'I think it's an exciting time for democracy.' - ABC Hobart 936 Mornings with Leon Compton radio interview, Wednesday 2 May 2018



SUBJECTS: Sue Hickey as the new Tasmanian Speaker; Banking Royal Commission; Turnbull’s $65 billion corporate tax handout; Pill-testing at festivals; Peter Slipper; Federal Budget.

LEON COMPTON: It's time for Senators in Space. When we started this segment we thought, ‘Oh let's have no political gravity. Let's have no political spin.’ I'm not sure if it was that interesting without some of the political spin, so we'll see how we go with our Senators for this morning because there's a federal budget coming down next week. There's been some very interesting things happening on the floor of the parliament in its first hours over yesterday at a state level, and then of course there's the banking Royal Commission.

Liberal senator for Tasmania Jonathan Duniam, good morning to you.


COMPTON: I'm well, thanks for coming in this morning. Lisa Singh Labor Senator for Tasmania, good morning to you.

LISA SINGH, LABOR SENATOR FOR TASMANIA: Good morning Leon, to you and your listeners.

COMPTON: How surprised were you Jonathan, about Sue Hickey's ascension to the Speaker's Chair yesterday and what do you think it will mean for the party in Tasmania?

DUNIAM: Democracy is a beautiful thing, and we saw that in action yesterday. I don't think it really changes much frankly, in terms of the fact that the government has an agenda. They've secured from Ms Hickey the support for confidence and supply. She'll consider the Bills, she says, on their merits, but people out there sent a resounding message down to parliament here in Tasmania. And that was that they wanted a government that would get on with the plan that they took to the election. I understand that's what Will Hodgman is going to do. What Peter Gutwein and the rest of the team are going to do, and they'll work through that. Sure it's a slightly different paradigm to what they went into at the beginning of the day, but at the end of the day I don't think it really changes a great deal.

COMPTON: Do you think the voters of Denison might feel a bit strange about it?

DUNIAM: Potentially they might, but look we've got four years for the candidates that put their names up and won seats at the election to prove themselves. I'm hopeful that all five Denison members from all parties prove that they have the best interests of Tasmanians at heart and they do what is right for them, including for the parties that they stood for at the election.

COMPTON: Eric Abetz, your colleague in the Liberal Senate team has come out pretty strongly and said she can't stay in the party. Do you agree with those sentiments?

DUNIAM: I'll let Eric speak for himself. I think Sue Hickey also needs to speak for herself, and in terms of the future there. Really what she needs to be doing is making sure that she honours commitments she made at the election as a Liberal candidate I believe, and make sure that people get what they voted for – which was stable, majority government.

COMPTON: Lisa Singh, what do you think it means for the next four years in Tasmania?

SINGH: I think it's an exciting time for democracy. I think yesterday what we saw was an opportunity for our Labor leader, Bec White, to put forward who Labor thought would be the best Speaker for the Parliament, and it was a great outcome that Sue accepted that nomination and is now in the chair. Because what it does mean is that we have a Speaker who has said she will be independent in that role, therefore she won't be biased in that role to one side or to the government's side. She will address the parliament as a whole parliament on its merits in relation to how she treats herself in that role. But also what it means is that legislation will be judged on its merits, and I think that's exciting for Tasmania. I think that yes of course we have situation now where you have 12 on the government's side and 12 on the opposition side. But Sue Hickey has said, as Jonathon has just outlined, that she will ensure supply is guaranteed so the parliament can still function. We'll see what comes forward as far as what the legislative agenda will be, and I think that it's an opportunity for Tasmania to really see democracy in action.

COMPTON: You know who I'd like to speak to, and we should – in fact I think we've been trying to call him this morning – do you know that Peter Slipper lives in Tasmania now?

DUNIAM: I had no idea.

SINGH: I had heard that.

COMPTON: Peter Slipper lives in Tasmania now, and I think it would be really interesting across the course of the program to actually get him on the line and hear some of his reflections. I'm sure he's been watching the news with interest. It would be very interesting to hear how he reflects on the experience. Maybe he has some advice, having lived it himself.


