SKY News, To the Point

Interview

PFI012/2016

23 March 2016

Topics: ABCC legislation, election campaign, value capture

Peter Van Onselen: We're going to bring in Paul Fletcher; thanks very much for your company.

Paul Fletcher: Good to be with you, Peter and Kristina.

Peter Van Onselen: It's a pretty silly slogan that the Prime Minister's using given that he mustn't be a fan of Veep. Is that how you pronounce it? I've never watched it.

Kristina Keneally: Veep.

Paul Fletcher: Well I think the key point is that we're building on a strong foundation with the achievements of the Abbott Government, for example in relation to border security. Also economic security is terribly important, and you've seen Malcolm with measures like the innovation package, $1.1 billion of commitment to innovation and, for example, the Defence White Paper. And in infrastructure, $50 billion of investment in infrastructure, and a focus on jobs and growth. So these are the things the Turnbull Government is focused on.

Peter Van Onselen: And the public transport, that's changed, that's definitely changed, because the former Prime Minister and his battle lines made it clear that he thinks that that was just some sort of conspiracy of the union movement.

Paul Fletcher: Look, Prime Minister Turnbull has clearly indicated that the approach of the Turnbull Government in relation to major infrastructure projects around the country is we will consider projects on their merits. So we will consider rail projects, we'll consider road projects. We've issued what we call the principles for innovative financing which set out some of the things that the Turnbull Government will look at as we look at proposals from the state for the funding—from states for the funding of major infrastructure projects. Looking at things like, for example, the potential for value capture. So if you're building a new rail line, is there the capacity to have some of the capital costs of that new rail line contributed to out of the uplift in property values that typically occur when you get a major piece of infrastructure.

The Prime Minister talked about that, for example, at the announcement of funding for the Gold Coast light rail in October last year and there's work going on with that and a number of other areas.

Peter Van Onselen: Can I just ask a quick question in the middle of this interview of my co-host?

Kristina Keneally: Well I don't know, we should ask the guest.

Peter Van Onselen: Do you think that the Coalition deserves to be re-elected? I think that they do. I think that knocking them out after one term is not appropriate; I think that they deserve a second term to either get it wrong or get it right.

Kristina Keneally: If you'd asked me that six months ago—I don't know why you're asking me this question now, I think you should stick …

Peter Van Onselen: Just curious what your thoughts are.

Kristina Keneally: We have a whole show after Paul Fletcher leaves where we can have this conversation.

Peter Van Onselen: No, but it's relevant to what I want to go to next.

Kristina Keneally: I mean well what I would say is you could ask me that six months ago, I would say absolutely not, and I would then have said let's see what Malcolm Turnbull does after six months of the Turnbull Government. If the major accomplishments of the Turnbull Government, as he enunciated them the other day —our Senate voting reform, media law reform, the effects test and the innovation statement? No, I don't think he's done enough to change the economic narrative.

Peter Van Onselen: Well off that, see I think that is enough, Paul Fletcher, and I think that the Budget will reveal more. I think COAG at the end of next week will reveal more as well—we've seen some alluding to health and education adjustments there. So I do think that there's enough there. The issue though for the Government, I think, and this is what I'm interested in your response to, is how you win will be important, won't it? The danger for Malcolm Turnbull is that if he doesn't win well, then there will inevitably be some internal issues after what the Government did.

Paul Fletcher: Look I think the issue is for the Australian people, a choice between a Turnbull Government which is focused on jobs and growth with significant business experience from the Prime Minister and many others in the Government versus a Shorten-led opposition which is the puppet of the union movement, which has bitterly resisted any attempt to clean up, for example, the construction sector and the CFMEU in the face of, for example, the Heydon Royal Commission which highlighted criminality, thuggery, corruption in the CFMEU, and so it's very important that we address that. That's why the Prime Minister has brought the Senate back on 18 April to look at the Australian Building and Construction Commission Bill, to look at the Registered Organisations Bill, which is about ensuring that unions have the same standards of governance as companies. That's important for union members. It's not about union officials, it's about union members, and it's also about getting productivity and efficiency improvements in the construction sector, the third largest sector in the face of that rampant criminality from the CFMEU. Do you know there are 100 CFMEU officials presently before the courts around Australia?

