Transcript: ABC Panel with Jason Falinski and Don Farrell


Federal Member for Mackellar



ABC News24, Capital Hill with Jane Norman – 23 October 2019


Topics: Medevac Laws, Drought Response, Treasury Secretary.



Jane Norman: Joining me in the studio is Liberal MP Jason Falinski. Thanks for your time.


Jason Falinski: Thanks for having me.


Jane Norman: And Labor frontbencher and Senator Don Farrell.


Don Farrell: Good to be here.


Jane Norman: All right let's start with this medevac repeal bill. Jason Falinski, Labor and the Greens want the laws to stay in place. They don't want it to be scrapped. It looks like it might all come down to crossbench senator Jacqui Lambie when this eventually makes it to the Senate maybe in November. How confident are you that you can get her vote and axe these laws?


Jason Falinski: Well look we're reasonably confident that we have the argument on our side that how the bill has played out in reality has damaged our border protection policies and that Jackie you know an advocate for her for Tasmania of the people she represents. But we're pretty sure that when she sits down and listens to the arguments that that she'll vote for the repeal of this legislation at least that's what we're hoping.


Jane Norman: Are you winning the argument though because it looks like a lot of lawyers a lot of doctors. The major parties here at Parliament House at least are opposed to the bid to get rid of the laws.


Jason Falinski: Look I understand that there are a lot of people in this area who good people of good faith can come to different views and I appreciate that. But I think that any. I mean my father was effectively a refugee to this country. I'm very cognizant of making sure that our country remains an open and welcoming country to people who have been displaced around the world. But we need to have a process in place for obvious reasons. I think when you look at what has occurred since this bill passed I don't think a reasonable person can conclude that this has actually had the effect that people thought it would have.


Jane Norman: Well the government said they'd be you know dozens if not hundreds of asylum seekers coming but in the past six months or so there have been 130 and you know they've come to Australia for treatment it's certainly not the flood of transferees that we've been warned about. 


Jason Falinski: And I appreciate that. I think our primary worry was twofold. The first that it would send a signal to the people who trade in human misery otherwise known as people smugglers that would say would give them a marketing benefit that they could use in other countries to encourage people to start getting back on boats. So that was one thing that we're very cognizant of stopping that signal to open that market again. The second thing we were worried about was that it removed discretion from the minister in cases where there were people for various reasons of bad character. So the bit that is true the bill allows the minister to veto someone if there are security concerns but it doesn't if they're a bad character. And Peter Dutton has pointed to about half a dozen people that have walked into our country that may be in that category. I mean they're the two things that we were primarily worried about. We believe that's how it's playing out at the moment. 


Jane Norman: Don Farrell if six people of bad character in Peter Dutton's words have been able to come to Australia under these laws is that a cause for concern. Does this show that maybe we should actually be having a look at even amending the laws.


Don Farrell: Jane look I think Tanya Plibersek was exactly right today. The minister can stop these people from coming to this country but there are two issues here. There's the issue of security and there's a very simple way that the government can deal with that. They've got the powers to do it and they should do it. But we're a compassionate country. Jason talked about his father. This has been a very compassionate country. If people are sick and those people are under our care we have an obligation to give them medical treatment. It's a simple proposition. I'm hoping that when the bill does come to the Senate that that will be the proposition that the parliament accepts.


Jane Norman: What's your sense being in the Senate? You obviously would speak to Jacqui Lambie as part of various other negotiations where do you think she's falling on either side of the debate at the moment if you can't read her mind.


Jason Falinski: That worry smiles gives it away.


Don Farrell: I wish I could read her mind she's is a hard person to read. I have to admit that.


Jane Norman: She's becoming the real kingmaker in the Senate now with this legislation...


Don Farrell: Queen Maker.


Jane Norman: Queen Maker I should say yes.


Don Farrell: Look Jackie in my experience is a very sensible lady. She'll look at all of the issues on their merits. I would be surprised if she adopts a position other than what I'm saying. I mean I think she's a compassionate person. I think she understands why people under our care have to be brought back to Australia. I think Kristina Keneally is prosecuting this case in a very sensible and considered way. I think she's contrary to what Peter Dutton says about her. I think she's one of our best performers in this Parliament and she's bringing and I think a sensible and common sense approach to this issue.


Jane Norman: Yeah it's certainly a very different approach she's taking to the portfolio than her predecessor. But another issue on this topic the ABC's political editor Andrew Probyn yesterday revealed that the PM has parachuted his newest senator Sarah Henderson from Victoria into a prime parliamentary role that will ultimately have oversight over these medevac laws. She has openly criticized these laws in the past, Sarah Henderson, Jason Falinski why has she been put in this role taken from Ian Goodenough, He's been told to move on.


Jason Falinski: Well no. Ian's got plenty to do but I think the reason that Sarah has been involved in that role was when she was the Member for Corangamite. She was heavily involved. He was the chair of the Social Policy and Legal Affairs Committee. That's what she really involved herself in. She's very much across social affairs issues and social welfare issues. When she came into the Senate it made sense to you know put your best people in the best position with their skill set. And I think that suits Sarah perfectly.


Jane Norman: Is the governor trying to nobble this committee though like we know that it's going to having an oversight.


Jason Falinski: Oh Jane we wish we could nobble Senate committees. That's fine. No one's managed to do it. No we're not trying to nobble the committee we're trying to make the Senate committee operate as effectively as it possibly can. And that means having the best people in the best place.


Jane Norman: This is of course the Senate Human Rights Committee. Don Farrell It has a history of strong bipartisanship are you worried that this change in leadership this sudden change is going to undermine that bipartisanship and ally of Scott Morrison.