Let's talk about the banking Royal Commission as it rolls on. Again the hard questions for you, Jonathon Duniam. How embarrassed are you – on behalf of your party – that you spent so long trying to stop a Royal Commission into banking given what we're now learning about its impacts on punters?

DUNIAM: Yeah, look no one makes a secret of the regret around that. What's being shown now to be the case and the history of events in some of these major financial institutions is nothing but a shame. So it was a mistake not to precede earlier. What we need to do now is focus on the remedies for this. Making sure that people can have confidence in financial institutions. Those who have broken the law need to pay the price. They need to feel the full force of the law, I believe, when we know at the end of this Royal Commission exactly what laws have been broken, then they need to face the penalties that they deserve. So really it's about making sure that people have restored confidence. What's done is done, and we're there now and we're having the Royal Commission. Let's see what it turns out. So far not very good information is flowing and people are rightly angry about that. We just have to make sure that we don't have this repeat into the future.

COMPTON: Lisa Singh, the Labor Party have been in on this in a sense as well, you also cut ASIC's budget at different times while your party was in power. You've been responsible for the four pillars banking policy that has seen the banks become so strong, and under which some of what we are learning has happened – certainly the culture that arose. Is there a sense that all politicians wish that they'd done more and done it earlier?

SINGH: Labor has been campaigning for this Royal Commission for two years or more, and it has taken two years for the Government to finally admit that they got it wrong. I acknowledge that Jonathon has just admitted that but it shouldn't have taken this long, Leon.  What we've found are these rorts and rip offs of families, of pensioners, of all kinds of people in Australia, that we wanted to expose earlier, and now that we have exposed it the Turnbull Liberal Coalition Government need to acknowledge that this is outrageous-

DUNIAM: I think we have.

SINGH: If that is the case, then you cannot, next Tuesday night, give those same four pillars – those same banks – a $17billion tax cut at the same time as they are ripping off families and pensioners across the country.

COMPTON: Jonathon Duniam, that is one of the political challenges you'll have to negotiate. Your party wants to push ahead with running through the full suite of corporate tax cuts that as the years go on accrue to bigger and bigger businesses. Will it be a difficult political position arguing that the banks – I think it was ANZ yesterday posted a $3billion profit for the quarter, up on expectations – will it be difficult to argue that they need to pay less tax? 

DUNIAM: I don't know where the cross-benchers minds are at on this. We do have a Royal Commission underway and I think it is important that the course that has now been set is seen out, and that we actually do get a full understanding of this. I'll allow cross-benchers who are engaging in this debate to make the points that they want to make on that particular issue but I don't think that the Government needs to be judge, jury and executioner.

SINGH: The decision is not about cross-benchers, it’s the Government that has to make the decision.

DUNIAM: But also we do need the cross-bench Lisa, because of course the Labor Party is refusing to even play ball on this sort of stuff.

SINGH: Jonathon, it's Government that sets the agenda so next Tuesday night-

DUNIAM: It's also the future government, the Labor Party – the people who want to be in Government – who need to play a part in the future of this country, rather than just being blockers.

SINGH: I look forward to next Tuesday night and the Government stopping these ridiculous tax cuts to banks, who do not need tax cuts while they're ripping off ordinary Australians.

DUNIAM: The Bill hasn't passed yet, Lisa. 

COMPTON: Can we just de-politicise the issue just for a moment? Bernard Keane makes the point that if this was the United States, they have a much tougher watchdog on the beat. This has happened off the back in part of the fact that ASIC is toothless here, or is perceived as toothless – they were just lied to in the case of AMP – and seen as something that can be ignored. Should we be talking about executives that operate without an ethical compass going to jail for their conduct? Is that the only penalty that will really bring senior executives into line, Jonathon? 

