Interview with Tom Connell – AM Agenda – Monday, 24 July 2017


MONDAY, 24 JULY 2017


SUBJECT/S: Newspoll, four year terms, marriage equality, NSW Labor conference, tax reform

TOM CONNELL: Welcome back to the program and joining me now is Labor frontbencher Jason Clare. Jason thanks for your time today.

CLARE: Good morning Tom.

HOST: Another poll with Labor solidly ahead of course but Malcolm Turnbull has just built his lead on Bill Shorten as preferred PM, what do you put that down to?

CLARE: Look Game of Thrones is back on TV and Malcolm Turnbull is in more trouble than a Stark family member at a wedding. He is behind now in sixteen polls in a row, Tony Abbott can’t help but pop up on Sydney radio every week to destabilise his leadership and within a couple of months’ time we’re going to be talking about when the next election will be on.

It’s the trouble that Malcolm Turnbull has at the moment and it’s one of the reasons we think that we should go to four year fixed term elections – so instead of talking about opinion polls, instead of talking about when Malcolm Turnbull might get knocked off by Tony Abbott or by Julie Bishop, government can actually sit down and do the job it’s paid by taxpayers to do. 

HOST: What about that four year fixed term, how much of that is going to be a big thing Labor campaigns for or do you just wait to see if you have bipartisan agreement or not?

CLARE: Look it won’t work without bipartisanship. Hawkie tried to do this almost thirty years ago and the Libs argued against it so it didn’t get through. You can’t change the Constitution unless you’ve got both the Labor Party and Liberal Party and the National Party all arguing that this change should happen. If you’ve got both sides arguing a different case, it’s not going to happen. It’s harder to change the Constitution than Australia Ninja Warrior is, I don’t know if you saw that on TV last  night Tom, pretty hard. So we are hoping that Malcolm Turnbull will come to the party and say we will support this and make it happen.

As you know Tom, I think it was mentioned just before the ad break, this is the case in most states in Australia, it is the case in the United States, similar terms in the UK and if we do do this, then we will spend less time talking about leadership spills and about when the next election is going to be, and government’s got more time to do its job.

HOST: Alright, well I didn’t catch Ninja Warriors I’ll take your word for it. The same sex marriage postal vote though that has been put forward again by Peter Dutton, if this goes ahead do you think that Labor members supporting a change in same sex marriage would support a Yes campaign for that?

CLARE: Look what I heard Peter Dutton say is that this needs to be resolved before the election and I’d like to see that happen but the only way this will be resolved is if there is a vote in the parliament. So I’d urge members of the Liberal Party, grow a backbone and just vote. When the parliament goes back to work, put it in parliament and let’s have a vote.

Otherwise I think Malcolm Turnbull risks happening to him, what happened to John Howard about a decade ago. John Howard refused to apologise to the Stolen Generation, and Labor was elected Kevin Rudd came in and the first thing that we did was to make that apology. If the Libs keep fighting amongst themselves on this then what’s going to happen is the opportunity will pass, we will be elected, and within 100 days we will pass this legislation, and Malcolm Turnbull will look like a man who didn’t take the opportunity, who didn’t grasp the nettle and make this happen.

HOST: Will see if that happens, if this does go ahead this postal vote, presumably Bill Shorten, Tanya Plibersek would say to Australians when you get this in the post vote yes to it.

CLARE: Well of course we would argue that people should vote yes, but this shouldn’t have to go through the sort of indirect, circuitous route of Australia Post. We are elected to parliament to make this decision, we can make this decision, it just depends on whether the members of the Liberal Party have got the courage of their convictions to vote their conscience. You’ve got half the members of the Liberal Party who don’t want this to happen, and that’s why they have argued for a plebiscite and the other half of the Liberal Party who are terrified of telling their electorates that they actually support doing this. Just grow a pair, put the legislation into the parliament and let’s bloody well vote for it.

HOST: Can I ask you about the New South Wales ALP conference, have you formed a view on this push to recognise Palestine without qualification?

CLARE: Well two points here Tom, my electorate as you well know is a very multicultural. Often remarks are made about this being related to electorates in Western Sydney. Let me just make this point very clear, I represent people from all around the world, this is not a top level issue, the people in my electorate care a lot more about things like jobs, education for their kids, traffic congestion than they do about issues like this. But the Labor Party’s position has been clear about this for decades – we support a two state solution, a country of Israel and a country of Palestine behind secure borders. Getting to that point though is something that’s vexed the globe for a very, very long time.