Peter Van Onselen: Despite not having an ABCC?

Paul Fletcher: And that's why we need to get it fixed up. We're getting an ABCC in there. Now the Senate has had the chance to vote for the ABCC legislation before; they've rejected it. That's why we are now going back to the Senate and saying here's another opportunity, here is your chance to pass this legislation.

Peter Van Onselen: But as you said, Paul Fletcher, do you really need it? You've got 100 people already before the courts without the ABCC.

Paul Fletcher: It is clear, if you look back at the history of what's happened, that when the ABCC, the Australian Building and Construction Commission was operating previously, you had better productivity and you had less days lost to industrial action.

Peter Van Onselen: But not according to the Productivity Commission.

Kristina Keneally: Not according to the actual Productivity Commission.

Paul Fletcher: That has been the case subsequently, and it's clear that if we get the Australian Building and Construction Commission back on the job, that we will improve efficiency and productivity in the construction sector.

Kristina Keneally: If this is so central to the economy, why didn't the Government deal with it straight after it got the Royal Commission's report? I mean, you've had this report; you haven't brought the legislation back. You had the chance to bring it back last week, set aside the shenanigans if you want of last week, you had plenty of other sitting days you could have brought this back.

Kristina Keneally: Why has it been delayed, delayed, delayed, and …

Peter Van Onselen: I'll take this one, Paul Fletcher. It hasn't been delayed. They tried to bring it back, and the Senate kicked it to a committee.

Kristina Keneally: Yes.

Peter Van Onselen: And last week was a stunt because they were clearly trying to get Senate reform through. Come on. You know this as well as I do. They could have brought it back last year but at the time the Prime Minister was focused on going full term, not thinking that this would be the issue that it's become.

Kristina Keneally: That is my point, that is my exact point. This is all about the Prime Minister saving his job. This is not about jobs in the construction industry; this is not about workers on builders' sites.

Paul Fletcher: No, it's not—this is about the Australian economy transforming in a world which is evermore globally competitive. We've got a Labor Party which stands for an industrial relations movement and a framework, and a CFMEU which is trying to look back to the ‘50s and ‘60s. What we want to do is make our economy more agile, flexible, competitive, and across all aspects of government that is the focus of the Turnbull Government so we can deliver jobs and growth for Australians. That's what Scott Morrison is focused on as he develops the Budget, and that's what all of these other measures—the innovation statement, work on the Defence White Paper, the free trade agreements—another great area where we have a very strong foundation to build on, with the free trade agreements with China, with Japan, with Korea, and we want to build on those and capture the opportunity for Australia to trade and export.

You know, this year Australia will export $60 billion worth of agricultural products. There are terrific opportunities for Australia to increase our food exports into Asia, and we need to seize those opportunities.

Kristina Keneally: And Paul Fletcher, there's a bit of continuity there, I'm not arguing about the free trade agreements, I'm not saying we shouldn't have them, I'm not saying they're a bad thing. But, how is it that we have, after six months of the Turnbull Government, arrived at a point where we are having an election campaign on the ABCC? What happened to seizing control of the economic narrative, and how does a government launch an election campaign without any answers on what's going to be in the Budget, what kind of tax reforms are you going to consider? What are you doing about child care, what are you doing about paid parental leave, what are you doing about higher education, what are you doing to fix health and education and schools and state funding?

Paul Fletcher: he answers as to what will be in the Budget will be in the Budget.

Kristina Keneally: Yeah well what happened to the tax white paper? What happened to the economic statement that was going to come out from this Government? What Government- how do you launch …

Peter Van Onselen: Federation white paper.

Kristina Keneally: …the Federation- how do you launch an election campaign with all these bread and butter issues that actually matter to families, they're unanswered by the Turnbull Government?

