17 August 2017
Subject: Toowoomba project, Airport security measures, MH370.
Ashleigh Gillon: This evening there are reports that your Nationals colleague Senator Barry O'Sullivan may also have breached Section 44 of the Constitution, because he has a stake in a family company, which has been subcontracted to work on a multimillion-dollar government project in Toowoomba. Just how much trouble do you think the Senator is in?
Darren Chester: Well, I don't believe that Barry is in a great deal of trouble, as you refer to it. I think he has made a statement tonight referring the media to his register of interest, which obviously, all members of Parliament are required to fill in a register of interest. Barry takes those responsibilities very seriously, as all members of Parliament do and should. Barry is someone who I have known over the last few years, and I think he is a very diligent member of Parliament, and I'm sure he has fulfilled his requirements there as he is expected to do.
Ashleigh Gillon: It comes, of course, on top of Matt Canavan's woes, Barnaby Joyce, now potentially Barry O'Sullivan. It has been a rotten few weeks in the Nationals. Will Barry O'Sullivan continue to vote in the Parliament while these allegations are investigated?
Darren Chester: Well, it is important to note, Ash, that Members of Parliament are duly elected, and they have the right to fulfil their responsibilities to their constituents, and the people of New England voted Barnaby Joyce into office, and they expect him to vote in the Parliament until such time as he is not eligible to be there. Now in terms of Barnaby's issue it has been referred to the High Court, by Barnaby himself. He unknowingly apparently has had dual citizenship with New Zealand, and it has been well canvassed in the media this week. But quite rightly, he is eligible to be a member of Parliament, he is elected by the people of New England to sit in the Parliament and cast his vote on behalf of the people of New England, and so that's his circumstance.
In terms of Barry O'Sullivan's situation it is just news to me in the last 15 or 20 minutes that there's an issue that he needs to explain in terms of Section 44, but he has made some public commentary around the fact that he has fulfilled his requirements under the register of interest, and we will have to wait and see how that unfolds. In relation to Matt Canavan, again, it is a difficult situation in the sense that unbeknownst to Matt his mum applied for Italian citizenship, and Matt was included on that application, so that is another matter which will be put before the High Court. So, by any stretch, it has been a pretty difficult couple of weeks for my party, but in my estimation, I think my colleagues will all come through the other side of these battles unscathed in the sense that I don't believe they have done anything wrong, and they'll be continuing their jobs and working to represent regional Australia.
Ashleigh Gillon: Well, we will watch that space closely, of course. Minister, your portfolio covers infrastructure and transport. Burkas, as you know, are back in the spotlight after Pauline Hanson's stunt today. Do you have any security concerns about women wearing burkas on planes or in airports or public transport? Does the wearing of burkas pose a risk, in your view?
Darren Chester: Well, I would make a couple of points, Ash, in relation to what I thought was a regrettable stunt in the Parliament today. I mean, I think it is regrettable because it's trying to focus on divisions in our community, and potentially make it more difficult for our security agencies, our intelligence agencies to work with the Islamic community, which has been so important in helping to infiltrate potential risk groups.
So, if there are people who are seeking to do harm to Australians and we know there are a small minority of people who do seek to do that—sources of intelligence information often come from those closest to their community. So, we have good working relationships with the vast majority of the Islamic community. I think it is about half a million followers of the Islamic faith here in Australia, and law-abiding, good citizens, just going about their lives as you'd expect they would. There's a small minority of people—extremists—who seek to do us harm, and we need to receive information on those people, and I don't think dividing our communities by stunts like Senator Hanson's performance in the Senate today are going to be particularly helpful.
Ashleigh Gillon: So again, though, are you entirely comfortable with the burka being worn in places which are seen to be targets for terrorists? Places like airports and on public transport, on trains, on planes.
Darren Chester: Well, Ash, I will take the point in relation to aviation security. The issue of identity is somewhat of a smaller point when it comes to our screening mechanisms and the security around our airports. The key issue in terms of aeroplane security is scanning of baggage to make sure that devices, which could potentially damage the aircraft, don't get on board the aircraft. So, largely, the name of the person is not really a key consideration. It's more about scanning the bag to make sure there's nothing in that bag that could cause any mischief if that person was to carry that into the passenger part of the aircraft, or into the hold of the aircraft.
