June 22, 2019






SUBJECTS: Tax cuts; Medivac legislation, border protection, Iran-US relations.



JOSH SZEPS, HOST: Pat, thanks for being here. Let’s just kick off with you, there seems to be dissent in the Labor ranks about whether or not to support the tax cuts that the Government promised before the election. Should Labor wave them through?


PAT CONROY: Well, there is not dissent, there is actually people expressing their opinions, which is I think a healthy thing.


SZEPS: Yeh, that’s what dissent is.


CONROY: What we’ve said is … Well, no, dissent implies they are dissenting from an established position. We haven’t established our position on the tax cuts. What we’ve said to the Government is we support stage one. The economy is slowing very significantly, underemployment is rising, and retail sales are plummeting. We need stage one through urgently to stimulate the economy. We’ve asked for more information on stages two and three of the tax cuts, information that Josh Frydenberg promised during the election campaign and that he failed to deliver. When we get that information we’ll consider it in a careful process and make a decision. I think this is very important that we understand that stage one is the important stage because it’s the immediate stage. Stage two and three … stage three for example has to go through another election before it even would come in if it was legislated. So we need to focus on stage one, which provides immediate tax relief to working and middle class Australians to stimulate the economy urgently.


JOHANNA NICHOLSON, HOST: Julian, stage three seems be the sticking point for Labor. Would the government consider separating the Bill – isn’t some better than none?


JULIAN LEESER, LIBERAL MEMBER FOR BEROWRA: The Government is not considering separating the Bill. I mean, this was an election campaign where we had very clear differences on tax policy. We proposed lower taxes. The instant component of this, which was giving people who were earning up to $126,000 a thousand dollars, but also then taking people to a situation where 94 per cent of Australians pay no more than 30 cents in the dollar. The Labor Party by contrast proposed a whole range of higher taxes on people, whether it was higher taxes on retirees, on home owners, on renters, on small businesses. The Australian people made a choice. They chose to re-elect the current government. Now the reason why it’s important not to split the package is that the Government itself went with a policy. People want to see the Government, they want to see the Government’s package in, so people know with confidence and certainty that in 2024 that they will get a tax rate of no more than 30 per cent, gives the economy confidence, gives people confidence to plan for the future, that they’ll have more money to invest, that they’ll have more money to pay off their mortgage, that they’ll have more money to help their kids with school expenses and their grandkids, they’ll have more money to start a business. We want to give people the certainty and confidence to plan for the future. That’s what our tax package does.


SZEPS: Julian, one of the problems with our representative democracy where you only have two big political parties is that people have to lodge a vote for choice A or choice B and they don’t get to clarify for us what they liked about one or the other. Are you saying that the third tranche of the Government’s tax cuts was an instrumental reason why people voted for the Coalition?


LEESER: I think people saw the fact that they were, that 94 per cent of Australians, were going to pay no more than 30 cents in the dollar. In contrast with the Labor Party, that seems to have higher taxes on every sector of the economy. I think you want to have people being able to plan with confidence and certainty for the future. That will help stimulate the economy, in and of itself.


NICHOLSON: Pat, didn’t the election give the Government a bit of a mandate on this? It was a major policy for the Government in the election campaign and the Government then won, is Labor standing in the way of what the people want?


CONROY: Absolutely not. The Government only took one election policy and that was that they’re not Labor. They campaigned on one fact – they were not the Labor Party. And they won, and good luck to them, and they are the government.


NICHOLSON: But they did present this tax plan.


CONROY: If I can just finish my point, if you are going to argue mandate politics, this is arguing for a mandate after not one election, but after two elections. That is ridiculous. That is utterly ridiculous. We will look at this policy issue on its merits. And I’ve got to reject Julian’s point: if you’re underemployed, if you’re struggling to get more hours, if your job is under threat right now, you’re not going to be concerned, you’re not going to be given confidence by a hypothetical tax cut in five years’ time. You’re very much focused on can I afford my mortgage now, can I put food on my kids table now. So that’s why stage one of the tax cuts is very important. But to suggest that people in a slowing economy right now will get confidence out of a tax cut for those earning over $180,000 in five years’ time is pure ridiculousness. And it should be rejected as such.


LEESER: But this is a test for your party, for Mr Albanese, as to whether he’s actually turned over a new leaf and whether he’s got the message from the election that Australians want lower taxes. I was pleased to see the comments of your colleague Peter Khalil this week, who believes that if we’re not prepared to split the Bill, and we’re not prepared to split it, that you guys should support the package because that is what the Australian people voted for.


CONROY: Mate, you promised through Josh Frydenberg a whole lot of information about the impact of stage two and stage three during the election campaign. You’ve provided zero of that so far. It is ridiculous to ask the Labor Party to support a piece of legislation sight unseen without understanding the fiscal or distributional impacts of this. This is pure arrogance from a government that had one policy that they took to the election, which was that they were not the Labor Party. We will look at this…


LEESER: We had this tax plan.


CONROY: …once we get the information. It is pure arrogance to try and browbeat Parliament into passing a Bill sight unseen.


NICHOLSON: Alright, we might move onto our second topic of the morning and that is the Medivac Bill. The Federal Court this week have said that doctors don’t need to see a patient face-to-face to make an assessment based on that. Julian, do you have evidence to show that this law is not working in its current form?


LEESER:  Well, let’s take a step back in relation to discussion about these issues. Why are we dealing with people on Nauru and Manus? We are dealing with people on Nauru and Manus because during the last period of the Labor Government, 50,000 people came by boat. I know people don’t like hearing these statistics again, but it’s important to remind people. Twelve-hundred people drowned at sea, 800 people on boats – this is legacy of the previous government.


