Minister Shorten Interview on ABC Breakfast with Lisa Millar


SUBJECTS: Resignation of Kathryn Campbell; Synergy 360; Stuart Robert associate James Margerison’s refusal to appear in parliament; tax policy

LISA MLLAR, HOST: Let's go to federal politics now, where yesterday top bureaucrat Kathryn Campbell resigned from her position at the Defence Department. She had already been suspended. There's also been revelations surrounding former Liberal Minister Stuart Robert and his ties to lobbying firm Synergy 360. Lot going on in politics for a non-sitting week. Let's go straight to Government Services Minister Bill Shorten, who is in Canberra. Minister, good morning. Welcome to News Breakfast.


MILLAR: I just want to go to Kathryn Campbell's resignation. She of course was the senior public servant who faced heavy criticism for the fact that her department was overseeing Robodebt. What do you make of the fact that she's now resigned from this $900,000 a year job in the Department of Defence?

SHORTEN: Well, the Defence Department's advised that Ms. Kathryn Campbell resigned her position on Friday, the 21st of July. I can't comment any more about individual matters. Obviously, she was certainly, her evidence was certainly examined by Commissioner Catherine Holmes. The Royal Commission report was handed down on July the 7th into the Robodebt scandal. It found it was a terrible chapter in Australia's Social Security history, public administration failures. For four and a half years, the previous government were lawbreakers, and they ran a scheme which illegally raised debt notices against hundreds of thousands of vulnerable people with no legal basis, causing great harm. The Royal Commission has recommended to, referred people to various agencies. It's in a sealed section, so we don't know exactly who's been named and to what they've been, to whom they've been referred and what about. But the processes are ongoing accountability, which is what the victims of Robodebt and Australians want. That process is still underway.

MILLAR: And there is some footage suggesting that the former Prime Minister Scott Morrison has returned to the country. We've had a statement from him denying the allegations that were put forward in the Royal commission report saying that he had not been, he'd rejected each of the findings that had been critical of his involvement, but we actually haven't heard him speak about it. What do you want to hear from Scott Morrison?

SHORTEN: Mr. Morrison has denied everything, said nothing to see here. For me, I just wish it had never happened. It was a government of law breakers, the previous Coalition government. They thought they could get away with treating people, receiving the Social Security safety net as second-class Australians. They implied that there were hundreds of thousands of cheats who were hiding a mountain of gold worth billions of dollars, and Mr. Morrison and others were going to catch them and make them accountable. It turned out that the people breaking the law were not the people they were assaulting on Centrelink payments. It was actually the government itself. So, I don't know what Mr. Morrison can say. He's in obviously complete denial about everything. That's his prerogative. But the Royal Commission is gripping reading and there was a lot of evidence which seems to contradict Mr. Morrison's version of events.

MILLAR: Can I turn to this other story that's broken in the last few hours about the businessman who's been linked to Stuart Robert, John Margerison.

SHORTEN: Extraordinary.

MILLAR: Saying that he's not going to front the parliamentary inquiry that's looking at contracts because his lawyer says he's left the country and believes that he is out of the, out of the area that the committee would be looking at. Can he do that?

SHORTEN: Well, he's left the country. Truly remarkable development. This Mr. Margerison, whom I've never met, was the chair of Mr. Stuart Robert's Fadden fundraising forum. So, he obviously knew Mr. Robert very well. Then it appears that Mr. Margerison was given a 20% share in a Canberra lobbying firm, Synergy 360. We don't know what consideration was paid for this special 20% share. Synergy 360 was involved in a range of contracts which have raised red flags. And Mr. Margerison was asked to appear in front of a joint parliamentary committee, and in something which is redolent of last century when people would fly the coop, abscond, he said, his lawyer has said that Mr. Margerison has severed all relationship with the country of Australia and resides overseas and won't be providing any evidence. So, this guy, who was a key fundraiser for the Queensland LNP and the seat of Fadden, certainly a person of interest in terms of what has happened with this consulting firm and getting special access to Coalition Ministers, has now left the country. He's gone. He’s not coming back for any evidence.

MILLAR: So, Mr. Robert’s rejected all the allegations. He's now out of parliament. He says there's zero evidence for it. But is there anything that can be done right now to get this business associate to be actually having to answer questions, or is he flown the coop? He's gone. That's it?

SHORTEN: Oh, well, I don't think it can be left there. This man - listen, I don't know why he's left the country. Maybe there's a perfectly legitimate reason he hasn't volunteered why he has severed all ties with the nation of Australia. It's pretty dramatic, though, I have to say to Australians waking up, getting their kids ready for school, going to work, be it on construction sites or in offices around Australia, people working in hospitals, if you're asked to send evidence about a matter which you've been involved with to a parliamentary hearing, most Australians don't just leave the country and not come back, sever all relations. It is highly, highly, highly unusual and irregular. It raises more questions than answers. I think the Queensland LNP, who benefited from this man's alleged fundraising skills, need to explain what they know. Does the Coalition approve of this? Do they think this is acceptable that you just ride out of town ahead of the posse and not be seen again? I mean, I'd be interested if Australians see him overseas and could they let us know where he is.

MILLAR: I just want to quickly - well, yeah. Australians overseas, very good photo takers. We've seen that before.

SHORTEN: Yeah, that’s true.

MILLAR: Mr. Shorten, just before you go, I want to ask you about the CFMEU's push to put forward a super tax on big performing companies to try and help the housing crisis. We've seen a government that you've been part of go down this road before. It hasn't worked. They're going to take it to the ALP national conference next month. Would you support it?

SHORTEN: I'll be supporting the Government position and the Cabinet position. We're doing a lot. Our Future Fund is crucial to making sure that we've got ongoing funding. Housing is a problem. There is no doubt that we need to develop more supply. There's no doubt that people are doing it tough in the rental market. But no, the Government has no plans that I'm aware of to have any sort of super tax. So, I think the Government's got a strategy and I think we should stay the course and back in what we know. Obviously, people are entitled to their opinions, though.

MILLAR: All right, Bill Shorten, good to speak to you this morning. Enjoy your day.

SHORTEN: Lovely. Thank you. Bye bye.