Interview with Leon Compton on ABC Northern Tasmania

11 May 2016

TRANSCRIPT OF SENATOR RICHARD COLBECK, SENATOR FOR TASMANIA
INTERVIEW WITH LEON COMPTON, MORNINGS ON 91.7 ABC NORTHERN TASMANIA

Topics: Postal voting, 2016 Federal Election, 2016 Federal Budget, small business, education, asylum seekers, tourism projects in Tasmania, UTas, Senate ticket.

LEON COMPTON:

We'll welcome Labor Senator for Tasmania Lisa Singh into the studio in a moment as well, in fact let's do that now. Senator, good morning to you.

SENATOR LISA SINGH:

Good morning Leon. How are you?

LEON COMPTON:

Excuse our technical issues this morning. Let's start with one of the stories that we have been covering over the last couple of hours, we know that the Liberals and indeed Andrew Wilkie in Denison are inviting people to register their postal vote and do it through their office. Does the Labor Party plan to do that through this election too?

SENATOR LISA SINGH:

Well we do and it is something that happens at each election and it happens for good purpose. I mean the reason for doing it is a number of people can't get to a polling booth and in the sense of enfranchisement; we want to make sure that everybody has the opportunity to vote and to assist Electoral Commission in the process.

We give, send out, a postal vote application form, particularly to people that are elderly or live far away, as you've said Leon, to a polling booth so they can fill out that form and have that opportunity to vote.

LEON COMPTON:

But really the major parties don't need anything to do with it, I mean the Australian Electoral Commission can take care of it. Is it reasonable that political parties are involved - we know it is lawful, is it fair?

SENATOR LISA SINGH:

I think we all have a role to play in ensuring that our voters have that opportunity to get their postal vote in and whether it is any political party or an individual candidate, I know it's certainly lawful under our Electoral Act to make that opportunity available to them. So it is something Leon, that has happened from time in (inaudible).

I think, and some candidates or sitting members have been very prepared, particularly perhaps those in government that have known when the election date was going to be called, and have already kind of got it out there.

But there is certainly a fair bit of time yet before those postal vote applications forms and that whole process needs to be submitted. I think it's somewhere early June, so yes look I think it is a good thing, it's something that ensures that the elderly, those that can't get to a polling booth have the form and we help them make that happen.

LEON COMPTON:

Liberal Senator for Tasmania, Richard Colbeck, Senator good morning to you.

SENATOR RICHARD COLBECK:

Morning Leon. Morning Lisa.

SENATOR LISA SINGH:

Morning Richard.

LEON COMPTON:

And my apologies for the technical issues there.

SENATOR RICHARD COLBECK:

I promise I didn't touch anything!

LEON COMPTON:

(laughs)

Yeah it is easy to lean in on a button - I know. Richard, whose vote is still to be won in this election campaign? It's an eight week campaign, there will be enormous amounts of sound, fury, energy, designed to swing whoever is left to cast, to decide their vote.

How many votes do you think are actually still out there to be decided in the Tasmanian electorate?

SENATOR RICHARD COLBECK:

That's a good question Leon. The job now is to make sure that we're out there explaining our perspectives, letting Tasmanians know, Australians know, what our policy is, that we're looking to build a positive future for the country, jobs and growth, cuts for small business so we can ensure that we harness every single vote possible. I have said this to you before, that's my focus; it has to be the focus right up to Election Day.

LEON COMPTON:

Indeed and we can see that, clearly, you've distilled your election pitch down into about eight words; jobs and growth, tax cuts for small business. That's it and people will get that day one, won't they? What do the next seven and a half weeks entail?

SENATOR RICHARD COLBECK:

Well we're obviously moving around the state, we're talking to people, we're sitting in coffee shops, we're sitting around boardroom tables, we're knocking on doors, we're doing all of those sorts of things to communicate with our people and with our communities.

We're out at community events, Agfest for example, a fantastic event last week run by Rural Youth, we were all out there in force talking to people and I have to say I was quite taken by the number of people who walked up to me to have a chat and express their views.

