Sky News lunchtime agenda, interview with Tom Connell

Release Date: 
7 October 2014

Topics: Legal action following counter-terrorism raids, Healthy Welfare Card, Stolen Generations compensation, budget.

TOM CONNELL: I’d like to start talking about the terror threat, but a bit of a different aspect. A family is taking legal action, we’ve seen today, after claiming they were brutally and unfairly targeted during the counter-terrorism raids we saw in Sydney last week.

A fifteen year old son in this family says his mother was not allowed to cover herself in the traditional Muslim way. Bed sheets were reportedly ripped off her by police. She was allegedly punched. The son says the police searched the house with sniffer dogs, metal detectors, and dug up the backyard and apparently found nothing. No charges were laid and nobody was detained and this family has not been told why they were targeted.

Alan Tudge, we’ve had a lot of raids for, so far, not many arrests. Do you think this is the best way to build support for what the government is calling ‘Team Australia’?

ALAN TUDGE: Good afternoon Tom. Every individual in Australia has the right to take legal action if they choose. But I would say I have complete and utter confidence in our security agencies. They do a tremendous job. They act within the law. They have a very difficult job, often putting their own lives on the line to protect our society.

I have great confidence in them, but as I said it’s a free country and individuals can take legal action should they choose.

TOM CONNELL: Obviously, a little bit of a guess here, but people not being told why they were targeted. Do you think where possible, they should be told as long as there’s no risk to operations?

ALAN TUDGE: The operational objective is the most important criteria here. We always take advice from our security agencies in terms of what the government does. In this particular instance, it was the New South Wales Police Force who made decisions about what they should do on the basis of real and present threats.

I have full confidence in what they do, the communications they provide, the activities they do and the training and professionalism they have.

TOM CONNELL: Kelvin Thomson, in the future there could be a similar story to this, that the authorities declare a special intelligence operation and if so journalists could face jail for reporting it. These are the new terror laws. Are you comfortable with Labor having rubber-stamped that legislation?

KELVIN THOMSON: I don’t think there’s any prospect, Tom, that operations of this kind would receive that kind of approach. I believe that journalists and others will continue to be free to report things that go on in the public domain such as the raids that you’re referring to.

The New South Wales police have indicated in this instance that they are prepared to investigate and act upon any complaints that are made. There’s a suggestion that legal action may be undertaken, and of course that’s the right of people who feel aggrieved by the actions of authorities.

Not having been there, I’m not in a position to comment on the facts of this case. But we do have in place processes that ensure that if the wrong thing is done to people they do have courses or access to redress.

TOM CONNELL: Moving on to your portfolio Alan Tudge of Indigenous Affairs. You are seeking feedback on a Healthy Welfare Card which could mean putting some or all of a person’s welfare payment on this cashless card that can only be used for living essentials, if you like.

I know you’re seeking feedback, but where do you sit on this? Is this something you think will work? Are we talking 80 per cent of the payment on the card? Where do you think it would work best?

ALAN TUDGE: Tom, this was a recommendation from Andrew Forrest who we asked to provide some advice for us as to how to get more Aboriginal people into jobs. It’s a broad report that he has given us, with one of the central recommendations being this cashless debit card idea.

The key rationale for the recommendation was that there are significant alcohol and drug problems in many Indigenous communities and in many mainstream communities, and this is potentially a way to curb some of those problems.

We’ve had a lot of advice on this. I’ve consulted broadly across the country in relation to this idea and the other ideas and we are yet to make a decision. Some of the things that you put forward in that intro, yes of course we are considering, but as we are considering other ideas that have come forward for us as well.

TOM CONNELL: So you’re going to wait until the full result, if you’d like, is in? You don’t have an inclination on this?

ALAN TUDGE: Not at this stage Tom, we don’t. We’ve heard numerous opinions from across Australia – some people who like the entire concept and would like the entire concept implemented tomorrow – and others who don’t like it at all and some who are in-between.

We are going to methodically go forward through this and see where it lands.

TOM CONNELL: We’ll see where that lands then, as you mentioned. Kelvin Thomson, also within this policy area, new laws to compensate members of the stolen generation are likely to pass the Senate in South Australia next week. This is a push from the Liberal opposition supported by the Greens.

Should Labor support this? And more broadly, should there be a view to a national scheme so it’s not state by state. We’ve had Tasmania so far, maybe South Australia now.

