23 October, 2018
Subjects: Nauru, Wentworth by-election, Energy
KIERAN GILBERT: Joining us live now is the Defence Industry Minister Steve Ciobo. Mr. Ciobo, the Labor Party is extending an olive branch on this issue. Is the Government willing to compromise to try and make some progress, well, given New Zealand’s ongoing offer?
STEVEN CIOBO: Well, certainly the Government wants to make sure that we continue to fix the problem that Labor left behind. Frankly, the Australian Labor Party has zero credibility when it comes to this issue of border protection. Their track record is appalling frankly. As much as they like to portray themselves as in some way being responsible operators, all that they left behind was carnage, devastation, and billions and billions of dollars of budget blowout.
KIERAN GILBERT: We know the history. Why can’t you look at their offer today?
STEVEN CIOBO: Well, thankfully they’ve been dragged to the point where they need to actually do something. The Government is doing all that it can. The Prime Minister has made it clear that we’re happy to look at options. We’ll continue discussions.
LAURA JAYES: But, are you happy to look at these options?
STEVEN CIOBO: Well, as I said, the Prime Minister’s is going to look at that. I’m not going to make the decision for him. But, we’ve indicated through the Prime Minister on a number of occasions that we want to resolve these outstanding issues.
LAURA JAYES: Minister-
KIERAN GILBERT: Do you think this is an issue where we saw in Wentworth it was bubbling away and was behind the Phelps’ campaign? From what you pick up in the electorate, do you feel that the pendulum has shifted a bit on this particular matter? Where people think, five years on, you need to start dealing with what many would consider an inhumane situation for many of those people.
STEVEN CIOBO: Kieran, I reject that completely and totally. Let’s deal with facts. The fact is that under the Coalition, we under the Liberal and National Parties, we have closed down these centres. Under the Liberal and National Parties, we’ve taken children out of detention, and under the Liberal and National Parties, we’ve stopped what was a major problem getting any worse and, in fact, resolved this problem. Now, for those that remain on Nauru, for example, they’re not locked in some kind of camp. They have complete freedom to move around. They’re effectively part of the Nauruan population. Let’s not pretend that this is about people being locked up in one place
KIERAN GILBERT: But, there have been repeated reports of mental health problems for the children. You reject that, that there’s no issue when it comes to-
STEVEN CIOBO: No, no, no, I’m rejecting the notion that these people don’t have liberty, don’t have freedom, and don’t have the ability to start a fresh life free from fear of persecution in Nauru.
LAURA JAYES: You’ve just said it’s not inhumane which I take your point that yes, they’re free from persecution. But, 11 children have just been brought to Australia by Border Force with pretty severe mental health issues. What do you put that down to?
STEVEN CIOBO: Well, look, ultimately, unfortunately, and sadly, this might, some people might not like to hear this, but, ultimately, it was a pretty poor choice by the parents to try to get to Australia in the way that they did. That’s had an impact. What we’ve tried to do is deal with a massive problem that was costing our country billions. That was jeopardising lives. That was in fact costing children lives at sea. We’ve dealt with it. We’ve dealt with it in a fair way. These people now have the opportunity to have a fresh start in Nauru. We’re looking at other options. But, most importantly, we have shut down facilities left, right, and centre that were opened by Labor. Let’s not forget for one moment, these children are in this situation, because Labor put them there. Labor put them there, and what we’re trying to do now is fix this problem.
KIERAN GILBERT: You say it’s a poor choice of those families.
STEVEN CIOBO: Yes.
KIERAN GILBERT: But, if they’re fleeing persecution, can you really be critical of them for seeking any sort of option that they can?
STEVEN CIOBO: Kieran, my problem with this debate has always been that those families, that those individuals who abide by the correct process, and what I mean when I say the correct process is the United Nations High Commission for Refugees. You know there are, tragically and sadly, people all around the world who are facing really difficult conditions. They’re not the ones paying people smugglers. They’re not the ones trying to bypass the system. You know what? I actually have as much compassion as I can have for all of these people, but I am particularly compassionate for those who don’t try to circumvent the system by paying people smugglers.
LAURA JAYES: Okay, Minister, you’ve seen, we’ve seen a historic swing in Wentworth away from the Liberal Party. Now new analysis shows that they’re seeing a complete capitulation in the vote in every mainland state for Liberals and across every demographic group. Was it still a good idea to roll Malcolm Turnbull?
