ABC Afternoon Briefing

GREG JENNETT [HOST]: Joining us with a decidedly Queensland flavor, Labor Senator and Assistant Minister, Anthony Chisholm. Welcome, Anthony. And LNP Senator, Paul Scar is with us. Welcome to you too, Paul. Why don't we start on Qantas? There's a bit of a kick in the shins from the High Court today, Anthony. It's going to cost quite a deal of money. We don't actually know how much. What other consequences should there be for the company? Should the board, for instance, be turned over as well as its executive?

ANTHONY CHISHOLM [ASSISTANT MINISTER]: Well, I certainly think they need to have a good, hard look at themselves. Their conduct was nothing short of disgraceful. I'm pleased the unions took the action that they did. It's taken a long time for justice to be served, but it has today. And I think that it shows you the importance of ensuring that you have the right legislation in place to protect workers. We're a government that are going to be on the right side of workers and our predecessors failed to stand up to Qantas at the time and I think we see the results of that today.

JENNETT: Well, this is the rule of law at work, isn't it?

PAUL SCARR [LNP SENATOR]: Absolutely, Greg, and just taking Anthony's point on there, the rule of law actually prevailed in this case.

JENNETT: Although not with absolute fairness, if you're one of the 1,700 workers. It's delayed justice.

SCARR: It's delayed justice, and that's a fair point. But Qantas failed in the first instance before a single judge of the Federal Court. They failed on their appeal to the full court of the Federal Court and now they've filed seven nil in the High Court. So, I think shareholders of Qantas have a very legitimate basis to look to the board, to look at the then Managing Director and asked on what basis did they make that decision? Because a number of us, certainly myself, when I was looking at it at the time, thought it was quite an extreme decision to make. And now, seven nil in the High Court. That's a terrible result for Qantas.

JENNETT. So, would you be open, and I don't know if you're a shareholder or not, but if you were, would you be open to a move on the board by shareholders at the AGM?

SCARR: Well, I think there'll be a lot of questions being asked to the Qantas board. I mean, ultimately, the board is responsible. What advice did they get? Who did they get that advice from? And it's more than a kick in the shins, this is a devastating blow to Qantas and I think the previous Managing Director also has questions that need to be answered.

JENNETT: What about in the context of the big four auditors? I know the government has actively withdrawn its own tendering for services from some of those in the area of travel contracts for departments and even for MPs and Senators, should that be reviewed as additional punishment?

CHISHOLM: Well, I think one of the challenges in Australia, Greg, is there's very few places that you can fly to, and I certainly know as someone who travels to regional areas. But I certainly think that the point with Qantas is, and as Queensland Senators, we know their history and their place in it. They've completely abandoned that heritage and I think the Australian people feel that. I think the decision today, Australians will be looking at that and just going, what the hell is going on at Qantas? They need to be doing so much better and let's hope they finally start actually listening, but the board takes action more importantly.

JENNETT: All right, let's move on to the Voice, because your days of asking questions and debating the Voice on the floor of the Senate are almost up. There's only one sitting day left. Have you been entirely comfortable, Paul Scarr, with the tone of debating in recent days, in particular, claims of misinformation and condemnation of various campaign techniques? It hasn't been particularly edifying, has it?

SCARR: Oh, I think there are things that haven't been particularly edifying, and from my own personal perspective, Greg, I've sought throughout the debate to maintain the right tone and to be respectful in terms of the discussion. So, for example, I was very pleased on Saturday to attend a forum in our home state of Queensland with one of the multicultural communities I'm passionate about, and I know Anthony is as well, the Chinese community, where both the yes and no cases were presented. Senator Liddel from the Senate joined me on the no case. Senator Murray Watt, another Queensland Senator, was on the yes case. It was a respectful debate and that's the way the debate should be conducted. I think all of us have a responsibility, especially those of us in the Australian Parliament, to set the right example in that regard.

JENNETT: All right, so it can be conducted civilly. Has it been? Particularly in this place and the way the techniques and quotes have been seized upon in particular, I think you know who I'm referring to.

CHISHOLM: Yeah, I think there's been a lack of goodwill, I think, towards the campaign. For me, I think about those people who've put forward this proposition and the work that went on for so many years before it got to the Parliament, and think about how dedicated they have been and the treatment that they're receiving now. I think it is unfortunate that is the case. I think that it would have been better for the country if the debate on the referendum was taken above the political arena and was actually done in a respectful way. I don't think we've seen it, but I don't think it's too late.

JENNETT: But what's going to change that though? It has been that way for months.

CHISHOLM: Unfortunately, I probably wish I wasn't saying this as a member of the Parliament, but I think Parliament not sitting will be helpful.


CHISHOLM: Because I think that every time Parliament sits, the tone of the debate goes downhill. So, I'd be hopeful once Parliament finishes over the next month, we can lift that debate, treat each other with respect, but also actually focus on what this referendum is actually about.

JENNETT: Okay, well, let's see what the next four and a bit weeks hold. Now, I'd be remiss if I didn't ask two Queensland Senators, while they're with us here in the studio, about the current situation facing the Palaszczuk Government in Queensland. So much noise around the Premier's leadership. Will she take the party to the next election as Premier?

CHISHOLM: I'm confident she will Greg, as someone who is a bit of a student of history of Queensland Labor politics, the last leadership ballot we had for a leader in Queensland was 1988. So, we've been a very stable party. We've got a good leader in Annastacia. She led us to a remarkable election victory in 2015. I'm confident she will be the leader that will take us to the election next year.

JENNETT: Is that because there is great enthusiasm for her leadership or because the rules make it really, really hard to do anything about it?

CHISHOLM: It's because she's doing a good job and has done a good job and she's earned the respect of the caucus, she's earned the respect of the party, but she's also earned the respect of the Queensland people. I think what they need to be focused on is the plans they've got for the future. I'm lucky, I observe it, I see what they want to do when it comes to renewable energy and the transition that it will make for the state, and benefit the country as well. I think they need to be focused on that, actually taking that to the people and proving that they actually have that plan for the future that they want to justify to be around for the next four years.

JENNETT: All right, well, there's a bit of a message to the caucus there in Brisbane. Paul Scarr I get the sense that the LNP is almost willing this to happen, which I suppose is a form of faint praise almost for the Premier. Is it that she is more formidable than any other alternative on the government side?

SCARR: Annastacia Palaszczuk has been a formidable political operator. I think anyone looking at it objectively would have to make that assessment. Anthony has deep history in terms of Labor Party campaigning in Queensland. I respect that. From my perspective, I'd say this isn't a question of a ballot, this will be a question as to whether or not there's enough mood for change that the pressure is put on Premier Palaszczu to resign ahead or retire ahead of the next election. I think that's how it's going to play out. I was genuinely surprised to see some of the unnamed members of the Labor caucus come out and leak to the newspapers, etc. And the potential contenders were travelling around the state, endorsing the Premier's leadership. But I think one senses a move for change. So, the next few months are going to be extremely interesting, as Queensland politics always is.

JENNETT: Well, that is true. It can be quite volatile. So, according to Paul Scarr Anthony, it's slow white anting and the erosion of confidence rather than the big hit.

CHISHOLM: I'm confident that there's really strong support for the Premier. I think that she has proven herself tough and resilient in times of trouble and I think that the state is better off with her leadership and the party is better off with her leadership as a result.

JENNETT: All right, well, look, there's plenty of scrutiny on her and her government, as you would expect, all the way through to the next election. I guess we're going to wrap it up there. Anthony Chisholm, Paul Scarr, thanks for both for joining us with a decided Queensland flavor.