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Interview with Deborah Knight, 2GB Afternoons

29 May 2020

Deborah Knight

Subject: JobKeeper, the Australia-China relationship, Newscorp print closures, and the return of the NRL.


DEBORAH KNIGHT: On the line Joel Fitzgibbon and Angus Taylor - and we'll talk to you both about the footy coming up shortly. G'day, fellas, thanks for joining us.


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

DEBORAH KNIGHT: Now JobKeeper, I want to start with that. The RBA Governor Philip Lowe who usually you've got to read between the lines with him, but he was very clear when he spoke yesterday at this committee looking at the COVID-19 response, and he said the JobKeeper program should be extended in some way beyond September 30, beyond that deadline. Angus, your colleague, Peter Dutton, this morning, he said the Government is flexible. The Treasurer says you'll do whatever it takes. Does that mean JobKeeper could well stay?

ANGUS TAYLOR: Well, look Deb, we're only seven weeks into a six-month program. It's obviously a very good program and it's been well accepted across Australia, but I'm not going to pre-empt the outcomes of that review. It does need to have an open mind. That'll be completed in June - we're not mucking around - we're just about into June now so that'll happen in short order. But look, the most important thing we can do now is get people back into work where ever it's safe to do that, and keep their health, and that has to be, that has to be the highest priority of all.

DEBORAH KNIGHT: And we could do that by making sure the borders are open, number one.

ANGUS TAYLOR: Well, I agree, absolutely, you're absolutely right. And you know, there's real questions here about why aren't those borders opening faster.

DEBORAH KNIGHT: Yeah. It'll be interesting to be a fly on that wall during that National Cabinet meeting which is happening at the moment. I'll bring you news of that as soon as we get it. And Joel, will the Opposition work with the Government on this? You've been calling for changes to JobKeeper, including reducing payments for people who'd ordinarily earn less, and use the money to support workers who've missed out. Will you back the Government in their push for JobKeeper?

JOEL FITZGIBBON: Oh, we absolutely remain willing to work with the Government in this time of crisis, Deb, and I am, I'm pretty confident following the Reserve Bank Governor's intervention yesterday that the review will promote some changes. I don't believe the Government will be just suddenly withdrawing all of this assistance come September. Reserve Bank governors rightly, justifiably are very conservative in their use of the English language.

DEBORAH KNIGHT: Well normally, normally they're pretty obtuse, but he wasn't yesterday.

JOEL FITZGIBBON: Absolutely. No. I think the Reserve Bank Governor was pretty clear. And he wasn't talking of course mainly about the need to support people, he was talking largely about the impact on the economy if all that assistance was suddenly withdrawn in September. So I think you could be pretty certain that the review will throw up some changes, and let's hope they're changes we can agree with and work with the Government on - because they will be necessary.

DEBORAH KNIGHT: Now Hong Kong and China - really concerning developments this week in Hong Kong. Beijing imposing these new security laws, they seriously threaten freedom, real concerns there. How concerned are you, Angus, and the government about what's happening there?

ANGUS TAYLOR: Well the Foreign Minister last night expressed deep concern alongside Canada, the UK, the US. Actually, she issued a joint statement about what's going on, the national security laws that Beijing is imposing on Hong Kong. And the words, and these are strong words in diplomatic terms, were an expression of deep concern.

DEBORAH KNIGHT: And Joel, you've had a fair bit to say about China. Has Australia offended China by joining allies in criticising the Communist Government on this?

JOEL FITZGIBBON: No, Deb. The Government has done exactly what it should do, that is joined with the global community in its condemnation of what's going on in Hong Kong - an important, important commercial centre for Australia and the rest of the world. So that's the way to do it, Deb, to make it clear collectively that as a global community that we're not happy with the departure from the one country-two system agreement, agreed right back when the United Kingdom ceded Hong Kong to China. So let's work on this one together and let's do it sensibly.

DEBORAH KNIGHT: Yeah, makes sense. Now Angus, just on China, the Government's mouthpiece The Global Times has published an article threatening Australia's gas exports. How worried should we be about that?

