Release type: Transcript


Interview - ABC Afternoon Briefing


Senator the Hon Anthony Chisholm
Assistant Minister for Education
Assistant Minister for Regional Development

SUBJECTS: Stuart Robert, Industrial Relations and Labor’s plans to grow wages, Jordan Peterson, Drew Pavlou and Cheaper Childcare Bill

GREG JENNETT: Why don't we bring in now our political panel for today. And joining us, Assistant Minister for Education and Regional Development, Anthony Chisholm, right here in the studio. Welcome, Anthony. And Nationals Senator, fellow Queenslander too we should add, Matt Canavan both here. Why don't we start out on that point? You probably both had a chance with you, Anthony, first of all, to absorb the thrust of these media reports concerning Stuart Robert. Are they a concern?

ANTHONY CHISHOLM: I think they are a concern, and as a Queensland Senator, I obviously have followed Stuart Robert's career and it just seems like every year he's getting himself into trouble on these sorts of integrity issues. I think that for someone like him, he really needs to make a choice of, does he want to be a public servant who serves the people or is he interested in making a quid and helping out his business mates?

JENNETT: On the rules though, if you are a backbencher, are you at liberty to do external work so long as you declare it to the Parliament?

CHISHOLM: Well, I believe technically you can, but I'm not aware that anyone has actually done that. As far as I'm concerned, if you are an elected representative of the public, you shouldn't be doing any side work, you should be focused on serving the people.

JENNETT: I should say, before we come to that, when I use the word work, I use it loosely because I think it's thoroughly disputed whether it was work or whether payment was involved.

MATT CANAVAN: I think even in the report itself, they're not making any allegations that Mr Robert made any financial benefit for himself personally. I think we should put that on the record. In terms of the allegations, obviously, I haven't seen all of the correspondence, I've seen the reporting. And look, a part of this, I think this seems to be a little bit of a mountain out of a molehill. I mean, a big part of our jobs as Members of Parliament is to arrange meetings and get people in front of people. People come to you all the time with issues saying, hey they'd like or they’ve got a proposal for the Government, they'd like to talk about a particular policy issue. And as a backbencher big part of your job is you go, you get your constituents raise these issues with you and you take them up with Ministers, anybody. You even do it, now I'm in opposition you still raise issues with Government Ministers from the other political side. I don't know, it's a bit hard to see where's the controversy here, and particularly Mr Shorten's language in the Parliament, you can say that the Parliament's got privilege, but it seems a little over the top.

CHISHOLM: But he was a minister at the time.

CANAVAN: Apparently he wasn't. Again, there's a lot of details here, but it doesn't sound like he was a Minister at the time.

JENNETT: Nine media reports, 2017 and 2018, a large portion of which he was serving time out on the back bench.

CANAVAN: We don't have all the facts let’s face it Anthony, so I think we're going to be just a little bit. We've gone through a period in this Parliament where we throw around words like corruption all the time and sometimes on very flimsy, garbage evidence. I think our political discourse would be helped if we actually sometimes just sat back, let things like this be investigated, but we don't have to rush to judgement with limited information.

CHISHOLM: There's often a link, though, with Stuart Robert to his fundraising, and that was made clear in the account today in the newspaper. So it's never far off when Stuart Robert is involved. There's that link to fundraising at the same time.

JENNETT: I don't want to spend too much time on this, but to Matt's point, Anthony, would you, as a matter of course, have Queensland firms make contact with you, seeking to be put in touch with a department or a senior bureaucrat? And if so, would you facilitate that?

CHISHOLM: Sure with councils and businesses, I see that as being part of the job. But I think that's different to the links that have been provided here between Mr Roberts and his friends and his fundraising activities as well.

JENNETT: All right, why don't we move on to industrial relations? Because, as we've observed, Government and opposition are going at this each and every day. Do you regard as a typographical error the inability of the department, or if you like, your government to nail the estimated costs for consultants, if and when we go down the path of multi-employer bargaining, for small business.

CHISHOLM: I think it's regrettable there was a typo there and it was deficient. I think that it goes, well, I think my understanding is the department did go in during estimates that it is a complex formula to try and work out. I think, though, what I'm focused on, and I think what the government is focused on, is that these are important, substantial reforms if we are to get wages moving in this country, which was obviously a key focus of us during the election campaign. I can remember the now Prime Minister with his one dollar coin that people ridiculed at the time. But I think that was symbolic and I think it was influential in the election campaign. And I'm really proud to be a member of a government that is delivering on those important reforms that we said we take to the Australian people.

JENNETT: Well, some on your side, Matt Canavan, is suggesting that the entire bill should be scrapped because of a technicality, or, as Anthony describes it, a typo. That's a bit extreme, isn't it?

