Interview with Deborah Knight, 2GB

Deborah Knight
Topics included foot-and-mouth disease, Reserve Bank review, and Federal ICAC.

DEBORAH KNIGHT: Ed Husic is the Minister for Industry and Science and Angus Taylor, the Shadow Treasurer, they join us now. Ed, are you feeling refreshed? Have you had a good break?


DEBORAH KNIGHT: Oh, no. Me too. 

ED HUSIC: I got knocked out and then my boy got it and so I’ve got – got in with us and just getting through it and my folks – this COVID wave’s just gone everywhere, so it’s just been a matter of getting through all that to be honest with you. 

DEBORAH KNIGHT: Yeah, lots of people have got it at the moment. That is for sure. What about you Angus?

ANGUS TAYLOR: I managed to get a few days out, which was great, Deb. We were just delayed a bit by the floods but managed to get some time out, so that was very, very nice with the family. 

DEBORAH KNIGHT: Yeah, well, I’m glad that you’ve had some good time. But, look, there’s a lot on the plate; a lot to discuss. Foot and mouth disease and obviously it’s continuing to spread across Indonesia – fears growing that it’s going to spread here, which would be catastrophic if it did. A lot of the farming and consumer groups want the border shut with Indonesia. Ag minister, Murray Matt’s ruling that out. But, Ed, should we be doing more to stop this thing right now, because we’re relying on travellers coming back from places like Bali – and there are thousands of them who are – to do the right thing. Is that enough? 

ED HUSIC: Well, I think we do need to take it very serious. It does present a serious threat and that’s how it is – managing it as a government, taking that matter pretty full-on. You know, we’ve had the agriculture minister, Murray Watt has visited Indonesia to talk with counterparts. This week we announced additional measure; for example, at airports we’re rolling out what are known as sanitation foot mats to pick up any dirt and debris that’s contained on footwear. 

DEBORAH KNIGHT: But we’re only rolling them out; they’re not actually in place in the busy airports like Sydney and Melbourne. 

ED HUSIC: Well, we announced it and we’re expecting by the end of the week that that’ll be introduced in international airports, and we’ve also been working with groups like the Farmers Federation and, for instance, today, the minister, with the Farmers’ Federation President, Fiona Simson, to do a stand-up today to talk about delays that has been done in relation to it. And we’ll be asking people to hand over shoes for thorough cleaning at airports as well to make sure that people aren’t slipping through the cracks. And we’ve all got a part to play as well, making sure that if you’ve got any doubt, please declare and make sure that anything that you’ve got questions over is dealt with, because some people haven’t, and we’ve had to pick up some people who haven’t been taking personal responsibility for what they’re doing. We’re making sure that we keep tabs on that as well. 

DEBORAH KNIGHT: Yeah, because asking’s one thing, but compelling’s another, and surely with a threat this great, that should be par for the course. 

ED HUSIC: We should, we should – people do need to realise it’s a serious issue. They do need to, if they’ve got any questions, you know, not feel worried about declaring, because it’s better to declare than otherwise. And, on top of that, I might add as well, we’ve put an additional $14 mil through a biosecurity package to help on the frontline defence and provide more technical support for countries currently battling foot and mouth disease itself. 

DEBORAH KNIGHT: Well, the opposition says the government needs to do more. Angus, Meat & Livestock Australia, the peak body for the industry, they’ve described, though, the Federal government’s response as, quote, very coordinated and collaborative and that some of the commentary has been unnecessarily alarmist. Are you blowing this out of proportion? 

ANGUS TAYLOR: No. Look, this is the equivalent to a nuclear bomb going off in our agricultural sector if it gets in, Deb. I mean, since I was a small kid, you know, obviously working in the sheep and cattle industry, we all knew that the big one was foot and mouth and if it gets loose, not only do you lose, potentially, all of your livestock industry, you lose your food – no exports, no processing of beef, sheep, pork, milk, yogurt, cheese, all of that. So, this is very, very, very, serious. 

Now, what we need to see is the Labor Party taking this seriously. We haven’t heard Albanese say a word about it. He has not turned up on this issue. It is a hugely important issue. There needs to be very strong, very clear border protocols on this, and the risks need to be eliminated because this is – you know, letting this loose would be an absolute disaster, not just for farmers, but for the country. 

