07 February 2019
Subjects: Norfolk Island, priorities for the ACT
Adam Shirley: You will be well aware that the ACT is not an island in a vast land with no one else around it. It seems obvious to say, I know, but the plans, the progress of this region, are directly linked to other governments—federal and New South Wales, for instance.
Federal Liberal MP Sussan Ley was made Assistant Minister for Regional Development and Territories towards the end of last year. She's responsible for overseeing federal government policies and money that affect the ACT. So it is pretty important from an ACT perspective to hear from her at the beginning of this election year. Assistant Minister Ley, thank you very much for making your time for speaking with us on Mornings.
Sussan Ley: Good morning, Adam. It's lovely to be here in your studio.
Adam Shirley: People might wonder how important your role is, what influence you have over the Territory's life and times. In a nutshell, how would you describe it?
Sussan Ley:I would describe it as a shared responsibility with the ACT Government about planning and that means our institutions, our monuments, our memorials, the layout and landscapes of this beautiful city that I actually went to school in—so I love Canberra as do the residents; and making sure that we present the best possible face to the world in terms of our history, our culture, our heritage and its future. So, it is very much a joint role with the ACT. We give the ACT Government financial assistance grants, just like a local council would receive them, and my role with the ACT and the Northern Territory is probably not as prominent as it is with our external territories—Norfolk Island and Christmas and Cocos Island.
Adam Shirley: So there are quite a few discussions and even disagreements about the role the federal government has, say, in Norfolk and its oversight—and we'll get to the ACT planning issues as well as some tensions around how the city should look and be built soon. But on Norfolk Island, how difficult is that issue at the moment given the want of some residents to fund and run their own jurisdiction versus what the federal government has responsibility for?
Sussan Ley: Well, Norfolk Island had self-government up until 2015 and now, it's come under Australia so it is part of Australia but it still has its own identity as an external territory. I visited there recently and I acknowledged that the pace of change has been fast and furious and for some, a little bit too fast and furious; and that we need to respect and recognise the unique nature of the island. And the fact that the circumstances for people there, given their relative isolation, the small population, and the challenges they face as does every regional and rural community…
Adam Shirley: [Talks over] Sure. But-
Sussan Ley:…but separated by ocean, it's quite unique.
Adam Shirley: And have they been considered enough? Have they been consulted enough? Because the reports I've read and some I've spoken to suggest they feel like they're being run over the top and told this is how it's going to work.
Sussan Ley: Some of them do feel like that and that's why I've acknowledged these issues with them and try to accept that that pace of change was rapid. But I'm also seeing an emerging entrepreneur type of community that is embracing their identity with, some say mainland Australia or just the rest of Australia, in many different ways, loving the fact that they now have access to Medicare, to our social security systems, to pensions, to childcare, and that they have that wider support. But it isn't about being absorbed and just becoming like any other place in Australia, it is always going to have its separate identity, and anyone who visits becomes…
Adam Shirley: [Talks over] [Indistinct]
Sussan Ley: …as I have, very passionate about Norfolk Island.
Adam Shirley: So, if there are continuing disagreements about what sort of society it is becoming since the change in 2015, does the government leave open the possibility to change the way that the rules currently work and the way that the federal government has oversight for this jurisdiction?
Sussan Ley: Well, I think we are building up the capacity of the Norfolk Island Regional Council so that it does a bit more than some local governments in Australia, so that we can where possible devolve responsibility, because it's not about any one in this part of Australia telling the island how to run their show; it's about giving them that responsibility. And, yeah, these things often come down to resources. The resources are not there to do everything everyone wants but we have just made significant injections to rebuild the runway and to put more flights, and I'm working on better shipping between Australian ports and Norfolk Island.
Adam Shirley: [Talks over] Okay.
Sussan Ley: …obviously, they depend so much on what arrives by boat and by air, including tourists, and I just want to give, as I always do, a plug to the island as a tourist destination. It's not that expensive to get to. Please, don't go to Bali and Fiji. Pease, visit our external territories and see the magic for yourself.
Adam Shirley: Now, let's get to the Territory because obviously the federal government and the ACT have had, well, a checkered relationship through the years since self-government. What are the priorities you see for infrastructure, for funding, in the ACT and the role that the federal government has in that?
