Interview, 6PR, Mornings with Liam Bartlett

Wednesday, 28 September 2022

The Hon Matt Keogh MP
Minister for Veterans’ Affairs
Minister for Defence Personnel

E&OE transcript
Radio interview
6PR, Mornings with Liam Bartlett

LIAM BARTLETT: From our Canberra studios, good morning, gentlemen – Matt Keogh, Andrew Hastie. How are you?

MATT KEOGH: Good morning, Liam. It’s great to be with you and with Andrew here in the person.

ANDREW HASTIE: Yes, Liam. Good morning. I have proof of life – Matt is alive and well.

LIAM BARTLETT: It’s a special, special day in Parliament House. Look, it’s an important day, too. Matt Keogh, firstly to you – we’re expecting to see that legislation dropped for the integrity commission or national integrity body. What will it be called, Matt?

MATT KEOGH: So, yes, the national integrity commission legislation was introduced just about an hour or so ago. And it’s great to see that we’re moving forward with something this important that people have been calling for for such a long time. And we look forward to hopefully receiving support from across the parliament for that bill. And we’ve been working with the opposition and with the crossbenches to make sure we formulate something which will deliver the sort of integrity checks that we need to see at a federal level in the most appropriate way.

LIAM BARTLETT: How will that go, Andrew? Is there broad support? Because I notice your boss Peter Dutton saying this morning he doesn’t want to see reputations trashed.

ANDREW HASTIE: Well, he did say that, because we’ve seen 15 suicides across the different jurisdictions where a corruption commission is in place. And we don't want to see innocent people being trashed and their reputations being trashed because it’s got a massive impact on families.

But the Opposition Leader also did say at the start of the press conference that there is no place for corrupt behaviour in public life or anywhere around the country. So we instinctively support this measure, this bill, and we now have to have a discussion with our party room and work out the best possible way forward with Labor.

LIAM BARTLETT: Will it be able to hold public hearings, Matt?

MATT KEOGH: It will be able to hold public hearings. And the way in which that’s constructed under act is recognising that public hearings should only happen where it is in the public interest and that there’s some criteria around understanding the public interest, going to some of the issues that Andrew just raised. Certainly there are circumstances where public hearings are very important. But there are also circumstances where making sure that the conduct of an investigation, especially where evidence is being taken by people that are not the target of an investigation, is done in private to make sure that the unintended consequences of being involved in such an investigation don’t have detrimental effects on those people.

LIAM BARTLETT: That’s a higher test, though, isn’t it? It’s a higher threshold to reach. I mean, who determines whether or not it’s in the public interest?

MATT KEOGH: Well, that’s a matter that will be determined by the commission itself. There’s criteria set out in the legislation that they have to follow. And they’re similar criteria that are used by some of the existing state bodies around the country to make sure that we do see public hearings used where they should be but also that private hearings are used where they should be as well. And, Liam –

LIAM BARTLETT: This is – sorry.

MATT KEOGH: No, Liam, this will go to a committee as well. And so we want to see as much evidence as possible of how the state commissions have operated. We want to hear evidence from people who’ve had their lives affected, the family members of those who have committed suicide. And we want to make sure that the federal commission in its final form is able to keep corruption out of public life but at the same time strike a balance so that people and their reputations aren’t trashed in the process.

LIAM BARTLETT: We’re talking with Matt Keogh and Andrew Hastie, Behind Party Lines. If you’d like to ask either politician a question, give us a ring on 133 882.

Can we just go to cost of living, because today an auspicious one with the excise about to come off, Matt Keogh. I mean, we heard a lot during the election campaign of how much cheaper it would be under Labor and how you’d look after all us with cost of living. I haven’t seen too much evidence.

MATT KEOGH: Well, Liam, you might have missed that we’ve done a few things, like supporting the increase in the minimum wage to help those people that earn the least be able to make ends meet given the increasing costs they’ve been facing because of those cost of living pressures. We’ve also supported an increase in wages for those who work in our care sector, aged care workers, for those people that work in our care economy. We’ve also just introduced the legislation to expand the subsidies available for people that access child care, which will make it available to 92 per cent of families that access child care, therefore, bringing down their cost of living pressures as well.

