E&OE - PROOF ONLY
DAVID BEVAN: Let’s welcome our panellists for today’s Super Wednesday. Rebekha Sharkie, newly re-elected Centre Alliance Member for Mayo, good morning to you.
REBEKHA SHARKIE: Good Morning.
BEVAN: Anne Ruston, Liberal Senator for South Australia, good morning to you.
SENATOR ANNE RUSTON: Hey there.
BEVAN: And Penny Wong, Labor Senator for South Australia good morning
PENNY WONG, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION IN THE SENATE: Good morning, Good to be with you all.
ALI CLARKE: And Anne Ruston, mixing it up there with a bit of “hey there”, thank you.
RUSTON: Well, we need hay at the moment for the farmers.
CLARKE: We do. Let’s get to water, another issue for the farmers and the Murray River. It’s been revealed, Daniel Wills in the paper today says the Sydney silk heading the Royal Commission into the River Murray is being paid more each day than the average worker earns in nearly two months. That’s $10,000 a day. Anne Ruston, is it worth it?
RUSTON: I’ve always said that the Royal Commission was a completely unnecessary waste of time, because there were so many other things on foot that were looking into the issues that the Royal Commission was supposed to be looking into. So, it’s just duplication.
So, without passing judgment on $10,000 a day I think anything that is being spent on the Royal Commission was unnecessary because there were other things that were doing it.
And also the point being that Royal Commissions have never really been about somewhat of a reprosecution of the Murray Darling Basin Plan, instead of being an investigation into the compliance issues which were raised at the time that the previous Premier of South Australia established the Commission.
So, at every level I have to say that the Royal Commission is not a good use of taxpayers’ funds because it’s not actually delivering, first of all, what it said it was going to, and secondly, anything that isn’t already being investigated by other means.
BEVAN: Penny Wong?
WONG: Let’s remember the Government wouldn’t have had to set up a Royal Commission if the Coalition Government, particularly Barnaby Joyce, had actually demonstrated they were prepared to one; deal with the water theft and corruption allegations in the Northern Basin properly, and, secondly; deliver the Plan.
Anne says “we were dealing with it”. Well with respect Anne, you weren’t. Barnaby Joyce said that the 450 gigalitres, a critical aspect of why South Australia signed up to the plan, didn’t have “a hope in Hades” of being delivered. Didn’t have “a hope in Hades” of being delivered. He laughed off the theft, the water theft and corruption allegations, saying that it was an attempt by environmentalists to steal farmers’ water.
So it would have been better if this Royal Commission didn’t need to be established because Malcolm Turnbull was actually prepared to deal with it. But at the time we had a Deputy Prime Minister who was not prepared to deal with it.
CLARKE: Anne Ruston would you like to respond?
RUSTON: The point that Penny makes is just constantly rehashing old ground. The fact of the matter was that at the time that the Royal Commission was put in place it was to deal with the very serious allegations that were made on ABC programmes, Four Corners and a number of other programmes.
We agreed as a Federal Government that we were happy to assist the Royal Commission in the prosecution of those issues. This Royal Commission is not prosecuting those issues. This Royal Commission is just chasing down a whole heap of other issues that relate to the underpinnings of the fundamental basis of this plan.
But to drag on and just keep talking about Barnaby Joyce – David Littleproud is the Water Minister. I’m assisting David Littleproud. Neither of us have ever moved away from the absolute commitment to 450 gigalitres for South Australia.
So, can we just deal with the issue of the Royal Commission? It is unnecessary. Nobody can argue that what the Royal Commission is doing at the moment is unnecessary.
BEVAN: Rebekha Sharkie, I’m sure that Brett Walker SC is very, very good at his job. And maybe $10,000 a day is the going rate for a Senior Counsel, that’s what Royal Commissioners cost. But what would your constituents, the people who have just elected you in Mayo, think of this news? That that’s what it is costing us? Just for the Royal Commissioner. Forget all about the other staff and all of the other people?
SHARKIE: I think my constituents are concerned that David Littleproud is trying to use the High Court to not come to the Royal Commission.
But let’s remember the reason why we are having the State Royal Commission is because a motion was passed to get a Federal inquiry up. That passed the Senate. It came down to the House and every SA Government Member voted against it, so we didn’t get it up.
