ABC News Interview: Afternoon Briefing: Drought Anger, Climate Change, Decriminalisation of Public Interest Journalism



SUBJECTS: Drought Anger, Climate Emergency, Decriminalisation of Public Interest Journalism

PATRICIA KARVELAS, HOST: Welcome to both of you. Let’s start on drought Keith because there is clearly a lot of anger in the community that the Government is just not doing enough on drought and also perhaps some National MPs are feeling like you know the Liberals are pushing you out of the way. Are you concerned that that’s happening? 

KEITH PITT, MP: Oh look I stay focused on what matters to the people who are affected Patricia. 

KARVELASAnd are they happy with what you have provided? 

PITT: Well clearly the drought continues and as it does continue more and more is needed. So as the Prime Minister has said we continue to listen, we continue to adjust, we continue to change and I know there has been discussions ongoing in the last two weeks of the sittings as to what more we can be delivering to help with cash flow into those regional towns because whilst farmers are directly affected well so are small businesses because they lose their turnover and once you lose population from those areas it’s very difficult to recover. So we’re doing everything we can. If there is more to be done we will deliver it. Certainly we continue –    

KARVELAS: You say if there’s more. So that’s the key question. Do you think there’s more? 

PITT: Well of course as the Prime Minster has said we continue to review and look at this. I think there will be further opportunities in the very near future. I know that the Cabinet is incredible focused on what’s going on. But for us as individuals I mean we share our people’s frustration. It is a terrible time for them. For many it has been six or seven years. I’ve been to some of these communities previously over the last couple of years and it’s just tragic. It’s terrible. 

KARVELAS: Sure and they want action from the Government. We all know it’s terrible. They know it’s terrible. They know that the Government can’t put the rain on but the Government can respond adequately right? 

PITT: Well in my view there’s a few parts to this piece. The first one is to ensure that cash flow continues to flow into those towns. But in the medium to long term there is an opportunity here to make real changes in terms of critical infrastructure in regional Australia and we need to make sure that that is delivered. But at the moment we can’t do it without the states. Under the constitution their agreement is required. And I’ve got to congratulate NSW. They have made some tough decisions about changes to be able to fast track approvals particularly for water infrastructure and we need Queensland and other states to do something similar because this is about delivering for people in need, it’s not about politics. 

KARVELAS: Peter if I can just bring you in. Labor has been pushing and in fact it was the first question from Anthony Albanese in Question Time today for this kind of war cabinet approach to the drought. Is that just about a headline? What is the purpose of a war cabinet on this issue? There is lots of really serious issues that the nation faces. We don’t have war cabinets for all of them. 

PETER KHALIL, MP: Well Patricia I think there is a real need for a bi-partisan approach on this without any of the politics. Frankly we all know the drought is a national crisis.  

KARVELAS: Sure but Labor has been politicising this too. You can’t pretend that you’ve been not politicising the issue. 

KHALIL: Well it’s diabolical for farmers and this Government, if you want to talk politics, this Government has no drought strategy, no drought plan despite being in government for six years. It’s been pathetic and it’s merged in with incompetence. I mean you’ve got $1 million gone to a shire in Northwest Victoria that had plenty of rain. It’s absolutely incompetent and what we’re saying what the Leader of the Opposition is saying is let’s just sit down and have a bipartisan approach to what is a national crisis and work through it. I mean there are no more excuses for this Government to not deliver. They said that they were waiting for the National Farmers Federation report. Well they’ve got that now so that excuse has run out. They haven’t delivered. They’re actually kicking people, farmers off drought assistance packages so it’s worse than actually doing nothing. They’re actually making things worse to a certain extent and Keith bravely tries to sort of put a good spin on it and a good gloss on it. But the situation that farmers are facing is diabolical so enough with the incompetence enough with the lack of strategy and the lack of plan and let’s have a bipartisan approach in the national interest.  

KARVELAS: Ok let’s just park that issue because we’re not about to have a bi-partisan approach on this show because the Prime Minister has not declared a war cabinet. So let’s move on because Peter the Deputy Secretary for Climate Change and Energy Innovation Joe Evans is reported to have said the Department would not use the word emergency but would stick to a factual description. Will Labor stick with this language of a climate emergency? 

KHALIL: Well we passed the motion, or tried to pass a motion. 

KARVELAS: Couldn’t get it passed. 

KHALIL: Couldn’t get it passed the Government because it is a climate emergency. Look if you believe the science, if you accept the overwhelming scientific evidence there is a climate emergency. There is a crisis going on. And Keith again got up and spoke against that motion this morning. The fact is that the scientific evidence is overwhelming. So that leads us to what we should be doing about it. The fact is that this government is not doing anything about it. Emissions are going up under this Government. They’re not going to meet even their Paris commitments and they are really falling behind the rest of the world and we are saying that action has to be taken. Yes, look, I know you’re going to say that declaring a motion on climate emergency is somewhat symbolic –  

KARVELAS: Well it is right? 

KHALIL: Well it’s also important. 

KARVELAS: But it is symbolism isn’t it? 

KHALILBut it is important to put that out in the public, to advocate for better action on climate change, investment in renewables, emissions reduction targets, investment in solar and wind. This is what needs to happen. You need to have that strategic overlay and a motion like this where we’re talking about the need for action is critically important and we’re falling behind governments in the UK and France and elsewhere.  

