Interview with Deborah Knight, 2GB
DEBORAH KNIGHT: And it has been a big week in Canberra – the new Parliament wrapping up the very first sitting week. The Minister for Industry and Science Ed Husic is with us, along with Shadow Treasurer Angus Taylor. They join us every Friday.
Parliament is back. I know there’s a lot to get used to fellas – a new government, the former ministers relegated to the opposition benches. But, Angus, Angus, you’ve had a couple of struggles adjusting to the new normal. And I want to play this little episode in parliament that happened.
ANGUS TAYLOR: Now, Mr Speaker, I’ll take the interjection from the member opposite because –
SHARON CLAYDON: Okay –
ANGUS TAYLOR: Sorry, Deputy Speaker – I apologise.
SHARON CLAYDON: I have waited– I was loathe to interrupt you – but you have called me Mr Speaker on at least a dozen occasions. My title is Deputy Speaker. I don’t need a mister, a missus, a madam; it’s just Deputy Speaker.
ANGUS TAYLOR: I’ll go with Deputy Speaker.
SHARON CLAYDON: Thank you.
ANGUS TAYLOR: Thank you, Deputy Speaker. You would have been a very good Speaker. But, Mr Speaker, meanwhile, those opposite –
DEBORAH KNIGHT: Old habits, they die hard, don’t they?
ANGUS TAYLOR: They sure do. They sure do. Obviously in question time you’re used to saying “Mr Speaker” many times over. But anyway, look, it’s all good fun.
I’d say, though, Deb, the reality is the kinder, gentler Parliament that we were promised from the Labor Party didn’t sadly eventuate this week. And it was back to normal. But perhaps that’s what we have in our Westminster System, and we should get used to it.
DEBORAH KNIGHT: Well, I don’t know. That’s what we were promised, as you say, and, Ed, we heard from the Prime Minister. He’s been banging on about wanting the Parliament to be kinder, more civilised. But it didn’t take long for one of your own – in fact, Graham Perrett – the first to be booted out of question time. So much for cleaning up the act.
ED HUSIC, MINISTER FOR INDUSTRY AND SCIENCE: I think a number of things – one is that we had – the Prime Minister’s right to reflect that people didn’t want to see question time devolve into what it was before. And I think while it’s early days, I don’t think it’s of the same tone. And I think going to the point around Graham, it goes to show you’ve got a speaker that will be fair dinkum, and if they believe that on either side of the fence that there’s behaviour that he’s not happy with at a speaker, he’s going to act. So, I think it’s a good sign of being fair and act even handedly.
And I certainly, having sat on the other side of the chamber, thought from time to time that there was a lot of behaviour tolerated from the then government that there was very little tolerance for us, and I think it’s, like I said a few moments, a good sign of being impartial and fairer.
DEBORAH KNIGHT: Well, it’s good that the Speaker did assert his authority. That is for sure.
ANGUS TAYLOR: Deb, if I may, we saw from Labor this week them do exactly what they railed against when they were in opposition, which was spending much of their response talking about us and talking about the past and talking about anything other than their own policies.
Now, that’s an election commitment they made that they haven’t kept. Sadly, the real feature of this week was a series of election commitments that were broken, including it’s clear the $275 electricity price reduction, it’s clear that meaningful increases in real wages are now off the table. And, you know, I think this is – this was the real story of the Parliament this week.
DEBORAH KNIGHT: Well, we’ve seen the Australian Energy Market Operator, the regulator, come out today releasing a very dire report saying that the wholesale power costs soared to record highs over the past few months and that we should brace for worse to come. And already, I don’t need to tell our listeners how high power prices are; they see that when their bills come through. But, Angus, this happened under your watch as Energy Minister. Do you accept any responsibility here?
ANGUS TAYLOR: Well, what happened under my watch was an 8 per cent reduction in household prices, 10 per cent reduction in small business prices and a 12 per cent reduction in industry prices. That’s what we saw. Now, we knew there were real challenges in the energy market. You and I talked about it, Deb. And we didn’t make the $275 electricity price reduction commitment. Labor did.
And on being questioned on a number of occasions this week the Prime Minister refused to re-commit to that target. And so that’s the first broken promise. It’s very, very quick, Deb. This is only a few weeks down the track and they’ve dropped it. And this is something that I think really matters to Australians. They were promised that Labor would focus on cost of living. Power bills was one of those commitments, along with real wages. And we’ve also seen the Treasurer back away from any meaningful increase in real wages in the next three years. So, these were very important commitments gone within the first week of parliament.
DEBORAH KNIGHT: So, are we seeing broken promises, Ed?
