ABC Gippsland Breakfast

Interview

DCI068/2017

01 August 2017

Subjects: Defence industry in Victoria; same-sex marriage; airport security

Jonathon Kendall: The Victorian Government has teamed up with a major defence manufacturer in a bid to secure a contract for a $5 billion fleet of high-tech military vehicles. Defence giant BAE Systems says it will build the 225 vehicles at Fishermans Bend in Melbourne, creating up to 2000 jobs, if it wins the contract.

Member for Gippsland Darren Chester would like to see some of that work done in the Latrobe Valley. Good morning to you.

Darren Chester: Good morning, Jono.

Jonathon Kendall: If BAE wins this contract, what are the chances that it would set up a manufacturing base in the valley when the rest of the work is happening in Melbourne?

Darren Chester: Well, the upside, Jono, for jobs like this, big manufacturing jobs like this, is the supply chain to provide different aspects of a big contract. So while you may have a base in Fishermans Bend—or in the case of Thales with the Bushmaster project, the base is in Bendigo—you can then have suppliers from other parts of the regions doing specific bits of equipment that obviously feed into the whole project.

So look, I think it's good the Victorian Government is working so closely with BAE, and I guess we're on a bit of a unity ticket at state and federal level here. We'd like to see this project make it to Victoria, but of course it needs to go through the proper tendering and contract processes which Defence carries out as a matter of course.

Jonathon Kendall: Yeah, and that's right, there's a fair bit of uncertainty here because BAE Systems has been shortlisted for this first wave of 225 armoured reconnaissance vehicles. If they win it, they could base operations in Victoria, but it's really up to them, isn't it?

Darren Chester: Well, it is early days, but the Victorian Government is pursuing BAE and has had some success in the past working with the Commonwealth on securing defence industries to our state. I guess in many ways it's the same process we went through with the basic pilot training facility at East Sale where there were competing bids, and we worked together at local government level and state government level to lobby for the project to make it to East Sale.

So we've had some success in the past in that type of thing. So I'm just optimistic that we're in the game in the sense that we've got the State Government on side and the federal Coalition members from Victoria are all on side with attracting a BAE Victorian-based project. It's a bit of a wait and see process, but we need to be in it to win it.

Jonathon Kendall: Yeah. Victoria's Industry and Employment Minister Wade Noonan says the contracts could help those who've lost their jobs in the car manufacturing sector. Do you think from that sentiment that the State Government will be focusing on areas like Geelong instead of the Latrobe Valley?

Darren Chester: No, not at all. Look, I've had some private conversations with Wade Noonan and other Victorian Labor Ministers in the last couple of weeks on this issue and others, talking about where we can secure jobs to our regions. So these conversations are going on on a regular basis. When I get the opportunity to meet with Victorian State Labor Ministers, I obviously put our case forward for Gippsland as well as other parts of regional Victoria. I know they're very receptive to seeing the transfer of skills that we have here in Gippsland Latrobe Valley, and we have had obviously some significant job losses of late. They're recognising the need for additional manufacturing-type roles to be based in our region.

Jonathon Kendall: And on to a different topic, marriage equality—something that you support—Liberal MP Trevor Evans has joined three other Coalition MPs in calling to dump the plebiscite policy and allow a free vote in Parliament on same sex marriage. Should there be a free vote?

Darren Chester: Jono, I find this a really difficult issue in the sense that we took a policy to the election where we indicated our view was that the Australian people should have a free vote through the plebiscite. And one of the biggest issues we have in Australia right now is getting people to trust their politicians. And we made a promise at the election, we won the election, we're trying to keep our promise. I'm afraid that Bill Shorten doesn't get to decide which promises we keep and don't keep. So I think we have to pursue the plebiscite policy because that's the one we took to the Australian people.

Now, my personal view—as you indicated—was that I would support a change in the Marriage Act, but this issue has got to such a stage in the conversation around Australia where the Parliament hasn't been able to resolve it for the best part of a decade. The views are mixed in the community. I would say that for a small number of people on either side of the debate it is a really big issue for them, but I think the vast majority are somewhere in the middle, who don't really mind and just want us to get on and focus on other issues, and I believe the plebiscite was a way to deal with that issue.

Jonathon Kendall: So why is a plebiscite the right thing to do for someone who's growing up in Gippsland who may be LGBTIQ?

Darren Chester: Well, when we say it's the right thing to do, I think it ends up being the best way we could manage the issue that has been dividing the community for a long period of time. And people do have strong views on either side, and I'm confident that people can argue their case very reasonably and rationally without it turning into the hate speech that others have warned about. But for a person who's growing up in our community who's same sex attracted, I think the beauty of the plebiscite is it would be the ultimate vindication in the sense that the nation will have spoken and will have had their chance to have their say, and I'd be very confident that the majority of Australians would vote in favour of same sex marriage and the law would then have the backing of the entire nation, rather than the 150 Members of the House of Reps, or the 76 Senators who sit in the other house.

