DEBORAH KNIGHT, HOST: Order, order. I wonder if I'll have to do that today - we'll see. Our new segment, our very own Question Time and I'll try to keep the pollies under control - we'll see how we go. Every Friday we'll chat about the big issues of the week with Energy Minister, Angus Taylor, and the Shadow Minister of Agriculture and Resources, Joel Fitzgibbon. Normally we'd have them here in the studio but because of social distancing, they're on the phone for us now. Fellas, hello, and welcome.
ANGUS TAYLOR, MEMBER FOR HUME: Thanks for having me.
JOEL FITZGIBBON, MEMBER FOR HUNTER: Great to be with you Deb. G'day Angus
TAYLOR: G'day Joel.
KNIGHT: Good on you guys. Now, look, alright we want more than ever cooperation. So, I'm just going say it from the outset, forget the political point scoring you two. We want to see a bit of bipartisanship if we can, but the big issue, of course, Coronavirus. It's been such an incredible week, one that I don't think I've experienced before. The contrast to where we were this time last week to where we are today is really stark. I'll go to you first Angus. How are you going yourself personally with you and your family?
TAYLOR: Well, it's tough for everyone. It's not about me obviously, it's about all Australians. And this is obviously a tough time, whether you're cooped up with family trying to look after your parents or grandparents, or you've got a business you're try to keep going through tough times, own a cafe or a restaurant, and of course they're really at the frontline of this. So it's not an easy time. We're incredibly conscious of this, you know, as Energy Minister, I'm seeing the importance that we see the energy sector, making sure they supply their electricity.
KNIGHT: I'll talk to you about that in a sec, because that's crucial. Absolutely. And Joel, for you social distancing, what are you doing? You into the foot-shake are you?
FITZGIBBON: Can I say first of all, Deb, Angus and I have been sparring partners in the past, and various radio programs…
KNIGHT: Well, keep it together you two.
FITZGIBBON: We've always been pretty civil, and I can guarantee bipartisanship on this issue. Yeah, look, my life hasn't changed a hell of a lot. Our kids have grown up and moved away. Obviously my diary is a little more empty than it usually is. Most of my electorate staff and Canberra staff are working from home. My wife has a small business, she has a beauty therapy salon and she's facing some real challenges. Obviously, there's no social distancing when you're doing facials and the like, and she's on [inaudible]. She doesn't know what is next for her. Of course, customers are already falling off, understandably. And of course if they have someone in the salon who's diagnosed positive then I'm sure it will be a real problem for her. So, she's seen what it's like close up in terms of the business community.
KNIGHT: Yeah, so many businesses in so many sectors are being affected by this. Angus, in terms of the energy sector, I know that the energy ministers are meeting today to try to come up with a way to protect our energy supplies. What's on the table? What are we likely to see?
TAYLOR: Well we are seeing real bipartisanship already. So, we spoke last night and we'll be speaking again this afternoon and we'll be putting in place a nationally coordinated approach to energy, and in particular keeping the lights on, making sure there's enough gas and enough liquid fuels to use all petrol to ensure that businesses and of course households have what they need. There's an enormous amount of work that's already been going on and will continue to go on around making sure we've got a safe, healthy workforce, making sure we've got fuel coming through the supply chain, we know exactly how much is there.
KNIGHT: And what about the energy companies, though, to ensure that if people lose their job and they can't make their payments, how are you going to protect them?
TAYLOR: Exactly. Hardship policies are really crucial at this time, and we've asked the energy companies - I've spoken to all the major companies and asked them to extend their hardship policies to impacted coronavirus people and businesses. That's not just someone who gets the virus, but someone whose business has lost a huge amount of revenue, that sort of example that Joel just talked to you about. We've seen lots of that now, particularly in the hospitality front line businesses, service businesses. And it's really important that the companies have hardship policies in place that look after those people. It's also important by the way that people who can pay their bills do so we can we can look after that way more easily those customers who really are in trouble,
KNIGHT: Which is terrific to see and we know, Joel, that there is that that sense of working together which is great from Labor with the government on the issue of Coronavirus. We saw Anthony Albanese - he's doing a press conference right now - and he's saying that he will support the government's tough measures to tackle Coronavirus. They'll pass the first stimulus package, but he's saying it'll wait and see on the details of the second one. But in terms of the official medical advice, I wanted to ask you about this, Joel, because Bill Shorten came out on the Today Show saying he's keeping his kids at home. The Prime Minister was really strong saying we shouldn't be doing that, we should be following the official medical advice. Surely if MPs aren't setting an example here, you can't expect general population to do it?
