Transcript: Interview, ABC Afternoon Briefing - Regional Qld tour with Treasurer

11 August 2022

Greg Jennett: Okay, time to check in now with our political panel. And joining us two Queenslanders today, Labor Frontbencher and Assistant Minister for Regional Development, Anthony Chisholm is in Brisbane and National Senator Matt Canavan is back in his office in Yeppoon. And welcome to both of you. And let's do as we always do. Matt Canavan, messaging from his office, using his own equipment not endorsed by us. We like to throw that into the mix, now rather than running out of time today, gentlemen, and not being able to address it, why don't we just start off with sad development from your state today, the death of Paul Green. We will get to politics, I promise, but I didn't want time to beat us. Anthony, to you first of all, hearts sag a little, hang heavy today. How will it be remembered by you and others?

Anthony Chisholm: Yeah, thanks, Greg. And very sad news to start off with. I couldn't quite believe it when I first heard it. I was travelling through the Sunshine Coast with Jim Chalmers, and we were both astonished by the news. Someone who was very much loved by Queenslanders and I think the rugby league community in general, one of those little halfbacks who played above his weight and size with plenty of courage. And then in more recent years, obviously, his role at the Cowboys, where he was the coach of their inaugural Premiership side. And I know from mutual friends that we have in Townsville what a beloved figure he was in that region where he will never be forgotten. And I know that he's got really strong contacts in that part of the world where they really will be feeling his loss. So my thoughts are with his family and all those who knew and loved him at this difficult time.

Greg Jennett: Yeah, Matt, a plucky player and a leader as a coach with no shortage of success to his record sheet. Your own thoughts.

Matt Canavan: Look, it's an absolute tragedy. Very sad day, especially for his young family, taken far too soon. He was a champion on the football field and as a coach and as Anthony said, but he was also a champion within his community. I got to know him a little bit through some of the work the Cowboys were doing with a stadium and they also built a fantastic centre of excellence there, that's used for all sporting teams and the education sector there in Townsville, the Cowboys is a really community club and Paul was not just a coach, he was a community leader. So he will be missed. His loss will be felt by many right across Queensland. Just an absolute tragic day.

Greg Jennett: Thanks for the remarks and thoughts from both of you. Why don't we move back to politics? And Anthony, we'll start with you around the fallout. And I guess there is some, there will still be some to come from the Chinese Ambassador's address to the National Press Club, in which intentions around Taiwan by the Communist Party seemed very clear, uncompromising, in fact. Where does this leave Australia's aspirations to rebuild the trade and other elements of the relationship with Beijing?

Anthony Chisholm: Well, I think we rely on our fundamentals, which has been consistent across the previous government and now the Albanese government, where Penny Wong as Foreign Minister, has been our leader in this regard, and we don't compromise on what is in the national interest for Australia and that's the way we will continue to operate in the region. I note that Penny, as Foreign Minister, I know Richard Marles the Acting Prime Minister, has called for calm and a de-escalation of the rhetoric and what has been going on in the region. It's in all our interests if people can live in peace and that these countries can get on, it  is good for our economy, it's good for the local region as well. So we hope that that is heeded. And the comments from the ambassador yesterday were clearly unhelpful in that regard.

Greg Jennett: Matt, do you see any inevitability? It's not going to be imminent because China has, at least for now, wound up its military exercises around Taiwan. But do you see an inevitability in, let's say a decade or a decade and a half of an attempt to reunify?

Matt Canavan: Well, I don't think it's inevitable, but it's certainly a heightened risk of it over the past few weeks and years. So it's something we cannot ignore or should not prepare for. We should always think of preparing for the worst outcomes and hope they do not happen. I agree with Anthony that we, of course, want peace, but I think the Chinese Ambassador's remarks yesterday should smash this naive idea we can somehow reset the Chinese relationship back to what it was a decade ago. That relationship has been fundamentally changed. I would argue not so much from Australia's perspective, but because of the actions of President Xi Jinping over the last decade and for us in terms of our national interest Anthony mentioned, we have to, in my view, diversify away from this relationship. Too much of our trade, too much of our businesses dependent on China. We should be more actively seeking to develop other relationships, particularly with our iron ore trade. That's the big risk. So I have been pushing for some time. And I hope the new government continues to do this. That we should seek to help and develop the steel industry in India and Vietnam and other places. So that we can have more than just China as a customer for our iron ore because if that did happen. The risk you mentioned. If that fallout happened. It could have a massive impact on our economy. Especially in Western Australia. And it's not good business to rely so much just on one customer.

Greg Jennett: Is that feasible, in your view, Anthony? A diversification away from what is a massive buyer, particularly of iron ore, as matt points out. That would be pretty slow going, wouldn't it?

Anthony Chisholm: Well, I think it would be difficult, but it is important we do it. A lot of industries have been forced to do it. Matt and I know the coal industry pretty well in Queensland. They've been forced to do it over the last couple of years and they've done that in a way that has seen production continue to increase, still creating jobs and economic wealth for the state. We've seen it in wine, we've seen it in tourism. So it is the prudent, long term thing to do for any industry not to be reliant on one country. And I think that would be particularly the case with China.

Greg Jennett: Yeah. Why don't we move on to something, I'm sure neither of you have had a chance to read fully. That is the interim report of the Veterans Royal Commission. There's a real job of work there to be done if most of those recommendations are to be accepted. Matt, to you first of all, from what you have been able to absorb, does it appear a worthwhile project to really shake up the legislation, which we're told is complex and to greatly simplify everything that sits behind what has been a really troubled system?