Now it's not an easy issue, I have to say. It's one where, for base political reasons, the Labor Party—which used to support a plebiscite—is now opposing it just to try and divide the Coalition, and unfortunately that's what's occurring.

Jonathon Kendall: Yeah, but just because your party decided that a plebiscite was the right way to go at one point, I mean, that doesn't mean you have to stick to that policy, does it?

Darren Chester: Well, this is back to my point I made, Jonathon, that people are feeling a lack of trust and confidence in politicians. Now, we took a position to the election, and the position was to hold a free vote for the Australian people to hold the plebiscite. Now, I don't know why you'd expect me to change that position just because the Labor Party doesn't support that view. We won Government last year and …

Jonathon Kendall: [Interrupts] Well, it's not so much the Labor Party, but Liberal MP Trevor Evans is saying that he and three other Coalition MPs could cross the floor on this.

Darren Chester: But the point is it was defeated in the Senate by a cynical position of the Labor Party when it previously had supported a plebiscite. We took a position to the election and we won the election, and now we've tried to implement that policy and it's been blocked by the Labor Party. That's unfortunate, but I really do think the Australian people expect us to keep our promise on this one and take it to the Australian people for a vote.

We could have that vote anytime now. I mean, if the Labor Party was prepared to come on board and support that position, we could have that vote and we could actually find out for sure what the Australian people think on this issue.

Jonathon Kendall: On to airline security—we've been seeing longer queues at airports because of this foiled terror plot, as it's called. What more can be done to make sure that passengers are kept safe?

Darren Chester: Well, I think the traveling public understands that this is inconvenient, and I'm certainly sorry for the fact that it's caused some long queues at our major airports, but as the Minister responsible for that I can't make any apology for the fact that we've made safety the number one priority. We've tried to put in measures to keep the 137 million people who travel every year in Australia—whether it's on domestic flights or international flights—all those passenger movements, we try to make them occur as safely as we possibly can. And tragically, there are some people who seek to do us harm, and this was a genuine security threat—we're concerned about the capability. I can't really talk much about the operational nature of the investigation, but we're concerned about the capability that these alleged terrorists had and we're working now to make sure that we put system upgrades in place that protect people as best we possibly can.

So what people need to do is arrive a bit earlier, because there'll be longer queues at the airports while this is occurring. So we're asking people to be at the airport two hours before a domestic flight and three hours for an international flight. They'll see additional activity in the airport—they'll certainly notice the visible presence. They will notice perhaps more screening and testing of baggage and the explosive trace detection we've been doing there for many years is ongoing and they may notice more of that occurring. But I can't really go into too much detail. There'll be some things that people will see are visible and some that will be happening behind the scenes.

Jonathon Kendall: Yeah, what about mandatory photo ID checks on domestic flights; should that be put in place?

Darren Chester: What I won't be doing is second guessing the experts on this one, Jono. So we will get the advice from the people who are directly involved in counter-terrorism operations. The point to remember with mandatory identification for domestic flights is that the bags—whether it's carry on baggage or checked in baggage—is already x-rayed regardless. So it's not a question of trying to establish the identity of the person, it's establishing whether the baggage has anything in it that's going to cause a problem.

The other problem you're going to have is that many people who fly may not have a licence—whether they're older and handed their licence in or young and have never actually had a licence—so identification may be more difficult. And the airports themselves, the airlines themselves, have implemented a whole range of measures where you can check in, leave your bags and have them screened in a self-help-type arrangement which doesn't require you to present to the baggage personnel in the first place. So they've all been efficiencies we've all got used to which have helped make our airports run more smoothly.

Jonathon Kendall: And lastly—because I know you've got a busy day on—but just the Traralgon bypass, we've got $1.4 million allocated from the State Government yesterday to look into whether that should happen, and everyone we've spoken to has just said, look, let's just get it built. Are you in that camp?

Darren Chester: Well, I'm in the camp of yes, get the work done on the business case, because they need to figure out how much it's going to cost. This is the way that the process works. I know people are a bit frustrated by processes sometimes, but the state government has responsibility for the planning side of that type of work. So they will do the work, do the business case, work through the preferred route—which obviously there's been a preferred route for many years now—work on the cost, and then traditionally what occurs is they then come to the Federal Government to seek additional funding assistance for the project to go ahead.

I think there's some real productivity benefits in terms of getting heavy vehicles in particular traveling through the region out of all those traffic lights in Traralgon. I think there's also benefits for small business in Traralgon in the sense that the amenity of the town would be improved. So I think it's a project that's going to occur. I guess getting the business case work done is the first step to figuring out when the scheduling of that work will be and how we're going to pay for it. But it's one that has been talked about for the best part of 20 years and I am largely in the camp of let's get on with it.

Jonathon Kendall: Yeah. Alright, thank you for your time this morning.

Darren Chester: I appreciate your time too, Jono.

[ENDS]