ABC News Interview: News 24 Afternoon Live: Tax Cuts, Religious Freedoms, Electoral Allowances, Christopher Pyne



SUBJECTS: Tax Cuts, Religious Freedoms, Electoral Allowances, Christopher Pyne

PATRICIA KARVELAS, HOST: The Government to determine whether her (Jacqui Lambie) demands are reasonable or not, my panel may have some views too though.  Liberal MP Tony Pasin and Labor’s Peter Khalil join me now, welcome to the program. 


TONY PASIN MP: Afternoon Patricia

KARVELAS: So Tony should the Government waive Tasmania’s Social Housing debt in order to get Jacqui Lambie’s vote here?

PASIN: Well Patricia you might not be surprised to hear me say that I think I might leave the delicate cross bench Senate negotiations between Senator Cormann, the leadership team and Jacqui Lambie.  I mean my focus is to ensure these tax cuts are delivered to the Australians who turned out on the 18th of May and voted for them, and rather than focus on the cross bench I think the focus should be on our friends in the Labor party, who took an alternative plan to the election – were defeated, and should in my view accept the verdict of the Australian people.

KARVELAS: Sure but you’re the Government so you need to get the package through, you’re in charge of the country, so to speak – democratically at least.   So you need to do what you can to get it through don’t you, does that mean you should be prepared to do a deal with Jacqui Lambie?

PASIN: We’re consistent in this view, we don’t, we don’t vocalise those negotiations, and they take place behind closed doors.  But I mean effectively you’re saying that we should ignore the verdict of the Australian people and the Labor party should ignore…

KARVELASNo, I don’t think I’ve said that at all, I said you should do what you can to get the tax cuts through.

PASIN: And I think we should and those negotiations will continue, you know but ultimately it would be nice to think that the Australian Labor party have taken from the election the verdict of the Australian people and allowed, this plan to be implemented.

KARVELAS: Peter Khalil you started ah a bit of a discussion publically and in the Labor Party when you said you should basically wave it through if you can’t get your amendments through.  Now it looks like you’re not going to get your amendments through.  If they fail in the Senate tomorrow should Labor put their hand up and vote yes to the whole tax package?

KHALIL: Well Patricia to be exact what I said, very publically and expressed my opinion – Tony should probably express his opinion as well – we’re not all robots, it’s about a debate, it’s about talking about issues and discussing them through the media and with our constituents as well.  I said very specifically that the third stage, the third tranch should be split out of the package.  It’s $95M that is not explained by the Government, how they are going to pay for it.  It’s out in the never-never, and then I said of course we support the first tranch and if the Government gives us no choice we should not be blocking tax cuts to lower and middle income working Australians.  That’s what I said, and it did, it did start a discussion and I, Albo has been great about this because it’s part of our party we should be talking about these issues expressing our view points in our caucus and once our caucus makes a decision, our Shadow Cabinet makes  a decision we come to that collective position and we prosecute it, and, I would say to Tony; Why don’t you be brave and actually now say that you should bring forward the tax cuts for the second tranch so that more working Australians can actually have money in their pockets so we can stimulate the economy, instead he hides behind the, ‘oh I don’t talk about negotiations and it’s not for me to discuss’.  Well we’re all big people here, we’re all adults we should be actually expressing our views and show a bit a bravery Tony and tell your senate colleagues to support the second tranch which is about putting more money in working class Australians pockets so that we can stimulate an economy, which by the way is floundering when you’ve got two cuts by the Reserve Bank, it’s pretty clear cut that you need that stimulus.    

KARVELAS: So Tony I will ask you that, do you think perhaps the Government should look at this option of bringing some of the second tranch forward given the economy is clearly needing some stimulus?

PASIN: Well Patricia I’ve been called a lot of things, robotic and lacking in courage, not often (Khalil interjects) but the reality here is I don’t want to and I don’t think I leadership team does, nor does any member of the Liberal and National coalition want to break faith with the Australian people, we clearly set out what our plan was, what our first order of business would be if the Morrison Government was elected, and you know when I’m in the electorate so often people say to me, ‘Why are Governments so short term?  Why are you just looking you know in very short you know election cycles?”  Here we presented a bold, reformative tax plan which ends the theft of bracket creep over the long term, we’re presenting that, we presented that to the Australian people, it’s long term, it’s the kind of decision making over that long term that the people of Australia want and we should prosecute it and we should deliver it for the Australian people who ultimately voted for it a short while ago.

