ABC Weekend Breakfast

Interview

DCI077/2017

20 August 2017

Subjects: Port rail shuttles, citizenship, transport security.

Andrew Geoghegan: We are joined by Transport and Infrastructure Minister Darren Chester. Darren Chester, welcome.

Darren Chester: Good morning, how you going?

Andrew Geoghegan: I understand first off that you have an announcement to make today as far as trying to ease traffic congestion in Melbourne.

Darren Chester: One of the big issues we are facing with cities like Melbourne is the congestion; often caused by the movement of heavy vehicles carrying freight around the city. So we are working with the Victorian Government on some port rail shuttles. So what that means is using our existing rail network, upgrading the intermodal hubs to get more of the freight task onto rail, and less of that container movement on our suburban streets. So it is a good announcement, about $58 million in total, a partnership between the federal and state governments.

Andrew Geoghegan: Let's move to the issue of security. Certainly as far as transport is concerned, there has been criticism in the past from national security experts that airport security around the country is not up to scratch. The Government today is reviewing and will release a review of security around the country. As far as public places are concerned, what measures can we expect?

Darren Chester: Well firstly let me say the aviation security settings are at an elevated level following the terror plot that was uncovered only a few weeks ago. I'd have to say the Australian travelling public should be reassured that there is no such thing as set and forget when it comes to our preparations around aviation security. We have a great safety record here in Australia. But in relation to the Prime Minister's announcement–which I believe will be made later on today–it is regarding settings around crowded places; how we can work with local and state government and business-holders around crowded places; which we have seen have been targeted overseas, where we have had vehicles–obviously and most recently in Barcelona–driving into crowded places and causing great amounts of injury and death. So the Prime Minister after the Nice attack last year has been working very closely with the state authorities on we can have a how to guide, almost, for working with local agencies, and how the business sector can work in partnership with governments on reducing the threat to people as they gather in large numbers at festivals, events, mass transit centres for transportation, that type of thing.

Andrew Geoghegan: Yeah, given you are the Minister for Transport. We have, of course, seen public transport targeted by terrorism around the world. How do you protect various transport hubs?

Darren Chester: Our greatest defence, inevitably, is going to be constant vigilance by us all; looking for anything unusual, reporting that to authorities, that type of thing. But there's also the engineering treatments we can bring into play. You have seen bollards put in place, some temporary ones, in some of our cities. I think in the future we will see more decorative approaches; perhaps we may have planter boxes put in places that would be more attractive, but also achieve the purpose of separating vehicles from vulnerable pedestrians. I think you are going to see more use of police and security agencies around mass gatherings. We are making sure we are keeping vehicles separated from where pedestrians may be crossing roads or accessing large thoroughfares. So it is a constant battle for us. It is a tragic reflection of our times that we need to be taking these sorts of measures. But at the same time, we need to make sure that we get to enjoy the great freedoms we have here in Australia. So we can't let these very small number of people, these terrorists interrupt our great lifestyle here in Australia.

Andrew Geoghegan: Will some of these measures though impinge on those freedoms that we have?

Darren Chester: Well I think inevitably there will be restrictions that may affect people as they go about their daily lives, but it is a balancing act I guess. We are committed to keeping Australians safe; it is the number one priority of the Federal Government. We are committed to keeping people safe as they travel through our airports or through other mass transit centres, or as they gather at these great festivals and events and sporting activities that we are so famous for. So it is a balancing act, but we need to get the balance right in terms of putting safety as the number one priority. I encourage people to also remain vigilant and report any suspicious activity.

Andrew Geoghegan: Darren Chester, let's turn to the issue of the dual citizenship saga. We have three members of your party now in doubt as far as their eligibility is concerned. How would you describe the situation your party is in?