DUNIAM: What's concerned me – hearing some of the evidence and the responses from some in the industry – is that there are some who believe that being caught out and paying a penalty is part of the cost of doing business. Now that is extremely alarming so maybe penalties need to be looked at, I don't know. I don't know what penalties apply at the moment but I do know that we need to make sure that there is a deterrent into the future. Once this Royal Commission is done we need to make sure into the future that whatever system is in place it is as strong as possible to prevent it from happening in the future.

COMPTON: Do you think jail might be the deterrent that gets these boards’ and CEO's minds focused?

DUNIAM: If it doesn't apply already, I think all measures should be on the table.

SINGH: It's not just about penalties though, we also need to start having a conversation about compensation, compensation to those victims out of these disastrous rorts and rip-offs that the banks have bestowed on them, and I think that's a national conversation worth having at this time as well.

COMPTON: On Mornings around Tasmania, Lisa Singh and Jonathon Duniam our guests this morning. The Federal Budget comes down next week. It will be really interesting to see what happens so we won't talk until the week after that, but very interesting to see what's in it for Tasmania.  Let's talk about pill-testing. Pill-testing happened at “Groovin the Moo” in Canberra over the weekend.  Correct me; it was the first time it's happened in Australia?

SINGH: It is the first time it has happened.

COMPTON: Lisa Singh, you chaired an inquiry into pill-testing at festivals, so we're talking about-

SINGH: Sorry Leon, it wasn't an inquiry into pill-testing, it was an inquiry into crystal methamphetamine in Australia but it obviously looked at drug reform across the board. 

COMPTON: How did it inform your view on pill-testing? Do you think we should move down the path of providing a space where people can take an illegal product and have it tested, and then be told and given some assessment on whether or not it’s safe to take that illegal product?

SINGH: I think what came out of the festival on the weekend in Canberra was that the number of people that came forward and had their drugs tested, a number of them ended up abandoning them once they found out what substances were in them, and in fact there were some deadly substances in them. It really actually saved lives and it avoided people going to hospital. So if we are serious about harm minimisation, reducing harm of people taking drugs – which I know both sides of politics agree on – then we have to look at the idea of pill-testing being part of that. It has worked very well in Europe for a long time, and the Americas, and New Zealand. I think in Australia it should also be considered. Having said that, it's outside of the federal jurisdiction, it is something that falls under criminal law which is obviously a state issue. But that doesn't stop us as a federal parliament looking at the evidence, collecting data and seeing if it should be a harm minimisation measure that's part of a National Drug Strategy. One thing that came out of the inquiry that I was on Leon, is that the current approach to drug policy is not working. Something needs to change and I think this needs to be considered as part of that.

COMPTON: Jonathon?

DUNIAM: I have real concerns about pill-testing as a measure to deal with drug problems and illicit substances being taken alone. Last week I think it was, or earlier this week, Lisa's colleague Helen Polley came out on Twitter saying that drug-testing is amazing, we have to do it and then three hours later reversed her position- 

COMPTON: But notwithstanding all of that, what's your position? 

DUNIAM: My position is that a by-product of taking an illegal substance to a festival, having it tested and it coming back clear of paint or nail-polish or whatever other noxious substance might be in it, somehow legitimises the taking of that substance. We don't spend millions and millions and millions of dollars every year trying to educate young people not to take drugs and put all these funds into rehab, only to legitimise-

SINGH: We don't! You don't! You've cut the funding and the education! It's not happening!

DUNIAM: Only to legitimise the taking of drugs by somehow convincing people that because they don't contain these foreign substances that they're safe. I don't want my kids taking drugs because they think they're safe. 

COMPTON: But just to personalise this for a moment; if your kids were taking drugs, and we know that kids are taking truckloads of drugs and increasingly that's supplanting alcohol as the recreational substance of choice, whatever legal protections are in place, would you not like them to be able to get those drugs tested if they were planning to take them?

DUNIAM: That would be my worst nightmare – my kids taking drugs! I can't go through the hypotheticals-

SINGH: But which reality are you living in Jonathon? 

DUNIAM: I can't- Well, I'm looking forward to educating my kids that drugs are not good, Lisa! And that's the foundation I intend to give them.