And in terms of the subsidy or, sorry, the reduction in fuel excise that was introduced by the previous government who legislated that reduction in March, and when they brought in that legislation it was automatically that the reduction would come off today. When that was introduced the price of oil, the price of petrol, was significantly higher then than it is today. And so, yes, the excise is going back to the level that it used to be as per that legislation. But it is coming back on at a time when fuel prices are actually lower. I know they’re not low – it’s expensive to fill a tank of petrol.

LIAM BARTLETT: Well, yeah.

MATT KEOGH: But it’s not as expensive as it was back in February and March.

LIAM BARTLETT: Well, the problem with your argument, of course, is the Australian dollar since then has fallen through the floor. We’re now – what – under 65 cents in the dollar. So it costs a lot more –

MATT KEOGH: But we’re still seeing the cost at the pump – the price at the pump is still lower than it was back in March.

LIAM BARTLETT: Well, slightly lower, Matt. Yeah, I mean, with the extra 25 cents going on slightly lower. But, yeah, the oil companies will make the argument – and I’m sure with gusto – after midnight tonight that it will cost them more per barrel anyway because of the Australian dollar. So, you know –

MATT KEOGH: Well, that’s why we’ve charged the ACCC with making sure that it’s doing proper surveillance across the wholesale pricing and the pricing being charged at the pump to make sure that there’s no attempt at gouging of any of these prices with the excise coming back up.

LIAM BARTLETT: We’ve got some stations today putting it up by 44 cents. I mean, they are taking the mickey big time, aren’t they, Andrew Hastie?

ANDREW HASTIE: Look, this was always a temporary and targeted measure. And, you know, people are doing it very tough. So we’ll be watching very closely through the ACCC’s work, as Matt discussed. But also, yeah, putting stations on notice that they shouldn’t be slugging people far beyond what a reasonable price should be now that the excise is coming off. And if people feel that they’re seeing actual price gouging at particular stations where there’s been a much higher increase in the price than they would be expecting, then they should report that to the ACCC as well. Because certainly we’ve set up a system to try and make sure that we don’t see that occur because we do understand the cost of living pressures that are affecting Australian families right now.

This comes to the budget. We’ll be watching very closely, and Labor needs to commit to not raising any taxes when they hand down their budget next month. And also coming up with a clear plan for addressing the cost of living pressures that families across the country are experiencing.

LIAM BARTLETT: Are tax increases on the table, Matt?

MATT KEOGH: Certainly the first I’ve heard of it is from Andrew mentioning it – not from us.

ANDREW HASTIE: Well, the Treasurer has not really ruled it out yet. So we’ll wait and see. We’ll wait and see.

LIAM BARTLETT: That’s –

ANDREW HASTIE: We nicknamed the Treasurer Sir Taxalot for a reason, so hopefully he doesn’t live up to his name. But he may well do that.

MATT KEOGH: I don’t think any Treasurer will want to take the nickname that’s ascribed to them from the opposition, Andrew. But, you know, the budget will be delivered at the end of October, and I think people will find that it’s a budget that is dealing with the economic circumstances that we’re confronting, together with a trillion dollars of debt. We’ve got international headwinds that we have to deal with and, of course, we understand the cost of living pressures that Australian families are confronting.

ANDREW HASTIE: But, Matt, you well and truly knew the debt. I mean, everyone knew the debt.

MATT KEOGH: Everyone knew the debt, but we’re the government that now has to deal with the debt.

LIAM BARTLETT: Well, that’s right, but whichever government it was. I mean, it is getting a bit tiresome, I must say, hearing the government roll –

MATT KEOGH: Yes, you’re right, Liam. A trillion dollars of debt is very tiresome, especially when we see what’s happening in terms of interest rates and bond rates now. The cost of repaying that debt is now considerably higher than it was even just at the beginning of the year. And that’s something as a responsible government that we have to manage responsibly whilst also meeting these cost of living pressures –

LIAM BARTLETT: Well –

MATT KEOGH: And let’s not –

LIAM BARTLETT: Hang on, hang on, hang on – both of you. I mean, there’s that word “responsible”. I mean, I’m a bit sick of hearing this because during the campaign –

MATT KEOGH: You don’t like responsibility, Liam?

