Thursday, September 24, 2015

Malcolm Turnbull 'concerned' about conditions on Manus and Nauru but rules out settling boat people in Australia

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has ruled out resettling refugees who are processed on Manus Island or Nauru in Australia.

He said while he was "concerned" about conditions within the offshore processing network, the Coalition did not want to encourage asylum seekers to risk their lives at sea.

Mr Turnbull told Radio National's Drive program the Federal Government could not afford to take a backwards step on the issue.

"There will be no resettlement of the people on Manus and Nauru in Australia. They will never come to Australia," Mr Turnbull said.

"Now, I know that's tough, we do have a tough border protection policy, you could say it's a harsh policy, but it has worked."

Mr Turnbull had earlier told Sky News that any changes to any policy would be done in a "considered way" and would be made by Cabinet.

He said conditions within the two offshore processing centres in Papua New Guinea and Nauru could be improved.

"[Immigration Minister Peter] Dutton and I, and the Government, we are concerned about the situation on Manus and Nauru.

"We're concerned that people are detained there, naturally it is not an ideal environment, we are doing everything we can to encourage them to return to where they came and the Government is actively looking at means of resettling them, whether it is in PNG, or indeed in Cambodia or looking at other options.

"It is tough, but the fact is we cannot take a backwards step on this issue."

Shadow immigration minister Richard Marles said Labor had been calling on the Federal Government to improve the way the two detention centres on Manus Island and Nauru were run. But he said Labor's position was that the facilities should remain open.

"What I can tell you from the point of view of Labor is that this is a difficult issue, we are deeply concerned about the fate of those people on Manus and Nauru, we're also deeply concerned to make sure that we don't see any policy changes which result in people dying on our borders again," he said.


Scott Morrison: Australia has a spending problem, not a revenue problem

The new treasurer, Scott Morrison, has opened the batting in his new portfolio by declaring Australia does not have a revenue problem – it has a spending problem.

Morrison conceded national economic policy needed “a direction” and the government needed to build a sense of confidence to help boost economic growth – but he also signalled the government’s renewed efforts on budget repair would be focused on getting expenditure under control.

“There’s plenty of people out there who want to raise taxes and have a new idea for a tax every single day of the week,” the treasurer told reporters during a joint press conference with the finance minister, Mathias Cormann.

“I’m interested in talking to people who have ideas how we can get spending under control. We have a spending problem, not a revenue problem.”

Morrison and Cormann confirmed the government’s tax white paper process remained on track, and indicated the midyear economic forecast – as opposed to a mini budget – would be released, as planned, in December.

Morrison, in his first major outing, deployed several of the Abbott government’s formulations about economic policy – a desire for “lower, fairer, simpler taxes”, and the focus on cutting spending rather than the alternative, pursuing the expenditure reductions combined with revenue raising which a number of economic experts believe is required to achieve long term fiscal sustainability.

On the ABC on Tuesday night, the former treasury secretary, Ken Henry, was candid about the challenges associated with budget repair, indicating this government would need to produce a revenue positive tax reform package.

Henry said in 2002, when the budget was in balance, spending and revenue were both 25% of gross domestic product.

“Today spending is 26% of gross domestic product and revenue is 23.5% of gross domestic product. A bit more than half of it is explained by a deterioration in revenue performance; by the tax system not delivering in the way that the tax system has delivered in the past,” Henry said.

“The situation we’re in now is that we’re going to need a much bigger tax reform package … and this tax reform package is going to have to be revenue positive, not revenue negative. It’s going to have to boost the budget surplus. We’ve never done this before.”

But despite repeating formulations often advanced by his predecessor Joe Hockey, Morrison on Wednesday also gave himself room to move.

He confirmed retirement incomes, which includes the tax treatment of superannuation savings, were now part of the tax white paper considerations.

The Greens got retirement incomes back onto the table in the tax white paper process earlier this year in return for supporting the government’s part pension changes.

At the time that inclusion appeared meaningless, because then treasurer Hockey ruled out doing anything to wind back generous superannuation concessions, arguing Labor was the party of tax increases, and the Coalition was the government of lower taxes.

But Morrison left the door open on Wednesday, declining to rule any specific proposals in or out.

“If it’s going to help people work, save and invest, if it’s going to help Australians adapt to the challenges of the economy going forward, if it’s going to make us more agile, more innovative, then I’m interested,” he said.

“Tax reform is not an end in itself. Tax reform is not some policy picnic. What it is, what it has to be about, is what is it going to deliver for the Australian people.”

Labor this week used the opportunity of the change of leadership to extend the hand to the government once again on super concessions.

The opposition has announced it intends to move against generous concessions for high-income earners by putting a 15% tax on super earnings worth more than $75,000 a year and taxing super contributions for incomes more than $250,000 if it wins government at the next election.

“We have a new prime minister, a new opportunity,” the shadow treasurer, Chris Bowen, said in a speech in Sydney on Tuesday. “Perhaps he can rise above the scare campaign and embrace our policy, our call for this serious tax reform. If he does, it will have our bipartisan support.”

But Morrison was intent on sheeting home blame to the ALP, both on expenditure growth and on the lack of progress on economic reform.

Despite exhibiting a highly combative approach in politics himself, Morrison attempted to draw a line. He said if Labor was prepared to “put down the swords” and abandon the “combat politics of the past” then he was prepared to talk.


Union boss document shredding ‘proof of criminality’

The Turnbull government has launched a stunning attack on trade unions, with new Employment Minister Michaelia Cash saying allegations currently being investigated by a royal commission that senior CFMEU officials destroyed documents is further proof of “apparent criminality”.

“The recent evidence given at the Trade Union Royal Commission is deeply concerning,” Senator Cash said this morning.

