Transcript: ABC 774 Melbourne, Mornings with Jon Faine

1 December 2016

The Hon Alan Tudge MP

Minister for Human Services
Topics: 
ABCC, Backpacker tax, Protests at Parliament House
E&OE

JON FAINE:
An excited Prime Minister was interviewed by Leigh Sales on 7:30 last night and by Michael Brissenden on AM on ABC Radio this morning.

He's trying to finish off the year on a high note and trying to be optimistic, but there is a number of things that jar as you listen to either or both interviews.

In particular this morning, the Prime Minister over and over again said that the problem with the backpacker tax, in particular the Labor Party's stance on it, is that it favours, as he says, rich white kids over others.

[Excerpt]

MALCOLM TURNBULL:
And the Labor Party, for nothing other than political cynicism, wants these white kids, rich white kids from Europe, to come here on their holidays, to pay less tax than some of the Pacific Islanders from some of the poorest countries in the world. Where is the equity in that? And he wants these kids from Europe to pay less tax than Australians working alongside them.

[End of Excerpt]

JON FAINE:
Rich white kids. I think he said it four or five times during the interview. It's astonishing, after the racial stereotyping of Peter Dutton in relation to Muslim Lebanese in the Parliament last week, you have to wonder what's going on.

Alan Tudge is one of those set for promotion if the rumours of a re-shuffle indeed bear fruit over the summer break. He's Minister for Human Services at the moment in the Turnbull Coalition Federal Government. Mr Tudge, good morning to you.

ALAN TUDGE:
Good morning, Jon.

JON FAINE:
What's going on? Rich white kids over and over again in the interview this morning.

ALAN TUDGE:
The main thing we're talking about here is trying to land this backpackers tax because this is important so that the farmers can get workers to pick their fruit, and it is also important so that Australians can have a reasonable chance of getting a job their as well and not be paying more tax than what an overseas backpacker might be paying if they're working alongside them...

JON FAINE:
[Talks over] I understand that's the issue for the legislation. What's going on in the Prime Minister's head when he again and again and again says that backpackers are rich white kids? What's the evidence they're rich? What's the evidence they're white?

ALAN TUDGE:
Well, mainly ...

JON FAINE:
[Talks over] And what's the relevance anyway?

ALAN TUDGE:
Well, I think mainly he's referring to the fact that a lot of the backpackers do come over here from Europe and if you're coming over from Europe to pick fruit then under Bill Shorten's rules you would be paying a lower tax rate compared to some of the Pacific Islanders who would be coming over here on transitional work arrangements.

JON FAINE:
Okay, but this is nonsense. First of all, they come from all over the world. Secondly, a lot of Europeans are no longer lily white the way maybe in some romantic notion of the past. People might be stuck in a version of Europe that's no longer applicable.

Thirdly, if they do come over here and work as backpackers, they spend the money here. They go and buy a van and travel around, go camping and surfing. This is just absurd, this characterisation.

ALAN TUDGE:
There's a basic element of fairness here because if you're an Australian worker and you're picking fruit, surely you shouldn't be paying more tax than that overseas European worker who is coming picking fruit right beside you.

That's the point that we're making and Bill Shorten for some reason is holding out to provide lower tax rates, lower income tax rates for those European backpackers than what an Australian would picking fruit alongside them.

Or indeed a Pacific Islander would picking fruit alongside them who might be on a transitional work arrangement. So, there's an essential element of fairness here, which we're speaking to and that's why we're insisting the backpacker tax should be 15%.

We think that's reasonable, that's fair, that's consistent, whereas Bill Shorten wants these overseas backpackers to pay far less income tax. Which means we have to find money from somewhere else in the budget. What else does he propose that we cut in order to give a tax cut to backpackers from overseas?

JON FAINE:
Whether you addressed my issues or not, the audience will decide, but I'm moving on. On the backpackers, the Prime Minister this morning said it must be a principled stance, that's the sort of Prime Minister I am, I stand on principles, but just hours before on the Building Control Commission: no, you have to be pragmatic and get whatever deal you can.

ALAN TUDGE:
[Laughs] Well, I wouldn't characterise it like that.

JON FAINE:
Well, how else can you characterise it? He said in the interview last night and this morning, you've got to get whatever deal you can. I've got to deal with reality - I'm not an armchair critic - I've got to deal with the Parliament I've got, but on the backpackers tax: no, only a principled stance will suffice and will be judged accordingly.

ALAN TUDGE:
The core elements, as you know, of the Australian Building and Construction Commission, have now been introduced and that means we're going to have a tough cop on the beat. What that means is safe...

JON FAINE:
[Interrupts] Oh, spare me the cliches, please. Can you address the issue? He's inconsistent. On one of them he's principled. On the other he's pragmatic. Which Prime Minister is it?

ALAN TUDGE:
We have to deal with the Senate which has been elected. So, that's what we've done in relation to the Australian Building and Construction Commission. But, by and large, the core essence of it is still there.

What we don't want to lose is the core essence of our backpackers tax proposals. That's what we're talking about and the core essence really is this element of fairness. So that an Australian cannot pay a higher tax rate than a European backpacker working alongside them.

That's the core of it, John. That's the core principle which we want to stick by. We wanted to stick by the core principle with the ABCC in relation to ensuring that there is that tough cop on the beat so that we can get cheaper construction in Australia.

JON FAINE:
Well, this tough cop on the beat ain't so tough. The first version was, but what you've conceded to get it through is, first of all, a two-year lag. They have to get permission from the AAT, the Administrative Appeals Tribunal, if it wants to use coercive powers.

