SHADOW MINISTER FOR CONSTITUTIONAL REFORM
MEMBER FOR ISAACS
ABC MELBOURNE DRIVE
MONDAY, 4 APRIL 2022
SUBJECT: AFL Covid Rules; Tasmanian Premier resignation; National Anti-Corruption Commission; Aged Care, Climate Policy; Ukraine, Parliamentary entitlements.
RAF EPSTEIN: Mark Dreyfus is the ALP MP for the south eastern seat of Isaacs. He is also of course, Shadow-Attorney General. And we could get to a republic question because he's Shadow Minister for Constitutional Reform. Good afternoon.
DREYFUS: Good to be with you Raf
EPSTEIN: Just a few things in the news. Damien Hardwick, the Tigers coach reckons we should change the isolation rules. Is he right or wrong?
DREYFUS: I think it was a mighty victory for the Saints, actually Raf. And that might have had something to do with what Damien Hardwick had to say. That's my team. I'm very pleased to see them winning the way that they did. A resounding victory.
EPSTEIN: A lot of people don't like the isolation rues.
DREYFUS: I think, the isolation rules, we have to listen to the health advice. It's not more complicated than that - as we have throughout the pandemic said - and we have to listen to the health advice. That's still the position.
EPSTEIN: If Peter Gutwein isn't there - and I don't think he's actually been there for that long as Liberal Premier, 2020 or something he took over - if he's not there, or he's resigning, those seats in Tasmania are often decided by a couple of hundred votes. Does it make a difference to a federal election if a premier is standing down in the middle of a campaign?
DREYFUS: I have to say I don't think it's going to make a lot of difference. Maybe if it was the week before the poll, you might say that might make a difference. But we're still five, six weeks out from the election? Probably not is the answer. The five constitutionally guaranteed federal seats in Tasmania, which have got half the number of voters as seats in Melbourne. I think they'll be voting on issues that they see are important. It won't be determined by who’s the Liberal Premier of Tasmania.
EPSTEIN: If you win are you going to change the number of seats in Tasmania?
DREYFUS: It's in the Constitution, and it's there for a good reason. Tasmania, even at Federation, they thought they were a small state and they wanted to make sure that they never dropped below five seats and that's what's in the Constitution.
EPSTEIN: Would you get more senators for the ACT under a Labor Government? There's some independence pushing for that in the ACT.
DREYFUS: There's a big disparity between Tasmania with its half a million people having 12 senators and the ACT with 350,000 people having two senators. That's a discrepancy people have pointed to.
EPSTEIN: Would a Labor Government fix it?
DREYFUS: It's a constitutional issue. I think we've got other constitutional reforms we want to get on with first, like the voice to Parliament, which we are absolutely committed to doing in our first term,
EPSTEIN: Okay, we'll get to aged care and other issues. If you have a question 1300 222 774 Tom is calling from Elsternwick, I'm trying to work out what seat that is in my head, but I can't.
EPSTEIN: Macnamara, yes. Tom what's your question?
TOM: Hi Mark, Hi Raf. When are wages gonna go up and house is gonna get cheaper. And when there's income equality going to be like a balance, because I just see is just getting out of balance too much.
EPSTEIN: I might restrict that to when are wages going to go up and when are houses going to get cheaper.
DREYFUS: We hope that the incredible stagnation in wages that we've experienced for the last nine years is going to come to an end. We want to do something about it. We think, well, one thing would be for the federal government to participate in Fair Work Commission wage determinations which this government has not done. If the Federal Government thinks that there should be an increase in the minimum wage, which we do, we should go along and tell the commission that.
EPSTEIN: Does it make a difference?
DREYFUS: I'm sure it can make a difference.
DREYFUS: It shouldn't be a deliberate tool of government policy, which is what it has been for this Liberal government. They've said, senior ministers have said, we want to keep wages growth low.