SINGH: That's great! I think we all do that, but there may be a circumstance where your kids end up taking drugs, and you would want their lives being saved by having-

DUNIAM: I certainly hope not! I think it is dangerous to have this conversation about pill-testing in isolation of all these other measures. Because as I say, the by-product of considering that alone is that it legitimises things. There are a million other things we need to be doing, starting with education and other measures-

SINGH: That's not happening! And in fact-

DUNIAM: It is, Lisa!

SINGH: It is not. And one thing that has been made clear through evidence is that it is very difficult to find a pathway to educate young people. Actually bringing them to a health facility where their pills can be tested is that opportunity to educate them and say, 'Hold on a minute, have you identified the risks of doing this?' And a lot of young people have abandoned taking those drugs. So it is a way to actually get that information through to them. It's go to be part of a suite of measures though. It's not the be-all and end-all. But if it is about saving lives then it needs to be considered.

COMPTON: You're on Mornings around Tasmania. Listeners, I wonder how you feel about drug-testing? It is a challenging issue, particularly when you've got kids who are growing up and moving into that sphere. Let's also acknowledge that lots of older people still recreate taking drugs as well, but it's a really interesting issue.

We are going to change things up a bit on Senators in Space this morning. Can you pop on your headphones please? Lisa Singh and Jonathon Duniam are our guests this morning. Peter Slipper is a former Speaker of the House of Representatives and he is now a barrister working in Tasmania. Peter Slipper, good morning to you!

PETER SLIPPER: Good morning, Leon. Good morning, listeners.

COMPTON:  I've got Lisa Singh and Jonathon Duniam here with me as well. Because we're mixing it up I think I might get them to ask you a question each in the course of the interview. Peter Slipper, what did you think yesterday as Sue Hickey – in a surprise – assumed the leadership of the Tasmanian Parliament? Any echoes of your past in that?

SLIPPER: I had no role to play. I read about it like everyone else. I'm sure she'll do an excellent job. I think it's a healthy sign for the Parliament of Tasmania and for democracy in our state. 

DUNIAM: Peter Slipper, it's Jonno Duniam here. How do you like Tasmania so far? 

SLIPPER: I think Tasmania is a marvellous place. It's obviously attracting a lot of people from the mainland and elsewhere. It's god's own country.

SINGH: Hi Peter, Lisa here. How are you?

SLIPPER: Hi Lisa, very well, very well. Pleased to chat.

SINGH: Are you going to follow some of the machinations that happen at the State Parliament now you're living here?

SLIPPER: I've been following those very closely for quite a long time. I can imagine Will Hodgman got a bit of a shock yesterday, but it's not the first time it's happened. I think Michael Hodgman himself was going to be elected Speaker and in a surprise someone else took the job.

COMPTON: What advice do you have for Sue Hickey, as she takes on the job and potentially occupying the role, unpopular within her own party and never able to be fully embraced by Labor and the Greens, Peter? 

SLIPPER: Look, I believe it’s important we have an independent speaker in the Westminster tradition. That was what I endeavoured to do in Canberra. It means the Speaker can be firm and fair. He or she owes nothing to anybody, and it means that democracy is the great beneficiary. There has been some discussion about how the Speaker will exercise her casting vote. The reality is that under the Westminster system – which is strictly followed in Canberra by Speakers of all political colours – is that the Speaker’s casting vote is not a vote to be cast at the whim of the Speaker. For instance, if there’s an equality of votes on the floor of the Chamber the Speaker will always vote to allow debate to continue, and if at the expiration of the time for debate there is no majority without the Speaker’s vote, the Speaker will vote against the proposal. I read that the Premier said that the new Speaker will support the Government. Well, the reality is if she’s going to follow the Westminster tradition, she doesn’t really have much right to determine how that vote is exercised.

COMPTON: It’ll be interesting to see how it unfolds. Peter Slipper, thanks for sharing your experience.

