26 Oct 2016

KRISTINA KENEALLY: Welcome back to “To the Point”. We are now going to be joined by one of my favourite types of people – an Australian politician with a non-Australian accent.

PETER VAN ONSELEN: I feel like I am in a Eurovision contest – there’s all these different parts of the world represented. We’re joined by Senator Doug Cameron.

KENEALLY: Welcome to the program


VAN ONSELEN: You sound like you’ve spent a lifetime living in this country Doug Cameron.

CAMERON: I have actually (laughs)

KENEALLY: I love your accent, I would listen to you talk all day

VAN ONSELEN: My dad was Dutch, my mum American, they lived here most of their lives and they still had thick accents to the day that they passed on.

But let me ask you, I want to ask you a genuine question, this is in no way shape or form a criticism because I can see various reasons that you would stay on the front bench, but why not step down if you’re going to step down at the next election? And by the way, why step down at the next election? (laughs)

CAMERON: Look for decades now I’ve been active as a union official and a politician and I’ve got a great wife who’s followed me all over the world actually and I want to spend some time with Elaine and my family and I’ve come to the conclusion that I don’t want to end up like Senator Ian McDonald, so get out when you’re on top.

VAN ONSELEN: That is a very good goal in life!

KENEALLY: Wow that is a good lifetime goal there.

Alright let me ask you something about your portfolio area, Housing and Homelessness. Yesterday we saw the government come out hitting hard saying that tackling housing affordability was going to be a very important area for the government. Would you like to see them do something like institute an inquiry into the matter?

CAMERON: Well, another inquiry from the Turnbull government, I mean what good is that? We need some leadership on housing and homelessness, leadership like Labor has supplied on the issue of negative gearing and capital gains tax. We’ve had a range of policies in place trying to deal with the issue of housing and homelessness.

That speech that was done yesterday by the Treasurer was just an absolute flop. I mean we’ve got a fizzer of a Prime Minister and we’ve got a flop for a Treasurer. I mean this is hopeless. What did he deliver in that speech? Nothing, absolutely nothing.

KENEALLY: Your colleague Pat Conroy used to be on a committee that was looking at an inquiry into housing affordability. He reckons the government let it lapse because it was going to make recommendations about negative gearing. So it does beg the question, is there space here somehow through a parliamentary process to revive that committee or to lobby to bring that back? Apparently there are hundreds of pages of submissions and evidence that have been brought before it.

CAMERON: Well I’m not sure of the processes in the House of Reps but certainly they should be able to bring it back on and reinstitute that committee, even if it’s only to present the report. There should be easily a process to do that and I think that should be done. I think the reason it was buried was that the evidence that came before it was strongly in support of negative gearing being confined and capital gains tax being reduced.

These are fundamental issues in the housing market that this government won’t deal with because the big end of town doesn’t want it removed. The rich players out there in the housing and building industry don’t want it removed, and it really has to be removed.

VAN ONSELEN: Is there a risk though, just to play devil’s advocate, is there a risk that if there is not enough supply of housing and if we’ve got high migration rates and large numbers of people looking for dwellings, is there a risk that if you don’t have those tax incentives for investing in property there won’t be enough rental properties on the market?

CAMERON: Well according to experts, and AHURI which is the housing research unit, and the economists that have looked at this issue, the Grattan Institute, this will not be a problem. I mean what is does is it doesn’t allow the market to operate effectively as those acolytes of the market would say you need the market to operate. This is a distortion in the market and it needs to be changed. I’m arguing to get rid of distortions in the market. 

VAN ONSELEN: Fair enough. Having said that I just think that some form of negative gearing reform is an absolute no brainer and it’s disappointing that it had to become a black or white debate at the last election. Would you be open to some sort of compromise if the Government - they don’t look like doing this in fairness, but if the Government was prepared to look at negative gearing but they just didn’t like Labor’s model, is Labor open to alternative models which none the less deal with the negative gearing issue?

CAMERON: Well we’ve put a model out there, let’s see if the government ever has the courage or the backbone to actually deal with capital gains tax and negative gearing. I doubt they will. So unless they’ve got something out there that is a real alternative, it simply becomes speculation. Let them come to the table with an issue, and I’m sure that Chris Bowen and myself would sit down with the Government and have a look at what’s on the table, but don’t hold your breath for this terrible government to actually put anything on the table on a real issue of policy.

