radio.
ALBANESE: You’ve got to give us an order, we are being very polite.
PYNE: We are very disciplined people.
PRESENTER: You go first Chris.
PYNE: Well, I am a Republican and I think there is a lot of passion for having an Australian Head of State. I also think there is a great deal of respect for the British Royal Family, particularly the Queen. I think this debate will fire up much more when the Queen is no longer on the throne. But we had a vote in 1999. I campaigned for a yes vote and achieved one in Sturt and I was one of the organisers of Conservatives for an Australian Head of State, fondly called CAHOS. But I do think that after the Queen is no longer on the throne that Australians might have quite a different view than they do now.
PRESENTER: Malcolm Turnbull seems quite reticent to try to breathe new life into it though doesn’t he? Despite the fact that he is a former head of the ARM.
PYNE: I think most, certainly on this side of the divide, the Liberal side of the divide, think that there is no point in having a big debate about something that is not going to be an issue for some time.
PRESENTER: What’s the Labor position on this Albo? Do you think that this goodwill that exists means that the people are a bit over it, that we had our chance in 1999 but blew it?
ALBANESE: I think what it means is that Australians are polite people and that this debate isn’t a personal one. I’ve met the Queen at Buckingham Palace and when I did that, as part of the Australian delegation as a minister to the first G20 meeting that was held in London…
PYNE: It would have been the champagne socialist delegation.
ALBANESE: Well, it was a very strong delegation where we were very proud of the fact that the whole world recognised how well we did during the global financial crisis.
PYNE: With the Howard Government setting up the foundations for that.
ALBANESE: You see, he said he was polite at the beginning and now he’s just interrupting. He just can’t help himself. We’re not even on a partisan issue here. This is something we agree on Christopher. Chill out. I think at that time some of the criticism was, ‘Oh, you were nice to the Queen’. Of course. And Australians are polite. Australians will give a warm reception to Charles and Camilla as they do to any royal visitors. That doesn’t mean that we don’t think that in 2015 we should have an Australian head of state. The other issue of course it’s a reminder of today that it is the 40th anniversary of the dismissal of the Whitlam Government. I regard that as a stain on our Democracy, the fact that an elected Prime Minister was removed by the representative of the Queen, in Sir John Kerr. Still, that was one of the things that politicised me and helped divide the nation. I think today I am a minimalist in terms of the change, but I think it will happen, but of course it isn’t at the top of today’s agenda.
PYNE: What does a minimalist think?
ALBANESE: I don’t believe we should have a president with a whole lot of power. I think it should be very much restricted in terms of the role that they can play. I don’t want to see the prime minister and the president or an Australian head of state in conflict.
PYNE: I agree with that. The issue is how to appoint an Australian head of state. I simply think that my children should have the capacity to be Australian head of state, like every other Australian child in the country today and that is the one role that they are shut off from just because of right of birth and I think that is a remarkable thing. But how we elect and Australian head of state is going to be an interesting process. But I think the public had their chance to have a parliamentary appointed person and they rejected it and I think what we now have to focus on is codifying the powers, so that Anthony is right and hopefully I’m right that the Prime Minister and the president are not in conflict but I think the public want to have a say.
PRESENTER: Yes. Can I just interrupt this terrifying outbreak of consensus for a moment? Christopher Pyne, the trade union royal commission cleared the Opposition Leader Bill Shorten, who has written actually incidentally about the Republic in Fairfax newspapers overnight, cleared him. However, it made the announcement shortly after 8pm on a Friday evening. Is that entirely appropriate, given how much focus has been place on the Royal Commission by your government?
PYNE: Well, the Royal Commission is a lot more than Bill Shorten and I know that politicians can be accused of having egocentric personalities, present company excepted, but the Trade Union Royal Commission is about rooting out corruption and bad behaviour in the trade unions and there has been a lot of evidence brought forward about the CFMEU or the AWU or the MUA or the NUW etc.
PRESENTER: The timing of the Friday afternoon announcement, was that appropriate?
PYNE: Ah, well what the Trade Union Royal Commission has said is that they were legally bound to release that information as soon as they had made that decision.
ALBANESE: And they made it on a Friday night at 8:00 o’clock.
PYNE: And they found that he had not done anything unlawful but they certainly didn’t say that his behaviour had been purer than the driven snow and I was kind enough on Monday on Sky Television to say that I welcomed it as a positive thing for Bill personally, that he hadn’t broken the law according to the Royal Commission. But that doesn’t mean that the Royal Commission’s work hasn’t been important and continues to be really important.
PRESENTER: Anthony Albanese, are you ready to concede that this in fact has not been an entirely political exercise and albeit while Bill Shorten has been cleared a great many details have been drummed up as a result of the Royal Commission including revelations about the NUW. Is it time to admit that this has been actually an important process?
