|CATHERINE KING, SHADOW MINISTER FOR INFRASTRUCTURE, TRANSPORT AND REGIONAL DEVELOPMENT: Good to be with you, Patricia. |
KARVELAS: Just starting on the COVID related news first. Do you support the New South Wales government’s approach to pausing all construction?
KING: Well, I don’t think they’ve got a choice given what’s happening with the Delta strain in New South Wales. Of course, it makes it very difficult for construction workers, it also makes it difficult when you’ve got big projects that have got deadlines, but I just don’t think they’ve got a choice. They’ve had a couple of exposure sites on some of their big construction projects and I think it’s absolutely the right thing for them to be doing.
KARVELAS: As Shadow Infrastructure Minister, what have you heard from the industry in response?
KING: Well, look, the industry had this experience in Victoria as well, there were periods of time when construction continued but then when we had the big lockdown, they had to shut down construction sites as well. I understand many people are frustrated by it but, frankly, I think when you see the numbers and what’s happening with the Delta strain, I just think that the New South Wales Government has got no choice. They need to get in front of this. Otherwise, they’re going to be experiencing a much longer and much harder lockdown and it’s not in anyone’s interests across the country for that to happen.
KARVELAS: The Victorian Premier has announced the lockdown won’t end tomorrow saying that would not be the right thing to do. Is there enough support from individuals and business now that the lockdown has been extended?
KING: Well, I think in my community in Ballarat, and I know you would have done the same as I did, I spent the day homeschooling and trying to juggle work as well and it’s no less stressful for fifth time around. But I think people do understand that, you know, we want to get on top of this, this Delta strain just seems so contagious, and to be spreading so quickly, none of us want to stay locked down, none of us want to be in the circumstances we’re in, but I think we all know that until our vaccination rates are at a rate where the risk allows us to reopen or to allow spread to occur because we’re not going to see people dying if we’re vaccinated, then I think we just know that we’re going to be in this for a little while. In my community, I know there’s a lot of support for it, we’d rather not be in the circumstances, but we just know we have got to get on with it.
KARVELAS: The Australian Border Force has overturned the decision to allow controversial British commentator Katie Hopkins into the country after she boasted about breaking quarantine on social media. Now, the federal government blamed the New South Wales Government for supporting her exemption, is that just how the system works?
KING: A couple of things, I mean I don’t want to give this individual any more publicity, I think, you know, frankly she deliberately did a few things in order to get that. The government has to be accountable for making visa decisions, it needs to explain why it felt this person was a fit and proper person in the first place, to be granted a visa to come into Australia and on what basis that was done. It’s up to the government to explain that, that is how visas are granted. I think now that she’s obviously breached Australian law, she deserved to be sent home.
KARVELAS: Let’s move to the other issue, a spillover estimates hearing has today heard that the then-Urban Infrastructure Minister Alan Tudge’s office and also the PMO contacted MPs, candidates and senators in 20 marginal seats that they were targeting and asked them if there were any car park projects that they wanted to have funded. What do you make of that process? You have quite critical but has today’s testimony added anything extra that we didn’t know?
KING: It is pretty unusual for there to be no process at all. Normally there is a call for applications, a transparent process, a set of guidelines, eligibility criteria of some sort. But in this case the government didn’t even seem to hide the fact that it had decided that here are the 20 top marginal seats, we’re only going to canvass those MPs and the patron senators for those seats or candidates, and we’re going to go from there. I think the audit report says pretty clearly that Treasury was saying, look, you need to have a proper and transparent process and application process here. The Department seems to have been silent on that, yet the government now thinks that, having had Sports Rorts where they did run a process and they overturned the recommendations of Australian Sport Commission, this time they’ve decided well, let’s just not have a process at all. I think that is actually a fundamental problem for our democracy. If you’re going to have appropriated funds, and this was a fund that was announced in the 2018 Budget, the Urban Congestion Fund. If you’re going to have that and you’re going to appropriate funds in that way, you then need to be transparent and fair about people’s ability to actually apply for those funds.
KARVELAS: What do you make of the revelation that both Treasury and the Infrastructure Department aired concerns about the running of the program.
KING: Well, I think that the government clearly had made a decision before the 2019 election, that it was going to use this Urban Congestion Fund, and Minister Tudge and staff in the Prime Minister’s Office directly, were going to use it to basically pork barrel in the election. They’d decided that in the very structure of the fund. And I think, again, that is worrying not just because they did it, but also that now they don’t seem to think there’s anything wrong with it. They think that it’s actually okay and that somehow or other these appropriated, budgeted funds, that have no transparency, no application, top 20 marginal seats, that that is actually okay to do. I think that clearly shows why there needs to be an independent corruption commission, but I think it also shows why public servants in particular need to have the capacity to push back and say to ministers look, this is dodgy, it is not fair. It was not an election process, we understand during election campaigns, political parties put forward decisions for things they want to fund, and then if they win, you then go through a process of checking that they’ve got value for money and are doable, but this wasn’t that. This was a government of the day, the Prime Minister’s Office, Minister Tudge and other ministers who benefited from this, I understand the Treasurer and the Energy Minister had projects in their own seats which they were worried about at the last election, making decisions on the basis of electorates and not actually having any proper process around that.
KARVELAS: Coalition Minister Linda Reynolds says Labor-held seats also benefited, they also referenced the marginal seats that would benefit under the park and ride scheme, is that fair criticism?
KING: Again, as I said, it is one thing where a political party in opposition says to the electorate, we want to win government, here is our offering to the electorate, please come and vote for us on the basis of these policies and these commitments we’re making in an election campaign. It is a very different thing to have a government of the day, ministers that are bound by a ministerial code of conduct and accountability appropriate taxpayer funds for a program, a $4.8 billion program, basically saying, we’re not going to have a process, we’re just going to go to marginal seat holders and we’re going to use it to try and pork barrel the election campaign. But the blatancy of it, and the fact that the government seems to think they have done nothing wrong at all and that they’ve got away with it, I think it’s really worrying for some fundamental principles about how our democracy works.
KARVELAS: Just on another issue before I bid you farewell. Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins today handed an interim report to parliament, so far just 16 politicians have spoken to her as part of the independent review into workplace culture. Do you think that number is low and why would that be?
KING: Yeah, I do think it’s low and I must admit I haven’t spoken to her and I’ve been in two minds whether to or not. Now, I will reflect on that now that you’ve said that because I wasn’t aware that it was so low and I would like to see more MPs and staff talking to her. I think it’s important that she gets a really good, complex understanding of the experiences of people in that workplace, in my workplace, and I think that’s important. So, thank you for bringing that to my attention. I will have a think about that, but I think if we’re going to get good recommendations out of this there’s a number of things that Kate Jenkins will need to understand and know about, and I think you’re right I think more people should talk to her.
KARVELAS: Thank you so much for joining us.
KING: It’s really good to be with you.