By Terri Butler MP

29 March 2021

Topics: Morrison Reshuffle; Andrew Laming; Michaelia Cash; Amanda Stoker; JobKeeper cuts; Scott Morrison poor at delivery; Vaccine roll out; Marise Payne. 

STEVE AUSTIN, HOST: Terri Butler, good to have you with us. Thanks for coming on.


AUSTIN: I just want to give you a chance to have a say about the Prime Minister's announced Cabinet reshuffle. How does Labor see it?

BUTLER: Well, there's a lot of shuffling of the deck. But we’re still getting dealt a pretty poor hand I think Steve, is the issue here. 

And if you look at the ministers who have been promoted, they're all quite scandal ridden. I mean, think about the fact that Michaelia Cash is now the Attorney General for the nation. 

This is someone who is known for refusing to speak to police about the leak to the media, from her office, in relation to some raids, and someone who's also known for hiding from the media behind a whiteboard in Parliament House and it just doesn't inspire a lot of confidence that this person is now going to be responsible as the first law officer of the nation.

AUSTIN: And now assisted by Queensland Senator Amanda Stoker I think as well, in that role.

BUTLER: Yeah, Amanda, I think is more qualified than Michaelia to be the Attorney General, so hopefully she'll provide some assistance to her. 
But when you've got the person up the front who is someone who's gaffe-prone but also scandal-prone and someone who has, as I said, in the past refused to cooperate with the police investigation in relation to the conduct of her own office, where she had previously said that it hadn't come from her office and had to go and correct the record and say oh yes it did, and to not cooperate with that police investigation I think Australians are to be forgiven for looking at this government and saying, well, hang on a minute, this mob are on  about the rule of law. 

It seems to be one rule for them one rule for everyone else, how can we possibly have a situation we get promoted to be the Attorney General, when that's your track record and I think people would be forgiven for thinking that. 

AUSTIN: Just jog my memory if you wouldn’t mind please Terri Butler, she’s refused to cooperate with the Australian Federal Police in their investigation?

BUTLER: That's right, there was a leak to the media, from her office in respect of some raids conducted on one of the union's headquarters. She told the parliament, the leak  hadn't come from her office and then she was forced to correct the record after saying that. And then she didn't even apologize for refusing to answer police questions. And then what actually happened with that investigation is that prosecutors was saying that the lack of evidence was among the reasons not to press charges. I mean, you just couldn't write this stuff Steve.

AUSTIN: Now one things that surprised me I heard the prime minister say that, In essence, Marise Payne is now the Prime Minister for Women. Now, I don't want to put words into his mouth, but it was an unusual way of phrasing it, unless I misheard what he was trying to say, how's the opposition interpreting his statement?

BUTLER: Look, from my perspective Steve, I thought it was just too cute by half, what does that make him the Prime Minister for men, I mean come on, his job as the Prime Minister, the Prime Minister is to lead the nation, and you can’t whitewash the fact that you've had an appalling track record of handling issues relating to the status of women by glibly calling one of your female ministers the Prime Minister for Women. 

You just can't do that and it’s frankly not particularly fair for Minister Payne, either to say that about her. I am encouraged that he is now, I think belatedly, realizing that it is important for him to take some action in respect of the safety of women, women's economic security, but you can’t just give all these things names and then move on. You actually have to take some action and one of the problems I've always had with this particular prime minister and his government is that they're, they're all about the announcements but they're pretty poor on delivery so we'll have to wait and see how this goes. 

AUSTIN: His claim was the strongest ever female representation in a cabinet. I'm assuming he means any cabinet in Australian political history is that right, as I haven't counted it up I haven't compared it with anyone else. It does look like a significant boost for women in a cabinet, how does Labor see the count?

BUTLER: Well it's good that they're starting to move towards more women in their cabinet, they just didn't have a lot of them, frankly, of course, in contrast the Shadow Cabinet, the nation’s Shadow Cabinet is 50% female. I’m a member of the Shadow Cabinet, and it's something that we have taken pride in that we have sought to ensure that women have been represented the most senior levels.  I also thought it was interesting that he added a woman to his leadership team of 10. 

I didn't know there wasn't leadership team of ten and he mentioned that Marice Payne was also a member of it. To me, that gave me the impression that sort of one out of the 10 had previously been a woman and now it was going to be two out of ten.

You just don't see that in the Labor Party. If you think about our leadership, you've got Anthony and Richard and then you've got Penny and Christina. 

And it's very clear that if you look at the leadership of Labor in the chambers of the parliament, that we have very strong women right up front and center, and a much clearer approached equality. 

