DEBORAH KNIGHT, HOST: And there's been a lot going on in the world of politics in Canberra – let's get straight into it. Energy Minister, Angus Taylor, is with us, as is Labor's Member for the Hunter, Joel Fitzgibbon. Angus and Joel, thank you so much for joining us. I want to kick it off with Facebook. Obviously, Angus, the government has been blindsided by this. Facebook pretty much wiping all of the news for Australians yesterday morning, even though Facebook boss Mark Zuckerberg had been in talks, direct talks, with Treasurer Josh Frydenberg. What went wrong here?
ANGUS TAYLOR, MINISTER FOR ENERGY AND EMISSIONS REDUCTION: Well, it was an arrogant act. It was heavy handed and it was disappointing. I mean, at the end of the day, we're simply asking for the major platforms that have very strong market positions to do the right thing by our local media outlets. And they chose to act in this way. And there's a stark contrast here where Google has come to the table, has go on with it, is doing deals with our local media agency outlets, and that's great news. And Facebook took a very different, very, very arrogant route. And, look, it was far worse than just blocking news sites because they were blocking emergency services sites, mental health sites, and this was completely over the top. Now the good news is that we have kept the communication lines open. The Treasurer has spoken with Mark Zuckerberg this morning. We've made it clear we're not backing down. But the discussions are ongoing, and that's important.
KNIGHT: Yeah and you've got the support of the Australian public on this one absolutely. And I hope you don't back down. But a lot of the social media, you know, a lot of charities have also been affected by this and a lot of support groups, community groups and the Council of Social Services are saying: look, they rely on Facebook to get their message out there. How can we help them? Can you throw them some extra funding, so they don't have to rely on someone like Facebook?
TAYLOR: Well, look, the way I think about it is this, Deb. If you're a business that has a very strong market position, whether it's in the energy market, or in digital platforms like this, you have a responsibility to your customers, first and foremost, and to the broader community, that is absolutely crucial. And you need to fulfil that responsibility and that obligation, and that's what we're asking Facebook to do here. Facebook has become immensely more powerful in recent years to what it was even a few years ago. And that comes with enormous responsibility. They're not an Australian company, of course. But the responsibility to our local community if they get to participate in it is paramount, and that's what we're asking them to do.
KNIGHT: And Joel, your Treasury spokesperson, Jim Chalmers, he's blaming the government directly saying this is a mess of the government's own making. I mean that's a bit unfair, isn't it? Labor has backed this media bargaining code, what would Labor have done differently here?
JOEL FITZGIBBON, MEMBER FOR HUNTER: Now there's plenty of blame to go around, Deb. And you've made the point: how did we allow ourselves become so dependent on one free social media platform? Now, I make no apologies for Facebook, they have stuffed up and they will pay a price. But the government has taken the wrong approach to this obviously. This is why we've arrived at this unfortunate outcome. There's a big difference between paying the Googles of the world for the right to replicate the good work of our local journalists and local media outlets and media outlets posting, very deliberately, they use their stories free on Facebook. And what Scott Morrison and Josh Frydenberg have done is to try to treat them all the same, and I'm not surprised they've had a bit of pushback by Facebook. I'm not defending Facebook, what they have done is wrong. But it's not surprising that Facebook having posted for free the work of others is now pushing back against paying for that. You have to have a system which takes into account every different circumstances, rather than one code that tries to capture all this is the outcome of…
KNIGHT: Well, why did Labor back the code? Why did Labor back it?
FITZGIBBON: … Labor has been pushing for years now to force the government into making the social media platforms pay for media content produced by the paid journalist, that's what we've been fighting for...
KNIGHT: Which is what the media code does.
FITZGIBBON: But it's picked up – it's picked up people like 2GB very deliberately and voluntarily putting their content onto Facebook because that's it's 2GB. So...
KNIGHT: …Yeah and Facebook makes money out of the advertising dollars. So I mean, it's not as though they're just – they're losing out here. They're profiting from it.
FITZGIBBON: No. That's right. I'm not defending Facebook, I'm saying that the government's negotiation has been poor. Obviously the code has not been well designed and now too many people are paying a price.
TAYLOR: Joel, it sounds to me like you're standing up for Facebook here. The code allows for the different outcomes in different areas, it allows for that. That's part of the design. There will be a commercial negotiation. In fact, we've seen commercial negotiations and outcomes from those negotiations between media outlets and Google already. Now what we've got with Facebook and, you know, this is no secret to anybody, they are a very, very powerful organisation, and they're throwing their weight around. We saw them throwing their weight around yesterday in an extremely heavy handed way. You know, if we think that sort of throwing of weight around from a major global company with enormous power is acceptable, then fine, but we don't as a government, we think that's completely unacceptable.
