Interview with Deborah Knight, Afternoons, 2GB

Deborah Knight
Repatriation of Australian citizens from Syria; Report on ministerial responsibilities; Torrens Island power plant closure 

DEBORAH KNIGHT: And they join us every Friday – Ed Husic, the Minister for Industry and Science, and Angus Taylor, the shadow Treasurer. Fellas, thanks again for joining us. The Prime Minister is speaking right now after the final report was released into the former PM Scott Morrison’s secret takeover of multiple ministries, which we will look at in just a tick. 

But I want to start with this meeting this morning with the Home Affairs Minister Clare O’Neil finally meeting with the mayors of south west Sydney and western Sydney and community leaders. Ed, she should have met with them well before this, shouldn’t she? 

ED HUSIC, MINISTER FOR INDUSTRY AND SCIENCE: Well, she’s never backed away from a commitment to meet, and it’s good she’s meeting with them today. 

DEBORAH KNIGHT: A lot of pressure brought to bear, though, for that face-to-face meeting to occur. A Zoom meeting was first offered, and that wasn’t good enough. 

ED HUSIC: Well, this won’t be the only form of community consultation. I mean, if you look at what she’s been doing there’s more forms of consultation. Meetings are important obviously – 

DEBORAH KNIGHT: After the horse has bolted, though. 

ED HUSIC: It’s good that it’s happening. Well I mean, she’s doing the meeting. It’s a great thing that it’s happening. I mean, people can always go, “Well, why not this, why not that?” 

DEBORAH KNIGHT: Why not sooner? It’s a reasonable question. Why did this meeting not happen sooner? 

ED HUSIC: I think Clare’s been prepared to talk and meet and have discussions. And it’s good that it’s happening. 

DEBORAH KNIGHT: Angus, your government did a similar thing, according to Chris Bowen when he was at this meeting. He’s the Federal MP covering this area. And he claimed that the government – your government – was secretive with regards to eight children and grandchildren brought back to Australia. He called you hypocrites. 

ANGUS TAYLOR: Well, that’s the usual misleading statement we get from Chris Bowen on most things. It was a completely different set of circumstances – a small group of orphans were allowed back in in 2019. No adults, no wives – a small group of orphan children. 

But can I say, Deb, it’s clear these mayors have some very real concerns. I know all three of them. And they’re very reasonable people. They’ve made their views very, very clear. It is disappointing it’s taken so long. They asked to see the Prime Minister. He’s run away from it and said no. He prioritised going to the GQ fashion awards in Sydney over listening to communities. So this is disappointing. It does need real engagement; it’s a very real issue that I think is very reasonably being brought up by the mayors. 

DEBORAH KNIGHT: And, Ed, you can understand the frustration of the local mayors and the community leaders. I mean, how would you feel if they’d been brought into your electorate without anyone knowing and kept in the secretive way it has been? 

ED HUSIC: Well, there’s a lot of stuff that needs to happen generally on this issue, and it should have been happening for a lot longer. 


ED HUSIC: And if we’re going to be frank about this, I mean, even the Trump administration was telling the Coalition to get its act together on this stuff. Should have happened years ago. And yet again it’s another thing that we’ve had to clear up when our allies have expected that this type of stuff be sorted out. 

So I get it – there’ll be people that will have their views. Totally respect it, and it’s great that, you know, people can express it, and I take your point in terms of mayors and your point to me around my local area. Yes, absolutely, I always will stand up for people being consulted and having the opportunity to have their say. I take it on board, cop it on the chin, talking’s happening, let’s keep it moving. 

DEBORAH KNIGHT: Well, it should have happened sooner. Now, the Prime Minister is speaking right now regarding the final report from the Bell inquiry. And the report confirms what the Solicitor General said earlier this year with regard to Scott Morrison taking over multiple ministries in secret. Why did we need this second inquiry, though, Ed? Because the recommendations the Solicitor-General were basically the same as these recommendations? Why not act on that first report? 

ED HUSIC: Well, I think it is important to get clear – and having someone appointed to run this type of inquiry in terms of the Bell inquiry, very important. And the way in which people should have confidence that where the buck stops, frankly, we do need to know who’s calling the shots in individual portfolios and be able to hold them to account and the way in which decisions are made. And it certainly affected my portfolio area. I thought Angus was the minister and it turns out that Scott Morrison was the minister as well. And I don’t think we should have to be second-guessing on these things. 

