Transcript - Radio Interview - 2GB - Friday, 28 August 2020

By Joel Fitzgibbon

28 August 2020

DEBORAH KNIGHT, HOST : These fellas are quite the double act, they are both speaking at the Bush Summit that's underway in Cooma at the moment and they've just come off stage, Joel Fitzgibbon and Angus Taylor hosting a panel together and they are with us now, G'day fellas.
KNIGHT: So, tell us about this summit because obviously rural and regional Australia, they've had such a tough year, we've got COVID, we had the bushfires, the drought, so many issues to contend with. I guess to you first, Angus, what do you hope that this summit will actually achieve?
TAYLOR: Well, it's just recognising the important role, incredibly important role, the region's play in this country and will continue to play and need to play more, whether it's in agriculture or in manufacturing, tourism, of course, important in the regions, energy, which is what we were talking about today. Now, we have got to celebrate the regions, we have got to support the regions and we have got to make sure that they continue to be the powerhouse that they have been historically for Australia.
KNIGHT: And are they forgotten too often, Joel?
FITZGIBBON: They are forgotten too often, Deb. And if there's one thing Angus and I stand together on it the interests of rural and regional Australia. We’ve just come out of mortal battle in there on the Bush Summit panel, but Angus and I weren't doing mortal battle with one another, we were doing battle against the billionaire Mike Cannon-Brookes. Now, everyone on that panel wants the same thing, Deb. We want secure and affordable energy into the future and we want to transition to a cleaner energy framework. But Mike Cannon-Brookes is just a guy, from my perspective, who is in too much of a hurry to get us there. We are getting there. We will get there. That is to a cleaner economy. But we've got to make sure in the meantime, our households and industries have affordable, reliable power.
KNIGHT: So he's pushing too hard, too soon?
FITZGIBBON: I think he is a guy in a hurry. He's obviously an intelligent person who is well-read. One day we will have one-hundred percent renewable energy backed by things like hydrogen, but it's going to take a long time and in the meantime, gas for example, will be an important transitional fuel. And that means we need to get more gas out of the ground and a more competitive gas pipeline network.
KNIGHT : Yep. Well, good to see that you guys are united on some things. I'm not sure that you are and everything. We'll see how we go with this. But the border issues too - the border lockdowns a major topic at the summit that you're at. And this tragic news this morning that this young woman from Ballina, denied entry to Queensland for an urgent emergency medical treatment. One of her twins has died and we've got the Queensland Premier and the Chief Health Officer talking about Queensland hospitals for Queenslanders. I mean, Angus, they're playing politics here with people's lives.
TAYLOR: It's not good enough. Look at what a tragic story. Terrible, terrible story. The Prime Minister spoke about it here in Cooma this morning and this is a call to the state and territory premiers to sort out this border issue because it's just not good enough. We spoke about common sense last week. And I tell you, you know, when common sense doesn't prevail, these are the kind of tragedies you get. Now is the time to just get this sorted out, get the clarity there that we need, and look after people in a common sense way.
KNIGHT: Well what can we do though, Joel? Because by nature of our Federation, the PM can't come over the top of the state leaders, but in this case - I mean, we pay Medicare, we pay our taxes so we get access to health-care, regardless of lines on a map, regardless of borders?
FITZGIBBON: The story you shared, Deb, of course, is a tragedy one and my sympathies go to the family. It's just a terrible thing to have happened and common sense does have to prevail. I think the Australian community expects that more than anything from our politicians. And what they don't want to hear is the Prime Minister this morning blaming the states and the states blaming the Prime Minister. I said last week, the Prime Minister said he was taking control of this thing through his National Cabinet. He takes credit when things go right, and he's got to take some responsibility for the border issues as well.
KNIGHT : Yeah, hear, hear. Absolutely. Now news this morning, this is interesting, We've poked bear it seems with China. They've now banned imports from another major Australian meatwork. This one, the John Dee abattoir in Queensland. Is this just a wild coincidence, Angus? Or is this in retaliation to the Government announcing the new foreign relations bill, trying to put Australian interests first?
TAYLOR: Well, that's not a question I can answer. But what I can say is that we are going to put Australia's interests first, and we have to. Look, this bill is about making sure the states, territories, universities do the right thing. Australians expect the National Government, our Federal Government, to set foreign policy. They expect federal and state Governments to speak with one voice when it comes to foreign policy. And that is exactly what we're doing. We can't have states and universities running around doing something completely one-hundred and eighty degrees opposed to what the federal Government's doing. And that's why this legislation is important. So we stand by principle as we always do. We want to maintain a strong trading relationship with China, but it's important that we stick to our principles as well.