Our National Conference position is that Labor would consider recognising a state of Palestine, if the next round of peace talks fail. So that is our position. If that is to change then that would need to be considered by our National Conference next year.

HOST: Have you formed a view on that though?

CLARE: Well my view is the National Conference position, as you would expect it to be. That’s the view that we forged two years ago. The different State Conferences of the Labor Party are moving different motions which include different text. But the ultimate decision needs to be made by National Conference and that would happen next year.

HOST: Like to get your thoughts on the possibility of Labor moving on family trusts, Bill Shorten has previously been quoted as saying there all legal we have no real issues with them to very broadly paraphrase to be fair. What are your thoughts on this? Is there a problem here that needs to be looked at?

CLARE: There is definitelya role for trusts. The more general point I would make here is about tax reform, we want tax reform that is going to make the whole system fairer. You don’t want the sort of approach that Malcolm Turnbull’s taken where he gives a tax cut for millionaires and then bumps up tax for everyone else in the country. That’s the sort of thing that makes the country less equal, it is also the thing that gets people’s goat. It’s the reason people are so angry with Malcolm Turnbull, one of the reasons he is behind in the polls, people are angry they feel like one deal for the rich and another deal for them, you see the same thing in the United States.

One of the reasons Trump was elected is because for a lot of Americans they feel like life is getting tougher and harder, it’s not just a feeling it’s a fact. Real wages have flatlined in the United States. A lot of people are earning less today than they were before the Global Financial Crisis. You see the same thing in the UK. Up in the north east, where people voted for Brexit that is where unemployment is the highest and you can see the seeds of the same thing happening in Australia. That’s why our negative gearing policy we took to the last election was so popular Tom.

Just to make this point generally on tax reform, the policies we took to the last election on negative gearing were designed to make it easier for people to get into the housing market. The fact that it’s so hard to buy a house in places like Sydney and Melbourne, is one of the reasons that this policy was so popular at the last election. People are seeing a Labor Party prepared to make hard decisions and put bold policies forward.

HOST: So talking about those hard decisions and saying we don’t want one rule for the well off, we had this report from the Australian Institute last week suggesting that trusts more than 51 per cent of the benefit go to someone earning or a household of more than half a million dollars a year. Does that mean this will fit that category, this should be looked at?

CLARE: Well Tom, you wouldn’t expect me to pre-empt any polices that we are considering or that we might announce over the course of the next few weeks and months, but just to emphasise that general principle we want to make the tax system fairer.

You’ve got a government out there that talks about jobs and growth, but growth is going down in the last budget projections and unemployment is going up.

So their record on all of this is pretty poor and if they ignore the feeling out there in the community, which is a lot of people that are pretty angry, pretty frustrated, they feel like the government is not listening to them, worst that the government is heading in the wrong direction giving millionaires a tax cut as well as pumping up taxes for the ordinary Australian and cutting penalty rates, if they ignore that then you know what’s going to happen, at the next election they’ll get the boot.

HOST: Alright we’re very nearly out of time, would you agree without going into policy, that statistic about trusts appears to fit in with Labor’s inequality pitch?

CLARE: Well you want to build a fairer society. At the moment we’ve got real wages that are growing at their lowest level in I think two decades. At the same time when company profits are at their highest they’ve been in decades. That’s not fair. That’s one of the reasons why people are so angry. The other reason Tom, just to make another point, this is geographic as well. Just like in the United States where people are doing pretty well in Manhattan but not so well in rustbelt USA. People are doing better in London than they are in the north east. Same in Australia. 

Half the jobs that have been created in Australia in the last decade have been within a two kilometre radius of where I’m sitting here in Sydney’s CBD or in a two kilometre radius of Collins Street in Melbourne. But in North Queensland, in places like Townsville, unemployment there is higher than it’s been at any time since the Great Depression. So this is geographic as well and governments have got to keep an eye on this if they are going to listen to the needs of the Australian people.

HOST: We are right out of time, sorry Jason Clare. Thank you for your time, we will see what Bill Shorten’s plan is. Thank you.

CLARE: Thanks mate.