CANAVAN: What we should do is hit the pause button. I mean, this error here who knows what other areas there are in this legislation, because this bill is a very big change to our industrial relations system. It trashes 40 years of enterprise bargaining system set up by the Hawke Keating in government. It's tested and it’s served us well and it's been done so with just two weeks, 15 days of open submission time for small businesses. The Senate inquiry had 15 days to take submissions, so the inquiry itself lasted less than a month. And so these types of errors, which we're just coming across now, there may be more because this has been rushed. Anthony just said he the government took to the election a promise to increase wages. That is true. They did not, however, take these detailed changes to the election. They were not put before the Australian people. The government has no mandate for it and with such a large change in place, we should at least be extending the Senate inquiry into next year, holding up this legislation, seeing if there's any other errors. We can do this in February or March next year. It doesn't need to be done before Christmas.

JENNETT: I mean, even were they to slow it down, you're not suggesting here, are you, that the coalition might be prepared to support it?

CANAVAN: Of course not. We won't support it. But the crossbenchers obviously, this bill has not got the support of the Senate yet. It has not got a majority. If it did, the government would be putting it today. And so in terms of the deliberative process of the Senate and influencing those crossbench votes, very important to make sure small businesses and others have more than two weeks before a busy Christmas period to put their views to them.

JENNETT: Well, that's the position of David Pocock. Can you say, Anthony Chisholm, with any likelihood or probability that this will be done and dusted by this time next week?

CHISHOLM: Well, I'm really hopeful. As I said, it is a substantial reform agenda that the government put forward. I know if you're out and about in the community, that people are really struggling. And I think quite often the focus in Parliament and in question time is around how tough people are doing it with the cost of living. A wage increase is exactly what they want and that is what we are focused on. That is what this legislation is driven to achieve, because the system that Matt talks about in place for 40 years hasn't worked for ten years. Part of that was the government's responsibility, but the system hasn't worked. It needs reform. That's why we've got these substantial reforms in place.

JENNETT: All right, well, we sit here talking in the People's House, the Parliament of Australia, a bastion of free speech and debate, which raises some questions to you, Matt Canavan, about Jordan Peterson, a somewhat outspoken, and, I suppose we could say controversial figure. You've hosted him in the building today. What was the point of that?

CANAVAN: Well, it was a great privilege to host Jordan Peterson. I think what he has to say has resonated with millions of people around the world. Look, it was on Jordan's initiative. He's here for a book tour, but he wanted to take the opportunity to speak to political leaders. He has, as you say, been a controversial figure. I don't exactly know why sometimes. As somebody said to me in the last 24 hours, what Jordan says is pretty much what their grandfather used to tell them. Work hard, have some self-discipline, clean your room. Which I'll say to my five sons as well, watching I’m sure. Four sons, sorry, my daughter, clean your room for your mum. So I’m not exactly sure.

JENNETT: He’s had a Cambridge Fellowship rescinded after his views on gender were widely condemned, he tweeted today in Canberra to spread, I'm sure he's being sarcastic, my hateful message of faith, maturity and personal responsibility.

CANAVAN: Okay, what exactly has he done wrong? Yes, he's been cancelled probably more times than any other man on the planet, but he still keeps getting back up and I think a lot of people have respect for him about that. But it seems to me that what happens here is Jordan's arguments are very well thought through. He gives lectures of three or 4 hours, people are enraptured by it, it’s amazing in our current culture that they are. But he gives very, very good arguments. And others, his opponents can't argue with him, they struggle to argue with him, so they try and cancel him. And that, to me, is extremely unfortunate in our society. We need debate. We should be encouraging different views. And so it was great to hear from Jordan in person today. You might not agree with him, but I think he's worth listening to.

JENNETT: What sort of turnout did you get?

CANAVAN: I think it was about 100 odd people. It was relatively small. It was put together very short notice, but it's a busy working day. But it was great to have.

JENNETT: Well I don't know whether you've got anything to observe about Matt's function for Jordan Peterson, Anthony but I know you frequent and stay in touch with universities. You'd be well familiar, then with Drew Pavlou, who tried to enter the building yesterday but had some difficulties. Did that strike you as heavy handed? I should add he succeeded in coming to the public areas today. But is there an inconsistency in who is and who isn't being allowed into this building?

CHISHOLM: Look, I'm not aware of the exact circumstances other than I saw some of the reports where again, I think if you're an elected member of Parliament, I would always want to ensure that people can come to the parliament. It is the people's place. We want people to be able to access the building and meet with people. So I would expect that my colleagues would only be inviting people that weren't going to be a threat to public safety or a threat to other our colleagues. So it seems like it was a bit heavy handed. I think the AFP have made some comment on it. It's good that Mr. Pavlou was able to conduct his meetings today and that should be the way that all people are treated if they want to come to Parliament House.

