ABC RN Drive

Interview

DCI023/2017

28 February 2017

Subjects: Chief whip, Coalition government, Penalty rates, 18C, remembrance of domestic violence victims.

Patricia Karvelas: Darren Chester is the Nationals MP for Gippsland and Federal Minister for Transport and Infrastructure. Welcome back to RN Drive.

Darren Chester: Good evening, Patricia.

Patricia Karvelas: Now George Christensen wants more freedom to express his views, he is already pretty outspoken, how much freer could he possibly get?

Darren Chester: George is a great mate of mine and he made the point himself that it was perhaps untenable to continue as the Party Whip if he was going to be so outspoken on different issues. George is a great and passionate Queenslander who wants to stand up for his community. We often disagree on a few issues but we have got a pretty broad church in the National Party in terms of our views on different issues but we are very much aligned when it comes to the need to stand up for regional communities and deliver for regional Australia. That is where George and I are on a unity ticket. On other issues, we disagree from time to time but that is the political life.

Patricia Karvelas: So what does it mean to be more outspoken, that means more difficulty for the Government doesn't it because when you are more outspoken you are constantly breaking with Government line?

Darren Chester: Not at all, George stands up for regional Australia, he stands up for his electorate, he has some strong views on some social issues, which he wants to ventilate as well. He makes the point that as the Whip it was very difficult for him to meet the standard expected, I guess, in terms of disciplining other Party members if he himself had been outspoken on particular issues.  So, he came to the conclusion of his own volition that it was better for him not to continue in the role and I understand why he made that decision. I think it was the right thing to do for George and I look forward to continuing to work with him in our Party room for many years to come.

Patricia Karvelas: Barnaby Joyce says George Christensen has assured him he is not going to join One Nation, but what about Cory Bernardi's conservatives?

Darren Chester: Look George loves the National Party. He is not going anywhere, he knows that if he works hard in the electorate as part of the National Party he can deliver more for his community than any other way and he's very, very focused on getting better infrastructure into the seat of Dawson up around Mackay. He wants to see better telecommunications for his community, he wants better opportunities for young people to have jobs, all the things that we fight for in the Nationals George is very passionate about and he loves being part of the Nats. He is very loyal to Barnaby and the team and I am sure he is staying right where he is.

Patricia Karvelas: Andrew Broad threatened to bring the government down over marriage equality. Are you worried George Christensen's behaviour gives other MPs permission to do the same?

Darren Chester: I think all Members of Parliament, particularly on our Coalition side when you have got a one seat majority, all Members of Parliament have a responsibility to their electorates to stand up for their community but they also have a responsibility to the team, being the Coalition team, which is best placed to deliver good government for our nation. We have a pretty ambitious agenda, I know in my own portfolio $50 billion of work that we are rolling out across the nation in our cities and in our regional towns to improve people's lives and improve safety. The only way we can do that is if we stay in government, so I think as backbenchers and members of the Coalition team we need to stick together, we need to be united.

Patricia Karvelas: So would you like to hear a little less noise from the likes of Tony Abbott and George Christensen?

Darren Chester: Well what I would like to see is all of my colleagues working hard for their electorates and being part of a strong and united team. When they have a disagreement with a Minister or a portfolio position of some description or a policy position, they raise that appropriately through the party process where we get down and talk about issues. We often thrash around ideas in our own party room in the National party and then we reach an agreed position. I think that is the right way to go about resolving our differences. I don't think it achieves anything by people putting stories in newspapers whether anonymously or with their own name attached to it. I think we are far better off as a government when we work together and we have been delivering some great things over the last 6 or 8 months and we are going to deliver a lot more in the years ahead.

Patricia Karvelas: Ann Sudmalis surely said what many in the Government must be thinking when she described the penalty rates decision as a gift for young people looking for work. Is she right, is it a gift?

Darren Chester: Well, the way I would describe it is the Labor party right now is turning its back on all those unemployed people or underemployed people or people who are looking for more shifts who will be able to get more work under this Fair Work Commission decision. So they are actually turning their back on a lot of young unemployed people or people who need more work. If the small business sector is right in saying that there will be more opportunities for more shifts and more shops to stay open, and more cafes will open under this decision by the Fair Work Commission then the right thing to do for the Labor party is to support workers. Not go on this political rant where quite frankly Bill Shorten has become the biggest hypocrite in Australian political history.

Patricia Karvelas: We have had a lot of attacks on Bill Shorten but you think that this is good for the economy, good for workers, and good for young people?

Darren Chester: I can only take the advice I have receive from people in my community. I live in obviously a regional community there are a lot of tourist towns. A lot of business people say to me they simply won't open their shops or cafes on a Sunday because it is too costly for them or they will work the shift themselves, and don't actually employ anyone. Now the opportunity will be there I believe under this Fair Work Commission decision where there will be more opportunities for particularly younger people to get a start on their career, if they are students working part time or casually over the weekend, there will be more opportunities for them. Now, I can see why the Fair Work Commission made this decision and I think the independent umpire has made the decision and we really need to support that.

