DEBORAH KNIGHT, HOST: And on the line now, Energy Minister, Angus Taylor and Member for the Hunter, Joel Fitzgibbon for our regular Friday Question Time. Fella's, good to have you on board. I'll ask you about your Mother's Day stories in just a moment. But I wanted to start off, Angus, with the travel ban lifting for India. The Prime Minister announcing repatriation flights will resume again from May 15. Three for this month. Is that going to be enough to get the Aussies home because there are at least 9000 who are stranded and 600 of them classified as vulnerable.
ANGUS TAYLOR, MINISTER FOR ENERGY AND EMISSIONS REDUCTION: Yeah, can I just say, this is obviously a difficult time for Australians still in India. This is a start in dealing with this issue. We know from past experience, that managing our international borders very carefully is enormously important, Deb. We got a lot of criticism for shutting the border with China way back at the beginning of the pandemic, but I think in the fullness of time, people have come to understand that was absolutely the right decision. I think this is true as well. But we'll get people back as quickly as we can, given the circumstances where we don't want a major outbreak in Australia. So getting that balance right is crucial. And I think the steps we're making are absolutely the right ones in that direction.
KNIGHT: And do you think that holding that threat of jail time and hefty fines over any Australians returning to Australia from India was the right move to make because the PM did say there was zero chance of it being enforced?
TAYLOR: Well, that's just what the legislation says. It's a statement of fact...
KNIGHT: ... But it was highlighted in the press release that came out midnight on Friday.
TAYLOR: That's fine. But that's what's in the legislation and that's the legislation we use. So, you know, people can hyperventilate about this, but when you ultimately come back, and they have of course, but when you come back to the crucial point here is we've got to get the balance right. We have a responsibility to do that. If someone came back from India and infected a lot of people in Australia, you know, we would have rightly been held responsible for that. So we have to get this one right. That's what we're seeking to do, Deb. That legislation gives us the powers we need to get the balance right. That happens to be the penalty in the legislation. But we'll continue down this path of making sure we've got the right balance here.
KNIGHT: Do you think, Joel, that it was the right move to stop all flights, including the repatriation flights because a lot of other countries, even though they suspended the flights, which I think was the right move to do, a lot of other countries still kept ensuring that they could get their citizens out and kept the repatriation flights going. Some even making alternative arrangements for arrivals from India like Singapore, which extended quarantine from 14 to 21 days.
JOEL FITZGIBBON, MEMBER FOR HUNTER: Look Deb, I didn't have any problem with the temporary halt on flights while we assessed the situation and re-positioned, and I welcome the backflip today, albeit, sadly without flights. I mean, this has been more than a little bit untidy. If the government never intended the penalties being imposed, why did they make the call in the first place? I know how these things work, they would have sat around a table, the first question would have been asked, what are the penalties and as you said, the government is well aware, as we know from their own media release. But this all had its beginnings, this debacle really, many months ago when the government didn't heed the recommendation of Jane Halton, the former departmental secretary, to start establishing some remote quarantine facilities, instead of just relying upon the states to themselves rely on hotel quarantine. This has been the problem and we would not be having this argument if they had done that all those many months ago.
KNIGHT: Do you have any concerns, Angus, about any backlash from India over this, because they're an important trade and diplomatic partner and many members of the Australian Indian community haven't been happy with the way this has been handled?
TAYLOR: Yeah, and there's a lot in the community who have been okay with it too, Deb. It's important to know that. So, you know, I think the vast majority of Australians are prepared to accept, including Indian Australians are prepared to accept us doing the right thing by our international borders. But look, the relationship with India and the Indian community is enormously important and a very, very strong one and will continue to be. I think countries around the world rightly understand that in this situation of COVID you've got to do the right thing by your country. That's exactly what we've done here. And I think the Indian government understands that and I'm sure will continue to strengthen that very, very strong relationship.
KNIGHT: Well, we need strong relations with India because with China, it's just bad blood, adding to bad blood. And we've seen China now suspend the strategic economic dialogue, which I mean, it's largely symbolic because it's not as though they've been answering any of the Minister's calls for over a year now, but why have they decided to do this now. What's the significance?
TAYLOR: Well, that's a question for them, of course, but I guess...
KNIGHT: ... Are you worried about it?
TAYLOR: Well, you know, we want to have dialogue and engage with China. But ultimately, we're never going to worry about or apologise for standing up for our values and what we think is right. Now, we did tear up the Belt and Road agreement between the Victorian Government and the Chinese Government because we thought that was not in Australia's interests. This was the right thing to do. The clear advice was that it was the right thing to do. And we've gone ahead and done it. And it's clear that there's been some displeasure expressed from the Chinese government. Well so be it. But we're not going to do the wrong thing by Australia. You know, we are elected by the Australian people to do the right thing for them. And that's exactly what we're doing here.
KNIGHT: And Joel, where does this end with China, because it just seems to be this constant tit for tat, and we're the ones, or at least our farmers and our wine growers seem to be the ones who are caught in the crosshairs.
