Thu, 28 Mar 2024 - 17:56



Shadow Minister for Science and the Arts

Shadow Minister for Government Services and the Digital Economy

Manager of Opposition Business in the House




28 March 2024

GREG JENNETT: Liberal frontbencher Paul Fletcher is one. He joins us live now from Sydney. Paul, welcome back to the programme I might just ask a quick one. First of all, just about the arrangement of matters in the house. You're in Sydney, not in Canberra. In view of the fact that everything seemed to crunch up against Wednesday here, was it a mistake to cancel this Easter Thursday? 

PAUL FLETCHER:Greg, good to be with you. And look, no, I don't believe it was the government when they scheduled a sitting the sitting week this year. Weeks this year didn't appear to think through the fact that by scheduling a sitting day on Thursday, they were creating significant problems for the many MPs who come from, say, Western Australia, Northern Territory, North Queensland, anybody who's got, you know, in some cases a trip of several hours to get back to their electorate, there were people wanting to be back in their electorate for Easter services on Good Friday. So it was the right thing to do, I think, to not proceed with sitting on Thursday as had originally been timetabled. Of course, the government controls when bills are introduced and one of the big problems with this migration bill that caused such controversy this week is that the government we know had it drafted by last Friday from the date stamp on the document, but only briefed the coalition at 730 on Tuesday morning and was then insisting that it be passed through both houses over the next two days. So a lot of the chaos was very much of the government's own making. 

GREG JENNETT: All right. I'll get a couple more thoughts from you on migration, but let's just look at where we find ourselves now. As it is. The house has done its thing and the Senate has parked it for an inquiry. Do you see any circumstances in which the coalition would support a recall of both houses before Budget Day? 

PAUL FLETCHER: We've been clear that if the case is made out, we're ready to support that. But we've also been clear that there does need to be proper scrutiny, which is why we did support a Senate inquiry, which will report, I think, on the 7th of May. We were briefed on this, as I say, at 730 on the Tuesday morning. We cooperated with it going through the House, but on terms that there would be a quick Senate inquiry on, Tuesday night to start to get some of the initial details -

GREG JENNETT: Which you got. 

PAUL FLETCHER: Yeah. But it didn't reassure us. We felt there were additional material matters that needed to be examined. 

GREG JENNETT: What exactly are they Paul Fletcher? 

PAUL FLETCHER: Well, one of the things that we pressed on Tuesday night was, is the, uh, urgency in relation to this bill relates to the next High Court case on migration matters, which is ASF17. And the answer that we were given by the officials was, no, it is not linked to that. And that then caused us to ask the question, well, uh, why is this so urgent that it needs to be passed through the Parliament in two days? 

GREG JENNETT: Right. And Clare O'Neil. Sorry to interrupt you there. Clare O'Neil has since suggested, in that somewhat brief media conference held in the Senate courtyard here yesterday, that there may well be some linkage if that's the case, uh, would you be, you know, up for a quick passage so that this is not left in any doubt? The 17th of April, I think, is when the High Court will hear that case. Not necessarily rule on it, but hear it. 

PAUL FLETCHER: She did suggest that in what, as you rightly say, was a very brief, uh, media conference in between her second bout of aerobic exercise that day, running away from journalists. Uh, but the point I make is we asked in detail the officials on Tuesday night, is this linked to ASF17? Is the urgency for the passage of the bill, uh, necessary to maximise the chances of the challenge by an immigration somebody who's been asked to leave the country that challenge in the High Court, is it linked to that? And will passing the bill, reduce the risk of the challenge being successful and creating further difficulties in managing the situation of people who've been found not to have a lawful right to stay in Australia? And the answer we were given was, no, it is not linked to that. Now, I take your point that there was some suggestion from Clare O'Neil on Wednesday that was different to that, but it's been very difficult to get a clear answer out of the government, and they have not made the case. As to the urgency, there are a number of factors that we need to be satisfied of. As Dan Tehan, our immigration spokesman, James Patterson, our home affairs spokesperson have made clear, as Peter Dutton has made clear, we want to be satisfied, for example, that passing this legislation would not inadvertently create further incentives for people to get on a boat and seek to get to Australia without having lawful permission to come here. 

GREG JENNETT: Just explain why that would be the case. 

