Topics: Russian diplomats in Australia, Queensland floods, Labor Party’s weak drug policies, election date.
PETER STEFANOVIC: Well, joining us live now is the Home Affairs Minister Karen Andrews. Minister, good morning. Good to see you. Thanks for your time as always. I just want to start with Russian diplomats, because Labor has announced last night that it wants them expelled from Australia. Do you think they should be as well?
KAREN ANDREWS: Well, good morning. What you will see from the Morrison government is a considered response. We will take into account all of the issues that we need to. It won’t be a knee-jerk reaction. Now, clearly there’s been discussions underway for some time about matters in Ukraine, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Look, I understand what the opposition may have said. That’s fine. But from the Morrison government you will actually receive and see a very considered response that takes into account the many issues that we need to be mindful of. And first and foremost, we will have Australia’s at the front.
PETER STEFANOVIC: Do you think that – ie expelling them – outweighs the risks of cutting off a line of communication and then also puts lives in danger because then our diplomats would be expelled from Russia?
KAREN ANDREWS: Look, clearly with any action you’ve got to consider what the response is going to be. So it’s very easy to stand up and say, “Oh, do this,” but you actually have to consider what the response will be, what the repercussions of that are going to be. And we will go as the government quite deeply into the issues of the Ukraine and Russia, what the impact will be of any actions that we might take on Australia and Australians. And, as I’ve said, that is going to be front of mind for us, as it always has been.
PETER STEFANOVIC: Some countries have done it already, but none of the Five Eyes partners have done it just yet. I mean, that would have to be a consideration, too, right? Would you be unwilling to be the first?
KAREN ANDREWS: Well, we’ve always said that we will work closely with our Five Eyes counterparts, our allies there. We will continue to do that. Look, as you would imagine, there have been many discussions about the situation in Ukraine. I speak to my Five Eyes counterparts with the interior ministers, the home affairs ministers. We will take into consideration the full implications of any action that we take. We will continue to work with the Five Eyes, but we will always make sure that Australia’s best interests are protected.
PETER STEFANOVIC: Okay. You’re coming to us from Perth at the moment. But a bit of breaking news this morning from your state of Queensland. You, as a federal government, will co-fund the Queensland government’s $771 million flood rescue package. This comes after initially rejecting it. It sounds an awful lot like a backflip. Why did you do it?
KAREN ANDREWS: Well, I think the behaviour of the Queensland State Government yesterday was just disgraceful. What they did was they played with the people who have been deeply affected by the floods. Now, the State Government in Queensland understands very clearly the support that the Federal Government has given, how quick we were to roll out payments not just in Queensland but around the affected areas, particularly along the east coast. They’re aware of that. And what they did was absolutely shameful. Now, I’m already on the record as saying that what the Queensland Government will do is attempt to be the Federal Opposition throughout the campaign. So they’re out there they’re fighting on behalf of Anthony Albanese who’s not present in Queensland at the moment. He’s elsewhere in the country. But I am so concerned about what the Queensland Government has done – undermining confidence, attacking people who have really faced significant losses. Now, I’m pleased as a Federal Government that we are stepping in and we are supporting – continuing to support those people that have been so affected by the floods. But really, the Queensland Government just needs to calm down. They need to stay in their lane, do their own job.
PETER STEFANOVIC: Did you do it, though, because you were pressured upon fearing electoral blow back?
KAREN ANDREWS: Look, any action that we take is considered. It takes into account a whole range of relevant issues. Now, I’ve been involved in discussions about support for flood victims for quite some time. As I’ve said before, the actions of the Queensland State Government were just shameful yesterday. They really were. So we’ve actually stepped in as a Federal Government. We’re providing support. We will continue to provide support. Our interest is supporting those people on the ground who are doing it so tough.
PETER STEFANOVIC: Just finally, Labor has accused you of scare tactics and political desperation after claiming that Anthony Albanese would greenlight decriminalisation of drug trafficking offences in negotiation to form a Labor-Greens Government. Your claims are false, aren’t they?
KAREN ANDREWS: No. Let’s be very clear: there have been a number of media reports over a number of years in relation to decriminalisation of drugs. Now, this issue was actually raised quite some time ago with one of the Labor members from Canberra. We actually responded to that. We’ve always, as the Coalition Government, taken a very, very strong position on drugs. Now what we’ve seen from Anthony Albanese is that he has spent three years doing two things: one, character assassinating the Prime Minister of Australia; and secondly, making sure that he is a very, very small target. Well, the time’s up now, and people are very focused on what the Labor leader stands for, what they might expect in the hopefully very unlikely event that he does become the Prime Minister. But people need to understand what he has said and done in the past. And the Labor Government has been very, very silent on a range of issues – on drugs, it has been silent. On protecting our borders it has been very silent. So it is now time. If they want to present themselves to the Australian people as a credible alternative they have to stand for something. And at this point in time so few people around Australia have any understanding of what Labor stands for.
PETER STEFANOVIC: Will the election be called tomorrow?
KAREN ANDREWS: I don’t know. That’s up to the Prime Minister. I’m ready. The government is ready to go to election. But the timing of that sits with the Prime Minister.
PETER STEFANOVIC: Okay. Worth a try. Karen Andrews, thank you.
KAREN ANDREWS: Yeah, it was worth a try.