ALBANESE: Well, this was a red hot decision. There is a term, in terms of ‘put out your trash’ when governments or organisations want no-one to notice anything, you put it out on New Year’s Eve or Christmas Eve or 8:00 on a Friday night after the TVs have already had their news broadcasts. And they didn’t even give – Bill Shorten’s lawyer contacted the Royal Commission and said ‘is there anything, any statements coming’, about their client and the Royal Commission didn’t even get back to them. I mean it’s the hottest decision since the Royal Ccommissioner himself, Mr Heydon, decided to speak at a Liberal Party fundraiser.
PRESENTER: Would you have preferred Anthony Albanese for some of the revelations about the expense of union funds to have come out at 8:17 on a Friday evening?
ALBANESE: No, I want see if people are breaking the law and abusing the privilege they have as Trade Union Leaders that should be dealt with. It should be dealt with by the Australian Federal Police, should be dealt with under the normal legal processes. But what we have seen here is an $80 million exercise and we’ve seen is not just Bill Shorten the current Labor Leader, we’ve seen two former prime ministers have to appear before various enquiries in an unprecedented fashion. We could have had, when we were in government inquiries into how we went to war with Iraq, with what went on with dogs on the waterfront, with what went on with the James Ashby affair. We could have had inquiries about all of these issues. We didn’t because it’s not appropriate to engage in such a political fashion if there are breaches of the law. I have contempt for some of the people who have clearly…
PYNE: There have been charges laid out of the Royal Commission…
ALBANESE: It’s taken a very long time, certainly there have been no charges laid against the leader of the Labor Party, in fact the opposite has occurred, and yet he was subjected to a whole lot of smear as a result of the appearance that occurred at that Royal Commission.
PYNE: But I think the Labor Party would be well to support the Government’s registered organisations commission and the Australian Building and Construction Commission, as an article of good faith that they, like the Liberals, believe that corrupt union bosses that have been shouldn’t be in their positions because we should be supporting honest, upstanding union bosses who look after their workers.
ALBANESE: And bear in mind … Christopher Pyne just exposed the Government’s position because he spoke about ‘corrupt union bosses’ and no doubt there have been corrupt union bosses that have been people like Michael Williamson from the HSU the sort of revelations we have seen. But you can’t have a corrupt union boss without having a corrupt employer. And no one in the Government talks about the corruption that is there in terms of employers.
PYNE: The Registered Organisations Commission Bill would simply apply the same rules to union bosses that apply to company directors. Now I would have thought that was pretty common sense.
PRESENTER: Hey, we’ve got time for one more topic. I saw all of question time yesterday afternoon…
ALBANESE: You need to get a life. Have a good look at yourself.
PRESENTER: At least I wasn’t sitting in there.
ALBANESE: That’s my job, what’s your excuse?
PRESENTER: I’ll cop that Albo. Hey, every single question from the ALP to Malcolm Turnbull was over fairness in relation to the GST, trying to nail him to this 15 per cent figure. Labor’s clearly running a scare campaign over tax aren’t they Albo?
ALBANESE: No, we’re engaged in the debate big time. And we’re just starting. Fifteen per cent on everything you buy, every time. Fresh Food, vegetables…
ALBANESE: Well, let me tell you, if you think people aren’t concerned about prices and the impact this will have, just have a look at the fact that they called for a national debate, two days in they are saying ‘oh we’re not really talking about any policy here’.
PYNE: A glow in the dark skeleton outfit is scarier than a Labor Party scare campaign.
PRESENTER: How hopeful are you of scaring the Australian public if you can’t scare a South Australian Labor Premier into …
PYNE: Exactly. Jay Wetherill of course, quite sensibly, is saying we need to talk about how we are going to raise the revenue to pay for the services Australians expect and deserve.
ALBANESE: State Premiers want more money, hold the front page.
PYNE: The Labor Party is chasing this straw man trying to establish a not very scary, scare campaign about the GST. It didn’t work last time and they lost the election. In fact they lost four elections in a row with their scare campaigns around the GST. The public are pleased that there is a mature debate happening on one side of politics, which is the Liberal side of politics, and the Labor Party has once again taken themselves out of the debate.
ALBANESE: But you don’t want a debate.
PYNE: Labor’s got an under-the-doona strategy, Labor’s under the doona saying everything is fine, if I don’t poke my head out, nobody will notice that there is huge problems out there that we’ve got to solve.
ALBANESE: You don’t want a debate and the great thing about Malcolm Turnbull is that his idea of a debate is him talking and others listening. A debate is a conversation which is two-way and it is legitimate to ask what is the impact of their plan for the GST?
PYNE: The public are pleased that there is a mature debate that is happening. Now where it ends up of course is a matter that over the coming months we’ll find out.
PRESENTER: We’ll resume the hostilities next Wednesday at half past eight. Chris Pyne, Anthony Albanese, thank you for joining us.
Leader of the Australian Labor Party, MP for Grayndler, Rabbitohs Life Member. Authorised by Anthony Albanese, ALP, Canberra.