PATRICIA KARVELAS, JOURNALIST: Chris Bowen, welcome back to RN Drive.
CHRIS BOWEN, SHADOW TREASURER: Great pleasure.
KARVELAS: The AFP has this afternoon raided the Australian Workers Union offices in Melbourne and in Sydney. The AFP is conducting the raids in support of the Registered Organisations Commission who says and I quote the investigation relates to whether donations made to GetUp Limited during the financial year ending in 2006 were approved under the AWUs rules. Whats your knowledge of whether the donations were made under the rules?
BOWEN: Well Patricia Ive only just seen these reports coming through right now, so I obviously make my comments quite general. Firstly, weve had a Royal Commission at very considerable tax payer expense into the union movement which made no adverse findings with full powers, made no adverse findings about Bill Shortens tenure at the AWU, so I have full confidence that the rules were followed. There are big issues for the AFP today including AFP funding cuts, but I do think that while this is a matter for the AFP, Minister Cash appears to spend all her time instructing her department to spend their resources on a smear campaign and a witch hunt against Bill Shorten. I think there are better things for a Cabinet Minister to be doing. But the bottom line is Patricia, we have nothing to hide, the rules have been followed, theres been a Royal Commission. Its time for Michaelia Cash to get on with her job rather than running this constant campaign against Bill Shorten.
KARVELAS: Are you confident that this wont find that the financial links between GetUp and the union movement are improper?
KARVELAS: Why are you so confident?
BOWEN: Well because these issues have been traversed. If there were matters that needed to be examined, Im sure the Royal Commission would have examined them.
KARVELAS: Okay so why would the Registered Organisations Commission have launched this investigation?
BOWEN: Thats a matter for them, Patricia. Ive said frankly tweets of reports that this is going on. Thats the extent of my knowledge of whats happening here. Weve seen the Registered Organisations authority go down this road. Thats a matter for them. I do note that Michaelia Cash spends, what appears to me, her waking hours thinking of ways of raking up stories about Bill Shorten and the union movement more generally. I would have thought a Cabinet Minister has better things to do.
KARVELAS: Well if there is grounds and this does damage the Opposition Leader, that certainly causes a problem for the Labor Party doesnt it?
BOWEN: Well I think youre getting a bit ahead of yourself there Patricia, with respect. Nothing yet has damaged Bill Shorten out of this. He has devoted his working life to representing working Australians. The Government appears to have a problem with that. Theyve spent millions of dollars on a Royal Commission which found not one adverse finding about Bill Shorten and yet they still keep coming back to this well. Constantly. Constantly coming back to this well.
KARVELAS: The AEC has asked GetUp to disclose its financial details to do with these donations by Friday. GetUp has refused. Why shouldnt they disclose who their donors are?
BOWEN: Its a matter for them Patricia, Im not a member of GetUp.
KARVELAS: Okay would you like to see them disclosed? Would that be in the interest of transparency?
BOWEN: Its a matter between them and the AEC, Patricia. Im not a member of GetUp. Im not involved in their management.
KARVELAS: You are the Shadow Treasurer, you must have views.
BOWEN: Well they can justify their position to the AEC. If the AEC is not happy with it then they have action available to it.
KARVELAS: The operational capability of the AFP in the face of Budget cuts came up in Question Time today which youve just mentioned. AFP Commissioner Andrew Colvin told Senate Estimates his agency cannot keep up with drug seizures and child exploitation cases. Would you reverse Budget cuts to the AFP?
BOWEN: Well first the Budget cuts have to be admitted. I thought it was extraordinary that the Minister, Minister Keenan in Parliament today, denied that theyve occurred. I mean here weve got the Commissioner of the AFP confirming that these cuts have occurred, that theyre $184 million worse off over a four year estimates period, and the Minister as particularly arrogant today. Particularly dismissive, and then frankly engaged in an un-Parliamentary and distasteful smear campaign against other members of Parliament to distract from the fact that this Government has been cutting funding to the AFP. Now we find this of most concern. We give bipartisan support to the Government on national security matters in the vast majority of instances. But we are not going to give them a blank cheque for incompetence. And we are certainly not going to turn a blind eye when funding cuts appear to be having a very real and significant impact. And its not me saying that, its not Clare ONeil saying that. It is the Commissioner of the AFP himself.
KARVELAS: If youre just tuning in this is RN Drive. Im Patricia Karvelas and the Shadow Treasurer Chris Bowen is my guest tonight. Just on the looming High Court case. If the High Court decision comes down against the Government on Friday and Barnaby Joyce has to face a by-election, have you war gamed what comes next? What will Labor do?
BOWEN: Well of course weve considered what would come next as I imagine the National Party and the Liberal Party have Patricia. Of course we have.