DEBORAH KNIGHT: The Solicitor-General’s report, though, you don’t think that that was enough? This isn’t a case of rubbing the nose in the former government here and a bit of payback? 

ED HUSIC: No, I think that the Solicitor-General’s work raised questions in terms of trying to get clarity around what exactly has gone on. Obviously I can’t watch what the PM is saying and talk with you and Angus at this point in time, but I’ll be interested to see the outcome of that inquiry myself. 

DEBORAH KNIGHT: Well, it turns out there wasn’t just the five ministries that Scott Morrison had secretly taken control of; there was actually a sixth one in the mix. The Bell inquiry found that Scott Morrison’s office instructed his department to start preparing a brief for his appointment to administer the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment. And in the end he decided not to go ahead with this one. So there was another one potentially in the mix. 

And, Angus, the PM has also said that the previous government enabled Scott Morrison’s behaviour. Is that fair? 

ANGUS TAYLOR: No, I don’t quite know what that is actually saying. A bit of a cheap shot there from Ed, can I say, by the way, Deb. I mean, I was accountable for my portfolio and – 

DEBORAH KNIGHT: But were you happy with the fact that the Prime Minister had taken control of your portfolio? I mean, I asked you about this at the time and you didn’t seem to care. 

ANGUS TAYLOR: He actually didn’t. So I got on and did the job, and that was it. So – but can I say, Deb, and, so, you know, from my personal point of view it’s a storm in a teacup because I knew what I was doing and I knew what I was accountable for and that was clear. But can I say, despite the cheap shots from Ed, we’ll work with the government on any reasonable proposals to provide clarity and transparency. And that’s absolutely fine. I haven’t seen the detail of what’s being proposed and we haven’t had time to work them through, but we will do that in a reasonable way. 

DEBORAH KNIGHT: There’s also been some explosive comments from the former Treasurer Josh Frydenberg today in the Sydney Morning Herald saying that it was “extreme overreach” what Mr Morrison had done and that he still hadn’t apologised to him and says it’s affected their friendship. I wonder, Angus, does Scott Morrison – do you count him still as a friend? 

ANGUS TAYLOR: I absolutely have a very positive relationship still with both Scott and Josh. I talk to them both regularly. I’m not going to get into a running commentary of what’s been said in the book. I think what’s important with all of these things is learn from the past, look forward. We’ll address any sensible proposals that are brought to us and we'll work with the government on that. That’s what Australians expect us to do, and we’ll do that. 

DEBORAH KNIGHT: And do you think – do you agree with the former Treasurer Josh Frydenberg that it was extreme overreach? 

ANGUS TAYLOR: Look, really I’m just not going to get into a running commentary of those things. 

DEBORAH KNIGHT: It’s not a running commentary; it’s a question. 

ANGUS TAYLOR: Well, my – I think I’ve answered it. My experience of all of this was Scott gave me enormous room to get on and do my job. I was accountable for it. That was, I think, very clear. And that is as it should be. So now, to the extent that arrangements need to be made more clear and these things shouldn’t be repeated in the future, we’ll work with the government to make sure that any sensible proposals are supported. 

DEBORAH KNIGHT: And, Ed, sorry to interrupt there you wanted to jump in? 

ED HUSIC: Well, I just wanted to make the point to Angus, I genuinely wasn’t trying to make a smart point at all in terms of – God, heaven forbid I ever make a smart point on this program, but – I wasn’t making a point towards Angus or any cheap shot. The reality was that the former Prime Minister put themselves in the position of the industry minister. The reality is also there that the Prime Minister had set aside decision-making power on programs within the industry portfolio as well. 

And I think putting all that history aside, there is a simple proposition now – the simple proposition is: do you back this type of behaviour continuing in the future? Yes or no. The simple answer should be no. People should know where the buck stops. And I don’t think it really takes much out of the opposition to say, “If we were in government next time, we will not let that happen. We’ve certainly indicated as a government we won’t. But I certainly was not making any cheap shot towards you, Angus, but I was just making the point that he had appointed himself, Scott Morrison, as a shadow – well, sorry, for want of a better term, an industry minister in government. 

