ABC Afternoon Briefing – IBAC, Barilaro, COVID, RBA Review




Subjects: IBAC, Barilaro Trade Commissioner, COVID, RBA Review

GREG JENNETT, HOST: Alright, time now for our political panel and joining us, Labor MP Peter Khalil and Liberal MP Russell Broadbent, joining us from Melbourne. Welcome back gentlemen. Great to see both of you, Peter, why don’t we start with you. This IBAC and Ombudsman finding into branch stacking and associated activities is red hot there in Victoria. Do you apologise for the culture of the party of which you are a member? 

PETER KHALIL, MEMBER FOR WILLS: G’day Greg and Russ. Look, the thing I’d say about this IBAC investigation and also all of the reforms that have been put in place over the last couple of years – and it’s an important point – the Prime Minister, as leader of the Labor Party, federal leader of the Labor Party at the time, acted straight away. He intervened immediately, he took very strong action, effectively taking over the Victorian branch of the Labor Party, appointing Steve Bracks and Jenny Macklin, former Victorian Premier and former deputy leader of the federal party, as administrators of the Victorian branch. Two people really, beyond reproach as far as their integrity. And they conducted a long investigation and made recommendations for reform of the Victorian branch and an audit of all the party membership. And what they did was that audit itself actually weeded out people that could be considered non-genuine members of the Labor Party and that has been done. I’d note also that Victorian Premier has noted today that all the 21 recommendations of the IBAC report will be accepted and implemented as well. And just lastly, can I say this Greg with respect to your question, the 13,000 remaining Labor members, in Victoria and this is after the audit and the removal of members, who were considered not really genuine members. These people are genuine committed party members. They’ve done nothing wrong, they’ve contributed to their state, to their country, to the party, through their work. Whether it’s policy work, whether it’s policy committees, whether it’s campaigning, whether it’s community work and they’re wonderful people and the people that have now been removed and I think it’s important to note that the 13,000 Labor members that exist in Victoria are the ones who remain and who are genuine and committed to the party. 

JENNETT: Sure, yeah, and I guess we see that in so many walks of life you know, one bad apple in the barrel, etc. But Russell, why don’t I bring it over to you. The job of work that lies ahead, according to Premier Andrews is to reform integrity laws and parliamentary processes as well around Spring Street. Will the Liberals be on board for that or do you see this as uniquely somehow a Labor problem to be dealt with? 

RUSSELL BROADBENT, FEDERAL MEMBER FOR MONASH: Well, I can’t speak to the state Liberals, Greg and afternoon Peter. Look Branch stacking has been around for years. As John Howard said, at one stage, what did he say? He said one man’s branch stacking is another man’s career opportunity. But the other allegations are very worrying and I’ve heard the Premier’s response today and Peter’s response to that and I think we can all learn a lesson from that because it’s a matter of trust. A matter of trust for the Australian people to know that their politicians are working for them and not for themselves. 

JENNETT: No, it certainly is and it cannot, Peter, you know engender trust when you see some of the descriptions today: “egregious, unethical”, all of this in the official findings. Does it beggar belief Peter that somehow this really serious conduct falls into a gap. It does not, apparently meet the threshold for criminal prosecutions in your state. I know that’s going to be addressed in the 21 recommendations, but it seems unbelievable, doesn’t it?

KHALIL: That’s right, that is one of the recommendations and I think that’s an important recommendation to cover the legislative gap, if you like around the misconduct and the behaviours so that they are covered by law. And that’s a very important recommendation, whatever organisation it is, whether it’s the Labor Party or any other political party or a corporate, I think what we’re seeing now is difficult, obviously, but it’s good in the sense that we are flushing out the problem and action was taken by the leadership very decisively and very early and that was hard to do, but important that Anthony Albanese showed that leadership and I think we are moving to the next phase now where we’re implementing or the Victorian Government and Parliament will implement those recommendations to cover that kind of misconduct. And we’ve had a similar thing at the federal level with the Jenkins Review around sexual harassment and the behaviours in the federal parliament, a place which makes the laws of Australia but there weren’t actual mechanisms or laws or mechanisms, certainly in place to address those types of behaviours and we’re now addressing that at the federal level.

JENNETT: That will get swept up and Russell, you may or may not be part of the design and consultation process for what we know is coming in this Parliament and that is a Federal Integrity Commission. Do you think there are any lessons about the gaps Peter’s talking about there, gaps highlighted in Victoria. Do you see any lessons for the design of this Federal Commission Russell, you know where it picks up on the conduct of branch stackers and their staff who are publicly funded in many cases?

BROADBENT: Well, I’m listening carefully to what you say, but as the Ombudsman said, the rules and regulations around the party and the breaking of those rules, Greg, they’re not really affected by IBAC, that’s a matter for each party to deal with. Any breaking of rules within the party and I hope they would. I mean, all of us at some stages have been subject to some sort of branch stacking or trying to have us removed etc and been there myself. 

JENNETT: But it’s where there’s public money involved, isn’t it? Russell, that’s when it crosses a line, right? 

BROADBENT: Absolutely, and if that line has been crossed, I cannot understand why there haven’t been charges made. Anyway, that is being addressed. I heard what the Premier said today. He has apologized, he has said it’s outrageous and they’re trying to address it both at the party level and at a public level and I would expect the Victorian Liberals to support this wholeheartedly to make sure that the public can trust us, the public can understand how we go about our business and that we’re working on their behalf all the time. That’s what we’re elected for and that’s what we should be concentrating on, not saving ourselves through these dubious approaches to the job. 

