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Interview with Deb Knight, 2GB

12 June 2020

Deb Knight

Subject: National cabinet, opening state borders, electricity prices, energy policy, Robodebt, television standards.


DEB KNIGHT: They got pulled away last week - Angus Taylor had to go to something important, a Cabinet meeting or something - but he's here with us now! Angus Taylor and Joel Fitzgibbon for Friday Question Time. Fellas, great to have you with us.

ANGUS TAYLOR: Thanks for having me, Deb.

JOEL FITZGIBBON: Great to be with you, Deb.

DEB KNIGHT: Now, I wanted to kick off with the National Cabinet meeting today. The borders front and centre, obviously. We've got Queensland, Western Australia, South Australia, and Tasmania all still holding out on opening their borders. We've got to get the borders reopened, don't we Angus?

ANGUS TAYLOR: Absolutely - Deb, can I apologise to you and your listeners for missing last week - but yes, you're absolutely right, it's time to open the borders. Set the date, make it soon and get on with it. Businesses are suffering, particularly in the tourism sector but many others. It's time to get on with it and I think Australians understand that, so that's what we want to see.

DEB KNIGHT: Yeah. Well, let's hope we get an announcement out of National Cabinet or at least a timeframe for how they're going to do it. And we've also got the protests which are dominating headlines this week. Now, we've had a number of protests already last weekend, more planned in Sydney and in Brisbane tonight and tomorrow. Joel, do you think that your colleagues who went along to this protest and have now had to get tested for COVID, did they do the wrong thing here?

JOEL FITZGIBBON: Well, I understand the cause, Deb, but I thought it was wrong for the organisers to proceed with the protests. I think that there was a health risk. We've had people die, we've had the economy effectively locked down - not just here but internationally. We can't afford a second wave. And again, I think it was a mistake both to hold the protests and I think it was a mistake for people to attend.

DEB KNIGHT: Yeah, and let's hope that there isn't a second wave as a result of this. We have one person test positive after the protests in Victoria, which is what we all feared, and yet still they're going to turn out in their tens of thousands they say. We'll keep across that.  Power prices. Angus, good news for businesses being paid to reduce their power usage, but what about households? Why not introduce something similar for everyone?

ANGUS TAYLOR: It can extend to them, but more importantly this is good for households as well. The reason is we struggle most on those days of the year, usually the really hot days in January, and what this does is it says to our aluminium smelters, our steel mills, hey, if you can help out, you'll be paid for it, but in the process what we'll do is reduce prices on those days and improve reliability on those days and that's good for everybody, that means lower bills for everybody. So, this is a good win, not just for our manufacturing sector which is obviously enormously important, but also for our households.

DEB KNIGHT: Could we see it extended to households, though?

ANGUS TAYLOR: Absolutely. So over time we would expect it to move down to households. The obvious place to start is the big industrial businesses. And look, they're the ones where we want to see those, those big gains being made so we have a sustainable manufacturing sector in this country for many years to come.

DEB KNIGHT: And how cheaper is it going to be?

ANGUS TAYLOR: Well, you know, there are significant opportunities here for the bigger players. They might pay at the moment $60 or $70 a megawatt hour and you could expect a good reduction on that, or at least a good opportunity relative to that to bring down their power prices.

DEB KNIGHT: You have to welcome that, Joel?

JOEL FITZGIBBON: Ah Deb, it's not unwelcome but, gee, it's been embellished by Angus. I mean, this is a band-aid on a problem created by the same government. It's no substitute for an energy policy, something we've been lacking for seven years.

ANGUS TAYLOR: Oh hey, let's be clear here-

JOEL FITZGIBBON: No, I didn't interrupt you, Angus. We've been absent, without an energy policy for seven years and that's why we have prices higher than they need be, Deb. And that was a great question about it going to households. I mean, the government is going to effectively pay big consumers like aluminium smelters to reduce their demand on the hottest days of the year. Now, he says he's going to extend that to households somehow, but Angus is also arguing this is going to lead to average lower electricity bills for consumers, and that's just of course, that's just rubbish.

ANGUS TAYLOR: Well, Deb, let me deal with the rubbish we've just heard from Joel. I mean, in the last six months, before COVID, we've seen wholesale prices halve in the market. Now for an aluminium smelter like Tomago that you know well, Joel, this is a godsend. And they have been asking for the change we've just made, by the way, and I know you're a big supporter of Tomago.


ANGUS TAYLOR: They have been asking for this for a long while.