LEON COMPTON:

Lisa Singh, what's left to be decided in this election campaign? Most people know already, or most people have decided their vote. Who's left to be swung?

SENATOR LISA SINGH:

Oh look I think there's a lot of decisions to be made and once we dig a little bit deeper, Leon, than the eight word slogan, three word slogan of jobs and growth, we realise there's not much substance behind what the Liberals are putting out there for the electorate.

In fact there's completely nothing really for Tasmania and that came clearly out from budget night, the fact that tax cuts go to those on $80,000 and above completely leaves off 80 per cent of Tasmanians who earn less than that.

Let alone all the small businesses, I mean Tasmania's a state made up of so many small businesses, I think more per head of capita than any other state, but those are real small businesses. Small businesses, when we talk about the definition of being, you know, $2 million turnover and under - that's what Labor regards as a small business. Not giving tax cuts to small business with a billion dollar turnover and you know, to the cost of education, health, dental care, all of those things that the Liberals are cutting in this budget as well.

So Tasmania's done really, really badly, lots of decisions there for Tasmanians to make when they're looking at the alternative which of course is Labor, which will fully fund Gonski. We'll increase our funding to our health and our hospitals. We'll, of course, introduce marriage equality in the first 100 days of being in office, invest in renewables which is really important for Tasmania and ensure that we reverse other unfair cuts like to dental health scheme and paid parental leave and the like, lots of decisions.

LEON COMPTON:

Senator Richard Colbeck, has there been much criticism of, in inverted commas, unfairness out of the budget when it comes to most Tasmanians who earn less than $80,000 per year?

SENATOR RICHARD COLBECK:

Well Leon, the small businesses that I were talking to at Agfest at the weekend who turn over between $2 and $10 million don't think that they're a big business, I can promise you that. This line that Labor's running about giving multi-million businesses a tax break, I mean that's a cycle of process over 10 years and by the time we get to the end of the 10 year cycle all businesses will be paying a 25 per cent tax rate.

We are starting with small business, we did that in the budget last year and small businesses appreciate that. We're extending that to small businesses between $2 and $10 million from the 1st of July and I can tell you the small businesses I spoke to at Agfest, and there were plenty of them there, are very excited about that, the fact that they are getting a bit of a go.

One thing Lisa is right about is Tasmania is a small business state. So we are putting our faith in small business to grow the economy - they're the ones that provide the jobs. As far as some of the spending commitments that Labor are making, they have to explain where the money's coming from, they've got a $20 billion black hole that they describe as a rounding error in their costings just on tobacco tax.

We know because we've been talking about it over recent weeks, that just throwing money, for example at education isn't the answer. It's actually how you spend it and we're focussing on how you spend it to get results. We're spending more money now on education than we ever have and we're not getting any better results. We need to do it better and I've got to say I'm really impressed with what the State guys are doing in respect of their improvements in teacher training and all those sorts of things.

So we have put a plan on the table that fully funds our commitments on education, health and roads; so that's fully funded. Labor is going to be; who is Labor before the election and who is Labor after the election. We already know that they're going to have a mini-budget after the election. So they're not really going to tell us what their economic plan is before the election, they're going to wait to after the election and Chris Bowen confirmed that yesterday. So you'll have Labor before the election and Labor after.

SENATOR LISA SINGH:

(talking over)

Richard, Tasmanians aren't buying this scare tactic that you and your colleagues keep putting out there. You know that we have identified $70 billion in savings so that we can fund our policies. Our policies have been funded by the Parliamentary Budget Office and we had, once upon a time Richard, a unity ticket on funding education, on funding Gonski, and you know that in Tasmania needs based funding is needed more than ever and if we aren't going to educate our people then we aren't going to get them employed in the jobs of tomorrow. So walking away from funding Gonski is a broken promise by your Government, by you, and it goes to the heart of so many other broken promises that the Tasmanian Liberals have made in this time over the last two years.

One of them of course, Leon, being in Richard's portfolio, being in tourism. You know, the $16 million in Cadbury which was promised at the last election as an election pitch to actually get Tasmanians to vote for them has never been delivered. How can we trust the Liberals in Tasmania when they continue to break promises and they continue to trot out these slogans that have absolutely no substance behind them?

