Interview with 2GB, Deb Knight - Friday 27 October 2023

Monday, 30 October 2023

Topics: Engineered stone top benchtops, PM’s visit to the US, cost of living, the most memorable gifts you've ever received


DEB KNIGHT: Question Time on Afternoons with Deborah Knight. And as always, we're joined by the Minister for the NDIS, Bill Shorten, and the Shadow Treasurer, Angus Taylor, for our weekly wrap of politics. Fellas, hello to you. I'll get into the US visit in just a moment but just on the engineered stone bench tops we've got the Work Health and Safety Ministers meeting right now looking at a potential ban on engineered stone. Bill, the unions are pushing very hard for a blanket ban, the CFMEU members led strike action on New South Wales Parliament, a protest action yesterday. What are your thoughts should a blanket ban be brought in?

BILL SHORTEN: I know that the Ministers are meeting right now to discuss the Safe Work Australia report on silicosis which they commissioned earlier this year. I absolutely, both personally, I know the government doesn't believe that people should not be contracting terminal illnesses because they've turned up to work. That's why we asked Safe Work Australia, who's the National Health and Safety Regulatory to prepare a report. I think the next stage is to get the facts on the table. I know the Commonwealth is asking the meeting to just publicly release the report while further decisions including potential bans are made.

DEB KNIGHT: And how do you do it though if you've got some states wanting to bring in a ban and others don't want to? It's tricky Angus when not everyone's on the same page.

ANGUS TAYLOR: Yeah, well that's right Deb but can I just say up front that everyone has the right to a healthy and safe work environment and that has to be a priority and silicosis of course it's an awful disease. That's why when we were in government, we took a leadership role and established the National Dust Disease Taskforce, which was focused on dealing with this. My view is similar to Bill's. Let's let the process play out today, but worker safety has to be an absolute priority.

DEB KNIGHT: And I'll bring you any news from that meeting as we get it. Now this US visit by the Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, he'd been honoured at the official state dinner, which is a rare celebration of the Alliance. But there's also been some pointed comments from the US President Joe Biden warning Australia not to trust everything that China tells us. And that's ahead of the visit from the PM to Beijing next week. Bill, we are piggy in the middle really here between these two superpowers. Can we manage both these relationships effectively?

BILL SHORTEN: Yeah, we can. We have no choice. So, I think saying piggy in the middle sort of denies our ability to have some agency. I think it's been great that the Prime Minister has had this state visit to the United States. They're our most important security ally. We share many common values. But I also think it's great that he's going to China. Like, the world's a complicated place and...

DEB KNIGHT: Oh, have we lost Bill? Have we got you... Sorry, we just lost you there for a moment.

BILL SHORTEN: Sorry. The world's a complicated place. It's not enough, I think, for you to say it's too hard to sort out. China and America, we've just got to pursue our national interests. I think the pictures of the state visits show a very successful trip, which is important. But I'm sure also that being able to engage with China is crucial. We’ve just got to walk and chew gum at the same time.

DEB KNIGHT: And Angus, do you think this trip was worth it? Because at the end of the day, we still haven't got a guarantee about AUKUS and a lot of our listeners have been asking, apart from nice dinners and nice pictures, what do we get out of it?

ANGUS TAYLOR: Well, it's important for the Prime Minister to engage internationally, and it is appropriate to do that whenever it's possible to do it. And so, we do support that. I mean, obviously the part of the objective of the trip was to build on past achievements, which, you know, these things should be as bipartisan as possible. Or because I think it is, of course, and we need to build on that. Also, to deal with Microsoft, which was built on the $10 billion-dollar RED SPICE cyber investment that we made when we were in government. I mean, it's good to see building on past work and we want to see more of that. The Prime Minister needs to walk and chew gum, as Bill rightly said. Our concern with this trip is that he keeps taking his eye off the domestic issues and the number one domestic issue of course is the cost-of-living crisis, which has reared its ugly head again this week in the inflation data and we need a Prime Minister that treats that as an absolute top priority.

DEB KNIGHT: And Bill, we know ordinary Australians are really struggling and we're looking down the barrel of another interest rate rise. All the major banks are now betting on a Melbourne Cup Day interest rate rise. We've had the inflation figures, inflation down slightly but not enough. And Michelle Bullock saying she's concerned, the RBA Governor, about inflation. Are you doing enough to help Australians struggling with the cost of living?

BILL SHORTEN: Yeah, let's just address this question that somehow because the Prime Minister's talking to President Joe Biden that nothing else is happening. That isn't fair. You've got to talk. You've got to do these visits. In terms of outcomes, he's been pressing the case to keep progressing AUKUS. So, I think that's good there. And we've got the Treasury and the rest of the government working away. Like I have to say, when the Prime Minister goes overseas, the rest of us don't go down to the beach. There's a fair bit going on in terms of inflation, though. There's no doubt that the petrol prices, which have spiked in the September quarter, have added real pressure. You know, treasury, who are the public servants who sort of watch the economy and measure what's happening, they say that petrol prices probably rose by more than 7 per cent in September. Anyone who's filling up their petrol tank knows that. And so that is putting pressure and, you know, the petrol price is being driven by factors……. (phone reception issues) …..billion dollars of relief in the last two budgets to help battling Australians cope with some of the pressure. So, we want to do it in a way which isn't stimulatory or inflationary. I would like to perhaps call out a bit more (phone reception issues).

DEB KNIGHT: Bill, we've got a sketchy phone line from you. It keeps cutting in and out. We're sort of missing a few words here. We might just try and get you on a better phone line. But Angus, as we do that, isn't it a bit disingenuous for the opposition to be blaming the government when a lot of the conditions for inflation were set up when you were in power, all of the spending, all of the stimulus packages during COVID have fuelled a lot of the current inflation?

