Mornings with Gather Parker

GARETH PARKER: I haven’t caught up with this gentleman for a while because I’ve been away and then he’s been away. But we’re back together in the studio.

Christian Porter the Attorney General, good morning.

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: You make it sound like we’re holding hands, but we’re not.

GARETH PARKER: We were not, the webcam can see that. Hey, thanks for coming in, lots to talk about. We’ve got to start with this by-election. The impression was created in the mind of the public that the Liberal Party were a good chance to take at least one and maybe two, and the Prime Minister wanted to make it about leadership. Why can’t the Liberal Party’s leadership federally, one, manage expectations, two, get its strategy right to actually get some momentum and string some wins together?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Well maybe if I deal with those two in reverse order. I mean, there’s just nothing extraordinary about the result. So I think the average two party preferred swing against governments in by-elections is about 3.8 per cent which is, was a little bit more than that in Longman …

GARETH PARKER: Significantly…

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Well, no, that was the drop in primaries but when you look at the two party preferred – which is all that really counts at the end of the day, the swing’s just average. And in Braddon it was significantly better than average. So, well, as people have said, we haven’t won one of these things in government, any government, near on 100 years. This is an average swing against a government in Longman, a better than average result in Braddon. It’s just I’m …

GARETH PARKER: But everyone is running around saying ‘we’re going to pluck one of these things, it’ll be the end of Bill Shorten’s leadership, and now of course the dynamic is 180 degrees from that.

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Well, I’d to say that was more of a mass media sort of appraisal of the situation than that our party’s appraisal of the situation.

GARETH PARKER: Really?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, we obviously discuss these things at great length and we were very realistic about this.

GARETH PARKER: So all those unnamed Liberal strategists that appeared in stories in the newspapers in the lead up to polling day suggesting that this was really going to put the heat on Bill Shorten, that was all just media making it up?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Well I think you hit the nail on the head when you say unnamed strategists. I mean there’s good strategists and there’s key strategists and there’s people at the sharp end of these things, and usually they put their names to what they say.

GARETH PARKER: There is no question though that it has put the Prime Minister on the back foot?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Well I mean, look, you’d always like to win one. I mean that’s a given. But no government has won one in near on 100 years, so I just think that the results are utterly ordinary and average and what you’d expect and it’s pretty much business as usual. I mean the reason why we are advancing an agenda for company tax cuts is not necessarily because it’s the easiest thing to do but because it’s the right thing to do. You cannot let Australian business with turnover above $50 million have a tax rate far higher than it’s going to be in the UK where it’s 20 per cent and in the US where Trump’s going to get it down to 21 per cent.

We just cannot let our medium and larger businesses have a company tax rate which is a third more oppressive and uncompetitive than other countries that we do business with and against. I mean, what do we think that’s going to do in terms of the ability to drive economic growth that produces jobs for our kids when they leave school or TAFE or university? So it’s not always going to be the easiest thing but it is absolutely the right thing to do, and the reason that we’ve been able to deliver a record job growth is because we’ve had this tax relief for businesses under $50 million turnover. And they reinvest the saved money in their business, grow their business and put more people on and grow jobs. You know my observation about Labor on this is they cannot get their head around the simple concept that you can actually reduce taxes, whether they be personal income taxes or company taxes, and increase revenue because it drives growth.

GARETH PARKER: That all may be true, but my observation is that that case that you’ve just laid out is not connecting with voters. It’s not connecting with listeners to this program. It’s not connecting with most Australians. Instead, the message of Bill Shorten that says we will fund schools not banks seems to be a simpler, more cut-through message. Now if you’re going to persist, you sort of pre-empted my question which is are you going to persist with the company tax cuts. From the sound of that answer …

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: We absolutely are, yeah.

GARETH PARKER: So what’s your strategy? Because if you keep doing the same thing, you’re going to keep getting the same results.

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Well, you’ve got to call out lies which is what Bill Shorten is engaging in when he says that this is a choice between companies and hospitals. The reality is that across Australia and particularly here in WA, the Turnbull Government’s funding for hospitals and for schools is at record high levels, massive increases in both the education and health sector. And the reason we’re able to do that is because we’re growing the economy – and so the revenue’s available to do that.

Now, if you wreck the economy which you would certainly do by jacking up taxes on business that employ Australians and that drive revenue growth, then you can have massive problems economically in this country. So I think we’ve got to call out the lies that Bill Shorten has engaged in in campaigning and Get Up! for that matter and we have to keep and continually and consistently make the case. But, you know, no one should be backing down at the first sign of buckshot.

GARETH PARKER: But this isn’t the first sign of buckshot is it? I mean at what point- there’s poll after poll saying that people don’t really connect with this policy. The Senate clearly, the Senate appears to me to be a lost cause. Maybe Mathias has got one more trick in his bag and pulls one out next week and you get it passed. I don’t think that’s going to happen. I’ve been wrong before.

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Yeah well, I mean, that’s the thing isn’t it? Mathias has shown an ability to negotiate very difficult matters through, particularly in circumstances where people said it couldn’t be done.

GARETH PARKER: Is it just banging your head against a brick wall?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: No, I do not believe that it is. Keep in mind that it is only a matter of weeks ago when Bill Shorten went out and said he was going to reverse the tax cuts under $50 million. And when we talk about whether or not tax relief for business that grows the economy resonates with voters, that proposal got him into all sorts of strife. And imagine him having to go into the next election with small and medium sized enterprises telling them that he’s going to increase their taxes. I mean, that’s clearly a battle that we would like to have in electorates like mine and in WA where we need to kick start our economy and get economic growth back on track.