Patricia Karvelas: But you have gone a step further than some of your frontbench colleagues who aren't defending the decision. You are explaining to me in your own view how you think it will help the economy and help job creation. Many people would contest what you just said but still this is your argument. Why are you defending it when other frontbenchers are just playing it straight down the line saying ‘no view here’?

Darren Chester: I can't speak for my colleagues on their position on the issue. I am just explaining to you what people have been saying to me. Over the weekend I was back in my home town, Lakes Entrance, and I met up with a couple of small business owners and they said to me it would make it easier for them to, one, take a Sunday off themselves as a business owner and put some staff in and, two, actually probably employ more people into the future. So I think there are some benefits for what is being handed down by the Fair Work Commission and we need to have this conversation quite rationally and calmly, not some of the hysteria that has been going on with the Labor Party. Now you have got to keep in mind, this decision is the result of a process that was instigated by Mr Shorten when he was the Minister for Workplace Relations under the previous government. This is not a decision of this government. It's a decision of an independent umpire.

Patricia Karvelas: With respect, that has been so well traversed over the last few days in all the talking points by your side of politics. The reality of the decision is that workers will be left worse off, some up to $6000 per year. They are the poorest people in the community. Working poor people in the community. Can you sleep comfortably at night thinking about those people struggling to pay their groceries?

Darren Chester: Well, that is a very emotional way of putting it, Patricia…

Patricia Karvelas: It is. It probably would be very emotional to be going to the supermarket and thinking about supporting your family. There are real people behind these stories.

Darren Chester: Absolutely and I am not saying anything different at all in that regard but I could just as easily say do I sleep comfortably knowing that people can't get work because shops and cafes are staying closed because penalty rates are too high? That is the reverse conversation we could have. Now, the feedback I am receiving though as I have indicated to you just a few moments ago from small business owners is that it is more likely to be employment opportunities particularly in our regional towns than perhaps there has been in the past. A lot of people in the cities like to travel out to regional areas and they quite often complain about the lack of facilities or services that are open on those Sundays, well if the small business sector is right in what they are saying to me there will be more opportunities for people to get out and explore regional Australia and there will be more jobs for young people in those regional communities.

Patricia Karvelas: Just changing the topic once more because there are so many issues, do you believe mainstream Australians need to be protected from reverse discrimination as Ian Goodenough the Chair of the Parliamentary inquiry that looked at racial discrimination says?

Darren Chester: The bottom line is, Patricia, and I am sure you have had many people speak on this before, there is no place for any hate speech in Australia and the Government is committed to protecting the right of all people to express their views. With the great freedoms of freedom of speech you have responsibilities as well. You can express controversial views but there is certainly no place for hate speech in Australia, and I think the Government will closely consider these recommendations made by the Joint Committee before commenting to any of the specific recommendations that have arisen out of the inquiry.

Patricia Karvelas: What are mainstream Australians?

Darren Chester: That is a phrase that Ian used and I think we are all Australians. I live in a pretty diverse community, I've got people from all different walks of life, I have got a lot of indigenous Australians in my community, they are certainly mainstream Australians, there are people who arrived after WWII and worked in the Latrobe Valley power stations from parts of Europe, they're certainly mainstream Australians. We are just all Australians and I think we are all…

Patricia Karvelas: Do you believe in this concept of reverse discrimination?

Darren Chester: To be terribly blunt, this issue regarding 18C is not an issue that many people actually raise with me. When I go out in my community when I do my role as the Minister for Infrastructure and Transport, the big issues people come and talk to me about are jobs for themselves, like job security, jobs for their kids, are we investing enough in the road and rail transport infrastructure they want, telecommunications links, to be quite blunt, not many people, in fact hardly any, have ever raised the issue of 18C with me.

Patricia Karvelas: So you don't think the Government should be putting it on the priority list and taking any of the recommendations on?

Darren Chester: Well, they have initiated an inquiry and the findings have come back today, and it is important that the government actually looks at the report and considers those recommendations. All I am simply saying is there are a lot of issues in Australian public life and in my experience in my community this is not anywhere near at the top of the list for the people who send me here to represent them in the House of Representatives.

Patricia Karvelas: Just a final question former Australian of the Year General David Morrison has proposed an ANZAC like day for victims of domestic violence. He has likened victims to fallen service men and women. Does the idea have merit?

Darren Chester: I have a great deal of respect for David, I worked with him very closely in my previous role as Parliamentary Secretary for Defence and has been a great advocate in relation to reducing and eliminating violence against women and children. Whether you would have a specific day or not, I haven't seen those comments that David made. I am certainly aware and I am actually a White Ribbon Day Ambassador so I advocate in my own community very heavily throughout the year to reduce the amount of violence in our community. White Ribbon Day is perhaps at the moment the day that most people reflect on the need to stamp out violence wherever it might occur in the community. So whether that would become the day or not, I am not sure what David suggested but anything we can do to raise awareness of this insidious plague on our community, it strikes the most vulnerable people—women and children—and family violence is simply something we need to work very hard to eliminate across party lines. I would have to say it is one of those examples where Governments and Opposition, and every Member of Parliament seem quite dedicated to that cause.

Patricia Karvelas: Many thanks for your time this evening Darren.

Darren Chester: All the best Patricia.