ANGUS TAYLOR: Well, look, I've been in politics long enough now to know not to jump at shadows every time there's speculation or commentary in an article. And so, you know, we should be very cautious about jumping at those shadows in this particular case. Look, Australia and China has differences. We've talked about those before on the program. There's nothing surprising about that, we won't shy away from those. But we're not going to let the relationship be defined by those differences either. It's an important trading relationship, I understand that, in a regional electorate with a strong background in agriculture and resources, and we've got to make sure we're sensible in not jumping at shadows and we shouldn't in this case.

DEBORAH KNIGHT: Now, both of you represent regional electorates. We've seen NewsCorp announced yesterday that almost all the community and regional newspapers will be moving to a digital only format, some of them shut down altogether. Jobs lost, and really, democracy will be the victim here. We'll suffer here without having the fourth estate to hold a lot of these smaller regional areas to account, won't they, Joel?

JOEL FITZGIBBON: That's right, Deb. This is really tragic particularly in rural and regional Australia. We're losing our local papers, I've lost a dozen here just in the Hunter Valley. And with them of course goes all the jobs including the quality journalists. And remember, this has been going on, this was going on before COVID-19. This is largely about the big multinationals, the Facebooks and the Googles of the world skimming off the good work of our journalists, but also stealing all the advertising revenues, and this is something that should have been addressed a long time ago. My local people want to be able to read about the local achievements and the results of the local footy, and have some diversity in their news as well. This is really, really concerning news.

DEBORAH KNIGHT: And hold local councils to account as well, those local meetings, you know, you've got to ensure that people are there watching what they're doing. Is there anything, Angus that the Government can do here?

ANGUS TAYLOR: Well, can I agree with Joel, this is tragic. I mean, the loss of those jobs, but as importantly, of course, the loss of connection in communities. I don't have a physical newspaper left in my electorate at the moment. I want to see them back as much as that is possible. Look, and Joel's right to point out that there are issues with the multinationals like Google and Facebook effectively stealing the journalism being done by our local newspapers. We are addressing that and the ACCC has led the charge on that and we're implementing many of their recommendations. So, this does need to be dealt with. There's no question about that. And on that, I agree with Joel.

DEBORAH KNIGHT: You two are agreeing too much, what's going on?

JOEL FITZGIBBON: Too little too late though, Deb, sadly. Too little, too late.

ANGUS TAYLOR: Well, I'm not agreeing with Joel that this took too long. This is a tough issue. We've led the world, actually, on the approach we're taking to this, and we are coming down hard because Google and Facebook are stealing our local journalism and that's not good enough.

DEBORAH KNIGHT: I wonder if you'll agree on the footy. The footy is back, who are you cheering for, Joel? Obviously the Newcastle Knights, it'd have to be!

JOEL FITZGIBBON: Obviously, Deb, they're my home team. And I have a nephew, Lachlan Fitzgibbon, of course, plays in the back row for the Newcastle Knights, so I've got plenty of reason to be cheering them on. A lot of local kids are making their way through the Knights ranks so it's very exciting to have the footy back. You probably know that we were sort of equal first on the table after the first couple of rounds.

DEBORAH KNIGHT: Look at you, bragging. [Laughs]

JOEL FITZGIBBON: And I hoping we can find the same form when they kick off again on Sunday.

DEBORAH KNIGHT: How about you, Angus? You go for the Raiders, don't you?

ANGUS TAYLOR: Yeah, I'm a Raiders fan. In fact, the Raiders is led by a very good Goulburn boy, Jarrod Croker. He's been an extraordinary player in the league for a long time, of course. And you know, now, they've got a tough game this weekend against the Storm. They're not favourites but I'm backing them. I think they've got a really good shot at this one.

DEBORAH KNIGHT: How good, the footy is back. Isn't it fantastic?

ANGUS TAYLOR: It's just great.


DEBORAH KNIGHT: Yeah, alright. Well, have a great weekend, fellas. We'll talk to you again next week.

ANGUS TAYLOR: Good on you Deb. 

JOEL FITZGIBBON: Thanks Deb. Thanks Angus.