KARVELAS: Share your insights with me. What have you come up with?
BOWEN: Well we will obviously respond to the circumstances then, on Friday. Its not my place to announce what our approach will be, but we will be ready for that eventuality.
KARVELAS: If Barnaby Joyce is disqualified I understand the earliest date for a by-election could be what, December the 2nd. Does that mean there could be a whole sitting week where the Governments instability is the case? And how would Labor respond to that?
BOWEN: Well we didnt create this circumstance of instability. I mean we dont have the Deputy Prime Minister who didnt bother to do his homework and his checks before he nominated for Parliament. So I dont think the Government can come looking to the Labor Party, looking for soft treatment if one of their Members, let alone the Deputy Prime Minister is out of action because they misunderstood the law, and the National Party in particular has got a lot to answer here. I mean their Leader and their Deputy Leader have very real questions to answer and we will know on Friday whether they are ineligible or not, but if you are asking me Patricia will the Labor Party not press our views in Parliament for any period which the Government is down a vote in the House of Representatives the answer to that is no. We will continue to press our views and will continue to vote in accordance with our beliefs.
KARVELAS: Do you think it would be fair enough if the Government suspended the Parliament?
BOWEN: No that would be outrage, that would be an outrage.
BOWEN: Because they haven't done their homework Patricia. They haven't assured and ascertained that one of their candidates let alone their Deputy Prime Minister is eligible under the Constitution to sit in Parliament. Are you seriously suggesting that the Labor Party should agree to the Parliament being suspended?
KARVELAS: I'm not suggesting anything, I'm asking the questions here.
BOWEN: The answer to that is no Patricia. We would not, we would not be agreeing to the Parliament occasionally getting up and saying "Well that's unfortunate one of our members is in eligible so we won't do our jobs".
KARVELAS: If the Parliament goes forward and isn't suspended, will you create chaos?
BOWEN: Well it's not a matter of creating chaos, we will press our reviews. I mean we will vote on the legislation and the matters before the Parliament according to our views. If the Government is one vote short, that is a matter of Government incompetence.
KARVELAS: Will you use that advantage pushing a motion for instance on a Banking Royal Commission? Will we see that kind of move?
BOWEN: We have the ability to move that the business of the day be brought on and other things happen and its up to the Parliament whether they agree with us or not and we have continuously pressed our agenda and this will be no different. No different Patricia.
KARVELAS: The Productivity Commission has delivered its first in a series of five year economic blueprints today. One of the most main findings was that our health system should be overhauled, possibly saving the country $200 billion and on education the report recommends that university funding should be linked to results and that wages should be higher in subject areas in which you know there are teacher shortages, STEM subjects. Should the Government adopt these kinds of changes? Is Labor going to embrace it?
BOWEN: Well Patricia, this Productivity Commission report has come out today. Now I have not had the opportunity yet to go through every element of it as you would expect. But I have had a look at it and I would say this: the Productivity Commission is talking about human capital here. The Productivity Commission has pointed out that investment in our human capital is the key to economic growth. Well we agree, we agree strongly. So we welcome this report. Now we will go through every element and every particular detailed recommendation before formulating a response but I welcome this change of approach on behalf of the Government. I mean in 2008 under Kevin Rudd as Prime Minister, the Labor Government through COAG reached an agreement with the States that human capital has got to be the centrepiece of our economic growth agenda. Now the current Government ripped that up in 2014 with their Budget, with their cuts to health and education in particular. And they instead have a one trick pony which is the corporate tax cuts, that is there one plan for economic growth. Now it's fair to say that was not the centrepiece of the Productivity Commissions work today on productivity and economic growth, far from it. Patricia, they have other priorities just as the Labor Party, the alternative Government has other priorities. In broad terms I welcome the fact that what the Labor Party has been saying since at least 2008, in reality much longer than that, has been recognised in this Productivity Commission report. Now as I said there are detailed elements to that to give the Productivity Commission report it's due, it's proper respect I'm not going to respond to each particular recommendation today. There are some that I like a lot, for example the Productivity Commission recommending the Labor Party policy that I announced last term of the independent Parliamentary Budget Office doing the Intergenerational review. Tick, I would agree with that because that was our idea. Other serious recommendations I will need to take a little bit of time with my colleagues to work through but the broad thrust of the focus on human capital I very much welcome.
KARVELAS: How about the recommendation on pharmacy services being automated and usage based tolls for roads?
BOWEN: Well again Patricia it would be, it would be the normal political course of events to go through and say well this is outrageous, we're not doing this, we're not doing that. I'm not going to do that today. This is a serious body of work which I respect.
KARVELAS: And that is Chris Bowen, the Shadow Treasurer, joining us a little earlier.