INTERVIEW WITH PATRICIA
5 February 2017
E & OE
Thank you, my first guest tonight
is the Communications Minister, Mitch Fifield. Welcome to the Program.
Good to be with
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?
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
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
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.
So you’re open to some of these
ideas that are being put forward.
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.
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?
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.
But I ask specifically, would it
be breaking an election promise to have a free vote in this term of parliament?
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.
The question is to you, you’re my
guest tonight. Would it be breaking an election policy to move to a free vote.
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.
Would it be breaking an election
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.
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.
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.
So do you see it as an election
promise not to have a free vote in this Parliament?
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…
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.
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.
But you colleagues have changed
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.
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?
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.
On child care, are you hoping to
get this bill through by the end of the week?
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
Mitch Fifield, thank you so much
for joining me tonight.