Sky News Afternoon Agenda With Tom Connell

Assistant Minister to the Prime Minister

TOM CONNELL, HOST: We have the Federal Government today saying that there could be a fuel emissions standard. They are at least wanting to open up that discussion. It’s all about getting lower emissions vehicles into the country, including electric vehicles and hybrid as well. Joining me live for more on this is Patrick Gorman, the Assistant Minister to the Prime Minister. Thanks very much for your time. This was something Labor took to 2019, that election, then it said it wouldn’t go ahead with it. Now it might again. Isn’t that a broken election promise?

PATRICK GORMAN, ASSISTANT MINISTER TO THE PRIME MINISTER: What we took to the last election three months ago was a commitment to have a national electric vehicle strategy. That’s what the Minister has announced today. And of course, in doing that, you’re going to have to talk about fuel standards and emissions standards. It’s an entirely logical piece of the conversation. It’s a piece of the conversation that the Australian people want us to have because it’s about making sure that they’ve got vehicles that lasts longer, vehicles that cost less to run and a wider range of vehicle choice when it comes to low emission vehicles in Australia.

CONNELL: So the vehicle emissions standard, though, was in your platform in 2019 and removed ahead of the last campaign. So if it’s just part of a normal policy, why was it removed?

GORMAN: What we’ve said is, we’re going to open up the conversation with the Australian people. So everyone, yourself, your viewers, people who have an interest in this industry, which is a huge part of our economy, can all have a say. That’s a pretty sensible thing to do. I’m coming to you from Osborne Park, which is the home of car dealerships of every variety here in the West. I would think that people want to make sure that when they go and buy a vehicle in Australia, they can get the best and latest tech, that cars lasts as long as possible and cost them as little as possible to run, basically.

CONNELL: Before the election were you scared off? We know what happened in 2019. Were you scared off this time around because you removed this from your policy platform. That’s what happened here.

GORMAN: We have had, and you’re right, Tom, there have been some people who’ve made some pretty hysterical complaints about various vehicles policies that Labor’s had. We had former Prime Minister Morrison claim that, we’d end the weekend. I think someone was out there today, saying that we’re trying to end the ute. Don’t know what that’s all about. But we’re out there consulting about what we did take to the election, which is a commitment to have a national electric vehicle strategy. And that’s got a whole range of things, not just fuel standards and emission standards. It’s also got the other pieces that we know that we need for a big country like Australia. What we’ve already committed is to build a national electric vehicle charging highway so that every 150 kilometres, when you’re trying to get from Perth all the way to Canberra, you can charge your car – that will encourage people to take up electric vehicles. I drive one. I love it. I’m an advocate, but we need to make sure this technology works for people wherever they live and whatever income level they’re on.

CONNELL: There you go. The discussion will commence. We’ll see where it goes. I want to ask you about the big week that has been, it did kick start a conversation again around a Royal Commission into COVID-19. Totally life-changing experience for just about everyone in the country. It would be inconceivable not to have one, says Anthony Albanese. So we will have one. Is that the pledge? And when will it be?

GORMAN: Well, we’ve said that it would be inconceivable not to have an inquiry of some sort into all of the lessons from COVID-19 to make sure that we have a stronger response for the next challenge that really puts pressure on our nation. The advice from health authorities that there will be more pandemics. The gaps between them will be less than they have been in the past. So, of course we need to have that inquiry. Unfortunately, we are still dealing with the live and current impacts of COVID-19. So that question of exactly what form that takes is a little bit down the track.

CONNELL: But why is that? The height of COVID, the pandemic has passed. COVID could be with us forever or for five years. We can’t just not have an inquiry because an element of it is still around. Don’t we need it as soon as possible. As you say, the next different pandemic might be in three years’ time. We might still not have started a Royal Commission by then. We need this now, don’t we?

GORMAN: We will need to have some form of an inquiry and that conversation over time. But let’s not get away from what actually has kick started this conversation again and for the first time led to some in the now former government in the Coalition calling for such an inquiry. And that has been the absolute trashing of the Westminster principles that have underpinned our political system for the last 120 years. That’s what’s caused this conversation to accelerate. And probably now there are a whole range of things that we would have never thought might need to be discussed with the Australian people because of the absolutely bizarre and inappropriate decisions that Scott Morrison made when he was Prime Minister.

