24 August 2020


SUBJECTS: Victorian Liberal Party branch stacking; Michael Sukkar; aged care; early super access scheme fraud; NT election result; border restrictions.

PATRICIA KARVELAS, HOST: For my political panel now, I want to bring in that panel. Liberal Senator James Patterson and Shadow Assistant Treasurer Stephen Jones, welcome to both of you. And then let's start off with the allegations within the Victorian Liberal Party. James Patterson, you were mentioned in leaked conversations between Marcus Bastiaan and the vice president of the Young Liberals. What's your response to what happened there?

SENATOR JAMES PATTERSON, SENATOR FOR VICTORIA: Well Patricia, these are serious allegations and there's no less than three separate inquiries now being conducted into them. Two by the Department of Finance after being referred by Michael Sukkar and Kevin Andrews into their own offices, although they've maintained their innocence, and one by the Victorian Division into the Victorian Division. And that's an appropriate response to the serious allegations that were made. On specifically the references to myself, I mean, I completely accept as a politician any and all criticism that comes my way. But I would hope that we could all agree that family members should be off limits and particularly from those who claim to believe in family values. 

KARVELAS: Yeah, James Patterson, I find the comments very offensive. So I kind of tried to avoid it but I do think our audience deserves some context if they didn't see. There was comment about you and your wife not yet having children. You actually have since had children, but it was it was quite an offensive statement. You just mentioned that you know, it's fine for you to be brought in but not your wife, but it's bigger than that, isn't it? I mean many people have read it as very sexist statement.

PATTERSON That's right, I think they are values and attitudes that are not welcome in the Liberal Party and I welcome Marcus Bastiaan decision to resign from the Liberal Party today. I think that's appropriate and in the best interest of the party. A lot of couples do struggle with fertility and I know they would have been particularly hurt by that and a lot of people make their legitimate decisions not to have children for their own reasons, and I don't think people's worth and particularly women's worth should be measured by their ability to have children. 

KARVELAS: No. Does the Victorian Liberal Party have a problem with misogyny and racism as was expressed in this piece on 60 Minutes. 

PATTERSON: I don't think it's a systemic problem. But clearly there's at least one member who has views like that which are problematic.

KARVELAS: But is it just one?

PATTERSON: Well, it hasn't been my experience in the Liberal Party. And if you ask my wife if she was doing this interview, I don't think she would say it's her experience either. Overwhelmingly, I think Liberal Party is a very welcoming political party to women and everyone else. In fact, anyone who shares our values is very welcome to be part of the Liberal Party and frankly most Liberals are not interested in your gender or your sexuality or your religion or your race or anything other than your values. That's what we really care about. 

KARVELAS: Okay. Do you think Michael Sukkar should stand aside while these investigations are happening? 

PATTERSON: No, I don't think that's a reasonable expectation. He's appropriately referred this to Department of Finance. And I know he will take very seriously any findings that they make but until then I don't think any action like that's warranted.

KARVELAS: Stephen Jones, I want to bring you in it seemed that Labor focused very much entirely on aged care in the parliament today. You didn't bring up or really push this issue around the allegations made in the 60 Minutes report. Why is that the case?

STEPHEN JONES MP, SHADOW ASSISTANT TREASURER: Look, aged care is something that affects every household and every Australian and we're deeply concerned what's going on in our aged care system and I'd like to return to that for a moment, but I do want to make this point Michael Sukkar has to go. He should resign or the Prime Minister should sack him. The reason for that is it is quite clear from the evidence aired on 60 Minutes last night that he was the architect of a branch stacking scheme. He was the architect of the plan which he signed off on. He described Mr Bastian as a key member of his team. He was so distracted with the internal affairs of the Liberal Party that he has completely dropped the ball on key parts of his portfolio. Michael Sukkar is the minister responsible for administering  the superannuation early access scheme riddled with fraud which millions of dollars have been lost in fraud and mis-administration. Not one cent has been repaid to the fund members for the fraud that has been visited upon them. Not one cent has been paid by the government because he has been too distracted by these internal Liberal Party affairs. Now at a time when the government has called for a Team Australia moment, it really doesn't work when you've got a senior member of the government too busy taking attacks, making attacks and organising factional battles inside when all of these other things simply are being left left aside. That's not good enough.

