Topics: Home Affairs portfolio, Cabinet, Mechanical engineering, Quotas, Australia Post, COVID-19 vaccine rollout
NEIL BREEN: Yes, my special guest joining me live in the studio this morning is Gold Coast MP, Karen Andrews. But she’s also a Cabinet Minister and she was promoted to one of the most senior positions in the Federal Government a couple of weeks ago in Scott Morrison’s Cabinet reshuffle. She takes on the portfolio of Home Affairs; Peter Dutton, who’s from, obviously Brisbane, he’s moved to the Defence portfolio, replacing Linda Reynolds. And the Minister’s here with me now. It’s a big portfolio, Home Affairs. Minister, how are you?
KAREN ANDREWS: I’m very well. And you’re absolutely right, Home Affairs is a huge portfolio.
NEIL BREEN: Yeah.
KAREN ANDREWS: Quite different to what I had been working in in the past – Industry, Science and Technology is clearly an economic portfolio. Home Affairs is a security portfolio. But what I have found over the last couple of weeks is that there is a lot of synergy between the two areas. So, I guess, going forward, my focus is going to be looking at how Home Affairs can do its job in terms of keeping Australians safe and secure, but also support our economic recovery.
NEIL BREEN: Of course, when people think of Home Affairs, in the last decade, I suppose, it morphed into the portfolio that was all about stopping the boats. And there’ll be a lot of pressure that comes with that on you.
KAREN ANDREWS: Yeah, look, absolutely. But let me be absolutely clear on this, there is no change in policy. A new minister does not equal a new policy. I have been very clear over the last couple of weeks that making sure that the boats continue to be stopped is an absolute priority. So the message for those people overseas that are looking for a change in policy from Australia is that that is not happening.
NEIL BREEN: There’s a lot of activism around about it and people, asylum seekers that have been stuck in detention for many, many years and you’ll be- the blowtorch will be put on you about that. Are you ready for all that?
KAREN ANDREWS: Yep, absolutely. So obviously, I’ve been part of the Government since we were …
NEIL BREEN: [Interrupts] And the Cabinet. You’ve been there and making the decisions.
KAREN ANDREWS: Absolutely. So I’m clearly very familiar with what our policies are, understand them, support what our policies are. We’ve made it very clear that our priority is to keep Australians safe and secure and that people who arrive here illegally will not have the opportunity to settle here. There is zero chance of that happening. We are not changing that policy.
NEIL BREEN: As a senior person in Cabinet, I’ll get to the female issue a little bit later. But a senior person in Cabinet, boy the pressure has been on over the last, what is it, 15 months now with the coronavirus? That Cabinet’s been under enormous pressure.
KAREN ANDREWS: Absolutely. And it’s been a very different Cabinet that we have seen functioning over the last 12 to 15 months.
NEIL BREEN: How’s that?
KAREN ANDREWS: Well, it’s been a very action oriented focus from all of the members of Cabinet. We have been very focussed on dealing with the issues as and when they arise, and to do that as quickly as we possibly can. So, it’s been very different. So, in terms of taking things through to Cabinet, we are getting a very good response when we talk to other ministers, there’s a lot of support that is coming through. And it’s what you would imagine would happen in all businesses, for example, when they were dealing with a crisis, they would have a different approach to matters coming forward so that they could deal and respond rapidly.
NEIL BREEN: Yeah, I think if Cabinet is a microcosm of businesses across the board, rather than a lot of forward planning, a lot of this and a lot of that. It all gets by the wayside because we’ve got to get through today and this week.
KAREN ANDREWS: Absolutely. Absolutely. And that’s what the Government has been very, very focussed on. Now, of course, we’re obviously considering issues over the longer term as well. That has been happening at the same time as we have been dealing with the COVID crisis. But when we were looking at how we could step up manufacturing in Australia, how we could look at procuring the vaccines, all the research and development that went into that, it happened at a pace that had not been done before.
NEIL BREEN: I was really interested when doing some research on you, and along with another woman, you were the first pair to complete a mechanical engineering degree at QUT.
KAREN ANDREWS: Yeah, the two Karens. So we were both –
NEIL BREEN: [Talks over] Oh the two Karens.
KAREN ANDREWS: We were both the two Karens. We were both called Karen. So, look, to be honest –
NEIL BREEN: Did you behave like Karens at uni or were you not?
KAREN ANDREWS: We were the good Karens.
NEIL BREEN: Of course you were. What was it like though? It would have been full of blokes?
KAREN ANDREWS: Yeah, look, to be honest, I don’t think either of us really thought about it. We wanted to do engineering and it just so happened that there were lots of blokes in our class. We just – look, I think we were always accepted as just one of the other people in the class, it was never an issue that we were female and neither of us –
NEIL BREEN: [Talks over] That’s great.
KAREN ANDREWS: Yeah, neither of us really thought about. We just sort of got about doing our own study, working on projects that we needed to do. And to be honest, it wasn’t until about six or seven years ago, I’d gone back to QUT, I was one of the judges in the Formula One in School’s program, which was great. And the finals were in the old- my old building, the mechanical engineering building and I said to the Vice-Chancellor –
NEIL BREEN: [Talks over] Where was that building?
KAREN ANDREWS: That was the brown building, I can’t quite remember the – might have been O-block? I’m not sure what it was.
NEIL BREEN: Yeah, I think it’s down near where the pool is now, out the back there. Yeah.
