Radio interview Afternoons with Deborah Knight

Deborah Knight
Regular spot with Minister Ed Husic and Shadow Treasurer Angus Taylor

DEBORAH KNIGHT: And we will look at the big issues of the week. We’re joined, as we are every Friday, by the Minister for Industry and Science Ed Husic and the Shadow Treasurer Angus Taylor.

Fellas, thanks so much for joining us. Angus is here in the studio. Ed is on the phone line. G’day, fellas.



DEBORAH KNIGHT: Now, Elizabeth Broderick’s report into the workplace culture into the New South Wales parliament, it is damning. It’s just been released, and it does echo that separate review into federal parliament that was released last year, of a toxic and an appalling workplace culture across the board across all parties. Changes were initiated as a result of those recommendations. I wonder, Ed, have you noticed any change or difference in the culture of the place as a result?

ED HUSIC: Well, I mean, I think these type of reports are important to get that issue firmly in people’s minds that there’s something that needs to be tackled and dealt with. I think that has definitely happened, and I think there’s a lot of work being done to make sure that we do change culture. But I’m – in saying that, you know, it’s not like I can give you a yes, it’s definitely changed because culture takes a while. Like, that stuff does take time to break down. There are attitudes that have been built up over years, and by no stretch of the imagination should someone think I’m saying it’s going to take ages to fix; I just think you’ve got to recognise it’s a problem that does need to be recognised it’s going to take a while to work on. It’s not an easy fix. People have to be committed to fixing it. They have to recognise that people have to deserve the right to have safe, harassment-free workplaces.

And I think the other big thing, finally, too, is that it’s hard for me, you know, because a lot of the stuff resolved around gender. I’m a bloke; I, you know, get treated differently, frankly. And so it’s up to women that are working in those environments to let us make – or tell us that they believe that the culture has changed and they think it’s better, because it’s not up to blokes to – I just think it’s too hard for blokes to make that call, frankly.

DEBORAH KNIGHT: Well, I know that, Angus, when we spoke about the federal parliament report, when that was handed down, you had said you had personally not seen any instances of this sort of behaviour, and that’s what we’ve heard from the Premier today in New South Wales, Dominic Perrottet, but alcohol has been raised time and time again, as a massive problem. You mix late hours, you mix high-pressure jobs with alcohol and it’s a recipe for disaster. It can be. Do we need to have blanket bans on alcohol in parliamentary offices, federal and state?

ANGUS TAYLOR: Well, I think the starting point, Deb, is that bullying and harassment is unacceptable, and what we’ve seen in this state report obviously is unacceptable, and we saw similar things at the federal level. You know, I’ve certainly seen signs of implementation of the review outcomes.

DEBORAH KNIGHT: You have? In what way?

ANGUS TAYLOR: Well, the training of staff and the support services put in place, independent complaint mechanism put in place. Like Ed, whether it’s achieved the outcomes, it’s very hard to judge. Would banning alcohol solve a problem? I guess it could.

DEBORAH KNIGHT: Well, you can’t have alcohol in other workplaces.

ANGUS TAYLOR: Well, it depends on the workplace. I mean, people will have drinks after work, that’s pretty common.

DEBORAH KNIGHT: But not during work.

ANGUS TAYLOR: Not during work, no. I don’t drink during work, and I think that’s a good practice. Look, the most important thing with all of this is personal responsibility, people taking responsibility for their actions. And like Ed, I think there are signs that people now have a better understanding of some of the issues that were there. But people have got to take responsibility for their actions. That is the single most important thing that drives culture change, in my experience.

DEBORAH KNIGHT: And what about hours, worked, too? Because that’s a big issue that’s been raised, particularly for women and people with families across the board, for the fellas, too. The hours that you work in parliament, you work late through the night and it is high pressure and stressful and it can create problems. Are we seeing any shift in the hours being worked? Can that be implemented? Is that realistic, Ed?

ED HUSIC: Well, we actually in the new parliament have responded to that and we’ve tried to shape the way in which the parliament works. For instance, deferral of votes so you don’t have debate dragging on through the night and that the business can get dealt with the next day so that the parliament is still doing what it’s meant to be doing. That happens. People get to raise their views on law that are being proposed et cetera, et cetera, but do it in a way – because it’s not just about the – you know, frankly, if I may, it’s not just about the politicians in there. Parliaments are supported by staff working across the spectrum within those buildings and when we work back, that has an impact. And when we don’t tell people in advance, that’s a whole bunch of family arrangements – picking up the kids, dinner – other things that can’t happen because parliaments and the way that governments have run the parliaments have not been mindful of that.

And if I can be honest with you, I’ve raised that in – you know, with previous Speakers. Saying, like, you know, you’ve got to make calls on this, and we’ve got these reports, like the Jenkins report that have been done. You’ve got to treat them in a fair dinkum way and deliver on what’s been put forward. And that translates to hours.

DEBORAH KNIGHT: Yeah, well, I don’t think there’s any argument that you’ve got to ensure that it is workable, that the working environment is workable for everyone, that is true.

