Fight Club ABC 774 Drive with Rafael Epstein > Mitch Fifield, Liberal Senator for Victoria

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MENTONE VIC 3194

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10-August-2016

Fight Club
ABC 774 Drive with Rafael Epstein
4:20pm
3 August 2016

Text Box: Subject: Census, Kevin Rudd, Northern Territory Royal Commission

E & OE

EPSTEIN:

Joining me in the studio for Fight Club is Mitch Fifield – he’s the senior Liberal Senator in this State and he’s also the Communications Minister which technically makes him my boss and he’s the Minister for the Arts as well.

FIFIELD:

Thank you Raf.

EPSTEIN:

He helps negotiate between the government and the ABC. Mark Dreyfus joins us. He is part of Bill Shorten’s Shadow Cabinet. He is in the seat of Isaacs in Melbourne’s south east for the ALP. He is the Shadow Attorney-General. Mark thank you for coming in.

DREYFUS:

Good to be with you Raf. Hello Mitch.

EPSTEIN:

Look I’ll start with the Census. Mitch Fifield there’s clearly a vast number of people concerned about privacy and now that it’s compulsory to include your name with your Census data. In the digital world we live, multiple data breaches every government department including the ABS. It’s understandable that people are worried isn’t it?

FIFIELD:

Well there is a heightened awareness in the digital online world to issues of privacy. So that’s taken as read. We understand that. But, the Australian Bureau of Statistics is one of the most trusted Commonwealth agencies. They operate at arm’s length from government. They take privacy considerations very seriously. They have undertaken to store people’s names separate to other data that people provide through the Census. But, sure, look you can understand that people pause for a moment. But the message that I would give on behalf of the Government is that this is a trusted and respected Commonwealth agency part of their core business is respecting privacy. And it’s really important that people provide information through the Census so that, governments are in the best possible position with the best possible information to make decisions on their behalf.

EPSTEIN:

Mark, can we trust them?

DREYFUS:

Well, I’d actually like to start where Mitch left off which is to urge absolutely every listener to do as much as they can to make the Census work as well as it can. It’s an absolutely crucial tool of government – opposition and governments alike and every public servant in Australia – everybody in the community relies on this Census. We’ve got a fantastic Census process in Australia, it happens every 5 years, we need that information to be as rich as possible so that we can make good decisions. That said, I’ve been a bit disappointed that the government hasn’t got out earlier, with a bigger campaign, to explain the Census, to explain why…

EPSTEIN:

They were busy getting the machinery of government going again…

DREYFUS:

Well maybe but to explain why we’ve moved from keeping the data for 18 months to keeping it for 4 years – what use is going to be made of names and addresses which are being collected. The Prime Minister was out today; good – giving that assurance of protection of people’s privacy. But the government could have done a great deal more – it’s not even particularly clear who the Minister responsible for it is, which is perhaps an indication of how little has been said by the government up until now.

FIFIELD:

It’s Michael McCormack, the Small Business Minister who is within the Treasury portfolio.

EPSTEIN:

He was given the responsibility last week I think is that correct?

FIFIELD:

I think he’s had it from when he became Minister.

EPSTEIN:

I thought there was some confusion about who was responsible?

FIFIELD:

Anyway, he’s in charge.

DREYFUS:

There should have been a bigger campaign, we need to hear more. I’d like to hear the Prime Minister out every day.

EPSTEIN:

About the Census?

DREYFUS:

The Census is next week, it’s on Tuesday – and we need to hear from the Prime Minister giving that assurance of privacy.

EPSTEIN:

Maybe it’s better if it’s not politicians talking about it – maybe people…I hate to cast aspersions on the media and the political class.

FIFIELD:

Raf we’re crushed.

EPSTEIN:

But maybe that is something that the government should have said to the ABS, listen, I mean people have been writing about this for a long time, maybe that is a direction the government could have given to the Bureau – you need to get out ahead of this, maybe the government should have been doing it.

FIFIELD:

Well the Bureau does have legislative independence. So they conduct the Census in the way that they think is best. We will be seeing and hearing a lot from the ABS between now and the ninth of August. They’re really ramping up their public information. The TV ads are really starting to crank up now. So you will see a lot of the ABS. But also you’ll see the responsible Minister out and about encouraging people to fill out that Census. As Mark says it’s really important for good government.

