7.30 Report Interview with Sabra Lane - Monday 14th July 2014

SL:      Senator Macdonald, thank you very much for talking to 7:30.

The Senate shenanigans that we saw last week - it wasn’t a good look for the government. Could the government have avoided that?

IM:      Well we could have had the Labor Party understand the mandate we’ve been given and agree with us and I have to say that’s something that really must weigh heavily on the Labor party over the next there years. They know we have a mandate. They by their actions are giving the Palmer Group and the cross-benchers notoriety that perhaps they don’t deserve. And I think that’s a real lesson for the Labor Party and indeed for all of us. It was an awful look last week but to a degree that resulted in what I understand were differing positions of the Palmer United Party which were conveyed to us at very short notice.

SL:      It was short notice to the point where an amendment, that the government said it would agree on, the government ended up getting caught by its own gag and not extending it and getting the whole thing thrown out. Will voters reflect on that and look at the Palmer United Block or will they more or less point to the government because the government, they’re now in charge?

IM:      Well clearly abolition of the Carbon Tax has been our principal promise at the last election. We are determined to do that and so I guess in the end result it reflects back on us. It is a very difficult situation. Look I feel a bit sorry for the Palmer United Party Senators. I think they are all basically decent honest people. My understanding of their political philosophy is that they are sort of generally right of centre or right of centre-right as we are, and being in the Senate for a matter of hours and then having to vote on these complex amendments with complex procedures in the Senate – I’ve been here for a long time and I still learn. And so I do have some sympathy for them but I think they are deep down basically decent good-meaning well-meaning Australians. They’re in this difficulty that at the present time they’re getting a lot of their instruction and advice from outside the chamber and very often by news conferences that are happening at the same time as they are voting. I think that in time they will understand the roles they are elected to do better and there’ll be more rational meaningful debate and better procedures.

SL:      Could the government be doing things differently with them, and helping them through the negotiation process, talking with them and talking with you, the backbench, about strategy?

IM:      Well look I notice that my friend and colleague Simon Birmingham took a big role in the negotiations with them and I think that’s appropriate, it was his portfolio area as well. And I think really the government has to look at all Senators and try and involve them more in the things that are happening and I start with the Australian Labor Party. There was a division or a motion or division earlier today where the Labor did actually acknowledge that it was the government’s right to set the agenda and unusually voted with us. I would think given the right approaches to the Labor Party that is something that should happen more often.

SL:      You’ve been in the Senate for a long time as you noted, I think it’s something like twenty-four years, you’re from Queensland, you know a bit about Clive Palmer as well. Given those things and your expertise, is there a way that the government should be dealing with PUP and with Mr Palmer?

IM:      Well I think every Senator has to be treated with respect. I have certain views about where Clive Palmer himself might end up and I’ve lived through Pauline Hanson and Cheryl Kernot and many others. But we do have those Palmer United Party Senators there for six years at least and we have to learn to work with them and I think that’s where the government should be going. It’s a challenge for all of us and one that the government will be no doubt pursuing.

SL:      Senator Boswell who’s just retired from the Senate said he doesn’t think the government should be negotiating with Mr Palmer at all?

IM:      Well we should be negotiating with the Senators elected to represent the Palmer United Party, and indeed more importantly the states they come from, in the Senate. And as I say I would think, I would guess – perhaps it’s a hopeful wish – that Mr Palmer’s influence over his Senators will dissipate as the months roll on and then we have to deal with people who were elected to represent their states and that’s how it should be.

SL:      Yesterday when you arrived in Canberra you seemed to indicate that the government didn’t really seem to have a strategy. Or maybe it did it just wasn’t letting government Senators in on that strategy. Is that still your view?

IM:      I do think the government needs to consult and get advice more from its own backbench people who are elected and whose election actually determines that Tony Abbott will be Prime Minister. I think I speak for many backbenchers in saying that often we feel that everybody else is consulted. In some cases very junior advisors seem to have the immediate ear of those making decisions but people who are elected to support the team are not quite as involved in strategy, in policy issues. And if I could give an example? For example we’ve all been very involved in the Carbon Tax debate over many years. The leadership knows where we are and we’re totally supportive of that and of policies like getting rid of the Mining Tax. But issues that come up unannounced in the budget, apparently leaked to the media, discussed with some people but not with the backbench do cause me concern. For example the first most of us heard about the co-payment for medical circumstances was when we read leaks to the media before the budget. And the tax on, or the indexation of the fuel excise is something that concerns me greatly as someone who represents people remote from the capital cities whose cost of living depends on the price of fuel. That’s been never discussed. The Paid Parental Leave issue is one that I acknowledge we did take to the election and which I as a loyal foot soldier defended before the election, but on the understanding that some of the issues that surround that policy would be further considered. And I’m hopeful that that is happening.

