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

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Senator The Hon Mitch Fifield

TRANSCRIPT - Sky News AM Agenda

with Kieran Gilbert

 

25 January 2016
8:35am

 

E & OE

 

Subjects: Tony Abbott, Australian head of state, tax reform, media reform

                                                                                                                                   

GILBERT:
 
With me now the Communications Minister Mitch Fifield. What are your thoughts on that? The fact that Mr Abbott’s staying? Is it good or bad news for the Government?


FIFIELD:
 

Tony Abbott’s life has been marked by service to the community. I think regardless of where anyone is on the political spectrum, that’s something that is respected and acknowledged. He indicated that he would have a think about how he could make a contribution in the future. He has decided that he wants to put his hand up to continue as the Member for Warringah. And I think for all of us in public life it’s important to acknowledge that the highest and first calling that you have is that of a Parliamentarian. If you have the opportunity to subsequently serve as a Minister that’s a great bonus. But the highest and primary calling is that of a Parliamentarian.

GILBERT:
 
Do you think he really wants to be in Parliament to be a backbencher? He’d still have aspirations to join you in Cabinet wouldn’t he? And to be your colleague?

FIFIELD:
 
I take what Tony Abbott says at face value, that he wants to continue as the Member for Warringah. He wants to continue as a Member of Parliament and to use that opportunity to serve the community.


GILBERT:
 
Do you see any prospects for him returning to the frontbench or Cabinet? Given his experience, his record as a Minister.

 

FIFIELD:
 
Former ministerial experience can serve people in their capacity as a regular Member of Parliament. But appointments to the Ministry and the Cabinet are entirely matters for the Prime Minister.   

 

GILBERT:
  
You’ve been there for a long time, Minister and we saw the impact of having Rudd on the backbench. On the frontbench and backbench for years after Julia Gillard, it was a destabilizing effect. Do you worry that this might have the same effect?


FIFIELD:
 
Tony Abbott is someone who wants to make a positive contribution to public life. Kevin Rudd is a unique individual and I don’t want to speak ill of any former Prime Minister. But as I say, I take what Tony Abbott says at face value. 

 

GILBERT:
 
Is it a distraction to have someone on the backbench, a former Prime Minister as one person quoted in the paper in the Telegraph I think today, calling him a standard bearer for the conservatives in your Party. Is that a distraction for your Prime Minister?

 

FIFIELD:

Well I’m not distracted and I don’t think Malcolm Turnbull will be distracted. It’s incumbent upon every member of the team to focus on the goal. Which is to present our case to the Australian people as we approach the next election. And I’m sure that Tony Abbott will be part of that.


GILBERT:
 
Given this has come at a time where there are bitter preselection battles underway in New South Wales, is it going to stoke that even further? That the recriminations out of the change of leadership.

 

FIFIELD:

Well whenever you have preselections opened up there’s always a range of public commentary. Particularly the case in the wake of a redistribution. Which we’ve had in New South Wales. The ordinary processes of the Party will take their course, and regular transmission will be resumed. 

GILBERT:

Do you have any comments on some of those people who are being mentioned here for possible challenge? Like Angus Taylor, Bronwyn Bishop, Philip Ruddock? Any thoughts on any of those individuals, as to whether or not they should or shouldn’t stay essentially? 

FIFIELD:

I’m not in the business of commenting on any particular preselection contests, but it’s incumbent upon each of us who are in the Parliament to continually earn the trust, not only of the preselectors, but also of the voters. In the Liberal Party, in contrast to Labor, we don’t have trade unions directing delegates how to vote. Individuals make up their own minds and that’s the process that will now follow. 

 

GILBERT:

We’ll now briefly move on to some other issues. On the eve of Australia Day the seven of eight State and Territory leaders, signing a declaration of support for a Republic. The only one that didn’t WA Premier Collin Barnett is a republican anyway. What do you make of this? Will this generate some new momentum towards this?

FIFIELD:

Kieran I’ve long been someone who wants to see an Australian at the apex of our constitutional arrangements. In 1999 I thought then that if the referendum didn’t succeed it would probably be the best part of 10 or 20 years before the proposition was put again.

