SKY NEWS AM AGENDA
WEDNESDAY, 24 JUNE 2020
SUBJECTS: Moody’s credit rating; Dyson Heydon; Australia Day honours.
ANNELISE NIELSEN, HOST: Welcome back. Joining us live now is Shadow Assistant Treasurer Stephen Jones. Stephen Jones, thank you for your time.
STEPHEN JONES, SHADOW ASSISTANT TREASURER: Good to be with you.
NIELSEN: We've had Australia's Moody's Triple-A credit rating reaffirmed. Surely this is an indication that the economy has been managed pretty well.
JONES: I think Australia is doing reasonably well on both a health and from an economic perspective, but what we do know is we are nowhere out of the troubles yet. We know that in a few weeks time a whole bunch of really big decisions have to be made about the future of the economic support going to households, going to businesses. On the current timeline, they all end at the end of September and that's placing a lot of uncertainty over the heads of households, business decisions that need to be made. It's why, amongst the many things that we’re calling on the Government to do, we're saying more certainty around the future of economic support, particularly around their future of JobKeeper and JobSeeker arrangements. It's just simply untenable, for example, that when you've got more than 1.4 million Australians who either are or will be relying on unemployment benefits, that we're going to knock them back to forty dollars a day. They were below poverty levels before the crisis, nothing's changed, in fact the only thing that has changed is going to be more people on them. So certainly on that, certainly on the future JobKeeper is absolutely essential.
NIELSEN: What do you make of using Moody's AAA credit rating as a marker for economic health? Do you think it's still relevant?
JONES: I think the credit ratings, it's always useful to have external assessments on how we are performing as an economy and what the Australian budget management circumstances are. However, the principal purpose for Moody's as a credit rating is for us to be able to get an assessment about what Australians are going to be, and particularly the Australian government, is going to be able to borrow at. I think there's diminished relevance for that now that the High Court, sorry, The Reserve Bank has intervened in such a spectacular way and set some certainty around the future borrowing weights for Australians and Australian governments in particular. So it's useful as an external benchmark, but it's not determining the rate that which Australian governments at all levels are able to borrow on the bond market. So perhaps diminished from what it used to be.
NIELSEN: That is an understandable slip of the tongue there discussing the High Court, because we have all been looking at the High Court quite recently in particular Dyson Heydon and those allegations of inappropriate conduct with at least six female associates. He was given an honour in those Australia Day honours. Do you think that that does show that we do need to be reviewing the system for handing out those honours?
JONES: 100 percent. Let me start by saying the way that the High Court Chief Justice Susan Kiefel has handled this terrible matter has been exemplary. Independent investigation, thorough transparency and adoption of the recommendation of the independent review. I think a lot of lawyers, a lot of women lawyers, a lot of justices took a lot of comfort from the way that that has has been handled, but we just can't escape the fact that this has been a very, very dark week for the justice system in Australia. To have one of the most senior judges in the land, seemingly knowingly having had a long track record of inappropriate behaviour, begs lots of questions, not only about the operation of the justice system, but also how was it that he was able to be awarded one of the highest civil honours in the country. I mean, it leads me to question whether we need an overhaul of the way we are awarding these honours. I, for instance, have been asked to be referees for people who made applications. I've been asked to give confidential and independent assessments of people who've had their names put forward for Australia Day and Queen's Birthday honours and I don't think the process is rigorous enough. I think we need a devil's advocate process put in place in, a much more rigorous Devil's Advocate process put in place. If these allegations, these suggestions surrounding former High Court Judge Dyson Heydon were so well-known and we're so well known for such a long period of time it beggars belief that they could not have been brought before the attention of the people who are putting together those lists, making the assessment for those high civil honours. I would find it extraordinary, given all of that background, whether he's name would have been accepted for the highest civilian honour.
NIELSEN: When it comes to judicial appointments though, there is very good reason why it's hard to fire judges. Essentially they do need to be impartial and beyond reproach so they can do their job properly. But do you think there needs to be stronger systems within the judicial system, so when there's consistent allegations like this and reports of behaviour like this that a judge can be fired?
JONES: Look, I think the existing arrangements surrounding the relationship between Parliament and the relationship between the High Court and the justice system have got the right checks and balances in place. I think more rigour needs to be put in place around the selection of judges in the first place. I think a more bipartisan approach to this needs to be adopted, but I don't subscribe to the view that we should be making it easier for parliament's to sack judges. I think that sets you on a very unfortunate path indeed. I've got to say, I think the balance of the High Court is about right now in terms of gender balance. I think we've come a long way in the last decade in getting the gender balance in our highest court right. But all the comments in the observations around devil's advocate process that I've made around the awarding of Australia Day in Queen's Birthday Honours, it seems to be a bit of a pattern has emerged of late where we, either through the politicisation of the process or the absence of due diligence, we've had some pretty questionable awarding of honours. Again, I just repeat if these allegations, if this series of behaviour was so well known within the legal fraternity over such a long period of time, it beggars belief that they could not have been brought before brought to the attention of the committee's overseeing the Australia Day Awards and Queen’s Birthday Awards and if it were bought before the attention of those people, it would be extraordinary had those on has been handed out.
NIELSEN: Just on that though, I mean if you put aside Dyson Hayden’s, allegedly, quite egregious behaviour with so many of his staff, so many staff members of the High Court I should say, associates don't belong to their judges, but if you start looking at each honours award in that prism, if you look for things wrong with people, most people will have something that other people don't like about them. Especially if you're looking at it through a political prism, the left will find things they don't like about the right. The right we'll find things they don't like about the left. Who you going to be left with if you start having some independent advocate just look for everything wrong with someone?
JONES: I agree. This should not be a politicised process. I don't think behaviour as egregious as serial sexual harassment is a left-right issue. I think it's a decency versus indecency issue…
NIELSEN: Sorry to cut you off, Stephen Jones. We have to go live now to Melbourne, the states' health authorities are providing a COVID-19 update. Let's take a look.