LIAM BARTLETT: No, what I don’t like is people not taking responsibility. We tried during the election campaign to raise this issue of debt, time and time and time again. Nobody on either of your sides wanted to talk about debt. They didn’t want to talk about what they were saving; they wanted to talk about what they were spending. And you both had enormous spending programs during that campaign.

MATT KEOGH: We did talk about things that we were doing to save money for the budget, and we outlined a number of those things during the campaign looking at the waste audit, looking at the way in which some grant programs had been rolled out with no accountability, looking at the way in which labour hire had been used across the public sector, which is actually more expensive than just engaging public servants. So there’s a number of things that we identified during the election and that we’re in the process of implementing now, and you’ll see that come out through the budget as well.

ANDREW HASTIE: We’ll be watching closely. You know, no-one foresaw the Covid pandemic that hit us. And, of course, that led to a lot of spending through JobKeeper, which kept a lot of people’s livelihoods and businesses afloat. And Labor supported us on that. So it’s a bit rich for them to wag the finger at us about debt. We’re all responsible for the large amount of spending over the last couple of years. And that’s why it’s important if Labor are true to what they’re arguing, their budget next month will reflect responsible spending and a cost of living plan for mainstream Australians.

LIAM BARTLETT: Well, let’s hope so. But I can’t remember either of – I can’t remember anyone from either of your parties during that election campaign saying, “We’re not going to make this announcement, this spending announcement. We’re not going to pay for this, We’re not going to do this because we’ve got to be very conscious of the trillion dollars in debt.”

ANDREW HASTIE: Well, here’s a thought for you Liam: I’ve advocated for Matt to be a member of the Labor Cabinet. Now the Veterans Minister was removed from Cabinet. We had the Veterans Minister in the Coalition Cabinet. Matt should be there and if he was there he could advance the cause of better fiscal and economic management. So that’s the plan that I’m hatching on 6PR – get Matt into Cabinet.

MATT KEOGH: I’m very grateful for Andrew’s support, but I’m also very confident in all of my cabinet colleagues at their capacity to deliver on responsible economic management for our nation.

LIAM BARTLETT: I notice actually – speaking of your role as Veterans’ Affairs Minister, Matt – I notice you apologised in Federal Parliament to serving and former military personnel who have been let down by the department and defence over numerous decades the other day. I thought that –

MATT KEOGH: That’s right, Liam.

LIAM BARTLETT: Well, I thought that was a move that would be, you know, very much welcomed by the veterans.

MATT KEOGH: Well, look, I hope that it is welcomed – I’ve certainly received positive feedback in relation to that – because I think it is important to acknowledge where governments and, as you say, it’s been over many decades, it’s been governments of different colours that have let our serving personnel and veterans down in the way in which they’ve been looked after in their time in defence, their transition out of defence and supporting veterans with the support that they need. Many have done very well and the system has supported many people. But there are certainly many that have been let down as well, and I apologised for that on behalf of the Australian government and on behalf of successive governments.

And the key now, though, as we’ve received the interim report into the Royal Commission into Defence and Veteran Suicide – and I responded, handed down the government’s formal response to that on Monday – is that we now get on with the job of making those systems better and delivering what defence serving personnel, their veterans and families need and deserve.

ANDREW HASTIE: And, look, Liam, I support Max – sorry, Max?

LIAM BARTLETT: I’ll never forget you, Trevor.

ANDREW HASTIE: Yeah. No, Matt’s speech was a good one. And I said it was a good thing that he apologised. Because what people really want is leadership. Now, Matt wasn’t responsible, but he is the minister and it was good to see that. Because what people really want, particularly veterans, is leadership. And we’re on a unity ticket here. We want to see government work better for veterans. We want to see legislation harmonised, the system simplified, for veterans to be able to get more information about their service so they can get their claims processed more quickly, among other things. And so leading is the first thing they want to see, and that’s why the apology followed up by Barnaby Joyce, our shadow, supporting that was a good start.

LIAM BARTLETT: Speaking of defence matters, I noticed overnight the Solomon Islands again in the news coming out saying – telling the White House that they are not going to sign their 11-point declaration at what is supposed to be an historic meeting, a presidential summit with Pacific leaders in Washington. So the only Pacific nation saying, “No, we’re not going to sign up to the plan,” is the Solomon Islands. Are either of you two concerned about that?