EPSTEIN: Can I just drag you back to Tom's question, which is when wages will go up? You say that if you go and argue before the Fair Work umpire, as a government, that wages should go up? That somehow that makes a difference? The people who sit on the Fair Work Bench, why are they going to listen more to the government? Why?
DREYFUS: I think that historically, the Fair Work Commission does listen to submissions from the Federal Government of Australia, it matters because the Federal Government of Australia pays a lot of those wages. If it's saying as an employer, and as the national government, that wages are too low, that's something to be taken into account. It's not determinative, but it's certainly something to be taken into account.
EPSTEIN: Okay, Ian calling, what's your query Ian?
IAN: Mark, it's three or four years that you've been talking about the need for a Commonwealth integrity commission. And I think there's a hell of a lot of people who who earnestly want to see it happen. We've seen Helen Haines' model. I think Stephen Charles is releasing his model today. Where's yours?
DREYFUS: Ian, we've released the details of our model. And I've been very disappointed that both parties went to the last election committed to an anti-corruption commission - if you'd asked me on the day after the 2019 election, will we have a national anti-corruption commission in Australia by 2022, by the time of the next election? I would have said, Absolutely, yes. I've published very clear details of our model for a national anti-corruption commission. I went back to the National Press Club in September 2019 to make it clear on behalf of Labor that we remained absolutely committed to doing it. And it's long past time that we did it because the government promised to do it and they haven't done it.
EPSTEIN: Ian is that an answer?
IAN: Better answer than I expected.
EPSTEIN: Okay, well, let me ask the question, then Ian. Mark Dreyfus, how far apart are you from Helen Haines' model? And do you think the independents' vision - I'm just assuming, for the sake of this question, a Labor victory but a minority relying on independents - are you far away from the independents and what you want?
DREYFUS: No, and I'm very confident from working with Helen Haines over the last three years that I that we can reach agreement because there's not much distance.
EPSTEIN: You've spoken to her about that?
DREYFUS: I have spoken to her about this. There's not much distance between the Greens Party Private Senators Bill, the Cathy McGowan Private Member's Bill and now the Helen Haines Private Member's Bill and Labor's position. There's a huge gulf between what we want to do, our model, and what the government was proposing, which was, for example, no public hearings, separate divisions for politicians, and police, no possibility of public complaints giving rise to an inquiry, lots of deficiencies. And there's no excuse for that, because we've got an anti-corruption commission in every state and territory. We know what best practice looks like. We should have best practice at the federal level.
EPSTEIN: The Greens proposed a federal integrity commission before Labor didn't they?
DREYFUS: It's been Greens Party policy for longer than it has been Labor Party policy.
EPSTEIN: Do you give them that one for coming up with it sooner?
DREYFUS: We thought for some years that there was sufficient integrity bodies at the federal level, I've become absolutely convinced that there's not. The experience of this government, the endless rorts under the nine years..
EPSTEIN: Do you give them credit for coming up with the idea first or not?
DREYFUS: All credit to them and all credit to the Labor and Liberal governments in the states and territories - because some of them have been established by Liberal governments, some by Labor governments - for making sure that every state and territory now has one. We absolutely need an anti-corruption commission at the federal level.
EPSTEIN: Just on aged care - I'll come to, maybe, the money you're promised for 24/7 nurses in nursing homes, it comes a year sooner than the government's promise for nurses in nursing homes 16 hours a day. Where are all the nurses and carers going to come from how are you going to find all those people within 12 months if you were to win?
DREYFUS: I can't tell you that there are enough nurses. I can certainly say, as did the Royal Commission, that this is the standard that should be set - 24 hour care - and I can certainly tell you, as did the Royal Commission, that we need to increase the pay of people working in nursing homes. We've got to do something retro about the appallingly low standards of care.
EPSTEIN: I'm happy to come back to the pay but are the people there? The Prime Minister actually said at the end of last week look, nice sentiment, Anthony Albanese, but if you don't know what you're talking about, you can't deliver. So where do the staff come from?
DREYFUS: We're talking about setting the standard. And if it is, in fact true that there are not enough nurses in Australia to provide that level of care, we should train more.
