WEDNESDAY, 19 JULY 2017
DAVID BEVAN: In our studio today is Mark Butler. You don’t get much more significant than him, he’s the National President of the Australian Labor Party and he’s in our studio. Good morning Mark Butler.
MARK BUTLER MP, SHADOW MINISTER FOR CLIMATE CHANGE AND ENERGY, MEMBER FOR PORT ADELAIDE: Good morning David.
BEVAN: Sarah Hanson-Young is a Greens Senator from South Australia. She joins us from the West Coast of America. Good morning Sarah Hanson-Young.
SENATOR SARAH HANSON-YOUNG: Good morning David, yes I am in Southern California.
BEVAN: You are in Southern California and Anne Ruston, Liberal Senator, is joining us from our Renmark Studio this morning. Good morning Anne Ruston.
SENATOR ANNE RUSTON: Good morning everyone.
BEVAN: Let’s start with citizenship; let’s just get this out of the way, Sarah Hanson-Young are you a dual citizen?
HANSON-YOUNG: No I’m not and I must say in the midst of all this craziness my Dad even sent me a text yesterday saying honey it’s okay I assure you, you are only Australian. But what a shock and just absolute devastation that we are all feeling at the moment with both Scott and Larissa having to resign as Senators from the Parliament. We’re all as a party across the country saddened by this. But of course, as they have both admitted, they’ve stuffed up, they’ve made a mistake and whether you agree with the rule or not it is what is in the constitution. We need to make sure our processes are robust enough to make sure that this never happens again.
BEVAN: Alright well let’s check the citizenship of our other panellists, Mark Butler?
BUTLER: All okay.
BEVAN: You’re all okay?
BUTLER: All okay.
BEVAN: You’re fine?
BUTLER: Fully compliant, big tick.
BEVAN: Okay big tick from you. Anne Ruston?
RUSTON: Absolutely, Aussie through and through.
BEVAN: Alright now Mark Butler is this deeply deeply unfair on the people involved or is it a case that these rules are very straightforward you’re taking millions of dollars over many, many years of taxpayers’ money, you should have known better. Which is it?
BUTLER: Well you can argue that maybe the rules are a bit of an anachronism in a multicultural society, but they are in the Constitution. They are clear, it is the supreme law of our nation and I think it is a complete debacle that reflects very poorly on the Greens Party. I think it is a real tragedy; we’ve lost two substantial senators. I never dealt much with Scott Ludlum but I worked a lot with Larissa who is in similar portfolios to mine. She is smart, hard-working, principled and she is a real loss. I think Western Australia and Queensland voters saw them at the top of their tickets and I imagine many of them voted Greens because they liked those personalities.
The Greens Party, if they want to be a serious force in Australian politics for the long-term, need to clean up their act. In any other major party you are taken through a vigorous, ruthless exercise of due diligence by party lawyers to make sure that all of these things are squared away. You can’t just say, “Oh look Mum told me everything is fine.” You will have lawyers crawl over these questions. I’m sure Anne’s party does exactly the same. I think this really reflects very badly on the Greens Party because now we have a situation where people who thought they were legitimate Senators are now forced to resign. We’ve got two vacant spots in the Senate. We’ve wasted a lot of money and we’re going to have a very difficult Senate for the next several weeks as we work through this.
BEVAN: We’re getting texts from people saying; wouldn’t this have been sorted out when you applied for a passport?
BUTLER: I don’t think it is that simple. What you need is lawyers to work through this from the party’s perspective.
BEVAN: It’s been a long time since I applied for a passport, I can’t remember.
BUTLER: I’ll tell you how we work. You can’t just have a candidate come up to the Party and say I’d like to be a candidate, don’t worry it’s all sorted out I spoke to Mum and Dad. You need a lawyer to say, well show me the documentation, go and research the relevant laws of the nation, particularly when someone is born in another nation, that should send up flashing red lights for party lawyers to go through this like a dose of salts.
BEVAN: Should they have to pay the money back?
BUTLER: I think they’ve been working bona fide, they’ve been working hard. Certainly Larissa who I worked with, has worked very hard on behalf of the nation and I think the sort of -
BEVAN: So you say no?
BUTLER: I think the sort of allowance that was given to Bob Day, as I understand it, by the government should be considered by them again.
BEVAN: We’ll come to Anne Ruston and Sarah Hanson-Young in a moment but Mark Butler, President of the ALP who is in our studio right now, Mark Butler should they have to pay the money back?
BUTLER: That is a matter for the government. If I was in their position, I think they’ve worked in good faith, they’ve worked very hard and I think the sort of waiver, or whatever it is called, which was granted to Bob Day should be considered for this as well.
