DEBORAH KNIGHT, HOST: It's a good afternoon to Angus Taylor and Joel Fitzgibbon for our regular Friday Question Time. Fellas, thanks for joining us today. G'day.
ANGUS TAYLOR, MINISTER FOR ENERGY AND EMISSIONS REDUCTION: G'day, Deb.
JOEL FITZGIBBON, MEMBER FOR HUNTER: Great to be with you, Deb.
KNIGHT: Lots to talk about. Let's start with this cyber-attack. Really concerning to hear from the PM, talking about this widespread state-sponsored cyber-attack. He didn't mention China but that's where the fingers are pointing, and Angus the attack is not happening right now but the PM effectively warning that there is an increase in the number of these attacks happening. Are our essential services, our infrastructure like energy companies, are they suffering a hit here?
TAYLOR: Well, look, it's very clear this is a very sophisticated state-based attack, Deb. And that means it covers many, many parts of the economy, and, you know, we have to be absolutely ready to deal with this, and we are. I mean I was the Cybersecurity Minister for some time before I was in the current role, and this was a very strong focus. We've got an Australian Cybersecurity Centre focused on it, and $230 million strategy, and it is an absolutely top priority of government always to keep people safe but particularly safe in the face of a cyber-attack like this one.
KNIGHT: And what are they after?
TAYLOR: Well, look, there can be all sorts of motives, Deb, whether it's disrupting economic activity or getting access to information. That's the nature of these things. And you know, it's not the first time it's happened and it's not the last time it's happened. What's important here is the point that the PM made is that the frequency has been increasing, we need to be aware. Look, there is one thing everyone can do, by the way, to help defend ourselves against this, and just make sure the software on your phones and your computers is always up to date. It’s the single biggest thing you can do to make sure you're protected against a cyber-attack like this.
KNIGHT: Joel, you've been critical of China and continue to be so. The PM has not named this state that's behind this attack, this foreign country. If it is China should we be singling them out?
FITZGIBBON: The Prime Minister is correct not to name China. It’s not necessary. It doesn't help us in any way, it just makes our relationship with them more difficult and therefore, puts at risk, our trading relationship in particular and exports to China. So diplomacy is important but I'm with Angus on this. This is very, very serious. As you said there are three types of attack, really: one designed to disrupt, the other designed for commercial advantage. But the most sinister of all, of course, is one which goes to the heart of our national security, our defence, and we all collectively do need to take these things very seriously. And I do appeal to the bigger companies who are often understandably reluctant to have government reaching into their business. They think if the security agencies have access to their computers, for example, then next will be the tax office and I can understand that big brother concern. But we do need business and government agencies working together to ensure that we're safe from these incursions.
KNIGHT: yeah it's a concern that they are increasing in their frequency. Now we've had the other big news today, the Fair Work Commission handed down their ruling on the minimum wage, increasing it by 1.75 per cent. The employers aren't happy, saying they can't afford it now. The unions aren't happy. So I guess they've probably done the right thing coming somewhere in the middle. But Angus we've had that decision after – a day after we've had the jobs figures. The unemployment rate at a 19-year high. You've got to look at JobKeeper don't you, and look at extending it? So many businesses, and industry, say they really need this date to go beyond September.
TAYLOR: Well, we’re reviewing it and we will obviously come out with the outcomes of that review in the very near future, Deb. It's important we get this right. You know we're dealing with information that's changing almost by the day, on what we're facing here. But it's still in place and, you know, the review will come to the right outcome, I'm sure. But look the most important thing here of all is getting more jobs as fast as we can. I’m here in Cooma today – the reason why I was late on to the call was because we've just launched a major pipe-manufacturing, concrete-segment manufacturing operation here in Cooma. One hundred and fifty jobs. Snowy Two, 4,000 jobs across the life of the project. These are the sorts of projects we need to have to make sure Australians are in work. That is the single most important priority for us now,
KNIGHT: And Joel, in terms of the decision by the Fair Work Commission. Do you think it's a good one? The unions have come out saying that it's not good enough. And now you've got business also sending it out to lay people off.
FITZGIBBON: I think you put it well, Deb. Usually if no one's happy, the balance has probably been struck pretty well. Obviously these are the lowest paid people in Australia, or many of them, and I would have liked to see them receive more money but we are in the middle of an economic crisis, and it appears the Commission's done the right thing - given them a slight increase without in any way harming, or putting more pressure on business. Remember, Deb, these are people who spend everything they earn. They live from pay-cheque to pay-cheque, and allowing them - giving them [inaudible] retail and other services in our economy. They spend the money and that stimulates the economy, so it's important to get this balance right and I think the Commission has.
KNIGHT: Now the other big issue today - we've got Angus Taylor here and Joel Fitzgibbon - but you've also got your colleague Dan Tehan, the Education Minister speaking right now at the Press Club and he's revealed a real shake up of the university system. More university placements for Aussie students, which is welcome news, but a lot of changes for the fees that people will have to pay for university courses. Angus if you're a university student right now, I know you studied economics and law, you'd have to fork out more for that degree.