(Khalil interjects)

KARVELAS: Peter Khalil you kind of tried to correct me about your position but I reckon you pretty much repeated what I said which is, that you said it should be split and if you can’t split it and you fail then Labor should wave it through, so is that still your position?

KHALIL: We’ll we don’t have the numbers in the House, we tried putting up amendments last night throughout the debate.  This so called ‘party of lower taxes’, actually voted against tax cuts for millions of Australians – NOW.  We were going to bring it forward, we wanted to bring it forward to 1920 and they actually voted against tax cuts and they call themselves a party of lower taxes.

KARVELAS: So, clearly you’re going to fail again in the senate      

KHALIL: We’re in theWell we’re doing our best in opposition, we’re putting up amendments Patricia, we’re having the debate, we’ve put that message…

KARVELAS: And if you fail, answer my question, you talk about robots, answer my question; if you fail do you think Labor should vote this through

KHALIL: I think there’s a chance in the Senate that our amendments could come up we’ve been talking to the cross benchers.  They see, I hope, the logic and the importance of stimulating the economy now by bring forward the second tranch and supporting working and middle class Australians with tax cuts and not in the never-never and I hope that the Senators will actually see that logic and vote for our amendments.  We’re going to have that fight in the Senate on Thursday and I would encourage 

KARVELAS: But if your hope does not come to fruition are you prepared to vote in through, do you think you should?

KHALIL: Well our Shadow Cabinet will make that decision, they’ll make that decision.

KARVELAS: Sure, but what’s your view because you talk about not being a robot, I wanna hear your view

KHALIL: I have said publicly that I don’t think even though these guys are playing politics with this and trying to hold millions of people to ransom in their tax cuts, and in spite of this we should not be blocking tax cuts to those working class Australians, which we put those tax cuts, that first tranch to those millions of Australians to the election as well, we shouldn’t be blocking those tax cuts because these guys are playing politics with this.  It’s about the national interest and that was my view that I expressed very openly

KARVELAS: And you still believe that you think it would be wrong to stand on the side of the chamber saying no to the whole tax package, if all of your attempts to…

KHALIL: Well you would need Patricia, if the amendments, if the amendments failed?  Yeh well again it’s not my decision because I’m one not in the Senate and two the Shadow cabinet will make that call. I’ve expressed the view that we shouldn’t, I mean the people in my Electorate the median personal income is around $40,000, household income, so that’s two incomes or more is around $78,000.  The vast majority of people in my electorate would be benefitting from that first tranch and potentially the second tranch, if the government were to support bringing forward the second tranch, so I’m thinking about the people that I represent, that’s very very important, and I want them to split off the third tranch

KARVELAS: Sure and if it fails, which is like – it’s a circular argument, but if it fails you should wave it through?

KHALIL: Again I’m not in the Senate if the Senate, if we could actually convince Senators to support our amendments, fantastic and I hope that will be the case

KARVELAS: And if you can’t, but if you can’t?

KHALIL: Well I’ve said to you Patricia, and this is another problem with the media Patricia (Patricia interjects) and with all due respect.  No no no no, I’ve got to tell you this, because now you’ve got MPs who want to express a view have a proper debate, and it’s always about division and conflict and difference and all that.  Albo has been great about this, It’s important for us express our viewpoints and when we come to a decision in our Caucus, in our Shadow cabinet – we work come into solidarity around that position and that’s why I’m saying to you, I’ve expressed my views, I’m telling you what I think is important and I’ve said that very publicly – I’ve had no fear in doing that.  And our Shadow cabinet and our Caucus have decided that we want to put up these amendments that we did so in the House yesterday, we failed we’re going to try again in the Senate and hopefully we’ll have better luck with the cross benchers in the Senate, and we’ll try to convince – if they had any courage on their side, in the Government they would also think about Australians that need those tax cuts now, not five years down the track.  But if we fail that is a decision for our Shadow cabinet that’s what we concluded in our Caucus and I respect that and I work within a team and that’s why I’m actually prosecuting that case.  I want them to support our amendments and that’s really important because we’re talking about stimulating the economy now, NOW not in five years time.

