Thu, 08 Feb 2024 - 10:47



Shadow Minister for Science and the Arts

Shadow Minister for Government Services and the Digital Economy

Manager of Opposition Business in the House






RICHARD KING: Joining me now, the man who well, he was a parliamentary secretary under Tony Abbott and was a minister in the Turnbull and Morrison ministries and these days is the shadow minister for Government Services and the digital economy, and also shadow Minister for Science and the Arts, and that's Paul Fletcher is on the line. Good morning, Paul.

PAUL FLETCHER: Good to be with you, Richard.

RICHARD KING: Likewise. Thanks for your time. Um, look, the stage three tax cuts, obviously generating a fair amount of discussion. Peter Dutton yesterday. Well, last night actually on 730 had this to say to Sarah Ferguson.


“I think the Prime Minister has decided that he wants the political fix for Dunkley. “


Do you think it's just about a political fix for the upcoming by election?

PAUL FLETCHER: I think that's an absolutely central reason why labor has done this. And Jim Chalmers, the treasurer, admitted as much on 730 Monday night. Look, these stage three tax cuts have been legislated for several years. Mr. Albanese and his colleagues have said over 100 times they would honour them and they're important structural tax reform, because the idea is that you would know any money you earn between 45,000 a year, all the way up to 200,000 a year. You would not pay more than $0.30 in the dollar. So it's about backing people who want to have a go. If you want to do that extra shift, if you want to get that extra qualification so you can earn more. If you want to start a business, you'll know that right up to 200,000, you would only be paying $0.30 in the dollar. So that's what we had legislated, Mr. Albanese said. Over 100 times he'd honour it, and he backflipped because he's desperate to hold on to the seat of Dunkley in this upcoming by election.

RICHARD KING: Right. And, well, you'd agree with Peter Dutton that he's trashed his credibility, the Prime Minister.

PAUL FLETCHER: Well, I think Australians are, frankly, will be very disappointed that a Prime minister and his colleagues, having said to them 100 times before the election, during the election, after the election, we will honour the legislated stage three tax cuts. He was saying it as recently as a few days before he then announced the change of position on the 25th of January. We know that work was commencing in the Treasury in early December and several times after that, quite a few times after that. Both Mr. Albanese and Mr. Chalmers said, oh no, haven't changed our plans, when in fact they had. I think it's very disappointing and I think Australians are just know now that they cannot trust a word this man says.

RICHARD KING: Right. The other legislation that's before Parliament this week, these changes to industrial relations laws, people are focused on this right to disconnect. In other words, you know, it will be legislated that if you outside of your working hours, your employer can't get in touch with you. I mean, a lot of people have said, why not just have a discussion with your boss rather than legislate this, why not say, listen, you know, I've got a family, I've got other things happening. Please, outside of work hours or negotiate to be paid extra. Do you think it should be legislated this right to disconnect?

PAUL FLETCHER: Look, we certainly think it's a bad idea. And one of the problems is we haven't seen the detail. This has all been negotiated in secret between Labor and the Greens and independent Senator Pocock. Bits of information have leaked out. Um, but I think what you've said makes a lot of sense. Obviously, employers should be respectful of the boundaries between private life and working life. But when you put something into law, it has a very rigid effect across the economy, and it will create all kinds of problems. For example, in Western Australia, which at different times of the year is three hours behind the rest of the country it could well mean that it's very, very difficult for national businesses to have colleagues on the eastern seaboard contacting colleagues in Perth when it's during the working day for at least one part of the conversation.

RICHARD KING: Um, the obviously cost of living crisis is a hot topic and has been for many, years. The ACTU sponsored Allan Fels inquiry, um, suggesting that we are being ripped off by our big two supermarkets. There are a number of other inquiries. Interesting that Allan Fels also suggested there should be more inquiries and reviews when you before you got into Parliament, you were working for Optus and you were highly critical of Telstra, of being a monopoly. Do you agree with Allan Fels that perhaps these big companies that are sort of operating as a monopoly, the government, it should be legislated that they can break them up more?

PAUL FLETCHER: More competition is always a good thing. And certainly when I was at Optus, I regularly argued that having competition against Telstra led to lower prices and better service for customers. We see the same in the supermarket sector. Aldi has been in the market now for quite a few years and that's giving welcome competition against Coles and Woollies. Ah, but you know, it's interesting that the ACTU is talking about these issues, but not talking about the clear impact of the unions on prices. We know that these laws that Labour's about to ram through the Parliament, the ones we were just talking about, these new industrial relations laws, they've got new restrictions on the gig economy and on delivery drivers. It's estimated that will increase prices by up to 35%, or we've seen this battle on the waterfront recently, uh, the Maritime Union and DP world now that's been holding up deliveries, um, big increases in what the waterside workers are paid. They're now very highly paid. That'll feed through into higher prices in the economy. And yes, competition is important. We need to see this government doing more about it. I mean, last year we saw the transport minister, Catherine King, refusing to approve an application by Qatar Airways for more flights into several Australian cities. We all know anybody who's taken an international flight in the last couple of years. Prices are way up compared to what they were before Covid, so we need more flights and more competition. But some in this government don't seem to have got the memo.