ED HUSIC: No. In actual fact, can I just make the point that we made that commitment based off modelling that took into account circumstances as they were at that point in time. We did not know that the Coalition Government was sitting on a report that suddenly just – ta-da – just seemed to appear after the election that said that default prices were going to skyrocket the way that they were. And we’ve previously spoken about this, Deb, with Angus, about the fact that that report was there and that suddenly it lifted its head like, you know, the Groundhog Day – not Groundhog Day, like the Caddy Shack groundhog that pops it’s head up straight after the election miraculously. And that obviously is going to put pressure on. But if the conditions were the same, we’d want to deliver, and we do want to deliver. And we believe we can deliver, because renewable energy has been shown to be the cheapest form of power generation and it can be scaled up a lot quicker.
And in terms of real wages, everyone gets, like, we suddenly had these, you know, interest rate increases that had not been around for quite some time appear, and that was in response to galloping inflation. And also, the concern that the Coalition’s debt and deficits prior to the election were putting pressure on the economy, were contributing to inflation. And it’s one thing for Angus to try and almost celebrate that real wages aren’t going to lift, but this is an overhang of a whole stack of problems that have emerged as a result of nine years, nearly 10 years, of poor mismanagement by the Coalition when it comes to the economy.
DEBORAH KNIGHT: So, if the circumstances have changed, why then are you still sticking with tax cuts and then calls to boost wages with a lot of those election pledges, they’ll make the economic challenges that much worse?
ED HUSIC: So, if you look at the tax cuts, those are down the track. We’re hoping that these conditions and through the stuff that we want to do that will get a stronger economy, better outcomes and be able to deliver in due course, we have been upfront, and that’s why we used the Ministerial Statement to be upfront with people about where conditions are at. But we do have plans to build the economy, improve job outcomes, cut back inflation –
DEBORAH KNIGHT: So, does that mean that tax cuts could be off the table, then?
ED HUSIC: No, I don’t think so. I think down the track –
DEBORAH KNIGHT: If we don’t see improvement?
ED HUSIC: We have – well, what I’m saying to you is we want – we are working towards improvement before the point in time those tax cuts are scheduled in. Both sides of politics have committed to them. That’s, like, baked in now to the system. But we do want to work to improve the economy. And having said that we’re having those tough conditions now and the impact that it’s having on wages, we are absolutely committed to seeing better wage outcomes. And that’s why we argued, for example, that some of the lowest paid workers in the country deserve to get a pay increase, particularly when they slogged it out during the pandemic and kept the place going when we were in lockdown.
DEBORAH KNIGHT: And meanwhile, Angus, the International Monetary Fund, the IMF, has downgraded – they’ve done it today – downgraded its forecast for the Australian economy saying growth will slow down significantly from next year and saying that we must raise interest rates even more than we already are seeing to deal with inflation. What’s the solution here?
ANGUS TAYLOR: Well, there’s a number of solutions. But can I say, what we just heard from Ed, Deb, is a long list of excuses, lots of finger pointing but fundamentally an unwillingness to re-commit to fundamental election commitments. And I think that’s a very serious question that’s now being raids about whether we can trust Labor on any of their election commitments, including the point you make about taxes.
But your question about how to deal with this, we heard from Jim Chalmers this week a lot of commentary, a lot of forecasting and no plan. And we do need a plan. What should be in that plan? Well, clearly, we need to unlock some of the supply pressures in the economy, getting older Australians and veterans back into work, giving them an incentive to work without losing their pensions. So that’s something we’ve –
DEBORAH KNIGHT: Well, that’s something you could have put on the table when you were in government.
ANGUS TAYLOR: Well, we had put it on the table, and it’s an important initiative. And Labor can adopt it tomorrow. They can also adopt our stronger budget management we went to the election with, which is $45 billion of off-budget spending Labor committed to that we think is unnecessary. And we know – we heard from Steven Kennedy, in fact, the Treasurer Secretary this week saying fiscal consolidation – so in plain language, that’s managing your budget, managing your money better – is critical to putting downward pressure on interest rates and inflation. So, these are things Labor could do tomorrow. But we saw no plan from Jim Chalmers.
DEBORAH KNIGHT: All right. Now, look, Lindsay as just texted in – one of our listeners – wanting to get input from both of you on this. He’s wondering what you think of Scott Morrison heading overseas instead of attending the first week of the new Parliament. Your thoughts, Ed?
ED HUSIC: Well, I mean, Scott Morrison’s got a lot of explaining to do. I mean, this is a bloke who’s chased a parliamentary position. He ran for government. He knocked off a bloke in the Cook byelection and got a byelection overturned so he could go – not byelection, a preselection I should say – overturned so he could be an MP. He becomes Prime Minister of the country and as soon as he loses, he tells everyone you shouldn’t trust government. And now has been elected by his constituents to represent them in parliament in the first week and has decided that he can’t bring himself to be here to do his job.
He's been quick to point out to others about work what they should or shouldn’t be doing and getting on with the job and fronting up and being accountable and all that type of stuff. I just see – I think it speaks volumes about the type of approach that Scott Morrison takes to politics, to representative democracy, that if he can’t make his way back to Parliament in the first week of sitting, why is he picking up the pay cheque of being an MP?