KARVELAS: All right, let’s talk about another thing, which is religious freedoms.  Tony, the Attorney General will hold workshops for backbenchers for consultation and feedback on a Religious Discrimination bill.  What would you like to see, would you like to see for instance someone like Israel Folau being covered by such legislation so that you know an employee can express their view without potentially being sacked even if it’s within their contract?

PASIN: Patricia I’ve made it plain that I support the broadest possible freedoms particularly in and around Religious freedom, the Israel Folau case really does trouble me on a number of fronts, and I’m certainly someone who is concerned about employers being able to push into the private lives and indeed the private beliefs of individuals, but I’m sure you appreciate and I’m sure Peter does as well, how complicated, how intricate and how delicate these discussions are and I’m really grateful to the Prime Minister, for the Attorney General and the leadership team, who are encouraging those of us who don’t operate within the executive to be involved in those discussions.  I think in a sense because we want to make sure that the quality of the outcome is as good as it can be and there are some amazing minds that sit in the Party room with me, colleagues whose intellectual capacity, you know dwarfs mine, and I think this is a really important process and I’m really hopeful Patricia that at the end of this process that we will come to hopefully a bi-partisan position that brings Australians together on this question.  I think what I don’t want to see is an exercise in division and I’m confident that’s what the Prime Minister wants to see, he wants to see an exercise and an outcome that brings Australians together ultimately.  Freedom of religion being a subset of freedom of speech is a fundamentally an important tenement of our democracy

KARVELAS: Peter your colleague, Stephen Jones told me this is what, ‘Multi culturalism looks like or a modern Multi-cultural Australia’, do you agree with that?

KHALIL: Look I think there are, I don’t think you can correlate multi-culturalism with freedom of religion.  There are lot of people from ethnic backgrounds that have very different views, individual views around faith or they’re Atheists or whatever.  Multi-culturalism isn’t tied to freedom of religion.  My view is that, and this is a basic principle, I believe in freedom of religion and freedom from religion.  We’re a secular democracy.  I come from, my background is Coptic Orthodox/Egyptian Orthodox and they are a minority who have been persecuted over a thousand years.  And that, my understanding of the importance of a secular democracy is because we don’t want religions imposing onto the minority or have a majority impose on a minority.  And I supported equality, marriage equality because I said very clearly that equality before the law should apply in a secular democracy regardless of one’s sexual orientation, gender, faith, ethnicity whatever it might be we should all be equal before the law.  So where people have religious views that differ we respect that, they can have those views.  But we are, in a secular democracy, and that is what I fight for and defend as member of parliament, the separation of Religion and State, that’s a fundamental principle of a liberal democracy.  These are basic principles, I would say and I don’t think when you say multi-culturalism, I think we’re all from ethnic backgrounds, all three of us here, including you Patricia w3ould, might have different views on these issues, so you can’t just say being multi-cultural or having ethnic diversity means that you have a particular view on freedom of religion, we could express very different views and I don’t like just saying, tagging that to the ethnic part of our population.  It is a very diverse population and millions of Australians have come to migrate to this country and call it home from all over the world and some of them are religious, some of them are secular, some of them are atheists and we should respect that.

KARVELAS: Just briefly, and I’ll start with you Tony. Independent MP Andrew Wilkie and former Senator, Derryn Hinch claim some MPs are misusing their Electoral Allowances, do you share this concern, have you seen instances of rorting in the system, is it something that should be looked in at?

