Sky News AM Agenda interview - new Senate
Presenter: This is AM Agenda thanks for your company. With me now is the Leader of the Government in the Senate, Senator Eric Abetz. Thanks for your time Senator. You will be leading the negotiations with the crossbench Senators who begin their induction today here in Canberra. First of all I want to ask you about the general political landscape you are heading into next week. You have the Japanese Prime Minister visiting that will at least be the focus for one day. Are you certain you will be able to secure the repeal of the carbon and mining taxes next week?
Minister Abetz: Allow me to talk to you at the end of next week and we will see whether or not the carbon tax has been repealed. There is a strong feeling in the new Senate that the will of the Australian people was for the repeal of the carbon tax. It is a signature policy issue for this Government. We know it has been increasing the cost of living for every Australian; it has been destroying our jobs, especially in manufacturing. That is why removal of the carbon tax is number one item on our agenda.
Presenter: Is it unfortunate timing to have such a distraction from what your legislative agenda is? The Prime Minister will be very busy for those 48 hours with the Japanese Prime Minister so he won’t be able to be there on the frontline, so to speak, with you negotiating with the crossbench.
Minister Abetz: I think all Senators no matter what party they come from realise the importance of our relationship with Japan for trade purposes.We’ve just been able to sign up a new free trade agreement with them which will be of great assistance to Australian jobs and the Australian economy. I think everyone will celebrate the strengthening of our ties; that doesn’t matter whether you’re a Senator from the Liberal Party, the National Party, Motoring party, Palmer United or any other party. Everybody will be celebrating this visit by the Japanese Prime Minister and the strengthening of our ties which is so important for the economy and jobs.
Presenter: The Prime Minister met with Ricky Muir of the Motoring Enthusiast Party; reclusive to this point, Mr Muir. Have you been advised as to how those talks went between the Prime Minister and the incoming Senator for the Motoring Enthusiast Party?
Minister Abetz: Any discussions the Prime Minister and I might have about various Senators are confidential of course, but we have got a very strong indication that the new Senators are willing to make the Senate work unlike the Green- Labor majority that we had before the 1st July, which was simply to deny the Government of its legislative agenda, to deny the Government of its election commitments day after day. At least we have a majority in the Senate now whom we can talk with on a practical basis, and not a group of Senators who still resent the decision of the Australian people from September 7 last year. I think we now have a manageable Senate and we look forward to their input, discussions with them, and let’s see how it pans out.
Presenter: Jacqui Lambie, the incoming Palmer United Senator from your home state of Tasmania. She was asked this morning about the prospect of the Government picking off Senators individually within the Palmer United block. She said that the Government would be crazy to do that, that they are united. What’s your view on that?
Minister Abetz: My view has always been, and I have expressed this from day one, that if individual Senators want to discuss issues with the Government so be it. If it’s a group of two, three or four Senators that want to discuss issues with the Government, we will respect that as well. So it’s up to the Senators as to whether they want to be treated as individuals or as a group. Clearly Palmer United want to be treated as a group and I understand Senator Muir wants to be part of that as well. We are more than happy to deal with them as a group of four, as a group of three or four, however they want to be accommodated. We will accommodate them because the important thing is the Australian people get good government and get good legislation through the Senate. That’s the ultimate aim for myself and we will do whatever needs to be done to accommodate that outcome for the Australian people.
Presenter: You said in an interview recently that they are “all God’s children”, but the fact is they are also going to block $25 billion of your proposed revenue measures. So you might get the carbon tax repeal through, but while you’re trying to be constructive, that reality remains doesn’t it – that they’re going to block $25 billion of the $37 billion in proposed cuts and savings?
Minister Abetz: Well look, I referred to the cross bench Senators as “all God’s children” in response to a fairly provocative description by an ABC journalist suggesting that they were a “motley crew”, and I rejected that description and I think provided a somewhat kinder description. But look having said all that, it stands to reason that people in different political parties will not always agree with the Liberal-National Party Coalition. That stands to reason and we will work with them in a methodical, purposeful manner to see where the areas of agreement are, because from my point of view that is the important aspect, see where the points of agreement are, so we can get a legislative agenda through which will reboot the Australian economy, create jobs for the future and provide hope and security for the people. That’s what the Australian people voted for at the last election. They’ve been denied it courtesy of the Green-Labor majority in the Senate thus far. We’ve got a new Senate and we are now looking for the common ground to achieve the wish of the Australian people as expressed on the 7th of September last year.
Presenter: Senator Abetz, I want to ask you finally about a story in The Age newspaper. You’ve commented already this morning on it. But I want to ask you about this suggestion of intimidation and bullying from the CFMEU, latest allegations in The Age this morning. You’re saying its incumbent upon Daniel Andrews to distance the Labor party in Victoria from the union given these latest claims. Isn’t it appropriate though that he, and for that matter the rest of us, await any formal investigation into the claims – that the authorities should look at this? Why is it incumbent upon the Labor leader to take a stand here before anything’s pursued or investigated?
Minister Abetz: Well with great respect, many things have been investigated about the CFMEU and they have come up short each and every time with court cases going against the CFMEU on a very regular basis, with the highest fines imposed, one of $1.35 million fines and costs against the CFMEU. So let’s not pretend that the latest revelation is simply a one-off. This latest revelation is one of a long, long, string of nefarious activities by the CFMEU. This is a union that the Labor leader in Victoria Daniel Andrews deliberately embraced to bring into his socialist left faction to give him a bit more authority, a few more numbers and more finances within the Labor Party. You can judge a person by the company they keep. You can also judge a person by the company they deliberately embrace for their own political advantage and Mr Andrews has embraced the CFMEU into his own faction to increase his own power base and he knew at all times the past history of the CFMEU, yet he was willing to embrace them, have them at his last state council. Now there are further allegations against the CFMEU and the Victorian people are quite right to ask, is this man that so willing embraces the CFMEU, is this man a fit and proper person to be our Premier, and the simple answer to that is absolutely no.
Presenter: Senator Abetz I appreciate your time this morning.