FITZGIBBON: It doesn't land anywhere good, Deb. And it hasn't been a popular thing for to do but, on your program, on this segment, I've been saying for many, many months, that the government is mishandling this important trading relationship. Of course, we all support first and foremost the defence of our own values and the tenants of democracy, but smart governments can chew gum and walk too. But in last couple of weeks, Deb, we've all but declared war on China. We were told by the Minister, no less, Minister Dutton, the Defence Minister, that we shouldn't be, you know, what are the, what was the word used, Angus? We should not expect, something close to expect – or not discount – I think was what he said – a war with China. Now, these comments are becoming common practice for Ministers of this Government and those around them. We had the secretary of the Home Affairs Department talking about the drumbeat of war nearing closer. What would you expect the Chinese to do in these circumstances?
KNIGHT: Have all but declared war, Angus?
TAYLOR: Oh that's absolute rot. I mean, look, the purpose of our Defence Forces is ultimately to be in a position where they can win wars. That was the point that the Secretary and the Minister was making. I think that's a pretty obvious statement that that's what our Defence Force is for. And as the Defence Minister, he's very much focused on that he should be. But look, you know, if you want to talk about intemperate language, I don't think it's come from us. I think it's come from others. So we'll continue to get this one, well, deal with this one in a way which is true to what it is to be Australian and what matters to us as a country. We want to have open dialogue with China we'll continue to go down that path. The thing that I'd say, Deb, though, is that, you know, Joel comes on this program and we agree on a lot, but this is not one we're going to agree on. He comes on this program and he tells us we should do something differently. But when it comes to the crunch, he can never tell you what we should do differently. Should we not have torn up that deal between the Victorian Government and the Chinese Government when our national security agencies were very clear on that, were very clear on that?
KNIGHT: It's a fair call Joel, I mean...
FITZGIBBON: I'm very happy to answer, Deb. We should not have had a 2016 White Paper, Foreign Affairs White Paper, that shifted us from a position of active engagement in Asia, including China, to one of strategic competition and containment. This is how the China Government sees us these days, Deb. And, you know, we do need to maintain the capability to defend ourselves and our values and our people, but smart governments enter into smart diplomacy as well. And they do both, Deb. We didn't need to have discriminatory thresholds before the Foreign Investment Review Board, which do discriminate clearly against China. These are the unnecessary...
TAYLOR: ... I don't think China's response...
FITZGIBBON: ... They deliver nothing to us other than a deterioration in our most important trading relationship.
KNIGHT: Alright, a couple of other things I want to get to. The gas announcement, Angus, that you're making today – who's fiddling with their phone? Stop fiddling with your phone, one of them. Okay. The gas announcement, this is a big deal, $58.6 million to boost gas projects. What will this investment actually mean, Angus?
TAYLOR: More supply. More gas out from under the ground to customers, empowering customers to get a good deal on that gas. That's what it's about. Why does that matter? It matters for manufacturing in this country, which is so reliant on gas, it matters for electricity prices, which are to a large degree now determined by availability of gas, and it matters for our cost of living for all of us. So this is hugely important, Deb. We need to accelerate the projects that are going to get gas out from under the ground, into the marketplace, into households, into factories. And that's exactly what this $58 million is.
KNIGHT: Is there any concern, Joel, from you about this announcement that in Victoria at least they're considering whether people should move away from gas because of the risk of cancer, could be responsible for childhood asthma in Australia, talking about not having gas cooktops and gas heating in their homes, Joel?
FITZGIBBON: Well, if it wasn't so serious, Deb, it would be funny, wouldn't it? The Victorians are the largest consumers of gas in the country, both in absolute terms and on per capita terms. They love to lock up their own gas but export it from other states and allow them to wear any environmental challenges, etcetera. Victoria cannot survive – its industry, its households – without plentiful supplies of gas and I tire of them running down the woke road and importing all of their gas from other states who are prepared to have a go.
KNIGHT: We've got a unity ticket on that one at least. And I think on this too, Mother's Day, we all love our mums and I want to end ahead of Sunday, as the saying goes, mum does know best. So, Angus, what's the best advice that your mum ever gave you?
TAYLOR: Well, my mum died in 1988, Deb, but as I think is the case for so many of us, I remember what she said to me, what she imparted all those years ago as though it was yesterday, and I think that's the magic of mums. And so, the thing I remember most, I remember many things, but the thing I remember most is stand up for your values and be true to yourself. And I think that's a really important thing for any mum to say to their kids.
KNIGHT: Absolutely. How about you, Joel?
FITZGIBBON: Deb, I wasn't a high achiever high school. I didn't enjoy school and therefore didn't really have a go and she strongly encouraged me to organise before I left, a pre-apprenticeship course. Because she knew a trade is what I wanted most. That gave me assurance, if not, I suppose securing an apprenticeship otherwise and it was the best thing I ever did. I did my trade and went into business in my trade and I can thank my Mum for some very good advice.
KNIGHT: Yeah, they do know best, that is for sure. Well, we wish all the mums a happy Mother's Day, and we thank you for your time. We'll talk again next week.