03 November 2017




SUBJECT/S: Citizenship crisis; Turnbull’s weak leadership; Queensland election


MATT WORDSWORTH: Gentlemen, welcome back to Lateline. Firstly, to audit or not to audit, that is the question. Matt Canavan, what's your opinion on an audit?


MATT CANAVAN: Well look, I haven't seen a workable proposal to resolve this in a way that people are suggesting. We do, of course, want to have clarity and certainty about our nation's Parliament, but the reality is that many of these situations are incredibly complex, they go to areas of foreign law that are not easily necessarily clear, and they can require people to have documentation going back many decades that may not even exist or are certainly not readily available. So I think we need to be careful about engaging on a process that may extend the uncertainty and lack of clarity, not improve it.


WORDSWORTH: You with actually caught out by all of this personally. Don't you think that your case, you had all of that scrutiny, shouldn't it be applied across the chamber, equally?

CANAVAN: I'm a pretty humble man, and having been caught up with it myself, I approach it a fair degree of humility. I'm not going to run around making accusations or allegations about other parliamentarians without any evidence. I don't think we should have a situation of prosecution by innuendo. I believe if there are legitimate issues, they can be brought forward; they can certainly be brought forward in the Parliament. Parliamentarians have the ability to refer matters themselves, or seek the approval of the floor of Parliament to do so. And ultimately, the only body that can provide any clarity and certainty on these questions is the High Court, and we saw that in my case, which was complex, and hard to understand. It's been the High Court that provided certainty in my case. I don't think any other body, agency or process would have provided the same degree of certainty. 


WORDSWORTH: Jim Chalmers, I'll bring you in here. Labor has changed tact today; they're talking about something called universal disclosure to Parliament. What does that mean? 


JIM CHALMERS, SHADOW MINISTER FOR FINANCE: Our view is the country can't continue to go on like this with a government paralysed by this crisis, particularly when we've had the disturbing revelations in the last couple of days about a ministerial cover-up at the highest levels of the government. We think it's past time now to do what we can to play a constructive role in bringing this to a sensible conclusion. We think that means some sort of system of universal declaration to the Parliament, we want to work across the aisle with the government to come to a sensible and robust set of principles that would operate under, and that would give Australia the best chance of getting past this absurd situation where the country is distracted, the government is spinning its wheels trying to deal with this citizenship crisis. On the Labor side, we've already got very robust processes, so we have nothing to fear from more transparency. So we're up for a conversation about how we get that.


WORDSWORTH: So just to be clear, would that be compulsory on all parliamentarians to provide what?

CHALMERS: The details of the universal declaration would be something we would want to discuss with the government. But yes, you could imagine a system where Members of Parliament and Senators provide the relevant documentation to the Parliament. We're accountable to the Parliament. And we want to agree on a robust way to do that, which doesn't undermine the High Court, doesn't diminish the important role of the High Court, but gives the Australian people a bit of confidence that their elected representatives can get beyond this crisis, this failure of the Prime Minister to lead or to provide a plan to get through this crisis, and so that we can move on and deal with the real challenges that Australia faces. 


WORDSWORTH: So Malcolm Turnbull has just returned from overseas into this fiasco with Stephen Parry. He was very fired up in his first press conference, slammed people for questioning Josh Frydenberg's citizenship, and dismissed any idea of an audit. Let's just take a quick listen.


MALCOLM TURNBULL [file footage]: Are we saying that we would propose to have somebody interrogate each and every member and Senator, examine their genealogy, seek to uncover facts about their parentage that may not even be known to the member or Senator. The reality is that an audit as you describe would not resolve anything. The most it could do is end up by referring, or recommending that matters be referred to the High Court.

WORDSWORTH: Matt Canavan, Malcolm Turnbull there. Obviously, he's not backing an audit. But does this sort of universal disclosure satisfy any of the concerns that he expressed there?

CANAVAN: As I said earlier, from listening to Jim, there's no details here about how this is going to work. What sort of documentation is going to be provided? I'm not sure exactly how it would be compulsory on all parliamentarians. 