ANDREW HASTIE: Of course I’m very concerned about the Solomon Islands. I went to the US only less than two weeks ago as part of a bipartisan delegation. The chair of the intelligence committee Peter Khalil, Senator Deb O’Neill, Senator James Paterson and I went to Washington DC with legislators from 30 other countries. A very, very diverse group of people from the left, from the right, everywhere in between. We had people from Eastern Europe all the way to Fiji. And we met there to come up with a joint communique on how we’re going to deal with the challenge of China.

And I’ll never forget what the Fijian parliamentarian said to us, and it was in a group of international legislators. She said, “We’re having issues with China in the Pacific Islands because Australia and New Zealand after the coup, you know, 15-odd years ago, you guys left us. You left a big hole. And that’s why China has moved in.” So we’ve got a lot of work to do to demonstrate that we are partners. We respect Pacific sovereignty but, you know, we have a close relationship and we need to work on it.

LIAM BARTLETT: We need to fill it fast, Matt.

MATT KEOGH: Look, we do. And that’s why we, you know, from the first days of our government we’ve been engaging with our Pacific Island partners and with the Solomon Islands directly as well to make sure that that gap is filled to make sure that they know that we are a strong friend that will work with them in partnership and supporting their national interests and making sure that they can be a prosperous nation. And that is what we have done over a long period of time.

You know, the declaration they’ve made overnight about not wanting at this stage to sign on to that measure offered by President Biden, it’s not been a refusal; it’s been a deferral. They say that they want it to be considered by their national parliament. That may well be an internal process matter for them, and so whilst it’s disappointing that they haven’t joined with all of the other Pacific Island nations in signing on straight away to that declaration, at least at this stage, you know, they haven’t refused to sign it; they’re just saying they want to give it more consideration. And, no doubt, their Pacific Island neighbours and friends as well as Australia and the United States will work with them on bringing them to the table on that.

ANDREW HASTIE: But we welcome the US step-up in the Pacific Island chain. That’s very welcome, absolutely.

LIAM BARTLETT: Yes, yes. Just hold that thought, gentlemen. We’ll come back in just a moment. We’ll take a quick break. 12 minutes to 10.

SPEAKER: Behind Party Lines. In the left corner federal Labor member for Burt, Matt Keogh. And in the right corner federal Liberal member for Canning, Andrew Hastie.

LIAM BARTLETT: Nine minutes to 10. Matt, Andrew, let’s go to the phones. Helen’s on the line with a question. Helen, good morning.

HELEN: Yeah, I’d just like to know when the Labor Party are going to stop spending our money on things that are not important and spend a bit on the cost of living and the welfare of the people instead of continually saying, “Won’t it be wonderful if we could only make history again”?

MATT KEOGH: Well, thanks, Helen, for that question. I’m very happy to be able to tell you that as the new Labor government we have already been doing things that are contributing to assisting people with cost of living. So supporting the increase in the minimum wage for those who earn the least to be able to make ends meet, supporting those workers in our aged care facilities by also supporting their claims for increases in wages, bringing forward the subsidy for child care, increasing that rate of subsidy so that now 92 per cent of families that access child care will be paying less for child care, and also for our pensioners and our people on service pensions as well increasing the work bank available so that they can go to work themselves if they wish to or stay in work to earn a bit more before their pension starts to be reduced, which encourages them into the workplace which helps with our skills crisis but also enables them to earn that bit more money to support them in terms of making ends meet with the increases in costs of living.

So I think we’re spending money well. You’ll see obviously all of our election commitments and so forth come forward as part of the budget that will be delivered at the end of the October.

LIAM BARTLETT: All right. Thank you, Helen. Jim’s on line. Hello, Jim.

JIM: Yeah, g’day, Liam. How are you going?

LIAM BARTLETT: Good, mate. Go ahead.

JIM: Yes, good morning to your guests. Matt, I just want to – I was just – it was pretty happy that you were talking about wasting money. I mean, with the upcoming what have you got planned in the way of referendums which will cost hundreds of millions of dollars and what we’ve spent on Ukraine, I’m not saying Ukraine don’t need help but it’s probably – you don’t have to spend that much on them, but how about pouring some of that money into our own defences? I mean, it wasn’t that long ago everyone was in hysterics about China coming down and posing a threat, yet can we defend our own country?

