Interview - ABC Afternoon Briefing

GREG JENNETT: Let's bring in our political panel now and it’s a Queensland Senatorial duo. Labor front bencher Anthony Chisholm and National Senator Matt Canavan is in Yeppoon. And yes, we will go through the normal procedure. Since Matt Canavan has some sloganeering emblazoned in his office on his equipment, that's our way of saying the ABC does not endorse it and does not technologically control it. Welcome to both of you. First of all, why don't we start with Paul Keating? Anthony Chisholm. Yes, similar question to that which we put to Chris Minns. It's unhelpful, isn't it? As respected as your leadership say Paul Keating is, it’s entirely unhelpful to have the AUKUS programme demolished as it was yesterday?

ANTHONY CHISHOLM: Well, when it comes to Paul Keating, he's always interesting, he's always got cut through. But on this issue, he's not always right. And I think anyone who's followed this debate over the last few years, as we've been from opposition to government, they would acknowledge that we haven't agreed with Mr Keating on this over the last couple of years. He obviously saw fit to do what he did yesterday. I noticed that the Deputy Prime Minister and the Prime Minister have been reluctant to criticise him personally, but highlight why we've made the decision that we have, and that's because we're operating as the current government and not one that was in power 30 years ago.

GREG JENNETT: All right, Matt Canavan, I see you're going to try, I anticipate, you're going to try and sort of springboard off nuclear subs into nuclear energy. But on a Paul Keating question, is there anything about his doubts towards China or about the US and the UK that aligns with your worldview, your strategic outlook?

MATT CANAVAN: Well, look, I've got no problem with Paul Keating expressing his views. It's just that perhaps if they're going to make a remake of Grumpy Old Man, he could be a perfect fit for the role. It's been a long time since Paul was at the centre of decision making in this country and a lot of things have changed since then. And I think the problem, the whole problem with Mr Keating's analysis is he jumps off from the wrong premise. He clearly seems to think that the Chinese Communist Party is a benign, almost constructive force in our region when all of our security intelligence, I think the common sense of the average people on the street can see that the Chinese Government today is very different than the one that Mr Keating had to deal with in the 1990s. They are taking a very aggressive, bellicose tone to not just Australia, to other countries in the region, threatening their territorial integrity, and we've got to act to defend our own country and our own interests. So this is exactly the right decision. It was proudly and courageously taken by the former coalition government and we fully support the rolling out of the AUKUS agreement under the new government, too.

GREG JENNETT: Yeah, away from the foreign policy substance, Anthony, of what Paul Keating had to say, just to kind of pick up on Matt's phrase there Grumpy Old Man, is there something in the style and delivery of the Keating brand of politics that just doesn't work or doesn't strike a chord in this era. I guess I'm referring here to the manner in which some of the questions were dispatched yesterday. You don't see a lot of that in politics. Is it inappropriate these days?

ANTHONY CHISHOLM: Look, I don't really feel as though I want to lecture Paul Keating as someone who joined the party as a teenager when he was Prime Minister. But the reflection I would make and I'd base this on the style of our current Prime Minister, and he instils in his ministry and assistant ministers and in the caucus that we want to treat people with respect. The Prime Minister has done that as Opposition Leader and now in government where he doesn't play the man, he doesn't get personal, we have our disagreements with people from time to time, but I just feel as though as a mature government, you want to put them in an appropriate way and take the national interest forward, which is what we're doing with AUKUS. But I think the Australian public would acknowledge that's how we've dealt with this since we were elected last year as well.

GREG JENNETT: Quick thought on that, Matt Canavan to elaborate on your grumpy old man thing, is there a delivery and presentation?

MATT CANAVAN: I kinda of enjoy his approach. I mean, he's frank. At least you know where Paul stands, no problem with that. But I will as forcefully disagree with him, and that's good for our debate. I think it's important that we have dissenting voices on. We don't want to lapse into groupthink on these sorts of issues, but for the reasons I've outlined, I don't think Paul's analysis stacks up.

GREG JENNETT: All right, let's move on to energy now. Anthony Chisholm, you're at or approaching the ten month mark of the Albanese Government, and still we get warnings about a mountain of work to be done on underpinning electricity generation, specifically through gas. That's the latest warning. At what point is the Albanese Government going to take ownership for an unresolved problem here?

ANTHONY CHISHOLM: Well, I think we took ownership in the first weeks that we came to power when we were dealt with warnings about how big the challenge is. We rightly highlight the ten years of inaction and the terrible record of our predecessors, but I don't think anyone could say that we aren't taking action to do what we can. I acknowledge that the AER decision yesterday is going to have a big impact on people. People are already doing it tough when it comes to the cost of living. But there was also the acknowledgment that the decisions that we made at the end of last year meant that it hasn't quite reached that peak that people were expecting. So we welcome that and we welcome that endorsement from the AER.

GREG JENNETT: So you're putting Queensland Gas exporters on notice that there will be further intervention?