PAUL FLETCHER: Well because one of the features, as both Dan Tehan and James Patterson have pointed out, one of the features of the legislation, uh, is that there will be a range of countries, the so-called removal concerned countries where the default will now be that a visa will not be issued. And so the question that we need to test, we haven't arrived at a concluded view on it, I hasten to add. But the question we need to test is, does that create a greater incentive for people to seek to come illegally? So there are serious questions to work through. The government deliberately pulled on this stunt, giving us very little time to consider it and very little time to work through the issues. Now, let's be clear. This is the fourth time, uh, that this government in the last few months has, uh, produced these bills that they say need to be dealt with urgently. We have, where necessary, cooperated with the government because we do want to do everything possible to protect our borders and to guard against illegal immigration. But the government is making it very difficult because of their rank ineptitude and incompetence. And we've seen that in spades from Minister O'Neill this week and Minister Giles. 

GREG JENNETT: All right. Well, I think we might still be talking about this when Parliament is next scheduled to return, which is on Budget day. Paul Fletcher, A couple of other things I might take you through, if I can. An odd story from the House involving Greens leader Adam Bandt pulling down a social media video which appears to have breached House rules on the use of video proceedings, is the sergeant at arms now in effect, policing misinformation in issuing this order, and would that concern you? If so? 

PAUL FLETCHER: Look, I've seen the news reports. I haven't reviewed the video myself. There are a set of rules governing the use of video taken in the chamber. Um, as I say, I've not reviewed the video I would say that Mr. Bandt in particular does have a tendency to behave as if the rules don't apply to him. If there are rules, they need to be observed equally and fairly and complied with by all. But I'll confine my comments to that because, as I say, I've seen the news reports, but I have not seen the video. 

GREG JENNETT: Yeah fair enough. If it wasn't a manipulation digitally of video proceedings, then I think the other allegation is that it wilfully misrepresented Tanya Plibersek. Look, change hats Paul Fletcher to your arts. One big ticket outdoor concert festivals seem to be cancelled now. Splendour in the grass is the latest. Groovin, The Moo, vintage vibes, there are more on the list. What's going on with these promotions? Is this simply an oversaturated market which is now self-correcting, or is something else at work? 

PAUL FLETCHER: Well, look, I was sorry to see the news about splendour in the grass not proceeding this year. Music festivals are an important part of our national cultural life. Certainly, uh, the previous coalition government, when I was arts minister, provided very significant support under our RISE fund, our $200 million rise fund for splendour, in fact, splendour in, I think 2021 got over $1 million to produce a sort of Covid, uh, suitable version of that festival. We provided two, $2 million. I think it was um, for Byron Bay Bluesfest so that could, uh, carry on in 2022 after there'd been, I think, two cancellations due to Covid. But I think one of the realities is Australians are facing a cost-of-living crisis. The cost of tickets to these kinds of festivals is high. Now, understandably, you get 2 or 3 days of entertainment, so you get you're getting a lot for your money. But these tickets do cost a lot of money -

GREG JENNETT: People found a lot of money for Taylor Swift. 

PAUL FLETCHER: Yeah, well, indeed. But I think this is yet another piece of evidence that, uh, people are finding cost of living pressures significant. And I think that is something that we need to see more focus from this government on. Cost of living affects how all of the ways that we all spend our money, including on, uh, entertainment and cultural pursuits, and those are important ways for people to be spending some of their time. 

GREG JENNETT: You're not making an argument. Just to be clear here, though, Paul, you're not making an argument for government assistance for these private enterprises, are you? 

PAUL FLETCHER: I'm not arguing for that as a general proposition. In the exceptional circumstances of COVID, the Rise programme under the previous coalition government did support some of these kinds of festivals, but that was due to exceptional circumstances. I'm not arguing that that's the case appropriately, although I do note that there was an additional $20 million of RISE that sadly, the current Arts minister, Mr. Burke, chose to cancel rather than spend. He's more keen on funding more bureaucrats in Canberra, which he's very keen on in the arts area than he is on getting the money out to frontline programmes But that's an aside. 

GREG JENNETT: All right. That is an aside, Paul Fletcher. We might wrap it up there wishing you a happy Easter and we'll see you back in Canberra on Budget day, if not before on this programme 

PAUL FLETCHER: And Happy Easter to you and your viewers, Greg. 

GREG JENNETT: Thank you.