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Interview with Deb Knight, Afternoons 2GB

3 April 2020

Deb Knight

Subject: COVID-19 measures


DEBORAH KNIGHT: Now, I tell you what, if you've been living under a rock and you just popped up and saw the government announcements this week, you might think that you've emerged into a socialist state. The announcements have been coming thick and fast. Huge changes when it comes to the JobKeeper announcement, when it comes to childcare, and we'll hear an announcement today on rent relief as well. On the line is Angus Taylor, Federal Energy Minister, and Joel Fitzgibbon, Shadow Agriculture Minister. Angus, hello to you.

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

DEBORAH KNIGHT: And g'day, Joel.

JOEL FITZGIBBON: G'day, Deb. G'day, Angus.

DEBORAH KNIGHT: What a week, Angus, in terms of government announcements. It's a major shift which we've had to have happen for a normally conservative government.

ANGUS TAYLOR: Yeah, you're right, Deb, and of course we'd prefer not to be in this situation, but we can do it because of strong budget management. We've got to focus on both lives and livelihoods. But also, I would point out Deb, at the end of this, as business steps back up, it's crucial that Government steps back. I mean, that is what must happen. This is temporary. It's necessary.

DEBORAH KNIGHT: How much of it will stick though?

ANGUS TAYLOR: As business steps back up, government has got to step back. I mean, it is pretty simple. This is unsustainable, of course, as a long-term strategy, but it's not that. It is here for a short period of time because of the necessary conditions we have. None of us want to be in this position - I'm sure Joel feels exactly the same way - but we are, and we've got to deal with it as we see it. We've got to play with the hand we have, and that's exactly what we're doing. We think we're making exactly the right moves under extraordinary circumstances to keep businesses in business or hibernating, so they will be in business at the end of this, or else we will have a much bigger problem.

DEBORAH KNIGHT: And Joel, who would have thought that you'd see Attorney-General and Industrial Relations Minister Christian Porter and ACTU Secretary Sally McManus being besties, holding hands, getting on with this. How do we ensure that we do move forward, and that- do you think we should see some of these policies actually staying after the crisis?

JOEL FITZGIBBON: Well, it certainly is good to see both Christian and Sally working together. That's what they should be doing and full credit to both of them. We won't get too carried away with Christian - good guy - but we won't pay him too much for doing his day job. We'd expect that from him, but that's unequivocally a good thing. Look, I think people are saying to me all the time, when we come out on the other side of this, will it change the way we do things and I think that is quite true, and I think it will cause governments to revisit some of the orthodoxy in terms of economic policy and even social policy. I think, in particular, we'll be reflecting on our manufacturing base, and therefore our self-sufficiency. At times when we're isolated from the rest of the world, we'll be thinking about public ownership, maybe. We've talked a long time about the efficiencies of private ownership, but sometimes you do want the state involved in some of these essential industries. And of course, we'll be talking about redundancies in the health system. We drive for efficiencies, but sometimes you have to have that extra capacity for times of crisis, and if that costs the public purse a little bit more, and indeed in the economy a little bit more, there'll come a time when we might deem it to have been worth it.

DEBORAH KNIGHT: All right. Now cabinet is meeting, National Cabinet right now, discussing rental assistance, rent relief. There are reports, though, that there have been some landlords and some real estate agents bullying tenants to pay up. What should we expect Angus to offer protection here?

ANGUS TAYLOR: Look, they've got to do the right thing. Landlords have got to do the right thing. I mean, look, what we're learning through this crisis is the importance of business and successful business to this country. So, there's lots of talk about how mindsets have changed, but I tell you what we're learning, is if your businesses have no revenue, you're in deep trouble. So successful business is critical. That means landlords have got to ensure their customers are going to be here at the end of the crisis because if they're not, if business isn't able to step back up, we'll have a much bigger problem. So, they've got to do the right thing. I'm sure National Cabinet is working their way through how to make sure Government supports them doing the right thing and ensures that happens. But you know, look, we've seen this in the energy sector. We've seen the energy companies stepping up this week on hardship policies, on hibernation for small businesses. The network companies have announced just this week - we announced on your program last week, Deb, what the retailers were doing - the networks, the poles and wires companies have come to the party as well. This is extremely important and we should see the same between landlords and tenants.