So then Jay Weatherill, who, from memory, had Steven Marshall by his side, got up this State Royal Commission. But ultimately what we needed was a Federal inquiry into compliance and into the allegations of theft.
BEVAN: Let’s move on to the other big issue which will come to a head on Friday, when Federal and State and Territory Ministers meet to discuss the National Energy Guarantee and then it has got to go to your Party Room Anne Ruston.
There are various machinations. The latest debate seems to be whether or not it should be the Parliament that sets emissions targets, or it should be handled by regulation. Penny Wong, can you explain to us which is Labor’s preferred model?
WONG: I don’t think that is the detail that is the key issue.
There are three key issues it seems to me on this. First, what is Malcolm actually putting forward? It’s quite clear he doesn’t have the support of his Party Room. We’ve seen Tony Pasin out in the last 48 hours and Craig Kelly making clear, contradicting the Prime Minister, that he doesn’t have the support of the Party Room for what he is proposing. So I think the Prime Minister does need to be clear with the States, Territories and the Australian people what he is actually proposing.
Secondly, we can’t have a plan that simply smashes investment. It smashes investment in renewables and doesn’t improve affordability.
Now, it would be much better, frankly, if there could be an agreed position that did deliver investment certainty that we haven’t had for a decade, since the Government was elected, for the last five years. It would be much better. But at the moment the Government is shifting its position because of its internal divisions and putting forward various options which do nothing other than to smash investment in renewable energy which will drive up prices.
BEVAN: This policy, the National Energy Guarantee, is being attacked from the right and from the left which probably means it’s about in the middle. Now, Penny Wong, for the sake of the nation isn’t it good, isn’t it a good idea for Labor and the Coalition to agree at least on a framework and you can argue about the details after the election should you win Government?
WONG: Look David, my instinct on this issue has been to try and get business certainty.
You might recall the last time we actually had a bipartisan deal on energy policy was between me and Malcolm Turnbull in 2009. And what happened? Tony Abbott tore down Malcolm Turnbull after he agreed with Labor, with me as Minister, on a framework for an emissions trading scheme, the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme, and on targets for reductions.
So of course it would be better if this country in 2009 hadn’t had the beginning of the climate wars run by the hard-right of the Liberal Party Room. But we can’t have a situation where you get a framework which is actually going to make it worse. And if Malcolm Turnbull is simply going to do what Craig Kelly wants and the hard-right of the Liberal Party Room wants, then I think such a framework is actually going to take the country backwards. So we would urge him to put something forward that is actually capable of broad support.
CLARKE: Well Rebekha Sharkie, David Bevan was just saying this is being attacked on the right and the left so maybe it’s in the middle. Where do you sit with Centre Alliance?
SHARKIE: Well we’re going to wait and see what happens. We’re keen to work with Government on this. But as you’ve said, this has to get through their party room first and Craig Kelly came out and said “look, the backbenchers have not agreed to this” contradicting Malcolm Turnbull. It’s got to get through COAG on Friday. So we’ll just be keen to meet with the Minister next week and see where this lands after it’s gone through the gauntlet of the party room.
BEVAN: Anne Ruston?
RUSTON: We have to be a little bit careful that we don’t overreach on some of things that have been said by Craig Kelly and Tony Pasin. I mean, it was quite clear yesterday in Tony’s comments that broadly the whole party room does support the NEG as a way forward to try and get more certainty back into the energy market, but most importantly, to get prices down. So there are certainly some details that are still being considered and worked through but more broadly it is supported.
The other thing that we need to remember is this is an independent report. It’s got the support of the business community, it has been modelled and it’s showing that energy prices or electricity prices for households will go down. So to be saying that it’s not providing all these things, I think is actually just playing mischievous politics with something that is probably the most serious thing facing households at the moment – and that is escalating and very high power prices.
So I get a little bit concerned that we’re prepared to posture about things when the reality is this is a signature policy that must go forward. There are some details within the Liberal-National Coalition that are still being worked through but fundamentally this is on track and I would call on the Labor Party to do exactly what Penny’s saying, exactly what her leader said last year and that is to get effective bipartisan policy to go forward with energy because the Australian public are not going to thank any of us for having political fights about something so important.
WONG: Then don’t put something up that’s simply going to increase prices and smash investment in renewables, Anne.
