HOST JOSH SZEPS: The Prime Minister seems to have ruffled some feathers this week in his Lowy lecture, talking about negative globalism. Let's take a look at the Prime Minister's comments.
SCOTT MORRISON CLIP: We should avoid any reflex towards a negative globalism that coercively seeks to impose a mandate from an often ill-defined, borderless global community. And, worse still, an unaccountable internationalist bureaucracy. Globalism, in a positive light, facilitates, it aligns, it engages, rather than directs, enforces and centralises. As such an approach can only corrode, I think, support for genuine and sustained joint international action, of which we want to be a part."
SZEPS: That's the Prime Minister this week. Pat, the Deputy Opposition Leader, Richard Marles, said yesterday that he was concerned about the Prime Minister's message. What's wrong with it?
CONROY: Well, firstly, it's a massive distraction from the real challenges facing Australia. We've got a stagnant economy; we've got a Reserve Bank that's running out of room to cut interest rates. We've got unemployment and underemployment going through the roof. So, this is a massive, massive issue that should be the focus of the Government.
SZEPS: But you can walk and chew gum at the same time, can't you? You can do things domestically and also comment on international politics?
CONROY: Well, so far this Government's demonstrated that it's incapable of doing that. But leaving that aside for a second, this is just an attempt to distract. And I should make the point that every single international treaty that we've entered into, we've done so voluntarily. No-one is forcing us to be part of this international framework. This international framework has benefited Australia as a middle power. To use climate change for an example, Mr Morrison was in the Cabinet room when Tony Abbott signed up to the Paris Treaty with the current targets that are inadequate. And so it's a bit rich for him to arc up when people point out he's not going to hit his own Paris targets that this Government voluntarily signed up to. This is just a distraction from the real issues facing Australia. And I think a bit of red meat to some of the extreme right-wingers who believe in UN conspiracies and a global world order agenda.
HOST FAUZIAH IBRAHIM: Is that really the case, though, Pat? I want to quote you something else. He said, "When it comes to setting global standards, we've not been as involved as we can be. I'm determined for Australia to play a more active role in standard-setting." So, it's a case of the Prime Minister trying to make Australia far more prominent when it comes to where the world is going, the direction of the world. It certainly would put Australia on the map?
CONROY: Well, it's certainly a criticism of the foreign policy agenda of his own Government, if he's saying for the last six years they haven't been active. We certainly agree with that. And you have to look at key decisions this Government has made around improving Australia's influence. One of the first decisions this Government made when winning power was to cut foreign aid by $11.8 billion. I can't think of any single decision that's undermined our influence in the world more than cutting foreign aid by $11.8 billion. Secondly, the rest of the world - particularly our Pacific neighbours - continually call for us to do more on climate change. You look at the fiasco at the Pacific Islands Leaders' Forum, where Scott Morrison and our nation, frankly, was embarrassed. Those are practical actions, if Mr Morrison is interested in increasing our standing and influence in the world agenda. Reverse the aid cuts and actually take action on climate change seriously, rather than bizarre speeches throwing a bit of red meat out there to his base.
SZEPS: Senator Davey, a lot of the analysis in the wake of that Lowy speech was obviously drawing parallels to Brexit, to dissatisfaction with global institutions like the European Union, to the reactionary politics of Donald Trump in the United States. What exactly is the Prime Minister trying to do? Is he afraid of a populist backlash here?
NATIONALS SENATOR PERIN DAVEY: No. He's not afraid of a backlash at all. I mean, what he's trying to do is he's highlighting that, as a Government, we will always put Australia's interests first, even when we are on the global stage. And it's a bit rich for Pat to say that we've got all these domestic issues, and then have a go at saying that we're making a distraction by pointing out that we're actually going to focus on what is best for Australia both domestically and internationally, when we participate in these global forums. This is about undertaking our responsibility as a global player while putting Australia's interests first.
SZEPS: But, Senator, when he says things like, "The world works best when the character and distinctiveness of independent nations is observed within a framework of mutual respect", who would disagree with that?
DAVEY: That's exactly right. This is exactly what we have been told by our constituents, by the Australian people who want to know that they've got a Government who's going to put Australia's interests first while participating in the global forums. Because...
SZEPS: But I guess what I'm asking, Senator, is what's the point in saying it? I mean, to simply say that nations should exist and they should have their unique character and we all shouldn't become a gigantic homogenous ball on this globe with no countries, it seems like it's tilting at windmills?
SENATOR: It's just reminding both Australians and the world that we are a sovereign nation and we put our interests first and we participate in the global forums, when we go out to negotiate trade deals, when we go out to negotiate peacekeeping arrangements, and exercises like the freedom of navigation through the Straits of Hormuz, that we will do so only when and where it is in Australia's best interests.
IBRAHIM: Pat, it does seem that you're concerned Australia may be retracting from the global stage, from this particular speech. But there's something else that the Prime Minister has said: Australia does and must always seek to have a responsible and participative international agency in addressing global issues. So, what he's really talking about, and he's dubbed this here as a "practical globalisation" and obviously that's not just Australia heading towards that direction, many other countries are as well - the US, Brazil, China?
CONROY: Well, I think it's fair to say there has been a retreat from the global multilateral order, which has preserved peace and prosperity in the world for 50 or 60 years. Whether you see recent actions in Brazil or the United States. What Mr Morrison is proposing is along similar lines. But again, I've outlined practical ways we can increase our standing and influence overseas; restoring our foreign aid to a reasonable level, taking action on climate change. But I must say, when I walk through the shopping centres in my electorate, I'm not getting pulled up to have people complaining about the global world order or UN treaties. What they’re concerned about is an incredibly flat economy. They want their kids to be able to get jobs, they want their parents to be able to get into a nursing home and not be abused. They want to be able to see a doctor on time or go to a hospital without massive waiting lists. These are the issues that are confronting Australians every day. Mr Morrison's little jaunt into foreign policy, on top of his incredible trip to the United States, where he gave $150 million to help Mr Trump put a man on Mars, just demonstrates that he's woefully out of touch with the real issues confronting Australians.
