Topics: New Border Watch campaign to protect Australia’s borders, Port of Darwin lease, resumption of international cruise ship arrivals, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine driving up fuel prices, ‘mean girl’ claims within the Labor Party.
NEIL BREEN: On Wednesdays I speak to the Home Affairs Minister, the MP for McPherson on the Gold Coast, Karen Andrews. She joins me on the line from Darwin. Good morning, Minister.
KAREN ANDREWS: Good morning, Neil. How are you?
NEIL BREEN: I’m very well, thanks. What’s happening in Darwin?
KAREN ANDREWS: Well, there’s a few things that are happening in Darwin, but I am here to announce further work on a campaign that we’ve run previously, which is to do with Border Watch and making sure that we’re reminding people that as the borders are now reopening that they need to be very alert to anything suspicious that they see and they need to be able to report it, and they should report it as soon as they see something that just doesn’t seem quite right to them.
NEIL BREEN: Do we own the Port in Darwin these days, or is it still owned by the Chinese?
KAREN ANDREWS: Well, there’s a lease at the Port of Darwin. I understand that many people are concerned about the implications of the ownership of the Port of Darwin, many ports for that matter. So, yes, it is one of the ports that is certainly under a 99-year lease.
NEIL BREEN: Yeah, well, we’re all worried about China because the government tells us to worry about China every day. So it’s a legitimate question.
KAREN ANDREWS: Absolutely. It certainly is. And what I can say is that in my portfolio of Home Affairs one of the things that I have responsibility for is our critical infrastructure and our cyber security related to critical infrastructure. So we are passing legislation – hopefully when we go back at the end of March – that will actually give us additional powers to deal with systems of national significance, which could well include the Port of Darwin. And what that means is that we can put significant terms and conditions on these systems of national significance, which will give enhanced reporting requirements. But we can – certainly as a Government – keep a close eye on what is happening.
NEIL BREEN: So today, is that with this new campaign, it’s about encouraging us to protect the border?
KAREN ANDREWS: Well, our borders are reopening and, in fact, we’ve just had the announcement about opening to cruising, which I know that many Australians would certainly be keen to see happening sooner, rather than later. But that’s on track now to open in the middle of April. But, yes, as we open our borders, we know that a lot of things have continued to come across our borders during COVID. There’s been significant increases in the amount of drugs, tobacco, weapons that have been detected coming across. And that has a lot to do with the additional funding that the Coalition Government has given to the Australian Federal Police, for example, where they’re now funded to the tune of $1.7 billion. So a lot of work has been done, but we know that as the borders reopen and there are greater movements in and out of the country, things such as drugs, weapons and tobacco are more than likely going to increase. That’s why we’re calling on the community to be part of stopping things that they see by reporting them. So, if they see something that doesn’t look right, whether they see parcels lying around, whether they see, for example – and this is actually a real example – someone actually picked up that hand wipes were not, in fact, hand wipes, there was tobacco in there, they reported it. Border Force came in, seized that and are doing a lot of work trying to shut that particular access path down. So if you see something unusual, if you see something that’s not quite right, you’re better off to report it, and that’s to borderwatch.gov.au.
NEIL BREEN: So also today I think about all the things that are happening in Australia and the number one thing that’s bubbled up is cost of living – the fuel excise. You’re a member of cabinet. Can Australians expect to see movement on this front?
KAREN ANDREWS: Well, with the fuel excise I think we need to all – at least – be aware that that goes towards funding our roads. So we know that they’ve been hit during the flooding. We know that we are constantly needing to upgrade roads and putting in new roads. So that’s where the fuel excise goes – to transport infrastructure. So it’s getting the balance right. As a Government, we have looked really holistically at the issue of cost of living. We’ve focused very much on child care and getting the fees down. We’re looking at energy prices, and we’ve been quite successful in stemming the increases of the cost of our energy. And, in fact, it’s lower now than it has been previously. So you’ve got to look at cost of living – and I’m very mindful of it. I mean, I pay the same price as everyone else at the bowser, so I’m concerned when here hitting the likes of $2.20 a litre for either unleaded or diesel. Cost of living is something that we’ve got to look at right across the board – what can we do to make cost of living reasonable for Australians? That’s where it’s child care, it’s looking at energy prices. And they’re probably the biggest ticket items. Fuel is clearly there and we know that the price of fuel has increased dramatically since Russia invaded Ukraine. So we’re dealing with that issue because it’s the crude oil price that determines, largely, what we’re seeing at the bowser here in Australia. And that has gone up by about 30 per cent.
NEIL BREEN: Well, I reckon it’s sucked 80 to a hundred bucks a month out of a family budget if they’ve got to do a lot of running around for school and sport and everything. So it’s a big election issue. Also building as an election issue is exactly what sort of party and government will Labor run. There’s this story in the Australian today by Sharri Markson. It’s about the late Senator Kimberley Kitching. It makes for harrowing reading. Is there a mean girls group in the senior ranks of the Labor Party?
KAREN ANDREWS: Well, look, I read the mean girls story this morning, and, look, quite frankly, I was horrified – not necessarily surprised, but horrified – with what I read. Look, Labor’s spent the last couple of years trying to stay under the radar. And, of course, now we’re getting close to an election some of their behaviours are starting to bubble up. You know, you started the question with ‘what’s a Labor government going to look like’ – well, who knows? Because they’ve spent so much time trying to not be noticed that no-one knows what they stand for, who they are. And, of course, then you get the mean girls story out today and people are rightly starting to raise an eyebrow and say ‘what’s going on’?
NEIL BREEN: The story is disturbing, and especially when you look at the fact that she was pulled this direction, that direction and the other direction. Do you think that Senator Penny Wong, Kristina Keneally, players like that in the Labor Party, have got questions to answer today?
KAREN ANDREWS: Look, I think that there’s probably a lot that happened that is not in the public domain. I make no comments in relation to what might have happened because I simply don’t know. I’m not a Senator. I don’t know what was happening in those discussions. But it was a difficult read, I’ve got to say, in the media this morning. It was not a positive story at all, and it didn’t give people confidence in the running of Senate Estimates because that’s when – I understand – a lot of that was happening. So, look, it’s a disappointing sorry. We don’t need mean girls anywhere. And what women in Australia want is actually some good role models. And that doesn’t come from nastiness and unpleasantness – it comes from standing up and showing good leadership.
NEIL BREEN: Karen Andrews, the Home Affairs Minister, thanks for your time from Darwin today. Have a good day.
KAREN ANDREWS: You too. Take care.