Paul Fletcher: We go to an election campaign with a focus on jobs and growth and a whole series of measures, every lever of government pulling to boost jobs and growth, and reforming the construction sector, which disregards the rule of law, which adds to cost, makes our construction sector less efficient and productive than it should be is an absolutely central part of the Turnbull Government's economic agenda.

Kristina Keneally: And I want to ask you a question, since you asked me one.

Peter Van Onselen: Well I was going to—go for it, but just first I was going to—I was just going to make the point Paul Fletcher can't say this, but I can tell you the other reason why we haven't got the federation white paper certainly, and possibly the tax white paper as well, is that four fifths of nothing had been done it when Malcolm Turnbull took over and they did not have enough time to get it done in the space that at which they came to power. They thought when they took over that there was more that would be on the table, but the PMO had done nothing on it.

Kristina Keneally: So when you come back to your point, do I think this Government—do I think the Coalition deserves to be re-elected?

Peter Van Onselen: Well I just don't like one-term governments. I mean, not withstanding what happened to Kevin Rudd, I thought that—and all the problems of that first term Labor Government, I thought they still deserved to be re-elected.

Kristina Keneally: Can I ask, Paul Fletcher just said that they're using ever lever available to Government to stimulate jobs and growth, do you think that's right?

Peter Van Onselen: Well I don't think they're using every lever; I would take some issue with that. But I do think that there is a genuine shift—I wrote about this on the weekend—I think that the Government is doing a lot more than its critics are suggesting. See here's what my prediction is Paul Fletcher, I think that expectations were too high after Malcolm Turnbull came in, so much so that everybody then started laying in when it looked like he wasn't going down the path of the GST and everything else. But I think you're going to surprise on the upside in the Budget. I'm expecting a Budget that's going to be better than the now low expectations about it, would you agree with that?

Paul Fletcher: What I'd agree with is that you are well placed to offer that expert commentary. What we are doing is getting on with the job measure after measure. And I do agree with the point that you make, that you've seen from the Prime Minister and from the Turnbull Government is systematically on issue after issue—Kristina you dismissed media law reform, I can tell you that is one of a whole range of areas where previous governments have failed to engage. Let's talk about another one, Western Sydney Airport. Absolutely vital to economic growth in Western Sydney, 9000 jobs by 2030 from the airport itself, and what it will do is catalyse lots of businesses coming into that area and generating more jobs.

Kristina Keneally: Yeah and Paul Fletcher I get that, and I'm not arguing you haven't done anything, but I am arguing that Turnbull hasn't turned the corner enough, he hasn't changed the dynamic enough, and without that economic narrative it's very hard to accept the judgement that you're doing everything you can for jobs and growth. But I want to ask you, you mentioned value capture before my co-host hijacked us off into this other conversation.

Peter Van Onselen: I've hardly spoken on this episode.

Kristina Keneally: Oh I think, can we get someone to time that up please? Can I ask you about value capture? Is this something we can expect to be discussed in the Budget, is there going to be some other type of paper put out there before the election? It's a pretty—and don't get me wrong, I'm all for value capture, I'm just interested in how you implement it, both policy and politically.

Paul Fletcher: And look, it's a complex question. We are working on a discussion paper which we expect to have out in coming weeks which will be seeking views. And amongst the questions are what's the respective role of the Commonwealth Government and state governments? But look the basic principle of saying when a piece of infrastructure is built it increases your value, how do you create a win-win so that land owners can see the benefits and are ready to contribute towards the cost of the capital of that infrastructure? If it's just another tax mechanism charged up front, as I said in a speech to the Property Council last week, we probably haven't advanced the cause in terms of stimulating more infrastructure. But we need more infrastructure, the productivity benefits of infrastructure are clear, but there's more that needs to be done than can be funded solely by state and federal governments.

Peter Van Onselen: Paul Fletcher I know you've got to dash, we appreciate you joining us on To the Point, thanks for your company.

Paul Fletcher: Thank you.