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Interview with Deb Knight, 2GB

31 July 2020

Interviewer: 
Deb Knight

Subject: COVID-19, US relationship,

E&OE

DEB KNIGHT: Angus Taylor and Joel Fitzgibbon are with us. Friday Question Time. G'day fellows, thanks for joining us.

ANGUS TAYLOR: G'day, Deb. G'day, Joel.

JOEL FITZGIBBON: Glad to be with you, Deb, Angus.

DEB KNIGHT: Now, I want to kick it off with COVID, because that has dominated the news cycle and continues to this week. We've got an absolute full blown crisis in aged care in Victoria. And today these awful reports, appalling, that residents who have died from COVID had been left in their beds for hours. They simply don't have the staff, the capability, until we have seen the Defence Force and interstate nursing staff move into help. Angus, how did we get to this point?

ANGUS TAYLOR: It's obviously disheartening, and seeing those images and seeing the numbers in Victoria and more generally over the last couple of days has been disheartening for everybody. But the crucial thing now is we deal with it. There were 16 additional cases amongst the 700 in aged care yesterday, so we shouldn't overblow it, despite the fact those images were heart rending, there's no question about it.

DEB KNIGHT: Oh, I think any family member, though, who's got someone in aged care would say it's not-

ANGUS TAYLOR: Absolutely - well, we do have to keep this in perspective. But look, the point is we need to get additional workforce in there. We've done that with the ADF as you mentioned, and that's a real priority. And we've got to make sure we continue to provide that support and we're certainly doing that at the Commonwealth level. But we've got to also remember here, there's no easy way out with COVID. This is a dreadful situation. We're in it together and we've got to keep working together to make the best of what's a really tough situation.

DEB KNIGHT: Absolutely. And the blame game, Joel, that we've seen this week, little digs happening between the Commonwealth Government and between the Victorian Government, particularly with aged care. It's not helping anyone.

JOEL FITZGIBBON: And we have to absolutely avoid that, Deb. This is tragic. Both complacency and stupidity are on the rise. Sadly you can't legislate against either of those things. And we need the community to respond. You know, when I was a young guy, drinking and driving wasn't frowned upon. It was just the normal thing to do in those days. But it wasn't so much or it wasn't just random breath tests that turned that around. It was community attitudes, people frowning upon people who have been stupid enough to drink and drive. We need people now to be rising up and saying to any idiot out there doing the wrong thing, not complying, and telling them to wake up to themselves. And now on aged care facilities, at least now we might be starting to realise that we have to put greater value on them, the work they do, the work the people who work in the aged care facilities do for our community, and we have to start properly resourcing them. This is a crisis, and the most frail in our community are paying a price for something outside their control.

DEB KNIGHT: Will we see action in that sector, Angus?

ANGUS TAYLOR: We're seeing action on it. We're having an Aged Care Royal Commission. I think, though, the priority has to be now and just making sure we've got the workforce in there to support them through COVID, because the tragedy occurring now is all about having a workforce today. So that's got to be the focus, Deb, rather than turning this into a broader political issue.

DEB KNIGHT: And I know with the story that we've seen from Daniel Andrews today, the Victorian Premier, that with the ADF who are helping in the aged care sector, but also helping with the contract tracing and been doing door knocking on people who've had positive cases, and one in four of the people weren't at home, were out and about in the community.

ANGUS TAYLOR: That's absolutely right. And look, we've got 1,500 ADF personnel on the ground in Victoria supporting. The thing we've got to remember here, and I see this in my home region, is that most people are doing the wrong thing. But as Joel said-

DEB KNIGHT: Doing the wrong thing? Doing the right thing?

ANGUS TAYLOR: Sorry, the right thing. Sorry. Most of us are doing the right thing. But there are few doing the wrong thing and we need to call them out. They are not helping anyone and what we've seen with the door knocking in Victoria is an element of that.

DEB KNIGHT: Joel, we've reached the point in Victoria where all of the state has been mandated that if you don't wear a mask when you're out in public you'll get a $200 fine, that's from Monday. Have we reached that point where it should be mandated in New South Wales?

JOEL FITZGIBBON: Well I think we just have to follow the health advice, Deb, and if that is the case, then we should all welcome it, support it and of course do it. I mean, the fact that 25 per cent of the people who were supposed to be home isolating were door knocked and be found not to be home is a disgrace. And maybe it's about time we just started naming and shaming these people.

DEB KNIGHT: Well that's what we've seen happen in Queensland and there have been people hitting back, saying that it's a race issue for these two 19-year-old women.

JOEL FITZGIBBON: Well these are the people you don't want to go for your legal advice, that's all I can say.

DEB KNIGHT: Yeah. Alright. Good point. Now look, we've had the AUSMIN talks this week too. The Foreign and Defence Ministers both flying into the US. They're now in 14-day quarantine after meeting with their US counterparts. China, top of that agenda. And now, Angus, China has hit back saying that we, Australia, we're barking at China at the behest of America. They've also called us ‘gum stuck to China's shoe’, ‘an attack dog for the US’. They can't really throw, well, they could, they're hurtling all the insults they can at us. At the end of the day though, China needs Australia too, doesn't it?

