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Interview with Deb Knight, 2GB

27 November 2020

Interviewer: 
Deb Knight

Subject: Kylie Moore-Gilbert, the Brereton Inquiry, and grants programs

E&OE

DEB KNIGHT: And they join us every Friday. Federal Energy Minister Angus Taylor and the Member for Hunter Joel Fitzgibbon. Fellas, thanks for joining us. Happy Friday.

ANGUS TAYLOR: Thanks, Deb.

JOEL FITZGIBBON: Happy Friday to you, Deb and your listeners.

DEB KNIGHT: Yeah, good to have you on board. And it was such good news yesterday with the release of Dr Kylie Moore-Gilbert from Iran. And a lot of credit, Angus, to the Foreign Minister, to Marise Payne personally, and I know to DFAT officials and our diplomats who have been working so hard. Very complex, very complicated to get this release, wasn’t it?

ANGUS TAYLOR: Yeah, absolutely right. Look, we’re delighted about it, relieved that Dr Kylie Moore-Gilbert has been released from detention. This is great news. Obviously, has been a complex process, but this is all about protecting the rights, freedoms, and the safety of our citizens, and that’s crucially important to all of us.

DEB KNIGHT: There are questions though about how this release was secured. It was a prisoner swap deal, which I know the Government is not going into the details of for good reason. They don’t want to put other Australians at risk who are currently in detention in Iran and in other countries. But, Joel, do you have any concerns about the way in which this release was secured in exchange for three Iranians imprisoned overseas?

JOEL FITZGIBBON: It’s certainly great news, Deb, for both her and her family that Kylie has been released. We all rejoice in that. And I think we can all, across the political spectrum, speak with one voice on this question. Obviously, everyone will be concerned about any arrangement which was entered into because it’s not without risk. But I’m sure people like Nick Warner - our top spy, who I know well, he’s a good guy, and the right person to be undertaking this task - the Foreign Minister, the Prime Minister, I’m sure they all understand those risks. And the main one being, of course, incentivising bad deeds into the future and of course, releasing some very, very bad people. But I’m sure the Government weighed up or balanced those issues up and hopefully it came to the right call. We’ve certainly had the right outcome.

DEB KNIGHT: Does it set a dangerous precedent, Angus, though? Doesn’t this just encourage more of this so-called hostage diplomacy?

ANGUS TAYLOR: Well, Deb, look, I wasn’t involved in any of these discussions. And yeah, it’s a longstanding practice that we don’t comment on diplomatic discussions with other governments. But we’ll always protect those rights and freedoms of Australians, and that’s absolutely what this is about. And it is good news that she’s home and will be reunited with her family.

DEB KNIGHT: Yeah, it’s great for that to be achieved.

JOEL FITZGIBBON: Can I just say, Deb, the Government hasn’t confirmed of course there was a prisoner swap and that’s the right position to take. That would be a mistake. 

DEB KNIGHT: Well, they’ve said there was a prisoner swap, but they’re not going to the details of what it was.

JOEL FITZGIBBON: Yeah sure.

DEB KNIGHT: It’s been reported though that these Iranians who were in a Thai prison over a plot to bomb the Israeli Embassy, but that’s the detail they’re not going into.

JOEL FITZGIBBON: Sure.

DEB KNIGHT: But yeah, I appreciate that it is sensitive. And as you say, at the end of the day, it is wonderful news she’ll be free back with her family for Christmas. Now, Joel, I noticed you’ve written a piece for The Daily Telegraph. Now that you don’t have any frontbench duties, you’ve got time on your hands and you’ve been penning articles, which is great. I suppose that’s another step, isn’t it, on the way to a leadership challenge, doing a weekly column.

JOEL FITZGIBBON: [Laughs] Nice try, Deb.

DEB KNIGHT: [Laughs] Well, I’ve got to give it a go.

ANGUS TAYLOR: I think this discussion each week is his best play platform Deb. Come on. [Laughter]

JOEL FITZGIBBON: Yeah and I really appreciate all of your help, Angus.

DEB KNIGHT: Yes. Yes.

JOEL FITZGIBBON: Look, obviously, I am very passionate about our men and women in uniform, Deb. As I said last week, I’m not trying to justify or defend any bad behaviour. But I am trying to point out that most of these people do no more than put their lives on the line for our country. They shouldn’t be all tarred with the same brush just because a few people may have done the wrong thing. But we also have to focus on the extent to which we push them, where we place them, and what we expected of them. Again, it’s not entirely surprising to me given the circumstances in which we place them that some people may have decided to take the law into their own hands. The wrong thing, but I can appreciate what may have played out there.

DEB KNIGHT: Yeah, well, it's interesting to get to get your views on that. And Angus, the Defence Force has started sending show cause notices to at least 10 SAS members suspected of being accessories or witnesses to these alleged war crimes. Are you worried that Defence is jumping the gun here?

ANGUS TAYLOR: Look, there's obviously serious allegations here and they have to go through the appropriate process with to deal with those allegations-

DEB KNIGHT: And that's right. So should they be giving show cause notices before that's completed?

