28 March 2019
Transcript - #2019005, 2019

Interview with Tom Connell, Newsday, Sky News

Subjects: New Israel tax treaty, upcoming budget, One Nation preferences and MP George Christensen

CONNELL:

Our next guess is Assistant Treasurer Stuart Robert here in the studio. Thanks for your time. You have been off signing a new tax treaty with Israel that surprised me. A billion-dollar merchandise trade deal between the two countries.

ROBERT:

And potentially Tom a lot more. This is the nation’s 45th double taxation treaty, funnily enough it is Israel’s 57th. Which is an opportunity for both countries to avoid double taxation and provide incentives for investment. Israel into Australia and Australia into Israel. This is a really good move.

CONNELL:

It is something that took, I think, five years. A bit of haggling. What was going on?

ROBERT:

There is always haggling with taxation treaties. Everyone is trying to get the best for their citizens and Australia is no different and this Government works tirelessly to lower taxes, and that’s exactly what we’ve done here. We’ve only got about $250m worth of exports into Israel and we want to see that climb dramatically and this will be a key plank in getting this to happen.

CONNELL:

Trades has been one of the good stories, I guess, from this Coalition Government. I wanted to ask you a broad budget question because more stories of the coffers seemingly filling up with tax re-seats, receipts I should say, is a good thing, but given that debt and deficit disaster we heard so much about when you were in Opposition, would it be good to see this put towards the debt rather than income tax cuts and maybe trying to convince a few voters?

ROBERT:

There is no question Tom that the Liberal and National Parties are the parties of lower tax. We are the party of, of zero or no deficit and the party of paying off debt. So, the Commonwealth Bank is being generous in terms of our stewardship of the economy, throwing some big numbers around in terms of what they believe the budget surplus will be. We of course want to see that surplus strongly in MYEFO, which is the Budget update in December. We predicted four and a bit billion dollars rising to twelve and a half and nineteen billion and of course the last estimates has with net debt in ten years at 1.5 per cent of GDP, which is superb in terms of the country. Now all this will come out on Budget Day, Tuesday night will be something to be watched. The nation coming back in to surplus strongly.

CONNELL:

You don’t have any leaks in your pocket for me or something maybe?

ROBERT:

I don’t have any leaks at all. Unfortunately.

CONNELL:

Alright.

ROBERT:

The Treasurer, the PM and I are pretty tight on this.

CONNELL:

The PM, speaking of that, now he has declared that he is putting One Nation after the Labor Party on how to vote cards.

ROBERT:

Yep.

CONNELL:

Was the conspiracy theory angle worse than everything else that we saw beforehand? When you are talking about denying something happen or happen the way it was and remember 35 people were killed.

ROBERT:

Tom, it is all abhorrent. It is all abhorrent. Any discussion that seeks to minimise life in any way like this is abhorrent. The nation was appalled when Port Arthur occurred and I think [John] Howard’s response was right. Took a fair bit of political courage at the time. But our gun laws have now existed with broad bi-partisan support from that day to this day and to the end of days our gun laws won’t change in that respect. And any move to try and water down what occurred, I think the average Australian will think it is abhorrent.

CONNELL:

Now, you are a Liberal in the LNP and that would apply to you?

ROBERT:

In terms of the Prime Minister making a very clear statement that the Liberal Party will put One Nation last, it gets my full and utter support.

CONNELL:

Have you been told that this is an edict out to all MPs that this applies to you as a Liberal MP within the LNP in Queensland?

ROBERT:

I don’t speak on behalf of the Party. The Party will speak on its own behalf. However, the Prime Minister has made it very clear what he expects and he will get absolute support and loyalty out of me. And in my seat One Nation has never preferenced me. Their tickets that they have run against me have always been open, they have never actually given a preference flow.

CONNELL:

But is it your understanding that Liberal MPs in Queensland would, this would apply to them.

