Transcript Sky News

Interview

DCI058/2017

18 June 2017

Subjects: Security, Finkel report, Gonski 2.0

Patrica Karvelas: My first guest tonight is Federal Transport and Infrastructure Minister Darren Chester, who joins me form Canberra, and is, of course, about to go into the last sitting week before the long mid-winter break. Welcome to the program.

Darren Chester: Good evening Patricia, how are you?

Patrica Karvelas: Good. Now the Turnbull Government now has three Ministers facing contempt of court charges. If convicted, there are fears the MPs could be ineligible to sit in Parliament, meaning of course that the Government—which only has a one seat majority—would lose power. Are you worried about what they have done here? That this has gone too far, and with the benefit of hindsight would you advise Ministers not to be intervening like this on court proceedings?

Darren Chester: Obviously, Patricia, for the Ministers involved—Alan Tudge, Michael Sukkar and Greg Hunt—I couldn't possibly comment on issues that are before the court right now, and so I really couldn't comment on the specifics of that case. But more generally, the Ministers were raising concerns which are evident right throughout the community in relation to community safety, and so in terms of the discussion in the community, particularly in Victoria, about issues regarding law and order and parole, and those types of issues, they are very active areas of public conversation right now. People are concerned. They want to know if they are going to be safe in their homes, they want to know they are going to be safe when they walk the streets, and they want to know the borders are safe. So from an overall government perspective, we are very focused on national security issues, on issues around border protection and making sure we have got control on unauthorised arrivals, so we know who is coming to our country. Then the responsibilities in terms of our national security in terms of things like airport security, where I am involved. There are obviously key issues for people, they are concerned about terrorism and the people that are out in our streets, and once the police have caught them we would like to know they get put away for an extended period of time.

Patrica Karvelas: So you think, then, that what they did was the right thing to do despite the very obvious repercussions it's having, potentially, on your government?

Darren Chester: No, Patricia, I don't think I'm in any position to comment on issues which are before the court right now. I was simply making the point that in terms of security in our homes, on our streets, and in our borders, Australian people are very concerned about those issues. We have seen these incidents, which have occurred here in Australia in terms of terrorism related activity. We know that our security agencies and intelligence agencies are working very hard, and have been successful in thwarting up to twelve terrorism activities, which were planned over the last few years. We have seen incidents overseas that have been very serious cases, and mass casualties, and loss of life, and serious injuries. So obviously people are worried, they are concerned about these issues, and I can't comment on the specific case you are referring to, but more generally, we are working as a government to try and make sure we can keep Australians safe in their homes, on the streets, and obviously, by having strong border protection measures in place.

Patrica Karvelas: Okay. Well, with your hat as Transport Minister on if I can make you put that particular hat on for a moment —there was a look after the last incident in Melbourne, on the tarmac in Melbourne, the man ended up being mentally ill and it was certainly considered that it wasn't a terrorist act. But for people on that airplane, they would have been very concerned. There were questions at the time about a review to look at how to deal with those scenarios in the future. Do you have any answers?

Darren Chester: I think you raised a couple of really important points there. The MH128 incident involved a person in the aircraft itself making some false claims suggesting he had equipment to do damage to the aircraft. Now, you'd be aware that in Australia 100 per cent of carry-on baggage, 100 per cent of baggage which is checked-in goes through x-rays and all the equipment was working and the person involved didn't have a weapon, he didn't have an explosive device. He was subdued in the air by passengers and crew as I understand it, and the aircraft returned safely to ground. So it was a traumatic experience, I am sure for everyone on board, but it's important to note that he didn't have any capacity to bring down that aircraft. I mean, we have protocols in place regarding hardened cockpit doors; the cabin crews themselves are trained in subduing people; there are plain clothes people involved in our aviation security sector. But the issue you are referring to is also related to what happened then on the ground, and they are quite rightly questions for Victoria police, and the review they are undertaking about how they responded once that aircraft was in a safe position on the ground at Tullamarine. But I want to reassure the travelling public that the Australian Government, the police, our Australian Federal Police, our Department, Office of Transport Security they are constantly learning, constantly taking all these events into consideration whether they occur in Australia or around the world, and adjusting our security settings appropriately. We are very determined to keep people as safe as we possibly can as they go about their lives whether it is in the community or when they are travelling, both within Australia and overseas.

Patrica Karvelas: Though that Victorian review saying that police are looking at their response, have you been involved in that review? Have you given advice? Has your department given advice on things that might be able to change to make that a better scenario?

Darren Chester: We have looked at our own role in this in terms of, was the equipment working at the screening point and I have been assured that the proper screening process is in place and as it turned out, as I indicated, the person didn't have a device that could damage the aircraft. He had a speaker system which he claimed to be something which it wasn't. But we are constantly looking at our security settings and making sure we are doing everything we possibly can to keep Australians safe. Now, in terms of the actual review, the Victoria police will undertake that quite rightly is the responsibility of the Victorian Government, not for me to comment on. But if there are recommendations that come out of that in relation to how Victoria police and Australian Federal Police and our agencies work together in the future, we will obviously consider them, because we are constantly learning as this threat of terrorism evolves around the world, and we are adjusting our security settings to keep Australians safe.

Patrica Karvelas: On that issue of terror, Victorian Government announcing a review today, the Victorian Opposition criticising them for announcing a review rather than, you know, measures themselves. Isn't a review a good idea? There are some significant figures that are going to be involved with that review, Ken Lay for instance. Isn't that the right approach?

