SKY AM Agenda—interview with David Speers



05 August 2016

Topics: Kevin Rudd; banks facing parliamentary committee; road toll; MH370

David Speers: Let's bring in our first guest this morning. He's the Transport Minister, he is a member of Cabinet, Darren Chester joining us from Melbourne. Thank you for your time this morning. Let me just quickly get your thoughts on this. I'm not sure if you're willing to tell us which way you went on this in Cabinet, but what do you think about Kevin Rudd laying out for all to see all the meetings, all the assurances he was given?

Darren Chester: Well good morning David, and typically of Kevin Rudd, it's always about Kevin, it's always about Kevin's interests. Unfortunately for him he's always trying to find someone else to blame. Most of his former colleagues thought he wasn't up to the job as Prime Minister, and they didn't think he was up to the job in the United Nations. The Cabinet had a very long and detailed discussion of the issues; at the end of the day I support the Prime Minister's decision and Kevin should just move on, because Australia's moved on from him.

David Speers: Alright, let's just get your thoughts on the other big issue this week, on the banks, the decision by the Prime Minister yesterday to require the bank bosses to come here and front a parliamentary committee once a year. Look, Labor's been pointing out the committee can already do that, they can already demand a bank boss come and give evidence, they've done it in the past—so what changes here?

Darren Chester: Well David I think this is better than a royal commission. It's better than a royal commission because it means that the banks will be held to account basically on an annual basis or more often if the committee decides. I think it's important that the Parliament, in particular the members of the House of Representatives who after all are the people's representative in that Parliament, will be able to ask them tough questions and the banks will turn up and answer them.

Now the problem with a royal commission and something that- you know, it may sound populist, it may sound like it was a good idea until you start figuring it out, is that a royal commission will cost tens of millions of dollars, won't allow for the ongoing annual scrutiny that the decision the Prime Minister's made yesterday will allow for, and it will undermine the confidence in the banking sector.  And right now we need confidence in the banking sector, we need our banks to be strong where it will help boost the economy. We obviously ran a whole campaign around jobs and growth and certainly for a reason; we want to see Australia prosper into the future, and taking cheap shots at the banks I don't think's in the best interest of achieving that. So I think having the House of Reps committee examine these issues on an annual basis will add a level of transparency, will add a level of confidence to the community that the banks are being held to account.

David Speers: On your portfolio Minister, you're meeting with some of your state counterparts, I want to ask you about the road toll because we are seeing, and I know it's only August, but we are seeing some pretty dramatic increases in fatalities in some of the big states.

Darren Chester: That's right David. We had a meeting yesterday, the Transport and Infrastructure Council meeting, where we had state ministers gathered. And one of the key issues for discussion was our annual road toll. We're seeing an increase this year on year basis to the rolling 12-month average, we're up around nine per cent. And I hate talking about percentages when we talk about a figure like this David because it sounds so inhumane, what we're talking about when say eight or nine per cent we're talking about 100 more Australians won't be home for Christmas this year. And that's something that I take very personally as a challenge to me as the Infrastructure and Transport Minister, to work with the respective state ministers on reducing our road toll. We've been very good over the past 30 years here in Australia at reducing our toll but over the last couple of years we've seen an increase again and it's going up, and New South Wales and Victoria in particular have had pretty tough years on the roads. So I'm going to call together all the state ministers again, probably with their police ministers as well, and we need to hold a national forum where we can get the best and brightest from around Australia in the room and make sure we're exchanging our good ideas, make sure that we're all working together. Because the increase we've seen this year, and particularly New South Wales and Victoria, is something deeply concerning to me, and I know it's deeply concerning to the ministers involved there. I'm not- there's no criticism at all of them, they're working very very hard with their police ministers. But we need to make sure we're exchanging all the good ideas and doing the best we possibly can.

David Speers: Well what's your…

Darren Chester: There's got to be reasons for this, we've got to find out what they are.

David Speers: Yeah well exactly. What do you think, what's your gut telling you when you look at the state-by-state breakdowns? I mean are we talking about alcohol, speeding, seatbelts, what's showing up as the big factor here?