BEVAN: Now hang on, if there was a listener right now, who filled out their Centrelink form wrongly and were paid well over a million dollars over several years. Do you think Centrelink would cut them some slack?
BUTLER: I think if you had a position where someone actually comes to work, and performs work in good faith -
BEVAN: Yeah but in the example I’m giving you the Centrelink person is perfectly entitled to their welfare in every respect except they stuffed up one bit.
BUTLER: That’s not the proper comparison. The proper comparison is where someone gives of their labour, hours and hours of their day, in good faith, and they are qualified to do that work. Their employers think they are qualified to do that work. But ultimately this is a matter for –
BEVAN: But they are not qualified?
BUTLER: Yes, I said in good faith everyone thinks they are qualified –
BEVAN: But they’re not!
BUTLER: - and they perform their work and look ultimately this is a matter for the government. I’m not quite sure what the considerations are, I mean if Bob Day got this waiver I can’t see why the others wouldn’t. The deep question really is for parties to be much more rigorous, particularly the minor parties. I think the major parties are more ruthless about this. I can tell you that we have incredibly difficult conversations with candidates as we are leading into election time to make sure they tick all of the boxes of eligibility.
BEVAN: Anne Ruston, your thoughts on this, do you have any sympathy at all for these Green Senators?
RUSTON: I don’t know if I’ve got a lot that I can really add to what Mark has just said. I think I largely agree with everything that he has said. Look, it is an unfortunate situation that has occurred. There is a level of sympathy on the surface but I suppose the rules are the rules. They acknowledged themselves that they didn’t abide by the rules of our constitution. Neither of them is complaining about the fact they have had to resign, they’ve taken it on the chin and you know full marks to them for the dignified way in which they have relinquished their citizenship. But as I said, the rules are the rules and I think it is time to move on. The Greens I would certainly suggest are having significant internal investigation as to how this has happened, to make sure it doesn’t happen again.
BEVAN: I got a text here saying wasn’t the only reason Bob Day didn’t have to pay his money back, was because he was bankrupt?
RUSTON: Yeah well you can’t get blood out of a stone.
BEVAN: Well exactly, but these people would have some assets. I’ll put the example to you again of someone on Centrelink. Now if you get a Centrelink payment, inappropriately, Centrelink doesn’t say oh well alright, you’ve got a letter from your Mum that’s fine. They’ll go after you.
RUSTON: I think the point that Mark actually made in relation to this is that you need to be careful that you are comparing apples with apples. I would suggest, and I don’t know I’ve never had to be on a Centrelink return, I would think that you as a Centrelink recipient had made a genuine mistake. You had undertaken all of the undertakings you had needed to be eligible for that Centrelink payment, apart from somewhere where you had tick the wrong box. There would be a level of compassion and lenience on it. Now if they had actually actively gone out there and ticked a box and said they hadn’t done any work, and they had actually been receiving money or something that actually suggested that they intended to take money when they shouldn’t have. I think we just need to be very careful that we are comparing apples with apples. We also need to be careful that we don’t get ahead of ourselves because the court of disputed returns has not yet brought down its findings in relation to the validation of their ineligibility and then there is a process that has to go through within the government, through the Special Minister of State.
BEVAN: There doesn’t seem to be a dispute though. They’ve stepped down.
RUSTON: Absolutely, but I think right now it serves no purpose for us sitting on the isle and speculating about this.
BEVAN: Sarah Hanson-Young talking to us from the Westcoast of the United States. As a Greens Senator, do you agree with Mark Butler’s assessment that your party is just really, really sloppy.
HANSON-YOUNG: I think we do have to clean up our processes on a national level and obviously some of the states not following through as rigorously as they could. I must say, I am thankful to hear Richard Di Natale, as the leader of the party, announcing a root and branch review of the internal party processes and how we will look at these issues in the future. I think that absolutely has to happen. But I also think this kind of reflects upon some of the other issues we’ve been talking about internally that have leaked through to the public in the last few weeks. Clearly, we need to clean up the administration of the national party; this is just one example, and the sooner the better.
BEVAN: Sorry are you suggesting something more sinister? That somebody was leaking this stuff against the two Senators?
HANSON-YOUNG: No sorry I’m talking about the issues in relation to other conflicts that have been debated internally within the party in the last couple of weeks, such as the processes of New South Wales binding members in the party room, those types of things I think it is time that as a party we get our ship in order. That means cleaning up our national administration -
BEVAN: Sorry you said ship then, didn’t you?
