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Interview with Deb Knight, 2GB

22 January 2021

Deb Knight

Subject: Australia Day


DEB KNIGHT: They are back for the first time this year. Our pollies, Labor's Member for the Hunter Joel Fitzgibbon, and Energy Minister Angus Taylor. And Angus, you're still on holidays? You couldn't keep away! Welcome to you both.

ANGUS TAYLOR: Happy New Year, Deb and Joel.

JOEL FITZGIBBON: Happy New Year. We are back, fit and energised. But Angus is still on holiday. What is going on there?


DEB KNIGHT: Oh, look at that. Ten seconds in and we're having a dig. I love it. Welcome back, fellows. Good to have you with us. I want to start off first with the wake of the National Cabinet meeting, which has just wrapped up. And not much has come of it. The caps for international arrivals have remained unchanged. There's a lot of uncertainty. More than 40,000 or close to 40,000 Australians are still stuck overseas. What's wrong, Angus, with the idea of quarantining international arrivals in regional areas? Because effectively, that could be mean there'd be more spaces and we could bring more people home.

ANGUS TAYLOR: Well, let me first say, Deb, it is great news that we are beating this third wave. I think it's been extraordinary what's happened over the break. And good news, particularly here in New South Wales where we saw those outbreaks and they've been managed very, very well. Look, we haven't seen any proposal along those lines, and looking forward to seeing it. If it can work, it can work. That's great. So we'll look forward to any proposals for regional areas or elsewhere that could help to increase the number of Australians getting back into Australia, because we all want to see that.

DEB KNIGHT: What about you, Joel? Because the PM's pretty much knocked it on the head. He met with the Mayor of Gladstone who was very concerned, saying we don't want the problems of the big cities shifting to our own backyard. What's your view?

JOEL FITZGIBBON: Deb, strong leaders take people with them and persuade on the merits of these initiatives. It makes sense to me, but I think what is missing is national leadership. I mean, quarantining is a matter for the Federal Government. And really, Scott Morrison was very, very quick early in the pandemic to form the National Cabinet so that he could lead the charge and take credit for everything that went right, and he tried to frame it in the prism of national security and an economic issue, and he thought there was political benefit in that. But as soon as things started to get a little bit hard, the National Cabinet stopped meeting regularly, and the Prime Minister started talking about state responsibilities. And he left it for the states to fight it out amongst themselves.  Well, that's not strong national leadership, and it's strong national leadership which is lacking here.

DEB KNIGHT: Right of reply, Angus?

ANGUS TAYLOR: Well, I just think that's completely wrong. Look, we've had great success over the Christmas break. There's been coordinated actions at many levels to achieve that. And I think Australians are very appreciative that we've got through Christmas, which was always going to be a high risk period, in the way we have. It's true, quarantine is difficult. We don't want to get it wrong. I mean, we've seen time and time again how quarantine is a high risk. People coming into Australia is a high risk situation, and we don't want to risk Australians. But we're always open to proposals to get more Australians back. And we'll certainly keep working to achieve that.

DEB KNIGHT: Now, one of the key events, of course, Australia Day, which is on Tuesday, is the Honours. And we've had the breaking of the embargo, which should never have happened, but as part of that it has been revealed that tennis great Margaret Court is set to receive the highest honour, causing a lot of debate. Daniel Andrews in Victoria, the Premier, has said at a press conference earlier today that she should not receive that honour. Joel, should she?

JOEL FITZGIBBON: Yes, I think she should, Deb, if that's the decision of the Governor-General on advice of the Honour Secretariat. The last thing we want here is for politicians to become the final arbiter of who gets an award or who does not get an award. Now, I know that she's made some controversial comments in recent years. I don't agree with them. But when politicians start deciding which comments go too far and which do not, rather than leave it to the professionals on the weight of the submissions they receive from the community, then I think we have a really serious problem, and we will undermine the integrity of the Honour system. We don't want that. Leave it to the system. Don't gift it to the politicians, regardless of which side of the political fence they might sit on.

DEB KNIGHT: And what do you think, Angus? Have they got it wrong on this score?

ANGUS TAYLOR: No, I'm with Joel on this one, Deb. And can I add to that? Margaret Court is the most successful female tennis player in world history - 24 grand slams, 11 Australian Opens. More than any other female tennis player.


DEB KNIGHT: And there's no debating that but her views on same sex marriage and transgender people, many people find very offensive.

ANGUS TAYLOR: Let's be clear here, she is the most successful ever female tennis player. She's an Australian. We should be very proud of that achievement. And I'm with Joel, this is an Honour system that has to be bottom up, and we should respect that.

DEB KNIGHT: Was the PM, Angus, out of line with his comments yesterday when he said that it wasn't a particularly flash day for British convicts on the First Fleet?

ANGUS TAYLOR: No. I mean, I think that's a statement of fact, Deb. I don't think that's even remotely controversial. I think every historian would agree that it wasn't a flash day for them. But look, the important point here as we go forward to Australia Day, Australians want to be united. They don't want to have politics shoved down their throat on Australia Day. And they want to reflect on this extraordinary nation. Warts and all. We've had an amazing history, both in settlement and before, and we should celebrate that. We should respect what Australia has achieved, and we should be united in that. That's the point the PM is making and I totally agree with that.

DEB KNIGHT: Yeah, and look, unity should be the overarching message-

ANGUS TAYLOR: Absolutely.