WORDSWORTH: Do they have the power to force a parliamentarian to do that?


CANAVAN: I doubt it very much, Matt, but I'm not the one putting forward the idea. Again, I have not seen a workable model to provide the clarity and certainty we all do want, of course. I ultimately think the best way this needs to be sorted out is individual Members of Parliament need to be upfront and honest. And, if they are not, ultimately the best discipline in our system is the democracy we have, and the ballot box, and we'll be judged at some point in the future by all of your viewers. 


WORDSWORTH: Jim Chalmers, this could throw up a problem of how do you make it compulsory? Isn't the person answerable to Parliament? It would require a vote of everyone in Parliament to force a Member to do something. Is that even possible?


CHALMERS: I think it's possible given that a number of Members of the Turnbull Government have expressed their support for an audit of parliamentarians. I think it should be possible that the Prime Minister comes to the same realisation that we have, that the country can't go on like this. We have in the Labor Party a robust system, we're confident in our system, but it's obvious if you talk to anyone on the street, they want this resolved. We want to work with the government, we want to come to an agreement, to support a system of universal declaration. Because the Australian people want to put this behind them. All the ways that have led us to this point have not given people that confidence. So we're prepared to consider alternatives like this.


WORDSWORTH: So this situation is not only frustrating Australians, even Liberal MPs such as Kevin Andrews seems to be frustrated. He wants an audit. He says that people are looking for strength, decisiveness, and he was asked by my colleague Michael Rowland on ABC News Breakfast this morning if Malcolm Turnbull was to one to do it, and this is what he said.


KEVIN ANDREWS [file footage]: Well, he's the leader at the moment.

MICHAEL ROWLAND: What do you mean at the moment? 

ANDREWS: He's the leader, the Prime Minister. I'm simply saying he's the Prime Minister. But what we have at the moment is a clear frustration on the part of the Australian public that they're not getting what they want.

WORDSWORTH: Matt Canavan, is Malcolm Turnbull in any danger here? When you got people like Kevin Andrews openly saying he's the leader "at the moment", questioning his strength and decisiveness?

CANAVAN: The clear lesson of Australian politics over recent years is a change of leader should be approached with a great degree of peril. For my part, and I know The Nationals party part, is the most important thing to do in politics is a team sport. We've all got to work together. What we have to focus on is what we're delivering for people, not who is in different positions or who is who in the zoo. 


WORDSWORTH: Just on the Queensland election, one of the big missing elements of this campaign is going to be your leader, Barnaby Joyce because he's fighting his own by-election in New England in New South Wales. What impact does his absence have on the campaign for the LNP? 

CANAVAN: I'm sure we would have welcomed Barnaby with open arms up here in Queensland. Of course, he's a cockroach now though, though I think he still supports the Maroons. But at the end of the day, Tim Nicholls is the one leading the Liberal National Party up here. He's doing an excellent job backing the development of the state. We've got a proud history in this state of developing ourselves, we've got the state with the largest proportion of people outside the capital city. I'm up here in Rockhampton, we've got to continue that. That's why we back developing dams and water resources; that's why we back using some of our coal to build coal-fired power stations as well, so we can bring cheap electricity to people. We've got very, very strong, clear policies to the Queensland people, and if there's a lesson from the first week of the campaign, it's that you know what you're going to get with the Liberal National Party, you know you're going to get a party that wants to build dams, to build a coal-fired power station. The Labor Party, I got no idea. They sometimes say they support Adani, they sometimes don't. They're all over the shop.


WORDSWORTH: Jim Chalmers, this is a big weak point for Labor, isn't it?. Because on the one hand, Annastacia Palaszczuk says I'm pro-Adani, I'm pro-coal mine. But at the same time, the Deputy Premier, Jackie Trad, is fighting off The Greens, who are very anti-Adani obviously. So could The Greens knock off the Labor Deputy Premier there?