FITZGIBBON: I’m sure like Angus, I am using every medium available to me as an MP to get the message out to people appealing for calm, but appealing to them also to follow the medical advice, and of course to respect the new arrangements on social distancing and the rules that go with that. Look, I respect Bill Shorten's decision to take his children out of school, I think every parent is entitled to do so if that is their will. I've been in the National Security Committee of the Cabinet, and I know that people who sit there receive a lot of information you and I, and even possibly Angus, don't necessarily receive. So, I think we have to have some confidence in the people who are in that room and receiving the advice. And we all know the downside of closing down schools. It means parents, working parents or ambulance, paramedics or nurses our firies etcetera lose what is effectively a child-minding arrangement in the school. And of course, some kids will also end up with grandparents or even great-grandparents. So, there are arguments on both sides of this debate, and I think we just have to have confidence that those in that room are making the right decision. I suspect this is inevitable. But, look, if Scott Morrison and his team believe that it's not time yet to close down our schools, I think we've got to have confidence that they're making the right decision and an informed decision.
KNIGHT: And Angus, do you think that it's fair enough that in Queensland, for example, the schools are saying that if parents choose to keep their kids away, if they're not sick, or if there's not a threat to their own health, the kids don't have asthma or respiratory issues, and they take them out of school just because they are concerned, they could face punishment for truancy?
TAYLOR: Well, look, you know, the advice we have is very clear, which is that the risk to kids is very low. And, of course, as Joel rightly pointed out there are very significant workforce issues with forcing kids out of school. We think it's appropriate to keep them in school. I've kept my kids in school, the Prime Minister has kept his kids in school.
KNIGHT: Has Bill Shorten made a mistake taking his out then?
TAYLOR: Well, we just think the right thing to do is to keep the schools open at this point, and to keep the kids in school. And that's the advice we have. We know from the data we're seeing all around the world that the kids of that school age the risks are much, much lower - they're much more resilient. Obviously, if there's a child with a serious health issue that there might be some special circumstances, but keeping the schools open we think is enormously important. The workforce issues here that Joel mentioned are very significant. We have to keep our workforce, particularly health workers, central services, energy workers, we need to look after them, look after their families and make sure their kids have a place to go and that they're not being forced to stay at home to look after the kids.
KNIGHT: Now Rick has called in. I won't put him through, I'll get the question that he's asking though to you guys directly. He says he runs a small business. He's going to have to take a 60 per cent pay cut. He's asking if you politicians would be willing to take a pay cut as well, Joel?
FITZGIBBON: Look, I am open to any proposition to be Frank, Deb. But I think that's a reasonable argument for people to be putting in. But I think it's a side issue at this point. I think we need to get that stimulus package out into the business community, and the community more generally. And at the risk of just departing from the bipartisanship, just a little, none of this first stimulus package is yet into the business community or the broader community. And of course, we haven't even seen the second stimulus package. So, government's doing some good things, but I think we need to up the pace.
KNIGHT: Angus, what's your response to that?
TAYLOR: Well, Joel, I’ll respond to that. Look, apart from my last point, I do agree with Joel. But the point here is we do need to have appropriate stimulus. Of course, it's been escalating over time and on $105 billion of stimulus from the Reserve Bank and the government just announced and that will focus on making sure we've got credit available for small businesses in particular and households. And that's enormously important. We know if people are having debts called, it would be very, very dangerous at this time. So, making sure we can help them with that and, of course, as much as possible making sure that small businesses are in a position to continue going over the next few months and then there to ramp up on the other side of this. That is enormously important. I agree, Joel and I'm sure absolutely agree on that, and that is a priority for the government
KNIGHT: And just quickly - a story if we can, I want to end it on a positive note. We know that there's been lots of bad stuff happening but any good stuff that you fellas have seen out in the community? Some good news stories, Joel?
FITZGIBBON: Well, rather than go to a local story, I just want to say something about the death of Catherine Hamlin on Wednesday because that is something to celebrate as sad as her passing is. I had the opportunity to visit her and others at Addis Ababa, Ethiopia on two occasions. Her work there as a volunteer has been phenomenal over many, many decades - 55,000 young women in Ethiopia benefited from her work and before her the work of her husband, and many, many more indirectly as a result of that the establishment of the midwifery school.
KNIGHT: Yes, she changed lives for the better.
FITZGIBBON: Through Dr Catherine Hamlin we saw absolutely the better side of our humanity We've seen a bit of both sides over the course of the last couple of months. But in her, we only saw good. She really was the modern Mother Teresa.
KNIGHT: Absolutely. Angus, how about you?
TAYLOR: A good friend of ours lives in an area with lots of older people around him. He put notes under their doors offering help and support this week, and he got a nice response. But the most overwhelming response was from other people wanting to help him to look after those older people, to bring them meals, to do anything they could to help. And an absolutely overwhelming response. And the result of this is you got neighbours helping neighbours. We're going to see lots of that over the next little while. Australians at their best are absolutely, you know, wonderful people, and I think we will find a way of working our way through this, tough as it may be. And I'm looking forward to having some real bipartisanship on that with Joel.
KNIGHT: Bring it on, that's what we want more of fellas. Thanks for joining us.