Matt Canavan: It does, although it's not dissimilar to some previous reports on Veterans Affairs, like the Productivity Commission report a few years ago. So we've got to act on it now. I'm not being partisan here because all governments haven't done well enough. We've just got to act on it as soon as possible. I do welcome these relatively speedy recommendations, given the Royal Commission was only established over the past year. So we need to act on this urgently. It is a real problem. I do want to pay credit to those that pushed for the Royal Commission too, especially Heston Russell and the people there, this is a very important body of work. But look, it is just on paper right now. We need to put these recommendations to action, especially getting rid of this backlog, it seems to me, and that has been a feature of other reports, that the biggest issue is it just takes so long to deal with claims from veterans and those delays contribute to mental stress and problems for people. The best thing we could do is to have a speedy resolution of those issues.

Greg Jennett: And to that end, Anthony, the Government is, we're told, by Matt Keogh, already taking steps, right?

Anthony Chisholm: Yeah. They have thrown more resources to ensure that those claims are processed quicker, so some of that action has already started. But I think for any elected representative to know, and this is a fact, that the rate of suicide amongst veterans and former Defence Force personnel is higher than the general community, I think that weighs heavily on all of us. For those people who choose to serve their country in this way, and this is one of the consequences of that service. So absolutely all governments need to do better. I think that this is a really good start. I was talking to the Minister, Matt Keogh, last week in anticipation of this coming down. I think that he knows what a big challenge he has in front of him, but I think he knows that also there's a government that's committed to ensuring we take speedy action, respond to these recommendations, but also get as much happening as quickly as we can to resolve these issues.

Greg Jennett: Yeah, it certainly sounds like his job has been defined in one day, and that day sort of came today with the release of the report. It's a major project to the jobs summit. And Anthony Chisholm, you were out with Jim Chalmers trying to listen and learn from, I think it was the Sunshine Coast community today about what they want to get out of it. Are you at risk of overcooking the expectations around this two day conference? What, in all likelihood, are we going to end up with when it's all done?

Anthony Chisholm: I was in Rockhampton yesterday, in Matt’s part of the world as well, Sunshine Coast today. It was really good engagement over the two days. In different industries from across the region, local government, small business resources industry, beef industry up in Rockhampton. The thing, couple of things out of it that I think we're really encouraging. One was the constructive nature of the discussion, so everyone took the opportunity to come along. Most people had constructive ideas that they put forward some things that were working, that could work better or some ideas about what we could do to make things work better. So I think that often when a new government comes in, there's a fair bit of goodwill from the Australian community. I think we get a sense of that. I think that there's a way to identify where there are challenges, that there is a common way to tackle them, that there is support from industry, from business, from unions, from the civil society, that if we can find some common ground to tackle those, we're better off for it. We're not going to agree on everything at the summit, I'm sure of that, but where we can find ways to make progress, improve the nation. I think that the Australian people would be encouraging of the government getting together with people and taking that action.

Greg Jennett: Yeah, what's wrong with that? Matt Canavan, your side is sort of half sitting this out. Not completely. Peter Dutton ruled out the Liberals and yet your own leader, David Littleproud, is going to be there. But to what end? Which side do you fall on? This is the union stunt side or the no, we should get involved, which is exactly what David Littleproud is going to do.

Matt Canavan: Well, I’m bit miffed that I didn't get invited to the Mini Jobs Summit there in Rocky yesterday. Anthony. I mean, it's meant to be bipartisan, apparently, everybody. Well, look, I don't know how welcome Mr Littleproud will be. Good luck to David. I don't think any problem trying to go along, but I'm not sure if the government will really be listening too much to our side of politics. Look, I do get a little concerned here that the new government is a bit like the dog that caught the car. They finally got it and they don't really know what to do with it. We saw that in the first two sitting weeks apartment where we didn't really have much of substance to debate. We had a climate bill that the government itself said they didn't even need. I'm not sure why we devoted so much time to it. And a voice to Parliament which also the government said they're not going to do anything, they're not actually going to make decisions. So, I mean, there are a lot of challenges out there in the Australian economy right now, the cost of living issues, and this government has come to power without much of an agenda. It was almost taking pride in having a small target strategy and I'm not surprised.

Greg Jennett: It was a part of that agenda, wasn't it? The summit?

Matt Canavan: That sort of makes my point, doesn't it, Greg, that they didn't have policies. They said, we'll have a meeting if we win the government, so good luck to them. I hope they come up with something good, but I don't have high expectations.

Greg Jennett: All right, just a quick one, finally. We don't have a lot of time. Matt Canavan, the foot and mouth disease Senate inquiry. The Senate is cranking up and starting this sort of work. You sat in on that yesterday. Did you come away satisfied that at least from a bureaucratic point of view that things are well advanced in protecting this country.

Matt Canavan: I think the are wheels are finally in motion, there was a little bit of a slow response a month ago but things are rolling out now. We've got the footmats in airports and more resources, checking mail, so that's very important. We haven't had foot and mouth in this country for 150 years, so let's hope we keep it out. What I'm really concerned and will be pursuing through this inquiry, though, is are we prepared, if it does happen again, going back to what we're saying before, we have to prepare for the worst. We've had agricultural departments across the country decimated at state level and I wonder if we really do have the resources on the ground to deal with the scale of an eradication programme that might be needed. So that's something we will be pursuing.

Greg Jennett: You can stick with that through the committee process. We're going to wrap up our conversation though, today. Anthony Chisholm and Matt Canavan, thanks generously for your time today and we'll talk again soon.

Anthony Chisholm: Thanks, Greg. Thanks, Matt.

Matt Canavan: Thanks very much, Greg.