ANGUS TAYLOR: Well, that's a matter for Defence, and I'll leave that to them. I mean, these are serious allegations. But I do want to make this point, Deb and Joel pointed to this in his opinion piece and in his comments just a moment ago. Look, there are wonderful people and have been wonderful, wonderful people, the vast majority of people serving Australia in our Defence Force who have done incredible work over a long period of time. None of this should undermine our support and adulation for the role that they have played and continue to play. And that's just such an important part of this. You do hear commentary, attempting to undermine the support we should have for these people. And I think that's the most important thing throughout this, that we maintain that faith in and support for our Defence personnel.

DEB KNIGHT: And from the top down, though, from the Prime Minister, from the Chief of Defence, that has been absolutely pointed out and underlined during the case of the Brereton Report being made public.

ANGUS TAYLOR: Yeah, that’s absolutely right.

JOEL FITZGIBBON: But Deb, can I just say I'm very pleased that Angus reads my opinion pieces. I’m encouraged by that. But one of the points I made this morning in that piece is that when we're finished inquiring into what our men and women in uniform – men in this case, in uniform might have done, we need another inquiry into what those who sent them there did, both along the chain of command and right up to defence ministers and members of the National Security Committee of the Cabinet. Because we place them in this position. We put them in the most dangerous part of the world, often under-resourced, long rotations, too many rotations, vague mission plans. And, you know, we push them very, very hard, and obviously some snapped, basically, and we do need to be asking questions about the circumstances in which they were there.

DEB KNIGHT: Yeah, absolutely. And all of that is on the table in the wake of this report too. Now, I wanted to talk as well about the issue of pork barrelling, because you're New South Wales colleague, Angus, the Premier Gladys Berejiklian, bit of a surprising admission, really, that, you know: ‘Pork barrelling, yep, it happens. We all do it. It's not illegal.’ I mean, she's right, but it's not a good look, is it, for politicians just to be admitting: ‘yeah, it happens, oh well’?

ANGUS TAYLOR: Well, look, Deb, this is obviously a matter for the New South Wales Government, not the Federal Government and-

DEB KNIGHT: Yeah. But the Federal Government’s been caught up in claims of pork barrelling too.

JOEL FITZGIBBON: They learnt it from you, Angus.

ANGUS TAYLOR: Oh, hang on, let's be clear - this is about the New South Wales Government and what they've done. And that's important to keep clear. But I will say this, it is important we support local areas with well-crafted programs-

DEB KNIGHT: Both sides of politics, surely.

ANGUS TAYLOR: Joel has programs run out across his electorate, so do I, and I will defend those every day of the week, because they can really - whether it's a Men’s Shed, or a sports field - we both know how important that is to get these programs right and to make sure those investments happen. They can really make a difference. And again, there is a sense that this sort of program is inappropriate, but this stuff matters and we do have to get it right, and NSW Government should get it right-

DEB KNIGHT: But 95 per cent of these programs going to government electorates, is that right?

ANGUS TAYLOR: Well, that is something you should be putting to the New South Wales Government, not me. I'm talking about making sure we do have these local programs and they are effective and appropriate.

DEB KNIGHT: Joel, do politicians do pork-barrelling? Will you admit that freely?

JOEL FITZGIBBON: Well, the Prime Minister had colour coded charts. We know about those to direct his funding to National-Liberal Party seats. In New South Wales, we don't know what they used because they shredded the documents and deleted the emails. We know that now too-

DEB KNIGHT: They’ve been recovered since. 

JOEL FITZGIBBON: But here’s the point, and Angus made it. Deb, sporting organisations missed out in my electorate because they have the audacity to vote Labor both at the state and federal level. So yes, we do both have great organisations, mainly manned by volunteers but in my electorate, both at state and federal level, my organisations missed out. Because they were Labor supporters-

ANGUS TAYLOR: Joel, you've had no shortage.

JOEL FITZGIBBON: That’s the main point here, Deb.

ANGUS TAYLOR: You've had no shortage of organisations in your electorate - as I'm sure because I know the programs - that have received money over the last seven years since we've been in government. I mean, you know that happens. I can actually talk to some of the programs that I know have happened in your electorate. So look, let's be clear here. What does matter is that we have well-crafted programs that provide that local support. The New South Wales Government has got to stand up for its own programs, we’ll stand up for ours.

DEB KNIGHT: But at the end of the day, I mean, isn't it true that politicians, you get into the game, into politics for a whole host of reasons, but once you're in there, when you're in government, you reward your electorates that voted for you. You woo those that didn't. And this is a means of achieving that. That's a political tool, isn’t it?

ANGUS TAYLOR: You know what, I've got to say, I don't see it that way, Deb. I look at the programs that I’m rolling out-

DEB KNIGHT: But how do you see it?

ANGUS TAYLOR: Well, it's very clear – just had a microgrids program I'm rolling out across Australia. There's a range of electorates, Liberal, Labor, National, you name it, and they get support. And that's how these things should work. They should work on proper criteria. And that is, it is crucially important that we have these local programs and it's crucially important that they be merit-based criteria and we stick with those.