Labor has been very brave and we have put forward our policies early, we've put forward policies that address affordable housing, that address the needs of our people and Tasmanians have been dudded by this government and they know it and they can see it in this budget.

The fact that, you know, there are no tax cuts for us, the fact that there is a mother, perhaps with a $65,000 a year salary that will be $4700 a year worse off because of cuts to family tax benefits.

LEON COMPTON:

Okay, Lisa Singh, (inaudible). Do you believe in your party's policies on asylum seekers?

SENATOR LISA SINGH:

Look I do and I think, though that there is -

LEON COMPTON:

(Talking over)

Do you though? Do you believe in the offshore processing of asylum seekers?

SENATOR LISA SINGH:

(Talking over)

Well I actually -

LEON COMPTON:

(Talking over)

Do you stand in lock-step...

SENATOR RICHARD COLBECK:

(Talking over)

That's not what you've said Lisa.

LEON COMPTON:

(Talking over)

...on asylum seekers, on the asylum seeker policy?

SENATOR LISA SINGH:

(Talking over)

Ah, Leon I actually helped develop our parties, um... change in policy that we brought to the national conference, at the last national conference. Increasing our humanitarian intake, funding the UNHCR, these are the things that Labor put forward and endorsed a the last national conference and I was part of that -

LEON COMPTON:

(Talking over)

Do you believe in offshore processing of asylum seekers?

SENATOR LISA SINGH:

I do agree in the offshore processing of asylum seekers but that's not what's been happening. What's been happening is indefinite detention of asylum seekers and that is something I do not agree with and that is why I have been very outspoken for a very long time on Australia's treatment of refugees. I think there is an ongoing conversation to be had to ensure that we are playing out part, as a nation, you know, dealing with the refugee crisis which is a global phenomenon, to ensure we settle refugees in our country. Now at the moment...

LEON COMPTON:

(Talking over)

Are you in lockstep with your party on the issue of what happens to those people who have been found as legitimate asylum seekers on Manus Island? Many people think that if they are legitimate asylum seekers, they should be allowed to come to Australia. Your party doesn't think that.

SENATOR LISA SINGH:

Well look, I think what we set up with Manus Island is not what this Government has implemented with Manus Island. There's been...

SENATOR RICHARD COLBECK:

(Talking over)

It is exactly what's been implemented, Lisa, it's exactly what you implemented...

SENATOR LISA SINGH:

(Talking over)

It has been an absolute disaster. There has been a humanitarian disaster and to treat people that have been deemed genuine refugees in this way, to lock them up in indefinite detention - longer terms than some prisoners experience in our own country - is absolutely abhorrent and the fact also that we have Peter Dutton saying on one hand that we will settle 12,000 Syrian refugees when only 30 have come and using national security as the excuse. Why is it that Canada can settle 28,000 Syrian refugees and yet Australia seems to be in this state of inertia in being able to do the same.

I think we have to do so much better. But I do think Labor has a good policy on refugees. Of course I don't want turn backs to happen, if that's what you're asking me Leon, and I don't think anyone in our party does. But we do need to ensure that we play our part in this global crisis and we do have an important part to play and that should be a humanitarian response to people that are seeking our refuge.

LEON COMPTON:

Ah, Richard Colbeck, where is that $16 million that Lisa mentioned earlier that was promised as Cadbury money and then said that it would have to be reallocated elsewhere? So where is that $16 million, will we see it through the course of this campaign?

SENATOR RICHARD COLBECK:

Well it's now $24 million, Leon, and...

SENATOR LISA SINGH:

(Talking over)

It's still not here though.

SENATOR RICHARD COLBECK:

We will see it very, very soon I can assure you.

SENATOR LISA SINGH:

Oh come on, Richard, you've got to do better than that, you're the Tourism Minister, I mean...

SENATOR RICHARD COLBECK:

(Talking over)

Well it's not tourism money, Lisa...