Darren Chester: Well Ken Lay is someone who I have great personal regard for. I have worked with Ken very closely on issues regarding the National Ice Taskforce and family violence. He is someone I think who has a great deal to offer public life in Victoria and in Australia, and he has a very strong background in law enforcement. These are quite rightly the type of people who should be involved in a review like this. You undertake reviews to try and make sure you have actually got your settings right, but at the same time if you find issues and areas where you are not delivering the safety outcomes you want you can make changes as that review is carried out. So I wouldn't want to preclude any changes being made while a review is undertaken if people like Ken Lay find that there is some changes required in Victoria. I mean law and order in Victoria right now is the single biggest issue confronting the community. We have got a situation where people don't feel safe in their homes, they don't feel safe on the streets, and the Victorian Government has dropped the ball on a very important issue. So I don't want to be sitting here being a Monday morning quarter-back for the Victorian Government but people are very concerned about security in all its forms in Victoria at the moment.

Patrica Karvelas: Just moving on to Finkel and the report and the fallout from that. Is the Government really going to fund new coal fired power plants? Do you think that's the right approach, a good way to spend taxpayers' money?

Darren Chester: A good way to spend taxpayers' money is to make sure we are providing for reliable and affordable energy and we are actually meeting our international commitments in terms of emissions reduction, and that's what the Finkel report is all about. Now obviously as a local Member of Parliament who represents the community of Latrobe Valley, I am very concerned about the insecurity in the system, which came about following the closure of the Hazelwood power station. Now the precipitous nature of that closure where the community was only given five months notice, that has caused an enormous social and economic disruption in the Latrobe Valley. I am concerned that taking Hazelwood out of the system where it provided or used to provide 22 per cent of Victoria's power supply I'm concerned that come next summer we have heat wave which inevitably we will have in south-eastern Australia and it'll impact on perhaps South Australia, New South Wales, South Australia, Tasmania at the same time, I'm concerned about whether the grid will be able to meet the demands of the public given Hazelwood has been taken out of the system. Now these are all issues, very real issues that people are concerned about. Obviously for me the impacts have been very local in terms of job losses in my community. But in terms of the broader conversation about how we provide reliable and affordable energy, it is a critical issue for the Federal Government to be involved in.

Patrica Karvelas: So in that context would you like the Government to look at options like taking over, refurbishing Hazelwood and taking control? Is that the sort of outcome that you would be pushing for internally?

Darren Chester: I think Patricia the horse has bolted in relation to Hazelwood. It is the oldest power plant of the four majors in Latrobe Valley. But I don't think there is any doubt you can be refurbishing and reducing the emissions of the existing power plants there. Your Yallourn W, Loy Yang A, and Loy Yang B. I am open to suggestions about how we provide for that reliability and that affordable energy supply that Australians desperately want.

Keep in mind that this is a direct impact on individual households, particularly low and fixed income earners, but also as energy prices increase we lose our competitiveness and our small business and our manufacturing sector and that has an impact in terms of job risks in the community. So this is a critical issue for the Federal Government to be involved in. It is an area where we have seen the failure of the experiment in South Australia where the Labor Government over there invested its future too heavily in renewables, which were unreliable and resulted in blackouts across the state and we have seen the precipitous nature of closure of power stations like Hazelwood. We need to work through these issues. These are very difficult issues. We need to work through these issues in a practical and a systematic way to provide Australian people with that reliability of energy supply and more affordable power prices, but also meeting our international obligations.

Patrica Karvelas: Just finally this week the Government wants to focus on getting Gonski 2.0 through the Parliament. The Greens say they won't be rushed into making a decision on policy and I know that the Government hoped to get this through by the end of the week. We know Simon Birmingham's putting that argument very much on the table and pushing this very strongly. Will you get it through by the end of the week? How important is this win for the Government?

Darren Chester: Well it is important. It's important for all the Australian community. We have come back to the Australian people with a model for increased school funding in the order of $18.6 billion over the 10-year period. There has been a level of…

Patrica Karvelas: But it looks like it might be more based on these leaked reports. I mean are you really prepared to bankroll even more money in to frontload it to ensure Greens support?

Darren Chester: You are asking me to comment on leaked reports and speculation on the Sunday before a very important sitting week. I will leave Simon Birmingham the Minister responsible to keep doing his job of negotiating with the crossbenches. I mean Labor has dealt itself out of the conversation. They have made themselves irrelevant this week. They are not part of the debate about school education funding going forward because they are simply saying no and making ridiculous claims about a cut when we all know the education funding under the model put forward by Simon Birmingham will increase by $18.6 billion over a 10-year period. So Simon will do his job this week and I'm very hopeful that the crossbenches and or the Greens will see the value in this and the need for a needs-based and a transparent approach to education funding. The Australian people are certainly asking for it and I think he has got a very good model on the table.

Patrica Karvelas: But having said that you are willing to do any deal you can to get the Greens on board? Because you know, back when I use to travel with the Nats during the campaign I remember John Anderson going on about the Greens being basically communist, you know, green on the outside, red in the middle, and now you want to do a nice little deal with the Greens which puts even more money into education at a time obviously where the Budget is under significant constraint.

Darren Chester: Well John Anderson had every reason to be sceptical about the Greens. I share his same scepticism. But in terms of your education funding model we are putting forward, Simon Birmingham, the Minister responsible is having conversations with the crossbenches and with the Greens. It is not a question of doing a deal at any price. It's putting forward a responsible and a fully costed package, one that will provide that transparency and the needs-based funding model that Gonski originally progressed years ago. This is an opportunity this week to get some good work done in the Parliament and I'm confident that under Simon's stewardship we will get a deal done this week. Now it is a question of let's go through the processes of the Senate and let's see how we go.

Patrica Karvelas: Darren Chester, thanks for joining me. I hope you have a great week.

Darren Chester: All the best. Thank you.