KENEALLY: Doug Cameron you’re in the Senate, can I ask you about the ABCC legislation? It looks possible that Senator Bob Day might still be sitting in the Senate when those bills come up for a vote. What’s your view on whether or not he should be allowed to vote, or permitted to vote or his vote be relied upon by the Government on that legislation? Or should that Government wait until he has formally resigned?

CAMERON: Well I reckon it’s an absolute outrage for Bob Day to be there continually running his ideological attack on working people’s rights when he will be a bankrupt, when he couldn’t run his own business effectively, and he argued to get rid of penalty rates and working conditions for all workers in the country. An absolute outrage. This would be a tainted vote. This would be a vote that certainly if Malcom Turnbull had any capacity as a leader he would say he is not going to take that vote.

VAN ONSELEN: And on that though, what about the comparison to Craig Thompson, the argument is that both sides are running counter arguments on this now when you compare those two instances of the so called “tainted vote”.

CAMERON: Look I think it’s quite clear with Bob Day. If you’re a bankrupt and you’re running a business that’s hit the wall, if you’ve ripped off hundreds and hundreds of people around the country trying to build their dream home, if you’ve ripped them off, if you’ve left them defenceless in terms of getting their dreams built, then this guy has got no credibility to sit in the Senate and vote to take conditions away from ordinary working people.

KENEALLY: Let me also ask you about Barnaby Joyce. Fairfax has reported overnight that Dr Phil Grimes, the former head of the Agriculture department, they’ve gotten hold of a letter that he has written in which he questioned the now Deputy Prime Minister’s integrity. This is a rather extraordinary letter I would argue. It does paint a concern for democracy I would also argue because of the idea of fearless and frank advice coming from public servants.

CAMERON: Dr Grimes was consistent in his position that there was a problem. Dr Grimes was a very highly respected public servant. His career has been absolutely trashed because Barnaby Joyce took it upon himself to change Hansard and this courageous public servant stood against him and he was crushed by Barnaby Joyce.

I think the Prime Minister should have a close look at this and the Prime Minister should very quickly say that Barnaby Joyce has got no integrity, he doesn’t have the capacity to be the Deputy Prime Minister of this country and he should get rid of him. But he won’t have the guts to do that, he won’t have the capability to actually take this guy on.

KENEALLY: Well I say politically I don’t think that is going to happen but I would say that Dr Grimes may have a legitimate complaint to make here but then again he’s been rather quiet this whole past year. He hasn’t put this letter out there, the Opposition has been seeking to get hold of it, Dr Grimes has been quite quiet about it.

CAMERON: Well as I understand it, I can’t say this for sure but I understand there has been a settlement with Dr Grimes for the destruction of his career but there are confidential aspects to that settlement. So this is an issue that Barnaby Joyce should just get up, say that he lacks integrity and resign. If Malcom Turnbull won’t sack this guy, he should just resign.

KENEALLY: Senator we are just three minutes away from your leader Bill Shorten getting up, he’s in Perth with Anne Aly so we will need to be mindful of the time.

VAN ONSELEN: Are you expecting him to be on time Senator Cameron?

CAMERON: I think if you’ve got me and you’ve got the leader, you’ve got to go to the leader.

KENEALLY: That’s a fair comment and we will stand by for Bill Shorten any moment now.

Let’s also talk about Justin Gleeson because this has also been quite an extraordinary development.

VAN ONSELEN: On that, did he err by not letting the Government know that he had a telephone conversation with the Shadow Attorney General during the caretaker period? That seems to be his biggest mistake, if I could put it that way, in this saga.

CAMERON: Whether he did or not is not the issue. The issue here is the behaviour of the Attorney General. This is a pompous, arrogant politician, who really has again tried to stand over a very eminent public servant. I just think again, it demonstrates what this government’s all about.

It’s about their own egos, it’s about the pomposity and this born to rule attitude that they’ve got against public servants. It doesn’t bode well for the public. We need strong, independent public servants and it’s clear that the Turnbull Government doesn’t see the same priority, otherwise Joyce would be gone and so would Brandis. 


KENEALLY: Alright Senator, we know you’ve got a plane to catch but thank you so much for coming in and talking to us on To the Point.

VAN ONSELEN: Thanks for your company.