KNIGHT: They are a bully, stand up to them because obviously Australia's [inaudible] and they don't really care much about us, as they've shown by their behaviour. But, if we can get countries like India on side, that'll be you know, that's what they are worried about.
FITZGIBBON: And let's get them paying their fair share of tax, Deb.
KNIGHT: Absolutely, absolutely. We're in agreement there. And now I want to talk about this awful issue that's dominated the headlines in question time. This week, the explosive allegations from the former Liberal staffer Brittany Higgins that she was allegedly raped by a colleague in the office of Defence Minister, Linda Reynolds, back in 2019. Now, Angus, the Prime Minister is sticking by the timeline of events that he didn't know about the allegations until Monday when the article by Samantha Maidan went live online, and his office claims it didn't know until Friday, last Friday. But text messages have surfaced showing that the PM's office was informed soon after the alleged incident. There are serious questions to answer here out there about who knew what and when?
TAYLOR: First, can I say, Deb, this is an awful situation. And they're dreadful allegations. There's no question about that, which is why we have taken them very, very seriously, of course, and dealing with this in an appropriate way. Your point about the timeline, the PM has been very clear about the advice he's received. He has also put the most senior public servant in the country into a review to get the facts and to make sure that what the advice he is getting is correct. Now that's the right way to do it. That's exactly what he's done. Obviously, we'll see the outcomes from that in the near future. But that review is happening, it should happen. It's absolutely appropriate that it does.
KNIGHT: And it's pressure now on Linda Reynolds to stand down over her handling of the situation. Does she have your support, Angus?
TAYLOR: Yes, she does. I mean, look, she has been clear she should have – she should have dealt with this and passed on, obviously said something to the Prime Minister and the Prime Minister's Office sooner. She's been very clear in her apology about that. But, you know, this is something where we have to learn. I have certainly, for my part, spoken with my staff about our work environment, making sure that people feel that they're comfortable. If there is something that they think is inappropriate, there's been inappropriate behaviour, they speak out. And we all have to act to make sure nothing like this ever happens again.
KNIGHT: And Joel, this isn't isolated just to the Liberal Party, all of Canberra has this culture, this culture of don't ask, don't tell, putting the party above all else – covering up. And we've had stories like Brittany Higgins emerging in the past, and inquiries have happened in the past. It's a cultural issue that's got to change, isn't it?
FITZGIBBON: I think the reality Deb, is that the country still has a culture and indeed, so does most of the global community. And while we've made big gains, this demonstrates we have a long way to go. Violence and assault against women is unacceptable in all of its forms. And what we're looking for in Canberra is transparency. We need to know who knew what, when. It's not a witch hunt, but I think if we're going to change the culture, we need to have transparency. And it's absolutely unacceptable that a woman would be made to feel reluctant to pursue legally an assault or an unwelcome advance, particularly if they were made to feel that way because it could affect their job prospects. This is the thing we need to focus on with respect to this case and we need transparency if we're going to one, get to the bottom of it, two, properly deal with any allegations, but three, change the culture, not only of Parliament House, but our society more generally.
KNIGHT: Well, to change that culture in Parliament House, don't you also have to change the system? Because in November last year after the four corners episode into your colleagues, I raised the fact then that there's no proper independent body for staffers to lodge complaints or concerns, no HR department as it were, and at the time, Angus, you said to me that there are avenues that staff members can use. But that the government has been acutely aware of the issue for a couple of years, and a couple of years since the rules for Ministers and staff members changed under Malcolm Turnbull. If you've been acutely aware of it, why haven't you moved to act sooner?
TAYLOR: Well, the point I have always made on this, Deb, is that every member of staff should feel comfortable to go to other staff members and their boss and point out if there is a problem...
KNIGHT: ... But what if their boss is the one instigating the problem? If you don't have an HR department, then...
TAYLOR: ... You know, a lot of businesses out there, people will be listening right now in small businesses, they don't have HR departments. You have to have a work environment where people feel comfortable to do that. That is the key, Deb, and I will stand up for that being the centre of this. Whether you have an HR department or not, and you know, that's a separate issue, you must have an environment where people feel comfortable to go to their boss, or to other work colleagues and say hey, there's a problem and we need to fix it.
KNIGHT: In Canberra, Angus, the complaints that are made to the Department of Finance, which is the strategy, the avenue that you've got to take, they could be subject to a freedom of information request, which means that any privacy issues could be laid bare, could be printed in newspapers or otherwise. I mean, there is no inbuilt system to make people feel safe to come forward.
