Transcript - Interview - ABC Afternoon Briefing with Greg Jennett

GREG JENNETT, HOST: Let’s welcome our political panel, Labor frontbencher, Kristy McBain is at Sydney Airport, well away from the New South Wales south coast. And LNP frontbencher, Angie Bell is in Brisbane, less far from her home. Angie I might start with you. First of all, welcome to both by the way, why is the Coalition so strongly of the view that the International Criminal Court request for arrest is anti-Israeli antisemitic, and that Australia might have been able to stop it somehow? Why so?

ANGIE BELL: Thanks for having me on your show Greg. We think that this is overreach by the ICC, and we also think that it’s premature and that Israel hasn’t had an opportunity to run their own internal processes around this. Also, comparing and contrasting a democratically elected Government of Israel with a terrorist organisation that is Hamas is simply ridiculous, and is not appropriate. Let’s remember Greg, and I would like to remind your viewers that 1,200 Jews were slaughtered on that day on October the seventh, the biggest amount since the Holocaust. This is simply not acceptable to compare the terrorist organisation of Hamas with a democratically elected government that is Israel. The only way forward here is it for a ceasefire, and that is if Hamas hands over those 130 hostages. If they hand those hostages over to Israel.

JENNETT: Kristy McBain, pick up that argument, does the Australian Government trust Israel to conduct its own thorough, rigorous and independent investigation into effectively its own actions in this war?

KRISTY MCBAIN, MINISTER: Good afternoon, Greg. Great to be with you again. It’s important that Israel does have the opportunity to do their own investigations. Commenting on what the International Criminal Court does is not going to be helpful to anyone. Like we wouldn’t comment on the court cases happening across Australia, but I do agree with Angie that the comparison between the Israeli Government and Hamas as a registered terrorist organisation is not one that should be made.

JENNETT: Can I just pick you up on that though Kristy, the Prime Minister is the one who asserted we don’t make commentary on such cases. And yet as Dave Sharma argued earlier today Kristy on our program, not sure if you caught it, the Australian Government did make commentary on South Africa’s complaint against Israel. And on completely different matters, we get regular commentary about the Assange case in the UK too. Is that a sustainable argument?

MCBAIN: We don’t make comments in regards to what that international court is doing. When we made commentary on the Assange case, we said enough was enough. It’s time for Julian Assange to be able to come home. That is very different to making commentary about warrants being issued against the Israeli Prime Minister. Those things are very different.

JENNETT: All right. Just on that… 

BELL: Greg, can I just say on that the Prime Minister’s squibbed it on this and he needs to grow a backbone and he needs to stand up for our democratic allies around the world. He’s dodged this question, and he needs to harden up.

JENNETT: All right, let’s move on. Time is really going to be tight for us today. Telstra jobs Kristy, I’ll start with you on this, 2,800 of them slated to go. They’re in what’s called the Enterprise division, but I’m wondering whether you as Minister have questions about the regional implications of this downsizing to use the managerial term?

MCBAIN: Absolutely. I want 2,800 jobs to be going towards getting better coverage across the country for regional Australia. I want to make sure that the change to 3G turn off doesn’t impact regional businesses, or the footprint that is currently covered. I want to make sure that the 2,800 jobs don’t affect regional communities and people spending their money in our local economies. Telstra has just posted a billion dollar profit. I want to make sure that they’re putting that money into giving coverage and getting service to the communities who need it, who expect it, and who absolutely want it.

JENNETT: Governments hold the whip hand on some of these obligations. Might you hold them to those standards if they do lose the jobs and they’re not provided?

MCBAIN: We’ve said already that we’re prepared to push back that 3G turn off if it’s going to have an adverse impact on regional communities. There hasn’t been enough communication to make sure that people’s handsets are going to cope with any change. There hasn’t been enough consultation with regional communities about what that changing footprint might look like. We’ve been pretty strong on this from day one. We want Telstra to deal with this issue and make sure that they aren’t hurting regional communities and will continue to stand up for regional communities.

JENNETT: Well, Angie, the argument from Telstra is that revenue is flatlining. Effectively costs are going up. What’s your position? Do you think this is the way of the world in the tech sector in communications, you’ve got to cut your cloth as a corporation?

BELL: Firstly, what I would say to regional Australia is that they know that the Labor Government does not care about them.

MCBAIN: What a joke.

BELL: 2,800 jobs across our country in the regions particularly is very bad news for families. It has flow on effects into communities. This is thousands and thousands of livelihoods that we’re talking about here. And the fault lies squarely with the Labor Government’s inability to manage our economy. We’re in a cost-of-living crisis. Unemployment is going up because businesses simply can’t make ends meet, particularly in small business, in hospitality, in construction. All of these sectors are down, and it falls squarely at the feet of Anthony Albanese and Jim Chalmers and their inability to manage the Australian economy. That is why businesses are now putting off staff. We’ve heard it heard it from mining giants.

MCBAIN: Telstra have a billion profit, and that has absolutely nothing to do with what we are doing.

JENNETT: Kristy, I’ll let Angie finish that point. I’ll come to you in a moment Kristy. Angie wrapping up that point, you’re saying it’s a sign of the deeper malaise, right?

BELL: Of course it is, we’re in a cost-of-living crisis Greg and families can’t afford to put food on the table. Businesses certainly can’t afford to pay their employees on full time wages. There are laws that are in place thanks to the Labor Government. Conditions are getting harder, they are worsening, unemployment is starting to tick up. That’s why there’s talk of an early election.

JENNETT: Alright, Kristy, I see you shaking your head furiously there and I wasn’t trying to catch you off. But take up Angie’s point then about this being a symptom of something deeper in the economy.

MCBAIN: We have no doubt that the cost-of-living is biting people, which is why our budget actually focused on those cost-of-living measures. Making sure that we’re giving a tax cut to every Australian across the country, making sure we’re giving energy rebates to everyone connected to the grid. Freezing medicine prices for pensioners and concession cardholders and everyone else who has PBS medicines. Cheaper childcare. When we brought back Parliament to put a cap on coal and gas prices, Angie voted against it, but we are talking about Telstra here, and they’re shedding 2,800 jobs. They’ve just posted a billion dollar profit, and I don’t think that Angie can equate whatever she was trying to do to what Telstra are doing.

JENNETT: Alright, Angie go on, I see you again, just keep this going. I see you shaking your head.

BELL: Shaking my head.

JENNETT: Yeah, go on.

BELL: Absolutely. Kristy, I think the Labor Government is dreaming, you don’t seem to understand what it’s like out there for Australian communities who can’t pay their bills. Now $75 a quarter from the Prime Minister and from the Treasurer to Australians is a joke. It’s laughable when the Prime Minister promised $275, no less than 97 times before the last election. And Australians who have a mortgage of $750,000 are paying an extra $35,000, $35,000 a year for their mortgages thanks to this Labor Government, with 12 interest rate increases. You’re dreaming.

JENNETT: Kristy, Last word to you. I might just invite the question since Angie raised it, is there a smell of pre-election positioning about this week and last?

MCBAIN: Absolutely not. The Prime Minister has been clear that we want to go full term and Angie, the biggest joke was hiding electricity increases before the March 2022 election, which is what your Shadow Treasurer, Angus Taylor did.

BELL: Kristy, we will never vote for bad legislation because we put Australians first.

MCBAIN: You hid the electricity prices, not us.

JENNETT: Okay, a lot of head shaking today. We’re going to leave it there. Angie Bell, Kristy McBain, appreciate it, thanks.