FLOW FM WITH RIKKI LAMBERT
MONDAY, 14 FEBRUARY 2022
SUBJECTS: Religious discrimination; Government division; supply chains; Infrastructure Australia.
RIKKI LAMBERT, HOST: Catherine King, Member for Ballarat and Shadow Minister for Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Development, great to have you back with us on Flow.
CATHERINE KING, SHADOW MINISTER FOR INFRASTRUCTURE, TRANSPORT AND REGIONAL DEVELOPMENT: Lovely to be with you.
LAMBERT: You’re back in Canberra again for a second sitting week. It was a pretty torrid sitting week for the first for 2022 when the government sort of stumbled on religious freedom during that period, and as we understand it, that Bill has been pulled off. Has it or is it coming back this week?
KING: It’s not on the notice paper, it would be over in the Senate if it was, but I think that’s highly unlikely. What we saw last week, we’ve got, I think, now five days of sitting left before we have to go to a federal election. This incredibly divisive issue was the one issue that Prime Minister Scott Morrison decided was the most important thing for the Parliament to debate. The cynic in me says that there was a fair bit of political positioning in that. I think, the Prime Minister thought that he was providing a wedge to Labor and he wanted to signal to people of Christian faith that they should somehow vote for him because of this. That’s basically what he was doing. And at the same time, he created this incredibly divisive and harmful debate about transgender kids in particular, which I just think was pretty horrible. I think the Parliament did its job. Sometimes we can astound ourselves and the Parliament did its job and just said, no, that’s not going to be on and with Labor, crossbench, independents and some five Liberal MPs, who were pretty courageous to cross the floor and basically said, look, we’re going to amend this, if you’re going to do that, then we’re going to amend the sex discrimination act to protect these kids and the Prime Minister basically then took his bat and ball and went home and is now campaigning saying it’s terrible. So really, that was the mess that was created, but the Parliament did its job and now I think the Bill won’t see the light of day, particularly before the election.
LAMBERT: What does that tell us about the state of the Coalition Government and particularly the Liberal Party? I think it’s 1984 was the last time that many MPs crossed the floor to vote against their own party on a Bill.
KING: I think that they’re hopelessly divided. I think you’ve got these right-wing elements and then you’ve got more moderate people, particularly who are under threat by independents at the next election, who are saying, look, this isn’t what I represent, and it isn’t what’s going to help me retain my seat. I just think they’re hopelessly divided, really and you’re seeing that play out. You’re seeing that play out now with leaks coming out of cabinet, leaks of text messages, we can see that sort of spiral of really not trusting and not liking each other very much and it’s now on very public display. I think it’s pretty hard for them to govern when there’s all that internal stuff going on. Having, you know, been in those positions myself, when political parties get to that point, they’re really, really bad at doing their jobs. And unfortunately, what that’s what has characterised this government.
LAMBERT: Is there a sense among your Labor colleagues that you’re coasting to victory? Sort of keeping it under the hat?
KING: Gosh, no. No, not at all. If 2019 taught any of us anything it is that polls aren’t reliable at all. We know how hard it is for us to win from opposition, we know that we’ve got to hold all the seats that we currently have and we have to pick up 8 and that’s a really tough ask when you start to look around the country. I think we’re competitive. I think that, you know, Anthony’s been doing an amazing job, releasing policy slowly over the course of the last three years, articulating our positions in terms of a range of areas including jobs growth and how we handle the pandemic. All of those things have been really important, but I don’t think any of us at all, each time we see a poll, I just go “oh yeah, I don’t believe that”. We will see what happens on election day. I think we’re competitive, but I think it’s going to be pretty tough for us.
LAMBERT: Coming squarely into your portfolio matters. The supply chain has been under a lot of stress as it has and then we’ve also had this Glendambo flooding in South Australia that kind of effectively cut off Western Australia by rail and road. One of your Labor colleagues, Eddie Hughes, in the state of Giles in northwest South Australia said when I asked him, the national grids were being put under a stress test and failed, he agreed with that sentiment. Is that your view as well?