So I'm relaxed with people wearing religious garments which are important to their faith and I think it is just so important that we seek to work together in our community. Nothing is going to be achieved by dividing our communities up. We have an incredible story here in Australia of hundreds of years now of harmony and we need to maintain that. The way we do that is through mutual tolerance and respect and working with each other. It is not by what I regard as quite a regrettable stunt in the Senate today.
Ashleigh Gillon: Minister, on another matter yesterday we saw a new set of evidence released which purported to pinpoint the likely region, location, of the missing MH370 plane. Last night on this program we interviewed the aviation expert Geoffrey Thomas; he was very excited by this new set of data. Have a listen.
CSIRO has examined these images, exactly where they were taken, and again using reverse drift modelling has said yes, that these are consistent with exactly where we say this aeroplane is, this is where the debris would have drifted to so the culmination of the two things together gives us absolute certainty that this is where the plane is.
Minister, are you also convinced that we now could find the plane pretty easily if searchers did target this new location identified by this evidence released yesterday?
Darren Chester: Well no I'm not and nothing about the search for MH370 has been easy as I'm sure you're well aware. We have searched 120,000 square kilometres of ocean floor and keep in mind we are talking about a search area which is more than 2,000 kilometres off the coast of Perth in some of the most inhospitable waters in the world. The sea conditions they have been experiencing have seen waves in excess of 15 to 20 metres. The search is being carried out in depths of water in excess of four kilometres, sometimes up to six kilometres. So, it has been an incredibly difficult search, really at the edge of human endeavour and scientific technology and expertise.
So it has been an amazing search effort and a frustrating search effort in the sense that we haven't been able to locate MH370 but it is important to note and the ATSB chief Greg Hood noted yesterday that yes, the satellite imagery was of interest but nothing on the imagery was confirmed as being debris from MH370. Certainly, we believe that the imagery indicated that they were manmade objects in the water but that is consistent with other imagery that has been recovered in other oceans of the world when you find manmade objects in the water. So it is not a precise location as some people might like to think. The actual underwater search was suspended earlier this year on the basis that until we had credible new evidence leading to a specific location we would suspend that search effort. I'm hopeful that there will be a breakthrough that will provide some comfort to the relatives of the passengers on board the aircraft who have waited for more than three years now for some level of comfort but we don't intend to resume the underwater search at this stage.
Ashleigh Gillon: But Minister crash investigators, the top experts in the world, are saying that this is that new set of credible evidence that you have been looking for. Malaysia has said that it is now considering the evidence as well. If it does decide to go ahead with another search, would Australia contribute to that financially? Is there any more money on the table from Australia for another search after spending, well I think it is around $60 million so far, will we be willing to contribute again if Malaysia decides to go down that path?
Darren Chester: Well quite rightly as you indicated, Malaysia is the leader investigator, lead agency in terms of the search for MH370 as Malaysian Airlines was obviously originated from Malaysia. But we've worked very closely with Malaysia and the Chinese on the tripartite search effort. Now the total search effort has cost in the order of $200 million and you are right, of the underwater search component about $60 million was paid for by the Australian Government. There have been no requests to us from the Malaysian Government to resume the search effort and we would consider any requests at the appropriate time. A lot of our work in the last 12 or 18 months has been focused on the technical expertise we can offer through the ATSB, through the CSIRO, through Geoscience Australia, and we continue to do that.
We have played a very important role in analysing the debris that washed up in different parts of the world so we have been able to identify about seven different pieces of debris as either certainly coming from MH370 or almost certainly coming from MH370. So we have played a very important role as a nation here in Australia and I am very grateful for the technical expertise we have added to the search effort. As it stands today, the underwater search does remain suspended but will certainly be part of any conversation with the Malaysian Government, at some stage if that is required.
Ashleigh Gillon: Transport Minister Darren Chester, appreciate your time with us on the [indistinct] thank you.
Darren Chester: Thank you.