KNIGHT: But Angus, China keeps hitting our farmers. We've got the wine growers, we've got the barley growers, we've got our beef growers, all of them have already been hit hard. And now another Australian meatwork, being hit. It's still not clear why?
TAYLOR: Well, obviously, it's not an ideal situation. But what I'd say is, China needs our goods and wants our goods and likes our goods, because we produce some of the best food and fibre in the world, if not the very best, actually. And, you know, I think this will sort itself out, but you can't compromise your principles at the end of the day as a country, Deb. This is too important. National - controlling our destiny is way, way more important than compromising at the wrong time. And we've got to make sure the principles are clear, and that's exactly what we're doing.
KNIGHT: And Joel, you've been very critical of the Government's approach here, saying that they should calm the farm on the approach to China. I mean, putting a national interest first, that makes sense, doesn't it?
FITZGIBBON: Well I've always put our national interest first, Deb. And you've indicated yourself, just now, that another meat works has been locked out of the China market this morning. I don’t think that it’s by any coincidence that it's in the Agricultural Minister's electorate...
KNIGHT: ... It’s in David Littleproud's electorate, isn't it, yeah.
FITZGIBBON: So I think you can see what's going on here. Look, Anthony Albanese, the Labor Leader has said we'll look at this legislation, and our test will be the national interest. We will always defend the national interest. But I've said here before that, that you know, we risk some pretty significant trade retaliation, we should always stand firm on our national interest, but be smart about it too. So, if this bill is about protecting the national interest, of course, it will have our support. But personally, I still remain concerned that it's another move by the Government to garner political support domestically, at the expense of our trading relationships, and therefore our farmers and all those others who export to China.
KNIGHT: And did Victoria get it wrong by signing up the Belt and Road deal, by not speaking to Canberra about it first, by going it alone? And are our universities signing up with these research deals, and with these Confucius centres that we have in Australian schools and universities, I mean, does that have to be reined in, Joel?
FITZGIBBON: I think it's absolutely smart, if not mandatory, for both state Governments, business and universities to follow the guidance on foreign policy, the foreign policy guidance of the National Government.
KNIGHT: Alright, agreeance on that. Now, Angus, what's going on with your colleagues? We've got Michael Sukkar, and this massive branch stacking operation. Should he step aside while the party investigates this?
TAYLOR: No. Look, the Victorian division is launching, or has launched, an investigation into the matter. Both Michael Sukkar, Kevin Andrews have referred the starting matters that have been in the press to the Secretary of the Department of Finance. And that'll be dealt with in due course. But Michael Sukkar is an extremely good Minister. He's driven the Home Builder package, which I know from talking to builders around my electorate, is making a real difference. A sector that we need to keep going - the construction sector. Enormously important as we come out of COVID and during COVID and Michel Sukkar is doing an excellent job.
KNIGHT: What about Aged Care Minister Richard Colbeck? Walking out of the Senate after delivering his statement on aged care while Penny Wong was responding, not a good look. And not having the facts and figures in front of him on the number of residents who had died in aged care, he's not performing in his portfolio. Surely he's got to go?
TAYLOR: Well, it has been a tough time in the aged care sector. There's no secret about that. And that hasn't just been in Australia...
KNIGHT: ... Yeah, and the buck stops with the Minister. You have got to be across your portfolio, don't you?
TAYLOR: That's been across the world, that's been across the world. And the plan, despite what Labor has been saying, the plans have been put in place, but it's an incredibly tough environment. Now ninety-seven percent of our age...
KNIGHT: ...It's been tough for the family members who've lost their loved ones in aged care homes, though.
TAYLOR: Tragic, absolutely tragic. Anyone touched by that has seen the tragedy of it and as I say, it's been, you know, we've seen that right across the world. And this is the real impact of COVID on those older demographics where we've seen the, obviously, the strongest effect right across the world. But we have seen ninety-seven percent of our centers have not had an outbreak of COVID-19. We'll continue to work extremely hard on this. We can always do better. There's no doubt about that.
KNIGHT: And quickly Joel, does he have to go?
FITZGIBBON: Your listeners know, Angus is defending the indefensible, Deb. They have got to wake up to this, the performances have been terrible, but we just heard, there's another committee kicking things down the road. Another plan. The Prime Minister came to the bush summit today to remind us that twelve months ago the last Bush Summit, he promised we'd have a plan for Australian agriculture's growth. But still, just over twelve months on, we haven't seen a hint of that plan, let alone the finalisation of the plan.
KNIGHT: Alright, well it's good it’s being discussed. We need that issue. We need rural Australia to have a light shone on it, that is for sure. And it's good that that's happening at that Bush Summit today. Fellas, we are out of time, but thanks so much for joining us.
FITZGIBBON: Thanks, Deb.
TAYLOR: Thanks for having us.