Darren Chester: Look I don't want to rely too much on gut instinct, but there is an instinct there that tells me from the feedback that I'm getting drug-driving is becoming more of an issue, and we need to find a cheaper test so that we're testing more drivers for the use of drugs. My other instinct is that distraction is playing a big part in this. We've seen increased use of iPhones obviously, even had a guy the other day crash his car chasing a Pokemon. Now, so obviously distraction is an issue. Luckily that fellow got away unscathed and didn't hurt anyone else in the procedure. We need to get the messaging right about distraction. There's another element to it David which I hadn't thought of much until recent times, but the reduced fuel prices at the moment means that people are more inclined to drive further, so there's actually more miles being covered in Victoria at the moment- sorry, around Australia at the moment. So there's a range of factors. We need to make sure that we're getting the messaging right in terms of driver distraction in terms of driver behaviour. But it's not just about drivers, I mean it's a whole safe system approach—it's safer vehicles, safer drivers, safer roads. So as governments we need to keep investing in those safer roads to make sure that if a driver does make an error it's not a fatal error. So, I think it's important for us to get together as a collective and work on the best ideas, learn from each other, share our experiences because simply seeing the toll go up in the last couple of years is deeply concerning after decades of improvements.

David Speers: Yeah, that is a real worry. We'll keep an eye on that one. I just want to get your thoughts too on MH370. You're under pressure, the Australian Government's under pressure to keep the search going, you and China and Malaysia recently announced that it will conclude after the current zone is searched. But we are seeing further signs pointing towards the pilot being responsible for bringing down the plane deliberately. What is your view on this theory, some say it's more than a theory now? Was the pilot responsible?

Darren Chester: Well, David, we need to keep in mind how the tripartite approach to this incident has been carried out. So, there is Malaysia, China and Australia all working very closely together. The Malaysians as the flag state for MH370 have responsibility for the investigation into the events leading up to the disappearance of MH370. Australia's role has been very much focused on the search. First of all, we're involved in the aircraft search- sorry, for the aerial search where we had our defence personnel doing a great job more than two years ago now and then we've moved on to the underwater search aspect of it now, relying on the best available analysis of the evidence where we had the last satellite handshake of MH370 indicated it was somewhere about 2600 kilometres west of Perth when it went into the ocean.

And we've targeted an area of 120,000 square kilometres for a very detailed underwater search. Now, we're about 90 per cent of our way through that search area, so about 10,000 square kilometres still to be searched and we're hopeful that we'll have some success in those remaining weeks and months out in the ocean but if we don't find the aircraft after that 120,000 square kilometres, the agreement between China, Malaysia and Australia is we will suspend the search awaiting any further credible evidence which would lead to a specific location so, we're not abandoning the search…

David Speers: [Interrupts] Well, the credible evidence is that the system you talk about, the satellite, the tracking systems were shut down. Now, there's of course evidence, apparently, about the pilot's home flight simulator tracking a very similar plot just a month before this and a flaperon that's been found, it was part of MH370, it was in a lowered position and the experts say that does indicate it was a controlled ditch by the pilot.

Darren Chester: So, David, this is what people need to understand here: our last factual bit of evidence was the satellite handshake which indicated the aircraft was descending rapidly in an area they call the seventh arc which has been the highest priority area, the focus area of the search. That doesn't change whether a simulated flight from weeks or months previously indicated something else, the actual fact is this is where we last had contact with the aircraft and I'm not in a position to second guess our experts. We've had world leading experts from Australia, from the ATSB, but also from Boeing and from around the world looking at the data we have and coming up with our highest priority search area. This is not guesswork—this is the best they can do with the evidence they have.

They are desperate to find this aircraft. We are talking about people who have dedicated the last 2.5 years of their life to it. They are working very hard on this, the crews on the ground- the search vessel crews out there, they are dealing with some of the most inhospitable conditions in the world, they are desperate to find this aircraft. They're talking about days out there, sometimes there's 20 metre seas. They are working very hard; they remain hopeful they're going to have success. We haven't had success at this stage but that doesn't mean we've given up hope and we're going to keep working through that last 10,000 square kilometres of the high priority search area. Then there'll be more analysis, if there's more credible evidence coming through which gives us a specific location where we can focus our efforts, then we'll look at it then.

But the Malaysian, Chinese and Australian Governments between them have put $200 million into this underwater search, $60 million of that has come from Australia. It's been the biggest search in aviation history, so it is of historic proportion but it's also been quite a heroic effort in terms of pushing the edge of human endurance out there in the ocean and pushing the envelope in terms of scientific understanding of the whole range of aspects that have to be considered as they analyse the data from MH370.

David Speers: Alright, Transport Minister, Darren Chester, we'll have to leave it there. Thanks very much for joining us this morning.

Darren Chester: Thanks David.