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James Cullen on Sky News First Edition: Parliament’s return, Angus Taylor, sports grants affair, RBA Governor’s speech.

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House of Representatives, Australian Parliament House. Photo by Aditya Joshi

LAURA JAYES, HOST:  Let’s have a little look closer to home, joining me now is  James Cullen, senior director of government relations at the Cornerstone Group, James good to see you.  Of course, in Canberra, first sitting week back of Parliament for 2020, it’s been quite an eventful one so far, we’ve seen the Nats sort out their leadership, once and for all, maybe, who knows.  We’ll see where that one ends up.  But also the two question times, well, the first major question time, it was interesting to see where Labor went with this. So much that happened over the summer, I think they just thought there was so much to touch on they kind of did it all at once.  What did you think of the performance?

JAMES CULLEN, SENIOR DIRECTOR, CORNERSTONE GROUP: Yeah, I think it was a really strong first effort, as you say, it was a ‘target-rich environment’, shall we say, from an Opposition tactics perspective, so I think it was good to hit the key themes.  And let’s be frank, there’ll be more to come and a lot of these stories have got a life of their own.  So I think it was important to get to the key things around bushfires and unsurprisingly the Sports Rorts, there’s a lot more life to go there, and it’ll probably be a matter of time before Angus Taylor becomes a bit of a focus again for the Opposition as well.

JAYES: Yeah it … by what vehicle, if you like?

CULLEN: Yeah, look I think … well there’s a AFP investigation which is still outstanding, and some questions, so I suppose we’ll see…

JAYES: Do you really expect that to go somewhere though?  Looking at the history of these things.

CULLEN:  Yeah, look, the history sort of suggests probably not, but you know, it’s taking a bit of time, there was a referral from NSW Police to the AFP, clearly, prima facie on what we know and what has been made public, there is some interesting dealings around this document. So I think there’s probably some more questions to come, and there’s broader issues to do with that Minister and the handling of his portfolio as well.  So I suspect the Opposition will be back to Angus Taylor at some point.

JAYES: I find it really interesting, given the sports rorts saga, I think we need to remind everyone that Bridget McKenzie didn’t actually resign because of the way that she had divvied out that money, she resigned because she didn’t put on her register of interests her gun club membership, and therefore it was perceived to be a conflict of interest.  We’ve seen many ministers go this way, in previous times, including Sussan Ley is one that comes to mind, of course we know after Barnaby Joyce two years ago, the Ministerial Guidelines were changed to include no liaisons with your staff, so can you really see Angus Taylor going down, given really Bridget McKenzie was, let’s say it, sacked on a technicality…

CULLEN: Yeah, yeah, to go to Bridget first, it was interesting that sort of within almost on the day in which see came out and made a statement, there was talk that, and obviously support from McCormack, that she could come back really quickly, which I thought was really really interesting that so quickly. Usually you know if the fix is in and she’s going to come back at some point, it’s usually you don’t really find that out until there’s a reshuffle down the track, so I thought it was really interesting to sort of see that so quickly after this scandal, let’s be frank, and the facts aren’t really fantastic for the Minister that she’s already being talked about coming back in a future iteration, so that’s interesting.  Look, I think Angus we’re going to have to sort of see how things play out over the coming months….

JAYES: Is he a rich target for Labor in Question Time still?

CULLEN: Yeah, I think so.  And I think also we saw that Senate inquiry successfully launched yesterday into the sports rorts saga.  Clearly, Labor and the crossbench are going to try and call witnesses, ministerial advisers, public servants, I think there’s more to come on that as well.  The involvement, potential involvement of the Prime Minister’s office, we saw that unfortunate story this morning of the PM’s assistant making some public remarks regarding a different grants program as well, it just seems like it’s a story that’s going to keep on giving for a while, Laura.

JAYES: Yep, it certainly does, so much to go in 2020, I can’t believe all this has happened in the first week.  We also heard from the RBA Governor yesterday, the RBA’s statement of monetary policy and the minutes can be often very dry.  Philip Lowe does know that his words are bullets when it comes to the market and the economy and the reaction that his words might bring, but look once again he says, has urged the Government, I think, privately as well, to spend more.  But there’s a … sensing a bit of frustration that he’s not being quite specific.

CULLEN: Yes, he’s been making the general point, to be fair to the Governor, now for I think twelve months, that fiscal policy has a role in supporting monetary policy in terms of stimulating the economy.  We’ve got the RBA’s cash rate at 0.75, we know that there’s only so low it can go, it’s almost done, and so we do need both levers working together.  He has been making this point consistently.  I think he’s got reasonably close yesterday calling for an investment allowance, which as you know Laura the Government has been sort of flagging publicly and might look at doing something like that.  Interestingly, that was a Labor policy at the last election.  I think the problem now with some of those initiatives to sort of help stimulate business investment, which is really what we need with wages growth so poor, productivity growth, again the RBA Governor making the point that it’s a real problem at the moment. The problem with the investment allowance being flagged but actually not being brought on is I’m concerned that we’re actually not going to see a pick-up overall in investment if you like, it’ll just be a shifting of investment as businesses actually wait for the good tax treatment to come in, so hold on….

JAYES: It’s been flagged so why invest until we get this…

CULLEN: …exactly, whereas I think six months ago would’ve been the time to have the investment allowance sort of overnight, and then get that investment rolling out.  Because subsequently we’ve had obviously bushfires, coronavirus, I’m concerned that now any initiative seems like a response to that rather than getting ahead of it, when we knew the economy was slowing and struggling six to twelve months ago.

JAYES: Well if Tanya Plibersek is any indication Labor is not going to let Josh Frydenberg or the Government get away with that come Budget time, James Cullen, great to see you, in the flesh as well.

Cornerstone Group’s James Cullen is a regular on Sky News First Edition.
Photo by Aditya Joshi, Unsplash.