KARVELAS: Let me get Keith Pitt involved in this conversation too because  Keith Pitt we spoke to Zali Steggall before who will be showing the parliament this, I’ve got to say a lot of people have signed this over 400,000, why not allow a conscience vote on it? That’s what she says should happen. You’d probably vote no to it but maybe some of the other MPs would vote yes? 

PITT: Well I think we need to look at what happened in the Parliament this morning with the PMB. What Labor has put forward – there’s no proposal. They’re just all slogan. And I’ll apologise again to Peter as I did this morning. I did a count of how many Labor MPs were in the Chamber when this debate was on and I thought there was five. I didn’t quite see Peter over to my right. There was six so it’s so important to the Labor party that they put up the climate emergency motion that they weren’t even there.  

KHALIL: Come on Keith you know how Parliament works. 

PITT: Sloganeering at its worst and I think we need to get past this stuff. You don’t want to be out scaring the population. 

KARVELAS: Yeah but you haven’t answered my question which is why not allow a conscience vote on it? 

PITT: That’s a matter for the Leader of Government business as to how that moves forward. Look to be honest I think the Government has put forward a practical position. It’s one that we took to the election. It was approved and supported by the Australian people and we will deliver what we said we would. I think that sort of symbolism we are way past. If you want action, well we need to get on with it. 

KARVELAS: Let’s talk about another huge issue. A campaign by media organisations has kicked off this week calling for the decriminalisation of public interest journalism so I want to know from you Keith Pitt, do you support this campaign “Your Right to Know’? 

PITT: Well I think we need to break this down a little bit Patricia. 

KARVELAS: Well do you think journalism is a crime, I’ll ask you that.

PITT: Well not at all.  

KARVELAS: Why is it treated as a crime? 

PITT: Well I don’t believe that it is. Everyone has to abide by the law. 

KARVELAS: Sure but if the laws are broken that’s the issue isn’t it? 

PITT: Well that’s the exact question I mean I’m sure that in your organisation you would review what you put forward in terms of defamation laws, you would ensure that you’re not affecting a current procedure or a current motion or whatever is happening before the courts, you would ensure that you’re not going to breach national security. So there are laws that apply to journalists just like there are –  

KARVELAS: Sure journalists have to think about the public interest and what we see now very much demonstrated is that the public interest is not being maintained because of these restrictive laws. Will you commit to changing those laws? 

PITT: I have no issues with what’s happened in the media today. And if the balance is moved to a position which is not in the public interest and not acceptable to the members of the public well they will need to be reviewed. Which is exactly what Christian Porter has said, and that is why is has put it forward to the Joint Standing Committee for review. 

KARVELAS: Does it trouble you that journalists could face jail? 

PITT: What troubles me is that if there are laws that individuals are willing to break, whether those laws are appropriate or not. And that is the purpose of the review. Just like defamation, just like court proceedings, just like the separation of powers. No one is above the law, no one is untouchable. And that includes me. 

KARVELAS: Okay, but the question is, does it trouble you that journalists could face jail? Anika Smethurst and the two ABC journalists? 

PITT: I think all things that are put forward in the parliament are of concern to us as MPs. And I take Christian Porter at his word. He says he is reviewing what is happening in terms of those processes, he has made some slight adjustments already, he has made recommendations to the Joint Standing Committee for review. And we do have to go through that process. 

KARVELAS: Peter Khalil I know Labor’s position on the right to know, so I want to ask you about another quite contentious issue. The CFMEU has warned Labor of an ongoing conflict with the union movement because of the latest free trade agreement, they say you have sold workers out, have you? 

KHALIL: No Patricia, we haven’t. In fact, I am Deputy Chair of the Joint Standing Committee on Treaties and we work very hard, the Labor members in that Committee to ensure that there are a number of recommendations and commitments in that committee report. Recommendations to the Government, that reflect Labor values on free and fair trade including getting rid or terminating the old the bilateral investment treaty with Indonesia which had old ISDS provisions. One of the issues the union movement has around these free trade agreements. The fact is, the new ISDS provisions have carve outs around public policy and health and so on, which is far better than the old provisions. So voting for this free trade agreement means superseding the old agreement which was worse. And we also got independent economic modelling in as a recommendation as well as greater consultation mechanisms for civil society, stakeholders like the union movement to be a part of the negotiations prior to signing free trade agreements. Also around labour market testing, which was one of the big issues for the union movement. The leader of the opposition Anthony Albanese and the shadow minister just this morning announced that they have successfully negotiated with the government to ensure that if Australia was to enter into an agreement with Indonesia on contract service supplies, temporary work visas from Indonesia, that would be a treaty level agreement and it would not wave labour market testing. So these are important steps. 

KARVELAS: So the Union movement is wrong when they say, and it is not just one union it’s a few unions saying this, including the ACTU, the Australian Council of Trade Unions, that Labor has essentially rolled over on this and this will hurt workers. 

KHALIL: Well it’s not true. We have certainly have not rolled over, we have used everything in our power as opposition to adjust and improve the agreements, we have as I have said a number of recommendations which will hopefully be adopted by the government which I just articulated and a number of steps forward which will make things better. The fact is Patricia, we are in opposition, these agreements are negotiated and signed by the executive, by the government. We have no ability to influence that. What we can do through the committee process and through the parliament is to try and make some improvements and also we are voting effectively on enabling legislation which is the cutting of the tariffs, so it doesn’t change the agreements that has been signed. So we have done everything we can in our power to make things better and reflect labor values on trade.  

KARVELAS: Sure the union movement saying that you haven’t but we are going to have leave the discussion right there. Thank you so much for coming in.