They’re the issues that I think we all need to work through in a Senate which is so diversified at the moment. And can I say my concern about the Senate goes back long before this leadership group and this election. I have been very concerned that the Liberal Party has never understood the importance of the Senate and have never run separate campaigns. And before the last election I told anyone who would listen that we should be running a nationwide Senate campaign because the Greens do, the Palmer United do, the Katter party do, the DLP do, the Democrats have done in the past. But for some reason the Coalition doesn’t seem to do that. We do in Queensland. We always have. Particularly when I’ve led the ticket every alternate six years and for that, and I acknowledge other reasons as well, but we have done much better as a Senate team in Queensland than in any other state of Australia. And I think that says something because we do go around and say to people “the Senate is important” predicting the sort of situation we’re in now, that you must actually vote. If you want the Carbon Tax passed, not only have you got to vote for your Lower House person and make sure Tony Abbott is Prime Minister but you’ve also got to give Tony Abbott the power to get that through by voting for, in our case, the LNP in Queensland. Now that’s a message we campaigned upon around the state, in some capacity actually getting that message across, and I acknowledge there are other reasons but I think that one of the reasons we always do well in Queensland is that we do actually conduct a separate, complimentary but separate campaign for the Senate. And that’s something I have never been able to get the leadership of the party and the parliamentary party to acknowledge but I would hope that they may now realise as I warned before that unless you campaign actively for the Senate you end up with the sort of situation you’ve got now. And I’m just appalled that in South Australia for example Xenephon as an independent can almost get two quotas whereas the Liberal Party struggle to get one. And that’s because Xenephon, clearly a very populist politician, but he’s out there campaigning, but as far as I know little was done for a Senate campaign for the Liberal Party in South Australia and I think history has shown that to be folly.

SL:      Do you think now given the Senate make up now there might be an appetite to do that given that Senator Xenephon was saying this morning that he had been told on the quiet that the government had decide to drop reforming of the Senate voting processes?

IM:      Well see again, if Senator Xenephon’s been told that, I certainly haven’t been told that and that perhaps justifies a comment I made previously. But I would be appalled if that happened. I was a member of the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters and there was a unanimous report on Senate reform. Curiously it came up at the LNP State Convention in Brisbane on the weekend and again the need to have that reform along the lines of the Joint Committee statement was unanimously passed. So there is clearly a need for reform so that we don’t have the circus that we had at the last Senate election. I understand that Tony Abbott’s difficulty in dealing with these people over the next three years if they think they`re going to be disadvantaged by the system. But look, this report and these proposals were unanimous of the Liberal Party, the Labor Party, the National Party, the Greens and Senator Xenephon. And I would think a couple of the new Senators would have enough confidence in their own ability to attract support to actually go along with what’s proposed. But for Australia and for our democracy we have got to get a better system of electing Senators to this chamber because quite clearly as this last week has shown these Senators are there and they have a real influence on the Government and the Governance of our nation. It’s important that the electoral process is correct.

SL:      Just getting back to a point you made earlier about a lot of budget processes and measures, Labor, the Greens the crossbench are indicating at the moment that they oppose measures in the budget and/or want changes to the Minerals Resource Tax Repeal which will cost something in the order of $40-45bn extra on the budget. Any ideas of how the government should be dealing with that?

IM:      There is clearly a need to address Labor’s $600 billion dollar debt. I mean that is the major crisis confronting Australia at the moment. But you know I’m on record saying, and speaking in the Senate, about this debt levy that’s been put on individuals earning more than $180,000. I totally agree with that but why did we exempt major corporate taxpayers, many of whom have foreign shareholders. Why did we exempt them from the need to repair the budget? And it also raised the question, which again I raised in the Senate, of in difficult times with the budget under pressure is this the right time to be introducing what many see as a very generous Paid Parental Leave scheme? And the commission of audit made similar comments so there are just some things like that that I can’t quite work out what the strategy is, whether there is a strategy, where we’re heading and I would think our party and indeed the nation would be better if those who were elected were more brought into the process of having a say on these sort of things. Because quite frankly it is the Lower House member in the marginal seat that is most attuned to what his or her constituents want. It is Senators, who move around the state very widely who understand what people are saying. Sure we’ve got to fix the budget mess – no doubt about that – but we have to be very careful in the measures we introduce and those that we do introduce, in my view, are measures that should be more widely discussed within the parliamentary party before they’re being leaked to the media.

SL:      Last question. Future of Financial Advice. You’re from Townsville, a lot of people in far north Queensland have been victims of Rollo Sherriff. Are you confident and comfortable with the proposed changes that the Government is making to FOFA?

IM:      Look I am. I’m a bit concerned about the whole issue. Clearly it didn’t work – it was open to fraud and criminal activity in the past. By the same token there has to be an ability for people to get good advice and as long as everybody knows up front how the system works I think that’s appropriate. I think the new rules will achieve that but again I guess it’s something that Parliament and the Government needs to keep under review.

SL:      Lovely. Thank you.

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