MATT KEOGH: Well, Jim, I think you raise a really important issue there and we are obviously continuing to make significant investment into defence and, indeed, we’re also having the defence strategic review which is being undertaken at the moment because we recognise that we are in a uniquely geostrategic situation at the moment, possibly the worst situation that we have confronted since the Second World War. And I think, like the previous government, we take the same approach to making sure that we are best prepared for the circumstances that surround us.

LIAM BARTLETT: And we haven’t got time on our side, Matt. We haven’t got time on our side, have we? I mean, people keep saying that, the experts, so-called experts.

MATT KEOGH: You’re absolutely right, Liam, and that’s why –

LIAM BARTLETT: Well, why do we need another review?

MATT KEOGH: Well, no, this is why it’s so critical, Liam, because the previous government had made this observation that we don’t – we no longer have that 10-year horizon, and yet a lot of the previous government’s programs were all based on getting new equipment and new capability more than a decade away. And that’s why having a quick review which will be wrapped up early next year to look at how can we make sure we have what we need as quickly as possible is very important so that we are able to meet the strategic need as we see it right now.

LIAM BARTLETT: So you’re saying that Andrew sitting right next to you who was intimately involved in that whole process, Andrew, you didn’t do your job properly. That’s why we need another review. That’s exactly what Matt’s saying.

MATT KEOGH: Well, to be fair, Andrew wasn’t in the portfolio at that time.

LIAM BARTLETT: He was all part of it.

ANDREW HASTIE: Who cares about the past – the future is what matters. And here’s the deal, right? Admiral Davidson, the former US Commander of Indo-Pacific Command when he left command in March of last year he said that China may well try to take Taiwan by force within six years. That was 18 months ago. So what they call the Davidson window of six years, we’re now 18 months into it with four and a half to go. We’re not going to see nuclear submarines in the next four and a half years. So the question for the Albanese government is what’s their hedging strategy. And I think it should be precision-guided missiles and potentially B-21 strike aircraft out of the United States. That’s what they should be focusing on – delivering capability quickly in the next couple of years.

LIAM BARTLETT: With the keyword being delivering.

ANDREW HASTIE: That’s absolutely right.

LIAM BARTLETT: That’s right.

MATT KEOGH: And that’s what we’re about. And unfortunately we had not seen that under the previous government.

ANDREW HASTIE: And, mind you, you know, the situation is changing weekly. Putin was threatening the use of nuclear weapons and, you know, China only, you know, weeks ago was firing rockets over Taiwan. So it is a very fragile situation, which is why my job will be to ensure that they move at best speed to secure what we need to keep ourselves safe.

LIAM BARTLETT: All right. Final question from me, because I had an interesting chat with Matt Thistlethwaite earlier this morning, Matt Keogh. This idea of the voice referendum being linked to a pathway to the republic; if the voice is defeated next year then the republic’s certainly off the table in that sense. What do you two think? Is – are the two issues linked? Yes or no?

MATT KEOGH: Well, Liam, I don’t think they’re linked per se, but certainly in our view the voice is the more pressing issue to be dealt with. And that’s something we’ve said we want to see dealt with in this term and any approach to a referendum and changes towards a republic would be something for a future term of parliament.

LIAM BARTLETT: All right.

MATT KEOGH: So I don’t think they’re linked, but you might say they’re staged.

ANDREW HASTIE: I think it would be a brave government to push for a republic in the next couple of years. I think – I just don’t see the will there, particularly in WA. We’ve got a lot of former Brits living in our neck of the woods. There was a great outpouring of grief with the passing of Her Majesty, and, you know, I can’t see it coming on any time soon.

LIAM BARTLETT: All right. Look, we’ll have to leave it there. I’m sorry. Thank you again for your time today, guys. I know you’re flat out with parliament. But we’re very lucky we didn’t get any divisional bells, so I can uncross my fingers. Great to talk to both of you and have you on the program again this morning. We’ll see you soon.

MATT KEOGH: Great to be with you.

END

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DVA Media: media.team@dva.gov.au

Authorised by The Hon Matt Keogh MP

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