Don Farrell: Look I think I think the Prime Minister has made the wrong call here. Sarah is not the right person to be chairing this this committee...


Jane Norman: And why is that?


Don Farrell: Well for the reasons you've just said I think the idea behind this committee is that we try and present to the world a cross party position so that we're all sending the same message. I think it would seem that based on prior conversations or statements that Sarah has made that she's made up her mind about these issues and I don't think that's a good thing. I get back to the point earlier. This is all about being compassionate towards people who are sick. That's the obligation that I think Australia has that ought to be a bipartisan position. And I think she is the wrong person to be dealing with it.


Jane Norman: Let's zoom out a bit and talk about the economy it's really the issue that is front of mind for most of us in Parliament at the moment. The new Treasury boss Stephen Kennedy just fronted a Senate Estimates and he said he was cautiously optimistic that the biggest risk in Australia at the moment are external factors the trade war China the US and so Don Farrell. It appears that he's effectively endorsing the Coalition's economic plan. Is this a huge repudiation of what Labor's been basically arguing for the past few months. 


Don Farrell: Well I don't think he is endorsing the government's plan.


Jason Falinski: So what would he say if he was endorsing the government’s plan?


Don Farrell: Well with all due respect Jason, I was quiet while you were...


Jason Falinski: I'm sorry Don, pardon me.


Jane Norman: We'll ask you next.


Jason Falinski: Jane said I could ask you questions so I did.


Don Farrell: You still won't be quiet. I was quite well you said your drivel...


Jane Norman: Back to the topic at hand, is he endorsing the coalition? Because it seems like he is.


Don Farrell: No no. And I don't think he is. Now look let's understand what's happened in this country since the election. Interest rates have dropped all of the indications are that the Reserve Bank is going to continue to reduce interest rates. That's not a good sign. That's a sign that the economy is in real trouble. I met yesterday with the retailers association. They've gone through Chapter and verse all of the problems that we've got in this country with consumer spending. I think the economy is showing all the signs of being in a lot of trouble. I don't dispute that there are international factors at play but there are a whole lot of domestic issues that are at play. The principal one is I mean we've seen what's happening with the drought. You know the government seems completely unconcerned about what's happening in the bush with farmers. We've seen what that's happening. But unless we start getting spending local spending going again doesn't matter what's happening internationally whether it's good or bad we've got to start spending on infrastructure and we've got to get the economy moving again. And the government has no time to waste. This idea that they've got to protect the surplus at the expense of damage to the Australian economy I think is crazy.


Jane Norman: So you think they should sacrifice the surplus and pour money on the economy?


Don Farrell: Now what I'm saying is we need to start spending on infrastructure. We need to start spending on infrastructure now. We have no time to waste. If the government if the Reserve Bank drops interest rates a further two times and that's what's being speculated about, that means this economy is in real strife. And the people the people who get worst affected when the economy is in real strife are Labor voters they're at the lower end of the economic chain. They're the first to lose their jobs. I think they realized quite early in the piece much earlier quite frankly than the Labor Party or the government did that the economy is tanking. We need to turn it round. We need action now. And the government has to respond to these both external issues but more particularly internal issues.


Jane Norman: All right. Jason Falinski the treasury secretary said that it's too early to tell if the Coalition's big income tax cut package is going to have any impact on economic growth. So he said we have some patients there we'll figure it out but this could still play out either way we don't know whether it's going to get the economy growing. What happens if there's sort of no impact? You know we have my MYEFO coming out before the end of the year should the government be considering some stimulus measures in that?


Jason Falinski: Well I mean in answer to that what we saw during the global financial crisis when Kevin Rudd and Wayne Swan gave away about nineteen hundred dollars directly to people was that what their initial response to that was to pay down debt. So typically credit card debt but not always. And then that unwound over the next 12 months. I think what Steve Kennedy is saying is that you should expect to see that occur are similar to what happened this time. The second thing around infrastructure spending is that we already have a 10 billion dollar infrastructure spend this year 100 billion dollars over the next 10 years. New South Wales and Victoria are spending massive amounts of money. New South Wales just had to put about 40 billion dollars in a future fund because it was suffering hyperinflation in the building of infrastructure. So the bandwidth that we have to build more infrastructure in Australia certainly in Victoria and New South Wales is probably at its limit.


Jane Norman: But what about smaller measurers like targeted measures?


Jason Falinski: Such as?


Jane Norman: Well I mean let's look at drought funding for example. In fact one issue that's been raised by the National Farmers Federation is asking for exit packages for farmers wanting to leave the land. These are kind of you know smaller measures as opposed to huge new roads or ports that should be...


Jason Falinski: So for example in small businesses we've rolled out the instant asset write off that's obviously had a positive impact on business investing. You know just too humbly and obviously respectfully disagree with Don in conjunction with how it works in the Senate. I would say is that you know the people who most feel this are typically small businesses they're the ones that keep it in the eye first when there's a slowdown in the economy. There are structural changes going on in the retail sector due to online the online retailers coming into the market certainly in farms we've already in the agriculture sector we've already said that we will continue to be agile and responsive to the drought. You've seen some announcements last week on that


Jane Norman: Can we expect any more announcements on the drought?


Jason Falinski: Well at this point in time I don't think so but we will always respond to events as they unfold. I mean the drought is you know as David Littleproud keeps saying the best solution to this is a good lick of rain.


Jane Norman: All right. Jason Falinski, Don Farrell I'm sorry. Question time is rapidly approaching I'll have to say goodbye. Thank you for joining us.