SENATOR LISA SINGH:

(Talking over)

But this is a joke. I mean it's been more than three years...

SENATOR RICHARD COLBECK:

(Talking over)

Lisa, Lisa, just watch this space.

SENATOR LISA SINGH:

(Talking over)

There's been not one cent delivered from that promise.

SENATOR RICHARD COLBECK:

(Talking over)

Just watch this space.

SENATOR LISA SINGH:

I mean, what came out of the Budget, Richard, for tourism infrastructure or tourism at all, our biggest industry in this state for Tasmania, nothing - and yet you're the Tourism Minister.

SENATOR RICHARD COLBECK:

We said that this wouldn't be a fist full of dollars Budget, Lisa, and we put record funding into Tourism Australia and we are working very cooperatively with the states on the Tourism Demand Driver Infrastructure Scheme programme, which we put into place at the beginning of the term - and we're continuing to roll that out in cooperation with Liberal and Labor states across the country and its working quite well.

SENATOR LISA SINGH:

But what are you offering Tasmania?

SENATOR RICHARD COLBECK:

Well, I'm the Federal Tourism Minister, Lisa, and you will see our Federal Tourism Policy which will benefit Tasmania and if you look at the tourism numbers and see how well they're going, it's quite clear that our tourism marketing programs are working very, very well internationally and Tasmania is the major beneficiary of that because Tasmania has the highest growth rates of tourism in the country.

LEON COMPTON:

(Talking over)

So Senator will you...

SENATOR RICHARD COLBECK:

(Talking over)

So our players...

LEON COMPTON:

(Talking over)

Will you commit to funding for the Cradle Mountain redevelopment that the Tourism Industry Body have put together and launched in the last couple of months?

SENATOR RICHARD COLBECK:

Well we've been talking quite cooperatively with the State Government about that. We need to find a proponent for the project first. It's going to need about $100 million, at least, of private sector money and I've already had a chat to Austrade about putting that project into their processes to look for a potential investor into the project.

It's going to need a major private investor and I've spoken to both the Premier, Will Hodgman, and the Treasurer, Peter Gutwein, about what we might do cooperatively once we work out exactly what money is required by a private sector proponent. We don't have a proponent yet but we've started a process to see if we can find one because it is an important project. It is one of Tasmania's icon destinations, we are very, very supportive of the concept but we need to properly and responsibly progress the concept.

LEON COMPTON:

It's a small thing but it matters to people around St Helens and on the East Coast of Tasmania, will you find financial support to bring the HMAS Tobruk to be sunk there as a dive wreck off (inaudible) near Binalong Bay?

SENATOR RICHARD COLBECK:

Well it's certainly a very live issue and I know that my good friend and colleague, Eric Hutchinson, has been very, very persistent in working with the Defence Minister and I've had a couple of conversations with her about it as well, and I think my other colleagues have too.

So we recognise the value of that as a potential project for Tasmania, bearing in mind there is a bit of competition from Queensland, so we are working to make sure that we get the best result for Tassie in that context and hopefully the Defence Minister will make some sort of announcement around that.

SENATOR LISA SINGH:

I think that's a really good project, I know that Brian Mitchell, our Labor candidate in Lyons has been very much in favour and pushing the benefits for the East Coast of Tasmania and I mean diving, again is another kind of tourism that people come to Tasmania for. We've got amazing kelp, we've got amazing fish and sea life underneath the water and I know that would be a fantastic project. But, I...

SENATOR RICHARD COLBECK:

(Talking over)

I agree, Lisa, I think there's pretty much bipartisan support.

SENATOR LISA SINGH:

(Talking over)

It kind of couples though, the idea of sea tourism and our waterways, couples with the importance of climate change and research - and that's another area that Labor will ensure doesn't get cut and that is the CSIRO. The CSIRO in Tasmania is an important bedrock of ensuring climate science, that research, that monitoring like at the East Coast weather station at Cape Grim continues on.

SENATOR RICHARD COLBECK:

(Talking over)

It's actually on the West Coast, Lisa, it's on the North West coast.

