Interview with Deborah Knight, 2GB

Deborah Knight
Climate change bill; nuclear power; luxury car tax; Parliamentary dress code.

DEBORAH KNIGHT: The signature climate bill has passed the lower house and we’ve also seen very passionate debate this week over dress codes inside parliament. Is the tie dead and buried? Well, Brendan on the text line says he’s on his way to the Cowra Society Wine Show right now and it’s on Saturday night and the dress code is jacket and tie. But is the tie’s day done in parliament? 

Well, let’s find out. Minister for Industry and Science Ed Husic and the Shadow Treasurer Angus Taylor are on the line for us now. Welcome back to Afternoons and to Question Time. Great to have you with us again. 



DEBORAH KNIGHT: We’ll talk ties in just a tick – and I assume you’re both wearing a tie because you like to get dressed up every Friday to have a chat to us. I know that it’s guaranteed. 

I know it’s been a big week in parliament – a good week, too. For the government, Ed, starting for Anthony Albanese with the highest Newspoll result for a new Prime Minister and you’ve ended the week with the passing of his signature climate bill. It must feel nice to be getting things done. 

ED HUSIC: Yeah, look, it is good to do what we said we would do. And we’ve been very – like, as a group that’s something that we’re all very much concentrating on. We said what we went to an election saying we’d do certain things. We’re delivering. And we’ve had a lot of that happen over the course of this sitting week. But I don’t think anyone’s getting full of themselves. We’ve got to keep the feet on the ground. 

And I think what we wanted to do is do that job and do it in a way that we’re not. I don’t think people that want a government that’s constantly picking fights with every corner of society. Just get the job done. I think that’s what we’re doing. 

DEBORAH KNIGHT: Well, I’m glad you do say that, because the Greens have made it clear that they’ll make it very hard for you. They’re going to push to halt coal and gas projects, tougher rules for environmental laws. How are you going to navigate this? Because coal and gas exports, that’s what’s driving our trade market. That’s what’s keeping our economy propped up when we’re facing really tough economic times. 

ED HUSIC: I guess in every parliament you’re going to have people that get elected that are going to have pretty strong views on a range of things. From our point of view, we’ve got a job to do from a whole host of, you know, angles. One is obviously bringing down emissions in line with what the rest of the world is doing and what they expect and do that cooperatively. But we’ve also got industry that’s reliant, in particular on gas. I’ve said we’ve just got to be practical, not political. We need to make sure that that’s applied there, but importantly at a price that’s not putting pressure on industry and jobs, which I’m genuinely concerned is happening because I think, frankly, the gas companies are engaged in a bit of pricing blood lust at the moment, and they’ve got to be snapped out of it. And we’ve had the ACCC to try to do that this week. But, you know, ending the point, you know, people might have their views in the parliament; we’re a government that’s been elected to get things done, and we’re just going to get on with it. 

DEBORAH KNIGHT: Well, that’s going to be tricky to navigate if the Greens are going to be blocking stuff. 

ED HUSIC: Sure. 

DEBORAH KNIGHT: But, Angus, your leader, Peter Dutton, has decided to take up nuclear, and the question is: if nuclear is such a good idea, why didn’t the government when you were in power do something about it in the decade you were in power? 

ANGUS TAYLOR: Well, we did, Deb. I mean, AUKUS, of course, was a good example of the role of nuclear on the defence side, of course. 

DEBORAH KNIGHT: Yeah, but not for energy. 

ANGUS TAYLOR: Hang on, hang on. Let me finish. We did establish research partnerships with the UK, including on the next-generation nuclear technologies, which is where the real promise is. And we held a parliamentary inquiry led by Ted O’Brien, who’s now leading the work within the Coalition, on exactly this topic. So, it’s not going to happen overnight. It’s an emerging technology that these small modular reactors, which is where the real hope is, and we need to have every horse in the race here. 

DEBORAH KNIGHT: But at what point did the Liberal Party when you were in power say, yes, we should have nuclear for energy? 

ANGUS TAYLOR: Well, I put it on technology investment road map. I drove the partnerships with the UK. I mean, I personally did this. We also as a party obviously went and approved and went ahead with the AUKUS agreement. So, these are things that have been building over time. Because I think there’s an emerging view that we’ve got to have every technology available, and this is one which is changing dramatically. It’s changing rapidly with an enormous focus in many other countries in the world, and we need to have it on the menu, just as we do every other technology that can really make a difference. 

DEBORAH KNIGHT: But, Angus, you said on this very segment that the government would not pursue nuclear power because Labor would not support it, that it was “too hard”. 