EPSTEIN: You've only got a year to do that.
DREYFUS: Well, it might be that it turns out we've got to pause it, but let's establish that. Let's agree with the Royal Commission. Let's bring this in.
EPSTEIN: Are you saying you'd pause a promise because that's a pledge from Anthony Albanese isn't it?
DREYFUS: I'm grappling with the practice your concern that you are expressing that apparently the Prime Minister's expressed. Obviously if you've set the standard, and there's just not staff there, then that's something that's going to have to be looked at. But let's accept the Royal Commission's recommendation. Let's say we need to have 24 hour nursing care in nursing homes. Let's put the nursing back into nursing homes, as my leader has said, let's get on with this. We've had a Royal Commission. We've had a disastrous performance in nursing homes during the pandemic with hundreds and hundreds of people, particularly in our state of Victoria dying in Commonwealth regulated nursing homes, it's a disgraceful situation. The government is not doing anywhere near enough. We've had a Royal Commission report that head as its title, "Neglect" and we need to get on with that.
EPSTEIN: They say they have tripled funding,
DREYFUS: Well, they say...
EPSTEIN: Well they have, it's gone up a lot.
DREYFUS: It's gone up, but so has the number of people in nursing care. So have the population and we've got inflation. We need to listen to what the Royal Commission has said. We need to act. And it's appalling to think that the Federal Government the Morrison, Government is not backing in the current claim for increased wages in the Fair Work Commission.
EPSTEIN: Mark Dreyfus is the Shadow Attorney-General. He's also the ALP MP for the seat of Isaacs in the south east. Linda is in Burwood, which is nice, but not south east but that's all good. Linda, what do you want to ask?
LINDA: Oh, hi. Hi, Mark. It's been a long time coming to get decent workers in aged care. I remember my grandmother being tied up in the 1970s because she had Parkinson's. Tied up to a chair and I was only 17 and I didn't know what to do about it. I was just beside myself, but no one would listen to me anyway. So I used to get her out of there and take her for a cup of tea. And that was the best I could do for her.
EPSTEIN: Oh, Linda.
LINDA: I'm just wondering that we've got a lot of issues here. A mongrel bloke who runs the country at the moment. But what about climate change? That hasn't been mentioned? And I just think that everybody is going to vote for the Labor Party is expecting to hear something about climate change, because we're you know..
EPSTEIN: Can I just ask, what are you asking? Linda, you saying you haven't heard enough about climate change?
LINDA: Why haven't we heard about climate change?
DREYFUS: We've announced a very clear set of policies on climate change And I'm very much hoping that we're able get an opportunity to say more about it Between now and the election. We've announced a 43% emissions cut off 2005 levels by 2030. We've announced a $15 billion program to rewire the electricity grid.
EPSTEIN: Sounds like a supporter hasn't heard...
DREYFUS: I hear you, Linda, you haven't heard enough about it. And I'm hopeful that I and my colleagues can make clear that we are committed to action on climate, we are committed to, as Anthony Albanese has put it, ending the climate wars, making it clear that Australia is going to join with the rest of the developed world to do something about cutting emissions in this country?
EPSTEIN: You are not running dead on climate change? Labor doesn't want the fight?
DREYFUS: We are not running dead on climate change. We have put forward a policy to use the government's own safeguards mechanism to reduce the emissions of our 200 biggest industrial emitters. We've got a whole range of policies to make clear that we want to see a green hydrogen industry created. We want to see Australia become a renewable energy superpower. Part of our manufacturing policy about the regrowth of Australian manufacturing is based on there being cheap, affordable, renewable, electricity in this country.
EPSTEIN: Do you think Anthony Albanese spoken enough about it?
