Transcript—ABC Radio Melbourne Mornings
16 January 2017
Subjects: Reshuffle, entitlements, Tiger Air
Jon Faine: Darren Chester is one of the key Victorian ministers in the Turnbull Government. He is the Minister for Infrastructure and Transport. He has got his hands full with a raft of issues this morning. Mr Chester, good morning to you.
Darren Chester: Good morning, Jon, and Happy New Year and welcome back to the program.
Jon Faine: When is the Prime Minister's reshuffle to be announced?
Darren Chester: Well, my expectation is this week the Prime Minister will make an announcement, and obviously he has one position vacant at the moment, and Arthur Sinodinos has been announced as the Acting Health Minister. Obviously, it is not my job to speculate on who will be in the team and who will take on the role as Health Minister for a longer period. That is up to the Prime Minister to choose his team.
Jon Faine: Do you think it was a bit tough for Sussan Ley that she had to resign?
Darren Chester: Well, this is a tough business, Jon. Sussan got herself into a position where through either misjudgement or through public pressure, she was seen to have not shown good judgment, and the Prime Minister was in a position where he accepted her resignation. Now…
Jon Faine: Do you think it was unfair?
Darren Chester: No, it is not a question of whether I think it is fair or not, Jon. It is a tough business and this issue of accountability around our workplace expenses or entitlements as they are often called…
Jon Faine: Used to be called, not anymore.
Darren Chester: Well—and this is where it is a difficult issue for us, Jon. We need to make sure that we can provide the clarity and the transparency and the certainty the public wants, and right now there is a deficit of trust between elected representatives at state and federal level and the Australian people, and we need to work damn hard as members of Parliament at state level and federal level to restore that trust, because it is an important role we have to play on behalf of the community, and at times we get it wrong, we pay a very heavy price, and Sussan Ley has paid a very heavy price.
Jon Faine: Did you go to the Boxing Day test as a guest of Cricket Australia?
Darren Chester: No, I didn't, Jon.
Jon Faine: Did you go to the tennis?
Darren Chester: No, I haven't gone to the tennis, but I will be going to the tennis actually later on this week. I'm in Melbourne all this week doing a whole range of meetings, and I'm working in my office in Melbourne today as we speak, and I think on Wednesday after I speak at an infrastructure forum on behalf of Tennis Australia, I'll be staying around to go to the tennis that evening, and then on Thursday …
Jon Faine: As a guest?
Darren Chester:…and again on Thursday morning I'll have more meetings here in Melbourne. And I think this is a really good point you're raising, Jon. This is where…
Jon Faine: Well, is it work or pleasure is what the public want to know.
Darren Chester: Exactly, and this is the same question we could ask about when the ABC travels to Canberra en masse for the Showcase where the ABC on-air presenters meet with Members of Parliament and we have a wine together and we discuss issues. It is a huge event, and it is a mixture, I guess, of whether that is work or pleasure, but I would say…
Jon Faine: Well it is work for me. I don't know what it is for you.
Darren Chester: I know. But this is my point, Jon. I'm not trying to defend anything which is indefensible, but there is a lot of work that goes on at community, sporting, social, or cultural functions which is related to the Member of Parliament's job or the Minister's job, just as it is related to the journalist's job.
Jon Faine: Well, on that basis, every single thing, every breath you take is work-related in that sense. I mean, if Julie Bishop wants to go to the polo, fine. She can go to the polo. She can network until she is blue in the face. Just—she can pay for it herself. If you want to go to the cricket and swan around and chat to people, fine. Just buy your own ticket.
Darren Chester: Well, and that is where I think—this is where the clarity needs to come, out of this independent process that the Prime Minister has put in place. And I think the Prime Minister has acted to fix a problem which has plagued politics for as long as I can remember, and probably as long as you can remember. That we need to provide a clearer system of rules, because right now, under the current system, Members of Parliament cannot break any rules whatsoever within the current system and still lose their jobs because of a public backlash or what we like to call the ‘pub test’. Now, if we get the rules right around the workplace expenses and we provide that greater clarity and transparency, there won't be any need for a pub test because you will know for sure whether you have broken the rules or not. I think we can clean it up, and I think this conversation you and I are having is part of it, but the Prime Minister's decision I think is a good one. It is one that will be a step in the right direction.
Jon Faine: When is the last time a politician actually paid to go to one of these events? Instead of publishing all the things that you get reimbursed for, publish a list of all the things you pay out of your own pocket for. That would be just as revealing, wouldn't it? Because it seems and from the outsider's point of view, it seems that politicians never want to pay out of their own pocket for anything.
Darren Chester: Well, I think that is a bit unfair, Jon. I sponsor a whole range of community and sporting organisations in my own electorate out of my own pocket, and I don't think it is fair to say that politicians don't pay for anything. But this is…
Jon Faine: Well, if you want to come to Melbourne to inspect an investment property, or if Sussan Ley wants to fly from Albury to the Gold Coast to inspect an investment property, you pay for it. Like anybody else does. In fact, it would even be tax-deductable.
Darren Chester:I'm not arguing with that.
Jon Faine: So we are going to have a new integrity body. There is a call, though, for a new national anti-corruption body, like the ICAC in New South Wales and the IBAC here in Victoria. Are you a supporter of a national anti-corruption body?
