INTERVIEW WITH PATRICIA KARVELAS > Mitch Fifield, Liberal Senator for Victoria

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06-February-2017

 

INTERVIEW WITH PATRICIA KARVELAS
KARVELAS SKYNEWS
7PM AEDT
5 February 2017

E & OE

 

KARVELAS:

Thank you, my first guest tonight is the Communications Minister, Mitch Fifield. Welcome to the Program.

FIFIELD:

Good to be with you Patricia.

KARVELAS:

Let’s start with your portfolio before we move to all the other issues. Pauline Hanson’s One Nation is preparing to block your proposed changes to media ownership regulation. It’s been reported that she will support TV licence fee reductions in the next budget if that’s what happens. Are your reforms now dead?

FIFIELD:

Well there’s a lot of water to go under the bridge when it comes to media reform legislation before the Parliament. What we know is that the Labor Party have counted themselves out. They’ve said that they’re against reform. You would’ve thought and hoped that the alternative government of the nation would see that repeal of the 75% audience reach rule and 2 out of 3 was the responsible thing to do to give our media organisations the capacity to configure themselves in ways that supports their viability. So we’ll put Labor to one side. We are in discussions with the crossbench. I have obviously seen some of the comments from some of my crossbench colleagues, but I continue to engage with them. There are things that I’m looking at that my crossbench colleagues have asked me to. So we’ll continue those discussions. It’s a little while before we’ll get to the vote. And as I’ve learnt as the Manager of Government Business in the Senate, you can never count a piece of legislation out until you’ve actually had the vote in the Senate.

KARVELAS:

We know that Nick Xenophon is asking for something very specific; some sort of super tax to diminish the power of the Facebook Google duopoly. Is that something you’re willing to look at?

FIFIELD:

It’s well known that we’re putting in place a diverted profits tax, which is often referred to as a Google tax. We’re also addressing the issue of GST when it comes to online purchases. So we’re already doing some very significant things when it comes to those entities and those parts of the economy that haven’t been captured by traditional taxation approaches. So we’re addressing that. But obviously, if there’s a crossbench colleague who wants to sit down with me and talk about a proposition, I’m always willing to sit down and talk. It doesn’t mean we’ll always agree, but I’m always willing to sit down and talk.

KARVELAS:

So you’re open to some of these ideas that are being put forward.

FIFIELD:

I’m not necessarily going to agree with the propositions that are put forward, by crossbench colleagues. But if a colleague wants to talk to me about something, I’m always happy to do so.

KARVELAS:

I now want you to put your hat on as Manager of Government Business in the Senate. Gay Marriage, now this has become a big issue today. Tony Abbott is warning to Malcolm Turnbull not to break his promise on same sex marriage. Would it be a break in the promise if the Liberal Party Room now decides to moves to a free vote now the plebiscite has no chance of surviving and getting through?

FIFIELD:

Well we took, as you know Patricia, to the election a very clear position when it comes to same sex marriage. And that was that there be a plebiscite to give the Australian people the opportunity to have their say. Now we won that election. We had a mandate for that policy. But regrettably the Australian Labor Party set about and succeeded in thwarting the Government giving effect to an election commitment. Usually, oppositions are in the business of holding governments to account, of making sure they honour their election commitments. But Labor took the opposite approach. They wanted to make it impossible, at that vote, for us to give effect to that election commitment. But we have a policy. The policy is to have a plebiscite. What I would hope is that Bill Shorten would take the time over the next week to pause and reflect, because our target date for a plebiscite was this coming weekend. So I think Bill Shorten should pause, reflect, and reverse the position that he has to oppose the legislation to give effect to a plebiscite.

KARVELAS:

But I ask specifically, would it be breaking an election promise to have a free vote in this term of parliament?

FIFIELD:

Well we have a position. We have a policy. We sought to give effect to it. And the question really should be to Bill Shorten. He has used weasel words and a mealy mouth. And has not given an account of himself.

KARVELAS:

The question is to you, you’re my guest tonight. Would it be breaking an election policy to move to a free vote.

FIFIELD:

Well what we’re in the business of seeking to do, as we’ve demonstrated, is to give effect to the policy we took to the last election. A plebiscite for same sex marriage.

KARVELAS:

Would it be breaking an election promise?

FIFIELD:

We’re in the business of trying to give effect to the policies that we took to the last election. The Australian Labor Party are in the business of trying to stop us giving effect to the policies we took to the last election. What Bill Shorten should do is reflect.

KARVELAS:

What I’m trying to establish is whether you agree with Tony Abbott, that if you were to move – because of course your backbench colleagues want this to happen. There’s a list of them that want a free vote. If you were to change to a free vote, would it be breaking an election promise.

FIFIELD:

Well look, it’s not my place or business to provide a running commentary on the contributions that my Party Room colleagues make. It is up to any colleague to raise matters that they want to in the Party Room. And no doubt colleagues will do that. But I don’t provide a commentary on what they say. We have the forum or the Party Room. What we’re about, as we have been since the day we were elected is seeking to give effect to our election commitment.

