Interview with Deborah Knight, Afternoons, 2GB

Deborah Knight
Impact of floods; Australia-China relationship

DEBORAH KNIGHT: Now, they join us this time every week – Ed Husic, the Minister for Industry and Science, and Angus Taylor, the shadow Treasurer. Fellas, thanks again for joining us here for Question Time. 

I want to start with the flood emergency that is absolutely devastating the New South Wales Central West. And we’ve had the New South Wales Premier Dominic Perrottet seeing the destruction in Eugowra firsthand, and he’s been met by very frustrated and angry locals, including a former police officer Peter Jones. This is some of what he’s had to say. 

[Audio plays]

PETER JONES: We’ve had no food, no clothing, no-one telling them what’s going to happen next, because no-one was here. What’s the answer to some of them, before I keep going? 

DOMINIC PERROTTET: Well, that’s not good enough. People should feel – 

PETER JONES: That’s not an answer. 

DOMINIC PERROTTET: Well, whatever we can do to make sure that that is fixed, we will do that. 

PETER JONES: You’ve had enough time. 

[End of audio]

DEBORAH KNIGHT: You’ve had enough time. That’s the sentiment from a lot of locals. Ed, I know the national cabinet meeting is happening today to discuss housing developments in flood zones, and it’s a state and local government responsibility, but will the federal government step in here to stop homes being built where we know it floods? 

ED HUSIC, MINISTER FOR INDUSTRY AND SCIENCE: I think we’ll be very careful about how we do that intervention. Because I think the big thing is to get people working together to make sure that we reduce the risk on people and that we have common sense planning that takes into account the fact that we are having increasingly these type of events occurring and we’ve got to be able to look after people in the right way and think ahead about where homes are put so we’re not putting people in harm’s way. 

DEBORAH KNIGHT: But we’ve got people in harm’s way in the here and now. 

ED HUSIC: Yeah, I mean, your question is asking me about longer term planning and how the national cabinet is thinking about it. You’re absolutely right about what people are going through right now, and I’m very careful, I think the last thing people want is politicians pointing fingers at each other when they’re going through an emergency. There are some communities that are going through this that haven’t gone through these types of emergencies in some cases in their living memory to this extent, and so we want to be able to look after people now and think longer term how to avoid this occurring on a frequent basis where people are put in harm’s way because zoning laws that need to take into account changing circumstances. 

DEBORAH KNIGHT: We know that help is needed on so many fronts. And Angus, there are also calls for the federal government to intervene for the flood victims, as the government did in north Queensland after the cyclones with insurance premiums, because the cost of them are already astronomical. A lot of people just won’t be able to afford insurance at all. Some insurance companies won’t even bother insuring them. Should the government help out here? 

ANGUS TAYLOR: Can I just say, the first priority has to be supporting those people who have been impacted. There’s no doubt about, as Ed said. I totally agree with him on that. 

In terms of mitigation and insurance, look, that has to be a focus. I mean, Wyangala Damn, of course, is upstream from what we’ve seen at Eugowra, which has been devastating, at Cowra and Forbes and elsewhere. And, you know, the flood mitigation is, I think a real issue. And that’s a project that I think should proceed. And it’s a hugely important project. 

In terms of insurance, we’ve been dealing with that in North Queensland, of course. And we’ve set up a reinsurance model there which is, I understand the government is also supporting that, which is good news. Should that be elsewhere, I think that’s something to consider. But I do think mitigation in the future is something that we do need to look at and we need to very much focus on the Lachlan, which is the river where a lot of this has been felt. 

DEBORAH KNIGHT: And what about replicating the buyback scheme which was a joint state and federal initiative, the $800 million buyback scheme that was announced for the Northern Rivers in the wake of the terrible Lismore floods? If it’s good enough for the Northern Rivers it should be good enough for the devastated Central West, shouldn’t it, Ed? 

ED HUSIC: Well, we’ll take on board good ideas and see what can be done, again, longer term. But at this point I’m not going to jump in and say, yes, we’re going to do this or yes, we’re going to do that, because there’s a lot of people that we need to work with to make that a reality. 

DEBORAH KNIGHT: All right. I want to look at some other global issues. We’ve got the Prime Minister, Anthony Albanese, speaking right now. He’s arrived in Thailand for the APEC summit. And it’s been a pretty good week for the PM on the world stage – meeting for the first time since I think it was 2016 with the Chinese leader. A short meeting and only baby steps really, but, Ed, what do you think this will mean for industries like wine and barley? Are you confident that China will lift those trade sanctions? 

ED HUSIC: I think the big hope longer term is that we do improve trade relations because it does mean a lot to people who are making a living off some of those exports that you just referenced. And so no doubt it’s good for us but it’s also good for China to get access to our products because they’re high-quality, top-value best in the world. So we need to see that happen longer term. 

You’re right, it is baby steps. It’s early days. So let’s not get too over the top, but you can’t miss the moment as well in trying to keep your pace. Let’s not forget it’s taken a bit to get here. It is a first step and countries can have differences, you can take different approaches on things. The key will be how we do that. We can stand up for our values. We can stand up on our points where we’ve got difference, but we’ve got to be able to do it in a calm, sensible way as well. 

DEBORAH KNIGHT: And, Angus, credit where it’s due – the Prime Minister’s done pretty well, hasn’t he, in having this first meeting with the Chinese leader? 

