TOM CONNELL: So let’s get into what’s been a pretty interesting couple of weeks since the election and the take from one of our regular panels that we didn’t have during the election because, let’s be honest it was pretty hard to get politicians on the program, but their back, from Brisbane, Labor MP, Graham Perrett and we’re gonna go any minute as well to Craig Kelly. Just having a little issue there I think. I can see Craig Kelly in the screen there. I’m sure he’ll be able to hear me in a minute. Look, I’ll start with you anyway Graham Perrett, and I guess you’ll just get to free-rein here without a response from Craig Kelly. The Shorten speech…
GRAHAM PERRETT, MEMBER FOR MORETON: I’ll be nothing but respectful of Craig.
CONNELL: I’m sure you will be. Were you sitting there nodding along with everything Bill Shorten had to say about the lessons from defeat, corporate leviathans, a financial behemoth, it was all about millions of dollars telling lies?
PERRETT: Well look I don’t think anyone in Australia would suggest that News Limited or perhaps Sky After Dark has got a lot of fans of the Australian Labor Party irrespective of the policies Tom. But, what’s that saying, you know, it’s like a Captain complaining about the sea. And Bill’s said this; we need to work with what we’ve got. Anthony Albanese as Leader has made it very clear that we need to work with what we’ve got. Our job is still to talk directly to the Australian people. We’re going to spend a lot of time listening, finding out what their concerns are, consulting with them, making sure we’ve got their understanding of the world that we live in and then the Labor Party will still be committed to fairness in the future and I’m sure that the policies that we roll out in 2022 will reflect that.
CONNELL: Right, but Bill Shorten here was not exactly dwelling on the part you were talking about as well and he particularly he spoke about telling lies. The Mediscare campaign, I mean surely Bill Shorten has to – all’s fair in love and war after that 2016 campaign?
PERRETT: My understanding of Malcolm Turnbull’s budget, that Scott Morrison was a part of, was that he was going to outsource the payment schedule for Medicare. Now that was outsourcing a part of the public health system that had never been privatised before. That’s why the people of Australia were concerned at the 2016 election.
CONNELL: But surely that’s a hell of a lot different…
PERRETT: We had Tim Wilson running...
CONNELL: Bill Shorten stood up and said “Save Medicare”…
PERRETT: Well we had Tim Wilson running around Australia telling pensioners that the Australian Labor Party was going to be coming after their dividend imputation credits when most of them had no idea what the policy was. We had Tim Wilson and others echoing the idea that there’s some discarded Greens policy that was somehow a policy of the Australian Labor Party. So they are lies. We’ve got the Liberal candidate down in Chisholm saying direct lies to the voters in her electorate. So as far as I’m concerned there will always be mistruths and misrepresentations that’s what politics can be like but if you’re going to actually lie to the Australian people, I think it should be called out but, that said Tom, we’re focussed on tomorrow, we’re focussed on how we deal with the policies of tomorrow rather than… we’ll do some analysis, some proper slow, methodical analysis of what worked in the last election. We went into that election with 69 Labor held seats and we’ve now got 68 so obviously something went wrong.
CONNELL: Alright, we’ve got Craig Kelly now with us. I think got the end of that exchange.
CRAIG KELLY, MEMBER FOR HUGHES: Yes.
CONNELL: Craig Kelly, if you can’t beat em, join em. You saw how well Mediscare worked and you start to ramp up the death tax. Just mention the word and make sure you scare the voters?
KELLY: Hang on, hang on. I know Graham’s got a lot of sour grapes up there and things didn’t go very well in Queensland for the Labor Party. But to try and compare the Medicare scare campaign of 2016 where the Labor Party walked around and told Australians that the Coalition was going to privatise Medicare, that was one of the greatest lies that was ever told at any election campaign. They even had little cards…
PERRETT: It was in your budget paper Craig.
KELLY: …printed out sort of thing. Now there was no way, what’s happened in the three years since? The proof is in the pudding of what happens. Medicare bulk billing has gone to record levels. So we can see what Labor said and see what actually happened.
CONNELL: When we spoke about the three years Craig Kelly, it’s the point I was making to Graham Perrett, but let me just ask you about, you know when we see material put out there with death taxes as a question mark and a lot of the time around franked dividends, and you know it’s perfectly valid thing to know about a policy…
KELLY: Exactly right.
CONNELL: …but when it’s called just the “retiree tax” and that’s it, I mean, as I said if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.
KELLY: Hang on, hang on. Well…
CONNELL: Maybe you should be proud of a good scare campaign.
KELLY: Let’s be clear about the “retirees’ tax” that Labor were bringing in. What they were doing was taking away the franking credits of low income earning self-funded retirees. People, I sat on that inquiry with Tim Wilson and we went around Australia. Self-funded retirees, many of them are going to lose up to twenty-five per cent of their income. This wasn’t a scare campaign, this was the actual fact. This was the fact of Labor’s policy and all we did was make people aware of the detail. Graham’s right, a lot of people didn’t know what franking dividends were or what franked credits were before we had the inquiry and when they sat down and looked at Labor’s policy they realised that this was going to have a material effect on their income.
CONNELL: Ok, I sense I’m going down an early rabbit hole here. I’m going to pop my head up again. I just want to ask you as well Craig Kelly about Jim Molan because this is a bit of fallout on your side in the wake of the election. Do you think he should get this vacant Senate position that’s coming up or should there be some consequence that a below the line campaign, after all if there’s no consequence what’s the point of a deal between the Liberal and National parties?