DEBORAH KNIGHT: But your colleagues seem to be split on this, because Barnaby Joyce is calling for an immediate ban on travel to and from high risk countries like Indonesia, like Bali, but Nationals leader David Littleproud has been a bit more toned down, saying we should remain open to it, but we don’t need that happening right now. So, what do you want? What does the opposition want? 

ANGUS TAYLOR: What we want is a very clear border strategy in place now with an understanding as to when it would be escalated, so absolute clarity on where we’re going on this. And the fact that we haven’t heard from Albanese on this is a real problem. This is a serious enough issue that it has to be something that the Prime Minister is engaged in and communicating on because we can’t afford to get it wrong. 

DEBORAH KNIGHT: That’s a fair cop, isn’t it, Ed? Surely the Prime Minister Anthony Albanese should be front and centre with this. 

ED HUSIC: So, we’ve had the Agriculture Minister meet with his counterpart – 

DEBORAH KNIGHT: Yeah, but what about the Prime Minister? 

ED HUSIC: Hang on, let me just go through. We’ve gone – we’ve had the Agriculture Minister meet with the Indonesian counterpart. We’ve announced additional vaccines for Indonesia, stricter screening at airports, a $14 million biosecurity –  

DEBORAH KNIGHT: Yeah, we’ve detailed all of those measures on this show –  

ED HUSIC: And we’ve had – 

DEBORAH KNIGHT: And we’ve been across it, but what about the Prime Minister? 

ED HUSIC: We’ve been dealing with stakeholders on that and the biggest thing, the only thing, after everything that I’ve just mentioned that the opposition can say that needs to be done is that the Prime Minister needs to do a press conference on it. I think if you give most people the common sense of most people when they take on board what’s being done so far, how the actions have been rolled out and the work that has been done with the sector, they have acknowledged, as you’ve said, the fact that we’ve been working closely with them and that they haven’t supported shutting down the border in the way that some elements of the opposition have said. People would go, “Yeah, the government is doing a fair crack of work on here”. And a press conference, I mean if that’s what keeps the opposition happy, and they want to hear how the Prime Minister – I suspect they will get that. But the focus has been on acting, not on doing some of the gesture type politics that is being advocated for at the moment. 

DEBORAH KNIGHT: But, hang on, if when you were in opposition and we didn’t see the Prime Minister of the former Government, Scott Morrison, front and centre during the pandemic we’re dealing with now, with COVID, you guys would have been shouting from the rooftops. 

ED HUSIC: I think that’s – it’s a little bit difference to having a PM Scott Morrison, sipping piña coladas while the country’s burning versus what the level of action and activity that you’ve seen here. And the PM is aware of the situation. He is getting regular updates from Minister Watt, and we are taking the threat seriously and we’re urging all travellers to do the same, and that’s what we’re expecting will occur. 


ANGUS TAYLOR: Yeah, but I had to listen to Anthony Albanese say almost every day of the election campaign that he was going to turn up, that that’s what was different about him. That was about he was going to do. Now, when one of the biggest issues risking Australian agriculture in a long time turns up, he hasn’t turned up. And it’s the difference between what he said he was going to do and what he’s actually doing, and that’s the point I’m making. 

DEBORAH KNIGHT: Now I want to talk about some other topics as well. Earlier this week, Ed, the Treasurer, Jim Chalmers, announced the terms of reference for this review into the Reserve Bank Board, the first review in more than 30 years, and the Prime Minister told our sister station, 3AW, he said that the RBA should, quote, be careful they don’t overreach in trying to control inflation. Is Albo overreaching here? Isn’t the Reserve Bank meant to be independent from any interference from government? 

ED HUSIC: No, I don’t think – I don’t think that independence at all has been impacted. The RBA does make its decisions quite independently. It also has an ability to take on board what people are saying in the broader community. It should. Its decisions do impact on the community and it should take that into account. The Prime Minister didn’t say anything over the top, frankly. I think a lot of people will want to make sure that in doing the work that it does, that the RBA does so in a way that doesn’t impact or, as the Prime Minister rightly said, overreach with the way in which interest rates are set. 

DEBORAH KNIGHT: Angus, you were quick to criticise the Prime Minister over this. 

ANGUS TAYLOR: Well, I think he did overreach. Look, rather than telling the Reserve Bank what to do, threatening the independence of the bank which has been sacrosanct for decades, he should focus on the things he can control, and that’s to pull the belt in, manage the budget. We’ve got a budget coming in October. This is going to be enormously important to build on the $100 billion turnaround in the budget we had earlier this year and to make sure that that takes pressure off interest rates and inflation, so he’s right to focus on the importance of interest rates and inflation for Australians. It’s a really big deal. But he’s also right to focus on the things he can control, not to tell an independent Reserve Bank what to do. 