Darren Chester: Well, I support what the Prime Minister has announced, Jon, in terms of having an independent process. Now, the clarity and transparency we have just been talking about, some of it is already in place in that there is a list there, a public list of a member's register of interests where you can check out everything I own already. You check out what debt I have got to the bank that I choose to get my loans from; you can check what hospitality I have received.
So there is a level of transparency which is there already, which is why we are having this discussion, that journalists have checked with those registers and found things they didn't agree with and decided to run stories on it, and quite rightly it has got to a point now where the Prime Minister has put in this process of having an independent umpire, if you like, attached to the Parliament of Australia to make sure that members get it right in the future. Now I'm not trying to sugar coat this, Jon, I'm not trying to walk away from the fact that we have a problem, and the greatest problem we have is the deficit of trust between the Australian people and their elected representatives, and we need to earn that trust back, and I think we can do it.
I mean, I was in Buchan on Saturday at the Mountain Cattlemen's Association of Victoria gathering, and many people came up and wanted to talk to me about projects in their community, things they want me to do on their behalf, and I'll follow them up and try and get those things for them.
Now, that sort of engagement with your local community is what Members of Parliament need to be doing on a daily basis, and I'm confident we are doing it, but when we get it wrong it is very public, it is very ugly, and it has been a rough start to the year, as you described, but I think we can do better throughout the year.
Jon Faine: And separately from the integrity on politicians' work expenses, do you think Australia would benefit from a national anti-corruption body like the IBAC and the ICAC?
Darren Chester: Well I don't, Jon. I think the process the Prime Minister has announced is the right process, and I think we need to give it a chance to work and then go from there.
Jon Faine: But an anti-corruption body would do a lot more than look into politicians; it would look into all the things that corruption involves, but at a national level. We don't have one, at all.
Darren Chester: Yeah, but you are suggesting to me something which is quite different to the discussion we are having about workplace entitlements and expenses around getting that right…
Jon Faine: Oh that is right, it is much broader.
Darren Chester: You are talking about something very different in terms of—there is no suggestion in the discussion over the last couple of weeks about expenses claimed of any level of corruption, it's more about was it appropriate or did it meet the public's expectations. All those expenses were properly declared, and people became aware of them publicly because they are on a public list already. So I think transparency is the key to giving people confidence that Members of Parliament are acting appropriately, and I think that's why the Prime Minister has announced this independent process.
Jon Faine: There are still some Australians stuck in Bali since the Indonesians withdrew accreditation for Tiger Air. As the Minister responsible for—amongst other things—Transport, Darren Chester, do you know the detail of why the Indonesians have targeted Tiger Air?
Darren Chester: Well it is not a question of the Indonesians targeting Tiger Air, and I don't want to get into a he said, she said debate about a sensitive negotiation between a commercial entity and a foreign country, but as I understand it there is an administrative matter between the Indonesian Government and Tiger, and unfortunately…
Jon Faine: But what is it?
Darren Chester: Well unfortunately passengers have been caught in the middle about whether they have the rights to fly beyond March this year, and…
Jon Faine: But what's at the nub, the core of this? It is very hard to understand.
Darren Chester: Well the nub or the core is access to Indonesia under air service type agreements, and I haven't been asked—I must stress that—I haven't been asked to intervene personally, and nor would I expect to be. But our embassy is certainly working with the passengers who were affected, and unfortunately for the passengers they have been like the meat in the sandwich, they have been caught in the middle of this, and we are working with Tiger as well in terms of our diplomats in Jakarta providing assistance to passengers and representations on behalf of Tiger to help them bring people home, which is occurring as you indicated.
Jon Faine: But if indeed the Indonesians say, and as best as I understand it, it is to do with the training of the pilots for the actual types of planes they've been asked to fly. If the Indonesians aren't satisfied and say it is deficient, well is it also deficient in Australia? Why are those issues not being investigated for the safety in Australia of Tiger Air, not just the safety of Tiger Air in Indonesia?
Darren Chester: Well the safety of Australian airlines across the borders are responsibility, quite rightly, of CASA and myself as Minister, and we have an outstanding safety record. We take the training of our pilots, the safety of our aircraft as the number one priority, and continue to do so. So I don't want to get into a discussion about what Indonesia expects of Tiger Air and what Australia expects, but I can assure you and assure the Australian travelling public that CASA and the Government takes air safety as an absolute priority, and we have an outstanding safety record as a result.
Jon Faine: We have been talking for ten minutes the Prime Minister didn't try to ring you to offer you a new portfolio during the last minutes?
Darren Chester: No, Jon, I'm very happy in the responsibility I have, infrastructure and transport. I have got a huge year ahead of me here in Victoria, as you and I have talked about many times. There are a lot of infrastructure requirements in Victoria…
Jon Faine: Yes, there sure is.
Darren Chester:…and I'm working with my state colleagues to try and make sure Victoria gets a very healthy share of the Commonwealth Budget into the future.
Jon Faine: Sure. Well if you do become minister of something else, I look forward to speaking to you about that. You are hot tipped to be the new Minister for Sport, so we'll keep an eye on things and see what happens over the next 48 hours.
Darren Chester: I wouldn't go betting on that, Jon. I think I'll be staying in the same job. If I'm so lucky to continue in that role, I'll be very, very, very appreciative.
Jon Faine: I'm grateful to you for your time this morning, and happy New Year and all the best for 2017. Darren Chester, Minister for Infrastructure and Transport and one of the Victorian Ministers in the Turnbull Federal Coalition Government.