Transcript by Senator the Hon Zed Seselja

Sky News – PVO Newsday


PETER VAN ONSELEN: Let’s move back to domestic politics though, I’m joined now by Assistant Minister for Social Services, Zed Seselja live from the Syd CBC, thanks for your company.

SENATOR ZED SESELJA: Thanks very much Peter.

PETER VAN ONSELEN: US Presidential election, are you fearful of a Trump victory?

SENATOR ZED SESELJA: No, look, I mean in the end I’ll leave it to the American people to make their judgements and I certainly have no intention of interfering or attempting to interfere in that process, so you know whether it’s a Clinton presidency or whether it’s a Trump presidency the Australian government will continue to work very well with our strongest ally in the world the United States.

PETER VAN ONSELEN: Having said that, the current Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, he’s weighed in, he’s expressed some concerns about Donald Trump, the former Prime Minister John Howard has been even stronger in the expression of those concerns. It’ll be difficult for allied nations globally to deal with an America under Trump, won’t it, given what some leaders have said?

SENATOR ZED SESELJA: Well I think there’s a broader issue when it comes to US politics. If you look at the primaries, both the Democratic primary and the Republican primary, we’ve seen messages that have been taken forward, and this applies on both sides, that are anti-trade which I think is a concern… Now that’s a bit of a push in American politics that’s not limited to Donald Trump, it’s not limited to the Republicans or Democrats, but that is something we need to work through. And obviously, whoever is the president, we will want to engage them and ensure that they continue to be a great trading nation that they continue to push for open trade routes because I think that’s been a key to global prosperity, I think it’s been a key to US prosperity and indeed a key to Australian prosperity. Without getting into the personalities, I would say that those forces that have been there in US Politics in the last few years are something we have to deal with.

PETER VAN ONSELEN: In your portfolio area, the removal of so-called double-dipping around paid parental leave, do you acknowledge that when the design of the minimum wage paid parental leave scheme came into effect it was based on the recommendations of the productivity commission and the productivity commission, in its report, specifically said that the design principle should be a minimum wage scheme at the length of time we have as a top-up for otherwise existing paid parental leave systems provided by employers. Do you acknowledge that?

SENATOR ZED SESELJA: Well, Peter, I acknowledge that what you’re saying is factual in terms of the recommendations, but I’d simply make this point: when governments make decisions in a range of policy areas we have to balance recommendations from all sorts of organisations, but also we have to balance fiscal responsibility, we have to look at what we can afford at any given time. And the point that Christian Porter has made, on a number of occasions, is that someone who is getting perhaps a taxpayer funded scheme, or a privately funded paid parental leave scheme who’s on $140 000 a year, they potentially could get more in paid parental leave than someone on minimum wage earns on a year.

PETER VAN ONSELEN: Can I just jump in on that though? That sounds so similar to the arguments Labor was making against Tony Abbott’s paid parental leave scheme when people like yourself were trying to defend that scheme.

SENATOR ZED SESELJA: Well, I think it’s fair to say, Peter, that we took a scheme to an election and I guess we lost that battle, there’s no getting around that, we lost that battle in terms of having that as a workplace entitlement at 26 weeks at whatever someone’s wage is. Having moved away from that we now have to look to what is the fairest taxpayer funded scheme in that context. Certainly the argument the government is making is that if someone is going to get more on paid parental leave than another worker would get in their entire working year then the taxpayer needs to look at what are the appropriate boundaries.

PETER VAN ONSELEN: Can I just look at this notion you just raised, that you took that scheme to an election and weren’t able to succeed with it and then moved to a plan B. That was true, you took it to the 2013 election, you moved to the plan B in the life cycle of that 44th parliament with the scheme that you’re now continuing to push for post the last election. What’s the difference with a plan B on same sex marriage and the plebiscite, which you have taken to an election if you can’t get it passed you’ve got to look to plan B and that might entail something other than the plebiscite. The principle applies the same doesn’t it, as a principle of public policy?

SENATOR ZED SESELJA: Well, look, you’ve done quite a jump there Peter, and I know you like to get on to same sex marriage and plebiscites almost at every turn, but can I just say, if we want to deal with the issues separately I think I’ve made it clearer in terms of paid parental leave. In terms of same sex marriage and the plebiscite, that remains our position. It remains our position that we will have a vote in the parliament after putting it directly to the people. Obviously the party going forward would be free to take a different approach into the future but obviously that’s something that the party would have to consider if in fact we’re unsuccessful in getting our plebiscite through the parliament.

PETER VAN ONSELEN: You also mentioned earlier this idea that yes, factually it might be right what the productivity commission recommended but governments need to then make their own decisions as the elected representatives. Similarly, in a different area, around Bob Day, the department made a very strong recommendation to the then-special minister of state Michael Ronaldson not to allow him to use the premises he was looking to move in to as his EO. But the then-minister Michael Ronaldson decided to ignore that advice… In hindsight, it would’ve been better for everyone, wouldn’t it, if they’d just followed the departmental advice on that occasion.

SENATOR ZED SESELJA: Well, I’m not sure that’s quite right. My understanding is that far from the advice being ignored, the decision taken by the former minster was that there would be certain conditions, and that would include that important condition that Senator Day would have no interest in the building where his electorate office would be. So I think that was the government’s position, I think that’s a very sound but exactly what has transpired obviously now needs some further consideration to see exactly where things stand constitutionally. But my understanding is the government made it clear, the government at the time made it clear, that there were certain conditions, and one of those conditions was that there would be no pecuniary interest from Senator Day

PETER VAN ONSELEN: Bill Shorten is clearly playing politics when tries to argue that the senate is chaos because of these two High Court cases that are going to have to ensue for crossbenchers. It’s not ideal, but he’s obviously overstating that it’s some kind of writ large chaos that follows it. Having said that though, in the perception stakes senator you’d agree this isn’t ideal for the government, and even in a policy sense it’s far from ideal because if reports are correct you guys are going to have to push back a legislative agenda into 2017 that you’d really hoped to close the circle on in this year

SENATOR ZED SESELJA: Well, let’s see what happens there Peter. But what I would say is this is that there was a famous British statesman who talked about events. And events are a big part of politics but you can’t control all of those events but what you can control is how you respond to them. What I’m confident of is that the government will respond to these questions they will go through their proper processes, through the court of dispute r returns in the High Court. And whatever those decisions are taken, they will be followed, and we’ll have a process going forward. So we can’t determine every external event that may occur but what we can do is have an orderly process, a proper process, a proper response. That’s’ what the Australian people expect, and that’s what they’ll get.

PETER VAN ONSELEN: Your colleague, your liberal colleague, Craig Kelly, I spoke to him earlier in the week. He joined me here in the studio, actually this was from last week I should clarify, and he made the point that in the context of budget repair it was important for the government to try to push the envelope and get closer, essentially, to a surplus by the end of this term than the current forward estimates show. He was prepared to push the arguments, as others should, for greater fiscal restraint. Following that, this week we’ve seen the parliamentary budget office show that actually the opposite is what’s happening at the moment, it’s looking tougher. Very keen to get your answer on that, but unfortunately you’ve been saved by the bell, Zed Seselja. Your colleague Josh Frydenburg has just started speaking in relation to this Hazelwood coal mine in his state.

SENATOR ZED SESELJA: I would’ve been very happy to answer your question.

PETER VAN ONSELEN: I know you would’ve been… I know you would’ve been… that’s for sure.