TAYLOR: Well, the inbuilt system is that your staff should always feel comfortable to come forward if there's a problem. And that's why I spoke to my staff this week, I pulled them together, my ministerial staff, and said, team, if you have a problem, if there's something you are concerned about, come and speak to me or to one of your colleagues. We must have an environment where we can do that. Now look, Celia Hammond, who's a wonderful colleague of mine in the parliament is going, is doing a review on this and there'll be other work alongside that, of course, I've always talked, already talked about what the head of Prime Minister and Cabinet is doing, that work is ongoing. In the meantime, it's crucial we have that work environment where people can call out unacceptable behaviour.
KNIGHT: Well agreed, but I just don't believe that the systems are in place that allow that to occur. And I think that's an issue that you guys have got to address and women have got to address, everyone in that building. Because for the staffers who sign those contracts, you know, they're like the Uber workers you know, a lot of the rights don't exist the in other big corporations, they do have those rights. So I think that's something you've got to look at and look at very closely. Now I want to talk climate, I want to talk energy and Joel, your leader Albo, he's dead against in nuclear energy. You and a number of other Labor colleagues seem to think it's not that bad of an idea. Do you agree with colleagues like Raff Ciccone and Alex Gallacher, too, that Labor could change the policy on nuclear energy, is that on the cards?
FITZGIBBON: Well, some of your listeners will have seen a piece I wrote in The Daily Telegraph on this last year, Deb. We have this prohibition on nuclear generation in Australia, which makes no sense. It's irrational. It was a prohibition put in place by John Howard, who was then doing a deal with the Democrats 22 years ago to get his GST through the Senate. And nuclear generation is expensive. It might never happen in Australia. But if someone wants to put a proposition forward, it should face the same environmental and regulatory hurdles as any other industry. There shouldn't be a special rule for nuclear, we shouldn't rule out...
KNIGHT: ... Will you bring it to the party room?
FITZGIBBON: Well, I won't be bring to the party room, Deb, because I'm in opposition and Angus is the Energy Minister and if he wants to bring a proposition forward, I would be an advocate for ridding us of this irrational prohibition.
KNIGHT: Well Angus, The Nationals, they're pushing for nuclear energy. A Nationals Senator announced amendments to a government bill in favour of that, of nuclear energy, carbon capture and storage. Is that something that you'd support looking at?
TAYLOR: Well, we've been very clear in our technology investment roadmap, that we're watching the small modular reactor developments, which have the potential to solve the economic problems that have been there with nuclear that Joel talked about. We've been very clear about that. But look, let's be clear about this. We have a moratorium, as you've said. Changing that would require bipartisan support. There's no doubt about that. And we would very much like to see Labor having that debate and coming to a resolution on it. Now, it's great news Joel's in favour of it. He did write that op-ed. He's clearly got others in support – Alex Gallacher and Raff Ciccone, and we know the AWU is strongly in support of this, Dan Walton was out this morning talking about it. So look, it's time for Labor to come to a view on whether they would support a change to the moratorium and we're very eager to hear whether that might be the case. But we know Albo's position on this historically and he's been a campaigner against it for a long time.
KNIGHT: Well, Joel's managing to change minds on all sorts of things. We'll see if he can achieve it on this one.
TAYLOR: Go Joel.
KNIGHT: Now, before we go, I wanted to ask you about this. We saw Treasurer Josh Frydenberg, he was snapped in his sportswear inside the chambers yesterday because he had to leave his tennis game early to speak with Mark Zuckerberg, and he's a very accomplished tennis player, Josh Frydenberg, which some listeners may not be aware of. Okay, I want to hear from you, confession time, what's your hidden talent, whether it be sporting or otherwise. Angus?
TAYLOR: Well, look, I love my sport and I was lucky enough, a few years back, it seems like quite a lot of years now, to represent Australia for older blokes in triathlon, the over 40s, and did okay. So look, you know, I love my cycling and running and I'll keep doing it. And I think one of the key things as you get a bit older is to keep that exercise and keep that sport going and I strongly encourage others to do the same.
KNIGHT: And don't downplay this Angus. I know you held a record for a run in Canberra. Up Red Hill and back down again.
TAYLOR: I did and some young guy who's an energy modeler decided to break it. He had a pacer, he had a pacer to break it. So, I was very upset, but good on him for pulling it off.
KNIGHT: He beat you. Goodness me. Oh well. But it's a good message for the exercise. What about you, Joel?
FITZGIBBON: Well Deb, my sporting talent is so limited, I don't hide any of them.
KNIGHT: Oh, come on.
FITZGIBBON: Those who play golf with me know my limits. But look, my claim to fame is that I played first grade Rugby League for the Cessnock Goannas, as did my father, as did my son, as did my brother. So, it's a great family tradition and I still love my Cessnock Goannas, and in fact, tomorrow night they're playing the Newcastle Knights in a trial game, so I wish I could be there to see them. I'm not able to but go the Goeys!
KNIGHT: Go the Goeys! How fantastic. Alright fellas, you have a wonderful weekend. We'll chat again next week. Thanks for joining us.