TRANSCRIPT - Sky News Saturday Agenda > Mitch Fifield, Liberal Senator for Victoria


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TRANSCRIPT - Sky News Saturday Agenda

with Laura Jayes


5 September 2015


E & OE


Subjects: NDIS, humanitarian intake, Defence, Government achievements


Joining me now is Senator Mitch Fifield, the Assistant Social Services Minister. Senator, thanks so much for your time this morning. If I can go first to these calls from Barnaby Joyce and Craig Laundy. Australia has taken 4,400 Syrian refugees since it’s been in Government. The Government is increasing the humanitarian intake by 7,500 over the next four years. Can we do more though?

Well Laura the Australian nation has a very proud record when it comes to its humanitarian intake. On a per capita basis we have one of the largest of any country in the world. And I think that’s something to be immensely proud of. There has been an increase, over time, in the humanitarian intake. And I think that’s something that Australians are very relaxed with. But obviously, we’re seeing around the world some devastating scenes and I don’t think there’s anyone who is unmoved by those. It’s important that Australia makes a proportionate and appropriate contribution to humanitarian issues. We have done that. I hear the calls of some colleagues that we should review that. And I guess, in a sense, the Australian humanitarian intake is always under review. But ultimately, that’s a matter for the Minister for Immigration and the Cabinet.

As you say, you haven’t been unmoved by these scenes out of Europe and in Turkey. And many of your colleagues haven’t either. You say yes, it’s always under review, but is this under active review? Should we expect any announcements about increasing the humanitarian intake given that there’s 250,000 refugees, sorry, 4 million refugees from Syria alone at the moment, and Australia’s about to expand our military operation it seems into that country?

Well Laura I’ll leave any comment on specifics in relation to our humanitarian intake to the Immigration Minister. I wasn’t flagging anything other than, from time to time, the intake is changed by the government of the day. But yes, we do see this unfolding tragedy. And ultimately, we have this unfolding tragedy as a result of ISIS, which is pure evil. ISIS is the embodiment of evil and I think Australians are very pleased that the Government is making a contribution to seeking to defeat ISIS. We want to see the reign of terror that ISIS is undertaking come to an end. And it’s good that Australia’s doing its part in that regard.

The Australian newspaper reports this morning that Kevin Andrews will recommend to Cabinet that Australia does expand its mission into Eastern Syria. Is this broadly supported by all Government Ministers, will a decision be made this week?


Well Australia is making an important contribution, with our coalition partners, at the moment in Iraq. The Prime Minister has indicated that there’s a request from the United States that we look at expanding our involvement. Kevin Andrews has indicated that he, as the Minister for Defence, has an inclination to an appropriate, and a proportional, expansion of our role—possibly into Eastern Syria. We know that ISIS don't observe the borders. That they travel from Iraq into Syria. And at the moment we’d be prevented from continuing a mission across that border. So look, I think my colleagues in the Party Room would be very comfortable with doing more to seek to defeat ISIS.


Also Monday, Mitch Fifield, two years, it marks two years for the Abbott Government. Do you think voters have been broadly satisfied with the performance of your Government?

Look, ultimately that’s a matter for the voters themselves to express. And they’ll ultimately do that at the ballot box. But I think we’ve been a good Government. We have done what we said we would do. We said that we would get rid of the Carbon Tax, which we’ve done. We said that we would get rid of the Mining Tax, which we’ve done. We said we would stop the boats, that we would stop that unfolding tragedy on the high seas where people were losing their lives at the hands of people smugglers. That's what we’ve done. We said that we would put in place a Direct Action Plan, that’s what we’ve done. We said that we would create an environment that was conducive to creating jobs. We've done that. We’ve seen something of the order of 335,000 jobs created since we’ve come into government. And we said that we wanted to start the important work of Budget repair, and we’re doing that as well. And we’re laying out a plan, through the Taxation White Paper process. We’re charting a direction towards a better tax system—a fairer one. And we’re engaging in a public conversation in that regard. We'll have more to say about that. But we’ve got some solid achievements under our belt. And we do have a plan for the future, which importantly includes the China-Australia Free Trade Agreement. We’ve got Korea. We've got Japan. We want to conclude China. Unfortunately the Labor Party are standing in our way. But I think we’ve got a good record. We’ve got a good story to tell to the Australian people.


But in the last two years, Senator Fifield, we’ve seen a failed leadership coup, the Government significantly behind in the polls since the first Budget. And I think it’s fair to say, significant Cabinet leaks over the last at least 12 months. Is that really good Government?



Look, governing isn’t always the most elegant of businesses. Sometimes it can be a bit ratty around the edges. But what really matters - rather than commentary on the government of the day or commentary by the government on itself from time to time - what really matters is what it actually is that governments do. And what we’ve done, is to honour our commitments. What we’ve done, is to address that serious humanitarian crisis that was on the high seas in the approaches to the nation. What we’ve done, is to put in place some job creating policies—the Free Trade Agreements, as I say, with China, Japan, Korea. These are real. These are practical things that will create jobs. And that’s what we’re about as a government—creating jobs. And as I say, 335,000 jobs created since we’ve come into office. We’ve got more that we want to do. It would be terrific if Bill Shorten could put the national interest ahead—on the China Free Trade Agreement for instance—rather than always seeking partisan political advantage. And look, I hope Bill Shorten wakes up to himself and does just that.

Senator Fifield, if I could just finally go to your portfolio—the NDIS. There was reports in the newspaper yesterday. Complaints from the NDIS Board that they only learnt that their jobs were up for grabs in the newspaper. Why didn’t you phone the Chairman to tell him this was coming?



Well the Chairman knew. I wrote to the Chairman about six weeks ago outlining the process that we would go through. The members of the Board of the NDIS were advised the day before yesterday that there would be advertisements placed and a process that would be gone through to make sure that we had the best possible Board for the next phase of the NDIS, which is rolling it out to full nationwide coverage. I’ve got to say I’ve been a bit bemused by Bill Shorten and Jenny Macklin describing the process that I put in place as somehow stealthy. There’s nothing stealthy about contacting Board members. There's nothing stealthy about an ad in the papers. And there’s nothing stealthy about giving nine months’ notice that you’ve got a process in place. It’s nine months before the current terms expire, so I don’t think we’re catching anyone on the hop, or not giving people due notice that we’re going through a process. And look, the most important thing here is that we have the very best possible Board, so that we can deliver the very best possible scheme.


Well can I go to that, because Bruce Bonyhady is a wealthy businessman. He doesn’t need the Board appointment for money. He has two disabled sons himself. Would you like to keep him Chairman and other members of the Board? Because as you appreciate, this is a very technical area. Sure, it would assist to retain some of these people in particular.



Laura, absolutely. We’re determined to have a combination of current Board members and new Board members. It’s important to retain some current Board members for the purpose of continuity, at what is an important time in the rollout of the scheme. So look, I have the highest opinion of each individual Board member. The previous government had all of the Board terms expiring in the middle of next year. If I did nothing, we wouldn’t have a Board from the middle of next year. So we need a process. It’s an open process. We’re inviting current Board members to apply. And there will certainly be a mix on the new Board of those who are currently serving, and also some new people. Look, we’ve got to remember this is a $22 billion a year scheme. Over the space of about three years it’s going to go from 18,000 participants to 460,000 participants. This is a mammoth exercise. And we need to make sure that we have a Board that’s got the right skill set, in combination, for the next phase of the NDIS.



Senator Mitch Fifield, thanks so much for your time on Saturday Agenda.




Thanks Laura.




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