KARVELAS: Look, I just want to come in with some breaking news, ABC election analyst Antony Green says Labor has won at least 13 seats in the Northern Territory election. It means it will form a majority government in the Northern Territory. That's breaking news this hour. Hopefully we will speak to Antony Green shortly, but I do want to ask you both on this and sorry I'm pausing the other conversation, it is significant. One of the centrepiece elements of this campaign by Michael Gunner was in relation to a hard border and a promise for an 18-month shutdown of access to the Northern Territory. I want to bring you in on that James Patterson, does it demonstrate the first test case if you like of this big strategy from state and territory leaders that hard borders are very popular in the states and territories?

PATTERSON: Well on those numbers pretty sure it sounds like the Northern Territory incumbent Labor government has just fallen over the line in the time of an unprecedented crisis. So it doesn't sound like me is a very good political strategy if all it can deliver is an incumbent, in a time when people are flocking to incumbents, is a very, very narrow win. But anyway, let's put aside the politics and think about what's in the national interest here. If two states with very little or no community transmission can't have travel between them then I think we're going to be bearing a very high cost as a country for a long time. I do understand, unfortunately, why they have been some restrictions placed on Victoria, although I hope they lifted soon. But when you have a state like Western Australia and South Australia or the Northern Territory, which have shut down their borders to each other, despite no Community transmission at all, I don't think that's in the national interest. 

KARVELAS: When do you think those borders should be lifted?

PATTERSON: As soon as it's safe to do so in the case of Victoria and the rest of the country, based on the medical advice. But in the case of other states and territories where there's no community transmission, I'd like those state premieres and chief ministers to articulate what the medical reason is and what the medical advice is that hose borders need to remain closed because it's not clear to me what that is.

KARVELAS: Stephen Jones, on the same question I put there to James Patterson, we have this election result now, majority government in the Northern Territory. What's your analysis of what it does say about that debate around hard border closures. 

JONES: Oh, look. It's a great result for Michael Gunner. Always a difficult electorate, always a difficult territory for Labor to win up there in the Northern Territory and difficult time to campaign. A lot of ructions going on inside Northern Territory politics. So I think it's a great win for him. And you know, I know what Senator Patterson's comments were about incumbents, if he was  right on that you'd have won Eden-Monaro and how good was it that we were able to have Kristy McBain join us in federal Parliament today, winning against the tide you Eden-Monaro. Let's take nothing away from Northern Territory Labor. They've responded to what the people of the Northern Territory want them to do and they've been rewarded for that just as Mark McGowan and Annastacia Palaszczuk ar doing in Queensland and WA, the two other states that you've singled out. I think the last thing that they're Liberal colleagues are neither of those states would want to hear at the moment is a Liberal senator from Victoria going over there and saying let us in. I don't think that'd be welcome.

KARVELAS: Just finally, Liberal MP Jason Falinski was on this channel earlier and he said he's not entirely sure that a Royal Commission coming up with policy solutions into aged-care was a good idea in the first place. James Patterson, is he right, that it wasn't a good idea?

PATTERSON: No, I think the Prime Minister was right to call the Royal Commission and Royal Commissions can have a very useful role in shedding light on policy problems and we should take their recommendations very seriously. I think it's appropriate though that governments consider those recommendations very seriously. We have seen a tendency in some state governments in particular to say prematurely before they even receive Royal Commission reports that they're going to adopt all of the recommendations no matter what they are. I think that is a abrogation of responsibility of governments to carefully consider the policy issues and I'm sure we'll do that in the case of this one.

KARVELAS: Stephen Jones, just a final word to you on that issue. 

JONES: An appalling response from the government on this. We have an interim report from the  Royal Commission telling us that between 30 and 50 percent of residents in some of these aged care facilities are starving. They're suffering from malnutrition and yet we hear from the minister and the Prime Minister today that he's going wait until after, not this budget, but the next budget before it does anything about it. I mean, where's the heart in those guys? In aged care homes in Australia residents are starving and this government is going to twiddle its thumbs and wait till not this budget, but the budget after next one. Frankly the people of Australia have got a right to be outraged because it's outrageous. 

KARVELAS: Thanks to both of you for joining me and have a happy parliamentary sitting week.