JENNETT: Yeah, well, it’ll certainly focus the minds with an election looming in that jurisdiction. Why don’t we move on to some pandemic management questions cause they’ve really bubbled to the surface once again. Peter, what’s your assessment, being in touch with your electorate and other Australians? All this advice and encouragement is coming forward about the wearing of masks, do you rule out in your own mind Peter the applicability of mandates? Do you think that horse has bolted as far as public acceptance is concerned? 

KHALIL: Well, look again, the Prime Minister has made very clear that there is no mandate. But there are recommendations around a number of measures if you like, for us to be able to address the challenge of this particular wave that we’re experiencing this winter, the Omicron BA5 variant wave that we’re all challenged by. You know, the pandemic hasn’t ended. People know that and of course there is health advice that we should follow and in accordance with that, it helps to protect us. And the main things I say in my conversation with my constituents, ‘if you’re sick, stay home,’ you know, protect others you know by not going out or going out to work. If you’re sick, get a booster. If you’re in that category of eligibility, get that booster shot because it actually helps prevent you getting the worst symptoms and effects of COVID and hospitalisation. It protects against that and wear a mask, if you can’t socially distance properly or if you’re in indoors space where there’s a lot of people around. It just really protects others, in case you have symptoms yourself or whatever it might be, so they’re really important things and the advice being given by our leadership both at the state and federal level is around the voluntary take up of those kind of measures, so that we could all work for each other to protect each other during this difficult period and we are going through a pretty significant wave that looks like, well, I know that hospitalisation now may tick over the peak of hospitalisation that we had in January. 

JENNET: Yeah, well and the good news, if there is any, is that at least those really severe cases that would occupy ICU beds don’t appear to be matching those earlier levels. Russell, is this the settled position? This is where we’re at with a highly vaccinated community. You don’t see us going the extra yards back on mask mandates? 

BROADBENT: Well, I would hope not. I think we’re all mandated out. Our free will is one of the most important parts of our national psyche that we do have free will to make our own decisions and take personal responsibility. As Peter said, I can understand Peters position that if people are taking personal responsibility for ourselves, but, through all my business life and all our activity, we’ve always said if you’re sick, stay home. If you’re sick, stay home. But if you can come to work, go to work, because we need, we need people in the workplace. I know my community and I’m sure peers, they’ve had enough of the restrictions, it’s very difficult for them now. They’ve had enough of the destruction of the economy and it’s very important that we get on with living. I’m not saying free will for all, I’m saying that you can exercise your free will, but as long as you’re responsible about it, yeah, and illness is illness. Now this doesn’t seem to be as devastating as the previous omicron wave was, but just the same, it has to be taken seriously because if you’ve got comorbidities, it can be very dangerous to you. 

JENNETT: Yeah, we are told that, look those numbers should peak in a matter of weeks anyway and then presumably we come off that peak soon after. But let’s see on that. Just finally, what do we cover off the other sort of major news announcement of the day, Peter to you again, your Treasurer Jim Chalmers has ordered this review of the Reserve Bank. What do you think it’s going to throw up? I mean significant changes to a fairly august institution that hasn’t changed much in recent years.

KHALIL: Well, you’re right about that, the RBA is a critical economic institution. It’s served Australia well for more than six decades. This review is really a forward-looking review. It’s a review of the RBA’s framework, not necessarily its policies and it’s one that hasn’t happened really since the 90s and when it was set up in its current form. And really, the reason for this – apart from the fact that we made this commitment in opposition to review the RBA – is that Australia is clearly facing complex economic challenges and an environment that’s challenging. There’s a range of long-term economic challenges that we’re facing and we want to make sure that the RBA is delivering on all of its promise, its potential, that it’s the best possible central bank that it can be and that’s part of really, a big part of what this review is about. And I think Jim Chalmers as Treasurer has been really articulate this morning in talking about wanting us to have the world’s best and most effective central bank going into the future period. So, it’s not about revolutionising the RBA, it’s about renewing and revitalizing what is a critical institution for our future. 

JENNETT: Yeah, understood. Just quickly and finally Russell some input, from you. Do you think there’s major cases to be answered here for the Reserve Bank or just a bit of you know timely review? 

BROADBENT: Well, timely review, that’s fine, but they do have to consider the cost of living for families today. They set interest rates on top of high fuel prices, on top of soaring grocery prices, on top of just about every other expense, including an increase in the cost of gas in July, which I don’t know how we can come to the increase in the cost of gas in July for families. This is seriously impacting – just shows you how important the RBA is because it directly affects people’s lives, and that’s what’s happening now. If they go too hard and too quickly on the interest rates, we’ll not only have an inflation problem, but we’ll have an economic problem right across the nation, with people making their homes unaffordable. These are really serious issues for families.

KHALIL: Russ, you’re aware obviously in your long experience in politics that the RBA is an independent body makes its decisions independently and Jim Chalmers has addressed those cost-of-living pressures that you’ve referred to – quite correctly – this morning. And that is around the government’s responsibility not to second guess the Reserve Bank’s decisions, but the government’s responsibility on supply side pressures, whether it be issues around supply chain blockage, whether it be the skills and labour shortages which we’re taking action on in the immigration program, whether it be around work productivity and getting women back into work into the workforce with our childcare reforms. These are responsibilities of government that Jim is talking about, but we’re not going to be second guessing the Reserve Bank’s decision, nor its independence. 

JENNETT: Well, that’s ongoing. I’m sure we’ll get to pick over some of the details of that review in the months ahead when most certainly, we will have both of you back, maybe even see you around the corridors here in Canberra this week. Peter Khalil, Russell Broadbent. Great to see you again. Thanks for your time.

KHALIL: Thanks Greg. Thanks Russell cheers.