GILBERT:

We are nearing that now aren’t we?

FIFIELD:

We are, we’re getting very close to two decades. How quickly time passes. But my view is that this proposition won’t seriously be re-examined for so long as the Queen is on the throne. So I think until that time, what we see today is the annual pre Australia Day republic story. 

GILBERT:

But this adds a bit more gravitas to it doesn’t it? This story, in the sense that you’ve got every State and Territory leader, we know the Prime Minister’s view. But would he be reluctant to embrace this right now given, it’s not a first order issue for most Australians and he, well what we know is a first order issue for him is the tax reform and tax reform argument and his re-election bid. 

FIFIELD:

It’s not a priority for the Government. That's absolutely true. And I don’t think there is any point in a government expending energy on a proposition that doesn’t really stand any chance of success in the near future. The circumstances need to be right. And I don’t think those circumstances will present until after the Queen's reign is over. 

GILBERT:

You agree with the Prime Minister on that. Let’s look at the issue of taxation. And the Treasurer yesterday, late last week was talking about a tax mix switch. Yesterday reiterating his priorities here, he’s not ruling anything out, but one thing he did seem to indicate wasn’t on the table was a broadening of the base. Increasing the rate, that was a most likely scenario. As someone who did work for Peter Costello during that period of the introduction of the GST. Do you think you need several months to prosecute the case? Whether there is a GST or not, to prosecute a major tax argument?

FIFIELD:

 

We certainly need time to make the case for change. To explain to the public what’s wrong with the system and what you propose to do to fix the system. What we want to do is have a tax system that rewards effort. Unlike Labor, we’re not looking at tax reform as a way of raising more revenue. That's not the objective. But yes, you do need time. You do need months. The election isn’t due until about September. So we will have time to put a case to the Australian people. And any significant or substantive changes that we want to make to the tax system, we will certainly take to the electorate. Because it’s important to do that, it’s important to explain, it’s important to get the mandate of the people.

 

GILBERT:


Obviously, you can’t make any announcements right now, and I don’t think any final decision has been made. But given the lived experience of the consumption tax, people have lived with it now for many years, do you think that that will soften the difficulty, ease the difficulty for a government arguing any increase or change?

FIFIELD:

Well, you’re presuming a particular proposition as part of the tax reform. We haven’t yet settled on what the elements of tax reform will be. You’ve heard Scott, you’ve heard the PM say, we’re leaving things on the table. That's appropriate because we want to have a fully-fledged debate. Labor aren’t interested in a fully-fledged debate. They just want to play politics with this. They want to run scare campaigns even before there’s a proposition.

GILBERT:

 

Yeah ok, and as Communications Minister, the report today suggesting that you’re going to cut the license fees for your air broadcasters. Can you take us through your thinking on this? Is that going to happen?

 

FIFIELD:

 

Well it’s interesting to look at the license fees that TV and radio pay. They were introduced in the late 50’s. They were like the original super profits tax in an environment where the only options for people were print, radio, or TV. There was no other broadcast media, so TV and Radio were in a very strong and dominant position. Obviously things have changed a heck of a lot since then. There are larger ranges of media options for people. In recognition of the changed landscape, in 2013 the license fees were cut in half. We’ve indicated to both radio and TV that we’re prepared to examine license fees in the context of the coming budget. And that’s what we’re doing.

 

JOURNALIST:

 

And the current climate for them in terms of the commercial sense, what about the other elements that you’re looking at? How soon can we expect changes to the reach rule and other media reform?

 

FIFIELD:

 

I don’t want to let the grass grow in terms of media reform. It's something that has been debated for a long, long, long time. I’ve been in this gig for about four months, I’m keen to bring something to the Parliament early this year.

 

GILBERT:

 

In the first week or two?

 

FIFIELD:

 

Oh look, it won’t be that soon. A bit of work to do before then. But, yes, I want to get on with it.

 

GILBERT:

 

Ok Minister, thanks for your time I appreciate it.

FIFIELD:


Thanks Kieran.

[ENDS]                                                                      

                                     

                                                                                                   Media contact:

Justine Sywak | 0448 448 487 | Justine.sywak@communications.gov.au