KARVELAS:

So do you see it as an election promise not to have a free vote in this Parliament?

FIFIELD:

Our commitment is to endeavour to have a plebiscite on same sex marriage. But one thing that we won’t put up with is being lectured to by the Australian Labor Party on issues of freedom or conscience. Let’s not forget that the Labor Party’s position under Julia Gillard was to support the status quo and that there be no deviation from that. Labor have the position, that in the next Parliament, that same sex marriage would be supported and that there would be no deviation from that position. Labor is curious. We always have, we always have, in the Liberal Party on every vote that occurs in the Parliament, a conscience vote. If a colleague doesn’t feel that he can support the Party position on a particular piece of legislation, it’s always open to that colleague to exercise their conscience. That’s not the case in the Australian Labor Party. In the Australian Labor Party, if you deviate from the party position, you are automatically expelled. So we’re not going to be lectured by Labor. What we were putting forward was the ultimate…

KARVELAS:

But you disagree, what I’m getting from you is that you don’t agree with Tony Abbott’s view that it’s an iron clad election promise that you must stick to this plebiscite position the entire parliament, because that’s what he’s arguing.

FIFIELD:

Well what I’m saying is, and I’ll just complete the point I was making before. Labor talk about free votes, but what we were offering was the ultimate free vote to all Australians to have their say by way of a plebiscite. That’s our policy. It remains our policy.

KARVELAS:

But you colleagues have changed their mind.

FIFIELD:

Well it’s ultimately up to any colleague who wants to express a view in the Party Room to do so. The Party Room is where colleagues put their views and argue a proposition. What I’m saying is that as a government, we have a policy. We have a position. We took it to the election. We endeavoured to legislate it and Labor prevented us from legislating it. Labor should use the opportunity now and when the plebiscite would have happened to pause, reflect and to reconsider. Because if Labor had not thwarted the plebiscite bill, we would be voting this coming Saturday on a plebiscite for same sex marriage. And we could well, the following week have actually been legislating it. The people who are in the way of achieving a resolution are the Australian Labor Party.

KARVELAS:

Just on another issue, the business tax cuts, I know negotiations are continuing this week but of course there won’t be a bill this week. Will you split the bill? Because Nick Xenophon is being very clear that he doesn’t support the bigger tax cut, but he’s very happy for businesses under $10m to receive it. So will you split the bill?

FIFIELD:

Patricia that’s a question that is put to us on just about every single bill in the Parliament where there is some contention prior to the point where we have concluded discussions with our colleagues. Our aim is to argue the merits of our company tax cut plan agenda. Argue the merits. Convince our colleagues of the need of these. How it’ll boost the economy. And put the merits before them. That’s what we’re aiming to do.

KARVELAS:

On child care, are you hoping to get this bill through by the end of the week?

FIFIELD:

We ultimately are in the hands of our colleagues in the Parliament. It’s our practice to put legislation to a vote when we think we’re in a good position to secure the numbers. This is an important piece of legislation. It’s the right thing to package together the childcare reforms with the Social Services Omnibus savings measures. We commend them to the Parliament. We hope our colleagues give that quick and favourable consideration.

KARVELAS:

So are you closer to doing a deal with Nick Xenophon and Derryn Hinch to getting it through by the end of the week? I mean you clearly need some wins to show that this Parliament is working at the beginning of this year.

FIFIELD:

This Parliament is working. Since the election we’ve secured the passage of 48 pieces of legislation. The Parliament is working extremely well. It was only at the end of last year that we secured the passage of the Australian Building and Construction Commission legislation. That we secured the passage of the Registered Organisations legislation. Shortly before that, we secured the passage of the CFA Volunteer Protection legislation. This is a Parliament that is working well. What I’m not in the habit of doing is providing a commentary on behalf of my crossbench colleagues, or endeavouring to speak on their behalf. The best thing is to negotiate privately with colleagues, to show them that respect and to leave it to them to state what their position is on each piece of legislation. We’ll argue the merits of legislation. We’ll put our case. And we’ll leave it to our crossbench colleagues to declare their positions.

KARVELAS:

I know the Government is planning announcements on parliamentary entitlement this week, that is definitely one of the agenda items; when do you expect to deliver the Prime Minister’s commitment on the entitlement’s authority that’s been promised?

FIFIELD:

The Prime Minister is very keen to see this legislation introduced early in the Autumn session. He wants to establish an independent authority to oversee parliamentarian’s workplace related expenses. It’s important that we have enhanced transparency and a system that can provide the public with confidence. So this is something that’s very high on the Prime Minister’s agenda. You can expect early introduction.

KARVELAS:

Mitch Fifield, thank you so much for joining me tonight.

FIFIELD:

Thanks indeed, Patricia.

[ends]