JENNETT: Yes, perhaps it was a one off. We haven't got a really clear explanation, but another one to you, Matt. A nuclear forum was convened by some of your party colleagues today. I don't know if you found time to attend it in between your Jordan Peterson commitments.

CANAVAN: I've had to break. I was just there. I'm sure Anthony will come back with me after this.

JENNETT: How is this cause progressing?

CANAVAN: Look, I think it's a very important discussion. Just before I left, we're hearing some from a Greens Party spokesperson from Finland who is right behind nuclear energy. It's a massive topic of discussion. It was a huge topic at the recent climate change conference in Egypt. Indeed, John Kerry, the climate envoy for the Biden administration, hosted a forum on nuclear energy there. It doesn't get reported much in our media, but the rest of the world is really turning to nuclear energy as they see that weather dependent renewable energy cannot completely fill the needs of industrial economy.

JENNETT: I think you've told us before on this programme that you are actually quite skeptical about it, do you remember?.

CANAVAN: Well, no, what I think we need to question is how much this will all cost. And I do think, I continue to think the cheapest form of power is coal fired power. And that's why Asia in our region is installing lots of that. But if we're not going to do coal, we can't rely only on renewables that depend on the weather. So nuclear power is one that can provide reliable power. It's safe, but it is a bit more costly than coal fired power. But now we've got to look at it compared to what? We don't want to end up in a situation Germany or Europe is in. And it would be much better to have some nuclear power plants than no power at all.

JENNETT: All right, Anthony, I'm talking about Matt's commitments and projects today. You, in your own portfolio area, have had some carriage of the childcare bills through the Senate. Seems like a long time to wait between its passage through the Parliament. Now, this is for families who are really feeling the pinch at the present time. For those extra subsidies to start flowing in July, how do you explain that to them?

CHISHOLM: Well obviously there needs to be the regulatory work done but also we need to ensure that we’ve got the facilities and also the workforce that can cater for the expected increase in demand. So that work has been ongoing but will need to continue. There’s obviously some skills challenges around the country. Some work is already going into that but we need that time to ensure that we’ve got that right. That’s the promise that we made before the election, from when it would apply, so I think it’s meeting the expectations from the Australian people. Again, it’s great to be part of a Government that announces things before the election and then is to deliver on them in Government and I think that’s really important in keeping faith with voters.

JENNETT: There was a long gestation from the design of this commitment, its announcement in the context of an election campaign, and then ultimately its delivery next year. Could it be that its benefit has significantly eroded by the time it comes in, its dollar benefit, because of what’s going on with inflation at 7 per cent?

CHISHOLM: And that’s why we have the other measures in terms of the reviews that will take place to ensure that that isn't the case. And if the ACCC want to make recommendations in that regard then I'm sure the government will take those on board. So it is something that we want to ensure the benefit does go to those families who are making use, the almost 1.2 million, I think it is, that will be better off as a result of these changes.

JENNETT: All right, you may not have any specific observations about childcare, Matt Canavan, but to Anthony's point about a government delivering on its agenda, that much you'd have to give them, wouldn't you? As we approach years end. They're going gangbusters and this time tomorrow will have shuffled I think it's another eight crucial pieces of legislation through the Senate.

CANAVAN: Well I think you're actually guillotining 25 bills, aren’t they gagging debate. What that means the guillotine means for the viewers, there's no debate, there's no consideration. We just vote on these things on bloc. That's what's happening tomorrow. I think it's regrettable we haven't sat more this year since the election. We've only had eight weeks in the second half of the year. That's a couple less than we normally would. I do think legislation deserves proper scrutiny and we're lacking on that. In terms of the childcare commitment, look, I think we've really got a big problem in this country that we do not support parents who look after their own children, and we have a shortage of childcare workers. This bill won't do anything for that. In fact, it may exacerbate those shortages because by providing more subsidies, especially to rich people, as this bill does, it encourages people up to $500,000 a year to take more childcare up. That will exacerbate the shortages. We got a whole army of people called Mums and Dads who could look after their own kids, but our tax system penalizes them if they do. You pay a lot more tax if you're a single income family. I wish we were tackling that.

JENNETT: Might be the stirrings of a new policy platform for your side.

CANAVAN: I can only hope, Greg. I’m not sure of that one but I’ll say a few prayers.

JENNETT: Matt Canavan, Anthony Chisholm, great to get some ideas from you. Thanks again for joining us.