Interview with ABC Afternoon Briefing

GREG JENNETT [HOST]: Let’s bring in our political panel today, and joining us from Ti Tree in the Northern Territory, Assistant Regional Development Minister, Anthony Chisholm. Welcome, Anthony. And from Deniliquin on New South Wales southern border, Nationals Senator, Perin Davey. Welcome back, Perin, and congratulations, very briefly, might be in order for your endorsement to go on the New South Wales Senate ticket again next year. Let’s get into the issues of the day. Nuisance tariffs – Anthony Chisholm, the budget will see about 500 or more of these nuisance tariffs removed so that an administrative burden is taken off the shoulders of Australian business. But how likely is it that chopsticks, toothbrushes and tractor tyres, not to mention pens, will get any cheaper for we the consumers? 

ANTHONY CHISHOLM [ASSISTANT MINISTER]: Thanks, Greg, and good to be with you. I think the Treasurer – and I didn’t get to see his press conference live, but I saw his statement – where he was quite honest about that. He expects it to have minimal impact on cost of living, but it’s an important reform by the same token, and it will ease the burden on businesses, cut red tape. That’s something that’s significant. I did see the list – I think you missed roller coasters and dodgem cars there, Greg, which are a personal favourite of mine. But I think it is, to be serious, an important reform that I think will be welcomed by the business community. And it shows that this is a government that is hungry to tackle reforms and implement change that is going to make a difference to, whether it’s people’s lives on the Stage 3 tax cuts for Australian workers or whether it’s something like this that is going to have a positive impact for Australian businesses. That’s a good thing for the country. 

JENNETT: All right. Anything and everything, Perin Davey? Is everything worth a shot in the midst of a cost of living crisis? 

PERIN DAVEY [NATIONALS DEPUTY LEADER]: We always welcome a reduction in red tape. Anything that makes life easier for our businesses is fantastic. But the reality is, as Anthony just said, this will have very little impact on Australians and their hip pocket. I think the calculations, it might be the equivalent of $1.10 per year savings to the average Australian household. What we're not seeing from this government is their plans to actually reduce the inflationary pressures that will have a real impact on the cost of living pressures that we’re all facing. You know, we need to improve productivity. We need to reduce the inflationary pressures. But from this government, we’ve just got bad policy after bad policy that is not relieving the pressures in any significant way. 

JENNETT: All right, so what then? What hasn’t been addressed that should be, Perin? 

DAVEY: Well, you know, we’ve seen poorly managed migration. We’ve seen energy market interventions that have actually had the reverse of relieving cost prices on the energy market. We’ve seen broken promises after broken promises on taxes, be it franking credits, superannuation taxes or even the Stage 3 tax cuts that they changed. And we’re not seeing anything that will actually improve the productivity of our nation. 

JENNETT: All right. Let’s move on to another contested area of policy. Anthony Chisholm, we’ll go to you first of all on this: the vehicle efficiency standard, listening to Chris Bowen at the weekend, he does seem willing to accommodate industry concerns, and there are a few of those you might have noticed. Do you think the government is now resigned to having to revise or slow down the introduction of this so-called ute tax, Anthony? 

CHISHOLM: Thanks, Greg. And when it was first announced by Minister King and Minister Bowen they were clear that this was going out to consultation. They were clear saying this is our preferred model, but they were also open to feedback. That process has now ended. I saw the interview with Minister Bowen yesterday on the ABC where he said that there are thousands of submissions that they need to go through to take that on board. So they were always, as part of this process, willing to take on board feedback. But I thought importantly the Minister did a very good job yesterday of combating the scare campaign from those we’ve had opposite. It wasn’t that many years ago that they were going to implement their own scheme and they ended up not going ahead with that. And what we’ve seen since we announced our plan is nothing but a scare campaign from those opposite. The country deserves so much better. This is an important issue. It will provide more choice for Australian motorists, and that is a good thing. And we are the only country, the only modern economic country, along with Russia that don’t have a fuel efficiency standard. That’s something that we need to fix. And I’m pleased that this is a government that is willing to take on that challenge. I’d only hope that the opposition, and particularly the National Party, would actually get on board and do the right thing by the country and be constructive. 

JENNETT: All right. Well, clear this one up for us then, Perin Davey, because I haven’t heard too many of your colleagues criticise the concept of a vehicle efficiency standard, only the pace of its introduction and perhaps the ambition of how much carbon it’s trying to take out of transport. So, in principle, you can live with one of these, is that right? 

