SKY News AM Agenda (12)

21 November 2014


SUBJECT/S: FOFA disallowance and the Senate crossbench; cuts to the ABC, climate change

KIERAN GILBERT: This is AM Agenda. With me now is the Parliamentary Secretary to the Opposition Leader, Jim Chalmers, and Liberal Senator Zed Seselja. Senator Seselja first to you. This Senate is becoming even more fractious and difficult to manage. It’s quite a circus now, isn’t it?

ZED SESELJA: It’s challenging. But I think what George Brandis said is right. As much as there are some particular difficulties – and I guess we saw that yesterday with the chopping and changing of the likes of Lambie and Muir – what we have in this Senate is the opportunity to get the Government’s agenda through, whereas when it was a previous Labor-Greens blocking majority, nothing got through. There was no negotiation. Yes, I guess it looks a little messier because we see these kind of negotiations and I think yesterday was disappointing, but it’s much better than where we were. But clearly, with the self-destruction of the Palmer United Party, it does create interesting challenges, some of which we saw on show yesterday.

GILBERT: Jim Chalmers, does this mean the end or at least a great reduction in the parliamentary power of Mr Palmer given now he’s only got two votes to essentially control in the upper house?

JIM CHALMERS, SHADOW PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY TO THE LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: I don’t spend a lot of time with Clive Palmer or Jacqui Lambie. I don’t feel particularly qualified to comment on the ins and outs of the Palmer United Party…

SESELJA: We won’t say if that’s a good or a bad thing, Jim.

CHALMERS: I do think it’s right to look at the results of yesterday’s vote in the Senate. There were two results there. One, a tremendous victory for consumers, people who deserve to be protected in the financial services industry. And secondly, a massive humiliation for the Liberal Party who tried to weaken those important protections. It beggars believe that they tried to weaken protections when we’ve had these big financial scandals over the last few years, but they did.

So it was a big win for consumers; it was a humiliation for the Liberal Party.

I do want to pay tribute to the Senators who did the right thing yesterday, and particularly Sam Dastyari who was tireless in standing up for consumers in the financial services sector, he did a great job – a tireless job – standing up for people. He deserves a lot of the credit for this outcome yesterday.

GILBERT: Now, the financial industry says that the original form of the laws was a “lawyers’ picnic” – the words they used to describe the legislation as put in place by the Labor Government, Jim. They were specifically worried about this catch-all requirement of financial advisors to do anything else in addition to the laws that were beneficial to the client. They were worried that it was too broad – too general in its scope – what do you say to that?

CHALMERS: Nobody should be surprised that the industry itself – the big banks – wanted less protection for consumers. They do want a freer hand when it comes to the provision of this advice. Our priority is not to stand up for the big banks, it’s to stand up for the consumers – the people who have been hurt by these scandals in recent years or the people who stand to be hurt from them. I think it’s important that when you are looking at the entire system, of course you need to take all views into account. Our priority is not the industry itself; our priority is the consumers in that industry.  And I think some of the weakening of the protections that the Liberal Party were attempting that were defeated yesterday were a step backwards when we need people in the system to be protected from scandal, protected from the wrong kind of advice. And yesterday was a good outcome in the sense that that attempt was turned back.

GILBERT: Dennis Shanahan in The Australian describes this as a result that is actually good for the Coalition in the long-run, because it protects you from yourself, given how easy it is to make those criticisms as Labor is doing.

SESELJA: Well, those criticisms are false. You talked about a lawyers’ picnic and certainly that’s part of it but it’s also an industry super funds’ picnic and that’s really what’s been driving the Labor Party here. What we have here is a special deal for industry super funds…

CHALMERS: Not at all Zed. Not at all.

SESELJA: Yes we do.

CHALMERS: We’re driven by standing up for consumers, you’re driven by standing up for the big banks.

SESELJA: This is why you interrupt at the first hint of it because the sensitivity was on show yesterday every time we raised this.

CHALMERS: Standing up for consumers, absolutely

SESELJA: The industry super funds get a special deal here. If this legislation, as the Labor Party would have it, is actually good the way they want it presented, then why wouldn’t the exact same rules apply for industry super funds. It doesn’t apply to industry super funds. It’s a sweetheart deal for their mates in the union movement. It’s not about protecting consumers, because the consumer protections that we put in place were very strong. But we won’t have the lawyers’ picnic and we won’t have the special deal for industry super funds and that’s the fundamentals of it.

