Transcript - radio interview - ABC Capricornia, Breakfast with Paul Culliver


PAUL CULLIVER: Here on ABC Capricornia, Paul Culliver is my name. Today a bunch of pollies will descend on the Rockhampton Airport to, well, I think open the terminal. Let’s find out. Senator Anthony Chisholm is the Assistant Minister for Education, Assistant Minister for Regional Development, also the Queensland Labor senator.

Good morning to you, Senator.

ANTHONY CHISHOLM: Good morning, Paul. Good to be with you again.

PAUL CULLIVER: What brings you to Rocky?

ANTHONY CHISHOLM: I just actually spent yesterday in Emerald and just driving into Rockhampton now, and here to officially open – or help officially open the new airport terminal, which is very exciting. I’ve been through the terminal a couple times over the last couple of years and seen the new work in progress, so a real pleasure to be there helping with the official opening today.

PAUL CULLIVER: I’ve got to be honest, I think I’ve flown through that terminal a few times since it was finished. I didn’t realise that we haven’t officially opened it yet. But just to talk it through, what is the Federal Government’s part in all of this?

ANTHONY CHISHOLM: So part of – I think the genesis of there being an upgrade to the airport was the requirement for new screening, safety screening, so to make it safer for travellers and those coming in to the airport. So the Federal Government made a $13 million distribution to help with that. And then full kudos for the council for using that as the impetus for a broader refit of the airport. And it’s always a pleasure when all three levels of government – and the state government – come in and support that as well.

And I think it’s particularly courageous for a council to take on such a project over the last couple of years when you think about the impact of COVID on airports. So a great outcome for the local community and the local contractor it’s my understanding who was responsible for doing the work as well as the local government as well.

PAUL CULLIVER: Of course, it comes just as Bonza is soon to take off from Rockhampton, heading to Townsville, Cairns and Sunny Coast in their first tranche of new flights. What do you make of it for Bonza entering the market and what it means for airlines and the competitiveness with Australians getting new planes the air?

ANTHONY CHISHOLM: Yeah, hopefully it’s an exciting time for people in central Queensland and Rockhampton in particular. I know during my various travels through regional Queensland that the cost of travel is such a significant impetus on local residents, whether it’s getting away on school holidays or getting to health appointments. So if it does help reduce the cost of air fares that’s a great outcome for locals. But the terminal upgrade will ensure that there’s a smoother and more pleasant travelling experience as well.

PAUL CULLIVER: What were you doing in Emerald?

ANTHONY CHISHOLM: I was out there I met with the local mayor and the economic development board. I visited the local high school. I met with school leaders and also teaching leaders. And we’ve got parliament sitting next week so I always try and get out and about across Queensland the week before parliament sits just to ensure that you’re hearing from people on the ground about what are the important issues to people in Regional Queensland.

PAUL CULLIVER: Senator Anthony Chisholm is your guest this morning, Queensland Labor Senator.

I’d like to ask you about the safeguard mechanism. Chris Bowen was on this program a few weeks ago talking through this. This is the mechanism by which the Labor government will want to reduce the emissions of some of the highest emitting facilities across Australia, many of which are in central Queensland. The Greens Leader Adam Bandt suggesting that new coal and gas mines could well be a sticking point for support for this legislation, which I imagine you’re going to need in the Senate. What’s the position here of the Labor government?

ANTHONY CHISHOLM: Thanks, Paul, and I was with Chris Bowen in Gladstone when he announced the safeguard mechanism, and we also did a roundtable with local industry and business groups in Gladstone along with Minister Watt after that as well. So it’s been good to spend time in regional Queensland and hear directly from people on the ground about this.

I think it would be fair to say that anyone who’s followed the Greens’ posturing on issues since the election is they often talk a big game but when push comes to shove don’t actually deliver. And what the Australian people need to know is that the Albanese government operates in the national interest. So we will be ensuring that we get the legislation passed, but we will be doing it in a way that ensures we deliver on the national interest, which is what has been a guiding force for us since we were elected in last year.