ROBERT:

Well, it is my understanding that the Liberal/National Party will determine it when the close of nominations occur and we will wait in see what happens in that respect. But in terms of what the Prime Minister has said and what he expects upon the Liberal Party, he has made his expectation very clear, One Nation is going last. We are not putting up with this behaviour.

CONNELL:

But, is that to Liberal MPs within the LNP or is that unclear at the moment.

ROBERT:

I will leave that for the Party to determine.

CONNELL:

Okay. It obviously doesn’t apply to Nationals MPs. Should it?

ROBERT:

Well the Prime Minister speaks on behalf of Liberal Party as the Leader of the Liberal Party and the Deputy Prime Minister speaks on behalf of the National Party and the PM has said that he will let the National Party decide their own course on this as he should and the Nats will.

CONNELL:

Is there any urging though for your National colleagues, because we’ve been discussing this touting for donations, talking about watering down gun laws in exchange for that and you have spoken of your criticism of that, the conspiracy theories that are coming out as well. Would you have an urging of your Nationals colleagues to reconsider whether they would preference One Nation ahead of Labor?

ROBERT:

I will let the National Party speak for themselves. From my personal view what we’ve seen in terms of One Nations behaviour is just terrible. You can’t do these things. The Prime Minister has reiterated this very strongly, speaking not just as the Leader of the Liberal Party, but as the Prime Minister. He has made the point very strongly for our Party, the Liberal Party. We’ll let the Deputy Prime Minister speak on behalf of his.

CONNELL:

You’re a Coalition. You can see how voters will look on and say that only one part of the party is actually doing this?

ROBERT:

We’ll see what the National Party response is.

CONNELL:

Would you hope they don’t preference One Nation. Is that a hope of yours?

ROBERT:

We’ll wait and see. I am not going to speak for the National Party. I haven’t in the past and I am certainly not going to today.

CONNELL:

When it comes to obviously George Christiansen and the situation that is going on there, three, well 294 days in the Philippines over four years. More time in the Philippines than in Parliament for two different years as well. Has he had a full explanation of what he was doing or perhaps why he was away from his constituents so much?

ROBERT:

Well every MP is responsible for their own constituency and in my experience of 12 years of a constituency on the Gold Coast your constituents will always want a response from you on any number of things. So, I’m quite certain that his constituents will be speaking to him about that. They’ll make their own judgements around that and he will have a responsibility to address that with his constituents and I’m sure he will be doing all of that.

CONNELL:

We’re talking about 11 weeks, on average, a year that he was on holiday.

ROBERT:

And that is a judgment for his constituents to make. Not a judgment for me to make. We all have different view on how we conduct ourselves and what we do. It is not something I would do in terms of on the Gold Coast and my constituents would be pretty loud if wasn’t there for a large amount of time. But every constituency is different, Tom.

CONNELL:

You must have an opinion on it?

ROBERT:

I am not in the habit of expressing my opinions on the National Party or on the political parties.

CONNELL:

Can you give a thumbs up or down without saying anything?

ROBERT:

George Christensen is a great colleague. He works bloody hard. He is a superb representative for his people and when it comes to passions of his like insurance in the north and assistance in terms of agricultural area, he is first class. In terms of him standing up for his community, he gets a thumbs up for me.

CONNELL:

Is 11 weeks holiday a year on $200,000 working hard?

ROBERT:

Well I again am not going to provide any judgment.

CONNELL:

Well you just said he is working hard.

ROBERT:

He is. Every time he has been in my office standing up for his constituents. He has got a fair bit of passion behind that.

CONNELL:

Would you ever take 11 weeks off in a year, overseas?

ROBERT:

No, I wouldn’t. But that is a personal decision of mine and I am not going to judge any colleagues, because we don’t know a lot of the circumstances behind that and we’ll leave that for George to discuss with his own electorate.

CONNELL:

Stuart Robert. Thanks for your time.

ROBERT:

Great pleasure Tom.