ANGUS TAYLOR: Well, we couldn’t without Labor being prepared to do it. Now we’ve got three years to do the work, and we want Labor to join with us. We know people like the new member for Parramatta, the superstar of the new Labor Party, has been a strong advocate of nuclear. And I quote from one of his pieces, “Nuclear is the cheaper and more reliable source of power than renewables.” So, there is very strong support for nuclear from some within the Labor Party. The AWU has been a strong area of support. We now have a term of parliament within which this debate can sensibly happen, and we think it should. 

ED HUSIC: Ed, you’re the Minister for Industry and Science. Does nuclear power have merit? 

ED HUSIC: Can’t see it happening. I hear what Angus is saying, but the reality is most people would not have thought that the Coalition going into the next election was arguing that AUKUS would mean that we have nuclear power being used to generate energy in Australia. It was specific to defence equipment – notably subs. And if the Coalition were such big fans of nuclear power, then they never really told which communities could expect a generator in their neck of the woods. 

And I don’t know if Angus is going to nominate that now, but my thing is – and we’ve previously spoken about it, Deb – the time it would take to get nuclear power even – and the reactors that Angus is talking about I’ve watched as well. And, you know, that technology is improving. But the time frames and the cost relative to what you could do with renewables, I mean it makes more sense on renewables, getting renewables right, storage right, transmission improved to move that power around where it’s needed. And I think there’s another thing, too, about new technologies coming through like hydrogen. That whole mix, we need to focus on that rather than taking ages to work out where we’re going to get people giving us the thumbs up to have nuclear power in their communities. 

DEBORAH KNIGHT: Well, I think that’s a fair point, isn’t it, Angus? Because it’s a bit like the NBN – by the time you roll it out it will be completely redundant. 

ANGUS TAYLOR: No, look, I mean, you know, the goal here is net zero by 2050. It’s not – none of these things happen overnight. Green hydrogen is certainly not going to happen overnight; it’s still a long way from being economic for most applications. But you’ve got a superstar member of the Labor Party – Andrew Charlton – who was the adviser to Kevin Rudd at Copenhagen, economic adviser, who has said, and I quote, “Nuclear is cheaper and more reliable than renewables.” So, you know, there is a very strong view from some within the Labor Party, including Joel Fitzgibbon, who used to be on this program, that this is a technology that needs to be part of the mix, that the work needs to be done particularly as these emerging technologies improve, just like green hydrogen is improving, and it should be part of the mix as well. 

But, you know, this is a hard enough problem as it is – delivering affordable, reliable, and sustainable energy. Labor’s discovering how difficult it is. They’ve walked away from their electricity price reduction commitments. We need every technology we possibly can have as part of had portfolio that can help us to get there. 

ED HUSIC: Wrong. 

DEBORAH KNIGHT: So, will you be happy, then, Angus, to nominate your electorate for a nuclear reactor to be built in? 

ANGUS TAYLOR: We’re not at the point of location. This is the cheap – 

DEBORAH KNIGHT: But that’s got to be addressed here. 

ANGUS TAYLOR: Well, hang on. No, hang on. 

DEBORAH KNIGHT: No one wants it in their backyard. 

ANGUS TAYLOR: This is the cheap politics. This is the cheap politics that Labor always engages in. This is the cheap, nasty politics that Labor always engages in. They have preferred technologies. They hate carbon capture and storage. 

ED HUSIC: Wrong. 

ANGUS TAYLOR: They hate nuclear. They hate a whole lot of the industries that rely on emissions-intensive – that are emissions-intensive and rely on affordable, reliable energy. 

DEBORAH KNIGHT: Do we need to talk, practicalities, though, about where it’s actually going to end up? Because that’s what people will want to know? 

ANGUS TAYLOR: No, the first step is there’s a moratorium. And you’ve got to deal with the moratorium. Now, we’ve gone through the process of dealing with nuclear waste in South Australia. It takes time. And you can work your way through that. But, look, this is – this has to be a sensible debate. Labor doesn’t want it to be a sensible debate because they have ideological bias. 

DEBORAH KNIGHT: I can tell you – 

ANGUS TAYLOR: And that’s very disappointing for the Australian people. 

DEBORAH KNIGHT: I want to move on, some other issues to cover. Now, the European Union and Australia is going to start this new round of negotiations in October. The EU wants us to get rid of the $880 million-a-year luxury car tax. Is this something that your government’s considering, Ed? 

ED HUSIC: No. We are thinking a lot about what we’re going to do to bring down the size of government debt. And we are focused on what we’ll do with this budget coming up and the one for next May. There isn’t any plan at this stage to abolish the tax given that we’ve been left with by the other government – 

DEBORAH KNIGHT: It would ultimately, though, bring down the cost of things like electronic vehicles, wouldn’t it? 