ANGUS TAYLOR: Well, it’s a start. And we welcome that start. It’s not a finish. I mean, opening up, reopening up some of these trade relationships and not paying a higher price for it is important. And we very much support it. We’ll provide bipartisan support. It does need to be transparent. Any price we might pay for it. And, as Ed said, we shouldn’t be compromising our values in any way, shape or form in the process. 

But we welcome it. We’ll work with the government. It’s clear that China is trying to change its disposition towards countries like Australia and elsewhere, actually. So this is an opportunity for us and we should be jumping on it. We just can’t possibly compromise our values in the process. 

DEBORAH KNIGHT: The Chinese leader, though, did say that there was more maturity in the approach between China and Australia under the current government. A bit of a dig at your government, perhaps. Could Scott Morrison have done better, do you think, in handling the China situation? 

ANGUS TAYLOR: Well, we were the government that stood up for our values. I mean, I was the digital minister when we made the decision on Huawei and it was absolutely the right decision. The Chinese government didn’t like it. I understand that. And you’d expect them to say those sorts of things. But it was the right decision for Australia. And we want to make sure the right decisions are made for Australia, and to the extent we can reconcile we want to make sure those trade relationships are reopened wherever we can. But we should never compromise our principles in the process. 

DEBORAH KNIGHT: Another issue on the global stage I want to touch on is – 

ED HUSIC: Sorry, I just wanted to say too Deb on that, and Angus would know this. I mean, he and I spoke through that Huawei, and I thought that was a very important decision for our country. I mean, we supported it as well. And there are points at which finger pointing between parties or trying to one-up each other does not work in the national interest. So I take on board what Angus has said, and I think we can speak as one globally and find a new way to get these things done. Sorry to interrupt you, Deb. 

DEBORAH KNIGHT: No, that’s fine. Look, I’m sure that you’re united, too, on this issue of the justice for the families of the 38 Australians killed in the downing of MH17, and the Dutch court found three men guilty of murder – two of them Russian, another Ukrainian separatist – overnight. They were found guilty in absentia, though. You know, they’re still on the run. Will these three men ever face real justice, do you think, Ed? 

ED HUSIC: I think it’s important to and if I may, just for the families who’ve had to go through and carry that burden of grief and enormous sadness – I think, one, recognising that. Two, understanding that there’s a sense, if I may put it that way, of justice coming out of what’s occurred. And I think the next thing is that the people that are being harboured in Russia, this is wrong, and you’ve heard our Foreign Minister speak quite strongly on it. It is important that those people who did this horrific thing be held to account. 

And in terms of your question, Deb – sorry, I don’t want to not answer your question – I think it is important that we have a focus on this and that at some point that this justice and this accountability does occur. 

DEBORAH KNIGHT: Well, let’s hope it does. And, Angus, they are being protected, we know, by Russia. What can we do to hold Russia to account, not just with the conviction and jail time, the life sentences that have been handed down by these three, but also for the compensation to the families left behind? 

ANGUS TAYLOR: Well, first of all I should say we very much welcome the court imposing those sentences of life imprisonment for these crimes. And, of course, it’s still a very difficult time for the families and loved ones of those who were on board. They’re still grieving, and this, I think, is an important step along the way. 

But to answer your question, we’ve got to continue to pursue justice and accountability for all of the victims of MH17. And that is been very difficult with Russia. Russia has acted in a way that is illegal, immoral and completely unacceptable with gross disregard for national norms, and it’s important that the government do everything they can to make sure that there is justice. 

DEBORAH KNIGHT: Yeah, and our thoughts are with the families, because I know many of them are, bittersweet day really, because it is justice in some form but still no real justice, these three not behind bars. But let’s hope that one day they will be. 

Now look, I want to end on this – I don’t want to be too creepy by asking what you’re all wearing. But, it is Australia Music T-shirt Day today, and we are being encouraged to wear our favourite Aussie band T-shirts to help raise money for Support Act, which is the organisation that does great work helping out local musos. Have you got an old, much-loved Aussie band T-shirt that’s got holes in it but you still want to wear it, or maybe you’re wearing one now? Ed? 

ED HUSIC: No, I don’t have one. 


ED HUSIC: Because I’m an ultra nerd!  All I’ve got is like Star Wars and basketball T-shirts. I’m really sorry. 

DEBORAH KNIGHT: If you had a T-shirt that would support a band, who would it be? 

ED HUSIC: Midnight Oil and Acca Dacca. Like, those were big back in the day. So I’d probably have that. But I’m sure there’s a more contemporary band that the youth listen to – the Gang of Youths. 

DEBORAH KNIGHT: There you go. 

ED HUSIC: There you go. 

DEBORAH KNIGHT: What about you, Angus? 

ANGUS TAYLOR: Well look, I don’t have one, but there’s one I wish I had had – which was one of the first concerts I went to, certainly with an Australian band, and that was the Hoodoo Gurus. I would love to have and Hoodoo Gurus T-shirt. I’m a big fan to this day. They were truly a great Aussie band. 

DEBORAH KNIGHT: Yeah, well you’ve got to get some merch next time you go and see a band and hang on to it. You know, one of the T-shirts, so you can hold on to it for good times. 

Fellas, good to talk. We’ll catch up with you again next week. 

ED HUSIC: Thank you.