SUNDAY, 5 NOVEMBER 2017
PATRICIA KARVELAS: I’m joined now by Labor’s spokesperson for Climate Change and Energy, Mark Butler. Mark Butler, welcome.
MARK BUTLER, SHADOW MINISTER FOR CLIMATE CHANGE AND ENERGY, MEMBER FOR PORT ADELAIDE: Hi Patricia, how are you?
KARVELAS: I’m well. This audit, well you’ve really shifted your position on this audit of MPs. There was already a citizenship crisis, why did you suddenly change your mind because it seemed to me that it was based entirely on politics, the fact that it was a good look to change your mind, because you have argued two entirely different things throughout this process?
BUTLER: I think the circumstances of Stephen Parry’s constitutional difficulties, particularly the idea that he sat on that issue for a number of weeks and did so with a connivance of a senior Cabinet Minister has really served to cause confidence to plummet in the integrity of this Parliament. I heard your interview with Paul Fletcher, where he said the issue hadn’t been raised once with him while he was doorknocking on Friday afternoon; I can tell you I am getting a very different response. I did five street corner meetings yesterday morning; it was raised with me at every one of those meetings. I did an electorate event this morning; it was raised with me again. I haven’t seen a circumstance where people are talking about politicians worrying about themselves since Bronwyn Bishop’s helicopter chaos. I think this is becoming a very serious issue and I think that was reflected in Bill Shorten’s, I think very generous offer, to work with the Prime Minister to find a bipartisan process so that we can sort out which issues, if any, need to be referred to the High Court for final resolution.
KARVELAS: Eric Abetz has said that Bill Shorten was being hypocritical given Labor MPs Justine Keay and Susan Lamb have refused to prove they properly rescinded their dual citizenships. Why don’t you just go and declare all of your MPs rather than wait for the Government to come on board? If you think this declaration, this statement is such a good idea, why not just do it and show the Australian public that Labor is prepared to do it even without an agreement from the other side?
BUTLER: I think the process needs to be fair and robust. I agree with Paul Fletcher that ultimately this is a matter for the High Court, but matters are usually referred to the High Court through the Parliament. Our position is that this shouldn’t be done on a case by case basis depending on whether or not a particular newspaper or particular TV show is demanding one MP or another prove their circumstances. This should be done in a structured and orderly way that is robust, is fair, and is transparent. That is why I think it is important that the two major parties in particular agree on that process. Now Bill Shorten outlined a particular proposal, he also said that he would be happy to talk with Malcolm Turnbull about the detail and the way in which that would work, or indeed talk about any other alternative process that Malcolm Turnbull might put on the table. But instead, in a very high-handed way again, Malcolm Turnbull has pretended that there is nothing to see here; that there is not a crisis that is really damaging the integrity or the public confidence about the integrity of this Parliament.
KARVELAS: The Greens will move to set up a committee to force Senators to prove they are not dual citizens when the Senate sits again. Will you back that?
BUTLER: I don’t know if we have even seen what that motion is. As I’ve said, I think it is important that there be an agreement, particularly between the two major parties. There is no point in just having a Senate process. This is something that is infecting the entire Parliament. It needs leadership particularly from the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition. Bill Shorten has shown that leadership, it is time for Malcolm Turnbull to step up and do the same. Ultimately, of course, we are going to have to talk to the Greens and other minor parties here but it needs to be a whole of Parliament solution, not just a Senate solution.
KARVELAS: Alright but if you don’t get agreement from the Prime Minister and if you have heard all of the frontbenchers today, I’m sure you have I certainly have because we watch it very closely, you’re not about to get an audit. You’re not about to get your idea endorsed. So will you support the Greens with setting up this alternative committee to force Senators or lower house MPs to prove they aren’t dual citizens? Would that be a way that you can achieve this in a different way?
BUTLER: This is not going to be led by a minor party. This needs to be something that the Prime Minister and the alternative Prime Minister start to grapple with. Now there is still a fair way to go before the Parliament comes back to its next sitting in the final week of November, and I am pretty confident that the degree to which this is continuing to boil will force Malcolm Turnbull if he is not willing to agree to Bill Shorten’s offer that he made over the last couple of days, then come up with an alternative. Bill has been quite clear that he is willing to sit down and discuss any reasonable proposal.
KARVELAS: Well he has provided an alternative, which is you refer them to the High Court. Because ultimately the High Court settles these issues don’t they?
BUTLER: That’s not an alternative. There needs to be a structured way that we deal with this across the Parliament. What is happening is every morning we are waking up to a new allegation that there is some new MP or Senator that is now under a cloud. This won’t end until there is a structured, robust, and transparent way in which we can work through these things in an orderly fashion. If there are a list of cases, one or two or more cases, that need to be referred to the High Court than that reference should be made. Then we can get on with the business of talking about policy that actually matters to real Australians. Because the sense I got over the weekend, maybe it wasn’t Paul Fletcher’s experience, but the sense I certainly got from the communities I was visiting is that they are deeply frustrated about this. It just looks like politicians are worried about their own circumstances, their own jobs, rather than the circumstances of ordinary Australians.
