Thursday, 16 August 2018

Politics Live: Australians ‘disgusted’ by Barnaby Joyce’s paid interview, minister says

Politics Live: Australians ‘disgusted’ by Barnaby Joyce’s paid interview, minister says
28 May

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten has told the Labor caucus he definitely wants the party’s national conference to go ahead before the next election. 

The triennial conference will be rescheduled after Speaker Tony Smith announced the “super Saturday” of five byelections would be held on on July 28, in the middle of the major Labor event that brings together members, unionists, officials and parliamentarians for policy debates and administrative issues.

Shorten called the clash an “extraordinary coincidence”. 

He said Labor still wants to hold the conference (before the next election) and wants to keep it at the same venue in Adelaide, the convention centre, to keep costs down. 

Shadow treasurer Chris Bowen says Labor welcomes to the Productivity Commission’s superannuation report, which recommends sweeping changes to the industry. 

He says it is a “serious report that should be taken seriously by both sides” and promises to engage with the government if it takes a “constructuve and cooperative approach” that looks a comprehensive change across the industry.

Chris Bowen just then.

Chris Bowen just then.

Photo: Alex Ellinghausen

“Many of the recommendations appear to be sensible. Many of the recommendations appear are about putting members first, which must be at the centre of superannuation,” Bowen has just told reports at Parliament House. 

But he says the government has engaged in an “ideological war” against industry super funds, the union-linked, not-for-profit funds that compete with retail, for-profit funds.

“This government and frankly this minister [Kelly O’Dwyer] in particular have chosen to engage to engage in an ideoligical war against one part of superannuation, industry funds, which they call union funds, which of course is not accurate. These are industry funds, jointly managed by employers and union representatives,” he says.

This what O’Dwyer had to say this morning on ABC radio:

“I’m completely agnostic in terms of whether it’s a retail fund or an industry fund. I simply want to see low fees, good governance, I want to make sure that members’ money is being spent in their best interests and that their money is working for them, whether it’s a retail fund or an industry fund. I don’t discriminate.”

The government is pushing Labor to show unequivocal support for changes announced in the budget earlier this month. These include:

  • banning super funds from automatically signing up young people to life insurance
  • banning exit fees for people switching funds
  • restricting fees on low balance accounts

Leader of the House Christopher Pyne has announced the House of Representatives will adopt electronic voting, with the upgrade to take effect in 2019. 

“The implementation of electronic voting will reduce significantly the time required for each vote in the chamber,” Pyne said.

“Voting outcomes will be transparent, accurate, and known immediately freeing up more time for important parliamentary business to be conducted each day the House sits.

“Electronic voting will also provide an electronic solution for recording division voting and improve online accessibility to division process and results.”

Treasury officials have revealed the annual gains to workers from the Turnbull government’s $140 billion income tax plan in a move that escalates the political dispute over the scale of the benefits going to wealthier households.

The move came after weeks of Labor pressure on the government to disclose the relative benefits to different workers from the sweeping tax cuts over seven years, a central issue in the fairness debate over the reforms.

The documents show that a worker on $80,000 a year currently pays $19,147 in tax and would receive a tax cut worth $540 a year by the end of the seven-year plan.

A worker on $200,000 a year pays $67,232 in tax and would receive a tax cut worth $7225 a year by the end of the changes.

Treasury secretary John Fraser released the details at a Senate estimates hearing on Tuesday morning, providing more fuel for the political debate over the fairness of the changes.

Read more here.

Malcolm Turnbull has just been asked about Barnaby Joyce’s interview.

“It has been very widely criticised. I’ll no doubt have the opportunity to talk about it with Barnaby privately but it’s certainly not a course of action that I would have encouraged him to take,” the PM told Tasmanian radio station 89.3 LAFM.

“I think you can understand how I feel about it but I’ll be circumspect, uncharacteristically circumspect on this and leave it for a private discussion.”

Turnbull observed the ministerial code of conduct – which he has the power to update to, for example, ban sex between ministers and their staffers – does not cover backbenchers like Joyce.

“What they are covered by is the standing orders relating to members’ interests disclosures, you know, receipt of other sources of income,” he said.

“People are making judgements about it. I’ve said it’s not something that I would have encouraged to him to, in fact quite the contrary, but the fact is he’ll have to disclose that in his members’ interest register in due course.”

So, making his views pretty clear there. If not quite as clear as Kelly O’Dwyer‘s. 

A number of countries around the world, from Canada and the US to Malaysia, are starting to take a more sceptical view of foreign investments from China, especially when they’re from state-controlled firms.

But an Australian mystery remains – why did the federal government veto the $10 billion sale of Ausgrid to a Chinese-dominated partnership two years ago?

The NSW government was furious at the disruption of its planned part-privatisation of its electricity distributor. And why did the Turnbull government intrude into the sale process just 10 days before the deal’s deadline?

Treasurer Scott Morrison said only that the sudden veto was “contrary to the national interest, in accordance with the required provision on the grounds of national security”.

