Thu, 14 Mar 2024 - 16:47



Shadow Minister for Science and the Arts

Shadow Minister for Government Services and the Digital Economy

Manager of Opposition Business in the House




14 March 2024

GREG JENNETT: As we've already observed there are more than a few pre-budget announcements to come from the government in the next few weeks. A change to GST carve up isn't likely to be among them, though. But there's also an agenda on electoral reform to come, and there are indications the Albanese government is about to do that, to cover developments on as many of these fronts as possible. Liberal frontbencher Paul Fletcher is with us in the studio. Welcome back Paul. Very strong signals coming from the government that it's ready to move on electoral reform. Are we right to assume discussions have already begun on the outline of this with the coalition?

PAUL FLETCHER: Well, the government has been obviously dropping bits of this to the media as they tend to do. We'll have to wait and see what the details are. What we do know is that around the country, Labor has form in bringing forward changes which are dressed up as being for very high minded reasons, but typically involve an essential design feature which is that the unions continue to be free to tip in as much money as they want into election processes. But then there are restrictions on every other player.

GREG JENNETT: Okay, well, that takes us to one element, which has not just been foreshadowed in the media, it is actually contained in the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters report. And that is spending caps. The proposition seems to be that it could be applied electorate by electorate in principle, as long I assume, as you say, it applies to unions, would that be acceptable?

PAUL FLETCHER: Look, I'm not going to get into commenting on, you know, bits of possible reforms which have been dribbled out by the government to the media. We will go through a proper process when there's a bill in front of us which has a set of measures, and we'll assess that on its merits. But I do make the point again, that Labor has form in giving the unions preferential treatment over just about every other entity in the political process. And we know this is a very union friendly government. So we'll be looking at it very carefully.

GREG JENNETT: Potentially more problematic in this package could be some sort of truth in advertising regime, with decisions to be made about who monitors and who decides what's a lie. Does that look problematic to you in view of things like Mediscare or another comparable example? Uh, what was it called? Death tax?

PAUL FLETCHER: That what it looks like to me is richly hypocritical from the party that in the 2016 election campaign ran hard for much of that campaign on a claim that a coalition government would privatise Medicare. It was nonsense. It was completely fictitious. There was absolutely no basis for it. And they ran it.

GREG JENNETT: An AEC official, would it be possible for an AEC official to run a ruler over that and stamp it, lie or truth?

PAUL FLETCHER: One of the considerations always with these sorts of issues is the role of elected parliamentarians, as opposed to the role of unelected officials. And there's no shortage of people suggesting reforms which generally involve increasing the power of unelected officials. I noticed that retired judges are particularly fond of these kinds of suggestions. Again we'll look at what's proposed on its merits. Uh, but we do, uh, view, I think, with a measure of well justified scepticism, claims to some sort of moral virtue on these issues from the Labor Party, which has rich form in certainly peddling outrageous mistruths, and also in favouring, uh, third party organisations which they know will fund them.

GREG JENNETT: Yeah, that would raise questions about who is captured. You could design a regime that captured all entities who currently have to authorise electoral material rather than, you know, abstract operators with a Twitter account who aren't in any way involved in politics.

PAUL FLETCHER: Well, again, I'm not going to get into conversations about the design of measures. If the government is going to bring forward legislation, then it needs to get it out there openly and transparently. We'll consider it on its merits. As we do. Every piece of legislation will go through our proper processes shadow cabinet, party room, etc., and so I won't pre-empt any of that.

GREG JENNETT: All right. As a proud New South Welshman, you'll be aware that the state government there, the Minns government, is livid over the latest GST carve up. It wants a wholesale shake up of the calculation method. Are you sympathetic to this argument? And with its obvious implications to the Morrison government floor guarantee for WA

PAUL FLETCHER: Once you've had any time at all as a federal minister, what you notice is that there is never any shortage of state ministers having extravagant dummy spits, because they reckon that the federal government has dudded them. And were it not for those thin lipped, cruel minded, heartless people in Canberra that the relevant state minister would be able to deliver stellar outcomes. I certainly saw that as Minister for Urban Infrastructure and on a repeated basis, uh, look, the fact is, um, state ministers always complain about these issues. I'm not going to get into the merits of the issue. Um, there's pretty extravagant display from Sooky Mookhey. I think it's all about being able to set up an excuse for why he can't deliver a balanced budget.

GREG JENNETT: Well, he seems to be saying it's on the line because of the shortfalls. $1.6 billion in his estimation. Moving on TikTok, US Congress has passed a bill. Who knows if the Senate ever would, uh, that would force ByteDance to divest your colleague James Patterson is suggesting that similar legislation should at least be prepared in this country, if not enacted. What do you think of the latter part of that? Should it be enacted?

PAUL FLETCHER: Well, certainly, as James has said and as Peter Dutton, our leader, has said, we need to see leadership from the Prime Minister on this. You know, if we do end up in a situation where uh, you know, our one of our most significant allies has such legislation in place, which wouldn't, by the way, uh, ban TikTok. But what it would do, as I understand it, is, require a divestiture, uh, of the Chinese parent company's interests in the company that's providing these apps in the US, for them to be permitted to continue to be displayed in app stores. That's how I understand the US legislation would operate.

GREG JENNETT: So would you be more drawn towards that or. Sorry, is that something you are supporting in Australia?

PAUL FLETCHER: Look, I'm simply making the point that the US legislation is a bit more nuanced than banning TikTok. What it says is if, uh, TikTok is to continue to appear in app stores, which are run, of course, by players like Apple, uh, you know, subject to US law. Then, there would be a requirement that the entity, uh, posting or providing that app is not owned by Chinese parent company. That's how is how I understand the US legislation, which, as you say is passed one house but not both houses would apply. Look, the point I'd make is I think we do need to see leadership from the Prime Minister on this, from the Albanese government. They've got, of course, all of the resources of the national security agencies. So they should be watching this very carefully. You know, under the Turnbull government, we tackled some very difficult issues in relation to telecommunications equipment, uh, on the advice of the security agencies. Not easy issues. But, you know, being in government isn't easy. We need to see leadership from Prime Minister Albanese.

GREG JENNETT: That's a reference to 5G and other matters. We might leave it there. Paul Fletcher, get you back on again before too long to cover off whatever we couldn't today. Thanks so much

PAUL FLETCHER: Thanks, Greg.