DEBORAH KNIGHT: Isn’t that a bit rich, though, coming from your government because we’ve had former Liberal MPs and staffers appointed to the independent Administrative Appeals Tribunal. We’ve had Scott Morrison describing New South Wales independent Commission Against Corruption as a kangaroo court, in Parliament. That’s completely undermining independence, isn’t it? 

ANGUS TAYLOR: Well, no that’s a policy debate that’s an appropriate policy debate. This is about the independence of a Reserve Bank, which was established many decades ago and it was established on that basis, to give it the credibility to fight inflation and to keep interest rates at sensible levels. That’s why it was established the way it was, and Albanese is overreaching on this. But there’s lots he can do to contain interest rates and inflation which are really hurting Australians right now, and will into the future, as Jim Chalmers has told us and they’re the things he should be focusing on. 

DEBORAH KNIGHT: And, look, just on ICAC, we’ve had scandal after scandal in the headlines in New South Wales and Victoria this week. We’ve had John Barilaro and questions about his appointment to a plum New York trade job; former Liberal minister John Sidoti found to have acted corruptly by the ICAC – both of them deny doing anything wrong. But, Angus, surely this is more proof why we need a federal ICAC? 

ANGUS TAYLOR: Well, we’ve always been in favour of an integrity commission. We actually took legislation which is available publicly to the election, and we haven’t seen any legislation yet from the Labor Party. So, you know, we’re supportive of having an integrity commission and we look forward to seeing what Labor brings forward on this. But, as yet, we haven’t seen it. 

DEBORAH KNIGHT: And will a Federal ICAC be agenda item number one for your government, Ed, because you went to the election with that as a big promise? 

ED HUSIC: First thing that we should be making clear here is that Scott Morrison pretty much derailed any serious work on an Anti Corruption Commission. He said through the campaign effectively “take it or leave it” with respect to what they wanted to put on the table, the Coalition if they won office again. And that was widely seen as his way of not being serious, in fact, to bringing in a commission that people rightly expect. Now, we have said that we will make this a priority. It is a priority. I know for a fact that the Attorney General started work through consultation being managed by his department, and they basically put together a team to start developing the legislation on that. And we’ve said we’ll legislate for an ICAC this year because it’s driven by our belief. We’ve got no tolerance for any corruption and think that it should be taken seriously and action should reflect that.  

DEBORAH KNIGHT: I want to end on a lighter note, because I saw this tweet from this fella who say he’s got a PhD, so he’s got the smarts, but for some reason he thought it would be a good idea to see whether he had any super glue left by squeezing the tube on to his hand and then he went on to wipe it on some cardboard that was lying around. And you can imagine what happened next. It was a disaster. So funny DIY fails; what about you, Ed? 

ED HUSIC: I’ve got to say, I don’t have a DIY – I have a DDIM, don’t do it myself. I can’t say that I’ve had any major fails, but I am very painful when it comes to putting stuff together because I like to make sure it’s all laid out and all the instructions are there. You follow them to a tee.

DEBORAH KNIGHT: And then you’re finding you’ve got one part left.

ED HUSIC: It just makes it take ages to get work done. 

DEBORAH KNIGHT: What do you call it – DDIM? Don’t do it? 

ED HUSIC: Yeah, don’t do it myself. 

DEBORAH KNIGHT: I like it; I like it. Angus? 

ANGUS TAYLOR: Look, I probably, like a lot of your listeners, I’ve done a lot of DIY through the last couple of years because of COVID because of being at home. I’ve spent a lot of time at Bunnings. But I have got a fail, which is a fertiliser spreader I’ve been working on for months and month, and still haven’t got it fixed and I just can’t seem to get it right, Deb. It’s one of those projects that just keeps going and you never quite get there. 

DEBORAH KNIGHT: It’ll be staying there in the back paddock for a while until you get it sorted. 

ANGUS TAYLOR: In the shed; in the shed.

DEBORAH KNIGHT: Yeah, in the shed. All right. Fellas, good to have you back. Thanks so much for joining us. 

ED HUSIC: Thanks, Deb. 

ANGUS TAYLOR: Thank you. 

DEBORAH KNIGHT: Ed Husic and Angus Taylor who join us every Friday for question time here on Afternoons with Deborah Knight.