Sky News Lunchtime Agenda with Laura Jayes

19 May 2015

LAURA JAYES:Stephen Jones, first to you on this iron ore inquiry. Labor was open to the idea yesterday, Bill Shorten said he would like to see any terms of reference. Will Labor pursue this if the Government doesn't?

STEPHEN JONES, SHADOW ASSISTANT MINISTER FOR HEALTH:Well, the Government has got to sort out what its position is on it. At the moment they seem to be torn asunder on this.

You've got conservatives like Cory Bernardi, who want to have an inquiry into halal certification but doesn't want to touch iron ore. On the other hand you've got Matt and others who are out there saying we need to be looking into this. Frankly, it is a bit much to ask the opposition to land on a position while the Government hasn't got one. I think there are more important things that we could be inquiring into. If you want to look at iron ore and the Government's over-reliance on iron ore and the minerals industry the Government has no strategy to transition out of the mining boom. Now that is something that we should be talking about, that we should be inquiring into. I'd like to hear what the Government has got to say about that.

JAYES: Matt Canavan, what is the Government's position on this iron ore inquiry? Now it seems a bit confused today, has the Prime Minister capitulated to some of the big miners like BHP?

SENATOR MATT CANAVAN: No not at all Laura. I think it is, I think it is something that we need to look into as to whether we should have an inquiry. We need to have an inquiry before we decide whether to have an inquiry I think. I listened closely to Stephen there and I don't think that he has a position either. Look these claims have been made the last few months, I am not convinced that we need a parliamentary inquiry at this stage. But I am always open-minded, I am always open-minded and I had a chat to Senator Xenophon last week. What I suggested to the economics committee and to other Senators was - why don't we get BHP, Rio and Fortescue in to talk to the Senate economics committee, which I am a member of, and we can ask them what their views are on this and then make an informed decision. I think that we have got to be careful about continually running around and willy-nilly setting up inquiries. We should think about it before we act, we have already got twelve inquiries in the Senate economics committee at the moment. We have got to be careful about putting up more. My proposal got widespread support and Senator Xenophon did not move his motion last week. So I suppose we will have to wait and see when we come back what his position is.

JAYES: Okay and this needs to go through cabinet and no doubt will be debated so no final decision but Matt Canavan there quite open to it. If I can go to some of the Budget measures as well. To your portfolio area first, Stephen Jones, as Shadow Assistant Minister for Health, I know that you have been looking closely at the PBS. Do you welcome yesterday's announcement and are we going to see cheaper medicines?

JONES: Look Australians want and deserve cheaper medicines, I welcome the fact that the uncertainty around the conclusion of the pharmacy agreement has been done. But the one thing that the Government has direct control over that it could withdraw from the Parliament today is the proposal that it has before the Senate. That is to introduce additional co-payments for our medicines through the PBS co-payments arrangements and to freeze the safety net on the PBS. The net effect of these two measures is going to increase the price of medicines for everyone in Australia by more than $5 prescription. This is something that the Government could move on immediately. It wasn't withdrawn from the last Budget, we oppose it and I'd like to hear what Matt has got to say about it. Because if he is concerned about the cost of living impact on families and in particular pensioners this is something that they could work on in the Senate.

JAYES: Matt just quickly, your response?

CANAVAN: Well, Laura I am concerned about the cost of living, I am also concerned about the cost of government of these various programs. I think we need to be mature about this and unfortunately the Labor Party at the moment doesn't want to have a mature debate about government spending. What we have said is that we want to see efficiencies in these programs and if we can achieve that in other ways in consultation with the sector well we will do that. Now if we can't, we have to think of another way to raise the money. There is no way of spending or providing these very subsidised medicines and other medical services other than taxing people or through co-payments. The Labor party introduced a co-payment -

JONES: Let me interrupt you there Matt there was a guy called Menzies and he introduced it -

JAYES: I do want to ask Matt Canavan quickly about what we have seen reported yesterday - a group of 15 MPs meeting next week, pushing the Government to amend parts of the childcare package and the impact some of these measures might have on single parents and stay-at-home Mums. Matt Canavan, I know that you have been concerned about some of the changes in this area, what specifically will you be asking for in terms of amendments?

CANAVAN: Well, Laura I'll just correct the record there slightly. This group has been formed to look at the long-standing issue associated with the way the tax system treats single income families relative to double income families. It is something that has been exacerbated in the last few years -

JAYES: So that could be looked at in the Tax White Paper but there are some more immediate measures in the Budget which you are concerned about.

CANAVAN: Well, I'll say two things. Absolutely, you are right those broader issues will be canvassed through the tax paper process. I have also said publicly myself, I'm not pretending to speak on anyone's behalf, but I am concerned about the interaction of the Family Tax Benefit B changes with the proposed childcare payments. I'll be looking very closely at those when they come forward into the Senate.

JAYES: Okay well, Stephen Jones, that does show that perhaps the Government is willing to take a pragmatic approach there and look at Family Tax Benefit B. We've seen this indication from the Prime Minister as well, so will Labor take a pragmatic approach as well when it comes to some of those issues or are you outright opposed?

JONES: We'll take a principled approach, we have already told the Government we will support them on their small business package. We agree that running a stimulus package through the small business -

JAYES: But on childcare etc. and -

JONES: We will have a look at what could be done in the area of childcare. But let me say this Laura, if Matt is saying that we shouldn't be taking money off one group of low income families and giving it to another group of families then he is right and I agree with him. I don't support, Labor doesn't support, what the Government is trying to do on Family Tax Benefit Part B. If that is what he is saying he is right and I agree with him and the other 15 in his ginger group that the Government should re-think this. It is wrong.

JAYES: Okay I quickly want to -

CANAVAN: I just want to clarify Laura, I'm not calling it a ginger group, I'm calling it a "garlic group" because it's not quite as tangy as ginger.

JAYES: [laughing] Thanks for clarifying. Just quickly on a serious issue in South East Asia at the moment, the turning back of boats from some of those key countries Malaysia included. This is out of the Abbott Government play-book here, Matt Canavan, is this really an unintended consequence from one of your key policy areas?

CANAVAN: Not at all, it's up to each individual country of course how to handle these matters in their own territorial waters. Of course we have taken a very principled and strong stance, saying that we had to stop the people smuggling trade which was increasingly not a trade of people seeking political asylum it was a trade of people seeking economic asylum. I can completely understand why they want a better life but we had to act strongly to stop it. Even the former Foreign Affairs Minister, Bob Carr, the Labor Minister, admitted that. We had to take strong action, now what other countries do is completely up to them.

JAYES: Stephen Jones, just quickly, your response to this. Should the Government be stepping in?

JONES: I don't think anyone can claim that what is happening to the Rohingya in Burma at the moment is people seeking economic refuge. Clearly there is persecution going on there. There are not many people around the world who wouldn't agree with that -

CANAVAN: I didn't say that. I did not say that!

JONES: Well, I'm glad that you have clarified this. My view is quite clearly yes every government has a sovereign right to make its own decisions around its border policies. But if everyone is pushing these boats back to sea that does not solve the root problem about how we deal with persecuted minorities in country and on borders. It gets back to what Houston was saying when he did the comprehensive review, the retired Air Force Chief Angus Houston - we need some regional solutions.

JAYES: Stephen Jones, Matt Canavan, thanks so much for joining the conversation today on Lunchtime Agenda.