04 December 2017
Subjects: Byelection, leadership, same sex marriage, Nationals deputy leader, weather.
Sabra Lane: Joining us now with more is the Infrastructure and Transport Minister Darren Chester, who is also the Nationals MP for the seat of Gippsland in Victoria. Good morning and welcome to AM.
Darren Chester: Great to be here, Sabra. Great to be back in Canberra.
Sabra Lane: Now you have just heard John Anderson. He says that the Nationals now have to be team players. Will they be?
Darren Chester: Well, I think the vast majority of the Nationals have been team players all the way through. Three or four of my colleagues have had a fair bit to say in the last couple of weeks and it has been a robust public debate and now we get on with delivering everything we said we would do at the last election. I mean the focus has got to be on our regional communities and delivering everything we promised them at the last election and we had a great win on the weekend in New England. Barnaby Joyce will be back this week at some stage we hope, and it was quite a resounding result and I am looking forward to seeing Barnaby back in the top job for the National Party and getting on with business.
Sabra Lane: Alright, there might be a few of them making noises, but they carry megaphones and boom boxes and they have taken a bit of paint off the Turnbull Government and the Prime Minister because they forced him into an embarrassing backflip on the Royal Commission. How does behaviour like that convince voters that you ought to be re-elected?
Darren Chester: Well I think there is a couple of points as I unpack your question. There were three or four and I am not trying to downplay that it wasn't significant in that regard, but it is a challenge for us now to reassure the Australian people that we are focused on them. Now, every second, every minute we spend talking about ourselves in this place, Australian people switch off. They want to hear us talking about our plans for the future. Now, we have actually got a good story to tell. I mean there is 500,000 new jobs being created over two years and in my own portfolio, Infrastructure, as I travel around Australia I see thousands of jobs being created on big projects like the Bruce Highway, the Pacific Highway, the Toowoomba Second Range Crossing, Inland Rail. So there are a lot of great things happening out there and we have just got to get better at telling the Australian people and explain to them why we are using their money in this, how it is going to be benefitting them into the future and how this Government has a good plan, a good vision, to make sure Australia is an even better place.
Sabra Lane: Is George Christensen really on the Government's side? I mean he has admitted, effectively, to colluding with two journalists to try and blast the Prime Minister out of his seat and he lied about it.
On what planet is that being a good team player?
Darren Chester: Well, I think that they are very fair questions and I am not going to do a public commentary on my colleague, George Christensen. George and I have known each other for the best part of seven years. We have always had a good relationship; we have had plenty of robust disagreements on different policy issues. We come from different sides of different issues. He has never lied to me before and I am disappointed and I think he has made a bit of a blue and he needs to explain to the party room why he did what he did. But I don't want to run a commentary on him.
Sabra Lane: Do you trust him?
Darren Chester: Well, he has made a blue and I am a forgiving kind of bloke. I mean, look it is the spirit of Christmas, I think it is forgive and move on. He is going to have to probably explain to his colleagues why he did what he did, but I don't think it helps for me to be running a commentary. As I said before, the moment politicians are talking about internal machinations, talking about their colleagues, the Australian people are switching off. We have got a great program of works in my portfolio I would rather talk about, and when I get out around, regional Australians, they want to talk about better roads, better train links, better airport links. They want to know if their kids can have jobs, what the health and education services look like, how the Mobile Phone Black Spot program is rolling out.
They actually want to talk about real things in their communities; they don't actually want to talk about politicians much at all.
Sabra Lane: Alright. Just quickly a couple of points. Same-sex marriage will be debated in the House this week. You were the first Nat to come out publicly and support same-sex marriage. Are the new amendments that are going to be put in the House just about appeasing conservatives? Is that what this is about?
Darren Chester: Well, people have the right to put amendments forward. I think this is going to be Parliament at its best this week. Australian people say they want to see more Members of Parliament talking freely, talking from the heart, talking with conviction; you are going to see that at the House of Reps this week. I am looking forward to it. I mean it has been a long and somewhat a tough battle, I guess, for advocates of this particular position. The fact that so many Australians voted strongly in favour of same-sex marriage, the fact regional Australians voted in favour of same-sex marriage, I think, is a vindication of the approach the Government took and I am looking forward to the vote being held.
Sabra Lane: Back to the Nats; Barnaby Joyce, you are expecting him back here this week?
Darren Chester: I think so. I think he will be back in the House this week—the result was so resounding in New England. I think it was about a 12 per cent swing in the end to him on primary vote—he will get a majority very quickly, even without all the pre-poll votes coming in. So I think he could be back here sooner rather than later.
Sabra Lane: Is your hand up for the deputy's job?
Darren Chester: No it is not.
Sabra Lane: Who do you expect that that will go to? Because it is tricky negotiating the balance. Some are suggesting that Matt Canavan is the man.
Darren Chester: I expect it will go to the person who gets the majority of votes in the party room, as you would expect. Look, this is one of these occasions where I think Members of Parliament sometimes need to put their own personal ambitions aside for the betterment of the team and I am putting my personal ambition aside to promote a different candidate who I think would be very good for our team and we will wait and see how that plays out.
Sabra Lane: As Infrastructure Minister, just quickly, there has been a lot of heavy rain in Victoria. Are you expecting that that will mean a big bill and that the Commonwealth will have to contribute to it?
Darren Chester: Well, I understand Michael Keenan, the Justice Minister, has already had conversations with my Victorian colleagues. My feedback so far has been while there has been a lot of rain, the actual damage hasn't been as severe as was anticipated going into the weekend. Still more rain to come though. So obviously we are keeping a very close watch and briefing our Victorian colleagues on that. We just encourage people, please listen to the Emergency Service warnings. Don't enter flood waters. We are still seeing people drive into flood waters and get into trouble. Just stay safe and listen to what the emergency service people have to say at this difficult time.
Sabra Lane: Infrastructure and Transport Minister Darren Chester. Thank you very much for joining AM this morning.
Darren Chester: Thanks Sabra, have a great day.