DEBORAH KNIGHT: Industry, science, energy and resources. 

ANGUS TAYLOR: And, Ed, you were more than willing to hold me to account for the decisions I made, and you wanted to review them all. You’ve actually backed them all in. Good on you for doing that. So look, let’s get on with it. Let’s deal with this. We will deal with it in a reasonable way and move forward, not backwards. 

DEBORAH KNIGHT: Yeah, and I don’t think that there was necessarily another report needed to show that this was behaviour that shouldn’t have happened and shouldn’t happen again. But the Prime Minister is speaking now. I’ll bring you more news from now as we get it. 

Ed, I also want to cover on this, and with you, Angus – the closure of yet another power plant being fast tracked, this time AGL announcing the gas-fired Torrens Island B plant in South Australia will shut up shop in 2026. They were originally going to keep running until 2035. Are you confident, Ed, that our energy grid will be able to handle this shutdown in just four years’ time? 

ED HUSIC: I think you can take a lot of comfort out of the regulator who keeps tabs on these things – AEMO – saying it shouldn’t have any impact on system security. And I think it just does show that our energy system itself is undergoing some big changes factoring in more renewables, which are the cheapest form of energy generation. And we certainly want to make sure that we back that transition in and ensure, too, that it doesn’t have impact on business and households. 

It's going to be inevitable that there’ll be some unreliable plants like the Torrens Island plant, that they’re going to retire over time. And that’s what you’ve got to plan ahead and make sure that you’ve got generation in place. 

DEBORAH KNIGHT: Do you share that confidence, Angus? 

ANGUS TAYLOR: No, I don’t. I mean, look, there’s a bit of history here. I stood with the South Australian minister soon after I became Energy Minister and backed in building a new gas generator, which I opened. I was part of opening that, which was a good thing, at Torrens Island. But you’ve got to replace capacity that’s leaving the system. We had full support from all the market operators and regulators to put a mechanism in place whereby leaving capacity had to be replaced with equivalent dispatchable capacity – a capacity mechanism, as it’s called. And Chris Bowen has just not backed that in. He’s just walked away from it. 

He's living in a fantasy land on this issue. We’ve got to have replacement. And Chris Bowen has to be talking about it relentlessly and making it happen. That’s not what we’re saying. And we’re going to pay a big price for that. 

DEBORAH KNIGHT: Okay. All right, a quick one and a fun one to end on – the ABC has revealed they are remaking Mother and Son, which I think they should leave well enough alone, frankly. But when it comes to classics what would you like to see remade? I know Neighbours is coming back again – that was a short-lived end to that long -running TV show. But what’s the TV show you would love to see revived? Ed? 

ED HUSIC: I know this is going to be controversial, but Kingswood Country cracked me up. 

DEBORAH KNIGHT: Yeah. Well, they wouldn’t allow that. It’s just way too politically incorrect. Imagine that. Imagine Bullpitt up there again. Goodness me. 

ED HUSIC: Yeah, Ted Bullpitt. 

DEBORAH KNIGHT: Ted Bullpitt, he’d cause all sorts of dramas. Angus, how about you? 

ANGUS TAYLOR: Look, I’m with Ed on that one, actually. Look, Kath and Kim was always great. But I have to say – and I know you’re going to say this is sacrilege, Deb, I know you’re going to say this – but 12 episode of Fawlty Towers wasn’t enough. 

DEBORAH KNIGHT: You can’t touch it. 

ANGUS TAYLOR: I know they were classics. It was truly – 

DEBORAH KNIGHT: That’s why it was so good – there were only such a limited amount. 

ANGUS TAYLOR: Well, that may well be true, and it’s probably too politically incorrect for this day and age, a bit like Kingswood Country, but it was magnificent. And I would love to have seen more. 

DEBORAH KNIGHT: Yeah, well, you’ve got to savour what we’ve got. Put the money on top of the fridge, as Ted Bullpitt use to say. Yes. Fellas, good to join us – thanks so much for joining us. We’ll chat again next week. 

ED HUSIC: See you, thanks.