Opinion pieces, speeches & transcripts

Transcript: Doorstop interview 25 August

August 25, 2021




SUBJECTS: Car Park Rorts; Government Administration; National Anti-corruption Commission; Afghanistan

ANDREW GILES, SHADOW MINISTER FOR CITIES AND URBAN INFRASTRUCTURE: From here in Parliament today, my thoughts are with the people of my hometown in Melbourne, dealing with that anxious wait for the daily case numbers and all the other numbers that shape the progress of the day and the prospects for the future. I know that these people, particularly those in the northern suburbs, who send me here to speak on their behalf, are also anxious for leadership. They're anxious for national leadership and a path through this, and they are frustrated by its absence. 

Yesterday in Question Time, we saw from Mr. Morrison the absence of ambition for leadership that he claimed immediately before he rolled Malcolm Turnbull to become Prime Minister. We saw a Prime Minister angry, defensive, looking to divide not unite, incapable of taking responsibility, more interested in putting words in other's mouths than taking responsibility for the leadership Australians demand and deserve. 

He got angry when it's put to him that he had two jobs, vaccination and quarantine.  He got angry and asserted that he's got lots of other jobs. But the fact remains, it's these two jobs and his comprehensive failures on quarantine, as Senator Keneally has just set out particularly in light of the new revelations about the Ruby Princess, and getting the vaccination rollout where it should have been. That means Australians are in the circumstances they're in right now. But of course, he does have other jobs. And he's botched almost all of them. 

He has presided over a litany of rorts - his government seems allergic to the very concept of public interest, and the very concept of proper public administration. And one of the things that he needs to account for is of course, the shocking rort that is car park rorts. 

$660 million of taxpayers money treated as if it was an ATM for the benefit of the Liberal Party. And we know just like in sports rorts that the Prime Minister, Mr. Morrison, was up to his neck in it. These were projects decided not on the basis of need, not even through any application process- but through secret spreadsheets. Secret spreadsheets, in which his office was absolutely at the core, but which he won't let the Australian people see. 

This isn't good enough. Nor is his failure to answer questions. It says everything about this bloke’s character that when he was pressed in a press conference and had terrible answers, he wouldn't even put that portion of the press conference up on his Facebook. That's how conscious he is about his political interest, and not Australia's national interest. 

He must come clean over car park rorts, and he must front up with the people that he has dudded. In that infamous train wreck of an interview he talked about Australians being winners from this shocking project. Well, how can they be winners when there were 47 projects promised and only three have been completed? Many have been cancelled, including in my electorate of Scullin. 

He should come to South Morang and explain how commuters there were promised a car park and had it ripped away from them are winners, or around Australia where the same story has played out. He must come clean over car park rorts. And he must finally join Labor and commit to putting in place the national anti-corruption commission with teeth that Australians deserve, to uphold basic standards of government. Are there any questions?

JOURNALIST: Would you go an election promising to build the car park in your electorate?

GILES: Well, we would make the election promises on the basis firstly of consultation with community and indeed with land holders like councils as didn't happen there. We’re only interested, as Catherine King our Spokesperson for Infrastructure has made clear, in putting forward promises that stack up. That's been our record, and it is our commitment.

JOURNALIST: You say that the government has failed on the vaccine rollout, and sure there were issues with supply in the beginning, but would you have preferred they rush the approval process so that we had got vaccinations faster?

GILES: I don't think anyone's arguing about the approval process. And what's been really disappointing is the way in which the Prime Minister and the Health Minister have hidden behind this absolute furphy, particularly in terms of the Prime Minister's repeated nonsense that he was describing the approval process as in respect of his comments about it not being a race, despite the fact he said this many, many times after the approvals have been granted. 

Let's be really clear- the issue here isn't about the work of our experts at ATAGI or the TGA. The issue was the failure of the government to do as basically every expert, and Chris Bowen as our then Health Spokesperson said more than a year ago, and get the right number of vaccine deals in place. And of course to order the right number of vaccines to give us a chance of getting to the level of vaccination that is required at the time that they promised and Australians needed. 

JOURNALIST: The Senate the other day passed a motion, basically, an order of production documents asking for the key documents around the commuter car parks program- spreadsheets listing the top 20 marginals to be tabled in the Senate and provided by the Department or by the Minister. The Minister has already made a public interest immunity claim for a question on notice. If he does the same again, what would Labor do then?

