DEBORAH KNIGHT, HOST: And they are back for the first time this year, our pollies. Labor's Member for Hunter, Joel Fitzgibbon and Energy Minister, Angus Taylor and Angus, you're still on holidays. You couldn't keep away. Welcome to you both.
ANGUS TAYLOR, MINISTER FOR ENERGY AND EMISSIONS REDUCTION: Happy New Year Deb and Joel.
JOEL FITZGIBBON, MEMBER FOR HUNTER: Happy New Year. We are back, fit and energised. But Angus still on holidays! What is going on there?
KNIGHT: Look at that. Ten seconds in and we're having a dig. I love it. Welcome back, fella's. Good to have you with us. I want to start off first with the wake of the National Cabinet meeting which has just wrapped up and not much has come of it. The caps for international arrivals have remained unchanged, there's a lot of uncertainty. More than 40,000, or close to 40,000 Australians are still stuck overseas. What's wrong, Angus with the idea of quarantining international arrivals in regional areas, because effectively, that could mean there'd be more spaces, we could bring more people home.
TAYLOR: Well, let me first say, Deb, it's great news that we are beating this third wave. I think it's been extraordinary what's happened over the break. And good news, particularly here in New South Wales, where we saw those outbreaks, and they've been managed very, very well. Look, you know, we haven't seen any proposal along those lines. And looking forward to seeing it. I mean, if it can work, it can work. That's great. So we'll look forward to any proposals for regional areas, or elsewhere that could help to increase the number of Australians getting back into Australia. Because we all want to see that.
KNIGHT: What about you, Joel, because the PM has pretty much knocked it on the head. He met with the mayor of Gladstone, who was very concerned saying we don't want the problems of a big city shift into our own backyard, what's your view?
FITZGIBBON: Well Deb, strong leaders take people with them and persuade on the merits of these initiatives. It makes sense to me. But I think what is missing here is national leadership. I mean, quarantine is a matter for the federal government. And really, Scott Morrison was very, very quick, early in the pandemic to form the National Cabinet so that he could lead the charge and take credit for everything that went right. But as soon as - and he tried to frame it in the prism of our national security and our economic pursue and he thought there was political benefit in that - but the as soon as things started to get a little bit hard, you know, the National Cabinet stopped meeting regularly and the Prime Minister started talking about state responsibilities, and he left it for the states to fight it out amongst themselves. Well, that's not strong national leadership and it's strong national leadership which is lacking here.
KNIGHT: Right of reply, Angus.
TAYLOR: Well, I just think that's completely wrong. I mean, we've had great success over the Christmas break. There's been coordinated actions at many levels to achieve that. And I think Australians are very appreciative that we've got through Christmas, which was always going to be a high risk period in the way we have. It's true, quarantine is difficult. We don't want to get it wrong. I mean, we've seen time and time again, how quarantine is a high risk pill, coming into Australia is a high risk situation, and we don't want to risk Australians. But we're always open to proposals to get more Australians back. And we'll certainly keep working to achieve that.
KNIGHT: Now, one of the key events, of course, Australia Day, which is on Tuesday, the honours and we've had the breaking of the embargo, which should never have happened. But as part of that, it's been revealed that tennis great Margaret Court is set to receive the highest honour, causing a lot of debate. Daniel Andrews in Victoria, the Premier has said at a press conference earlier today that she should not receive that honour. Joel, Should she?
FITZGIBBON: Yes, I think she should, Deb. If that's the decision of the Governor General, on advice of the Honours Secretariat. The last thing we want here is for politicians to become the final arbiter of who gets an award, or who does not get an award. Now, I know that she's made some controversial comments in recent years. I don't agree with them. But when politicians start deciding which comments go too far and which do not, rather than leave it to the professionals on the weight of the submissions they receive from the community, then I think we have a really serious problem, and we will undermine the integrity of the honour system. We don't want that. Leave it to the system. Don't give this to the politicians, regardless of which side of the political fence they might be on.
KNIGHT: And what do you think, Angus? Have they got it wrong on this call?
TAYLOR: No, I'm with Joel on this one, Deb. And can I add to that, Margaret Court is the most successful female tennis player in world history. 24 Grand Slams, 11 Australian Opens. More than any other female tennis player...
KNIGHT: ...There's no debating that but her views on same sex marriage and transgender people, many people find very offensive.
TAYLOR: Well, let's be clear here. She is the most successful ever female tennis player. She's an Australian, we should be very proud of that achievement. And I'm with Joel. This is not a system that has to be bottom up and we should respect that.
KNIGHT: Was the PM Angus out of line with his comments yesterday when he said that it wasn't a particularly flash day for British convicts on the First Fleet.
TAYLOR: No, I mean, I think that's a statement of fact, Deb. I don't think that's even remotely controversial. I think every historian would agree that it wasn't a flash day for them. But look, the important point here as we go forward to Australian Day. Australians want to be united, they don't want to have politics shoved down their throat on Australia Day. And they want to reflect on this extraordinary nation, warts and all. We've had an amazing history, both since settlement and before and we should celebrate that. We should respect what Australia has achieved. And we should be united in that. And that's the point that PM's making and I totally agree with that.