Sussan Ley: Well, those priorities are correctly set by the ACT Government. Where something takes place inside the Parliamentary Triangle, as it's called, or in the Central Basin, then the National Capital Authority has an interest and an involvement. Now, that's an independent authority, statutory authority, with a board chaired by Terry Weber, as many know, and a board of people passionate about the ACT. I think the ACT can be rightly proud of the NCA and its involvement, and it will always say it takes a long-term view because when we talk about the planning for our institutions, our memorials and our heritage here, it does have to be a long-term view. It has to be a 50-year view. It's interesting that Washington, which is often compared- Washington and Ottawa are often compared to Canberra, has just used up the last piece of ground for a memorial, which is to the native American population, and there isn't anything left. So we've got to be really careful about how we plan in the ACT.
Adam Shirley: [Talks over] Sure.
Sussan Ley: So I think it's that positive, shared consultative planning arrangement that we have and lots of people contact through me, the NCA, or they contact me directly. They have issues about what should go where, the height of buildings, light rail stages one and two, and so on.
Adam Shirley: Yeah, we'll talk about stage two very soon. Chief Minister and Treasurer Andrew Barr has recently on this program been openly critical about the current federal government and its maybe lack of attention or interest in planning and construction in the ACT? Is that criticism warranted in your view?
Sussan Ley: No it's not and you know, I want to have a constructive relationship with chief ministers but I see…
Adam Shirley: [Interrupts] Have you had the chance to meet with Chief Minister Barr yet?
Sussan Ley: No. I haven't. I'm meeting with one of his team next week and I think we need to have a constructive relationship. I don't want this to become a political fight over you know, meaningless words; I really don't.
Adam Shirley: Is that what it is to you? Do you think there's not too much substance just on those disagreements about what should be funded, whether the planning is being done efficiently et cetera?
Sussan Ley: Well, I think that planning- the ACT Government needs to look to its own resources and its own, you know- determine those things in consultation with the people of the ACT because if they don't like what's going on, they—under the democratic process—can address that with their local government. So it is a shared responsibility but self-government means self-government.
Adam Shirley: The Chief Minister has said the current regime, the current federal government doesn't have enough of an interest in things like public transport, public infrastructure such as hospitals. Do you think that's a fair critique in terms of what the ACT Government is trying to do?
Sussan Ley: No it's not and it's a cheap shot if you ask me to simply say we're not getting enough money for hospitals, buildings, infrastructure et cetera and it's an easy thing for any community, anywhere across Australia to say; most of them don't because they understand that they have to- we work within budgetary requirements, the ACT Government works within budgetary requirements and we're not responsible for the efficient use of their funds, they are.
Adam Shirley: Do you think more can be done to improve communication at least, so that those sorts of disagreements might be sorted out?
Sussan Ley: Well, I- my approach is not to be difficult politically for the sake of it. I mean I'll always call out what I see as incompetence and poor performance and you know, that's across the board but being political for the sake of it is not any interest to the community of the ACT and if you like standards such as Zed Seselja's record here- I've seen it as practical and supportive of this community moving inclusive, bringing government departments to the town centres often standing up to the rest of our side of politics if they talk about moving too many public servants out of Canberra and by the way Adam, I was a public servant in Canberra under the very old department of the capital territory prior to self-government and you know, this is an important centre for the public service.
Adam Shirley: We're hearing from Sussan Ley who is the Assistant Minister for Territories, for Regional Development. Our guest on Mornings at a quarter to ten. Adam Shirley with you. Light rail stage two, clearly the final route through the Parliamentary Triangle is contested and there is a joint standing committee looking at this at the moment. But do you want to see a conclusion soon to the assessment around heritage values and where that route might go?
Sussan Ley: Well, I think it's important to finish stage one and see how that performs and I mean if I was being unkind, I would say I haven't met a single person in Canberra who's excited about light rail.
Adam Shirley: Really?
Sussan Ley: If I was being kind, I would say the jury is still out and I'm just- look, I'm just not sure.