GILES: Firstly, what a nonsense that public interest immunity claim is, and what contempt it shows for the Australian people and for our democracy - because we know that the Minister who was responsible for the program at the time has told you Jono, that he never saw this spreadsheet. 

What a bizarre and frankly offensive suggestion that a Cabinet-in-confidence claim is made in respect of a document that the Minister, the Cabinet Minister responsible for, says he's never seen. One of them can't be telling the truth. But what we really need, is not for the Senate order to be complied with - though of course it should be, of course the order of the Senate should be complied with - what we actually need is for the government and the bloke who is supposed to lead it to come clean. To put these documents before us so that Australians can decide for themselves what happened. 

Minister Fletcher keeps saying that these decisions were based on evidence and need. I say two things in response to that. Firstly, the process that was put in place explicitly denied that as a possibility. Secondly, show us. Come on, show us. He's shown us the money- the money that's being wasted by this government. But he hasn't shown us any basis for the making of any of these decisions. If they've got nothing to hide, they shouldn't wait for the order to produce to be effective. They should put all these documents before the Parliament and the Australian people.

JOURNALIST: The situation in Afghanistan - the G7 leaders have spoken over the phone again, President Biden seemed to indicate that August 31st is still the deadline to get people out, when in reality, as was always going to be the case, there will be people who will be left behind. What should Australia be doing to try and help the situation?

GILES: Well, this is a question that I think occupies the thoughts of everyone in this place more than anything else right now. We know that there are people who've helped us and also the family members of Australian citizens and indeed, possibly some Australian citizens who are trapped, and my heart goes out to them and their loved ones here. There are a number of things which could and should have been done, and Senator Keneally in particular and Senator Wong called for action anticipating these sorts of demands months ago. Calls that sadly, tragically weren't heeded.  

But my focus right now and the focus of every member in the Labor team is working with the government and our agencies to get people out. Like everyone, I was shocked and saddened by the news about the increasing difficulties of getting access to Kabul airport overnight. My hope is that everything that could be done will be done. My expectation is that DFAT and other agencies who are putting themselves in harm's way will do everything that can be done, working with our allies to get everyone out. My hope also is that we see a bit more action on the things that can definitely be done.

In particular, I'm shocked and saddened that the government won't recognise reality instead of its political interests and grant permanent protection to those people from Afghanistan who are in Australia now. People who are making lives here and deserve certainty right now. I wish that the government would also be clearer about its commitments to humanitarian resettlement. There are a large number of questions that we have asked that need to be answered, particularly in circumstances where they well know that last year's intake wasn't filled, and it is almost impossible to conceive of circumstances otherwise than through engaging with Afghanistan that this year’s intake would be filled.

JOURNALIST: [inaudible]

GILES: We've been committed to a national integrity commission with teeth for some time, and consultation has been underway with all the expert groups like the Accountability Round Table to mirror the best of what is in place in the states, so that we can put in place an institution that means that every Australian can have confidence in the decisions that are made by national government, and the credibility and character of the people who serve in this place. 

JOURNALIST: [inaudible]

GILES: It's a public institution, of course, which would have jurisdiction over this government, meaning the public servants who work for the Australian people, and the members of this place. Every jurisdiction in Australia has such a body. It is ludicrous, particularly in light of the litany of rorts that have taken place under this government, that we don't have a similar standard holding me, all of my colleagues in the House and the Senate, and every government official to account.

JOURNALIST: There's concern about the loss of fundamental emotional and social skills that students are losing especially in Victoria [inaudible]. What more do you think the government can do to make sure these students aren't feeling the long term emotional and social impacts of not being at school?

GILES: This is this is a really challenging situation, I guess there are two things I'd like to say first. The main thing is obviously that we recognise that these decisions should be based on the best health advice, and particularly as I think everyone appreciates now, the Delta variant is particularly transmissible through children and affects children in a way that earlier variants didn’t. The majority of people infected with COVID in my state of Victoria at the moment are children. As the parent of two primary school aged children, I'd also like to acknowledge the extraordinary work that teachers and school communities have done in keeping learning going. 

Now, that's no substitute for all the dimensions of engagement with school, including the socialisation and all the other benefits that go beyond face to face learning. And it also is concerning to all of us that we feel that a lot of disadvantages in life may well be exacerbated through the circumstances of remote learning. These are things that I would hope that our national Education Minister is focused on, instead of his relentless desire to prosecute the culture war.