KAREN ANDREWS: Could be, could be. I’m pretty sure there wasn’t a pool there when we were there.
NEIL BREEN: No there wasn’t, no.
KAREN ANDREWS: But mechanical was between electrical and civil.
NEIL BREEN: Yeah.
KAREN ANDREWS: And I was speaking to the Vice-Chancellor and I said: you know, Karen and I must have been one of the first women that came through and he went and checked and he said actually, you two were the first two in mechanical engineering.
NEIL BREEN: Wow.
KAREN ANDREWS: So – and I just- I didn’t realise that, so of course, I passed that on to other Karen as well and –
NEIL BREEN: [Interrupts] Did you stay friends, did you?
KAREN ANDREWS: Yeah, look, we do stay in contact and look, support each other as much as we can. But –
NEIL BREEN: [Talks over] That’s a great story.
KAREN ANDREWS: Look, and the other Karen is just fantastic.
NEIL BREEN: It was the opposite for me because I did business communications, majoring in journalism and I was one of a handful of blokes. It was absolutely chock full of females wanting to become journalists.
KAREN ANDREWS: Yep.
NEIL BREEN: Hey, I did have to ask you, as a senior female member of Cabinet – like it’s, I find it weird to classify them as male members and female members. You’re all equal members of Cabinet. But, has the Prime Minister sought your counsel on the issues that he’s being going through and dealing with, with all the rape allegations and everything that’s happened in Canberra.
KAREN ANDREWS: Look, what is fair to say is that the Prime Minister has been very open, very engaged with probably all of his Cabinet, all of his Ministers. He has been very focused on supporting women, understanding what the needs are and how best to address that. So, yes, there has been a different level of engagement. Taskforces have been set up, there’s a range of meetings that are in place and what I would say about Scott Morrison, is that he’s indicated that he’s clearly prepared to listen and to understand and to fix the issues.
NEIL BREEN: Female quotas in the Liberal Party. Thumbs up? Thumbs down?
KAREN ANDREWS: I think it’s something we need to discuss. We need to talk about. Obviously, that’s a party decision and we need to take on board what the membership is saying. What I will say, though, is that we need to actively attract more women to stand for pre-selection in winnable seats. And we need to –
NEIL BREEN: [Talks over] That’s right. Got to be able to win them.
KAREN ANDREWS: Yeah, absolutely. There’s not a lot of point in looking a statistic that says, yes, there have been a lot of women stand. Are they in seats that are winnable, that they’ve got a real prospect of winning? I think that goes to the selection process and I’m very happy to have a discussion about how we best do that.
NEIL BREEN: And Christine Holgate, that’s been in the news this week, the Australian Post CEO and your thoughts on how she was treated and her exit from that job?
KAREN ANDREWS: All I will say about that is there’s clearly a range of things that have happened, many of those behind the scenes. I think that Christine Holgate gave a strong performance from what I saw in Senate Estimates yesterday. I understand her position. I feel for how she believes that she was treated. I mean, that’s a terrible set of circumstances for anyone to have to go through, without a doubt. I think we actually need to look clearly at what the evidence is and we clearly don’t have all of those facts before us at the moment.
NEIL BREEN: Well, she did nothing wrong, technically, by giving out the watches. My opinion is she should not have given out the watches. I think people who do their jobs are doing their jobs.
KAREN ANDREWS: Look, I think that one of the issues really goes to the fact that, and if you look at the pub test, and look, you know, sometimes I think –
NEIL BREEN: [Talks over] Fails it?
KAREN ANDREWS: Well, yeah-
NEIL BREEN: [Talks over] Do you like pub tests or you don’t like them?
KAREN ANDREWS: Look, I don’t actually – to be honest, I don’t mind a pub test, but I don’t like a Twitter test, which is where we’re heading to at the moment and I think that’s wrong. So is it the local pub? The people at the pub often have a very different view to what’s being talked about on Twitter. So let’s go to the pub and talk to the real Australians.
NEIL BREEN: Do you like mass vaccination hubs? Do we need them?
KAREN ANDREWS: I think that what we need to do is make sure that the states and territories are working with the Federal Government to make sure that we roll out the vaccine as soon as we possibly can.
NEIL BREEN: [Talks over] And stop bickering?
KAREN ANDREWS: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, if you want to talk about the pub test, I mean, Australians actually don’t care for state and territory governments fighting with the feds or vice versa. They’re actually just interested in when are they going to be able to access the vaccine and to make sure that it’s delivered safely.
NEIL BREEN: What group are you in? Are you with me in 2A?
KAREN ANDREWS: Could be, could be.
NEIL BREEN: I’ll look it up for you. I’ll get your age off air.
KAREN ANDREWS: Thank you.
NEIL BREEN: I’ll get your age off air.
KAREN ANDREWS: It’s very public.
NEIL BREEN: But I’ll be lining up for the AstraZeneca. I’m just in the AstraZeneca. Well, Home Affairs Minister, Karen Andrews, thanks so much for joining us on 4BC Breakfast this morning. Best of luck with the portfolio.
KAREN ANDREWS: Thank you.
NEIL BREEN: You’ll be under the pump at various stages but I’m sure you’ll handle it really well. And well done on you and the other Karen. You’re pioneers. Hey, the pioneers of mechanical engineering at QUT.
KAREN ANDREWS: Excellent. Yeah.
NEIL BREEN: Good stuff. It was great to have you in studio.