February 23, 2021

PAT CONROY, SHADOW MINISTER ASSISTING FOR GOVERNMENT ACCOUNTABILITY: G’day, I’m Pat Conroy the Shadow Minister Assisting for Government Accountability, and I want to talk about the disgraceful appointment of Bruce Bilson as the Small Business Ombudsman. This is a disgraceful appointment. This Government is clearly out of touch and has clearly forgotten that only two years ago, Mr Bilson was censured by the House of Representatives on a unanimous resolution. Censured for taking a paid lobbyist job before he had finished as a Member of Parliament. 

As the former Deputy Chair of the Privileges Committee that investigated this, I can say quite clearly that a censure motion is incredibly significant. A censure motion where Mr Bilson’s own party said he did completely the wrong thing by taking a paid lobbyist job before finishing his term as a Member of Parliament, and Mr Morrison chooses to appoint him to a well-paying job.

It’s a disgrace and just clearly shows that Mr Morrison cares more about rewarding his Liberal mates than your job. Mr Morrison doesn’t care about your job, he only cares about jobs for his boys. 

JOURNALIST: Well doesn’t Labor – you know obviously it’s different circumstances – but Labor has appointed a lot of Labor people in the past to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal for example. Both parties engage in this kind of jobs rort don’t they?

CONROY: Well I’d say two things. Firstly, the scale of jobs for mates under this Government is at epic proportions, it’s industrial. Is there a sweet diplomatic post that hasn’t gone to a Liberal mate? And secondly, Mr Bilson was censured by his own party. His own party said his behavior was wrong, it was incorrect, it besmirched other Members of Parliament. How is he fit for this role?

JOURNALIST: Are you concerned as well - just on diplomatic posts, I believe there was a comment by DFAT itself saying that too many ambassadorships are being given away to political hacks. What do you think of that?

CONROY: Well I think that what we’ve seen by this Government is just an epic stacking of diplomatic appointments. Every consulate in America seems like it is going to a Liberal mate. So I think there’s a real question about the mix of appointments there.

JOURNALIST: What about in your electorate – the Government is looking at raising JobSeeker here today. How would that affect people in your electorate? Are you happy about that?

CONROY: Well I’ve been calling for a permanent increase in the JobSeeker amount. $40 a day cannot be lived upon, it’s a disgrace. This Government has already done enormous damage to my community through cuts to JobSeeker and JobKeeper. So for example, in my food banks, when they cut JobSeeker and JobKeeper at the end of September, we saw a tripling in demand for basic food packages. And then when they cut them again in January, we saw a doubling again. So that’s a 600 per cent increase in demand for basic food stuffs for families because of this Government’s cruelty. 

So a permanent increase in JobSeeker is desperately needed. We’ll see if they announce it, we’ll see how much it is. [INAUDIBLE]

JOURNALIST: What would be an acceptable figure? Would it be $55, would it be $60?

CONROY: Well let’s see what an independent study would provide. I think we should be guided by providing a genuine living allowance for these people. Let’s remember, these people on JobSeeker, they’ve had to run down any redundancy payment they’ve already received. They literally have little or no savings. They’re facing a rental market – because almost all of them are renters – where it is booming. I met a 63-year-old woman on JobSeeker who was receiving $600 a fortnight and she was paying $570 a fortnight in rent. How can you live on that? The truth is you can’t. 

So we need to provide JobSeeker as a genuine amount to live on. Secondly, that will stimulate the economy and get us out of recession. We’ve got people starving right now, we’ve got people living in cars right now because of this Government’s cut to JobSeeker and that needs to end.

JOURNALIST:Should it be far closer to the poverty line then for instance?

CONROY: Well I think there’s lots of arguments as to how to measure poverty. I think the poverty line as 50 per cent of the [median income] is debated by some experts. But what I can say is that no person in this country should live in their car. No family in this country should starve while on JobSeeker.

JOURNALIST: Just on another matter of government accountability. There are now four inquiries into the Brittany Higgins saga. The PM said in Parliament yesterday that one of them – the Gaetjens – might not be made public. Is that good enough?

CONROY: Absolutely not. He was very sneaky in Question Time yesterday. We asked him directly if he would release the Gaetjens report and he avoided it. This guy has no principles. This guy hides from accountability. If you look at the questioning yesterday, we’ve had more accusations, more revelations about who in the Prime Minister’s office knew about the Higgins matter. It’s clear that the Prime Minister knew or he has inculcated such a culture within his office of secrecy that he doesn’t want to know. This guy either knew and refused to take action, or he’s the Sergeant Schultz of Australian politics, just closing his ears to any misdoing on his own side for petty political advantage.