Adam Shirley: Do you think that's a fair comment that if you're being- I think you said unkind, not a single person is excited about light rail?
Sussan Ley: Well, I haven't spoken to anyone who's excited about light rail and that doesn't mean…
Adam Shirley: [Interrupts] What are they saying to you about it?
Sussan Ley: Well, they're annoyed about the- obviously, the building works in Northbourne Avenue. They're not confident that it will actually be a transport—you know, is it transport or is it a ride to look at parts of Canberra; what will it contribute in terms of adding more traffic to other parts of the road. There's a lot of concern about the Parliamentary Triangle and I acknowledge that stage two. So my personal view is let's see what happens; here it is and you know, there's no point in complaining. Construction will be finished and then let's see how many people actually use stage one and how it delivers on its original intention for the people of Canberra.
Adam Shirley: And use that information you're saying to them to finalise the route for stage two? Where it might go?
Sussan Ley: Look, that's already progressing and I'm aware of the work of the Joint Standing Committee and its part- you know, the government has yet to give its response. Personally, I feel very uncomfortable about it going through the original- straight through the middle of the Parliamentary Triangle.
Adam Shirley: For heritage reasons?
Sussan Ley: For heritage reasons and you know, once something like that is there, it actually can't be removed. Now, sure it won't have overhead wires, that's already been settled but when you consider the amount of disturbance to you know, that really special part of our national capital representing so much of our Commonwealth and our country, it didn't really make any sense so I was you know, I mean Ben Morton, a colleague of mine, has chaired the Joint Standing Committee and pretty much suggested that that's not a great idea. So- but look, there's heritage work that still has to happen with the alternative route across Commonwealth Avenue and then turning right around State Circle away from the Parliamentary Triangle, that's not without its heritage issues either. If you consider Adelaide Avenue between the Lodge and Government House I mean that's between you know, our head of government and our head of state. Yeah, this is why the approach has to be careful and it has to be considered and it has to respect a lot of different points of view.
Adam Shirley: You mentioned before public servants moving in and out of Canberra, you were one. On the decentralisation of the public service, is it a fair call to say that the APVMA may move has been a bad idea?
Sussan Ley:I think it's been difficult and there's no point in not accepting that. However, APVMA has said that key scientists and that capability will remain in Canberra and you know, the organisation has other extension and delivery aspects that can be outside the capital city. Look, I'm a regional member of parliament my particular seat is Western NSW; goes all the way from Holbrook, Albury to the South Australian border and I'm campaigning to have the Murray Darling Basin Authority located in part, in my election. I'm happy with the hub and spoke model, I think it makes sense.
Adam Shirley: And why does it make sense if you're splitting up areas of intelligence, the brains trust, on these key issues, why would splitting up that department make sense?
Sussan Ley: If you're talking about the Murray-Darling Basin Authority, it makes sense to be in the basin itself. And look, Canberra is technically just about in the basin, you know.
Adam Shirley: The Murrumbidgee feeds straight into it, so …
Sussan Ley: That's true. But the pain and the challenges in rural and regional communities is very much in Western New South Wales. So if we're recruiting new people, for example, why not say if you want to work for this organisation, your job will be in regional Australia. I know, it's challenging if you got you family, your house, your school, I mean, suddenly to be told your job is moving, of course that's a challenge. But recruitment happens continually. And I think it really does make sense for some of our agencies to put people out in those regions, and …
Adam Shirley: [Interrupts] If you're talking about those particular bodies, though, the APVMA, and the Murray-Darling Basin Commission. I mean, in the APVMA's case, you saw a lot of experienced, trusted scientists leave because they could not up and move their entire lives. How much of a risk is there that you lose the very thing that make those organisations crucial, that is their knowledge and their key scientific understanding?
Sussan Ley: Well, what you're describing, Adam, is a short term effect, but it's a long-term policy that we have to consider. So without reflecting on individuals, that expertise can be recruited and it can be located in the regions.
Adam Shirley: But what if decades of it is lost? I mean, that is a long-term effect potentially.