Darren Chester: Well we have had a rotten few weeks, we acknowledge that, in terms of making sure we have the vetting procedures up front when people nominate to become a candidate. We need to do better at that and we will do better at that. I mean we have had the situation in the past where people simply sign their nomination form, indicating that they don't have any dual citizenship. Perhaps the fact that this will come as a bit of a shock to the Australian people that having been born in Australia–and by virtue of that you are an Australian citizen–then having citizenship imposed on you by the laws of a foreign nation and not know about it, is something that I think has come as quite a surprise to a lot of people. It certainly came as a surprise to some of my colleagues. We will get better at making sure we get the procedures right up front.

But it is important to note, we have been upfront and honest with people, in the sense that once the Members of Parliament realised they had a question to answer, they have self-referred themselves to the High Court as the Court of Disputed Returns, to make sure we get some clarity. I would encourage Bill Shorten and the Labor Party to do the same thing. If they have got members with any concerns at all, they should be referring to the High Court and be honest and upfront with the Australian people about it.

Andrew Geoghegan: But fair to say that your party–the National Party–has been careless?

Darren Chester: We can do better. We are going to have to better. For Barnaby's situation; he had no idea that he was a dual citizen by virtue of descent, by virtue of the fact that his father had been born in New Zealand and moved to Australia in, I think, 1947. So it came as quite a surprise for Barnaby, and the same situation for Fiona Nash, it came as quite a surprise for her as well.

Andrew Geoghegan: So the question remains. Why has Matt Canavan stepped aside, yet Barnaby Joyce and Fiona Nash remain in their positions?

Darren Chester: I think that is a very good question, and the answer, quite simply, is that Barnaby and Fiona, upon receiving the information from the New Zealanders and the UK Home Office, sought legal advice through the Solicitor General immediately. The advice they received was that they were still eligible–had a very defendable case, if you like–to take to the High Court, and that is where quite appropriately the decision will be made. Matt acted without getting that advice and made his own decision at that time to report that he should be going to the High Court to seek some clarity.

Andrew Geoghegan: So you think that was perhaps a mistake on Matt Canavan's part?

Darren Chester: Well on reflection, I am sure Matt may have taken a different approach. I think at the time, having been made aware of the situation that his mother had sought citizenship for him on his behalf without his knowledge, he took the step of standing aside from the ministry. Now given what we know now, and the events that have flowed since that day, I think the approach that Fiona and Barnaby have taken, and Nick Xenophon has taken the same approach–self-referral to the High Court to get some clarity. I would have to say Nick Xenophon's comments yesterday about Labor staffers or others beavering around behind the scenes to try and uncover things about him, I thought really reflected very poorly on the Labor Party. I think rather than indulge in the dark arts and be shifty behind the scenes, Bill Shorten and his crew need to be upfront with the Australian people. If they have got other people they have concerns about they should be reporting them to the High Court.

Andrew Geoghegan: And Darren Chester, there are another two members of the National Party, whose positions may also be in question–not in relation to citizenship, but their business interests. We have David Gillespie; he has been referred to the High Court. There is also Senator O'Sullivan, Barry O'Sullivan, who was the director of a company that he established. There's a question whether he has a pecuniary interest in an agreement with the Commonwealth. Will he be referred to the High Court?

Darren Chester: Well I have seen the statements that both Barry O'Sullivan and David Gillespie have released in relation to these issues. They have both made public statements and they believe there are no issues there at all in terms of their business interests. I think it is best if I leave that to the court proceedings.

Andrew Geoghegan: Why not refer that matter though to the High Court, just to clear it up completely?

Darren Chester: Well I understand the Gillespie matter has been referred to the High Court. I'm not sure what…

Andrew Geoghegan: But as far as Barry O'Sullivan is concerned?

Darren Chester: I'm not sure what has happened in relation to Senator O'Sullivan's issue. It only became apparent to me on Thursday, so I'm not sure what has occurred over the last 24 or 48 hours.

Andrew Geoghegan: Darren Chester, thanks for joining us.

Darren Chester: Thank you.