DREYFUS: Well, I listen to everything he says. I'm a Member of the Parliament, so I think we've said a fair bit about it. But I get Linda's point, and I accept Linda's point that we haven't said enough, because it hasn't got through to someone like her that wants to hear more about climate. I know that particularly young people in Australia want to hear what the climate policies are. I'm aiming that between now and the election we'll be saying over and over again, what are climate policies are. But we have got a set of climate policies that show we are going to take action and they are supported by a whole range of business groups who have come out and said - and I'm talking about the Business Council of Australia, the Australian Industry Group, National Farmers Federation - they've all said, we think that this is a workable, sensible set of policies. And I can say that our climate policies are much more ambitious than the government's, much clearer than the government and will give a policy framework for the future, which is what's been sadly missing over the last nine years where we've had 22 different energy policies, and no one could actually tell you what our energy policy is at the moment.
EPSTEIN: The only reason we cut emissions is we hope it persuades other countries to do the same thing. We can't do it on our own. We have to do it, but we can't do it on our own. Other countries, the biggest countries in the world have to do it. When someone says to you, why should I put up with that disruption, if the biggest countries like China and America aren't doing enough? What do you say to them? Why should we move forward so quickly if they think a country like China and America is lagging behind?
DREYFUS: Well, first of all, I don't accept that it's necessarily disruption. It might be that there's change in some indices.
EPSTEIN: It can be.
DREYFUS: It can be, but I think that this is an economic plus for Australia to take action on climate and that's what's become apparent over the last 10 years since we were in office. We put in place a comprehensive set of climate policies, emissions reductions policies, which the Liberals destroyed. I think that a lot has changed since 2013 and it's become not only absolutely apparent that the whole world has to act, because it's a global problem, but it's also become apparent that it's possible to do so in a way that produces economic benefits for your country. Now, Australia's got to act.
EPSTEIN: Do you think you can convince most people it's an economic plus not a negative?
DREYFUS: I think Australians are already convinced that we absolutely have to act. I think that there's a task to be done of advocacy and convincing people and showing everyone in Australia ..
EPSTEIN: Does Queensland believe that, because I think some people ...
DREYFUS: I think some people in Queensland believe it. And I think that there's still an advocacy task ahead of us. But increasingly, people have come to understand that Australia will prosper if we move fully to renewable energy. There are plenty of new industries available, not least because as Ross Garnaut has said, we are and can be a renewable energy superpower.
EPSTEIN: Just a follow up question, I think in on policy, similar policy Carol's in Mentone, what you want to ask Carol?
CAROL: Yes, specifically about the subsidies for fossil fuels. The current budget has said that there will be a gas led recovery and so on. Now, I've been reading Saul Griffith's book, The Big Switch, and it's very clear that with good investments in renewables we can create new jobs, have clean energy, and so on. So I'd like specifically to hear from Mark Dreyfus about how quickly we will remove subsidies from fossil fuels and start an industry?
EPSTEIN: Do you mean like diesel fuel rebate, do you mean that sort of thing?
CAROL: All that sort of thing, any sort of ...
EPSTEIN: How quickly you're going to remove the Diesel Fuel Rebate?
DREYFUS: I do think that we've got to be constantly examining the full range of government policy to make sure that they are all directed to the necessary task, which is emissions reduction. And to go back to what you said before Raf, Carol, in my electorate of Mentone. Sounds like she's one of those people that understands that there are economic basis.
EPSTEIN: Diesel Fuel Rebate, you going to remove any of them?
DREYFUS: Well, that there is no policy right now to do that.
EPSTEIN: So you'd review diesel fuel subsidies in Government?
DREYFUS: Just as we were in government, ready to review all of the settings of the federal government's policies, so far as they touch on reducing emissions, we've got to do that.
EPSTEIN: Do you want to?
DREYFUS: I'm not going to commit to that. But we are in a climate emergency. The world is in a climate emergency. Australia needs to play its part. And Australia needs to work on convincing other countries to do more, we will only be able to convince other countries to do more if we do more ourselves.
EPSTEIN: Two quick, but very important issues. The Ukrainian President addressed the Australian Parliament last week, we had a chat to the Ukrainian ambassador at four o'clock. Ukraine clearly wants America, NATO, Australia to do a lot more, tanks, fighter jets, clear the skies above Ukraine. Does the West need to do a lot more than it is doing?