CHALMERS: I'll come to Adani in a moment. I just want to agree with something that Matt Canavan said a moment ago. He said, with the LNP, you know what you're going to get. I couldn't agree more. We know what we're going to get from Tim Nicholls, because the last time he was in government, we had all the cuts and the carnage that the Queensland people rejected so comprehensively last time he had his hands on the levers of power in Queensland and that's what we would get again - more of those cuts and carnage. Whatever promises he makes from day to day on the campaign trail are irrelevant, compared to what we know about him and his role in that Newman Government as Campbell Newman's right-hand man. On Adani, it's true that Adani has become a substantial campaign issue and the Premier has made her position on Adani very clear. When people ask me about it, I point out to them that we are choosing in Queensland between a majority Palaszczuk Labor Government, and a minority LNP Government propped up by One Nation. If you care about renewable energy, like I do, passionately, the only rational choice is the Palaszczuk Government. We have something like 18 large scale renewable energy projects under construction right now under Annastacia Palaszczuk, with four more on the way. If you care about those things, if you care about clean green energy, the Labor Party has advanced renewable energy in this state. Tim Nicholls and the federal LNP, in cahoots with One Nation, will only take that backwards. 

WORDSWORTH: But will you sacrifice the Deputy Premier for the support for Adani?Because of that growing Green vote in South Brisbane, where the Deputy Prime Minister Premier holds that seat?


CHALMERS: I don't accept that the people of South Brisbane will make their decision on one issue. I have known Jackie Trad for a really long time now, and she's an extraordinary Deputy Premier, an extraordinary local member, and I think people will factor all of that in. They will also factor in the very strong record the Queensland Labor government has on renewable energy, those projects that I just mentioned. That is a top priority for the Queensland Labor Government, to get the energy mix more geared towards renewable energy. I think the people of South Brisbane are smart enough to factor that in.

WORDSWORTH: Matt Canavan, the other big wildcard in the election is One Nation. Are they going to stop the LNP holding government in their own right, and therefore you're going to be compromised because you may need their support in a balance of power situation?


CANAVAN: Ultimately Matt, of course, that's up to the Queensland people. I think the demonstration of the first week, is that it's the Liberal National Party that's got the strong plans talking about the future. We just heard from Jim there. He spent 80 per cent of his answer talking about the past, talking about what happened at the last election, talking about what he thinks may happen on the election of a Liberal National Party Government.


CHALMERS: I'm talking about your form.


CANAVAN: What we're focused on is the future of the Queensland people. We're focused on building these dams, getting the infrastructure going, building a coal-fired power station, bringing down people's power bills. Jim didn't mention once the biggest issue out there, that's people's power bills. We think they're too high. We think they need to come down, and the best way to bring the price down is to introduce more supply. To do that you need coal-fired power because it's the only thing we can do in this state to keep the lights on constantly and provide power all the time to bring people's power down.


WORDSWORTH: Matt Canavan, One Nation leader Steve Dickson, a former LNP minister - you'd know him well - he reckons that 5 to 10 seats is what they are going to get. Are you willing to put a number on where you think One Nation is going to end up? 


CANAVAN: No I'm not, Matt, because I don't take the votes of Queensland people for granted at any point. There's still 22 days to go in this campaign and I think many Queenslanders are still weighing up their options. Our job - Jim's job, all of our job - is to be out there, letting people know what we do and they can make up their own minds. Obviously, we'll ultimately respect where it ends up.


WORDSWORTH: Do you think that Tim Nicholls, if he wins government, could work with One Nation in a balance of power situation?

CANAVAN: I don't expect that to be the result, Matt. Hung Parliaments are quite rare in the Queensland context. They're quite rare in situations where compulsory preferential voting occurs. I don't think that would be the result. You don't play the game to draw or tie, or certainly not to lose. We're in this at the moment to win it, that's why Tim has been very strong this week, with the policies he's put out. That's why we're putting a clear plan before the Queensland people and ultimately it'll be up to them and that's the beauty of democracy.


WORDSWORTH: Alright, unfortunately we are out of time. But Jim Chalmers, Matthew Canavan, thank you so much for being on Lateline.


CHALMERS: Thanks guys.

CANAVAN: Thanks, mate. Have a good weekend.