SATURDAY, 17 OCTOBER 2020
SUBJECT: Airport land rorts, ANAO budget cuts, ICAC, Victorian COVID numbers, New Zealand travellers in Victoria, Digital border forms.
CATHERINE KING SHADOW MINISTER FOR INFRASTRUCTURE, TRANSPORT AND REGIONAL DEVELOPMENT: Thanks everyone for coming out this morning. I just want to make some further comments about the decision yesterday by the Australian Federal Police to refer the Morrison Government’s acquisition of land at Badgerys Creek Airport, the Leppington Triangle for investigation. This is a government that spent $30 million on a piece of land worth $3 million. And how did this get picked up? it got picked up because a diligent officer in the Australian National Audit Office questioned the Department of Infrastructure and Transport about their financial statements and discovered that there was something going on in this deal. This is the same Australian National Audit Office that the Morrison Government has in the Budget cut funding to. This is a government that has real problems with transparency. We know that the Government announced three years ago now that there should be a federal ICAC, and yet, we’ve got no federal ICAC. The deal around Leppington Triangle and what we’re hearing coming out of NSW ICAC are issues that should be able to be investigated by a federal ICAC. Without one it is very difficult to get to the bottom of what’s occurred here. Labor will use the processes of Senate Estimates next week to try and uncover as much information as we can and we note, obviously with concern, the AFP investigation and how important that is. But again, this is a government that has problems with transparency. The Western Sydney Airport development, and Inland Rail for that matter, are both multibillion-dollar investments of taxpayers’ money. It is clear that in these projects, and particularly the Western Sydney Airport, there has not been enough scrutiny or enough transparency about what’s actually going on within the department, and within the minister’s decision making about what’s happening here with those projects. Happy to answer any questions.
REPORTER: What criminal offenses do you think the AFP are looking for?
KING: We don’t know at this stage and obviously that’s a matter for the police investigation at the AFP. But what we do know from the Australian National Audit Office report, and it’s a very unusual report if you read it, it’s very rare for the Auditor-General to talk about unethical behaviour or failure of ethical standards within an audit report like that. In my 20 years in this place I’ve never seen an audit report like it. We will obviously let the police investigation do their job, but I think there are some questions the government needs to answer. How is it that you can have a senior minister, minister in Cabinet, getting a brief from the department, about a land sale around Western Sydney Airport, a project that he is responsible for, and ask no questions about the price or value for money, ask no questions around conflict of interest or probity issues? The government needs to be transparent here about what’s happened. It can’t just say this was a poor process issue, it can’t continue with the furphy that this was somehow a great bargain for tax payers, and it needs to be very clear about who made decisions when, and why they made those decisions.
REPORTER: Catherine, 17 New Zealand travellers have made their way to Melbourne on the first day of the border bubble. What do you think should happen to those people and who do you blame for it?
KING: Victorian Police will have a look at that, but one of the problems that’s been part of this whole process is states have been asking for a long time now to be able to access passenger manifests so that they know where passengers coming into their state are coming from. Queensland asked for that very, very early on in the piece when they had problems with being able to contact trace people on a Virgin flight, and yet again the Morrison Government’s done absolutely nothing about those issues. This is a government that likes to sound as though it’s doing things but hasn’t managed to deal with these issues. It’s good that these people were picked up, they did completely the wrong thing by traveling, but it’s really important that that information about passenger movement is shared with state governments very quickly.
REPORTER: What do you think of the government’s plan to digitise international passenger arrival cards.
KING: We will scrutinise whatever their plans are. We’ve only seen those reports in the media. From a public health point of view that does seem to be a sensible proposition. But let’s be frank here, we’ve had a government with Robodebt, Census Fail, we’ve had the failure of the COVID Safe app. They haven’t got a good record on this area and we would want to see not only that they’re doing it but they’re actually going to do it properly.
REPORTER: Should Gladys Berejiklian remain premier?
KING: Look, I think this whole issue has again highlighted why ICACs are important. I have zero interest, zero interest in the Premier of New South Wales’s personal life, that is entirely her business. But what is concerning is obviously issues where you’ve got a premier of a state clearly having information about, or knowing about someone else in her political party using his position to gain personally and to gain financially out of it and to set up meetings that perhaps, in hindsight, should never ever have been held. I think those are the issues that ICAC is investigating and again, we’ve started to see some links between the New South Wales ICAC and the whole Western Sydney Airport development. Again, this is this issue around transparency. It’s incredibly important, and the Premier of New South Wales’s personal life has nothing to do with that. It’s the issues that really matter.
REPORTER: There’s only been one new case of COVID in Melbourne today and two yesterday. How far should Daniel Andrews go with easing restrictions tomorrow?
KING: Well the first thing I want to as a proud Victorian, how grateful I am to have a Premier who, despite incredible pressure, I’ve never seen anyone be put under this sort of pressure before, has stayed the course. I think Victorians should be very, very proud, not only of the Premier but of the incredible job that they’ve done to get this terrible crisis in Victoria under control. 11 weeks ago we had 700 cases and today to have one, I know many Victorians will be celebrating. We will see the Premier, Dan Andrews’ response and his statements on Sunday. I know many people are looking forward to some lifting of restrictions and I hope very much that that’s the case, particularly in regional we’re where I reside. But I think I’ll leave it up to the Premier to make those announcements on Sunday.
REPORTER: Do you think with numbers like that he can really justify keeping people in lockdown?
KING: Well, again, I think it’s not just the case numbers, it’s about whether you’ve got mystery cases and continued and active cases at the moment, trying to make sure that that spread is under control. He’ll be getting lots of advice from his Chief Health Officer today, they’ll be looking at the data, but I think it’s really, really positive news for Victoria. And you’ve got to say, the Premier Dan Andrews has been right, basically. The fact that we’re now at one case, because he’s stayed the course despite incredible pressure from Liberal Federal Members of Parliament who ought to know better. I think the people of Victoria should be very proud of that and very proud of the huge work and huge job they’ve done.
CATHERINE KING – TRANSCRIPT – DOORSTOP INTERVIEW – PARLIAMENT HOUSE – SATURDAY, 17 OCTOBER 2020