Now the federal government Jobs and Skills Summit will go ahead next month, but we’ve got Opposition Leader Peter Dutton saying that he won’t be there. He’s rejected the invitation outright. Angus, that’s pretty poor form, isn’t it? It’ll seems like opposition for opposition’s sake, not turning up at all?

ANGUS TAYLOR: Well, I think it was poor form to hand the invitation to the media before it was handed to the invitee. That’s not good faith, Deb. Look, the more important issue is, is this going to deliver something useful? I mean, I want to see better outcomes for Australia and Australians.

DEBORAH KNIGHT: But surely if you want to avoid it being a talkfest you’ve got to turn up?

ANGUS TAYLOR: Well, you don’t – if you’re going to invite someone to something, you don’t give the invitation to the media first. That’s just common decency basically.

DEBORAH KNIGHT: Okay, you can call that out, but you can turn up, can’t you? David Littleproud is going.

ANGUS TAYLOR: So it’s not a – well, he hasn’t been invited, as far as I understand.

DEBORAH KNIGHT: Well, it was an open invitation.

ANGUS TAYLOR: Well, look, the truth is you can sit and be a wallflower at these things, of course. The question is whether – whose going to be participating. And the real risk with this thing is that it becomes a gabfest dominated by unions. Remembering that when we had the accord, which is last time we had an event like this, almost 50 per cent of people were represented by unions. Now it’s closer to 15 per cent. So, it’s a very different world.

The unions came into the accord with a view that they needed to make concessions for the broader national interest. And yet what we saw from the ACTU this week was a series of claims that would be a wrecking ball for the economy – higher taxes, higher inflation, heavy-handed government. So I am concerned about where this might go. But we’re always open-minded about supporting good outcomes if that’s what is achieved.

DEBORAH KNIGHT: But you think it’s okay for Peter Dutton not to be there?

ANGUS TAYLOR: Well, I just don’t think that was an act of good faith. I mean, if that’s how you’re going to invite someone, you’re clearly not asking them to participate in the way you’re asking others to participate.

DEBORAH KNIGHT: And, Ed, it is all good and well to hold the summit, but are you confident that anything will come of it? Because the last time that a Labor government did something like this was Kevin Rudd’s Australia 2020 Summit, and all we got was a wish list of vague ideas and not much came of it at all.

ED HUSIC: I don’t know about that. I think, for example, the NDIS was born out of those discussions effectively as well and bringing people together to work on the big problems facing the country is really important. In this case, like building a bigger, better trained more productive workforce. That’s really important for the economy longer term. Lifting wages, that’s pretty important in terms of living standards. Helping the economy grow into the future, again, that’s all big.

So a lot of, like, just to let you know, in the coming week it’s not just about the summit itself. Like, in this week – well, next week, I’ll be hosting as Industry and Science Minister about half a dozen different roundtables, bringing people together to start going through, “Okay, well, let’s get a clear view about the issues that need to be tackled and some of the things that industry and people from across” – I mean, we should be working with business. We should be working with unions. We should be working with the trainers and the people that will lift skills in our workforce. That stuff starts next week. It will continue into the summit, and it needs to work beyond because this is, again, it’s not something that you can flick a switch on - and if I may just – and it will sort out. You know, you’re not going to click your fingers and sort this solution out. It does require people to work together in goodwill.

In relation to the opposition, I hope that they do change their mind. The reality is we went to the election saying we would do this summit. We knew – we announced the date. We’re saying we’re prepared to work with people. We’ve had mixed messages. Some people want to go out of the Coalition frontbench, others don’t. The bigger thing is if you want to work with us on these problems, it’s there. If we have to, you know, do something to make people’s hurt feelings be less hurt, well, we’ll do that, too. But, you know, we’re committed to working with people.

DEBORAH KNIGHT: Is that fair enough do you think, Angus?

ANGUS TAYLOR: Oh, we’re committed to working with people, too. I mean, look, the contrast is I’m working with the Treasurer on the Reserve Bank review, and that’s been done in good faith. And, you know, I’m looking forward to a sensible way forward. So there’s a right way to do this and a wrong way.

DEBORAH KNIGHT: All right. One thing that we have bipartisan agreement on is we need to do better by our veterans. And the interim report from the Royal Commission into Defence and Veteran Suicide was released yesterday, scathing. Including just the gobsmacking figure that there’s a backlog of 42,000 compensation claims sitting there unlooked at paperwork. Unbelievable. And the Veterans’ Affairs Minister, Matt Keogh, he did apologise yesterday, promised that there’d be an extra 500 staff to help clear that backlog. But, Ed, is it going to be enough? Forty-two thousand compensation claims. Five hundred staff is not going to fix that, is it?

ED HUSIC: Yeah, it is – well, one, it is staggering, and we do as a country need to – and certainly as governments that represent the country need to deal with that. I think if Matt’s put that figure forward then there have been people that have gone, “Well, we reckon this will, you know, basically bring that number down.” And I’m sure that if he needs more people and he goes back and asks for them then that will happen, too. But I think it’s important that we get that backlog cleared, absolutely.