GILBERT: But they might be strong in your view but they’re gone now – doesn’t it show the government is unable to deliver its full agenda not just in this but right across the board, you’re going to have to be more pragmatic in dealing with the senate?

SESELJA: Well of course there are going to be things and times when we have losses in the Senate – we don’t control the Senate – but we’ve had significant wins in the senate.

GILBERT: But it is embarrassing though to have the win, to claim the win and you know Senator Cormann negotiated it well at the time but now it’s collapsed – it’s not a good look.

SESELJA: Well Kieran you know it’s difficult to get into the minds of the “coalition of the sensible” like Jackie Lambie but these are the challenges and there is no doubt this is a challenge but we have had significant wins in the Senate.  Yesterday was not a win and I think yesterday was unfortunate but when you don’t control the senate, there will be some days when the vote goes against you.

GILBERT: Well now let’s look to the issue of the cuts to the ABC, Jim Chalmers the Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull has said that efficiencies should be able to be found, that other commercial entities have to do this regularly and it should be able to be found without losing flagship programs.  What do you say to that in response to Mr Turnbull?

CHALMERS: Look I think among the many lies that Tony Abbott told to get elected this is a real doozy.  The night before the election he said no cuts to the ABC – now we’ve got hundreds of millions of dollars being cut and hundreds of jobs being cut.  On the drive to the studio today Kieran I heard Matthias Cormann say on radio that there were no cuts to the ABC!  That will be news to the people who will be packing up their desks at the ABC.  It will be news to the people right around the country who will have their programming threatened.  People who like to watch the ABC in regional areas and around the country.  And this is just one of the starkest lies that Tony Abbott told – and no amount of Malcolm Turnbull spin and Matthias Cormann spin can hide that very simple fact. 

GILBERT: Zed Seselja your response to that criticism because the point that is being made not just by Jim but by others in the sector is that the promise was made pretty clear beforehand and now subsequently the cuts are being made.

SESELJA: Well Kieran all Government agencies are being asked to make savings and that is a challenging process.  It’s a challenging process for the public service as they’re asked to make savings to help bring the budget back into surplus

CHALMERS: Then why did you promise no cuts, Zed?

SESELJA: Of course the ABC and SBS shouldn’t be exempt from that – I mean are we really saying there are no efficiencies to be found in the ABC and SBS?  Let’s look at the ABC for example – The ABC will still receive $5.2b of taxpayers’ money over the next five years.  I think that’s more than enough for them to deliver quality programming – the kind of quality programming we would all hope for and if that means back office savings then so be it.  We saw yesterday some of the landholdings are $20m piece of land that are not particularly well used – there’s all sorts of things that could be done better at the ABC – but is the Labor Party now arguing that even though all agencies have been asked to make savings and even under Labor towards the end they were asked to make savings..

CHALMERS: We just want you to keep your promises, Zed.

SESELJA: Well are you saying the ABC shouldn’t be asked to make any savings?

CHALMERS: We are saying that the Prime Minister promised no cuts to the ABC and you are cutting the ABC – it’s a fact.

SESELJA: You are now saying that the ABC should be exempt from cuts

CHALMERS: Well don’t promise no cuts to the ABC then, Zed.

SESELJA: I don’t accept that.

CHALMERS: Well then don’t promise no cuts to the ABC if you fully intend to make cuts to the ABC – that’s the point!

GILBERT: We’ve had a good crack at that one let’s move on to the issue of carbon emissions.  Chinese carbon emissions will swamp cuts by Australia and the US – this was on the front page of The Australian this morning Jim Chalmers, does that mean though – we saw that fanfare around the deal done between President Obama and President Xing in Beijing a couple of weeks ago – that despite that focus on that, the Chinese growth and emissions is still going to – in the words of The Australian this morning swamp anything that we do or the US does?

CHALMERS: That deal that was done between the two most significant economies on the planet was a landmark deal.  What we see in The Australian today is a pathetic attempt to hide two simple facts.  One, China wants to take action on Climate Change.  And two, Australia is going backwards on climate change.  It’s a pathetic attempt to spin themselves out of this problem they’ve got where Australia is in the embarrassing situation of being the only country going backwards on climate change when the big significant economies are going forwards.

