SKY NEWS AM AGENDA WITH TOM CONNELL
TUESDAY, 22 SEPTEMBER 2020
SUBJECTS: Western Sydney Airport; Airport Rorts; JobSeeker; Victorian COVID Crisis.
TOM CONNELL, HOST: The Shadow Infrastructure Minister, Catherine King. Thanks very much for your time. So we’ve seen what’s been spelled out by the Auditor General’s office, the government says there’ll be an inquiry. Fair enough?
CATHERINE KING, SHADOW MINISTER FOR INFRASTRUCTURE, TRANSPORT AND REGIONAL DEVELOPMENT: It’s not fair enough. I think the government’s got some questions that it needs to answer when it comes to this. You know, at the end of the day, we’ve got a Westminster system of parliamentary responsibility and ministerial responsibility. I want to know very clearly, you know, what were ministers doing to allow such a blatant waste of taxpayers money? How on earth could this have occurred? At the very least ministers should have been asking questions about how much is this property costing us? Is it the, you know, the best value for taxpayers money? And clearly, the ministers either didn’t do that, couldn’t be bothered to do that, or decided not to do that.
CONNELL: But don’t you find out those very things in an inquiry, what’s the alternative?
KING: Well, this is the government inquiring into itself. I think that really there needs to be much more scrutiny from the parliament in relation to this matter. And obviously, we’ve now had the Audit Office report come out. The Audit Office report, you know, says some pretty damning things about the way in which this process was handled. But frankly, I find it extraordinary if you’ve got a $30 million land acquisition, that no ministers knew anything about it or knew anything about how this process was undertaken, and I think the government needs to answer some questions in relation to that. The government’s trying to run a million miles from this, they’re saying it is all an administrative process, all well away from us, all hands off, and it’s really the department, we’re inquiring into the department. Frankly, that’s not good enough. Ministers are responsible for the decisions that they make. They’re responsible for the proper use of taxpayers money. And I think they’ve got some really serious questions to answer in relation to this acquisition.
CONNELL: So will was set to seek something out in the Senate to probe this.
KING: We’ll certainly use the avenues we’ve got available to us in the parliament to do so. But, obviously, we’re not going to disclose what they are here. But we’ll certainly use the parliament to put some scrutiny on this acquisition. But I think it would be much better if the government actually just came clean about what actually happened. How did they get this so absolutely and comprehensively wrong? At the best it’s incompetence at the worst, you know, is it something else?
CONNELL: Right, but again, how else do I do that? I mean, are you asking for a long news conference complete with mea culpa? There is going to be an inquiry, what are you saying should happen instead, specifically?
KING: Well, at this stage, we don’t know if there’s an inquiry, the government has said that the department is undertaking some inquiries about internally its processes and what happened there. Ministers do need to front press conferences, they do need to be upfront and be out saying, you know, this is what happened, this is what I knew. Obviously we’d rather not have to go through freedom of information processes, but if that’s what the government’s going to force us to do, we’ll certainly do that. I find it extraordinary that you could have, you know, Scott Morrison, as Treasurer, Paul Fletcher, both members from Sydney, that they didn’t have some knowledge about what was happening with the acquisition of this land and the fact that they didn’t seem to be making any inquiries into how this process was actually undertaken, and what the basic value of this land is. I think, it’s really quite extraordinary.
CONNELL: Swimming on to another topic, you’ve been pretty outspoken about support, including JobSeeker not being taken away. We had the minister announcing yesterday, the government’s monitoring the economy re JobSeeker payments to make sure it doesn’t drop off too quickly, and it will stay higher if it’s needed. That seems like a sensible approach. Would you back that?
KING: Certainly back it, but I’d rather see the actions. I’d rather actually see something happened to assist people rather than talk. You know, it’s crunch time, really, for many, many people who are in desperate circumstances. We’ve got JobKeeper dropping off on the 29th of September, and I think we’re already starting to see evidence of employers laying people off as a result of that and I think that the same is with JobSeeker. If you’re gonna do something, why wait? Tell people. People are just so incredible anxious about this.
CONNELL: Well they did do that, they did announce different cohorts that would be eligible to still get a higher amount of JobSeeker, so that is happening, isn’t it?
KING: Well, that bit is good, but don’t hint that you’re going to do something. Don’t try and say, oh, yeah, we’ll keep it high if we need to. If you need to, get on with it and do it. I don’t think people should…
CONNELL: In terms of these though it’s beyond December. We don’t know what will be like in January and February do we?
KING: I think we’ve got a pretty fair picture about what the economy is like at the moment and I think we’ve got a pretty fair picture about what the trajectory out of this is and it’s slow. Certainly in my home state of Victoria it’s going to be much slower than it is in other states. It’s going to be different in the regions in Victoria and some industries, in particular, the aviation industry where we’ve seen Dnata workers who were denied JobKeeper in the first place, many who couldn’t get a JobSeeker, now 1000 of them have been laid off. We know the aviation industry, and certainly international aviation, something magic isn’t suddenly going to happen in December and it suddenly spark up and we’re all flying internationally again. We know where the sectors are where there’s going to be significant problems. If the government is planning to do something, it should just say this is what we’re going to do.
CONNELL: You spoke about accountability and proper inquiries earlier, Daniel Andrews will front the inquiry to hotel quarantine on Friday. At the end of that evidence we need to, do we not, have the question well and truly answered, whose idea was it around security guards being in charge of hotel quarantine?
KING: Look, I think absolutely, it is important that we know what went wrong so that we can make sure it doesn’t happen again. We know that we’re increasingly going to have to rely on quarantine as we start to get more and more Australians hopefully back from overseas. That’s going to take a long time. And of course, you know, ministers and premiers need to be accountable for those decisions and I’m sure Daniel Andrews hasn’t instigated this inquiry into the quarantine because he doesn’t want to know, and doesn’t want to be accountable for what’s happening. He absolutely wants to be accountable for what’s happening. And I think the fact that he’s fronted, every single day of this health crisis in Victorian shows an extraordinary level of leadership, you know, something that I haven’t seen for a very long, very long time, certainly at the national level. I think he’s willing to be accountable, he’s willing to turn up, he’s willing to talk, he’s willing to answer questions. I only wish we’d say the same level of leadership from the national parliament.
CONNELL: Right. But just to drill down on that. This decision has absolutely smashed your state Victoria. At the end of the evidence tomorrow, the ministers, three ministers, and Daniel Andrews, we can’t have the “I’m not sure” answer around whose idea it was on hotel quarantine to have security guards in charge, can we? You know, having an inquiry is one thing, having a particular person stand up and say this was my call, you mentioned the Westminster system, this is vital, isn’t it?
KING: Well, at the end of the day, the results of the inquiry will be up to the inquiry. It’s not up for me or for ministers to say this is what it’s going to find. You know, I hope its findings are clear. I hope its findings show that there are things that we need to learn. And it is very apparent that you know, there are lessons not just in Victoria, but about how quarantine has operated and failed to operate nationally. I think it is important that we hear those things, but that’s going to be a matter of inquiry and I’m not going to preempt what it’s going to say or what it’s not going to say. It’s got to do its job. But I think the fact that you’ve got ministers and you’ve got a premier of the state willing to be so accountable to be before the inquiry in the first place is in pretty stark contrast, frankly, to what we see from the Morison Government.
CONNELL: Catherine King, thanks for your time today.
KING: It’s really good to be with you. Thank you.