DEBORAH KNIGHT: And why are we in this situation in the first place, Angus? Because we hold our veterans in such high esteem and obviously with national days every year we thank them for their service, and yet we’ve got them being treated in this way. And even today we’re talking about the importance of speaking about suicide. We have too many veterans taking their own lives, and if they can’t even get their compensation claims looked at and be treated seriously, it doesn’t send a very good message.

ANGUS TAYLOR: Well, it’s not good enough. That’s why we commissioned the royal commission. That’s why it happened. That’s why we committed –

DEBORAH KNIGHT: But you didn’t need a royal commission to tell you that you needed to clear the backlog.

ANGUS TAYLOR: Well, we committed, before these decisions were made $100 million to clear the backlog. That has to happen now. It is very, very clear. We should also have a cabinet minister responsible for Veterans’ Affairs.

DEBORAH KNIGHT: And that’s fair enough, too, Ed. I mean, surely the minister has got to be in cabinet. If we want to treat the role seriously, it should be within the gamut of cabinet.

ED HUSIC: I would say our side of politics did take this issue seriously. We announced the royal commission well before the - the then Coalition, you know, took its sweet time to actually commit to this. As much as Angus has referenced the fact that it was set up and you can point to that fact, you know, where people sit in the ministerial ranking, the reality is we’ve got a person that’s dedicated to it. But they’re dedicated to something that we as an opposition Labor, now in government, we committed to that royal commission. Scott Morrison, his government, had to be, for whatever reason – I don’t know why – it took them ages to actually agree to do this.

DEBORAH KNIGHT: But you know what? You know what? Both of you, forget the finger pointing. We don’t care who’s to blame here.

ANGUS TAYLOR: We want the problem solved.

DEBORAH KNIGHT: We just want it fixed.


DEBORAH KNIGHT: You know, at the end of the day, forget the finger pointing. Fix it.

ED HUSIC: No, I get it. I get it. The issue is this was about identifying – we saw higher rates of suicide amongst veterans than the broader community. We were saying we had to get to the bottom of it, and we had a government at the time that couldn’t acknowledge the scale of the problem or put something together. Now we’ve got this royal commission. We’ve taken some initial steps. We are going to go through the interim report. And, yeah, it does need to get fixed.

But if you’re asking me a question, Deb, as you did a few moments ago off the back of what Angus said about where someone sits in a cabinet ranking and whether or not that reflects commitment, I’m – I think I’m entitled to say, Well, in actual fact, we do have a deep commitment to this and it stretches back quite some time.

DEBORAH KNIGHT: Well, we want to see results. And it does need to be delivered urgently.

ED HUSIC: I agree.

DEBORAH KNIGHT: So let’s hope it does occur.

ED HUSIC: I agree.

DEBORAH KNIGHT: Now, let’s end with something a bit lighter. We saw the Opposition Leader Peter Dutton at the Ekka this week eating a dagwood dog, as you do when you go to the show. And I reckon that there should probably be a blanket ban on pollies eating things and having photos taken because there are a few unfortunate photos. But I want to hear from both of you about where your photo opportunities have gone bad. Because we’ve had Tony Abbott eating the raw onion, Bill Shorten trying to eat that sausage sizzle, and even Bill Shorten running during the election campaign was probably, those images, a bit unfortunate. But where have your photo ops gone bad? Angus.

ANGUS TAYLOR: You’re right, that wasn’t necessarily Duster’s best work, that photo. But I made the rookie error of standing with a state candidate – who’s since become a very, very good local member – in front of the Reject Shop, which was put up on Facebook. So that was not one of my best pieces of work.

DEBORAH KNIGHT: The signage behind you. The photographers and the cameramen are always looking for that to say, “Oh, look, is there a Reject Shop behind you? Perfect? Let’s get it.” That’s a bad one. What about you, Ed?

ED HUSIC: I reckon I can beat Angus.


ED HUSIC: And this isn’t – this is very painful for me. Press versus pollies basketball game. One of the photographers that was playing basketball dacked me and another photographer caught it.


ED HUSIC: Yeah, I was wearing Skins, so it was okay. But I don’t think anyone should have to –

ANGUS TAYLOR: I was going to ask if you were wearing jocks there, Ed.

DEBORAH KNIGHT: Oh, my goodness. Wow. Dacked and caught on camera. Can you send that to me so I can have a look?

ED HUSIC: Oh, no way. No. That is not going to happen. And they assure me – quote, unquote – they’ve destroyed it.

DEBORAH KNIGHT: Yeah, they do say that.

ED HUSIC: Yes, those photographers.

ANGUS TAYLOR: I’ve heard otherwise, Ed.

DEBORAH KNIGHT: That’s a politician’s guarantee, that is. Fellas, thanks very much for joining us.

ANGUS TAYLOR: Good one to you.

ED HUSIC: See ya.

DEBORAH KNIGHT: Ed Husic and Angus Taylor, who join us every Friday for Question Time here on Afternoons.