RICHARD KING: The rollout of renewables are a hot topic. David Littleproud has suggested we should just put it on hold and take a deep breath. That reckless renewables rally was held in Canberra early in the week. I think Barnaby Joyce said that farms are becoming factories and becoming industrial dumps. David Gillespie, um, said the Port Stephens wind farm will ruin the economy of Port Stephens. He said it's an excuse, the expression bats**t crazy idea. And Jacinta Price said Australians want nuclear power. It's interesting, though, because I heard from Natalie Collard, farmers for Climate Action suggesting that renewables are actually a good income source for primary producers. Paul.

PAUL FLETCHER: Well, I think the point that David Littleproud and other colleagues have been making is that there needs to be appropriate consultation with affected communities, and that's always a good principle when you're rolling out infrastructure. I was urban infrastructure minister in the last government. Whenever you're building projects, it's important you're engaging with communities in a sensitive fashion, understand what the issues are. And of course, the point that you make that there will be farmers who can get extra income from this, that's a factor for farmers to consider. The problem we've got is that Chris Bowen is leading this rollout, and he's a man with a proven capacity to mismanage things. He was the man who came up with the Malaysian solution to deal with, supposedly to deal with border protection when he was Minister for immigration. That didn't work and the boats kept coming. He was responsible for grocery watch and fuel watch. Look, the coalition is, of course, committed to net zero by 2050. That's the commitment we took as a government under the Morrison government. But what is very important is that there is appropriate community consultation. And frankly, Mr. Bowen is hopelessly mismanaging it.

RICHARD KING: Um, I mentioned earlier, Prue Car, the education minister here in New South Wales, pointed out that there are many areas in Sydney where parents only have access to single sex public schools, and they're expanding the catchment zones. For those parents who would like to send their children to a co-educational public school, you were, I believe, dux of Sydney Grammar School back in the, uh, the 80s. There's a school that's been around since the 1850s. It's a boys school. I think it's produced a number of prime ministers. Uh, would you be out protesting if Sydney Grammar School suddenly decided to go co-educational? Paul.

PAUL FLETCHER: Well, I'm not aware of any plans for Sydney Grammar to go co-ed. But what I would say is the important thing is choice and options for parents and students. We are seeing, um, changes in both state schools and in private schools, and I've certainly seen that in my own electorate of Bradfield on the North Shore in Sydney, uh, but really across Sydney and across the nation. My own view is there's an important place for single sex schools, but ultimately, it's a matter of choice. There'll be students for whom a single sex school will be the preferred option. There'll be students for whom a co-ed school will be the preferred option. And it's important that those choices be available and be respected.

RICHARD KING: You're a big supporter of the North Sydney Bears. I know you've said on numerous occasions you want the bears back in the NRL competition. You would have been pleased to hear Peter V'landys saying he wants the North Sydney Bears back, but they might be in New Guinea. Do you think the government should be giving $600 million to PNG for an NRL team that might come under the moniker of the North Sydney Bears?

PAUL FLETCHER: Look, I am a big supporter of the North Sydney Bears and right throughout my electorate of Bradfield, there are plenty of people who've been lifelong bears fans. Of course, you know, they are one of the original clubs going back to 1908, I think. And, you know, we've seen great players over the years like Greg Florimo. So anybody who loves rugby league knows that the bears are such an important part of it. They were effectively, you know, pushed out of the NRL, um, in I think 1999. And I would certainly want to see them come back. I've made that call in the Parliament. Now, the notion of a connection with, Papua New Guinea or the Pacific Islands, we know that rugby league is very big um, in Papua New Guinea and throughout the Pacific. And it's from a national interest point of view, from Australia's national interest point of view. This is a way we can build and improve our friendships and strong relationships in the Pacific. Um, and so I think it's an idea worth considering.

RICHARD KING: All right. So you're supportive of the federal government putting money into a PNG NRL team? Paul.

PAUL FLETCHER: No, I'm not making that. I'm not making a specific, uh, call in terms of -

RICHARD KING: well, I spoke to Pat Conroy earlier in the week, and he said the best way we can, uh, enhance our relationship with PNG is to get a rugby league team in there

PAUL FLETCHER: Well, the simple point I would make is that when there are people saying rugby league is a particular factor that strongly unites Australia and the Pacific Islands and Papua New Guinea. That's certainly right. Of course, the Prime Minister of Papua New Guinea will be addressing Australia's parliament today. And if there a way that the North Sydney Bears could play a part in that and that could be part of their return to the NRL, then I'd certainly encourage it. But I don't want to be misunderstood as making any call in terms of funding. That's quite a different matter.

RICHARD KING: Yeah, it'll be interesting. I think, um, the PNG Prime Minister Marape will be the first Pacific leader to actually address parliament. That's happening later today

PAUL FLETCHER: It is. And it's important. Yeah, it's an important long standing relationship. And there's very strong bipartisan support for the friendship between Australia and Papua New Guinea.

RICHARD KING: And finally, Paul, you're the manager of opposition business. Quickly, what's the job description for the manager of opposition business in the House of Representatives?

PAUL FLETCHER: Well, it's all about the day to day tactics that we are following in the House. What are the questions we ask in Question time? Are there motions we're going to move? You know, a lot happens every day in the Parliament. Lots of bills being debated, lots of motions being considered. We need to make a lot of decisions on the run. And so that's what keeps me occupied. Yes. Pretty fully on a sitting day.

RICHARD KING: Appreciate your time this morning. I hope you have a great Thursday. Paul.

PAUL FLETCHER: Good on you, Richard. Thanks very much.