STEVEN CIOBO: Well, look, let’s say the Wentworth by-election I think reflects several things. One, we always know that in by-elections there’s big swings against the government, and this by-election is no different in that respect. Secondly, what we need to do is make it clear to the Australian people that they’ve got a choice at the forthcoming federal election. They’ve got a choice between a Coalition that’s delivering record job growth, strong economic growth, a Coalition that’s paid down Labor’s massive deficit problem and got us to a point where we’re back into surplus. Versus Bill Shorten and the Australian Labor Party who have an approach that’s going to see massive conflict in jobs in terms of industrial relations. We’ll no doubt see unemployment go back up. He’s going to impose an extra $200 billion worth of taxes. Australians will have a very clear choice between two very different approaches managing our economy and creating employment.
LAURA JAYES: Australians are also punishing you aren’t they? For rolling two Prime Ministers in five years. What’s a guarantee that you won’t do this again? –
STEVEN CIOBO: Well, Laura, look, we’ve also seen upheaval on Labor’s side, and it actually wasn’t that many months ago we saw Anthony Albanese starting to circle Bill Shorten as well, so part of the issue –
LAURA JAYES: Yeah, sure. But, Labor’s put in rules to prevent this from happening. Do you think the Liberal Party should do the same?
STEVEN CIOBO: No, the leadership of the party is a consequence of who’s elected in the party room. That has always been our system, and that’s been the way that Australia’s political system has operated since federation.
KIERAN GILBERT: You spoke about the strengths within the Coalition. There are, objectively, there are some positive points to make. However, let’s look at the other side of the equation here. The party remains bitterly divided on issues when it comes to climate change. The moderates in the party are saying there needs to be a billion dollars at least spent in the Emissions Reduction Fund. Do you think that, that’s something that the government needs to do to have some sort of fig leaf of credibility on that issue?
STEVEN CIOBO: Well, Kieran, I want to point out, you used the phrase, “bitterly divided”, that is not the case. Let’s actually talk about what’s meant to happen in a democracy. Let’s talk about what’s meant to happen inside a political party.
KIERAN GILBERT: You’ve been ripping each other apart for months.
STEVEN CIOBO: Well, no. What we’ve been doing is having a discussion and a debate about the future-
KIERAN GILBERT: And tearing down a Prime Minister.
STEVEN CIOBO: Well, no, that’s a separate thing. What we’ve been doing is having a discussion and a debate about what we think is the right policy to take Australia forward. I think that’s actually a good thing. I think that’s positive. I think it’s good for democracy. I think it’s good for political parties. Now, in terms of Malcolm Turnbull-
KIERAN GILBERT: It’s good if you can find a way through, but you’ve been stuck in a stalemate, and you still are.
STEVEN CIOBO: Well, no, I’m sorry. I don’t agree. If you look at, for example, Malcolm Turnbull, as I’ve said previously, and I said this on Q&A. The reason I believe that Malcolm Turnbull lost the leadership, was because the party reached a position where we felt the Government’s achievements weren’t being effectively communicated. I still think that that was the case, and that was the rationale for many.
STEVEN CIOBO: But, look, ultimately, these same divisions exist within the Australian Labor Party. They’re in opposition, so there’s not the level of scrutiny. But, let’s not for one second think that the Australian Labor Party isn’t going to absolutely cannibalise itself when it comes to border protection and the different, very competing views in Labor about what to do on Australia’s borders.-
LAURA JAYES: But, Minister, it’s pretty extraordinary, isn’t it that you’ve rolled two Prime Ministers? You’ve had this debate and discussion, as you put it, on energy for five years, and it looks like today you’re ending up right where you started with a Direct Action policy.
STEVEN CIOBO: Well, look, that may or may not be the case. The Government’s put its focus not on some kind of esoteric debate about climate change and those kinds of things which the Australian Labor Party wants to focus on. What we’re focused on is energy prices. What we’re focused on are concrete, practical initiatives and measures that the Government can put in place, and, in fact, we are putting in place to bring down power prices.
KIERAN GILBERT: You don’t think people want you to do both? Surely a government worth its … Any credible government would be able to focus on energy and climate? They’re two pretty important policies.
STEVEN CIOBO: But, Kieran, that’s precisely what we’re doing, and this is my point. This is the difference, again, people have a choice. It will either be a Liberal National Party Government or a Labor Party Government. That’s ultimately who is going to form Government in this country. The Liberal National Party, we will meet our international commitments to reduce CO2 emissions, and we will bring down power prices. Labor has a different approach. Labor’s approach is to continue to push up the percentage of renewables. We know that yes, that’s certainly going to deal with CO2 emissions, but what it’s also going to do is push up massively the price of energy.
LAURA JAYES: Minister, thanks so much for your time.
STEVEN CIOBO: Good to speak with you both.