PAUL CULLIVER: What? So you don’t think you’re going to have to negotiate with them because they’ll just crumble at the pass?

ANTHONY CHISHOLM: Well, look, I’m sure they’ll put forward their position. I think they’ve put forward a similar position in other debates that we’ve had around passing legislation. But we’ve always been successful in getting the outcome that we need. I’m confident that will be the case this time.

As you would be aware, as I’m sure Minister Bowen said on radio, we are open for consultation at the moment, so that process doesn’t end until February 24. And I know Minister Bowen has been genuine in his message to industry and those impacted that he is taking this consultation period very seriously.

PAUL CULLIVER: Given the reductions in emissions that the Labor government has set for itself for 2030 and, indeed, 2050, can we afford to open new coal mines or gas projects?

ANTHONY CHISHOLM: Well, that’s a matter for those industry and businesses that are proposing to do it. So as long as they meet the standards that are set and get government approval then – and they can finance it themselves then those projects should be allowed to occur.

PAUL CULLIVER: How is that possible though? How is that not something the Labor government can consider? Because if you think about those targets that you want to reach, there is a budget, as it were, for carbon emissions in total, in totality, to reach those targets by 2030 and 2050. So if you’re just going to let anyone open up coal or gas projects as long as they can fund it and pass environmental approvals, isn’t there every possibility you’re going to shoot way past those targets and not achieve them?

ANTHONY CHISHOLM: Well, obviously potentially the safeguards mechanism would apply to any new projects that are being opened up. So that would be a matter that they would have to deal with. And I’m sure that they would be considering that when they’re proposing any new coal or gas projects.

PAUL CULLIVER: Does that mean if you’re going to allow new coal and gas projects then you would have to reduce emissions at an even greater clip for other existing facilities?

ANTHONY CHISHOLM: I don’t believe so. I think we’ve set out our ambitions that we want to meet in terms of our 2030 and 2050 targets. So that is what our expectations would be. I’m sure as we go through the consultation process that if there are issues that arise Minister Bowen would feel necessary to address them.

PAUL CULLIVER: All right. Just on another issue, Senator Anthony Chisholm here on the radio today in Rockhampton to open up the terminal, last week Michelle Landry, the federal member for Capricornia, has called on the Labor government to reveal the funding allocation for central Queensland councils. Now, this is part of the Local Roads and Community Infrastructure Project, pointing out that there are sort of something in the order of millions of dollars that would otherwise be heading to councils from Rockhampton, to Livingstone, Isaac, Whitsundays et cetera, is the Labor government going to confirm this so that councils can plan accordingly?

ANTHONY CHISHOLM: We’re committed to the funding. So the next phase isn’t due to start till the next financial year, so there is obviously a period of months. What we’ve sort of found when we’re looking at the budgetary implications is that the previous government often didn’t have appropriate guidelines and processes in place. We’ve made restoring integrity and accountability to government decision-making an important part of what we do in rebuilding people’s faith in government and ensuring that taxpayers’ funds are being spent appropriately. So we’ll make sure that those announcements are made in due course. But the Australian public and locals need to be assured that the spending is appropriate and that there are [indistinct] guidelines in place before that money is announced.

PAUL CULLIVER: So Michelle Landry said the Rockhampton Regional Council is due to receive $1.48 million, Livingstone $906 million - $906,000 I should say, Isaac 1.54. Are those numbers confirmed?

ANTHONY CHISHOLM: I’m sure that they will be announced in due course, Paul. But, as I said, it’s important that we go through proper processes to ensure that the Australian public can have confidence that this money is being spent appropriately.

PAUL CULLIVER: All right. Senator, thanks for your time today.

ANTHONY CHISHOLM: No worries, Paul. Thank you.

PAUL CULLIVER: Senator Anthony Chisholm. He is the Assistant Minister for Education and for Regional Development and, of course, your Queensland Labor Senator.