ANGUS TAYLOR: We've seen wholesale prices half of where they are, we're seeing reforms going into place that support manufacturing. Those reforms have come through now. And you should be welcoming all of that, Joel, and instead you're playing the same old energy politics that Labor plays all the time.

DEB KNIGHT: All right. I want to move on.

JOEL FITZGIBBON: Oh that’s just not right, Deb.

DEB KNIGHT: I want to move on. Robodebt. Now, we've had the Prime Minister saying that he wanted to make an apology in Parliament over Robodebt, which was unexpected. The Shadow Attorney-General, Mark Dreyfus, Joel, said that it wasn't genuine, it wasn't enough. And the PM, his full quote, he said: “I would apologise for any hurt or harm in the way that the Government has dealt with the issues.” Do you think, Joel, that that is not enough?

JOEL FITZGIBBON: Well, I think the way it was presented, Deb, it seemed a bit disingenuous. And his Minister Stuart Robert, keeps dancing around this issue still. I mean, we have countless reports of people taking their lives they've been under so much pressure from this debt collection process. I think we need a fulsome whole of government approach to this, a proper apology and some more serious talk about both how those people are compensated, but of course, how those people are helped into the future. This has been a terrible experience for too many people.

DEB KNIGHT: And he's right, Angus, it has been.

ANGUS TAYLOR: Well look, the Prime Minister addressed that issue yesterday. And look, I understand that there's been hurt and that's regrettable, but the PM addressed it yesterday. It's a matter before the courts and that's important that that play out and meanwhile, we get on with it. I would point out though that the income averaging which was the source of this, came from-

DEB KNIGHT: Which has been deemed to be a failure and illegal.

ANGUS TAYLOR: Well, except that it was first put in place by Labor. So, we accept responsibility for the time we've had it in place, Labor should accept responsibility for putting it in place the first time.

DEB KNIGHT: Alright. We don't want buck passing. The people whose lives have been affected by this, it's the last thing they want to hear.

ANGUS TAYLOR: Yeah, and that's why we accept, we are absolutely prepared to accept responsibility for the time we've had it in place, but so should Labor.

DEB KNIGHT: Alright. Now, the whole PC madness that we seem to be riddled with at the moment - this whole cancel culture idea of banning shows like Gone With The Wind, comedians Chris Lilley. I mean, Chris Uhlmann, the Nine political reporter, has put a thing on Twitter saying: ‘Satire: comedy lost on the woke.’ And that's what it feels like. I mean, Joel, we've heard Wayne Swan saying that the removal of statues of historical figures, he says the statues should be put in museums. Do you agree with him?

JOEL FITZGIBBON: I don't know what Wayne Swan said-

DEB KNIGHT: Well, that's what he said.

JOEL FITZGIBBON: But some of the funny shows we used to watch, Deb, I mean, you'd be put in jail now. Shows like, you know, the Carry On franchise with Syd James, Benny Hill and here, locally, Paul Hogan. I mean, Paul, I've seen recently some old footage of The Paul Hogan Show and you wouldn't get away with that today but they were very, very funny. And I think Angus and I would both be marching in the street if someone suggested that Paul Hogan be wiped from our history.

DEB KNIGHT: Even Delvene Delaney has come out saying that she's okay with her being put up as a sex symbol - she didn't have a problem with it. And I mean, it’s part of our history, it’s part of our culture. What about you, Angus? What are some of shows that might be on the banned list that you would march on the streets about if they tried to pull them off?

ANGUS TAYLOR: Well, some are already on the banned list, I mean, it's extraordinary. We see Jonah and Ja'mie from Summer Heights High being banned. I mean - Chris Lilley's characters - but of course, I think it's hard to go past one that I saw today, which is the ‘Don't Mention the War’ episode from Fawlty Towers - which is one of the great, great episodes of British comedy-

DEB KNIGHT: Absolutely.

ANGUS TAYLOR: And it's been taken off. You gotta ask yourself how we've got to this.

DEB KNIGHT: Yeah. And we've got an e-mail from Verna who says: ‘I'm a first generation Aussie with German heritage’. And he says: ‘I thought Fawlty Towers was hilarious, particularly the episode that's supposed to be offensive to Germans’. He says: ‘Please I'm not offended, it's called entertainment and comedy - give me a break’. Which sums it up very well. Fellas, I'm glad that we could actually get you on this week - well done. Thank you so much for joining us. You have a great weekend.

ANGUS TAYLOR: Thanks, Deb. Cheers