Doorstop - Brisbane (15)

05 November 2017



SUBJECT/S: Turnbull Government division and dysfunction; Turnbull Government’s citizenship crisis; Manus Island; GST distribution; Queensland state election

JIM CHALMERS, SHADOW MINISTER FOR FINANCE: Thanks for coming out today. We're here to launch the campaign of Corrine McMillan, our outstanding candidate in the state seat of Mansfield for this Queensland election in just under three weeks' time.

There’s a number of federal issues around today, including some interventions from Kevin Andrews. What we're seeing today is more of the division and dysfunction which is paralysing the Turnbull Liberal Government. We've got Kevin Andrews out there today criticising the Prime Minister for his inadequate leadership. We've got him splitting with the Prime Minister on the citizenship crisis, and we've got him disagreeing fundamentally over New Zealand's offer to take some of the refugees off Manus Island. This is a Government that lurches from crisis to crisis, with Malcolm Turnbull unable or unwilling to provide the necessary leadership or the necessary plan to get this citizenship crisis behind us. 

Something has to give. Enough is enough. Australians want this soap opera to end. We have a Prime Minister who is unable to put this citizenship crisis behind him. This is becoming a very serious test of Malcolm Turnbull's leadership. His Members of Parliament are in open rebellion, his Government has ceased to operate in any meaningful way, and he is unable to get this citizenship crisis behind him.

We are prepared in the Labor Party to play a constructive role. That's why we have said that we would support a process of universal disclosure to the Parliament, to get some of these issues behind us so that the country can move forward in a meaningful way, and we would urge the Prime Minister to take up Labor's offer. To work through the details; to agree to some principles for that universal disclosure to the Parliament that doesn't undermine the High Court so that Australia can move beyond this shambles and this dysfunction and this disarray that the Turnbull Government is in right now.

We've had more revelations today that Alex Hawke might indeed be a dual citizen. We call on Alex Hawke to provide a proper and full explanation immediately of any steps that he may have taken to resolve and renounce any Greek citizenship. We also call on Alex Hawke to reveal what conversations he's had within the Liberal Party. We know that there's been a culture of cover-up over the last couple of months, with Stephen Parry and senior members of the Turnbull Cabinet when it comes to these issues. Alex Hawke must come clean today and explain what steps he's taken, who he has spoken to in the Liberal Party, so that we can get to the bottom of this issue, and more broadly, we need that system of universal disclosure so that Australia can move on knowing that the Parliament is legitimate, that anybody who has issues with dual citizenship, that those issues are properly disclosed. We cannot continue like this as a country; the Government cannot continue to be paralysed by this dysfunction and disarray and this citizenship crisis that Prime Minister Turnbull is unwilling or unable to fix.

JOURNALIST: You mentioned universal disclosure, but why not then within your own party get people like Susan Lamb and Justine Keay to come out and present documents proving that they have renounced their citizenship?

CHALMERS: We think that the whole Parliament should be subject to a process like that, a process of universal disclosure to the Parliament. In the Labor Party, we have extraordinarily robust and strict standards when you first become a candidate and, indeed, each time you re-nominate. I've been through that process myself and I can testify to how robust and strict it is. We are very confident in our own MPs, but we think that this has reached an absurd situation, where the Prime Minister and his Government are paralysed by the crisis. Something has to give. Something has to change. The soap opera must end, and that means Members of Parliament and Senators should be part of a process where we disclose to Parliament our arrangements so that we can get this crisis behind us and move on.

JOURNALIST: Almost 10 Labor MPs with dual citizenship questions have laid out timelines about their renunciation, but have not provided documents. Why is that?

CHALMERS: Again, we have very strict process that I've just run through. And our view is that the entire Parliament should come together and work out a process where people can disclose to the Parliament the arrangements that they've made and any issues like that so that we can move on. It shouldn't be beyond the Parliament to agree on a process like that. We urge Turnbull to show some leadership for once and come to the table and agree on a process of that nature.

JOURNALIST: Do you believe Bill Shorten has been fully transparent with his own party though, in terms of any dual citizenship questions?

CHALMERS: Of course. Let's not forget Malcolm Turnbull gets all puffed up with indignation now about us suggesting that Members of Parliament should provide a disclosure to Parliament. Remember he was the one standing up in Parliament all puffed up with indignation about Bill Shorten's own arrangements, and then Bill Shorten provided the details of his arrangements, which shows that he's properly elected. That is just what we're suggesting the rest of the Parliament could do as well. Malcolm Turnbull's been all over the shop on this. No wonder his Members of Parliament are in open rebellion. They know how serious this crisis has become. They know that the Government has been engulfed by the Prime Minister's failure to lead on this. That's why they're hopelessly split on how to go about fixing it. Labor's put a constructive suggestion on the table, and Parliament should work together to implement it.