It's got to equally look at underpayment and sham contracting, as well as the CFMEU and other unions. Legitimate safety concerns can justify industrial action and they've got a 457 visa concession. I'll put it to you Mr Tudge, that this version of the ABCC legislation would have made it through the last Parliament. It's been so watered down.

ALAN TUDGE:
Well, the core essence of the bill is still there and that means having an independent commission, which can deal with all of that lawlessness on the building and construction sites.

Now, you get rid of that lawlessness, which what this commission will do, then you have safer workplaces for people. But more importantly, we'll have more construction being done because potentially costs can fall up to 30 per cent.

Now that means you get more schools, you get better hospitals. We've had a $3b spend in Victoria on public infrastructure. We can get more roads built with that money. That's the real dividend out of this...

JON FAINE:
[Talks over] I understand that.

ALAN TUDGE:
... as much as the safety dividend.

JON FAINE:
[Talks over] I understand all of that.

ALAN TUDGE:
[Indistinct] The bill is there. Now, Jon, if the core essence of the bill wasn't there, then why would the unions and the Labor Party still be so vehemently against it? They know that this has teeth to crack down on the lawlessness on those construction sites and that's why the CFMEU and the Labor Party, brothers in arms, are still campaigning against it.

JON FAINE:
But I, again, put to you that if you put these concessions to the last Parliament, you would have got this version, the final version, through without a double dissolution.

ALAN TUDGE:
Well that's - you're putting that to me, I mean how do you determine that?

JON FAINE:
[Talks over] I am putting it to you, what's your response?

ALAN TUDGE:
Well how do you determine that, Jon, we had a bill which we tried to get through over the last three years, couldn't get it through the parliament in the last term, we took it to the election, and [indistinct] was a double dissolution trigger...

JON FAINE:
[Talks over] Well I put it to you that Nick Xenophon would have supported it, John Madigan would have supported it and on and on we can go through what was the crossbench in the last parliament. This legislation in its final form would have made it through the last parliament is my suggestion to you.

ALAN TUDGE:
You seem to know what Nick Xenophon's going to support and not to support. I'll give you a call in the future, Jon, to help us with our negotiations so...

JON FAINE:
Well he did support it in the end so he would've...

ALAN TUDGE:
[Talks over] In the end he supported this but as you know, he plays a pretty tough game in terms of his negotiations and - which was secured in the last minute but the important thing is it's now done.

We've been wanting to reinstall this now for three and a half years and we took this to the election, we got a mandate from the Australian people to reinstall it and now it will be reinstalled.

And that's good news for all Australians because it means cheaper apartments, cheaper schools being built, cheaper hospitals being built, more roads being built with the taxpayers' funds.

JON FAINE:
All of which are good things. So it's marvellous how a bit of brinksmanship and horse trading on the very cusp of finishing the year in a disastrous position in the polls with a still noisy Tony Abbott and his backers on the backbench has managed to get out of Malcolm Turnbull some, I think, terrific compromises in the end but compromises that could have been achieved ages ago if you'd just approached it in a less combative fashion then.

ALAN TUDGE:
Well we've actually achieved a huge amount just in the last few months since the federal election.

I mean it's not just the Australian Building and Construction Commission but it's obviously the Registered Trade Organisations bill; it's protecting the CFA volunteers; it is billions of dollars' worth of savings that we've managed to get through the Parliament; tax cuts to middle income earners; the broader infrastructure spend, particularly in our home state of Victoria which includes widening the Monash.

All of these critically important things which have been done in the last few months. So Malcolm Turnbull went to the election and subsequently said this is going to be a government which can work, which can work with the Senate which we've been given and which will deliver and I think that's a pretty good track record in the first few months straight after the election.

JON FAINE:
More protests disrupting the Parliament again this morning; appalling security lapses both yesterday and again today. There's people scaling the walls and standing out the front, we'll have a chat to some of them in a moment, but does security need to be significantly improved in the Parliament?

ALAN TUDGE:
Listen, these guys were just absolutely disgraceful yesterday and they're at it again today. I mean as you know, they shut down Question Time yesterday, they glued their hands to the leather, so they caused damage to the property.

I mean it is all very well to have your peaceful protests but when you actually interrupt the proceedings so that nobody can listen to the debate, all the other members of the gallery are interrupted, it's just absolutely disgraceful.

I mean what are going to be the implications for this? We want the Parliament to be as open and accessible as possible. If these idiots do this sort of thing then inevitably the security guys will have to look at strengthening arrangements and frankly we don't really want that, we want an open, accessible parliament.

JON FAINE:
[Talks over] Okay well we'll talk to one of the idiots in a moment. Just finally are you expecting a promotion over summer?

ALAN TUDGE:
I'm expecting to have a bit of a break for the summer with my family and to come back and do the job which I'm doing now, which is the Minister for Human Services. We've got a big welfare reform agenda, which were underway at the moment and that's going to be my big focus over the next six months or so.

JON FAINE:
Well if the rumours are true that George Brandis is going to be punted across to replace Alexander Downer in London and there'll be a wider shuffle, you clearly are one of those that's delivered the very brief you've been asked to deliver and you'd be - I would have thought - very much one for promotion. So let's wait and see what happens and if I don't speak to you again, all the best for the holidays.

ALAN TUDGE:
Thanks very much, Jon.

JON FAINE:
Alan Tudge, who's the Minister for Human Services in the Turnbull Coalition Federal Government.

[ENDS]