DEBORAH KNIGHT: What about backpackers? Because I know that, Joel, you represent the Hunter; Angus, you represent the Hume both in regional areas in your electorates. Around this time of year, a lot of the backpackers flock to areas like that to work on farms and vineyards to help out with producers, but a lot of local communities are saying stay away. How do we deal with this issue, Joel?

JOEL FITZGIBBON: Well, the agriculture sector, Deb, was desperately in need of more labour prior to the crisis, including backpacker and Pacific Island workers. So, this has only heightened their plight. And we need to be able to continue to supply them with that labour. They are the producers of our food and fibre-

DEBORAH KNIGHT: [Interrupts] But how do that without stopping the spread of this thing?

JOEL FITZGIBBON: Well, of course, we closed our borders some time ago. So, the only backpackers in Australia - it was about 140,000 of them I think - are those who are already here. Now, the real concern was importing the virus. But of course, even if they had the virus, they are, you know, at least 14 days on from their arrival, some of them have been here for a year, so they are clear of that period so shouldn't be of concern.

DEBORAH KNIGHT: But, we've seen community transmission, we've seen clusters of cases in backpacker communities - around Bondi, the eastern suburbs of Sydney.

JOEL FITZGIBBON: Yeah, and the Bondi thing was outrageous and its community transition which is the only concern now. And of course, they are no bigger threat than our Australians as long as they are doing the right thing. Now, the farm sector has very, very significant protocols in place. So, if they go out to a farm - they're quarantined going in and going out - and the protocols are in place to make sure social distancing is complied with while on farm. So, the farm sector is doing the right thing. It would be a mistake for us to cut that labour off from them because that's going to affect our food supply.


ANGUS TAYLOR: Look, I agree with Joel. We've got to get the balance right here. We do have to make sure that we don't transfer the virus from cities into regional areas. On the other hand, this is an essential industry. It provides food. I mean, we can't do without that through this process. So, it's really critical we have those seasonal workers. The regional economies rely on them. It is a matter of getting the balance right. We're doing this in a lot of industries where we're thinking very carefully about workforce, keeping that workforce healthy, making sure that they're not transmitting in the local community and we've got to do exactly the same here.

DEBORAH KNIGHT: And just quickly and finally, the Easter Show would've been kicking off in Sydney today. We talked to Murray Wilton earlier. What's your favourite memory of the Easter Show? Angus Taylor, what would you normally do first up or eat first up or see first up?

ANGUS TAYLOR: Well, because I did it a lot when I was a kid growing up, I love the campdrafting. It's always fantastic to watch a really well-trained horse at work and I always enjoy that at the local shows, and whilst I don't get a chance to do it anymore, it's always a great spectacle. There's so much to enjoy about the Easter Show and it'll be on again in the future. This is a one off. It's really sad to see this and lots of local shows too, by the way, that we've lost a result of this.


ANGUS TAYLOR: It's been very, very sad. The Camden Show which is the second biggest show in New South Wales in my electorate, we've lost that. So, it's very sad to see that, but they will be back. These shows are very resilient and they've got great committees who do incredible work.

DEBORAH KNIGHT: Yeah. Well said. How about you, Joel?

JOEL FITZGIBBON: Yeah. They will be back, Deb. And it was very sad listening to Murray give us the detail of all those who are affected. I'm going to segue back to the Ekka because you also mentioned that. I've had the great honour of sashing the prized bulls at the Ekka.


JOEL FITZGIBBON: And I'll tell your listeners, that is not a pleasant experience.


JOEL FITZGIBBON: It's quite a threatening and scary experience.

DEBORAH KNIGHT: I reckon. They're massive.

JOEL FITZGIBBON: You look to the handler to give an indication of whether he's calm or not calm, and if he's not calm, you hand the sash straight to the handler.

DEBORAH KNIGHT: [Laughs] Do you have any dramas doing that? What's happened over the years?

JOEL FITZGIBBON: Not yet, but they are very big, Deb. And they’d only have to lean on you and you'd be in trouble, I can tell you.

DEBORAH KNIGHT: You bet ya. But you're both right. They will be back bigger and better than ever. The bulls will be too, don't you worry about that. Good on you, fellas. Thanks for joining us for question time.