CONNELL: Right. All the more reason to get and have an inquiry as soon as possible. I’m just trying to pin down what you’re saying before, we’re in the pandemic, sure, but we might be in three years. I mean, when is a good time for one? Can you tell me?

GORMAN: Well, the inquiry we’re doing right now is we’re trying to get to the bottom of what it was that Scott Morrison did in secret over the last couple of years in swearing himself in and out of ministries.

CONNELL: That’s fine, that can run its course, that’s very limited. That’s done, that’s happened. I mean, everything from the support that was paid out, we’ve got in hundreds of billions of dollars of more debt. Unprecedented power to lock down people, to lock people out of state, their own state at times. How state and federal powers intersected. I mean, take your pick. When will that inquiry happen? When is a good time for that one?

GORMAN: Well, obviously, the Prime Minister said earlier this week that we didn’t think that time was right now, but that is a conversation that we are very open to having. But the thing we’re waiting for right now is for the 22nd of August, on Monday, we’ll get the advice from the Solicitor General about exactly what the legal basis, not what Christian Porter said when he was talking to his mate Scott Morrison, what the actual legal basis is and the legal implications of what former Prime Minister Morrison did when he secretly swore himself in. Potentially a breach of the Coalition’s agreement between the Nationals and the Liberals, when he secretly swore himself in, we’re going to get a bit more advice on that and I think that’s the inquiry that most Australians, and indeed I think your viewers on Sky News are waiting to hear more about, because this is the thing that we’ve been discussing all week. There’s a lot more going on behind the scenes than any of us knew.

CONNELL: We’ll see, we’ll see. And they’re being asked countless questions on it, so they should be. A lot of our viewers would like to know about whether lockdowns might be used, again, as an example. But let me ask you another element of that, the Governor General’s role. We’ve had multiple legal and constitutional experts on this week and they say a Governor General has a duty to do several things, but one really specifically to at least inform Ministers in this situation or tell the Prime Minister he should inform the Ministers when this new power existed. We don’t know if David Hurley did that, whether he counselled the Prime Minister. Don’t we need to find out what role the GG played?

GORMAN: I can’t answer that question, Tom. The only person who knows what advice the Prime Minister received was the Prime Minister himself at the time, which was Scott Morrison. So if he’s available to come on your programme and answer exactly what he did and didn’t do, I think that would be a good thing. I can’t answer that. We’re not making a criticism of the Governor General. The Governor General acts on the advice of the government of the day. Scott Morrison is the one who breached convention. Scott Morrison is the one who chose not to tell people.

CONNELL: That’s fair enough. We don’t know the duties the Governor General actually carried out. I’m not asking you to criticise the Governor General, I’m asking whether it would be good for us to know for the future what he did, whether he did advise the Prime Minister and counsel him and say, you should make this public or you should tell the Ministers, wouldn’t that be good to know?

GORMAN: Well, the Governor General’s released a statement, I don’t have anything more to add there. What I do think is interesting, though, if you want to talk about who maybe should have actually been speaking up or raising some concerns, we now know that obviously Greg Hunt was aware that this happened. Michael McCormack knew and he knew that then Prime Minister Scott Morrison had sworn himself in to the Resources portfolio. I think it’s extraordinary that Michael McCormack didn’t pass that on and, from all reports, didn’t raise any questions in Cabinet. It didn’t click for him as the Deputy Prime Minister of Australia that maybe he should have done something about this. That’s pretty concerning. And I think that sort of shows that it wasn’t just Scott Morrison who wasn’t fulfilling his obligations to the Cabinet, it was a range of Cabinet members who weren’t asking questions, weren’t applying proper scrutiny, and that first amongst equals principle of applying good advice and scrutiny to the Prime Minister. I think that you see that culture rolls on today in terms of Peter Dutton’s approach, which is nothing to see here. Oh, it’s all in the past. It was one bad egg. It’s not all of us, which we’re seeing very quickly isn’t the case at all.

CONNELL: Going to leave it there, Patrick Gorman. We’ll talk again soon. Thank you.

GORMAN: Thank you, Tom.

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