DREYFUS:

But let’s have some assurances about security as well.

EPSTEIN:

Yes absolutely. Quick question to both of you, who fills out the Census in your house Mark?

DREYFUS:

Next Tuesday my wife Deborah will be filling out the Census form because I’ll be away.

EPSTEIN:

Oh okay, is it normally you?

DREYFUS:

No, no Deborah is very good at filling out forms.

EPSTEIN:

Mitch, who normally does it at your place?

FIFIELD:

I think it will be me this time Raf.

EPSTEIN:

Is it normally you?

FIFIELD:

I’m just trying to think back to the last time. Yes it was, I think it’s deemed that it sort of goes with the turf.

EPSTEIN:

Fair enough – hey you’re in government, you’re in politics, that’s your job. Look I will get to your calls many of you wanting to have your say about the Census; plenty of other issues to cover as well. First, let’s get some news headlines with Jim Graham. Hi Jim…

[News, traffic and advertisement break]

EPSTEIN:

Mitch Fifield is with me in the studio he’s one of Malcolm Turnbull’s Ministers, he works on Communications and the Arts. Mark Dreyfus is with us as well, he is part of Bill Shorten’s Shadow Cabinet – he’s been Attorney-General before and he retains that job with Bill Shorten’s team. Bridgette has called about the Census from Kilsyth, Bridgette what did you want to say?

CALLER BRIDGETTE:

Well firstly, I’m really not for the census. Government has all the information about everybody.

EPSTEIN:

They’ve got all they need you think?

CALLER BRIDGETTE:

Of course, they have everything, they know whether we are healthy, whether we are sick, how much we earn, how much we don’t earn etc. etc.

EPSTEIN:

Are you going to fill it in Bridgette?

CALLER BRIDGETTE:

Beg your pardon?

EPSTINE:

Will you fill in the Census?

CALLER BRIDGETTE:

I’m not telling.

EPSTEIN:

Ok fair enough, I suppose I’m asking if you’re committing a crime on the radio, that was a bad question. And Kaye is in West Brunswick, Kaye what did you want to say?

CALLER KAYE:

Hi Raf, I was also really annoyed about the privacy issues, I was always quite happy to put my name to it on the understanding that it would be removed straight away. To be told its staying for four years makes me really cross.

But more importantly I’m also concerned about the lack of organisation, everything seems to have suddenly happened within the last week and we haven’t been given enough time to organise. If you want Paper forms, I only received my number on Monday that I could ring in, and then they say it will take five days to be sent by snail mail so hopefully it will have arrived by next Tuesday.

EPSTEIN:

Hopefully Kaye, look you are allowed to fill it in later, you just need to I guess fill it in as though it were the Tuesday night especially when it comes to number of people in the house.

Mitch Fifield, organisation aside, privacy, I mean Bridgette, you already know everything you need to know, Governments know a lot about us don’t they?

FIFIELD:

Well Governments do know a lot about the community, but it tends to be held by particular government departments and agencies for particular purposes. What this exercise is about is a national snapshot. So that government has information region by region, topic by topic to help it plan. So government doesn’t have this up to date information in the form of a national snapshot which is why it’s done every five years.

EPSTEIN:

Anything to add Mark?

DREYFUS:

I think Bridgette it might be a surprise to know that governments don’t actually know everything. This is incredibly useful information. It’s geographically based. We need to know where the disadvantaged communities are in Australia. The Census tells us that. We need to know with as much precision as possible how to plan for our community, the census gives us that information.

We don’t have income data for example on every single Australian, the tax office is prohibited by law, for using the information for any other reason than just running the tax system, so I’m for the census being made as useful as it can be.

EPSTEIN:

Look coming up to 21 minutes to 5 o’clock, your calls welcome of course.

Mitch Fifield back in 2010 when the banks did not pass on the full interest rate cut, you were in Opposition, your then Shadow Treasurer Joe Hockey said:

“The Government has lost control of the banks they are being treated as a laughing stock, by the banks.”

We can hold you to that standard can’t we? If the banks have only passed on half of the Reserve cut?

FIFIELD:

Well I think governments of all persuasions, always encourage the banks to pass on interest rate cuts in full. It’s an obligation I think on the banks, they do in effect operate with a social licence issued by the Government on behalf of the community, It’s incumbent upon them to explain why it is that they’re doing what they’re doing. The banks need to be accountable and they need to explain their actions.