GILBERT: Let me put this to you and you can respond in a moment – the per capita per emissions tonne in China – obviously it’s a massive population but it’s also in large parts still a poor country – it’s doing a lot better – it’s lifted many people out of poverty but there are still many people living in poverty so surely their emissions will grow as they develop further and it’s incumbent upon developed countries like Australia to make a contribution.

SESELJA: And we are…. and that’s the ridiculous point that Jim just made there saying “we’re going backwards when we’re cutting by 5%”, China is going to keep increasing for the next sixteen years.

CHALMERS: Are you saying we’re not going backwards?

SESELJA: Sixteen years are you saying that China is going to keep increasing emissions for the next sixteen years – we’re reducing emissions but they are going forwards and we are going backwards?

CHALMERS: I’m talking about action on climate change.

SESELJA:  In what measurable action on climate change – they are going to increase them for the next sixteen years, I mean what a ridiculous assertion…

CHALMERS: You ditched emissions trading and they are doing deals with the Americans.

SESELJA:  Sorry I’m not sure if you heard…

CHALMERS: … you live in an alternate universe Zed I swear…

SESELJA: I’m not sure if you read that – they’re going to keep increasing emissions while we’ve got a target to cut emissions.

CHALMERS: You live in an alternate universe my friend

GILBERT: The point is this – this is still a developing country and we’ve developed…

SESELJA: It’s the second largest economy in the world.

GILBERT: Yes that’s true.

SESELJA: Let’s not suggest it’s a backwater.

GILBERT: Well it’s not but the point is we have had the capacity to use fossil fuels and other burning coals as much as we like in terms of our development as has the US & UK but countries like India and China as developing countries – as rich as they are there are still hundreds of millions of people in poverty…


GILBERT: But they should have a right to grow…

SESELJA: That’s right.

GILBERT: … and there is that disparity.

SESELJA: And let me say I absolutely agree with that. I want to see people getting out of poverty in China and India, and Australia will play an important role in that.  And we will play an important role in that with our energy exports so let’s be clear on that; that’s absolutely critical to the future of the world.  But to suggest that China saying that for the next sixteen years they will be increasing emissions and then in 2030 they may start to bring them down is somehow a massive leap forward in comparison to what we are doing which is already bringing them down -– we were one of the countries that met our Kyoto targets – so no one can suggest we are not doing our part – but to suggest that a country that is going to keep emitting more and more for the next sixteen years is doing more than us is absurd.

GILBERT: Well Jim isn’t that true what Senator Seselja is saying as well as the environment minister, that despite the criticism, and the criticism was very clear from Barack Obama in Brisbane at the weekend that Australia is meeting its targets and one of few countries that has committed to the Kyoto Protocols and others that are clearly meeting those targets and really it comes down to what we commit to beyond 2020 and that hasn’t happened yet.

CHALMERS: It does come down to the policy change that we commit to.  Australia had a system of emissions trading about to come in that was wound back.  That’s what I mean when I say we are going backwards.  China on the other hand is making arrangements with the Americans and others to take substantial action on climate change and, with the greatest of respect to Zed, I would rather take the word of leading economists and scientists and diplomats who think that the China-US deal was a big deal rather than Zed’s political spin.

SESELJA:  Well this is the problem for you now Jim – you are saying they are taking action and we are not.

CHALMERS: It’s a problem for me now? Right..

SESELJA: But the US, the US isn’t implementing an ETS now.  There’s no cap and trade getting through the US Congress.  They are doing it through other measures; most importantly moving to gas as opposed to coal through things like fracking.  So, you know, to make the argument that because we have abandoned your carbon tax we are not taking action is simply false given the US who you are holding up aren’t pursuing an ETS or a carbon tax.

CHALMERS: I would rather take the word of the overwhelming view of the scientists and economists and diplomats over yours Zed.

SESELJA:  What have I said there that is wrong? 

CHALMERS: We are taking … well let me answer your question Zed … we are taking less action as a country post-election – post you coming to power than we were before.  That is, factually we are going backwards on climate change. Less efficient and more costly action.

SESELJA:  Nor is China

GILBERT: We’ve got to go gents, Jim Chalmers, Zed Seselja thanks for your time.