PASIN: Well I can only speak for myself and whilst I and other Members and Senators receive an Electoral Allowance to support our work in the electorate. I can assure that I expend it, and some.  I mean these are not private discussions I have with individuals about how they manage and operate their office, but I think we’ve gotta make a point here, that these-this allowance, just like MPs and Senators remuneration is set by an independent tribunal, who determines what is appropriate.  I mean in my case I’m very grateful for this allowance coz it means I can fund exercises outside my office like attending 26 or so Shows or Farm Fairs a year, I’m a member of about 30 Mens Sheds in my electorate, I contribute to philanthropic endeavours in my electorate, young sporting people who need to travel at great expense.  I mean all I can say is that the allowance is given to me is expended, I account to the Australian Taxation Office every time I enter my tax return in relation to that income, in terms of the Electoral Allowance, against the expenditure in terms of these things I’ve just mentioned, and I’m often, as I’m sure Peter is, out of pocket for the exercise.  I’m not someone sitting here and saying that you know MPs aren’t well remunerated, we’re incredibly well remunerated – it’s a privilege to have this role, but I would be surprised if Members are effectively avoiding Electoral expenditure so as to take that income home, particularly when it is going to be taxed at the absolute highest taxation rate.  So, I don’t there’s a lot in this but I can understand why some people might want to be attracting attention to themselves on this topic

KARVELAS: Peter what do you make of these claims, does the system need an overhaul?

KHALIL: Well, I think in a similar vein to what Tony way saying, from my two and a half years in Parliament, I think most MPs do the right thing, they you know they they expend in their Electorate.  I know that, you know all of the things that we spend on in our electorate, whether it’s the local Good Friday Appeal, or whether it’s Moreland you know Toy Library, or whether it’s you know a local charity or the RSLs, and being very careful by the way about the Taxpayer dollar.  You know even on travel allowance stuff, if I think there’s a meeting that’s not really a electorate meeting or a parliamentary style meeting, I’ll catch a train or whatever to the city you know so as not to spend Taxpayer dollars, it’s about respecting that, I think that’s important, and I think most MPs and Senators do the right thing.  So I’m not, I’m not sure of the story you’re you’re referring to, but the the onus is on us to do the best we can and make sure that we expend the allowances in the right way.

KARVELAS: Just quickly Tony you said this morning that Christopher Pyne’s role with EY doesn’t pass the pub-test, and that ultimately Parliamentary enquiries are toothless.  That’s quite a you know significant thing that I think you’ve said, so what should happen now then?

PASIN: No, I think Peter suggested that I was someone who perhaps didn’t have the courage of my convictions, (KHALIL INTERJECTS) that might be indicative that I’m not.

KARVELAS: Oh I think it, I think to give credit absolutely it’s indicative that you are not, because you have broken the line in your own party.  So tell me what do you think should happen?

PASIN: Well look I’ve made my comments and ultimately you know Mr Pyne has made his, I don’t think repeating them is gonna assist anyone, ah I’ve made it…

KARVELAS: No but for our viewers, with respect, they haven’t heard your comments, so I think they’d like to hear why you think this needs to be pursued in some sort of way

PASIN: Well I’ve, I didn’t, I didn’t suggest it needed to be pursued I simply suggested that in my opinion it didn’t pass the pub-test, but that is not something that, you know needs to be ventilated further.

KARVELAS: OK, so is it a morality test that everyone should have, you know, I don’t know how do you instill a morality test in people, how to deal with it then, if it shouldn’t be pursued?

PASIN: These aren’t questions for me to determine Patricia I’ve made my observation I think I’ll leave it at that.

KARVELAS: Well then that just gives a free kick opportunity to Peter, Peter?

KHALIL: Well look, the ‘pub-test’, I think Tony’s comments earlier about whether it passes the pub-test or not – it doesn’t! Most people would think, ‘Well hold on you’ve got on this information that you had when you were a minister, are you using that to get a pecuniary benefit in the new role’.  I think that’s why there, there’s a code of conduct around the time and space between leaving parliament or leaving a ministerial position before you can actually take a role as a lobbyist, or someone advising a firm in that, in that space that you had portfolio responsibilities over.  So, absolutely this should be looked at, and I, look I can’t comment on Tony’s non-comment on this one, but he did say it earlier and I think he’s right.  It doesn’t pass the Pub Test!

KARVELAS: All right, let’s just leave it there.  Hey thank you so much to both of you and isn’t the media a wonderful thing!  Thanks so much

KHALIL: Oh, you’re wonderful thank you

PASIN: Thanks Patricia  

KARVELAS: Liberal MP Tony Pasin and Labor MP, Peter Khalil joining me there to talk about politics and I can exclusively reveal that neither of them are robots.