HANSON-YOUNG: I’ve got members in South Australia who want us to focus on what it is that we’ve been elected to do. One of the reasons that I am here on the Southern California coast is because I am looking at the world’s largest battery facility because if we are going to make renewable energy work properly in South Australia, if we want flexible energy options, if we want energy security, we have to be investing in this type of technology and that is what our Greens members want. They want us to get on with the job. Our party needs to clean up its processes so its Senators can get on with the job.
BEVAN: Okay, moving onto the Liberal Party. Anne Ruston, a really interesting piece by Sean Kelly, now he’s a former adviser to Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard. He’s now a political editor with The Monthly.
He has written an interesting piece on Nick Greiner, as National President of the Liberal Party, coming out and saying look, Tony Abbott and Malcolm Turnbull have to sit down and everyone needs to be adults, we have to sort out the rivalry between the two of them.
Sean Kelly’s piece, which I encourage people to look at, I’ve tweeted the link to it, what he is basically saying is Greiner has done Turnbull a great disservice because he suggested in some way this is also Malcolm Turnbull’s fault. He says we should act as adults. In fact, Kelly argues, that the vast majority of this is driven by Tony Abbott. Do you agree that Nick Greiner has done Malcolm Turnbull a disservice?
RUSTON: Well now, obviously Nick Greiner is the head of the party, the branch sector of the party, and he is entirely entitled to his own opinion. But I think the bleeding obvious that has been stated here is that we’ve just got to stop talking about ourselves. I don’t think anyone that is listening to this program this morning actually really cares at all about this kind of disunity debate that is going on. There are so many important issues and we’ve just got to get on with it.
BEVAN: You cared a lot when it was Gillard and Rudd.
RUSTON: To be perfectly honest, I didn’t.
BEVAN: You didn’t, really?
RUSTON: One thing you will find about me David, and I hope my track record stands –
BEVAN: You didn’t take any joy from the disunity in the Federal Labor government. You didn’t make the point that if you can’t govern yourselves you can’t govern the country? You never made that point Anne Ruston?
RUSTON: I never made that point and I can absolutely assure you that the only thing the public of Australia care about is actually doing things that benefit them instead of talking about themselves. That is exactly how I have always conducted myself as a Senator and subsequently as an Assistant Minister. I think that if everyone did that we would have a better state of affairs.
BEVAN: Hasn’t Greiner put Turnbull in an invidious position because if he does not have a meeting with Tony Abbott he’ll look churlish?
RUSTON: Look I think one thing we have to realise is that Nick Greiner is heading up the party, in terms of the membership part of the party. Malcolm Turnbull heads up Australia.
BEVAN: We know that.
RUSTON: So Nick can say whatever he likes in relation to matters that sit within the party and it is entirely appropriate for him to do so. Right now, I’m just saying, Malcolm Turnbull and the rest of us are getting on with the job of getting on with fixing up the things that need to be done in our economy so that we have got a great country and I think we need to separate the two issues. One is about an internal party issue, the other one is about governing Australia and I’m focused, as is Malcolm Turnbull, and the rest of the people that I associate with, on getting on with governing the country.
BEVAN: Mark Butler you are the Labor equivalent of Nick Greiner’s position. You are the National President of the Labor Party. I think Sean Kelly is absolutely right; Nick Greiner has done Malcolm Turnbull a terrible disservice. He has effectively elevated Abbott and Turnbull to the same platform and he’s put Turnbull in a terrible position. If he doesn’t have this meeting he is going to look very churlish.
BUTLER: I think that’s right. I think Greiner is a very good choice for party president.
BEVAN: After this you wouldn’t think so.
BUTLER: They probably wouldn’t care about my view but this is a man of very significant experience, and good standing I think in the community as well as in the party.
BEVAN: But do you think he’s made a mistake?
BUTLER: It is a really surprising thing to do. The party president really, particularly in relation to internal matters of the party, should not be seen and should not be heard. Your job is to do stuff behind the scenes, to keep things moving along smoothly, ticking along.
If he came to the view, which would be a courageous view I think, that he could broker something between Abbott and Turnbull, he shouldn’t have said anything publicly. He really should have done it all quietly rather than telegraphing or you could even argue grandstanding, about his ability to solve this very deep schism within the Liberal Party.
So I was very surprised when he did it and I think it almost guarantees that nothing is going to happen. Why would Turnbull do that after being challenged by the party president? As Sean says, as you said, this really elevates Abbott to the same level as Turnbull and pretends that Abbott hasn’t been practising a very, very ruthless insurgency against his Prime Minister, which is what Abbott has been doing.
BEVAN: Mark Butler, Sarah Hanson-Young, Anne Ruston thanks for your time.