DAVEY: We’ve always said that we would – we support cleaner fuel efficiency cars. And that’s why when we were in government we did look at it, but the model we proposed at the time was rejected. We went back to the drawing board, and we think that the Labor Government needs to do the same with their model. It’s not the right model. The speed in which they want to put it in place is way too fast for industry, and we’ve even seen some of our major trading partners like Thailand call for a review and not to go forward as fast with this proposal and this model. It’s not the right model. I’m very pleased that Minister Bowen has said that he’s going to go through all the submissions, the thousands of submissions. I hope that they are genuine and that this is not just another tick-a-box consultation exercise that we see all too often from this government. 

JENNETT: All right. Anthony Chisholm, I see you swatting flies there and thank you for coming to us from a really unique location – Ti Tree. You’re in the Barkly Regional Council area, I think, Anthony, and they await – well, we all await a public report in the Territory about why that Council was disbanded last year. How much is that holding up the delivery of infrastructure that was planned and promised for that region, which I presume is why you’re out there today? 

CHISHOLM: Thanks, Greg. Yeah, I’m on my way to Tennant Creek. So I left Alice Springs a couple of hours ago and we’re about halfway there. But I stopped at the fantastic school here in Ti Tree to meet teachers and students, which has been a great opportunity. In terms of the council, the Barkly council, they’d had ongoing issues for a long time and the Northern Territory Government made the decision to dismiss them. That report, as you’ve mentioned, is due soon. I’ve got no insight into what is in that. But, they are an important delivery partner for the Federal Government and the NTG on a lot of matters when it comes to the Barkly regional deal, so it’s obviously not ideal that they haven’t been as functional as they could be. I’m hoping now that that has come to a head and that we can get on with working with the NTG and the Barkly Regional Council to deliver these important community projects. There’s obviously been a lot of barriers, whether it be Covid, whether it now be the Barkly Council, but hopefully we can overcome them. This will be my third trip here in a year. It shows you that the Federal Government are committed to delivering on its part, but we want to work constructively with our partners and traditional owners to ensure that we get this right and deliver on our end of the bargain. 

JENNETT: And what are your observations, being as familiar as you are, Perin, with broader regional Australia on these governance, local governance hurdles that seem to spring up quite regularly, in fact, in the Northern Territory and elsewhere, in this case Barkly Regional Council? 

DAVEY: Yeah, look, it is very concerning when we have issues at regional and local government levels. But it’s good to see that the Northern Territory Government have taken these concerns very seriously and taken action. It’s good to see Minister Chisholm out there and I do note he was out there just last October opening the Barkly Regional Deal’s Business Hub. So I hope he’s going to have another look when he’s there at that. It's important that we get governance right, not just at a local government level but also when we’re talking about land councils and other partners that are delivering programs with Federal Government support. So I hope that all levels are being looked at, the governance is adequate and where it’s not, that the federal and state governments take action. 

JENNETT: All right. Well, that notwithstanding it does look very green out where you are at the moment, Anthony Chisholm. Let’s just finally take both of you well out of domestic politics I suppose to international affairs. We see that with the UN’s Palestinian refugee agency UNRWA, Sweden and Canada have over the weekend our time restored funding, turned the taps back on to that organisation. Anthony, to you: when should Australia? 

CHISHOLM: Well, we should do it when we’re satisfied that UNRWA can meet its obligations. There was obviously serious concerns raised about the behaviour of some of the staff during the attack on Israel. They were taken seriously by UNRWA. Australia with our international partners made the decision to pause. Each partner will make up their own minds about when that resumes. But it is obviously important because UNRWA – and I’ve heard Minister Wong say this a number of times in the Senate – that there is no-one who can really do the work that they do. So it is important that they can resolve these challenges and that people can have confidence that the money that they are receiving is going to where it is needed most. 

JENNETT: And, Perin, should that wait due process, await the evidence about what the involvement was, or alleged involvement, of these UNRWA officials? 

DAVEY: I agree completely with Anthony. I think that we know Hamas in Australia is a terrorist organisation, it’s listed as a terrorist organisation. If an Australian civilian was raising money and funnelling it to Hamas, be it through a third party, that would be a criminal offence. So we need to make absolutely sure that we are confident, as a government, that our funds are not going to inadvertently end up in the hands of terrorists. And I think the government is doing the right thing by waiting for assurances and confidence. 

JENNETT: Yeah, I guess we might also be working with other international partners for clearance on that or coordinated action. We might wrap it up there. Thanking both of you for joining us. It’s a public holiday in certain parts of the country. I’m not sure where both of you are right now is, but it has been elsewhere, so we really appreciate you making yourselves available. Perin Davey, Anthony Chisholm, thank you so much. 

DAVEY: Thank you. 

CHISHOLM: Thanks, Greg. Thanks, Perin.