Sussan Ley: [Talks over] It doesn't need to be lost because the APVMA has said that they will have some of that core capability in Canberra. And, you know, the ability to communicate and the ability to make use of those individuals even though they are not physically where you are is, of course, still perfectly possible. So, I think we have to get a lot smarter than this. We are bringing- I mean, Australia is bringing NBN—fast broadband—to regional Australia earlier than the capital cities and that's a good thing because it actually does allow that continuity and that communication.
Adam Shirley: [Talks over] Whether peaks speed is actually up to the mark. I mean, there had been issues with peak speed not being what is advertised as well. And there are some technical challenges with the NBN if we're going to mention that as well.
Sussan Ley: And yes there are, and having chaired the NBN committee, I know them very well. But I would say that overwhelmingly, the trajectory is pretty good and it's getting better.
Adam Shirley: We're not far off from the election, Sussan Ley. I mean, it's going to be May in all likelihood. What do you hope to achieve and what are your chances of re-election in your view?
Sussan Ley: I think our chances are good. Now, you know, some people would roll their eyes when I say that. But I can look you and anyone else straight in the eye and say that: under Prime Minister Scott Morrison, there is an energy, there is a determination, there is a commitment and we know that we have to connect, seat by seat, person by person. So the national debate goes on and it's always at that high level. I mean, if you look at the ACT, we've got, for example, Leanne Castley, our candidate for Fenner, not a candidate from central casting. A country music singer, someone who's been through the travails of life, who understands small business, who understands community. You know, my personal role is to give a hand to female candidates across the country, so, you know, Leanne is outstanding. But what I'm trying to demonstrate is that we will connect individual people with individual communities.
Adam Shirley: I'm glad you mentioned female candidates. Kelly O'Dwyer is not going to contest. Julia Banks, just on Monday, was speaking further about some of the bullying intimidation which has forced her from the party that you're a part of. How do you rate the party's treatment of women, and perhaps its reckoning or lack thereof, of how to deal better with women and support them?
Sussan Ley: I've been very outspoken on the need for more women in our party and even introducing a quota temporarily to get that core number up. I mean, I've said that, I said it last year. I said it a couple of weeks ago, however …
Adam Shirley: [Interrupts] To put it bluntly, are some of the powerful blokes not listening?
Sussan Ley: No, that's not the case. The issue of how we get women is a complicated one and our state divisions, I think, have to address that in a more determined way. But to suggest that once you arrive in the Parliament, you are somehow treated as a lesser being is absolute nonsense because I've been a member of parliament for 18 years and I honestly hand on heart can say I have not experienced bullying. I have not experienced intimidation. And, you know, I'm someone who would be quite sensitive to that if I was. I've worked in male industries all my life and …
Adam Shirley: [Interrupts] Lucy Gichuhi, Julie Banks, how did you respond when they spoke to you about this? I mean, did you believe them and how did you respond?
Sussan Ley: Well I responded with sympathy because they are female colleagues. But we really haven't got any more of the story and what we have- what we have heard is not something that is specifically directed at women. It's part of the to and fro, it's part of the argy-bargy, it's part of how I've heard, you know, male colleagues speak to male colleagues. And, you know, I'm not acknowledging that they didn't find- I'm not saying they didn't find it offensive because that's not for me to say, but I'm saying that I don't think the average person would have found it offensive.
Adam Shirley: Okay. Is there generally then a need to improve standards so that people can respect each other more within the parliament and that voters can respect what goes on to?
Sussan Ley: To say that the standards don't need improving, look, you can always do better. I mean, I acknowledge that. You can always do better and, you know, in the heat of the timelines, the long hours, the way we work, the nature of Parliament House, you know, of course the wrong thing is said in the wrong way. I absolutely understand that. My point is, I don't see it having a female dimension. I see it having an intense workplace dimension. And so yes, I would appeal to all my colleagues, you know, lift your eyes sometimes from just the minutia show of that individual moments and look at the big picture which is building positive relationships in what is a very weird environment, I have to say.
Adam Shirley: We've got a lot we could have discussed that we didn't get to, but thank you for your time today, Sussan Ley, because there's quite a bit going on in federal Parliament.
Sussan Ley: It's a pleasure.
Adam Shirley: Sussan Ley is the Assistant Minister for Territories and Regional Development, our guest on Mornings.