DEBORAH KNIGHT, HOST: And we will get some DIY fixes from our Pollies – Angus Taylor, our energy Minister and Member for the Hunter, Joel Fitzgibbon, who are with us as they are every week for Friday Question Time. Fellas, welcome, I'll get the dry fixes in just a moment, but news just in, Angus, this Federal Court Judge has approved a settlement worth $1.6 billion for people affected by the Robodebt scheme. And Justice Murphy labelled it a shameful affair and the Ministers and senior public servants, he said, should have known the scheme was unlawful. Are you embarrassed by the way that this is all rolled out as a government?
ANGUS TAYLOR, MINISTER FOR ENERGY AND EMISSIONS REDUCTION: Well, there's been a settlement, there's not an admission of liability. It's important, though, we get a balance in these things between treating people fairly and also making sure there's compliance with the system that people aren't cheating the system because every taxpayer has the right to know that their money is being spent well. And so that balance needs to be struck. It's always – it's always tricky, there is a settlement here, as you said, and it's important that that be carried out appropriately. But, ultimately, these things are about getting the balance right and we seek to do that every day, Deb.
KNIGHT: A lot of people question ,though, why the government's so willing to go tough on recouping money from people impacted with things like the Robodebt scheme and yet you're not going hard against the big companies with the JobKeeper payments. They made profits and perhaps they weren't even requiring the JobKeeper payments, but they're allowed to keep them?
TAYLOR: Well, I mean, I go hard against big companies doing the wrong thing every day and I've been doing it in the energy sector with legislation to keep them honest. In the energy sector, which Labor opposed many times over. You know, keeping, keeping everybody accountable, making sure people do the right thing, making sure that taxpayers' money is being spent well. I mean that that is right at the top of the list of what we've got to do. It's got to be done fairly and it's got to be done appropriately, Deb, and, you know, we'll seek to do that every day. But, but it is crucial the taxpayers' money be spent the right way and, and we will always seek to do that.
KNIGHT: And, Joel, the scheme was introduced just before the 2016 election, Scott Morrison was then Treasurer, Alan Tudge, Stuart Robert, they've all overseen this scheme, but they're all still there. I think a lot of voters are scratching their head, where's the accountability when there is stuff ups in politics.
JOEL FITZGIBBON, MEMBER FOR HUNTER: And they are still defending their position, Deb, in the parliament and outside the Parliament. Of course, Angus was pretty quick to say admission of no guilt, no wrongdoing. We've got a Judge, a senior Judge, saying this is a very sad chapter in the history of Australia's public administration. These weren't dole bludgers, necessarily. These were pensioners and disability pensioners, who were taken to the edge of suicide because they were getting these bills in the mail for tens of thousands of dollars, money they could never pay and the government's been called out and its time they apologised. Not just pay the $1.7 billion but apologised for their actions and their continuing defence of what was an unlawful scheme.
KNIGHT: Is an apology forthcoming, Angus?
TAYLOR: Well, as I said, I mean, we've been very clear, it's not an admission of liability here. But you know, we seek to get the balance right every day. And, you know, it is an imperative for government that whilst people be treated fairly, it is also an imperative that taxpayers' money be managed carefully. And you are absolutely right, Bill Shorten was a Minister who administered a scheme which used this same approach and it is always tricky to get these things right. But at the end of the day, we do have to be guardians and custodians of taxpayers' money.
KNIGHT: All right, I want to ask you about the…
FITZGIBBON: Can I just say on that Bill Shorten is the Shadow Minister who organised the class action which led to the government backing down on this issue. That's, that's Bill Shortens role...
TAYLOR: … Labor, Labor has been involved in using the exactly the same techniques when they were in government. So you know, you, you can't make the case against it, and then not accept that you are part of it. I mean, and that's the reality, it's time to move on, it's time to get the balance of this absolutely right. It is also time to continue to make sure that taxpayers' money is protected.
