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Interview with Deb Knight, 2GB

3 July 2020

Interviewer: 
Deb Knight

Subject: Eden-Monaro by-election, preferences, protests in Hong Kong, media freedom, the Afghan Files story, the Pollie Pedal.

E&OE

DEBORAH KNIGHT: I'm sure these two celebrities would be lovely when you met them - Angus Taylor, the Federal Energy Minister, and Joel Fitzgibbon, Shadow Agriculture Minister, on the line for our pollies for Friday Question Time. Good afternoon.

ANGUS TAYLOR: Afternoon Joel, Deb.

JOEL FITZGIBBON: Afternoon Deb, Angus.

DEBORAH KNIGHT: You've got to be nice to famous people.

JOEL FITZGIBBON: What's not to like, Deborah? What's not to like?

DEBORAH KNIGHT: Exactly. Exactly. Now you both can't say you're underdogs, but your both parties are into the election, the by-election tomorrow for Eden-Monaro. You're looking pretty good, the Government's looking pretty good heading into this, Angus.

ANGUS TAYLOR: Well on average we get a 3.8 swing against governments in by-elections, and a government hasn't won a seat like this for 100 years-

DEBORAH KNIGHT: But these aren’t usual times, are they?

ANGUS TAYLOR: Well, you know, perhaps not, but the stats are pretty clear on this, Deb. But Fiona is a fantastic candidate - Fiona Kotvojs. We need a member of the Government on the ground in Eden-Monaro for the rebuilding effort that's happening there after the fires, and the drought, and COVID, and I'm hopeful, but it is a tough order for us.

DEBORAH KNIGHT: Yeah, and you've been critical, Joel, highly critical of some of the announcements made by the Government and the Liberal candidate in the lead-up to this, of course they're going to throw everything they can at it to win it.

JOEL FITZGIBBON: Which demonstrates again, Deb, this is not a normal by-election as you pointed out. In this by-election, the advantages of incumbency are enormous. I mean, the Government's been out there spending taxpayers' money. Some of it spin, some of it real. Bringing forward other announcements just for the very purpose of the by-election. We also have a fantastic candidate in Kristy McBain, and she's campaigned so well. But have a look at what's happening with the state premiers. I mean, some of them have approval ratings through 80 per cent at the moment. It just demonstrates how COVID has changed the political dynamic, at least in the short-term. We've also lost Mike Kelly who had a huge personal vote. So it's a tough one for the Labor Party, but I'm still confident Kristy will get across the line.

DEBORAH KNIGHT: And what's going on between the Liberals and the Nats? We heard reports yesterday that the Leader in New South Wales, John Barilaro had been telling voters to preference Labor ahead of the Liberals. He's denied it, saying that officially the Nationals position is to preference the Liberals. But reports today that he told friends he put Labor ahead of the Liberals at the last federal election. Have you ever voted, Angus, for the other side?

ANGUS TAYLOR: No, I haven't. But the media would love to believe this is true-

JOEL FITZGIBBON: Come on Angus, be honest.

ANGUS TAYLOR: No, I haven't - and in fact, I voted in Eden-Monaro for many years too - but no, I haven't. And look, the media would love to believe all of this is true. But it's all crazy stuff. John Barilaro addressed the speculation in the media yesterday, he strongly denied the claims, and we get on with it. And look, the key point here is we just need someone from the Government on the ground in Eden-Monaro for this rebuilding effort. That's got to be the focus, and I know John Barilaro understands that well.

DEBORAH KNIGHT: Have you ever been tempted, Joel, to vote for anyone other than Labor? Be honest. Come on.

JOEL FITZGIBBON: Certainly not, Deb, but we do know John Barilaro has been up to no good. Why? Because he wants Labor to win so that there's no sitting Liberal member next at the general election, so he can have a run. And it's outrageous, but it's obviously true that's what he's up to. But what the people of Eden-Monaro really need is to send Kristy McBain to Canberra to tell Scott Morrison that the recovery effort is just not good enough.

DEBORAH KNIGHT: Alright, we'll see when those results come through. It is likely to be close. Hopefully we'll get a result by the end of the weekend. Now on a global scale, the issue of Hong Kong, disturbing developments there. We heard from the PM yesterday saying that he is close to finalising an arrangement for Hong Kongers fleeing the semi-autonomous region. How close are we, Angus?

ANGUS TAYLOR: Well, we're working on it as quickly as we can, and obviously we hold deep concerns about what Beijing has done with the imposition of these national security laws, and we do want to support people who need to get out of Hong Kong. It's a good opportunity for Australia. There is many good people up there, of course, who can make an enormous contribution to Australia. So we want to provide support. We're working through that as quickly as we possibly can.

DEBORAH KNIGHT: And Joel, are you concerned by what's happening in Hong Kong? I mean, we've seen the UK Government open up the borders to Hong Kongers who want to come. Is that something we should be doing here? China overstepping it, it seems.