KARVELAS: Okay so has Labor been going through their own audit anyway? Because as Paul Fletcher just said, at least in the NSW branch, he has had a call this week asking about his citizenship, he has renounced, he provided that information again but clearly they are doing the checks and balances. Is Labor doing that right now as well?
BUTLER: I haven’t got a phone call from our party office. As I think a number of us have said, we have pretty robust processes which I certainly went through as every candidate does in the Labor Party as you seek pre-selection. I’m sure there are a range of discussions happening within all of the Parties about this issue. It is such a serious issue. But that I think reinforces the importance of bringing it out of internal discussions within political parties and into the Parliament, to have a transparent, robust process that the community has a clear line of sight to and can have confidence will be resolved in not a political way but in an orderly way that if necessary results in references to the High Court.
KARVELAS: Just on another issue that has been very big over the last couple of days, Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk well she has walked away essentially from questions today about whether businesses can still have confidence in investing in Queensland after this decision she has made. Now are you comfortable with the reasons she has given for providing a veto on this loan to Adani?
BUTLER: Yes I am because I think what this does is reinforce a very long standing position of the Labor Party, at a state level and particularly at a federal level, that the taxpayer should not throw through Malcolm Turnbull’s efforts, should not throw a billion dollars at this billionaire mining company to build the mine in the Galilee Basin. That has been a long standing position of the Labor Party and Premier Palaszczuk indicating that she would issue a veto, which is the right of any state government that has a proposed NAIF project within their jurisdiction, simply reinforces a longstanding position of the Labor Party.
KARVELAS: She said she was following the Integrity Commissioner’s advice but the Integrity Commissioner’s advice does not recommend that Ms Palaszczuk veto Adani, I think it actually says that she remove herself from any deliberating and decision making in relation to this project. Is that how you understand it as well?
BUTLER: I haven’t seen the Integrity Commissioner’s advice but I don’t understand that it says anything positive or negative about a veto, it certainly doesn’t provide advice against Premier Palaszczuk indicating that the Labor Party position would be to veto this project. I would say again that this has been a longstanding policy position of the Labor Party going back to before the last Queensland state election where the Labor Party at a state level said that there should be no taxpayer subsidies going towards the Adani project in the Galilee Basin. This really reinforces a longstanding difference between the Labor Party and the Liberal Party who would throw a billion dollars of taxpayer funds at this company.
KARVELAS: Just finally the New Zealand Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, has offered to take 150 refugees. The Prime Minister today has said no but perhaps after this deal with the US is finally completed. Because it obviously has more time on its hands to figure out which and how many refugees go across. Is that reasonable given the US deal is first and foremost and many people think the New Zealand deal allows a potential backdoor way into Australia?
BUTLER: No I don’t think it is reasonable. What we do know of the US deal, we’ve supported the US deal, we think it is better late than never really from a Government that has done nothing really to look at resettling the hundreds of people who have been languishing on Manus Island and on Nauru. But what we do know of the US deal is that it is not going to cover the number of people on those two islands that have already been determined to be refugees within the terms of the UN convention. We need other arrangements to be put in place. Why Malcolm Turnbull would reject out of hand a generous proposal from New Zealand, just across the ditch, from the new Prime Minister is beyond me. You even saw this morning Kevin Andrews who I think we can all agree is no bleeding heart on border protection issues, but he is the Father of the House, he is the longest serving member of the House of Representatives, a former Immigration Minister himself, he has said that the Liberal Government should be looking at this very seriously. There is certainly no reason why we should wait until the US deal is fully implemented before we can consider a way to provide some relief to the distress, the real suffering that is going on at the moment on Manus Island if New Zealand is a reasonable proposition, and at face value it does look like a very reasonable proposition.
KARVELAS: Labor’s changed your line on this; you’ve previously argued that it might be seen as a way of getting into Australia. Why the change of heart?
BUTLER: I think it reflects the lack of any progress over now more than four years by Tony Abbott and then Malcolm Turnbull to make real inroads into settling the people who have been put in what were intended to be processing facilities, not facilities of indefinite detention but processing facilities on Manus and on Nauru. I think there would have to be some examination of way in which we can ensure that a New Zealand deal does have some cover off, but that should be a relatively straight forward manner to deal with. Again I just don’t understand, particularly given the suffering and the distress that Australians are looking at, at the moment on Manus Island, why the Prime Minister wouldn’t have taken up New Zealand’s very generous offer and get some bureaucrats to start working on it immediately.
KARVELAS: Thank you so much for your time.
BUTLER: Thanks Patricia.