KNIGHT: Well, the people who are targeted by these Robodebt scam would be happy that they can at least move on. Some of them, though, have – their lives have been hit very badly. And some people claim they took their own lives as a result of it. So you know, that's another issue. But I wanted to talk about the Tamil family who had been detained on Christmas Island since 2019. A lot of attention this week about the youngest member of the family, three year old Tanica, who was flown to Perth's Children's Hospital. She's thankfully doing better after being diagnosed with that blood infection. But there are growing calls to allow the family to return to their home in Biloela. Is that on the cards, Angus?
TAYLOR: Look, these cases are always hard, Deb. You know, we see them from time to time. They are always difficult. But I should point out the family doesn't have refugee status, and there's ongoing litigation, so I'm not going to comment on the specifics of that legal case. What I would say though is ultimately we do have to act in the national interest here. And we saw what happened when the door was opened, wittingly or unwittingly, it doesn't matter. If you open the door, then the tragedy is enormous. We saw 1200 deaths at sea last time the door was opened to people smuggling, and we're not going to make that mistake again. We've seen that happen. We're not going to make the mistake. These are always difficult cases. There are many people who want to come and live in Australia, and who wouldn't? We are the greatest nation on earth to live in right now, as far as I'm concerned, and I think so many Australians believe that. So it's understandable people want to live here. But there's, we do have to act in our national interest in these cases.
KNIGHT: But you say, you've got to make sure that every dollar is spent wisely. And the cost of the government to holding them on Christmas Island, and the legal ongoing legal battle is nearly $7 million. I mean, couldn't that taxpayer money be better spent elsewhere?
TAYLOR: The cost of opening the door to people smugglers is enormous. We've seen that before. We've seen this movie before. Now, you know, memories fade. This happened between 2007 and 2013, and we stopped it. We're not going to allow that to restart because the cost in terms of lives is absolutely enormous, Deb. And the, and the, and the cost economically as well, but 1200 deaths at sea, of course, it was tragic. We're not doing, we're not going down that path again.
KNIGHT: And, Joel, he's right, the government does need to be tough on borders, and the children here in this family they were born in Australia, but the parents knew the rules, they were told they weren't eligible to stay.
FITZGIBBON: Yeah, that's right, Deb and I'm not going to pretend this is easy. It's anything but. But the problem with the government's argument is, is that they want the Australian community to believe that somehow accommodating this family will open the floodgates to the people smugglers. I just don't, I just find that very difficult to accept. And if we have a clever, agile government, they would find a way of accommodating this families some way – if not in Biloela, in the US or elsewhere, another problem there, of course, again, is that they don't have refugee status, but you would find a way of accommodating these people without sending that fearful message to the people smugglers. Surely, in this 21st century, a modern Australia can work out a way to do that, accommodate this family, without concerning ourselves with a flood of boats coming our way.
KNIGHT: Yeah it has dragged on.
TAYLOR: Deb, can I just respond to that. And, you know, without going into the specifics of this case, as I said, we heard exactly the argument Joel has just made back when Kevin Rudd was Prime Minister, that surely there is a way to accommodate people without opening the door. And that's what Kevin Rudd did. But he opened the door. And it was tragic. It was truly, truly tragic. We cannot make that mistake again. And so this is so important to get right. And, you know, we take our responsibility on this very, very serious.
KNIGHT: Do you think they'll be resettled elsewhere?
FITZGIBBON: What is Right? You want to get it right, what does right look like in the end?
TAYLOR: Well, I'm not going to get into the specifics of this case and it's important not to, but, but I will say that right means not opening the door. We saw we saw these pleas. We saw these pleas back when Labor was last in government, exactly the sorts of things that that Joel was just saying and we saw the result. We cannot make that same mistake.