JOEL FITZGIBBON: Obviously, I'm very concerned, Deb, on a whole range of fronts. And I strongly, I'm very confident that the Government will have bipartisan support for whatever it proposes. You remember Bob Hawke gave people safe haven after the Tiananmen Square event, as awful as that was. So, I think we're all on the same page here. Very concerned about the action of the Chinese Government and very concerned about those who might face persecution or any other consequence as a result of what's happening there. And we are a wealthy, responsible nation, and whether they're coming from Hong Kong or fleeing oppression in the Middle East or anywhere else on the subcontinent, for example, we should be open to providing help and assistance.

DEBORAH KNIGHT: Now, big concerns about press freedom in this country, and we've seen the decision by the AFP to ask prosecutors to consider charges against ABC journalist Dan Oakes for the Afghan Files story. What do you think, Angus? Should we be moving against this? Obviously, the Minister has discretion here.

ANGUS TAYLOR: Well, look, a brief of evidence has been forwarded to the office of the Commonwealth, of DPP. It was a referral from the Chief of Defence Force of course. That's an important point. But I think, as this is ongoing, it's inappropriate to make further comment at the moment.

DEBORAH KNIGHT: Well we've seen his colleague, Samuel Clark, cleared and investigations into News Corp journalist Annika Smethurst, they've been dropped over another leaked national security story. Do you have concerns about press freedom being impinged in Australia?

ANGUS TAYLOR: Well, I mean, press freedoms are obviously enormously important, but the point I'd make here is a brief of evidence has gone to the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecution and that'll be dealt with appropriately.

DEBORAH KNIGHT: Joel?

JOEL FITZGIBBON: Well Deb, freedom of the press is fundamental to our democracy. I mean, think Watergate, all those years ago. I'm encouraged by the fact that the Attorney has said he is seriously disinclined to authorise the prosecution of these journalists. That bodes well for the future. But he does have discretion for good reason, Deb. He has to weigh up freedom of the press on one side and the fact that secret documents have been leaked. Now, documents are secret for a reason. They're usually kept secret because to have them disclosed could be a threat to our national security.

DEBORAH KNIGHT: But the facts disclosed in that story have never been questioned.

JOEL FITZGIBBON: Well, still, documents are secret for a reason and when people leak them, they need to know that there can be consequences. Look, I don't want a prosecution. I think it would have a chilling effect on journalists in this country and that would be a bad thing. But I do agree with Angus, we need to let the process run its course because documents are secret for reasons. There are prohibitions for good reason and these are things that the Attorney-General will have to weigh up.

DEBORAH KNIGHT: Alright. Now, we've got a physio coming on after 2pm on the show for Friday health because I know a lot of people have been overdoing it when they go to the gym. And my EP, Harnsle, she was hobbling around here because she just went too hard too fast. Now your Pollie Pedal, Angus - you reckon it'll be on in September? You're going to be okay getting the Lycra back on again? Don't overdo it now. You've got to go a little bit easing yourself into this although.

ANGUS TAYLOR: Well, I've been getting it on anyway but I want to see I want to see Joel out there, and we've got some Lycra for him.

DEBORAH KNIGHT: Oh, the challenge.

ANGUS TAYLOR: Starting on Sunday, the 20th of September, we're going to be going through drought and bushfire affected areas through New South Wales. We'd love to get Joel out there. Actually Deb, you should come for a day-

DEBORAH KNIGHT: [Laughs]

ANGUS TAYLOR: It's a fantastic event.

DEBORAH KNIGHT: Careful.

ANGUS TAYLOR: It's raised $7 million and we've ridden over 22,000 kilometres since 1998. It is a brilliant event. This year it is Soldier On - supporting our veterans - so really important cause.

DEBORAH KNIGHT: I'm up for it. Joel, are you?

JOEL FITZGIBBON: Deb, I have nothing but high regard for those who participate but I'll remain a spectator-

ANGUS TAYLOR: We've got the Lycra, Joel!

JOEL FITZGIBBON: But can I quickly say the Pollie Pedal came through my hometown one day - Tony Abbott in the lead, health minister at the time. And I asked him to visit the local Cessnock Hospital, we had a few issues there and he generously agreed to do so. But the vision of Tony Abbott walking around the hospital wards in his tight Lycra is one I'm never likely to forget.

DEBORAH KNIGHT: Oh come on. He wears his budgie smugglers, Lycra's nothing. Come on Joel. I'll do it if you do it. We don't have to wear Lycra.

JOEL FITZGIBBON: I, not that long ago, fought the local state member in a boxing ring. I'm up for the challenge but it's very time consuming this month.

DEBORAH KNIGHT: It is.

JOEL FITZGIBBON: How do you find the time Angus? I’m out there helping my constituents.

ANGUS TAYLOR: You should just come for a day, Joel, we'll keep working on it.

DEBORAH KNIGHT: Maybe we'll commit to a couple of hours or a day, limit it that way. But it's great to see it's happening again, Angus. As you say, it's a wonderful cause, raising money for Soldier On. So yeah, let's hope it happens as planned in September too. So good stuff. Good on you fellas. Have a great weekend.

JOEL FITZGIBBON: Thanks Deb.

ANGUS TAYLOR: Thanks Deb – have a good break!

DEBORAH KNIGHT: Angus Taylor there - thank you very much - and Joel Fitzgibbon, every Friday they join us at this time for Friday Question Time.

ENDS