NICHOLSON: But here, let me just interrupt you and say that here, under this current law, around 30 people have been brought here.


LEESER: So far. So far. This law has only been in place since February and what the Federal Court has effectively done is further weakened the regime because they’ve effectively said a doctor doesn’t need to see people, they can just assess people on the papers, and bring them to Australia. Well, we do not want people who are in Manus and Nauru having a backdoor way into Australia. It gives a signal to the people smugglers that they can start their regimes – that if you go to Manus and Nauru, if you claim some medical need, that you will be able to come to Australia. Now as we also know there are more health professionals in those places per head of population than anywhere in Australia. So, it’s not as if people are not getting medical treatment. But this is being used as a backdoor way to bring people to Australia.


SZEPS: Wait, there are more healthcare professionals there than anywhere else in Australia? Of course, because it’s a detention camp. There probably aren’t more medical health professionals than there are in prisons, for example, are there?


LEESER: Well, I can’t answer that. I know that the ratio there is extremely high.


SZEPS: Of course it would be. You’ve got people locked up.


LEESER: Well, no, not necessarily. You don’t necessarily have medical people just because you’ve got people in detention. The point is people are getting medical treatment if they need medical treatment. This whole law is about undermining Australia’s border protection regime. It’s Labor’s law, it’s not our law, and we are calling for it to be repealed.


NICHOLSON: Pat, is Labor shifting its support on the Bill?


CONROY: Absolutely not. And let’s go back to a few basic facts. First, Julian doesn’t seem to realise he has been in Government for six years, and they are still intent on going back to what happened before 2013.


LEESER: That’s where the legacy cases are from, Pat.


CONROY: Under Peter Dutton’s watch over 50,000 unauthorised arrivals have come by plane. That has been a massive weakening of border security. They’ve cut $250 million from funding from border security, so much so that border force vessels couldn’t be used because they had run out of money for fuel last Christmas. So, that’s very important. The recent legal challenge around Medivac doesn’t change a single thing about this Bill. Peter Dutton, the Home Affairs Minister, can still refuse entry for anyone on security or criminal grounds – fact one. Fact two: they can only get treatment in Australia if they cannot get the required medical treatment in Manus or Nauru – fact two. Fact three: people support strong border protection. The policies on border protection are identical between Labor and Liberal, but what the Australian people want is humane treatment of people in Manus and Nauru. If they cannot get medical treatment in those islands they should be brought to this country for medical treatment and then returned to those processing facilities. And the important point which I will repeat is that nothing has changed - the ability of the Minister to refuse entry on security grounds. Everything else …


LEESER:  But there are people who are charged with offences against children there.


NICHOLSON: Just let Pat finish his point.


CONROY: Everything else is scaremongering by a Liberal Government that is intent on fear and smear returning to six years in the past. Nothing changes. The Minister has the power to refuse on security grounds. The Minister has the right to appeal on medical grounds. This is just scaremongering from a government without an agenda.


LEESER: The Minister can apply a character determination for every other person who seeks to come to Australia except people under the Medivac legislation. And where the Medivac legislation allows to bar people who’ve been convicted of a crime of more than 12 months it doesn’t allow the Minister to bar people who have been charged with a crime including people who have been charged with child sex offences who are on the islands there, who’ve been engaged in money laundering and terror offences and the like who haven’t yet been convicted. We have a regime in relation to the character determination law that we can maintain control of people who get to come to Australia. This demonstrates how ill thought out this particular piece of legislation was in the first place and it’s again a test for Mr Albanese and Senator Keneally about whether they are turning over a new leaf or whether they want to continue Labor’s tradition here of weak border protection policies.


SZEPS: Julian and Pat, hearing the two of you blame the other side of politics for the existence of people on Manus and Nauru sounds a little bit like a couple of toddlers arguing over you did it first, no you did it first, no you did it first. Both parties support mandatory detention, both parties support offshore processing.


LEESER: But the Labor Party … that is why those people are there. Kevin Rudd said …


SZEPS: It’s like the Palestinians arguing over who started it first.


LEESER: Kevin Rudd said in the 2007 election that they would be exactly the same and he chose not to be. And we have a legacy of 50,000 people – 1200 people who needlessly died – as a result of that regime. Nobody remembers those people.


SZEPS: Let’s talk briefly about Iran and Trump because I do want to get your thoughts about that. Australia is generally in lock-step with the United States on military issues. Are we in lock-step with Trump on Iran?


LEESER: Well, if you look at the nuclear deal, Australia has taken a different position to the United States in relation to the Iran nuclear deal where we are still part of the international group of countries there that are encouraging Iran to abide by the nuclear sanctions regime and to desist from their nuclear weapons program. We’ve also taken a tough stand in relation to ballistic missiles and to the money laundering activities and terror financing that goes on in Iran. Look, I don’t want to speculate as to what’s going to happen over the next few days and weeks in relation to Iran and the United States, although it seems overnight that things have cooled down. And I think as a country Australia would very strongly support peace and stability in the region.


SZEPS: Pat, bipartisan agreement on that?


CONROY: There is. And it should be noted that Iran has committed some incredibly provocative acts and I and Labor urge them to avoid repeating those acts. And it’s important that both sides of the potential conflict de-escalate. It’s in no one’s interests to see conflict in that region and I think it is very important that we maintain a bipartisan approach to this issue, which is to push for all parties to de-escalate the potential conflict.


NICHOLSON: Alright, Pat Conroy, Julian Leeser, we really appreciate you coming in this morning.

You can watch the interview here.