KNIGHT: Now the G7 meeting obviously happening in the UK this weekend, and Prime Minister Scott Morrison will be there. He stopped off in Singapore on his way discussing a potential travel bubble. And we know that the US and the UK are really leading the charge to get the whole world vaccinated. They want the globe vaccinated by the end of next year. There's a lot of vaccine hesitancy in Australia, Angus, do you reckon that will meet that target?
TAYLOR: Well, you know, the vaccine hesitancy has been there. I accept that. But it's fading. We've seen more than 153,000 vaccinations yesterday. That's a run rate of about a million a week. And so, we are seeing fast acceleration which is absolutely brilliant. Get your vaccine please. Everybody get out there, get that jab. So it's good news. It's important that we get Australians vaccinated. It's also important we get people around the regions vaccinated and we've invested $623 million, not just for doses but for technical training, cold storage and so on to support countries across Southeast Asia and the Pacific...
KNIGHT: ... Very welcome investment, absolutely. But Joel, the vaccine hesitancy isn't being helped by Labor Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk, who finally got a dose of the Pfizer vaccine even though she's over 50. And she, you know, should have gotten the AstraZeneca from day one. But the excuses she brought out like, you know, incase I go to Tokyo and the delay happened because she had to get a tetanus shot after her dog bit her. So many excuses, but she doesn't set a very good example.
FITZGIBBON: Well, I'm not sure that many Australians know exactly what Annastacia Palaszczuk did or said, Deb. I'll challenge Angus. I thought the last poll I saw said that hesitancy was on the rise, not declining.
KNIGHT: Not helped by Annastacia Palaszczuk, though.
FITZGIBBON: Well people do remain concerned; they are particularly concerned about AstraZeneca – and I'm having my jab on June 30 – but they are concerned and I understand that. And the problem here, of course, is that people like me over 50 only have one choice, Deb. And if the government had given them more choice, we might have more people willing to go and get the jab.
TAYLOR: Joel, we should not be encouraging people to not get the job. I mean, this is so, so important. The risks here are very low, and they can be very carefully managed. And the risk of not getting vaccination far higher. It is just so important people on this program today hear that it is important to get out there and get that jab. If you're eligible...
FITZGIBBON: ... I don't think I'm discouraging people. I'm having mine done on June 20 and people should. I'm just saying that people remain hesitant and if they had more choices, if the government had provided more choices, then we might be doing better.
TAYLOR: Well, I think the Labor Party could do a far better job, including Annastacia Palaszczuk, of encouraging people to get the jab. And that would help.
KNIGHT: And on that, I agree. Now I want to end on this, because I don't throw my husband under the bus only when it comes to dodgy DIY projects. What about you, Joel? I know that you got sweating in the trades when you were young. Have you lost all your skills in Canberra? What have you guys done when it comes to doing some DIY that perhaps was a bit dodgy but might have worked, Joel?
FITZGIBBON: Well, it's not just the cost, Deb. It's getting people to do these smaller jobs. That's the task and this is a great coincidence because just this morning, I had a cover of an air conditioning duct in my ceiling dropping down, loose, and I had to repair that. Imagine trying to get a tradesman to come to put a couple of screws in the cover. That was never going to happen. The problem, Deb, is of course, it's never quite perfect for the wife. The wife would prefer the tradesmen, wouldn’t she.
KNIGHT: Well, sometimes it's not pretty when you do it, but hey, it does work. What about you, Angus?
TAYLOR: I regularly get out and do very bad jobs of fixing fences around the farm and other things too. But, I did some DIY last night at about 10 o'clock. I got back to my car in the car park, very dirty, cold, wet car park and discovered I had a flat tyre and I had to do a DIY at 10 o'clock at night and it was, my suit will never recover.
KNIGHT: Wow. Well, well done for you doing it yourself.
FITZGIBBON: I apologise for laughing.
KNIGHT: Yeah, don't laugh.
TAYLOR: You've probably been there yourself, Joel.
KNIGHT: Yeah, exactly. We all have, we all have. Alright fella's, we'll talk again next week. Thanks so much for joining us.