Topics: Prime Minister’s strong leadership during the pandemic; Morrison Government’s significant new funding to counter all forms of violent extremism; serious questions about the Queensland government’s integrity.
NEIL BREEN: Home Affairs Minister and the MP for McPherson on the Gold Coast, Karen Andrews. The Minister joins me on the line. Good morning, Minister.
KAREN ANDREWS: Good morning, Neil. How are you?
NEIL BREEN: I’m well, thanks. I’m better than the Prime Minister. He copped it yesterday when he gave that speech to the National Press Club in Canberra and those text messages – unannounced – were read out to him by Peter Van Onselen from a Cabinet member to Gladys Berejiklian, describing him as a ‘horrible person.’ I take it you can rule yourself out as the Cabinet Minister?
KAREN ANDREWS: Yeah, I can definitely rule myself out. I certainly have said no such thing, and nor am I involved in any chat groups with the former Premier of New South Wales either. So I’m definitely ruled out of that. I think it was a very disappointing outcome really, from the Press Club yesterday. I thought the Prime Minister’s speech was good; he actually raised a lot of issues; he dealt with a lot of issues; he talked about what the future was going to be in terms of manufacturing and our recovery. That was all positive. Then we had the issue with supposed text messages from the former Premier Gladys Berejiklian, and some unnamed Cabinet Minister – it’s not clear if that person was from New South Wales. I would hope the individual is not from the Federal Parliament. But look, it was pretty ordinary, I’ve got to say. I’ve worked with the Prime Minister now for a number of years-
NEIL BREEN: What is he like behind the scenes? What is he like in Cabinet and places like that?
KAREN ANDREWS: I’ve always found him fair. I’ve always found him prepared to listen to what I have to say. He doesn’t always agree with some of the things that I put to him, but I always get a fair hearing, and I don’t expect that everything that I put up is going to be immediately accepted. So we shouldn’t be reading anything into that. I’ve always found him very firm and very fair-
NEIL BREEN: But he is a boss.
KAREN ANDREWS: Absolutely, and he gets to make the ultimate decisions about the direction that this country goes in. I advise him, as do many other people, on what our views are, what we think should be the case. I have always found him firm but fair and I don’t think he deserved what was done to him yesterday at the Press Club. I think he’s a decent person; he’s a very good leader; and he has dealt with things over the last two years, in particular, that no other leader has had to deal with from a Federal point of view for many, many, many years. Overall, I think you’ve got to say that Australia has done very well when you compare us to the situation that people from overseas have found themselves in. If you could just bear with me, Neil, just for a second-
NEIL BREEN: Yeah, go for it.
KAREN ANDREWS: I actually got a message yesterday – after the Press Club – from a friend of mine; Australian but living in Hungary, and this is what he said; “Perspective has been lost in the process. I live in a country of less than 10 million people, which has had 41 and a half thousand COVID deaths, more than ten times the Aussie toll, and still running at about 100 per day, and is struggling to get over 70 per cent double vaxed. Aussies have done bloody well when you also consider that you’ve had to deal with a Federal system in managing the crisis”. And you know what? I think that actually sums it up! Look at where Australia is when you compare us to many nations around the world. It’s to the full credit of Australians who’ve got out there, done what was needed, got vaccinated, have lined up for their booster shots. We as a nation have done incredibly well and we shouldn’t lose sight of that.
NEIL BREEN: Yeah, that’s something I’ve said often on the show. We went for AstraZeneca and it got poo pooed and there was negative all of these different things. I don’t need to repeat myself to listeners because they know where I stand. At the end of the day, we’ve got to well over 90 per cent double dose. It’s absolutely incredible. We ended up getting there faster than nearly every country in the world. As regards to Peter Van Onselen and that questioning of the Prime Minister yesterday, I thought he was entitled to pursue the story, but he should have pursued it in private. To pursue it publicly as a big ‘gotcha moment’ meant it was all about him being able to put himself on Channel Ten last night and grandstand, rather than pursue a story for the reasons of democracy. I’ll leave that there. You’re announcing more than 60 million in funding today to counter violent extremism. How’s this going to work?
KAREN ANDREWS: Yes, and Neil as we’ve spoken on the show before, we’re very much aware as a Government that over the last couple of years, people have had a lot of time at home and to be online; they’ve been looking at things that they shouldn’t have been looking at. Many more have become radicalised. But actually, it’s an issue that’s broader than just the extremist radicalisation that we’ve been used to hearing about. For example, the foreign fighters back in 2013-14, which was the focus of a lot of the countering violent extremism programs that we were running in Australia. So effectively what this money will do, is go towards a couple of things. Firstly, looking at extremism in multiple forms, and we’ve seen some evidence of some extremism happening in relation to COVID, in relation to vaccination. People have got some quite extreme views. We’re also targeting rural and regional parts of Australia as well, because we know that thoughts of violent extremism don’t just come from people who live in our cities. So we are doing all we can to make sure that the programs to counter violent extremists are targeting the areas that we need to, whether that be in the cities or in regional and rural Australia. We’re also looking very broadly at the issues that as a society we are going to be facing now and in the coming months and years.
NEIL BREEN: Yes. So Karen Andrews, at the moment in Queensland they’re engulfed in this integrity scandal and I’m running out of time. What’s your take on everything that’s happening at 1 William Street?
KAREN ANDREWS: Well, I think that the Premier of Queensland has a lot of answers that she needs to come up with and they need to be honest answers. I mean her government is in a lot of trouble at the moment and they’ve been able to hide behind very lengthy press conferences. The Premier standing up there and going ‘wow a double donut day’ and behind everything is crumbling. Now, a government’s integrity is very important and I agree with what you said earlier, Neil. This should not be left to just sort of slide away. The Premier can’t just trot out her spin team. She actually needs to stand up, face the music and explain what her government has done and it’s not pretty.
NEIL BREEN: Yeah, I don’t think it is either. Karen Andrews, the Home Affairs Minister, thank you so much for your time this morning.