DREYFUS: It was a very moving address by the President of Ukraine, which I had the privilege of witnessing in the parliament last Thursday. I think that we've got to do, the world has to do more. Whether Australia can do more..
EPSTEIN: We can't do it on our own.
DREYFUS: No, we certainly can't do it on our own. But we've sent some weapons and armaments and in response to the request from the President of Ukraine that we send armoured vehicles. The government has said it's going to send some armoured vehicles. That's a good thing.
EPSTEIN: Do we need to ramp it up a lot?
DREYFUS: I'm hoping to see the whole world, particularly NATO, which includes the the US, ramp up the level of at least armaments and weapons support for Ukraine. Thy're a country of 44 million people, they clearly want to defend themselves. It's been extraordinary, admirable, moving, to watch the way that Ukraine has already defended itself, driving off the Russian invasion in some parts of the country. They deserve to have help. They deserve our help because this is a test for the world to drive off the appalling, barbaric Russian invasion that is still occurring with thousands and thousands of people killed, millions of people displaced.
EPSTEIN: There's a question here on housing, 'RaF, please ask Mark. Does he believe in affordable housing? And does he still have four negatively geared houses in blue ribbon electorates?' That's from Jack in Northcote.
DREYFUS: I don't have four negatively negatively geared properties. I don't have any negatively geared properties, but I do own more than one property.
EPSTEIN: Is that going to change? Negative gearing?
DREYFUS: No, we've made it clear the only tax policy we are taking to this election is a tax policy in respect of cracking down on multinationals.
EPSTEIN: What about the allowance that you all get irrespective of party? I think it's, do you get 280 bucks a night when you go and stay in Canberra because you're away from home?
DREYFUS: Per night in Canberra?
EPSTEIN: It's a little obscene, isn't it? When we're talking about a Budget, people on a pension or Jobseeker, they get a one off $230 payment. You all, irrespective of partym being an independent, do you think it would help restore some part of the political conversation if you guys got a bit less in those away from home allowances?
DREYFUS: We've set up an Independent Parliamentary Expenses Authority, we've got a Remuneration Tribunal. As far as possible, Members of the Australian Parliament have removed themselves from the decision making,
EPSTEIN: it's a lot of money, isn't it? 90 bucks, you can own it. You can have a mortgage to in camera on a flat and you can put that money towards that mortgage for a lot. Most people in this country don't have that. Is that something that needs to be looked at?
DREYFUS: We've got a Parliamentary system that has, because of our capital and where it's located, and the fact we're a very big country depends on about 95% of the members of the House and the Senators travelling from interstate, they've got to stay somewhere. Maybe we should have a public barracks?
EPSTEIN: That's your idea, not mine!
DREYFUS: No, no, I'm just not quite sure what the answer is.
EPSTEIN: The answer is you in a bunk bed with Josh Frydenberg in a public barracks. But I ask the question seriously, it's really hard to talk about the people who make the decisions, when you do get significant wages, insignificant perks. Does that need to be looked at or not?
DREYFUS: I don't think of them as perks. I do accept that Parliamentarians are well paid. I support parliamentarians being well paid, not because I am one, but because I think it's an important mark of the value that we place on the Parliamentary process that we pay our Parliamentarians well. To some small extent it puts them beyond bribery if you pay them well. It's the same theory as behind paying judges a very high wage with a pension at the end of their working life. There's no right answer, but some people will always want politicians to be paid less. And I am actually a believer in paying a good salary to MPs and they live in appropriate conditions.
EPSTEIN: Three word answer is Labor gonna win the election?
DREYFUS: I hope so.
EPSTEIN: (laughter) I gave you too many words. Thanks for your time.
DREYFUS: Thanks Raf.
EPSTEIN: Mark Dreyfus is the Shadow Attorney-General. He's also of course the ALP MP for the seat of Isaacs in the south east.