DEB KNIGHT: But sadly it's all about division increasingly, Australian Day. And particularly when we have the debate now, we've had Cricket Australia adding into it, their addition to dump any reference to Australia Day calling the bash, January 26, taking out any reference to Australia Day. Joel, that's not about inclusion, is it? They're creating more division.

JOEL FITZGIBBON: That's right. It's about unifying the community, Deb, and Cricket Australia was wrong. Zali Steggall was wrong to call for a minute's silence on Australia Day. But to compare the legacy of the settlement on European Australians with the ongoing suffering of our Indigenous communities was just absolutely wrong. We still have a whole community within Australia of people who are- who die on average younger, are more likely to be sick, are less likely to own a home, are more likely to be unemployed. We know the story. The disadvantage from that settlement lives on today. We haven't properly addressed it, and to compare the two - I mean, a lot of European Australians are living pretty well now, Deb. They are not suffering the same legacy as our Indigenous community does.

DEB KNIGHT: But he's not wrong, Scott Morrison's not wrong. It wasn't a flash day for the convicts arriving on the First Fleet, was it? I mean, it's not a competition. It's not saying that you were worse off than - I mean, it's obvious that the Indigenous Australians have suffered terribly and that wasn't what the Prime Minister was getting across, was it?

JOEL FITZGIBBON: Come on, Deb. We all know that, as is so often the case, Scott Morrison was pitching to the extreme right in Australia. He is constantly harvesting domestic votes at the expense of some Australians and even at the expense of our international relationships. And that sort of populism has to end, particularly with respect to-

ANGUS TAYLOR: Deb, can I say here that-

JOEL FITZGIBBON: Important issues like Australia Day.


ANGUS TAYLOR: Deb, can I say, look, we've got to recognise Australia's history, warts and all. We shouldn't be cancelling any aspect of it. And look, can I say on the cricket, I mean, we've had this incredible summer of cricket. The Indian test matches, how good have they been? And, you know, to have politics shoved down your throat around the using Australia Day, referring to the cricket, I mean, come on-


ANGUS TAYLOR: Australians, we don't need that. Let's recognise Australia and Australia's history for what it is. It's had great moments. It's had moments we would like to have been different. Warts and all, we've been an extraordinary country until now and will continue to be and we should recognise it for what it is.

DEB KNIGHT: And Joel, I've got to call you out on the comments about international relations. I mean, Albo did not cover himself in any glory accusing Scott Morrison of cosying up to Donald Trump. I mean, he did his job as Prime Minister trying to foster as good a relationship he possibly can with whoever is in power in The White House at the time.

JOEL FITZGIBBON: Just very quickly on that last point first, Deb, I was also critical of the NRL when they decided to cancel the national anthem for the State of Origin series. Madness. And good on Scott Morrison for intervening on that occasion, as we are advised. But look, you know, I've said constantly, Deb, that we must respect the Office of the President of the United States. There is no greater friend, ally and partner than the United States. It is a democracy-

DEB KNIGHT: So, why is Albo criticising Scott Morrison then for trying to foster a good relationship with Donald Trump?

JOEL FITZGIBBON: Well, it's well known that I was publicly critical of that tweet, you might recall, Deb. Or you might have been hopefully on the beach somewhere. But when that tweet went up from the Australian Labor Party, attacking-

DEB KNIGHT: But we've had the foreign policy speech from Albo this week. That was his headline message.

JOEL FITZGIBBON: When the tweet came up from the Labor Party attacking Scott Morrison for having his photograph taken with Donald Trump, I was publicly critical of it and I disassociated myself from it.

DEB KNIGHT: And how do you feel, Joel, about Tanya Plibersek now being the popular choice to take over as leader from Albo?

JOEL FITZGIBBON: Well, you know, Deb, the great thing about the Australian Labor Party is that we have so many people in our ranks with so much talent.

DEB KNIGHT: Oh, you're a broad church. [Laughter]

JOEL FITZGIBBON: And we're a broad church. Thank you for helping me. Yes. So, happy days. I look forward to winning the next election. I look forward to putting labour back into the Labor Party and winning the next election.

DEB KNIGHT: You're full of the slogans, we love it. Now, you know what I'll be full of later is Aussie desserts. In Friday food, I'm going to tuck into all things. Lamingtons, we've got slice, and I think we've even got some pavlova coming in. When it comes to the best Aussie dessert, Angus, what's your pick?

ANGUS TAYLOR: Well, we had pavlova on Christmas Day, Deb, and I've got to say I enjoyed it. But there is an age old debate about whether it's a New Zealand dessert.

DEB KNIGHT: Don't start that controversy, come on.

ANGUS TAYLOR: I guess it's a bit like Phar Lap and Barnaby Joyce, but we own them both and we love them.

DEB KNIGHT: [Laughs] That's a good line. Joel, what about you?

JOEL FITZGIBBON: Well, first Deb, my favourite is the fruit of the vine, representing the Hunter Valley, let me say nothing else. But my grandmother - I'm not a dessert eater, actually - but my grandmother used to make this sponge cake and it was undoubtedly the best sponge cake in the world. And the only person that can make it now, taught firsthand by my grandmother before she passed, is my wife. So, I'll kill for Mama Halpin’s sponge cake. That's my dessert of choice.

DEB KNIGHT: Very good. Well, I hope you tuck into both of them on Australia Day and we'll have a chat next week. Thank you so much for joining us, and it's good to have you back for Friday Question Time.

ANGUS TAYLOR: Good to be back.

JOEL FITZGIBBON: Happy days, thank you.