Afternoon Briefing with Greg Jennett, ABC

Assistant Minister to the Prime Minister

Journalist: Matt Canavan, why don’t I start with you? Because I think you have been among those who have criticised the Prime Minister’s travel. The question, which leg of his travel do you think could have been abandoned or cancelled? Japan, Indonesia, Europe, Ukraine? Which one was surplus to requirements?

Matt Canavan: Well, actually, Greg, I haven’t criticised the travel, but I have said that I don’t think his focus has been in the right place. It’s not so much where Mr Albanese has been, it’s his focus on everyday problems for Australians. We’ve got huge problems in this country with interest rates going up, inflation, cost of living, it’s very hard for people, there’s a crisis on our hands. And Mr Albanese has been hands off. He has not been hands on in tackling these major countries facing our nation. Now, in saying that, I thought the trip to Paris was surplus to requirements, as you say. I mean, it basically seemed to be a continuation of Mr Albanese’s election campaign slanging match with the former Prime Minister, Scott Morrison. That just seemed pointless, particularly given Emmanuel Macron was in Madrid for the separate NATO meeting. He could have caught up with him there rather than go to Paris as well. But, look, that’s not the principal issue here. The principal issue is not the Prime Minister’s location, it is the fact that he’s absent minded and not focused on domestic issues. He’s also taken this ridiculous stance, Greg, that while he’s overseas, he won’t comment on domestic matters. I mean, does he not have email or contact with people back home to understand what’s going on in this country? Because that would be a real concern, I think, to most Australians.

Journalist: I’m certainly keen to explore that because it’s an interesting reversion to something that I think was adopted by Prime Ministers of yesteryear, but Patrick Gorman to you, we’re just picking up this line of criticism. Is there any sense in which the Prime Minister might need to cheque his travel plans into the future? Is it an easy trap to fall into to just accept one too many invitations?

Patrick Gorman: Some on the coalition side are talking as if the Prime Minister has been having pinakolatas and playing the Ukulele on a beach somewhere. I mean, it’s ridiculous. He was at the NATO meeting, the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation meeting, which Australia had been invited to, discussing Australia’s vital national interests, following which he was in Paris and then in a war zone. And this is the maturity of the debate. I think the Australian people deserve a lot better than that. And I think it’s also diminishing the role of government. What we know is that government is not one person, it is a team. The Prime Minister said that very clearly. There was an acting Prime Minister. Now, maybe under previous governments, people haven’t had much faith in their deputy and maybe that was the case under the former government, but I think we need to be a bit more mature about this and a bit more mature about prosecuting Australia’s interests both at home and abroad.

Journalist: No, understood. Can I take you, though, Patrick Gorman to Matt Canavan’s point, though, and I think we asked Jim Chalmers about it on this programme yesterday. Anthony Albanese told us in no uncertain terms while he stood in Indonesia that he would be adopting this no comment on domestic matters policy while he’s overseas. Yet we all know in this day and age, broadcast equipment is instant, it’s live, it works everywhere. Goodness knows Matt Canavan’s even got some in his own office. Is that sustainable, Patrick Gorman, that he won’t ever entertain any question or any comment anywhere on the globe that relates to Australia?

Patrick Gorman: Well, it’s a sensible protocol, because what it says is we’re focused on prosecuting Australia’s national interest. When the Prime Minister is travelling abroad, there is always an appointed acting Prime Minister who indeed has made himself available. We’ve seen Richard Marles, when he was in that role just 24 hours ago, engaging with New South Wales emergency response. So these things all work together. And in terms of-

Matt Canavan: It’s a protection racket. That’s why you’re doing it. You’re protecting a clearly inept and unprepared Prime Minister that’s what it is. He doesn’t want to be exposed.

Journalist: I just wonder about a circumstance like the floods. Now, it didn’t completely overlap Patrick Gorman, but it might have. For instance, what would be wrong with the Prime Minister expressing his solidarity with flood victims whilst he stood? Well, I know he was in Ukraine, but let’s say he was standing in Paris, for instance.