ANTHONY CHISHOLM: Yeah, the gas one is obviously a really challenging one. And again, we've got some further work that we need to do on the domestic gas security mechanism and the heads of agreement. One thing I would say as a Queensland Senator, is that Queensland has been doing its heavy lifting on gas. I think the shortfall identified has come out of Victoria, and it is quite astonishing to me the stance of the Victorian State Government, where they're willing to accept gas from Queensland, but they're saying they won't have an onshore gas programme themselves.

GREG JENNETT: All right, I was going to follow up Anthony, but I'll hand it over to Matt.

MATT CANAVAN: Well, it's great we've got a Queensland Senate panel here. I'm fully supporting what Anthony just said there about the Victorian Government. I’ve said it many times myself. It's massively hypercritical for the Victorian Government to demand gas from Queensland from the very thing, coal seam gas, that they banned or have banned in their own State. So, look, I just hope this Government starts to encourage gas production. The only solution here is increasing the supply. We have seen the last few weeks somewhat of a road or a path. I think Chris Bowen taking the road to Damascus here on this, he suddenly started talking about gas in more positive terms. Perhaps the penny's dropping for him that we cannot hand over the reliability of our energy system just to weather dependent sources of electricity. If we do do that, it will be complete a disaster. So, look, hopefully the Government gets going here, but I just find it absurd that we're going to have these nuclear subs sailing around a coastline, docking in our harbours, but it will still be illegal to build a nuclear reactor on the mainland.

GREG JENNETT: It's a massive leap. Massive leap though Matt?

MATT CANAVAN: No, not at all. Why would it be much more of a leap at all? Presumably it's got more safety issues being underwater than on land. And we're going to have the high level waste facility now, too, so we'll have that. That hurdle will be jumped. We can store waste from domestic and onshore nuclear energy there as well.

GREG JENNETT: And should that be in Queensland? Anthony Chisholm I noticed, one by one, we seem to have Premiers saying, no, thanks. No, thanks. What about Queensland?

ANTHONY CHISHOLM: Well, I don't think I'll make that announcement here today, Greg, but we do acknowledge that it is something that is going to be dealt with. I thought the announcement from the Government that we were quite upfront about that, that it is going to be a challenge. I know the process that the previous Government went through in terms of identifying a new site that I think Matt might have had some involvement with back when he was a Minister that took decades to sort out. We do have a long time frame in terms of sorting this. I'm confident that the Federal Government will work constructively with State Governments, Territories. But also, I think the evidence out of what we dealt with in South Australia is potential traditional owner groups as well and it’s important that we're negotiating in good faith with them.

GREG JENNETT: Yeah, it's going to have to be a rigorous process. And since we do have a couple of Queenslanders with us, why don't we switch over briefly and finally to the 2032 Olympics? Matt Canavan, are the Commonwealth substantial interests in these games properly catered for in the design of the organising committee that the Palaszczuk Government has put together?

MATT CANAVAN: Well, I've got concerns, Greg. It seems a bit shambolic at the moment, the process that the Queensland Government seems to be leading. We learned this week that the previous costings on the Gabba redevelopment were apparently just from a press release. No proper business case had been done. Learning today that the costs of, mammoth costs of $2.7 billion, partly due to them trying to win some sort of green tick. There needs to be a lot more transparency here. You're right to say the Commonwealth Government is on the hook for a lot of this funding. They're not funding the Gabba, but they're funding other things and money is fungible, so we really should have a lot more oversight. I worry in Queensland, keep in mind, there's a unicameral parliamentary system. There is no upper house, there's very little scrutiny, parliamentary scrutiny on the Government of the day because of that. And we had some arrangements in place under the former Government where the Commonwealth would have half the spots on the Coordination Committee. I worry that the new Government, being of the same political variety, may have given Annastacia Palaszczuk a blank check, but I think there must be much more checks and balances on what the Queensland Government is doing.

GREG JENNETT: And how are you going to ensure that accountability, at least for your own portion of money, Anthony?

ANTHONY CHISHOLM: Yeah thanks, Greg. And I think the way that the Federal Government conducted themselves in the negotiation with the State Government shows that we really are working hard to ensure we get good value for money. In terms of the financial arrangements with the State Government, I think it'd be fair to say it took a couple of months longer than anyone would have hoped to resolve that. But that's because we wanted to be careful and we wanted to do the right thing. I do know that agreement ensures that we do get appropriate federal representation on any oversight and how that money is spent. I'm confident that the government, the Federal Government, will secure the right agreement to ensure that we have appropriate oversight of the federal taxpayer money that is being spent. We do acknowledge it is a lot, but we also understand that it is going to be a really great opportunity for the city, the state and the country when the 2032 Olympics do come around. And we want them to be a great success.

GREG JENNETT: I'm sure everyone's looking forward to it, but a long way to go to get the facilities ready. Anthony Chisholm, Matt Canavan, thanks so much for joining us remotely. You'll be back in town before too long. We might see you within the building of Parliament House here next week. All this.

ANTHONY CHISHOLM: Thanks, Matt. Thanks, Greg.

MATT CANAVAN: Thanks, Greg.