ED HUSIC: We actually put in place – the mechanisms that we put in place through parliament are about vehicles that ordinary families would want to access. We’re not about bringing down the cost of, you know, for luxury vehicles that are EVs. And I don’t think that’s where the focus should be. So, we’ve done it for ordinary families in terms of tax and tariff reduction. But this isn’t really on the – with the fiscal constraints we’ve got, with the budget constraints that we’ve got at this point, we’re not interested in looking at that, to be frank. 

DEBORAH KNIGHT: And, Angus, we’ve talked about this in the past. And a lot of people wonder why we even have the luxury car tax in Australia because we don’t make cars in Australia anyway. 

ANGUS TAYLOR: Look, I just think this is not a priority. I actually agree with Ed on this. If you want to cut taxes – and we always like to cut taxes; we are the party of lower taxes, you know – small businesses, households trying to make ends meet, that’s where you want to focus, not on luxury cars. I just don’t think it’s a priority and I don’t think it should be. 

DEBORAH KNIGHT: All right. Now, are either of your wearing a tie right now? 

ANGUS TAYLOR: No. Not me, anyway. 

ED HUSIC: No, I’m at Questacon with my boy. 

ANGUS TAYLOR: I’m in my Goulburn electorate office where I don’t feel the need. 

DEBORAH KNIGHT: Well, tell me what your thoughts are on the barny during question time this week after the new Greens MP for the Queensland seat of Griffith stood up – Max Chandler-Mather – asked that question without a tie on, and the Nationals MP Pat Conaghan was not impressed. He wanted the Speaker to boot him out for his “state of undress”, and that was rejected by the Speaker. Is it time to ditch the tie in parliament? Angus? 

ANGUS TAYLOR: Look, I think there’s a level of decorum that’s appropriate in the parliament. It’s different from being at Questacon or in your electorate office. And it’s important that the rules of the parliament be respected. They’re set, by the way, by the Speaker, and I do think it’s appropriate that they be respected. I mean, the parliament is an enormously important place – 

DEBORAH KNIGHT: But a lot of people in the corporate world don’t wear ties anymore. 


DEBORAH KNIGHT: So, you think the tie means decorum? 

ANGUS TAYLOR: Well, no, I just think this is a rule that’s been set by the Speaker, and I think it should be respected. 

DEBORAH KNIGHT: What about you, Ed? Ties in or out? 

ED HUSIC: When I – I wasn’t a really big tie wearer before being elected, and I checked up. I actually asked the previous Speaker what’s the deal with the tie-wearing thing. And it was established in practice, and it has been there, and I’ve just gotten used to it. I think the community is moving. I mean, we don’t see a speaker wear a wig and black robe anymore. And so, you’ve seen slow movements. I don’t get – to be frank with you, Deb, I don’t get too worked up about it. But, you know, from my own point of view, you know, I know I’ll get – be accused of being a fuddy-duddy on this, but, you know, sometimes ties do signal serious intent. And I think in the nation’s parliament it’s probably got a place. But, again, I’m not going to lose sleep over it when we’ve got all these other issues we’re dealing with. 

DEBORAH KNIGHT: Wow, so you’re both happy for the ties. What about the other side of the ledger? Because I don’t know if it’s a hard and fast rule, but I know that it’s considered an unspoken rule that women shouldn’t show their shoulders in parliament, too, because it’s too much skin. And I know that there’s a lot of dresses and a lot of tops and blouses where you’re showing your shoulders and they still look pretty fine and fitting the rules for decorum. What about for the many women? There’s a lot more of them on the crossbench now? 

ANGUS TAYLOR: I learnt a long time ago – 

ED HUSIC: [Indistinct]. 

ANGUS TAYLOR: Sorry, I was just going to say, I learnt a long time ago not to make any comments on fashion rules for women. I’ll stay away from that one. 

DEBORAH KNIGHT: Maybe fashion rules all up. 

ED HUSIC: We’ve become very bipartisan on this show – or we’ve got a very keen eye to self-preservation. I’m with Taylor on this.

ANGUS TAYLOR: I thought Ed might agree with me on that one. 

DEBORAH KNIGHT: Yeah. All right. Well, ties off on your Friday. You’re allowed to do that, but you both want ties in parliament. Interesting. Fellas, good to talk. Thanks so much for joining us. 

ANGUS TAYLOR: Thanks, Deb and Ed. 

ED HUSIC: All right, see ya. 

DEBORAH KNIGHT: Angus Taylor there and Ed Husic.