JULIE BISHOP (audio interrupted)…the Senate has, for the second time, rejected those laws. The only way we could get the Australian Building and Construction Commission established is for there to be a joint sitting of the parliament, with the House and the Senate, and do that through a double dissolution election. So it’s an option available for us for 2 July, but there was going to be an election this year anyway, in August/September, so there’s an election in July or August/September then we will proceed to the polls.
JOURNALIST Is there a risk involved, being definitive with the day? That it lets everyone know, including the Labor Party, the timing? Does it remove one of the Prime Minister’s, I guess, surprises that he could, you know, dictate the date and then catch Labor by surprise in terms of its own planning?
JULIE BISHOP No, I don’t believe so. There was going to be an election this year, in the second half of the year anyway. Parties are preparing, candidates are preparing for an election so if it’s on 2 July or on a date in the first week of August or first week of September, we know that there’s going to be an election in the second half of the year.
JOURNALIST So you effectively think that we’ve been in the campaign for some time anyway.
JULIE BISHOP Well with three year election cycles, you often feel you’re campaigning all of the time…
JOURNALIST Sure, yeah that’s right. On this issue though, do you think that this will be the central part of the campaign for the Government? Union governance? Or is this part of a broader message that you want to try and prosecute to the Australian people?
JULIE BISHOP Well Kieran, the next step is the Budget. The Budget has to be handed down on 3 May and that will be another piece in our economic plan, it will be a centrepiece in our economic plan for more economic growth, for more jobs for Australians. That’s why our announcement yesterday on the continuous ship build, so that we’ll have a shipbuilding industry in Australia – both for national security and for economic growth – is such an important announcement. The next important announcement, of course, in the economic plan will be the Budget on 3 May.
JOURNALIST And now this is not just a normal Budget, this is the election manifesto, it’s really so much resting on this Budget by a rookie Treasurer in Mr Morrison.
JULIE BISHOP It’s a Budget in an election year. Budgets in election years are always important, every Budget is important but Budgets in an election year obviously set the framework for what the Government proposes to do for the next 12 months, 2, 3, 4 years.
JOURNALIST And this is effectively the starter’s gun for the election campaign because the Prime Minister will then go to the Governor-General and seek the parliament to be dissolved, the writs issued and we’re into it. So this is so pivotal, isn’t it, to your electoral prospects, that this Budget from Scott Morrison?
JULIE BISHOP Well the Prime Minister’s made it clear from the outset that if the Australian Building and Construction Commission laws were not passed, the only way to get it established would be through a joint sitting of the parliament. The Constitution provides that that’s done through a double dissolution election, so that’s an option available to us. But we’ve always had a double dissolution trigger, if you like, on the Registered Organisations Bill that the Senate rejected. So these fundamental laws for ensuring productivity on our construction sites across Australia that, after all, employ a million people, are being thwarted by the Senate. So the only way to break the deadlock is through a double dissolution election. But of course the Budget is important in an election year…
JOURNALIST And this is just as we get to polls that show you’re at 50-50, or just behind according to the Newspoll.
JULIE BISHOP Every federal election that I’ve been involved with has always been very close, not like state elections where you see significant swings. Federal elections are always very close, so I anticipate this will be no different from other federal elections.
JOURNALIST Has there been some hubris within the Coalition ranks as to the electoral prospects of Bill Shorten? That people won’t vote for him? Is there a view among your colleagues people simply vote for Shorten so you will win?
JULIE BISHOP Well people do remember that Bill Shorten was part of a Labor Government that was absolutely disastrous in terms of its impact on Australia’s economy and our Budget. We’ve never seen such record levels of debt and deficit as were bequeathed to us by the former Rudd-Gillard-Rudd Government, and Bill Shorten was part of all of that. He was part of the disaster in border protection, he was part of the disaster when it came to the Mining Tax and the Carbon Tax, he was part of the disaster of the Fuel Watch and Grocery Watch. People remember Labor’s inability to manage the economy, to manage our financial assets and Bill Shorten is remembered as being part of that disastrous Labor team.
JOURNALIST My colleague, Paul Murray, last night reported an exclusive story that the Government will use tax payer-funded ads to sell the Budget before going to the polls. Is that right? Is that appropriate?
JULIE BISHOP I’m not aware of that at all, in fact I don’t believe that the story reported last night is correct, I certainly haven’t heard anything to that effect.
JOURNALIST So there won’t be any…the Cabinet hasn’t discussed tax payer-funded ads?
JULIE BISHOP Well the figures that were being thrown around in that story last night are not ones that I’ve heard at any time so I don’t know where that story came from.
JOURNALIST Well I guess there’s a window after the Budget before the polls, before we officially go into a campaign, there would be a window there that the Government could use tax payer-funded ads if it saw fit?
JULIE BISHOP If there are needs to produce advertisements that relate to an information campaign, well governments do that all the time, that’s nothing unusual. I recall the GST election of 1998 when there was a Budget in 1998 and then there were government advertising campaigns run but I’m certainly not aware of the details that were…
JOURNALIST You haven’t seen planning along these lines?
JULIE BISHOP No, I certainly haven’t.
JOURNALIST OK finally I want to ask you quickly on this issue, the electoral issue and that relates to the Royal Commission into Banks that Labor’s proposing. ASIC has been, from my understanding, Cabinet signed off on tougher powers for ASIC that would be more permanent than a Royal Commission. Is that your argument, that this has just as much teeth but more permanent than a Royal Commission as proposed by Labor?
JULIE BISHOP We’ve been looking into the efficiency of ASIC for some time, and I expect that the Government will report on that review at some point. But of course ASIC is the watchdog, it is the regulator now, and we don’t have that in the construction industry in Australia. What we want in the construction industry is what the banking industry have. They are one of the most highly regulated sectors of the Australian economy, there’s APRA, there’s ASIC, there’s Reserve Bank, and they have the powers now to hold the banks to account and it’s one of the most highly regulated sectors of the Australian economy. A Royal Commission cannot resolve the problems that people are currently facing with the banks.
JOURNALIST Did you believe that ASIC is the right watchdog? You’re basically just reversing cuts made by the Abbott Government.
JULIE BISHOP These are matters we’ll consider because there’s been an efficiency review of ASIC, and of course these are announcements that the Treasurer and others can make but ASIC is there, it has the capacity, it’s got the powers to regulate the banks, as it has been doing.
JOURNALIST The other issue I have to ask you about is that in Beirut, the Sally Faulkner case and the 60 minutes crew. What’s the latest advice you have on that?
JULIE BISHOP I spoke to our Ambassador just a short while ago and he confirmed that the investigating judge has adjourned the hearing to enable the parties and their lawyers to try and resolve some of the issues in this case. It’s a very complex case, it involves civil and criminal aspects and the judge clearly wants to see some kind of resolution and he’s given the parties and their lawyers time to do that. No formal charges have been laid, it’s still in the investigative stage.
JOURNALIST Are you hopeful? Is your advice suggesting that you would be hopeful that Sally and the 60 Minutes crew would be released before those charges are laid?
JULIE BISHOP Clearly we want to see this situation resolved. We are not the lawyers in the case, we can provide consular support and I’m maintaining contact with my counterpart Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil in Lebanon, but at the end of the day, it’s within the legal processes of the Lebanese system and we have to work within that, and I’m maintaining close contact with them but clearly we want to see this situation resolved and all Australians detained to be able to come home.
JOURNALIST Foreign Minister, thanks very much for your time, appreciate it.
JULIE BISHOP Thank you.
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