“It adds to the mounting evidence that has already been revealed of serious instances of abuse of power, apparent criminality and other corruption that needs to be addressed.

“The evidence again emphasises the need to ensure the trade unions are properly scrutinised and the Government remains committed to the Royal Commission. Honest union members need have the right to know that their hard earned union dues are going to legitimate causes, not union boss rorts, rackets and rip offs.”

The royal commission is currently hearing evidence that documents were ordered by senior union officials to be removed from the CFMEU’s Brisbane office on the day subpoenas were issued and destroyed, with the inquiry hearing that national secretary Michael O’Connor was later told about it.

Mr O’Connor is sitting in the public gallery for today’s hearing.

The royal commission today heard from CFMEU staffer Paula Masters, who said she was asked to point out locations of security cameras - which were then covered up - after subpoenas were issued - when hundreds of documents were removed from the Brisbane office.

“I know the one in the office and the one in the garage were covered over,” Ms Masters said.

“I saw no reason for them to be covered over.”

She said then state president David Hanna had asked for their locations, but that it was likely QLD secretary Michael Ravbar’s “final decision”.

She said the files, which included EBAs, general invoices and other “old documents” were removed.

Two training co-ordinators also told the commission they were involved in removing the documents, taking around 80 boxes of them to Mr Hanna’s property and unsuccessfully trying to burn them a day or two later.

“We ceased trying to burn them, we rang David (Hanna) and said we’ll be here for weeks if we keep trying to do this,” Bob Williams said.

Another training coordinator, Brian Humphrey, said he later rode in the truck that later dumped the documents a rubbish tip.


Jittery ALP rings alarm on policies after Newspoll

Bill Shorten is under increasing pressure to develop more policies, expand his frontbench reshuffle and settle the China free-trade agreement, as Labor falls behind the new Turnbull government in the polls and faces the chance of an election early next year.

The Opposition Leader yesterday declared “we are prepared for an election”, but some of his colleagues believe insufficient policy work has been done during the past year of Labor’s supremacy in the opinion polls and replacing two retiring frontbenchers is not enough to combat Malcolm Turnbull’s sweeping changes in his ministry.

When asked about the possibility the government could call an election early next year — in March instead of September — Mr Shorten said: “It is up to the Liberals when they have an election, but what I promise Australians is that we have a positive view of Australia, not just for the next opinion poll, but for the next decade.”

The Coalition showed no sign yesterday of giving ground to Labor over its demands for more labour market limits in the China free-trade pact after Mr Shorten’s written appeal to the new Prime Minister to negotiate with the ­opposition over union demands.

Trade Minister Andrew Robb said that “in the ­absence of any change in substance we have nothing to negotiate”.

Polling has shown more Australians support than oppose the China trade deal despite a huge union and Labor campaign against it, including millions of dollars spent on advertising.

The latest Newspoll survey, published exclusively in The Australian yesterday after Mr Turnbull replaced Tony Abbott as Prime Minister, showed the ­Coalition’s primary support up five percentage points to 44 per cent and Labor’s down four to 35 per cent. On a two-party-preferred basis the Coalition is in front of Labor 51 to 49 per cent, the first time since April last year, and Mr Turnbull is ahead of Mr Shorten as preferred prime minister by a massive 55 to 21 per cent.

Yesterday, in response to a hint from Mr Robb that there could be an election in March, Mr Shorten said: “What really matters here is not when the election is, it is who has the best ideas at the next election. I can promise Australians that we have fair-dinkum policies to tackle climate change, not just reheating Tony Abbott’s climate change scepticism.”

Mr Shorten confirmed that there would be only “a modest ­reshuffle” of his frontbench when parliament resumes next month after the announcements by frontbenchers Bernie Ripoll and Jan McLucas that they would retire at the next election. Queensland MP Jim Chalmers and ACT senator Katy Gallagher are the agreed replacements.

Some Labor MPs are concerned Mr Shorten’s faction-­approved frontbench substitution looks pallid in comparison with Mr Turnbull’s clean-out of Abbott ministers. There are also concerns the opposition has not developed enough new policies since the ­defeat of the Rudd government in 2013 and that an early election could catch it short.

In the past five days, two senior Labor frontbenchers — Anthony Albanese, from the Left, who stood against Mr Shorten as leader in 2013, and Chris Bowen, the leading NSW right winger — have given major speeches setting out requirements for oppositions before elections.

Yesterday Mr Bowen said in a speech in Sydney: “Far too often in recent years, governments have won elections from opposition simply claiming that all the problems in the country or the state would disappear with a change of government. On winning election, the incoming party warns that actually hard decisions are necessary after all. The Abbott government struggled in making its case because it had not a shred of a mandate for the cuts and tax rises it introduced in the 2014 budget. A reformer needs to have clearly identified the challenges they intend to tackle from opposition to claim some moral authority in government.”

Mr Bowen said that “unquestionably tax reform must be part of that reform process” and gave a detailed justification for Labor’s opposition to a rise in the rate of GST or a broadening of its base. He argued people understood reform meant that not “every individual can be better off”.

On Saturday night Mr Albanese delivered the Ben Chifley “Light on the Hill” speech in Bathurst in central NSW and set out “five points that encapsulate a plan for an approach that puts people first and can drive the agenda of the future Labor government”.

Mr Albanese said the keys were job creation and the economy; developing cities and regions; building communities; advancing equity; and environmental sustainability.

“For the past decade I have watched the quality of political debate in this country deteriorate into hyper-partisanship and negativity,” Mr Albanese said.

“Tight electoral margins, the rise of the 24-hour media cycle and the particularly combative approach of Tony Abbott have led the decline.

“If the only language between politicians is the language of conflict, we’ll make a lot of noise but less progress.

“Labor can and should return to government but we won’t return to government unless we put people at the top of our agenda.”


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