ANGUS TAYLOR: Well, they do. I mean, obviously, you know, iron ore and coal and our agricultural products are very important to China and they'll continue to be. But look, to your broader point here, Deb, we make decisions in our own interests, but we also have no closer strategic relationship than the United States and those things are completely reconcilable. I mean, we are acting in our own interests. But, you know, it's not surprising that a country like the US has interests that are very aligned with ours and will continue to. That's why these talks are important, and that's why continuing to strengthen that relationship is so critical.

DEB KNIGHT: And we've got to, Joel, don't we, stand up to a bully?

JOEL FITZGIBBON: I remind you, Deb, of the old saying, you not only have to do the wrong thing- right thing, but you have to be seen to be doing the right thing. We have to have a more independent foreign policy, but also, to be seen to be articulating a more independent foreign policy. Think about what's happening here. The US is becoming more assertive in its push back against China, in strategic terms, but it's not suffering any of the economic consequences. Their trade deal is holding firm. So, the US is big and ugly enough to take care of itself. But, here in Australia, we are being invited by our American friends to join them in this greater level of assertiveness. But we are being harmed and we will potentially be further harmed, because this is our biggest export market - agriculture, coal, iron ore - as Angus said. We need to be absolutely solid now and robust in our national defence, but we must speak for Australia and not be seen to be speaking for someone else.

DEB KNIGHT: Yeah, alright.

ANGUS TAYLOR: We don't, Joel, I mean, we stand up for Australia every day of the week. I mean, you do, we do - that's our job. But, the relationship with the US strategically is an important one and that's not going away.

DEB KNIGHT: I've just got some breaking news through, fellas, I've just got some breaking news through. A helicopter has reportedly crashed with at least one person on board and that's happened in the New South Wales Riverina region. That's just come through. We'll get some more details at the top of the hour in the news. But, that helicopter reportedly crashed in the Riverina region in New South Wales. Joel, I want to talk to you about this week, we know, a day, a long time in politics. And last week when we talked, it seems as though it's changed a lot. When we mentioned the climate policy, that the internal divisions within the Labor Party back then, a week ago, it had seemed it all die down. But it's flared up again. Did you get a slap down from Albo?

JOEL FITZGIBBON: Well, Deb. This is the point, the world is changing in all sorts of ways and very rapidly, and managing that change is complex and difficult. And the Labor Party is about getting the balance right between the workforce, building the workforce, building job security and our natural environment. My complaint this week was about a group of people who too often take an extreme view on the environment-

DEB KNIGHT: Within your own party?

JOEL FITZGIBBON: Well, a group associated with a party known as LEAN, the Labor Environmental Action Network, which carries the name Labor in its title. But, from my perspective does not speak for the Labor Party, but is seen to be speaking for the Labor Party.

DEB KNIGHT: But there are members within your own party who back what they say, and you've had Albo at a press conference saying that you were just wrong with your criticisms?

JOEL FITZGIBBON: Well, LEAN has become a big organisation and there are very many well-intentioned and legitimate and people in that group who are members of the Labor Party. There are others, in my observation, that are extreme leftists who would take us to a policy position that would destroy working class jobs, and indeed are not members of the Labor Party.

DEB KNIGHT: So, what do you say to the Labor MP who tweeted this week that you, Joel Fitzgibbon, are peddling conspiracy theories?

JOEL FITZGIBBON: I say she's welcome to her views, Deb.

DEB KNIGHT: Okay. We'll leave it at that. Now, just before we go – technology - we're talking VHS and old technology, and I'll get to some calls on that in a moment, but what old technology, Angus Taylor, do you cling to?

ANGUS TAYLOR: Well, I have to admit that my dad bought a Beta.

DEB KNIGHT: Oh, he didn't. [Laughter]

ANGUS TAYLOR: And to this day he defends it, he defends the decision as the higher quality technology.

DEB KNIGHT: They always do defend it, though.

ANGUS TAYLOR: Yeah, yeah, they do. I think he's still got it somewhere. Look, the other one for us is we've got our wedding video on a VHS. Now, I'm very happy with that because the kids can't watch the wedding speeches and make fun of me. But it is one of those issues we're going to have to resolve.

DEB KNIGHT: Yeah, how about you, Joel?

JOEL FITZGIBBON: I'm going to deflect to another family member too, Deb.

DEB KNIGHT: You had a go at your daughter last week, look at you.

JOEL FITZGIBBON: Well, it's my wife today. Because, my wife has one of these little transistor radios which she carts around the house with her, listening to her favourite community radio station. But she evidently reminds me that when we had the last big super storm, where, which took not only our heating and lighting, but also our telecommunications network out, the only thing that was operating in the house was Dianne's transistor radio.

DEB KNIGHT: There you go, there you go. Well it's got to be part of any fire safety plan to have a transistor radio with batteries in it. Because she's right, your wife is right, Joel. And they usually are. [Laughter]

JOEL FITZGIBBON: Always right, Deb. I learnt that a long time now.

ANGUS TAYLOR: Too true.

DEB KNIGHT: You're a smart cookie. Good on you fellas, have a great weekend. Thanks so much for joining.

Media contact:

Minister Taylor's office: 02 6277 7120