DEB KNIGHT: Joel?

JOEL FITZGIBBON: 95 per cent, Deb, that's the number. 95 per cent going to Liberal and National Party electorates.

DEB KNIGHT: Alright. Alright. Let's look at this issue of the Aussies overseas, because there are now 37,000 of them who are stranded, want to get home. The PM did say he wanted them home by Christmas, which is not going to happen. Do we need to have a rethink on the caps of international arrivals, Angus, to ensure that we can get these Aussies home, because a lot of them are vulnerable?

ANGUS TAYLOR: Well, almost 430,000 Australians have returned home from overseas, and that’s since we recommended reconsidering the need to travel back in March, Deb. And DFAT’s helped almost 32,000 Australians return on just under 400 flights. So there's been an enormous amount of work happen here to get Australians back. The bottleneck in the system is quarantining, and that has been the challenge, working with state governments who run the quarantining systems. And the truth is, it's been quite a high incidence of people who have had coronavirus in quarantine, which is why you can understand the states are reticent about increasing the numbers. But we do have to make sure that quarantining moves people through as quickly as possible.

DEB KNIGHT: What are the other options here, Joel? Because we've got the ticket prices through the roof, story after story. These Aussies who have been stranded at San Francisco Airport this morning. Luckily, they are now going to be placed on a flight to Sydney, it had been cancelled at the last minute but that's all been resolved. But what do we do here? Because families want to get their loved ones back. A lot of the Aussies are saying they've just got no option here.

JOEL FITZGIBBON: And I think most Australians would look at the situation, Deb, and say, well, whatever needs to be done, the Government hasn't done it. And it's crazy that so many people are stranded. And I saw one conservative member of the Coalition say- 

ANGUS TAYLOR: What are you proposing we do, Joel? What are you proposing-

JOEL FITZGIBBON: Well, let me finish, Angus. Let me finish. Blaming the victim, saying they should have come home earlier. Well, yeah, that's okay if you can afford a $20,000 ticket. They are comments from someone who is out of touch. Look, Angus, in a sense, the horse has bolted. You’ve left it five minutes to Christmas. And there are other facilities that could have been opened to accommodate more people. Caps could have been lifted as a result. And I don't want to jump on the bandwagon of criticising Mathias Cormann for using a VIP jet to travel around the world in his campaign to become the Secretary-General of the OECD, because I think he's a good guy and I think that's a really important position. But, gee, I'd like to see the Government doing both. I think that would be appreciated by the broader Australian community.

DEB KNIGHT: It’s a fair call, Angus.

ANGUS TAYLOR: The number one factor holding up our ability or limiting our ability, to get Australians back in is quarantine. Let’s face it - that is the bottleneck in the system. It's a bottleneck we've been working with state governments to expand, to release as much as we possibly can. But you can understand state governments are reticent because they don't want outbreaks, new outbreaks of the virus. So that's the challenge.

DEB KNIGHT: Okay.

ANGUS TAYLOR: We'll keep working with state governments to try and expand that quarantining. But that's the issue. It's not aeroplanes, it's quarantining.

DEB KNIGHT: Alright. Let's finish on something fun, because there's this new research out, scientific research no less, that found that labradors are the best breed of dog for distressing. And I mean, labradors are wonderful dogs. And I hear, Angus, that you've got something in common with the Queen when it comes to dogs. [Laughs]

JOEL FITZIBBON: Oh no.

ANGUS TAYLOR: Well, despite the fact that my wife is an ardent Republican, we've got a corgi, Jack, who helps us to de-stress. But I've got to say, I mean, I love the farm dogs, kelpies and border collies, they’re magnificent dogs, and they've been around me all my life. But the corgi Jack is a much loved member of the Taylor family.

DEB KNIGHT: “Walkies. Walkies.” What about you, Joel? What have you got on the dog front?

JOEL FITZGIBBON: Well just to make you feel envious, I've just spent a week on the beach, a bit of work going on at the same time, but some time there, and every day was just amazing to see so many people on the beach on their early morning walk with their dog with them. Obviously, I'd prefer a well-behaved, friendly and energetic dog. I like a larger dog. But I like a dog that’s good fun, and as I said, has a lot of energy. I don't have a preference. I don't have a dog myself, by the way. My wife would love us to, but, you know, you’ve got to care for them, you go away.

DEB KNIGHT: Yeah. You do have to give them a lot of your time and love, that is for sure. Yeah.

JOEL FITZGIBBON: Yeah. You certainly do.

DEB KNIGHT: We used to have a silky terrier when I was a kid called Buffy. Buffy the Dog, she was very, very cute.

JOEL FITZGIBBON: I thought Angus was going to tell he had corgi there for a moment.

[LAUGHTER]

ANGUS TAYLOR: I do.

DEB KNIGHT: He does.

ANGUS TAYLOR: We do.

DEB KNIGHT: You're a troublemaker, you are. Good on you fellows. I'll talk to you next week.

JOEL FITZGIBBON: Thanks team.

ANGUS TAYLOR: Thanks Deb and Joel.

Media contact:

Minister Taylor's office: 02 6277 7120