GARETH PARKER: That was clearly a misstep by Bill Shorten.  But can I take you to my interpretation of what happened next.  He got caned for two days and then he retreated quickly. So he was able I think in some ways to acknowledge the error and move on from it. Now, no doubt your side will try and exploit the doubt that that creates as we would expect you to. But this is, I guess, goes to my point about the difference the way that Bill Shorten politics and the difference that the Prime Minister does politics.

Bill Shorten, a rare misstep I’ve got to say in terms of his public messaging, lances the boil and changes the subject to something else. Whereas that should have been an opportunity for your government to keep hammering and hammering and hammering.  But the momentum stalls again because we make it about leadership in the by-elections. You’re telling me that you basically never thought that you would win a seat, but this impression was created by people around the leadership team that this was going to be a test of Bill Shorten’s leadership.

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Well, I’m not entirely sure that that was an impression created by a leadership team. But going back to your fundamental point, we have to keep hammering and driving the message that if you want a healthy productive economy in Australia our companies have to be competitive, and if they’re not then we will not have the jobs available for our kids when they leave school and TAFE and university. And it is that simple, and that simple message we just have to keep expressing. And it’s a message backed up by every single piece of factual data we have at our fingertips.

And as to Bill Shorten, whether you think it’s virtuous or admirable that he changes his position on these things on an almost daily basis, I mean, the greatest advocate for the company tax cuts that we’re now talking about was of course not that long ago Bill Shorten and Chris Bowen because they recognized, in Bill Shorten’s words, that it creates jobs right up and down the income ladder. That was what he said about what we’re trying to do for the Australian economy. So, I think the case is on all evidence and data and expert opinion a case that has to be made in the best interests of the Australian economy. Now if you want to do things that are cheap and easy and popular, well you know, that’s one way to conduct politics. But if you want to run a stable government that actually does difficult things in the best interests of everyone in our country, I think that’s the preferable course.

GARETH PARKER: Do you think that the Liberal Party in this state is going to get a GST dividend electorally?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Yes, particularly if none of these Labor Federal Members can come out and support the fix. I mean the silence from this group of WA Labor members of Federal Parliament is utterly deafening. So here, it’s taken a long time, it’s been a grinding process but we’ve reached a resolution which is going to stick and which can stick, which even the eastern states are willing to live with because there’s significant funding in there to mitigate any losses that they would otherwise have seen. It fixes a floor for WA – 70 per cent, 75 per cent then it fixes the formula. That takes us up to 83 per cent. Fixing the formula means that you get rid of all of the worst inefficiencies in a system that punished productive states that engaged in mining industry or tax reform, and so here is a fantastic outcome and policy for WA. And the Matt Keoghs of the world cannot put their hand up to support it and I reckon that they will get marked down very significantly at the next federal election because of that.

GARETH PARKER: So what’s the Prime Minister’s message going to be to West Australian voters when he flies in for the Liberal state conference next week?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Well I think the message is one we’ve, we are the party and he is the Prime Minister who has fixed the problem that’s the bedevilled this economy for more than a decade. No one else.  Him. Malcolm Turnbull, Scott Morrison, with the assistance of myself and Mathias and Julie. He has done it, but that’s not the end of what we want to do for WA. The reality is that probably no economy in Australia is going to benefit more from having lower rates of company tax because we are by our nature an entrepreneurial state. We rely on business growth to drive jobs. So I think that the agenda that we have, which is a lower tax agenda, is going to sell well here.
The lines here are very clear. Bill Shorten and Labor have never been able to control expenditure growth, and so they will just chase higher and higher taxes to run down higher and higher expenditure growth. That’s the reality of what would happen if you had a Bill Shorten-Labor government. And what does that mean? It means higher taxes for companies. It means higher taxes for retirees because they would have their dividends, tax dividends, taken off them. So, you know, I think it’s a bit like Margaret Thatcher said: ‘the problem with socialism, eventually they run out of other people’s money.’ And if you want higher tax, lower productive economy, then that’s what you get with Bill Shorten but we offer the opposite.

GARETH PARKER: Just quickly before we go to the break we spoke this morning at the start of the show about this whole issue. It’s a long running issue of medically retired police officers and also compensation for police officers. Now, it’s a state issue. It’s not your issue. But as Attorney General in the state government, what was the situation when a police officer comes to the state and says I’ve been medically retired, I need a handout – or not a handout, sorry, that’s a terrible choice of words. Let me rephrase that: I need some payment to recognise my inability to continue to do my job. This was obviously a vexed issue. We’ve heard from Michelle Roberts to say it continues to be a vexed issue. Why can’t this be sort of resolved simply?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Look, I just, without having, I mean, I do recall the issue was around when we were in state government and it is in effect a workers’ compensation issue through the state government insurance system. I recall that it was actually dealt with and resolved to an extent with respect to emergency service workers …

GARETH PARKER: Yep, firefighters and the like.

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: That’s right. So I, look without being an utter expert, without refreshing my memory on it, it seems to me that if it was able to be dealt with in the context of emergency service workers it seems strange that you can’t also deal with it and land the issue satisfactorily for police officers. The reality is that police officer of course go out and risk their life for us every day. It can be a very dangerous job, particularly on the on the roads but in a whole range of contexts. And I think that it’s appropriate that where there are genuine issues that arise because of the dangers of the job, whether they be physical or mental, that people are looked after.