RUSTON: But I don’t agree Penny, that’s not going to happen. You’re just saying that. The modelling that we have says it’s going to reduce prices.
WONG: That is actually not correct and if you understood the policy you would know that. But leaving that aside, you don’t have support of your party.
RUSTON: Well, don’t be patronising.
WONG: Well I’m being clear. Currently you’ve got a problem. It smashes investment in renewables. We would encourage you, because as I said, I do think the country will be better if people could actually come to an agreement, if we didn’t have the Craig Kellys of the world and the Tony Abbotts of the world determining energy policy for Australia. It would be a much better thing if Malcolm could stand them up, do the right thing and deliver a framework.
BEVAN: But hang on Penny, on the other side it was the Greens who ruined Labor’s policy too…
WONG: Well yeah, I agree.
BEVAN: So it’s both the far-left and the far-right who have got us to this position, yes?
WONG: No argument there, the Greens did the wrong thing.
BEVAN: Okay then, so why can’t the two mainstream parties – Labor and the Coalition – for the good of the country come up with a system that works? Stop blaming the far-right, stop blaming the far-left, you two together can control the Parliament – put aside your differences – but both of you, both sides are playing politics on this.
WONG: No, I actually don’t agree with that. I think the key issue is the content. Mark has been on your show and on many media outlets over the last couple of years, but also a lot recently, being clear about what some of our clear bottom lines are.
I think the question is whether Turnbull can actually deliver that and the reality is if he’s going to put up a policy which is really all about bending over and doing what some of his party room want, that is not going to deliver lower energy prices and it is not going to deliver investment in renewables, and that is a bad thing for the country.
BEVAN: On another topic, can I ask all three of you – anybody feel sorry for Barnaby Joyce?
WONG: I just think whatever mistakes he’s made personally – and he’s made them – I think having your personal life pored over in the way he has is difficult and I feel more sorry, frankly, for his family.
CLARKE: But he’s written a book now and is going on the publicity trail for this.
WONG: That’s true, that’s true.
CLARKE: Rebekha Sharkie, do you have any sorrow for Barnaby Joyce?
SHARKIE: Ah no, quite frankly, I don’t. I do feel for his family. But I don’t know how he’s had time to write a book. I’m flat out getting time to read anything for pleasure. How somebody has time to write a book while they’re supposed to be doing this job, which really should be consuming upwards of 70 hours of your life a week. I’m flummoxed as to how he has time to write a book and then the purpose for it. I think he’s making life harder for his family not easier.
CLARKE: Also got time because he is looking after a newborn. Anne Ruston, what about you?
RUSTON: I don’t think that I need to enter into any debate about somebody’s personal life.
CLARKE: Okay. Penny, Emma Husar. There are allegations of alleged office bullying and harassment from the Labor MP and a former employee has come out today and said that they are upset that these allegations are being dismissed as ‘an ex-staffer being disgruntled’. This person has come out and said we’ve been speaking to Bill Shorten’s office and to New South Wales Labor and to the union for months about this behaviour. Are you happy with how it’s been handled by the Labor Party?
WONG: A few principles I think. First, the principle is we should have safe workplaces. The second principle is that if complaints are made and they’re genuine complaints, they need to be dealt with seriously and appropriately. They need to be responded to and dealt with.
I first became aware of this when it became public and I’m only aware of the details you’ve described because they’ve been publicly reported. It would have been better, I suspect, if we didn’t have this being dealt with via a public process and the inquiry and complaints process that the party has set up was allowed to run its course and to make the appropriate recommendations.
BEVAN: Well perhaps if that’d been properly used and had been responded to quickly then it wouldn’t have reached the media.
WONG: Well I don’t know. I don’t know how it has reached the media.
BEVAN: I only say because they’re reported as saying that they’ve been speaking to Bill Shorten’s office for months.
WONG: Well I don’t know. I don’t know whether that is correct or not. But what I do know is that there has been an independent process established by the party to deal with the complaints and to make recommendations or to deal with them and that process should be allowed to continue.
CLARKE: We do have to leave it there. Thank you very much for your time and I hope you do find time, all of you, to read a book of your choice this week at some stage (laughter).
BEVAN: Or write one.
WONG: It probably won’t be Weatherboard and Iron (laughter).
Authorised by Noah Carroll, ALP, Canberra.