KNIGHT: Yeah. And look, unity should be the overarching message. But sadly, it's all about division increasingly, Australia Day, and particularly when we have the debate. Now we've had Cricket Australia adding into it. Their decision to dump any reference to Australia Day calling The Bash 26, January 26. Taking out any reference to Australia Day. Joel, that's not about inclusion, is it? They're creating more division.
FITZGIBBON: That's right. It's about unifying the community, Deb and Australian cricket was wrong, Zali Steggall was wrong to call for a minute's silence on Australia Day, but to compare the legacy of the settlement on European Australians, with the ongoing suffering of our indigenous communities was just absolutely wrong. I mean, we still have a whole community within Australia, of people who die on average younger, are more likely to be sick, are less likely to own a home, are more likely to be unemployed. We know the story. The disadvantage from that settlement lives on today. We haven't properly addressed it. And to compare the two, I mean, most, a lot of European Australians are living pretty well now, Deb. They are not suffering the same legacy, as our Indigenous community does.
KNIGHT: But he's not wrong. Scott Morrison's not wrong. It wasn't a flash day for the convicts arriving on the First Fleet, was it? I mean, it's not a competition. We're not we're not saying that you are worse off than we were. I mean, it's obvious that the Indigenous Australians have suffered terribly and that wasn't what the Prime Minister was getting across, was it?
FITZGIBBON: Come on, Deb. We all know that, as is so often the case, Scott Morrison was pitching to the extreme-right in Australia, he is constantly harvesting domestic votes at the expense of some Australians and even at the expense of our international relationships. And that sort of populism has to end. Particularly when it comes to important issues like Australia Day...
TAYLOR: Deb, can I say, look, we've got to recognise Australia's history, warts and all. We shouldn't be cancelling any aspect of it. And look, can I say on the cricket, I mean, we've had this incredible summer of cricket. I mean, the Indian Test matches, how good have they been? And, you know, to have politics shoved down your throat around using Australia Day referring to the cricket. I mean, come on, Australians, we don't need that. Let's recognise Australia and Australia's history for what it is. It's had great moments. It's had moments we would like to have been different. Warts and all, we've been an extraordinary country until now and will continue to be and we should recognise it for what it is.
KNIGHT: And Joel, I've got to call you out on the comments about international relations. I mean, Albo did not cover himself in any glory accusing Scott Morrison of cozying up to Donald Trump. I mean, he did his job as Prime Minister. Try to foster as good a relationship he possibly can with whoever is in power in the White House at the time.
FITZGIBBON: Just very quickly on the last point first, Deb. I was also critical of the NRL when they decided to cancel the National Anthem for the State of Origin series. Madness. And good on Scott Morrison for intervening on that occasion as we are advised. But look, you know, I've said constantly, Deb, that we must respect the Office of the President of the United States. There is no greater friend, ally and partner than the United States. It is a democracy...
KNIGHT: ... So why is Albo criticising Scott Morrison then for trying to foster a good relationship with Donald Trump?
FITZGIBBON: Well, it's well known that I was publicly critical of that tweet, you might recall, Deb, or you might have been hopefully on the beach somewhere. But when that tweet went up from the Australian Labor Party...
KNIGHT: ... Yeah, but we've had the foreign policy speech from Albo this week. That was his headline message.
FITZGIBBON: When the tweet came up from the Labor Party attacking Scott Morrison for having his photograph taken with Donald Trump, I was publicly critical of it and I disassociated myself from it.
KNIGHT: And how do you feel, Joel, about Tanya Plibersek now being the popular choice to take over as leader from Albo.
FITZGIBBON: Well, you know Deb, the great thing about the Australian Labor Party is that we have so many people in our ranks with so much talent...
KNIGHT: ... You're a broad church.
FITZGIBBON: We're a broad church. Thank you for helping me out. So happy days. I look forward to putting labour back into the Labor Party and winning the next election.
KNIGHT: You're full of the slogans, we love it. Now you know what I'll be full of later is Aussie desserts in Friday food. I'm going to tuck into all things. Lamingtons, we've got slice, and I think we've even got some Pavlova coming in. When it comes to the best Aussie dessert, Angus, whats your pick?
TAYLOR: Well, we had Pavlova on Christmas Day, Deb, and I gotta say, I enjoyed it. But there is an age old debate about whether it's a New Zealand dessert or ours...
KNIGHT: ... Don't start contorversy. Come on.
TAYLOR: I guess it's a bit like Pharlap and Barnaby Joyce, but we own them both and we love them.
KNIGHT: That's a good line. Joel, what about you?
FITZGIBBON: Well, of course, Deb, my favourite is the fruit of the vine representing the Hunter Valley that needs to say nothing else. But my grandmother used to make this sponge cake. And it was undoubtedly the best sponge cake in the world. And the only person that can make it now, taught firsthand by my grandmother, before she passed is my wife. So I'll kill for mama Halpen's Sponge cake. That's my dessert of choice.
KNIGHT: Very good. Well I hope you tuck into both of them on Australia Day and we'll have a chat next week. Thank you so much for joining us and it's good to have you back for Friday question time.
TAYLOR: Good to be back.
FITZGIBBON: Thanks team.