Patrick Gorman: My recollection is the first message we got from the Prime Minister when he left radio silence, as they call it, and left Ukraine, I should say, was that he was engaging on this question of the flood response. Now, I just think if that’s the biggest criticism the Opposition has, I think it’s a bit silly. It’s a reasonable protocol and it also-

Matt Canavan: It’s not the biggest, I’ve got plenty more mate.

Patrick Gorman: And we’re showing respect to those foreign leaders that the Prime Minister is standing at the podium with, talking about big international issues. And I think if you look at the travel that the Prime Minister has done, he’s been Prime Minister about 45 days, 16 of which have been spent overseas. The bulk of that time overseas has been attending international forums that are set at dates outside of the Australian Government’s control. And indeed, we negotiated at a time when Anthony Albanese was not Prime Minister. We negotiated and consulted globally under the Former Government.

Journalist: And the same will apply very shortly in Fiji with the Pacific Islands Forum. Let’s move on, though. We’ve got yet again, sadly, flooding in New South Wales. Matt Canavan, the Government has said that it’s going to make these $1,000 relief payments available on what they reckon is probably record time. They haven’t been cleared in this manner so quickly before. yYu’d be welcoming this. I noticed the Opposition is not quite attacking Labour so much over this as happened before the election, in vice versa fashion.

Matt Canavan: Yeah, funny that. Look, I will be welcoming it. I have already welcomed it today. That’s good news. I do think one of the unfortunate things the last few years has been the politicisation of disaster relief funding. It was quite a new experience for me in politics until the last couple of years of Anthony Albanese leadership of the Opposition. That really hadn’t been a factor during a natural disaster where it was a bushfire, a cyclone or a flood. All sides of politics typically work together in trying circumstances to deliver relief to people doing it tough. That changed in the last few years and it seemed like every time there were clouds on the horizon, there was more criticism, more political criticism of the Government than any attempt to try and help people in need. So, look, I won’t be repeating that. I don’t think the Opposition will be repeating that. We just want to see people helped. A lot of people are doing it very tough, of course, and there’s still rain around. So, look, I welcome these payments and there’s well established arrangements in place between State and federal governments and we just have to let them work.

Journalist: Does that sort of represent the closing of a chapter around politicisation of emergency disaster responses?

Patrick Gorman: I don’t really accept the characterization of politicisation. What we will always see in times of crisis, particularly where it specifically affects the geographic area, as we’ve seen with previous floods, is that local members will stand up for their communities and they will loudly and clearly demand what they believe their community needs in a time of crisis. Now, that’s not politicised, that’s local members doing their job. And we know these floods don’t simply affect Labour or Liberal or national or Greens electorates. They affect us all as Australians in one way or another and they affect some people quite tragically, as we’ve seen over the last few days. What I am pleased about, though, is that we are learning the lessons of some of these previous disasters we’ve seen. The Prime Minister today announced that we’re going to get some of those disaster relief payments out in record time now, along with Senator Canavan. I agree that is a good thing. And of course we are going to learn from disaster to disaster and I’m pleased to say that we’re showing that as the new government right now.

Journalist: Yeah, it did seem to be acknowledged by Dominic Perrottet as well. But sadly, as we go through more of these, the responses get a little bit smoother. Can I take you back to matters to do with foreign affairs, though? Because it’s looking pretty likely, I think, Pat Gorman, that Penny Wong is likely to meet her Chinese Foreign Ministry counterpart in Bali. What should she be saying in that meeting if it’s agreed to by both parties?

Patrick Gorman: Well, I don’t have the Foreign Minister’s final schedule for her travel to Indonesia and to Singapore, so I don’t think I can comment specifically on that.

Journalist: I think it’s a work in progress.