ANGUS TAYLOR: Well, when you're in government you deal with the hand you have as we did right through COVID and my problem with all of this is that this hasn't been the government's priority. They've been distracted, they've been focused on other things to the point where we had the Treasurer this week in denial. Now if you take what Bill just said, which is probably what the Treasurer said, that it was all about fuel. We know fuel prices are through the roof. But let me tell you, when you take fuel out of the numbers, you've still got inflation well above expectations, much higher than it needs to be. And Australians know, they're paying more for their insurance, they're paying more for their council rates, they're paying more for their furniture, for their groceries and insurance.

DEB KNIGHT: But fuel's a big driver. Can you really blame the government for the conflict in the Middle East driving higher fuel prices?

ANGUS TAYLOR: That's not what caused those numbers we got this week. The point was much broader than that. We have inflation happening across the board. Just ask anyone about the electricity bills they're receiving now. Their insurance premiums they're paying at the moment. And what they're paying for their groceries, it's much broader. We saw that in the numbers. We've seen a number of economists saying, hey, it's a lot more than just fuel at work here. And we have a government that's been asleep on the job, been focused on its referendum. We have a Prime Minister who doesn't like talking about the cost-of-living issues, whether he's overseas or at home and a Treasurer who tells Australians they're better off, and even the ABC has called him out for being misleading on this. Australians are worse off and he needs to get with the act, get his eye on the ball, and right now we've got a government and a Treasurer that don't have their eye on the ball.

ANGUS TAYLOR: Bill, we've got you back on a better phone line.

BILL SHORTEN: Listen I heard Angus' talking points. The reality is petrol has spiked and if Angus thinks that petrol is not a big element in people's budgets.

ANGUS TAYLOR: That's not what I said Bill.

BILL SHORTEN: He's just fortunate.

ANGUS TAYLOR: Don't verbal me mate!

BILL SHORTEN: No, no. Sorry, Angus, I didn't mean to interrupt you with an answer. You said earlier, on, it's not just, you said it's not just inflation caused by petrol. Well, petrol is a giant issue at the moment, and as Deb pointed out, we don't control that. In terms of the other issues, I do think that we've got to have a conversation about Woolworths and Coles. I get worried that some of the big corporations are taking...profits at a time when prices are going up. And so I do worry that there's some behaviour occurring which is exploiting the general circumstance of inflation to improve the bottom line of some big corporations and banks.

DEB KNIGHT: So what will you do to swoop on that? What can the government do?

BILL SHORTEN: We've got to start having that conversation. I mean I'm the NDIS Minister but I get sick of some service providers just upping prices all the time. What I'm going to do in my NDIS area is we are going to clamp down on that, because I think that some people are having a lend of the system at the moment, saying oh it's all inflation but they're actually stimulating it by inappropriate price increases. In terms of the other issues, we have put $23 billion of relief through our 10-point plan to help ease cost of living pressures in cheaper medicine, cheaper childcare, we've got to do it in a way which doesn't trigger inflation, but you know, so this argument that somehow because if there's one nightly news story about Prime Minister being in America. That's what the news covers but that doesn't mean that the rest of the government isn't working incredibly hard to try and do the very best we can for everyday audits.

DEB KNIGHT: Alright.

ANGUS TAYLOR: But Bill, the Prime Minister spent months talking about his Voice. As soon as that's done, he cancels a week of Parliament so he can go over to the US. So, we need him to go to the US. Traditionally Prime Ministers did that and we still had Parliament. Look honestly, he hasn't had his eye on the ball. He is distracted and you've got a Treasurer who's in denial about the pain that Australians are feeling across everything, including...

BILL SHORTEN: Angus you’d be more credible on your point if the opposition hadn't asked 93 questions on The Voice and bugger all about cost of living.

DEB KNIGHT: Alright, alright, we're going to agree to disagree. I want to end on something a bit lighter as we do every Friday. The visit to the US had the traditional exchange of gifts between the leaders and there was a lot of them in fact, including an antique writing desk from the Bidens an American furniture company with gold engraving on the side. And President Biden also gave our PM a custom-made turntable. A nod to DJ Albo. But I want to know from you two, what are the most memorable gifts you've ever received and by memorable, they can be good or dodgy? Bill?

BILL SHORTEN: One of the nicest gifts I got was from Yunupingu, who's now passed, where he gave me a totem, the totem of a big crocodile skin, which was the totem of his, the Gumatj clan of the Yolngu people. That was fantastic! I have to say though that, no one's ever given me a nice writing desk. What I do have though is draws and draws of t-shirts from various causes that people give you. I have the ugliest t-shirt collection in the world.

DEB KNIGHT: They're good to wear to the gym or on the pollie pedal.

BILL SHORTEN: They have a purpose that I realised 10 second skill is my collection of really ugly campaign and worthy cause t-shirts.

DEB KNIGHT: There you go. You've probably got a few yes vote shirts in there too.

BILL SHORTEN: Oh yeah, there's a few of them too, don't worry.

DEB KNIGHT: Angus, what about you?

ANGUS TAYLOR: I've got a few no shirts. I'm hoping they’ll be souvenirs in a decade or two. But I did get this year, I did get a great present from one of the sponsors of the State of Origin with a Blues jersey, personalised, which was very nice so I can pretend that I might have actually been a good footy player at one time.

DEB KNIGHT: Live in hope, live in hope or live vicariously through others.

BILL SHORTEN: That means no one else can take it too, so that's good you know.

DEB KNIGHT: That is true, that is true. Fellas always good to talk. Angus Taylor and Bill Shorten for our weekly dose of question time. Keep your feedback coming as we always get a lot of it on a Friday.