KING: Well, look, I think the problem is that we don’t have a national supply grid, we’ve sort of got this patchwork where we’ve had the federal government investing in infrastructure on a seat-by-seat basis, on an electorate basis, not actually saying where are our major freight and supply routes, what have we got to secure, what’s our long term investment in these. I think that sort of strategy has been lacking and I think that’s part of the problem when you’ve got a government that is every single day focused on the politics of the job, not on what the actual job is, then that’s the sort of outcomes that you get. I think that there’s a real problem. We saw the government, it took them almost 10 days to scramble to try and find some solutions to help with the supply chain and it’s since been going around patting themselves on the back for that. Where’s the resiliency being built into our supply chains? Why aren’t we actually looking at these things. Labor’s announced that one of the things that we think is really important is to have a strategic fleet. This is not that we would own some Australian ships, but we would have those on call on a lease basis, possibly, where we are able to immediately say, okay, there’s an emergency here, we need to get some merchant ships in to provide supply, if that’s at all possible. This is the same as we saw some of the merchant ships helping out during the 2019/2020 bushfire season, getting there and evacuating people really quickly. We’ll have some announcements to make around freight and supply routes, but I think it is a long-term proposition that the federal government needs to invest more and invest more strategically in those supply routes, whether it’s rail freight, whether it’s road freight or whether it’s coastal shipping, we’ve actually got to look at how our supply chains working and how we securing them. The fact that we had the circumstances that we did where there were food shortages in a whole range of places that you would just not expect that to occur. I think it’s really a damning indictment on the Government’s failure to plan.
LAMBERT: Wasn’t the intention of this Infrastructure Australia body to take the politics and the, I guess, strategic spending in certain electorates out of transport and infrastructure and make sure we did think strategically about the future?
KING: Yeah, exactly. They’ve been completely sidelined by the Morrison-Joyce Government and they’ve literally been ignored in pretty much every single decision. And of course, we’ve seen the only time they actually had any interest in them was when Barnaby Joyce has appointed a friend, basically, or somebody knows very well from his own constituency as the chairperson, for a $130,000 plus job. That’s basically the only time we’ve seen the government show any interest in them. I think it’s been really problematic. We’ve announced a major review of Infrastructure Australia, I think we’ve got to get it back on track and it’s exactly those sorts of things, the big productivity changing infrastructure investment that Infrastructure Australia should be advising on. We also saw the government abolish the big future fund that existed for infrastructure, they basically took that and invested it somewhere else, and they were the sorts of things Infrastructure Australia advised on. So, I think there’s a lot of work to do to sort of try and get that back on track, really focus on those productivity enhancing, important large scale infrastructure investments that really only the Commonwealth can make. I see the Australian Trucking Association has put out a call recently for the federal government to pay much more attention and to be much more strategic in terms of those supply routes and, certainly, it would be something I would agree with.
LAMBERT: And just lastly, new Victorian Liberal Senator Greg Mirabella has mentioned the Western Transmission Project, mentioned your own position on it that was consistent with what you’ve said here on Flow about that needing to go underground, what’s the latest on your view and how things are tracking on that project through some farmland in your electorate?
KING: We’ll look it’s still a dog of a project, frankly. It’s been mishandled both by the Australian Energy Market Operator and the preferred tender AusNet, who is building it. It’s still got a long way to go, I think the application hasn’t gone into the state or federal government yet. I’m not aware of Senator Mirabella’s comments but given his government will have a planning decision to make, as it actually sits with both the federal and state governments for planning approval, I’ll be interested to see what representations he’s making in about that project. So that hasn’t gone in yet, it’s still got a long way to go and it’s really causing enormous grief to people. I think it needs to be rerouted, certainly the transfer station at Mt Prospect is a completely inappropriate location for it to go. That we haven’t got protection of high value horticultural land, we haven’t got underground in bushfire areas, no resiliency being built into the project. I think part of the problem is that the regulatory framework that exists for energy infrastructure isn’t fit for purpose for these new transmission lines and I think that’s going to be something that we’re going to have to have a think about what we might do nationally about that and then in the meantime, trying to see what we can do to try and get some better outcomes on this project and I’ll continue fighting alongside the community with that, because I think really, it’s a dog of a project and I don’t know anyone who wants who likes them. So, I really think AusNet needs to go back to the drawing board in my view.
LAMBERT: Well, Catherine King, another interesting week ahead in federal politics. Thanks for your time today, much appreciated.
KING: Really good to talk to you.
CATHERINE KING – TRANSCRIPT – RADIO INTERVIEW – FLOW FM WITH RIKKI LAMBERT – MONDAY, 14 FEBRUARY 2022