Patrick Gorman: In terms of what we know is that the G20 Foreign Ministers will meet in Bali tomorrow. That’s obviously a precursor to the meeting that Prime Minister Albanese You will attend in a few months time. This is about setting the agenda for that meeting for global economic cooperation at a time where we are seeing huge shifts in the global economy. And indeed, the G20 was a great achievement that Australia had a voice in creating back when we faced some other big economic challenges during the global financial crisis. Now, we’ve said that and the Foreign Minister has said that herself, we are open to having conversations about Australia’s national interests and expressing those, even to countries where we might not see eye to eye. And China is one example. So whether or not that meeting goes ahead, we said that we are open to dialogue, even when that might mean some pretty strong and long standing disagreements.

Journalist: Well, it might demand that some really sensitive topics be broached, might it not Matt Canavan, if Penny Wong’s in the same room one on one with Wang Yi. You’ve got trade, you’ve got some human rights detention of an Australian journalist matters, for instance. What are the must tick boxes, do you think?

Matt Canavan: Look, you’ve covered them there. Obviously, on security and the economic front, the trade front, I would hope that our Foreign Minister puts our interest strongly forward to China. Clearly, China has acted in a way that’s damaged our relationship in the last couple of years through the unilateral and unjustified trade sanctions on this country. Now, some members of the opposition, the last couple of years, sort of almost tried to go against Australia’s side there and almost put blame on the Australian government for it. But clearly these trade sanctions were unjustified. So hopefully the new government makes that case firmly and we’re still and I’m glad to see the new government is continuing the dispute to the WTO in regards to those. But look, whatever happens in a meeting doesn’t change the fact that we’ve got to reduce our dependence on China. There’s nothing China can say now in a meeting to make up for the lack of trust or damage to the trust and the relationship that their actions have caused over the past couple of years. So we now, as a nation, must seek and develop other trade partners and reduce our reliance on China. That’s growing significant in the last few decades and it would be much better for our health as a nation to reduce that as soon as possible.

Journalist: All right, let’s finish off with one on health. It looks as though ATAGI is in the process of probably going to give approval to across the board fourth doses, at least for adults. How far down the age range they go remains to be seen. Matt Canavan to you, first of all, would you take it if it’s strongly encouraged or advised?

Matt Canavan: No, I haven’t got the third booster. I’m not getting any more of these right now. Look, I got the vaccine. I just don’t think the evidence is there for people in my age category. That’s my view, my judgement. I had some pretty mild side effects. Still ones that are a little bit concerning from the initial vaccine and Omicron variant doesn’t seem all that concerning. Look, I mean, I just believe everybody should make their own mind up now and make their own choices. The vaccine, obviously is not going to get rid of covid it’s with us and here to stay. We have very high vaccination rates and obviously very high spread of covid, too. So, look, I do think the vaccine is useful for those in high risk categories and what have you, but for young, fit and healthy people facing an Omicron variant, I’m not convinced.

Journalist: Okay, individual choice. What about your individual choice, Patrick Gorman, where are you up to and would you take the fourth?

Patrick Gorman: I’m triple dose vaccinated and I encourage all of your viewers if you’re eligible for a third dose to get it. We know that there are some 6 million Australians who haven’t had their third dose. It is effective at preventing severe impacts from covid. So I do encourage people to get that third dose. When the fourth dose is approved for people in my age category, I will line up, probably a local pharmacy in Maylands and get my fourth dose. And I’ve got two young kids, one and four. Currently, neither of them are eligible for an approved covid vaccination. If an approval comes through, of course, again, we’ll follow the health advice. I feel like with little kids, I’m always getting them vaccinated for something, flu for a whole range of things, so I’m pretty good at holding them tight and giving them a good cuddle after they’ve had a needle. One more to look after their health, I’m up for that, too.

Journalist: And I’m sure at those ages they’re not going to resist Dad’s advice. Pat Gorman and Matt Canavan, thanks so much for joining us. We’ll talk to both of you again before too long.

Matt Canavan: Thanks, Greg.

Patrick Gorman: Thanks, Greg.

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