EPSTEIN:

Have you lost control? That’s what Joe Hockey said about the then Government is it fair to then say that you’ve lost control?

FIFIELD:

Well look, I use my own words. And my words are that we obviously recognise that banks are commercial entities, that they operate separate to government, government doesn’t set, in effect, their prices. But there is a role for government to express a view on behalf of the community. And the view that we’re expressing is that the banks should pass it on in full and they should explain their actions.

EPSTEIN:

The first ones out of the blocks yesterday, Mark were the Commonwealth. They did raise, they only passed on half, but they did raise most of their term deposit rates and a number of the other banks did that. It’s kind of fair enough, I mean the banks are living a different world; they’ve got greater requirements from regulators here and overseas. Is it understandable in this instance?

DREYFUS:

We think it’s economically desirable that banks pass on the interest rate cut. That’s why the Reserve Bank has dropped interest rates, so that it will be passed on, so that it will stimulate economic activity. You wouldn’t want to look too closely at what Coalition frontbenchers said when they were in Opposition. Hockey said that when the interest rate was double what it is today that it was at emergency and crisis levels. And you’re right to remind us that in Opposition Hockey and Mr Abbott were full of exultations for the Government to do more and we’ve had a bit of a change of heart overnight actually. Mr Morrison was saying yesterday it’s a commercial decision for the banks. I’m actually pleased to hear Mr Turnbull out today demanding that the banks pass it on.

EPSTEIN:

But a lot of the small business lending, they’ve also had their rates cut. It’s not always people paying a mortgage that are the stimulus. The banks can put a case can’t they that they’ve raised term deposits, that gives people who live of their savings more income and a lot of the small businesses, they’re getting a better deal. It’s not the only way you get stimulus, people paying less off their mortgage.

DREYFUS:

No, but there is a reason why the Reserve Bank drops interest rates. It’s to get stimulus into the economy as widely as possible, they don’t do it for no reason, they do it because the reserve banks view is that the economy is in some trouble.

EPSTEIN:

Can I ask Mitch Fifield, may I ask you to breach Cabinet solidarity? Can I do that? Kevin Rudd.

FIFIELD:

You can always ask.

EPSTEIN:

Kevin Rudd is not getting the support of your government in his run at the Secretary General Job at the United Nations. Was it the Prime Minister’s decision or was it a Cabinet decision? Because I’m sure which of the two it was.

FIFIELD:

Well the Prime Minister made it clear all along that this a matter which would be taken to the Cabinet for consideration. The Cabinet had the opportunity to express its view. And the way that we work in Government is that we don’t actually have a ballot in Cabinet on issues. The Prime Minister takes on board what the Cabinet says. The Prime Minister interprets the mood and the view of the Cabinet and then expresses a view on behalf of the Cabinet. And that’s exactly what the Prime Minister did.

EPSTEIN:

Issue aside, someone’s tallied which Minister’s spoke for and which Minister’s spoke against and presumably the only people in Cabinet are Cabinet Minister’s and they’ve handed those numbers over to journalists, because we’ve got tallies of who spoke for and against. Does that worry you that people are handing over that sort of information, handing over that sort of detail?

FIFIELD:

Well it’s important that the confidentiality of the of the Cabinet Room is recognised. And that’s something that I encourage. But the important thing is the issue itself. And that is that we assessed Mr Rudd. We looked at his particular proposition to be Secretary-General of the United Nations. And you do need to take these things on a case by case basis. And we reached the conclusion that he was not appropriate applicant for that particular job.

But I’ve got to say, that the hypocrisy on the Labor side is absolutely breathtaking. I mean no one did more to maul Mr Rudd’s reputation than his own colleagues.

EPSTEIN:

It can’t be excluded that Mark Dreyfus was particularly neutral in the battle.

FIFIELD:

Well I’m not sure Mark voted for the restoration of Mr Rudd. He may want to correct me on that. But you actually had Labor Minister after Labor Minister issuing press releases in their name, going through all the reasons why Mr Rudd was not appropriate for high office.

