MARK PARTON: Craig Emerson is the Federal Trade Minister. He’s dealing with all these issues around the world and in Australia. He joins us on the line right now. I’ve just had a caller, Wayne: I don’t think you heard his comment, Craig?
CRAIG EMERSON: No. It’d be full of praise, I’m sure.
PARTON: No, no, no. Look, granted everything he says he has tongue firmly placed in cheek, but he’s brought up this whole hair colour thing again.
EMERSON: Oh, goodness gracious! I’ll have to have a personal meeting with him and he can inspect the greying temples of Emmo.
PARTON: And he wanted to know which hair colour does Emmo use, so that ‘I can avoid it’. I promised I’d put it to you.
EMERSON: Yeah, no problem. It’s a special hair colouring that makes the sides of my hair, my sideburns, go white and the rest of it is fairly dark. You just sprinkle the rest with a bit of salt and pepper.
PARTON: Now that we’ve got all the important stuff out of the way …
EMERSON: It just takes ages to do that. You can imagine me every morning.
PARTON: Okay, let’s get on to the carbon tax: we’re a couple of days away. Warren pesters us every time you come within cooee of this frequency and he wants us again to put to you that those people that are earning $80,000 don’t end up getting a pay cut … sorry, a tax cut … because of the changing scale of taxation. And he continues to assert that those people are not going to end up better off.
EMERSON: Well it’s true that we are concentrating the compensation on lower income earners and middle income earners — I’m not saying that $80,000 is a high income, before anyone jumps in there. But for lower income earners, there’s a 20 per cent battlers’ buffer so that they are more than fully compensated. Up the income scale, we are not saying that everyone is fully compensated — never have.
PARTON: You must be concerned, whether or not you’ll admit it to me this morning, that the domino effect as this snowballs along the line, when price rises are passed on from supplier A to supplier B to supplier C to supplier E, that ultimately we are going to end up with price rises that are more significant than the modelling did say.
EMERSON: No, not at all. And I could recall when the GST was being designed and debated there were some people — me not included — who said ‘oh, it won’t be 10 per cent because it’s 10 per cent on the primary product and then 10 per cent and then 10 per cent that ends up being 40 or 50 per cent’. I never made that claim but you always get people making that claim. The impact is 70 cents in every $100 — that is less than a 1 per cent addition to the cost of living. And the average impact of that in dollars and cents per week is $9.90 per week and the average compensation is $10.10 per week. So on average, there is more compensation than there is the cost of living increase. But as we said at the beginning: not everyone up the income scale is fully compensated — that is true. However, the price impacts are very modest indeed.
PARTON: The asylum seeker debate continues and I know that the whole of the country is so disappointed at the deadlock that we’ve got between the two major parties when …
EMERSON: You can include me in that.
PARTON: You know, it’s crazy when you consider that the basic gist of the Liberal policy is pretty much the same as the basic gist of the Labor policy.
EMERSON: That’s right. We both support offshore processing. The Liberals say they have a more compassionate approach to offshore processing, and to have asylum seekers processed in Malaysia would be inhumane, but it would be fine under their legislation to have them processed in Somalia. Now, Somalia is close to being a failed state, and Somalia is a signatory of the refugee convention. Malaysia is not. If I could add this other point, which I think is highly significant: integral to the Coalition’s approach is towing boats back to sea into Indonesia. Now Indonesia is not a signatory to the refugee convention. So the Coalition says it’s all right to tow boats back into Indonesian waters even though Indonesia is not a signatory, but it’s not all right to send them to Malaysia because it is not a signatory. I just don’t get that, and what it does mean is that the Coalition seems to be doing everything it can to prevent an agreement being reached.
PARTON: Craig, one of the things that we disagree on in this: is it’s my belief that the Howard Pacific Solution worked. I know you hold the other side of that argument. Regardless of where the refugees ended up the boats stopped, so the Liberal policy worked.
EMERSON: I agree that the boats stopped. But the advice about Nauru from the guy who was involved in designing it — Andrew Metcalfe, the head of the Immigration Department — is that it had run its course, because the people smugglers were able to tell people that the majority, the vast majority, of people who went to Nauru ended up in Australia or New Zealand, and that information was passed back to potential clients of people smugglers.
PARTON: You see this is the best thing, the best thing, about the idea that’s on the table from you guys, is that with the Malaysia solution most of the people that arrive here, don’t end up here. They end up just going back to Malaysia.
EMERSON: That’s right. That’s the essential ingredient in breaking the people smugglers’ offer, if you like, to people. The other point I’d make — and Tony Abbott and others say that they’re in opposition so they have no responsibility to find a solution here — the fact is, it was a Labor Opposition that made Nauru possible. And that is, we voted with the Howard Government to establish Nauru, even though we didn’t think it was the best policy. All we are seeking from the Coalition is to pass legislation that establishes an offshore processing option which would be exercised by the government of the day. So if Mr Abbott became Prime Minister, he could exercise Nauru. We would exercise Malaysia. He says no. And you see, he would not have legislation if he did become Prime Minister because he won’t pass this legislation which is necessitated by a High Court decision. So all we’re asking is there be offshore processing for the compassionate reason that what we’re seeing now is onshore processing de facto because of the High Court decision, and people are drowning at sea. That is distressing. That is distressing to everyone I believe — certainly to me — and we should get past the politics. But Mr Abbott — as you’ve seen on television, heard on radio — he just appears completely unwilling to do anything because he seems to think that more boats equal more votes for him, and he’s just got to get over that.
PARTON: Emmo, thanks for your time this morning. Appreciate it.
EMERSON: All right, thanks Mark.
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