JOURNALIST: Just on Manus, do you think that Australia should take up New Zealand's offer?

CHALMERS: I do. Australia should take up the offer put on the table by Prime Minister Ardern. What's happening on Manus Island is deeply distressing, deeply concerning and it has been very badly mismanaged. Manus Island was supposed to be a place of processing. Instead under Malcolm Turnbull and Peter Dutton, it's become a place of indefinite detention, because they've spent more time demonising refugees than genuinely seeking third country settlement options. What Prime Minister Ardern has put on the table is very similar to the arrangements that have been struck with the United States, so we think they should be considered and we think the Government should take up that offer. Not just do that, but we think they should put far more effort into third country settlement options so that we don't have this very distressing and concerning situation on Manus.

JOURNALIST: Do you think though that there's the potential for people smugglers to exploit the situation and perhaps promise would-be refugees that they might be resettled in New Zealand if they do take that risk and get on a boat?

CHALMERS: In the Labor Party, we've got a very hardline position on deterring people smugglers. We don't want to see the restoration of the people smugglers' business model. We've made that very clear over and over again. Our emphasis in this is on proper third-country settlement options, of which New Zealand is one. If that criticism was a legitimate criticism, it would also apply to the arrangements struck with the United States - a very similar arrangement being proposed here. We think the Government should put its effort into those settlement arrangements so that what happens on Manus Island can be avoided in the future.

JOURNALIST: If I could turn your attention now to the GST, there's been a lot of talk in WA about the GST. Do you think that the current GST distribution system is fair to West Australians?

CHALMERS: We've said to West Australians repeatedly, and Bill Shorten and Chris Bowen and others have all said this repeatedly, that we think that there is a way to improve the situation that WA finds itself in without jeopardising the funds that go to states like Queensland, and other states in the distribution formula. We say to the people of Queensland that we do not intend to change the way that the GST is distributed and that they should never forget that Scott Morrison and Malcolm Turnbull have not ruled out changes to the GST distribution, which could see Queensland hundreds of millions of dollars worse off each year. They should come to Queensland and front up to the people of Queensland and they should say to them, and they should rule out to them, changes to the GST distribution formula, which would do such damage to this great state. We think we can deal with the inequities in WA without diminishing the GST funding that Queenslanders need and deserve.

JOURNALIST: How do you propose to deal with those inequities?

CHALMERS: We've announced a fund in Western Australia; $1.6 billion of infrastructure projects, including substantial public transport infrastructure projects. We've worked with the West Australian Labor Government on that fund, because we don't want to see states like Queensland diminished in this process. Scott Morrison and Malcolm Turnbull received recommendations which would see Queensland hundreds of millions of dollars worse off each year, and they have not ruled out implementing that change to the GST distribution. Every single time that Turnbull and Morrison show their face in Queensland, which isn't frequently, but when they do I'd encourage you and I'd encourage the people of Queensland to ask them to rule out those changes, which would do such damage to Queensland's Budget and to the services that the Queensland Government provides.

JOURNALIST: The premier over there though, Mark McGowan, is not happy with that $1.6 billion fund that you've mentioned. What sort of longer term fix do you think there is for WA?

CHALMERS: We worked with the WA Government on that fund. We worked very closely with them. We were the first cab off the rank in terms of proposing a solution for Western Australia. This is always an area where states would like more than they are receiving, and we have to do our best at the federal level to do what is fair. And we think the fairest outcome, especially for the people of Queensland, is that we rule out the changes that Scott Morrison and Malcolm Turnbull are considering, which would take hundreds of millions of dollars off Queenslanders. We will continue to talk and work with the other states to get the best possible situation that we can within the context of some very severe Budget constraints.

JOURNALIST: Do you think it's an issue that Queenslanders care about in this state election?

CHALMERS: Queenslanders care about frontline services and they care about jobs. That's what this election is about. This election is all about jobs and frontline services, and the Palaszczuk Labor Government is about jobs and frontline services - more police, more teachers, more nurses; the types of things that Queenslanders rely on in communities like this one that we are in today. On the other side, we've got Tim Nicholls, who was Campbell Newman's right-hand man the last time they were in Government. We had all of the cuts and carnage of that period, all of the cuts to jobs and frontline services, which the people of Queensland so comprehensively rejected in 2015. What Tim Nicholls wants the people of Queensland to do is to forget that he was Campbell Newman's right-hand man, to forget that he inflicted all of that damage and all of that pain on our communities. So the people of Queensland are choosing between a majority Palaszczuk Labor Government, which cares about jobs and local services, and a minority LNP Government propped up by One Nation, which will do to Queensland what it did last time if it gets the opportunity, which is slash and burn, cuts and carnage, less jobs, less frontline services.

Thanks very much.