And because the decision was never properly explained, the Chinese government accused Canberra of “discrimination” and “protectionism”. One of Beijing’s cheerleaders in Australia, Bob Carr, got quite worked up, calling it the decision a “sacrifice to the witches’ sabbath of xenophobia and economic nationalism”.

It was a puzzle because the federal government had allowed the same Chinese state-owned firm to buy control of a big power distributor in South Australia, ElectraNet. Morrison said that Ausgrid was different, but experts were baffled.

There was speculation among tech security experts at the time that it was because Ausgrid operates secure fibre cables to NSW police headquarters and a number of major private firms.

But, in fact, it is vastly more sensitive than anything that had been guessed at. The failure of proper scrutiny was considered so serious that the federal government has since set up a new Critical Infrastructure Centre to make sure it never happens again.

The federal government has long maintained a national list of critical infrastructure, and Ausgrid was on it. But NSW’s sale process went on for month after month without any red flags going up in Canberra.

Eventually, it was Australian Signals Directorate, Australia’s electronic spy agency, that raised the alarm within the government. “It was half a minute to midnight when people in ASD realised that they had information relating to the extreme criticality and sensitivity of Ausgrid,” says an official who was involved in the process.

In fact, Ausgrid hosts a piece of infrastructure that is a critical support to the Joint Facilities at Pine Gap, near Alice Springs. Pine Gap is the top secret centrepiece of the Australia-US alliance and central to US nuclear war-fighting capability.

Read the full piece here

Pine Gap.

Pine Gap.

Photo: Supplied

Asked if she thought Joyce had made a mistake, she said: “I do.”

And the finish:

“Ultimately it’s a matter for him and his judgement. I personally wouldn’t do it, I don’t think it’s right and I think most Australians are pretty disgusted by it.”

Earlier, Deputy Prime Minsiter and Nationals leader Michael McCormack said he wouldn’t accept payment for an interview and “you have to wonder about the merit of these things” when you are a sitting MP.

Kelly O'Dwyer this morning.

Kelly O’Dwyer this morning.

Photo: Dominic Lorrimer

After yesterday’s Reconciliation Day public holiday here in Canberra, Parliament is back. 

Here are main stories in politics this morning:

  1. The biggest shakeup in the history of Australia’s $2.6 trillion superannuation system would see new workers able to choose an approved high-performing fund for life, saving as much as $407,000 by avoiding underperforming funds and multiple accounts. [Peter Martin, Fairfax Media
  2. A $10 billion industry superannuation fund is significantly underperforming for up to 250,000 members, opening the $534 billion union-linked sector to another attack by the Coalition as it seeks to influence the dominance of the funds in the sector. [Eryk Bagshaw, Fairfax Media]
  3. Former Labor Foreign Minister Bob Carr is using ALP senator Kristina Keneally to quiz the prime minister and senior officials about Malcolm Turnbull’s key former adviser on Beijing’s espionage and interference operations in Australia. [Nick McKenzie and Nick O’Malley, Fairfax Media]
  4. The Turnbull government has sought a “detailed briefing” from the Australian War Memorial after the iconic national institution was forced to defend its close links to a billionaire benefactor now accused of involvement in a major international bribery scandal. [Fergus Hunter, Fairfax Media]
  5. The peak business group for Australian companies in China has labelled political commentary out of Australia “unhelpful” in the wake of Liberal MP Andrew Hastie‘s use of parliamentary privilege to call the Chinese government a threat to Australian democracy. [Kirsty Needham, Fairfax Media]
  6. A top-secret Government report has uncovered a decade-long attempt by the Chinese Communist Party to compromise Australia’s major political parties. [Chris Uhlmann, 9NEWS]
  7. The government has hardened its stance on two mammoth tax reforms that cost $175 billion over 10 years, putting company and personal tax cuts to a vote within weeks and refusing to split either package. [David Crowe, Fairfax Media]
  8. Barnaby Joyce has been publicly rebuked for negotiating a $150,000 television interview about his life with new partner Vikki Campion, as his political colleagues say he has lost the right to complain about breaches of his privacy. [David Crowe, Fairfax Media]
  9. Tony Abbott — who once threatened to “shirt-front” Vladimir Putin over the downing of MH17 — has called on Australia to kick out the Russian ambassador if Moscow refuses to apologise for the atrocity. [Primrose Riordan, The Australian]
  10. The Coalition says it will keep moving government jobs from cities into the regions in “a measured and methodical” way following a blasting from the project’s champion Barnaby Joyce. [Doug Dingwall, Fairfax Media]
  11. Malcolm Turnbull’s national ­energy guarantee has failed to deliver any political gain, with the Coalition now trailing Labor on which party voters believe is better placed to deliver lower power prices and a secure energy supply. [Simon Benson, The Australian]

My name is Fergus Hunter – you can find me on Facebook and Twitter. Photos today will be from Alex Ellinghausen and Dominic Lorrimer. Follow them on Twitter here and here

And please feel free to send me your hot tips and feedback at


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