DEBORAH KNIGHT: Angus, is that a bit rich or a fair cop?
ANGUS TAYLOR: It sure is a bit rich. I mean, Ed’s fighting the last war here with his continuing character assassination of Scott Morrison, which was the great achievement of Labor in opposition. But look, Scott Morrison is over in Japan speaking to other leaders, or former leaders, including the Japanese Prime Minister, at a time when our relationship with our Asian neighbours and particularly the Japanese, is incredibly important. And Ed knows that, how important that relationship is. And he has an important role as a former Prime Minister in contributing to the strength of that relationship. And that was exactly what he was doing.
DEBORAH KNIGHT: A quick response from you on this, too: the PM along with Indigenous Affairs Minister Linda Burney, the Shadow Indigenous Affairs Minister, too, Julian Lesser are going to be travelling to the Garma Festival in Northeast Arnhem Land, which is good to see some bipartisanship along some sections of this issue. But, Angus, Peter Dutton has left the door open to working with the government on a Voice to Parliament, but you’ve got MPs within your party, including Jacinta Price, saying that it’s not a good idea. What’s the actual stance here?
ANGUS TAYLOR: Well, no, Jacinta made a quite brilliant maiden speech, and maiden speeches are an opportunity for people to lay out how they feel about important issues. And I encourage people to have a look at her speech, because it was very, very good.
But we haven’t seen the question. We haven’t seen what the amendment would be. We haven’t seen what the model would be. And we’re certainly not going to make any decision on that or come to a view on that until we’ve seen those details. It’s at the very early stages as the Minister Linda Burney has pointed out. So, we won’t rule things out or in until we’ve seen some detail.
DEBORAH KNIGHT: But, Ed, Senator Price as well as other MPs have expressed concern that this is virtue signalling, that the Voice in Parliament won’t make any real concrete difference to the lives of Indigenous Australians.
ED HUSIC: I’m going to choose my words very carefully, Deb, because I think we should be working to find as much common ground as we can early on. There’s a lot of things that Angus said that, you know, I could have a different view on. I think the bigger thing is that this is – it has suffered in times past being characterised as something that it’s not. For example, being called the third chamber, which clearly, it’s not meant to be that at all. I think it’s an important step towards reconciliation and giving First Nations people a voice.
We will work through with those people that have concerns, and if there’s genuine willingness to work together, I think you will definitely see that occur. And I’m confident Linda Burney and obviously Julian Lesser as the shadow minister, that they’ve already started talking and working together, and I think we can build on that.
DEBORAH KNIGHT: Yeah.
ED HUSIC: And we should work on that.
DEBORAH KNIGHT: All right.
ED HUSIC: And I think, you know, there’ll be brush fires from time to time. We’ll deal with those as we go. But I think we need to move on something that’s a substantive moment in time. And let me just end on this point: now, I hear from time to time this point being made when it comes particularly around treatment of First Nations people, we don’t need to engage in symbolism. Symbolism is important to us all, right? We can be – we can do practical things to improve the quality of life and we can also engage in symbolism. And if you say to me symbolism isn’t important, why don’t we have a chat about taking the Union Jack off the Australian flag and see how that goes? People get very worked up about that, too.
DEBORAH KNIGHT: All right.
ED HUSIC: I respect the symbolism there. I respect the symbolism here.
DEBORAH KNIGHT: We won’t open that can of worms. But listen, I want to end on this, because tomorrow’s International Friendship Day, and I know the saying is if you want a friend in politics get a dog. But tell me about your first ever best friend, Angus? Was it a dog, maybe?
ANGUS TAYLOR: Well, certainly we had lots of animals around – horses, dogs, cats. But I have to say, growing up on a farm with three brothers of very similar ages to me the reality is my best friends with my brothers. They were sort of my worst friends, too.
DEBORAH KNIGHT: Yes.
ANGUS TAYLOR: But we became very loyal very quickly and have remained that way ever since. And, you know, I suppose that’s unusual in some ways, but I look on it and really cherish it.
DEBORAH KNIGHT: Yeah, that’s wonderful. What about you, Ed?
ED HUSIC: High schoolmates, really. There are a few high schoolmates that I still keep in touch with, not as much as I’d like. But, yeah, we went through a lot and who also, you know, will get in touch at different points and also text me if I ever get, as I do from time to time, you know, I think unfairly, chucked out of parliament under 94a, so they send us a text message.
DEBORAH KNIGHT: They keep it real.
ED HUSIC: They do keep it, and that’s western suburbs through and through.
DEBORAH KNIGHT: That is good. Well, happy International Friendship Day to you both. And I’m glad you both are friends of us here on Afternoons. Angus and Ed, thanks again for joining us.
ANGUS TAYLOR: Thanks, Ed and Deb.
ED HUSIC: Good on you.