EPSTEIN:

Can I ask you about that, I mean when was the last time you assessed anything based of what Labor said? Why all of a sudden do you assess Kevin Rudd’s suitability on what your opponents say? I mean you always discount what they say about everything, yet all of a sudden with Kevin Rudd what they say is gospel. That’s hypocrisy isn’t it?

FIFIELD:

Well look, I don’t know Kevin Rudd. I don’t think I’ve ever had a conversation with him. So you tend to rely on the views of those who know him best. Those who were his colleagues.

EPSTEIN:

That’s a stretch too far isn’t it?

FIFIELD:

I’m making the point here. One of hypocrisy. The Labor Party did more than anyone to trash his reputation. So we’re not going to take lectures from the Australian Labor Party about how to treat Kevin Rudd.

He put his proposition forward. It was considered by the Cabinet. And the Cabinet declined to support his nomination.

EPSTEIN:

Mark Dreyfus, your colleagues did say remarkably caustic things about him and he does seem to be a divisive figure, it’s not as though the Coalition have no substance to base that judgement.

DREYFUS:

Well some of them have said harsh things about Kevin Rudd, but the Parliamentary Labor Party voted in 2013 to put him back as Prime Minister, I think there is a larger question, which is, this is an Australian in the running for one of the world’s top jobs. There’s never been a time when an Australian has been in the running for many decades, I think some people talk to Bert Evatt as being possibly in the running for it, that’s back in the 1940’s.

EPSTEIN:

He helped set up the UN didn’t he?

DREYFUS:

Of course, he was President of the General Assembly, but no one since. I think it’s a fantastic thing that any Australian is in the running, he should have been supported by our Government.

It’s a great disappointment that apparently for partisan reasons he’s been not supported. And the story keeps changing, Mitch is now trying to say that it was a Cabinet decision, only days ago Mr Turnbull was saying it was left to him to call it and he was going to ring Kevin Rudd first. That’s not a cabinet decision it was left to him.

EPSTEIN

Look I will get a response from Senator Mitch Fifield in a moment, love to know what you make of it, interest rates, Kevin Rudd. We haven’t spoken about the Royal Commission in the Northern Territory yet 1300 222 774 is the phone number number.

Regular talkback guest Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull joined us once again on Monday, I did ask him about, that was a joke, the Prime Minister was quizzed by me about Kevin Rudd, I’m not sure I got an explicit answer.

Kevin Rudd has leaked a series of letters that he wrote admittedly, not that Mr Turnbull wrote, where he says Mr Turnbull gave him assurances in the lead up to May this year. I asked the Prime Minister if he’d ever backed Kevin Rudd, this was the answer:

PRIME MINISTER:

It says a lot about Mr Rudd that quite some time after the event he would seek to present an account of them in correspondence he would write to me with the clear intention of subsequently releasing it. Does the Government believe Mr Rudd is well suited to the role? The answer is, we do not. And that is why we have not nominated him.

EPSTEIN:

That’s the Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, Mitch Fifield let me put the issue of Kevin Rudd aside. It’s been a messy process, there’s been Cabinet leaks and really in the scheme of things of everything you would like to do as a Government is a very small issue.

It’s not a great beginning is it, you very much get the feeling with the Canberra commentary, its right we’re going to stick that at the top of the list and we’re expecting more problems, more giving in to the conservative wing of his party from the Prime Minister. That’s how people are framing this issue is that fair? It looks like that?

FIFIELD:

You deal with issues as they come along. When you’re in Government you don’t necessarily get to pick the order in which issues present themselves.

EPSTEIN:

But Cabinet leak on a small issue, that’s a problem?

FIFIELD:

You deal with the issues as they come up. We’ve dealt with it. We dealt with it according to the process that the Prime Minister said would be followed. End of story. We move on. I know Kevin Rudd is very seized of this issue. I know that he thinks that this is one of the most important matters facing the world. It’s not. We’ve dealt with it. We want to get on with the people’s business.

DREYFUS:

I can understand why Mitch wants it to be the end of the story, but unfortunately its not, Mr Turnbull has undermined his deputy leader the Foreign Minister who went to Cabinet we know from the leaks with a recommendation to support Kevin Rudd.

EPSTEIN:

Well apparently, I can’t work out what the department’s actual official position is still.

Allan has called from Doncaster, Allan what did you want to say?