KELLY: Look, as the below the line campaign was something people were asking, they were unhappy with the process that Jim had been put at number four. Several people asked and they were told how to do it. But the reality is, that campaign didn’t work. Arthur Sinodinos has been…
CONNELL: But this wasn’t just people asking, this was t-shirts and things being handed out. I mean this wasn’t just ‘hey, how do I get Jim in’.
KELLY: Look, we are in a democracy. People are entitled to promote any single person that they want to. We saw Lisa Singh in the Labor Party actually successful in the vote below the line voting in the previous federal election down in Tasmania. So people are entitled to do what they want to in a democracy. Now the reality is Arthur Sinodinos is going across to the US. He’s taking on the role of US Ambassador, a very important role, there is a vacancy there and any one in the Liberal Party is entitled to put their hand up.
CONNELL: Alright, so you don’t think any ramifications should be for Jim Molan?
KELLY: Look, Jim, I understand, I haven’t heard from Jim, but I understand that he would be one of those candidates and Jim has a very very strong case to be elected to take that casual vacancy. Jim’s work that he’s done in the Senate, his work around the electorate, his work in the media, he has a very very strong case.
CONNELL: Ok, I do want to ask you finally in terms of the wash-up Graham Perrett and the headline today about Bill Shorten and some lingering ambition. He’s had two elections; do you think he will ever get another shot?
PERRETT: Well I follow Bill Shorten on Twitter and he came out this morning and directly told the Australian people that was rubbish. The headline was complete bunkum. So I’d listen to Bill and Bill got elected the same time as me, he understands the problems that come with the chaotic scenes that we’ve seen in Parliament for the last decade. Initially for the Labor Party but for the last six years under the Liberal and National political parties, so that’s why Bill has made it very clear he’s devoted to making sure Labor wins the next election and that only comes through being one team. ‘Disunity is death’ is still a political truism that holds a lot of cred today.
CONNELL: Except people keep ditching leaders and winning elections so go figure on that one. Now Graham Perrett on to a couple of policy issues, the Medical Evacuations Bill, revelations of another boat arrival of course this week. Should Labor be open to getting briefings from security agencies and possibly scrapping this Bill, reversing it?
PERRETT: Look, we’ll obviously look at the facts. I don’t think that you can necessarily equate those two things; completely different set of circumstances. Obviously we need to see what Mr Dutton says about how the people from Sri Lanka that arrived in Christmas Island on his watch, what the circumstances there are. I don’t think we need to conflate the two concepts and the legislation went through the Parliament and the people’s representatives made a decision. We need to move on.
CONNELL: There is no evidence Craig Kelly that this is linked to the Bill. Further to that, all the people on this boat were returned to Sri Lanka. That’s always what we’re told is the ultimate deterrent.
KELLY: Well, firstly is Graham this just one of those coincidences? This is exactly what we warned about when the Labor Party and the cross-benchers pushed that Bill through Parliament the medical evacuations. We warned that this would be a pull factor. That this risked starting the boats up again as exactly what we’ve seen what happened. And what’s even more concerning, there are reports that one of these boats actually left, I think Sri Lanka, and has disappeared and has not been sighted. So we could have, we hope that boat is found but this is the terrible consequence that we have when we go soft on border protection what we saw from the Labor Party.
CONNELL: Nothing confirmed on that front at this stage but it does seem that the two major parties will dig their heels in. I wanted to get you two finally on something a bit different. World No Tobacco Day, Twiggy Forest has a campaign to lift the smoking legal age from eighteen to twenty-one, he says start in Tasmania where you’ve got very high rates of smoking. Graham Perrett what do you think of this idea?
PERRETT: No, I don’t agree. People make decisions when they’re adults, eighteen is the accepted age and has been since the early seventies so no, I think people make decisions as adults and the current set of circumstances should be the status quo. That said, I support any government endeavour to make sure people don’t take up smoking in the first place.
CONNELL: But isn’t that just what this is because people take it up in those younger years and if you push it out a bit you’d reduce the rate?
PERRETT: No, look, we’re adults when we’re eighteen, that’s the legal age accepted around the world. I know there are some things people can consent to when they are a little bit under eighteen but I just see eighteen as a fair dinkum age when people can make adult decisions. If you can go off to buy a house you should be able to make decisions about whether or not you participate in a legal substance which is tobacco
CONNELL: Craig Kelly the smoking rates above eighteen in Tasmania are more than double other states. Should this be on the table?
KELLY: Yes, it’s a concern and we need to do everything we can to drive down the smoking rates across the nation but my problem with this, if you have a policy like that it can actually be counter-productive and I think a lot of people start smoking, not when they turn eighteen, it’s before they turn eighteen. Now if you say the age is twenty-one, a lot of the smoking, it’s the forbidden fruit idea. If you tell people you can’t smoke until twenty-one, that often becomes a greater incentive for younger people to want to try cigarettes knowing that it’s some type of forbidden fruit. We’ve got to…
CONNELL: So your issue is whether it works? So if it were shown to work in a trial in Tasmania, and the forbidden fruit theory isn’t right, would you be open to it though?
KELLY: I’d be open to looking at it but I think it would be counter-productive. Most people that the inquiries have looked at don’t say I’m eighteen now I can go and buy a packet of cigarettes but actually go and start smoking when they are much younger than eighteen, so I can’t see how changing the age to twenty-one is going to have any effect whatsoever.
CONNELL: Craig Kelly, Graham Perrett, good to have you reunited again. We’ll speak in a couple of weeks. Thank you.
KELLY: Thanks Tom. Thanks Graham.
PERRETT: See you guys.