Interview with Kieran Gilbert – Sky News AM Agenda – Thursday 27 March 2014





SUBJECT/S: Medibank; Racial Discrimination Act; Knights and Dames.

KIERAN GILBERT: To politics now and the issue of the Medibank sale and other matters joining me is the Labor frontbencher, Jason Clare. Mr Clare thanks for your time. In terms of the Medibank sale the Government says it’s going to invest up to $4 billion from this sale, which is what the expected price will be, into infrastructure and in your area, Western Sydney largely will be the beneficiaries. How can you oppose it?

JASON CLARE, SHADOW MINISTER FOR COMMUNICATIONS: Everyone wants more infrastructure. It’s a question of economics, do you sell the asset now and potentially get a couple of billion dollars or do you use the half a billion dollars in dividends that this asset provides to tax payers every year and invest that in infrastructure. If you did that Kieran you potentially have more money for the sorts of roads and rail projects that we need in Western Sydney and right across the country.

GILBERT: Now Tony Burke talks about a dividend of up to half a billion dollars. The Finance Minister this morning has responded to that saying that last financial year Medibank profits were up by 84 percent to $233 million yet Tony Burke wants to hit Medibank for double that in dividend payments every year that that it’s unsustainable Labor economics and that Labor raided Medibank’s capital reserves instead of drawing sensible dividends.

CLARE: The dividend goes up and down. The bottom line is it provides money to the budget. If we were to sell this asset today it would mean that the deficit would blow out. As Tony Burke told you this morning Joe Hockey’s decisions have already seen the deficit blow out $68 billion dollars. Effectively doubled over time and if you were to make this decision it would mean that the deficit would blow out by up to another half a billion dollars. That’s not good economics.

GILBERT: But you’re not looking at the productive assets that will be invested in as a result of the sale. They’re recycling the asset aren’t they? That’s the logic behind this, to put it into more productive assets for the nation.

CLARE: I’m all in favour of investing in infrastructure, I worked in the infrastructure industry for five years, I get it. The question is do you do it with a fire sale and do it now or do you use the dividends that are coming through this business right now and giving the taxpayers half a billion dollars a year, over time that would mean even more money for infrastructure.

GILBERT: Why should the Government have a place in this market? There’s already 30 other providers, leave it to them.

CLARE: I’m not an expert here but look at what the AMA said. They said that if you were to sell this it would potentially increase prices for private health insurance for the 3.8 million people who are currently customers of Medibank Private.

GILBERT: On the Government’s draft changes to the Racial Discrimination Act, Indigenous leader Sue Gordon who led the Northern Territory intervention and was a senior figure in the Indigenous advice to the Howard Government, she has come out in support of the Brandis measures. Is she someone that should be listened to in terms of this debate?

CLARE: Well Kieran I’ve got a very strong view here. Children aren’t born racist. It’s something that’s learnt, it’s something that’s taught and by changing the law here what the Government is effectively doing is sending a message to the Australian people that it’s okay to offend somebody based on their race, to humiliate someone based on their race or to insult somebody based on their race, based on the colour of their skin. That’s not the sort of country that we are. Most Australians aren’t racist and they’d be looking at what the Government’s doing and be saying ‘what the hell is going on here’. This is back down the time tunnel stuff. This is not the sort of country that Australia is or we want to be.

GILBERT: They’re saying that bad speech should be counted with good speech, with condemning bad thoughts or sentiments. Is that not a fair argument? That people who oppose racism should do so and that should be where the debate is held.

CLARE: That’s all fine in theory but you can’t say offensive things to police officers, you get arrested when you do that. I represent a very multicultural part of Australia, people from all around the world. What makes Australia the best country in the world is that we’ve got people from all around the world living in harmony.

Now if you change these laws you are sending a message to people that it’s okay to abuse people, insult people, to harass people based on the colour of their skin. That’s not the sort of country that I want to live in. Not in my name, not in my community’s name.

GILBERT: Finally on the issue of the return of the titles Knights and Dames. It was hard for the Labor Party to go too critical on this given the first Dame is your bosses mother-in-law.

CLARE: This is true. I’ve got a different view to others here, I’ve seen that John Howard has criticised this, Malcolm Turnbull mocked it overnight. I think it’s an inspired decision. The criticism that this is taking us back only a couple of decades, that’s wrong. This is taking us back centuries. There’s more that we can do here Kieran, jousting, duels, powdered wigs, all of it should be on the table, as long as it’s a round table. What about Jedi Knights? I think that could be a good idea as well.

GILBERT: Everyone was making jokes about it and obviously they are continuing this morning but in terms of recognition for great Australians, I know you think very highly of Peter Cosgrove and –

CLARE: – I do, I do, I certainly do.

GILBERT: Quinten Bryce as well made a great contribution, why not give them appropriate recognition?

CLARE: We should recognise them but we don’t have to go back down the time tunnel to do that. We’re only a couple of weeks out from the budget, this is the last sitting day before the budget. It’s a time when the Government should be showing us what the future looks like not a blast from the past, which is what this is. We’ve got old racist laws, getting rid of anti-racist laws, old John Howard legislation on Medibank Private and now they want to bring back Knights and Dames. Come on, give me a break.

GILBERT: Mr Clare thanks very much for your time.

CLARE: Thanks Kieran. Or Sir Kieran.