SENATOR LISA SINGH:

(Talking over)

That's another fight that we've had to deal with, Leon, and I know that your listeners have been very interested in this, that Tasmania was going to lose, and is still deemed to lose under this government, is our scientific expertise, our connection with the Antarctic and with those Southern Ocean waterways that makes us such an important destination as well for scientists coming to live here. So that's something that, again, we need to address because these are the cuts that we've had to face from under this Liberal Government.

LEON COMPTON:

Senator Richard Colbeck, I'm told that at his breakfast this morning in Launceston, Treasurer Scott Morrison has said, and this is my understanding of what happened there, that there wouldn't be financial support in this election campaign for the UTas campus move into the heart of Launceston. Can you confirm that the Government will not be committing money to the UTas campus move in Launceston?

SENATOR RICHARD COLBECK:

I hadn't heard that, Leon, and that's not what I've been working towards.

LEON COMPTON:

Do you think, is he potentially wrong on that?

SENATOR RICHARD COLBECK:

I don't know, I haven't heard the comment, so having not heard the comments I won't make any commentary around them.

LEON COMPTON:

Is it still possible that the Federal Government will come out and support financially or make a financial commitment to the Utas campus move in Launceston?

SENATOR RICHARD COLBECK:

Well there's still seven and a half weeks of the campaign to go, Leon.

SENATOR LISA SINGH:

Well Labor have made it very clear that we will fund those campuses on $150 million investment to our state. we know the importance of our university's spread across the state because we have a regionally dispersed population and we want to ensure those in the North of the state have that access to University education as much as the South. So Labor will fund it.

You see, this is where we kind of go begging and waiting for the Liberals to work out what it is they're doing. I really don't think they know, Leon, what they're doing, what they're funding. We've been very clear because we know what Tasmania needs - I don't understand why Richard and his team don't.

SENATOR RICHARD COLBECK:

Well we make our election announcements and commitments in our own time and not to somebody else's program and you know, your commitment to the North is so strong that Bill Shorten made his announcement in Hobart at 4pm on a Thursday afternoon with hardly anybody knowing about it, so you know, I mean, let's be frank Lisa.

We will develop a very, very strong plan for the future of this state and we will be strategic about what we do and will make sure that our announcements are about building a positive future for this state so that we can take part of the economy that we're building off the back of the free trade agreements and the opportunities for more cost competitive shipping across Tasmania and you say there's nothing for Tasmania.

I mean, we've provided over $200 million for the Freight Equalisation Scheme that we didn't even promise at the last election; we said we'd enhance the scheme and we have. I was at a vegetable processors plant on Monday morning who has doubled their exports on the back of the freight equalisation scheme and I've spoken to other vegetable growers and producers in the state who have done the same. So we're actually working to strengthen the Tasmanian economy, which is our job.

LEON COMPTON:

Lisa Singh, the Federal Labor Secretariat has said they're now taking control of Tasmania's Senate ticket, who goes where on it. Is that good for you if they decide to step in, in response to criticism about where you were put on the Senate ticket the first time around?

SENATOR LISA SINGH:

Look, I understand a double dissolution means that the National Executive do set the Senate tickets for Labor Senators and candidates in the entire country, so...

LEON COMPTON:

(Talking over)

Really?

SENATOR LISA SINGH:

(Talking over)

It's not just for Tasmania, this happens across the country, they're yet to do that and obviously I'll wait to see where I end up.

LEON COMPTON:

So the Federal Labor Secretariat decide all the whole country's Senate ticket looks like?

SENATOR LISA SINGH:

Because it's a double dissolution, Leon, obviously...

LEON COMPTON:

(Talking over)

It's not that they just don't trust Tasmania and they think you should be somewhere different?

SENATOR LISA SINGH:

I think this is a process that happens, it's very unique because we haven't had a double dissolution for a very long time, where the National Executive come together and work out what the order will be.

LEON COMPTON:

Interesting talking to both of you. Thank you for coming in and being part of Mornings this morning, we appreciate your time. Richard Colbeck, good to talk to you.

ENDS.

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