KELVIN THOMSON: Yes. I think there is a case for a national approach to this issue although obviously the facts have varied from situation to situation. But I think it would be preferable to look at a national approach rather than have the prospect that different approaches will be applied in different states.

TOM CONNELL: You think, I know it’s not your state, but South Australia would support the Greens and Liberal push there?

KELVIN THOMSON: I’m not in a position to comment on the South Australian government or parliamentary party in terms of how they are dealing with it, but it does seem to me that if the thing was dealt with at a national level that might produce fairer outcomes.

TOM CONNELL: Alan Tudge, would a national approach to this be a good idea in your opinion?

ALAN TUDGE: I’m not convinced of that, Tom, in part because there is a different history and different policies and different practices state by state in relation to the stolen generations. I think it is actually quite proper that each jurisdiction has to consider their own histories and their own policies and properly make a response in relation to their particular circumstances. We know for example that Tasmania has a slightly different approach to South Australia.

TOM CONNELL: They have already, of course, passed the legislation. I’d just like to move on to the budget. Some very familiar lines appeared in The Australian newspaper today. We heard about global economic woes that could force the government to cut its budget outlook, lower iron ore and coal prices significantly impacting revenue, the MYEFO update will contain all of the ugly details we’re being told.

But it might sound a lot like Wayne Swan’s time as Treasurer. In fact, these are the thoughts of Joe Hockey. Alan Tudge, is this the ground being readied for a budget blowout under the Liberal party?

ALAN TUDGE: No it’s not Tom. We inherited an absolute fiscal disaster from the Labor party. As you know, we’ve put forward a plan to get the budget back under control. Of course, as circumstances change, we’ll revise the figures but unlike the Labor party, we have put forward very conservative assumptions and will continue to do so. Whereas the Labor party in the past… [interruption]

TOM CONNELL: But it looks as though even those assumptions weren’t conservative enough. Is this the same problem?

ALAN TUDGE: Let’s just wait and see and all will be revealed in the MYEFO later this year. The contrast is very stark, Tom, to under the Labor party which you mentioned where at every single budget they put the most optimistic revenue assumptions. They then spent up to those revenue assumptions and then of course the following year would say ‘no, we didn’t hit our revenue targets’ but meanwhile they’ve locked in the expenditure and that’s exactly one of the reasons why we’re in such a fiscal mess right now.

We’ll be very honest with the Australian people, we’ll take conservative assumptions and we need to get the budget back under control.

TOM CONNELL: Kelvin Thomson, I’ll let you respond and also just ask you, Labor obviously said revenue write-downs were outside of its control when they were in government. Is it going to be pretty hard for your party to now criticise the Coalition for what could be the same thing?

KELVIN THOMSON: I just about fell off my chair when I read the story in The Australian this morning, Tom. This is absolutely breathtaking hypocrisy from the Liberal party. Just as recently as a fortnight ago at a press conference in Canberra, I quote the Minister for Finance Mathias Cormann, “the government of the day is responsible for the budget forecasts. Labor kept overestimating revenue and underestimating their spending. Labor can run as far as they like, they won’t be able to hide from their responsibility. We are taking responsibility and we will stand by how we perform against our forecasts.”

Of course, you had Tony Abbott always saying there will be no lame excuses. So the government is hardly in a position now to claim the budget is outside its control and the revenue write-downs are a consequence of forces beyond its control. I think if they want todo this in the MYEFO they need to, at the same time, issue an apology to Wayne Swan for the relentless persecution they engaged in relation to his forecasts and the outcomes.

TOM CONNELL: To the same end though, if you are going to heavily criticise the government, Kelvin Thomson, do you at the same time have to criticise Wayne Swan and his estimates?

KELVIN THOMSON: The point here is that the government has walked away from a range of revenue options which it should not have done. It’s given a $1.1 billion tax break to multinational corporations, it’s walked away from the carbon price, it’s walked away the mining tax, it wants to engage in a multi-billion dollar paid parental leave scheme. It has ways of helping to balance the budget, but it is not using them.

ALAN TUDGE: Oh please Kelvin, we’ve put forward a plan, Tom, to get the budget back under control. Labor has blocked every single measure, including $5 billion of savings which they put forward which they are still blocking.

TOM CONNELL: I know this is an ongoing debate but I’m going to have to leave it there as we’re right out of time. Alan Tudge, Kelvin Thomson, thanks both for your time.