TAYLOR: Well no, there's no change to students now. This is about future students. But look the important point here is we're making it more affordable for people who want to do really critical degrees, nursing, teaching, agriculture, which I know is dear to Joel's heart. You know, we're making it easier, more accessible for people to do those degrees where we need people moving into those areas: engineering. We have a real priority to get people into those areas, that's the focus. We are prioritising towards the areas which our economy needs most right now, and that's desperately important at a time where we've got a skill ourselves up to be competitive and effective and give our kids every chance of getting a really good job when they get out of uni.
KNIGHT: But what about the humanities? They often - the arts degrees, I know they often don't lead to those jobs as much as some of the other degrees like nursing and teaching where there's a shortage as you say, where we need people to go. But the people who study those degrees, they come up with the ideas that then lead to businesses. I mean a lot of people are saying, look, why should we be making it more expensive for some degrees over others?
TAYLOR: Well, I mean, that's the nature of it now. It's already like that. The question is where do we prioritise? Which jobs do we need most of, and what do we give… which jobs are going to give our kids the very best chance - or which university degrees - are going to give them the very best chance of getting a job when they get out of uni? And that's what we're prioritising. I mean I don't think anyone's arguing that we don’t need more really great teachers, nurses, people in agriculture, engineers, and that's, that's clearly a priority as we look forward over the next few years, and that's how that policy has been put together, and I think it's great news for our kids getting the very best chance of getting a job at the end of their degree.
KNIGHT: And it's welcome news, isn't it Joel, to have more placements for Australian students?
FITZGIBBON: Deb, the policy’s being rolled out as we speak, and I haven't seen all the detail, but no one's going to argue with the idea that we should incentivise the courses which are most likely to lead to jobs. Those areas where we actually desperately need more qualified people. But it appears to be that what the government is doing is spending less. Their average contribution to all students will be less the future. So that's a bad thing. Why not just spend at least as much, or more, so we have to be making it harder for people to do humanities subjects like arts, because - you know - we do want to be a creative country. We don't want to be punishing people for choosing to take those subjects and of course, many of those people do go on to take-up or secure, very, very significant jobs in our community. So, this is a savings measure, and I think that's a mistake,
KNIGHT: Angus, your response?
TAYLOR: That’s just not right and I look forward to Joel actually having a good look at it. But it is saying we've got to get the priorities right here, we’ve got to make sure our kids have the best possible chance of getting a job and jobs that are good for the economy and good for the rest of us. That’s the focus.
KNIGHT: We’ll see the detail when it’s rolled out. Now, Joel: Labor, world of pain right now. The branch-stacking scandal, allegations of corruption and I see that Albo’s now clamping down on all MPs. You've got to get permission to speak with the media. Did you give him a call this morning and run through your lines before you came on the line with us?
FITZGIBBON: No, I did not Deb. And I can understand why Anthony Albanese wants, in the middle of a by-election, to keep us all on message, particularly in the face of the these ructions in Victoria…
KNIGHT: But come on you’re the first person who says that we shouldn't be following party lines here, that politicians have got to be able to speak their mind and speak clearly and that's what you have done, it's gotten you in trouble I know in the past, but surely, you've got to be able to… I mean, having this sort of party speak. The last thing we want from our politicians, isn't it?
FITZGIBBON: You know I look for trouble, Deb. That’s a good thing isn’t it?
KINIGHT: Well exactly, so you’re being muzzled.
FITZGIBBON: No, no. I talk to Anthony Albanese almost on a daily basis. He's not asking us to change our views on anything,
KNIGHT: You’ve just got to run it past him first?
FITZGIBBON: Well I think it's important to coordinate our conversations in the middle of a by-election - a difficult by-election, indeed. So I have no problem with that.
KNIGHT: Y coordinating your conversations, Angus?
TAYLOR: Well I’m delighted to hear that from Joel because we need him to be outspoken. He says very good things about the coal industry - we want him to keep doing that. And I'm very pleased that he hasn't been muzzled, although you know it's very clear I saw a comment in the paper today that they noted that Joel Fitzgibbon in particular has been too outspoken on some of these issues. But look, it's good news that Joel can get around those constraints.
KNIGHT: And we’ll see. But are you happy, Joel, with the fact that, you know, supposedly, Albo’s counseled all MPs, including Byrne, because this, I mean, the language being used here is just, it's not on. In these text messages.
FITZGIBBON: Well what's happening in Victoria, or what has been happening, Deb, is not on, and we should have zero tolerance of it. And I'm very pleased that the party has moved swiftly and decisively to deal with the issue, and I look forward to some very, very meaningful changes which ensures that this can never happen again.
KNIGHT: Yeah, on both sides of politics, not just from Labor - it's got to be from both sides. Fellas thanks so much for joining us, as always, on a Friday for Question Time. Thanks again.
TAYLOR: Thanks Deb.
FITZGIBBON: Thanks Deb.