SLIPPER: Thank you. It’s always a pleasure and I wish the new Speaker very well. Having been Lord Mayor of Hobart, I think she’s well qualified to take the job.

COMPTON: It’s interesting. Of course she takes the job with no parliamentary experience, and so having chaired a lot of meetings for the Hobart City Council –which can sometimes get quite fractious – it will be some kind of introduction, but not quite the bear-pit of Tasmanian Parliament. That was Peter Slipper former Speaker in Federal Parliament on Mornings, now living in Tasmania and working as a barrister.

To both of you, Jonathan Duniam and Lisa Singh, thank-you for coming in this morning for Senators in Space. What do we want to see come out of the federal budget for Tasmania Jonathan Duniam? It comes down on Tuesday of next week.

DUNIAM: Well, I think we want to make sure we see responsible spending. But spending that supports for our state the capacity to continue to grow and create jobs, particularly in the regions, and also an ability to ensure we provide the essential services we need, be it in disability, be it in education, be it in health. So that’s what I’ll be looking for, that’s what I’ve been advocating for, so I hope we will see measures that will help us to continue to grow like we have for the last four or so years.

SINGH: I would like to see a reversal of all the cuts that the Turnbull Government’s put in place. The $715 million cuts to schools. Reverse the $80 billion hand-out to the big-end-of-town, big-business. Reverse the freeze on Medicare and diagnostic imaging. I found out the other day some 10,000 Tasmanians are actually missing out on having diagnostic imaging like x-rays and MRIs because of the massive gap in place because of the freeze on Medicare. So a reversal on a lot of those cuts I think would be a very good start for the Government.

COMPTON: I feel like you’re preparing your lines for Budget night, Lisa Singh. Jonathan Duniam, a chance to respond to where you think- specifically, will there be a Tasmania-specific package? Bernard Keane said yesterday given that the battlegrounds for the next Federal election are going to be Western Australia and Queensland that they’ll get the money, that they’ll the priorities, and that Tasmania will be largely left behind by the Liberals.

DUNIAM: Well, firstly, I’d love to sit here and tell you what’s in the Budget. Sadly, I don’t know.

COMPTON: What have you been fighting for?

DUNIAM: I’ve been fighting for a lot of things that will help grow our economy-

COMPTON: An example?


DUNIAM: I’m not going to name them up here-

COMPTON: An example, please?

DUNIAM: But as I say, it’s got to be geared toward growing our economy so people can have the opportunities. I’m looking forward to the Labor Party’s alternative Budget, given we will head to an election sometime in the next year, and seeing all the things that Lisa Singh has criticised the Government about being fully funded in their Budget and returning a surplus too so that we don’t sink the country into debit.

SINGH: Well, watch that space. I mean, that space is a lot more rosy than the current situation. I mean, why aren’t you fighting for the Royal Hobart Hospital funding? The cuts that have come out of that, both at the state and at the federal level?

COMPTON: Ok, Jonathon to respond. We’ve got a couple of minutes left in the show.

DUNIAM: I’ve been advocating very strongly for health funding. And I was pleased to be a part of the discussions around the future health funding deal between the Commonwealth and the State. I thought it was important to lock in the security around that funding. I’m also pleased to have been a part of ensuring that we were able to secure $730 million for the Mersey which is part of the One State, One Health System. They’re the productive roles I’ve been playing. That takes the pressure off budgets in other hospitals as well, and it means people right across our state, no matter whether it’s regional or down here in downtown Hobart, have access to good health services.

COMPTON: To both of you, we’ve got to leave it there. Good to talk to you this morning. Jonathon Duniam, Lisa Singh, thank-you for coming in, and we’ll see you back in Parliament of course. How long does Parliament run for after the Budget is delivered? Is it the next fortnight?

DUNIAM: No, just one week I think.

SINGH: We have a one week break, and then we have Senate Estimates where we scrutinise the Budget for two weeks.

COMPTON: Hopefully we’ll be able to pull you out of there and do it all again in couple of weeks’ time. To both of you, thank-you for coming in this morning.