CALLER ALLAN:

Last week on Lateline Greg Sheridan from the Australian, and I saw the interview, he said that Kevin Rudd was a no brainer to get that job and it would be hue bloody minded not to give it to him.

Perhaps Mitch would like to enlighten Greg as to why his opinion is wrong?

FIFIELD:

Look, very intelligent people can reach different conclusions. As Mr Shanahan in the Australian reached a different conclusion to Mr Sheridan.

EPSTINE:

You don’t only read the Australian Newspaper surely Mitch Fifield

FIFIELD

No, but since it was the Australian Newspaper that was cited. People can reach different conclusions, but we’ve reached ours.

EPSTEIN:

I’ll get to more of your calls, 1300 222 774 in a moment, just on process Mitch Fifield I want to get into the substance of the Norther Territory issue, I mentioned not the strongest beginning to a term.

Is it a problem politically that the Royal Commissioner Brian Ross Martin had to step down after what, Thursday to Monday?

FIFIELD:

Look it’s a fact that he chose to stand down. And I emphasise that he chose, it was for personal family reasons, it wasn’t a reflection on the Royal Commission itself, on its terms of reference, or on the Government. The important thing for all of us to keep sight of here is not government process issues which excite us. The important thing to keep sight of here is the fact that there are young people who’ve been in detention in the Northern Territory, who haven’t been afforded the duty of care that would be expected. That’s something that the nation was seized of. Malcolm Turnbull moved very quickly to put in place a Royal Commission. I think that’s been welcomed. I think that the two Royal Commissioners who have now been announced have been recognised as being good and appropriate people to see this task through. We want to see it done, we want to see it done quickly so that we can get on and look at the recommendations they make.

EPSTEIN

How are we going to make real improvement Mitch Fifield? I know it’s not your portfolio area but we’ve been struggling with this problem since the ‘67 referendum haven’t we? We just don’t seem to be able to make significant improvement, we’ve made some - what stops us getting there?

FIFIELD:

Well I think we need to firstly look at this as an independent exercise. An exercise looking at child protection in the Northern Territory and also juvenile detention.

Yes, appropriately, there has been significant focus on the numbers of Indigenous people who are the subject of Child Protection and who are in juvenile detention, but it’s not just indigenous people who are in these circumstances, so it’s important that we see this as body of work. We address it. Of course there are many, many issues facing Indigenous Australians and we do want to look at those. But we’ve got this body of work that we’ve got to focus on and deal with.

EPSTINE:

Mark why, what stops us making significant improvements? I mean Kevin Rudd did some substantial things around closing the gap, setting them up as markers, but it hasn’t helped us close that gap, why not?   

DREYFUS:

Actually, the Closing the Gap is an incredibly useful tool, and we have improved on some measures but not all, we’ve suggested there should be justice targets added to the Closing the Gap regime.

Can I just say, its actually got to start with listening to Aboriginal people, I heard Mitch before and I heard it from Senator Brandis last week I’ve heard it from the Prime Minister, they dismiss as mere process issues, consulting with the Aboriginal community. It’s actually got to be the starting point

EPSTEIN

Well they insisted that they had consulted with Indigenous groups [inaudible]

DREYFUS

Well they clearly didn’t, and the Aboriginal community said that they didn’t, they also claimed to have consulted with the Opposition and I can say they didn’t because I rang up Senator Brandis to offer, but put that to one side that’s not my complaint, I’m not complaining about that, that’s their choice but they should be consulting with the Aboriginal community and I’d invite the Government to read carefully the remarks made by Brian Martin the former Chief Justice of the Northern Territory who resigned his commission in an incredibly honourable way, not for purely personal reasons but because he said the commission has to have the confidence of the Aboriginal communities of the Northern Territory. It was apparent to him from complaints that had been raised that that confidence wouldn’t be there.

Now that’s what the Government needs to be paying attention to, consult fully the false start that we’ve reached with this Royal Commission, I’m hoping it’s not going to continue, I’m pleased with the two Commissioners that have been appointed, we’ve expressed our warm support for this Royal Commission as soon as the Prime Minister announced it. I’m hoping that good will come of it but you have to listen.

EPSTEIN

Mark Dreyfus, Mitch Fifield thank you so much for coming in

FIFIELD

Thanks Raf, good to be here, see you Mark

DREYFUS

See you Mitch.

 

 [ends]