SZEPS: Let's just move now to the subject of the drought. The Treasurer and the Drought Minister have gotten back from a drought tour of drought-stricken areas. Senator, I'll just start with you. On Friday, yesterday, a department spokesman said that grants of up to $3,000 would be available as soon as possible - sorry, that was last Friday. Then three days later, the minister's adviser clarified to say they hoped funding would flow before the end of October. The Drought Minister's office, according to the ABC, couldn't answer questions about council drought funding until a "forensic audit of the program took place". There's still no word on when legislation might be drafted or enacted to reform the Farm Household Allowance, which is the centrepiece of the Government's drought response. Some people are saying this is a drought policy vacuum?
DAVEY: Well, it's not a drought policy vacuum. We had the drought summit in Old Parliament House last year. We worked on what were practical solutions. But this drought is ongoing, and, you know, it hasn't rained. We can't set and forget. We can't just make one policy, fix it in cement and walk away, because the drought has caught a lot of people. The ongoing nature of this drought has really caught a lot of people out. So, people who last year didn't need the Farm Household Allowance, because they were still doing well, because they had really prepared for drought and worst-case scenarios, they find this year they need that help, they need that handout. And as far as the drought communities fund goes, the money that's gone to local councils - I live in a drought-stricken area, in Deniliquin in the southern Riverina, my council has received some of that funding. It's gone to local jobs, local projects, it's really improved infrastructure in our region. We've got projects on the calendar for the next 12 months that have been founded through this program. That's going to keep money in our community. That's going to keep people employed in our community. What we are focusing on is getting out there, talking to people, and hearing about how we can continue to help. Because this drought is going on. And so when we're talking to people, I'm now talking about businesses in our communities who are really struggling to make ends meet, because their income has been cut short because the farmers aren't spending money. So, how do we help those businesses? How do we keep people in our communities so that when it rains they're all ready to just pick up and continue on?
IBRAHIM: And yet, Senator...
DAVEY: I get frustrated by people saying...
IBRAHIM: And yet, Senator, there have been many reports that the package has been distributed to areas that don't really need it. Over the last few week or so, well, at least over the week during the tour, social media was rife with the hashtag “Scott Morrison where are you?” There have been reports where money has gone to areas that don't need it. Is the Government being given bad advice?
DAVEY: Well, I'm not sure about the advice. I do understand that the Water Minister, David Littleproud, has asked for an audit of the advice we're getting from the Bureau of Meteorology, who are an independent organisation. And they base their advice on their science. I do commend Moyne Shire Council, who decided they didn't need it, for handing the money back. I think that’s an excellent gesture on their part. What we are trying to do is to get the money to where it is needed, based on advice we're getting from the Bureau. Where people think that that is wrong or incorrect we will have a look at it. And we will have a look at that advice and put in place mechanisms to make sure we get better. And that's what we're doing. It's about learning as we go. We don't always get it right. But what we are trying to do is support our communities through this drought. And that's what we've done with the Farm Household Allowance. The changes we're putting in place is based on feedback. It's been too hard and too difficult for some people to access this assistance, so we've gone back, we've simplified the forms, we've already increased the asset base to which people can apply for. And with these new changes, this is all based on feedback so that we can get the money out to where it's needed.
SZEPS: Pat, the Minister, David Littleproud, has written to the governments of New South Wales, Victoria and Queensland, to the Premiers, and he's basically asked them to defer council rates and payroll taxes in drought-stricken areas. Is that a good idea?
CONROY: Well, I think he should focus on what he can actually control. And what we've seen is program after program...
SZEPS: Well, one thing he can control is his persuasive charisma in trying to persuade Premiers to do things the states can as well. I'm just asking whether that's a good idea.
CONROY: Well, I have no objection to it as a principle. But let's talk about what the Federal Government should and could be doing. Firstly, they should roll out programs in a well-considered manner rather than making policy on the run. Giving millions of dollars to shires that aren't in drought is a problem, obviously. Secondly, the Farm Household Allowance has become a joke. It's been changed four times since it was brought in. An independent review recommended that Centrelink not administer it, but the Government hasn't done anything about that. Thirdly, most importantly, 24,000 farming families are eligible for it, but only 7,000 have been able to access it, which means that less than a third of eligible farmers who desperately need help have been able to get help, because this Government can't administer the program properly. It's all very well for the senator to blame the Bureau of Meteorology and other public servants. The buck stops with the Government. We have farmers in desperate need and this Government is incapable of providing the assistance they desperately need.
SZEPS: Senator, quick follow-up?
DAVEY: Yeah, well, I would reject that. I would say that some people have actually self-assessed and decided that they're not eligible. And I would say to any farmer, do not self-assess. Go and seek assistance from the rural financial counsellors, who can help you with the forms and help you get the assistance you need. Do not self-assess. And also the position by David Littleproud to ask for council rates being waived is a really good one. We have seen in New South Wales - and I commend the New South Wales Government - they have waived local land service rates for farmers, and they've also waived fixed government water charges for all farmers and irrigators, which has really provided relief for people doing it tough. And I think if the other states could follow suit, and if they could look at waiving council rates in some way, that would really ease the burden in the bush.
SZEPS: Senator Perin Davey and Labor MP Pat Conroy, thanks so much for being with us.
You can view the speech here