But what's important about that, it's not just the representation, though representation does matter. It's also the fact that you do bring some thought about how policy affects women and, you know, we saw that in the budget. 

Anthony's budget reply put childcare, front and centre, because we're going through the pandemic you're going through the recession, it was obvious to us that you needed economic measures to boost women's workforce participation, but the government just completely seemed to forget about childcare, in the budget, and we just thought it was the obvious, important thing and I hope that with these moves that the Prime Minister is making that they will actually start to think about how policy decisions affect women as well.

AUSTIN: This is ABC Radio Brisbane. My guest is Federal Labor's Terri Butler. Terri Butler is the Federal Labor Member for Griffith, based here in Brisbane, Steve Austin's my name it's seven minutes to five, news at five and we'll check the traffic.  The JobKeeper wage subsidy has come to an end. 1.5 million workers are apparently coming off the subsidy. Labor has constantly criticized this, although Josh Frydenberg points out the length of time that it was in place for was double what was originally intended. Does Labor accept Josh Frydenberg’s argument, we can't keep borrowing money to subsidize workers on JobKeeper?

BUTLER: Firstly, it’s pretty rich for Josh Frydenberg to lecture anyone on how to balance the budget when he's the Treasurer who is racking up a trillion dollars of debt without having any major infrastructure projects or other legacy to so for that trillion dollars of debt. So I don't think we'll be taking lecturers from just about responsible budgetary management, but I will say this you know Josh might want to be pointing the finger at us  in respect of JobKeeper, we called for wage subsidies. We called for them. We said they should happen, the government at the time said no, no, no, it's a dangerous idea, we can’t have wage subsidies they then backflipped to introduce them, we were happy about that.

And what's been very clear ever since is that those wage subsidies have been absolutely crucial to ensuring that people can remain in touch with the workforce and to help our economy, manage through the various significant crises that we've been facing. 

And the question is always, what's the extent of it. How long should it run for, and that's an economic question, and because it's an economic question, you have to take into account the circumstances of the time, you've always got to say what's important here?

AUSTIN: Well everyone I know, all the commentators been warning that zombie companies have been propped up the scheme, and we actually need to let zombie companies fold because they would have folded anyhow, Terri.

BUTLER: Sure, but you're talking about, what Treasury is saying about the JobKeeper cuts, is that we’re risking up to 150,000 jobs going. 

So that's just not zombie companies, that's 150,000 real people who may lose their jobs as a consequence, and you remember that when they were talking about these JobKepper cuts, the idea was that 4 million Aussies would have been vaccinated by the end of March, and that that was a reason why we can be confident that people will be able to return to work, that the economy would be able to come back a little stronger. And that confidence would be up, that consumption would be up - all of these things.  But we didn't get that vaccination milestone, in fact they missed it. 

I think last week we're looking at the figures. They’d missed their 4 million target by about 3.7 million. So, it's a wide berth between what the target was and what they actually delivered, we're now seeing right here today, as we speak, as people prepare to go into lockdown. A situation where we are seeing the impact of not having had as many vaccinations as people would have liked, we're not seeing a situation where we are ready to get back to a better normal, we're still going through this and so the question has got to be, in terms of any economic questions, if we're spending public money, what is the return on that investment?  And that, as I say, it's a question that you have to ask in the circumstances of the time. 

AUSTIN: My guest is Terri Butler Federal Labor Member for Griffith. 

Terri Butler, Andrew lemming won't be re-contesting the next federal election. He won't be joining me on this station tomorrow either for that matter, but I know you've worked closely with him on the on the Education Committee. He was the chair and you were the deputy chair. Will you miss him?

BUTLER: I won’t miss Andrew, Andrew and I have worked together on and off throughout my time in the parliament as you know, he and I used to do a show with you every Wednesday morning for about three years. But it's a relationship that was one of I think polite distance. If I could describe it that way. And I think that the real concern that people had about Andrew has been the conducted that he himself has owned up to outside of the Parliament, and I really want to say to the Prime Minister, you can't have people in your team, in the parliament, who set this sort of example because by doing that, you're effectively giving license. 

And, you know, the things that the Prime Minister says and does, they affect the way that people act in our community, they do, it's just a fact. We are in a situation where what the Prime Minister is prepared to accept, is not just a standard set for the parliament, it's a standard set for the nation, and he really does need to take some firm action in respect of Andrew.

AUSTIN: I appreciate you coming on this afternoon. Thanks very much Terri Butler.

BUTLER: Thanks for your time.