Topics: Lockdown protests, illicit tobacco, Foster Report.
NEIL BREEN: How are you Minister?
KAREN ANDREWS: I’m very well.
NEIL BREEN: So, you’re on the Gold Coast there, this lockdown’s going to continue in New South Wales for four more weeks. Honestly, this is a ‘small business across the nation’ story now, and those businesses on the Gold Coast, they’ll be really doing it tough.
KAREN ANDREWS: Absolutely, and they’ve done it tough – as many businesses have right across Queensland and Australia – for such a long time now. The lockdowns have a serious impact on our small businesses in particular, and particularly when there’s not a lot of notice for these to happen. Now, at least we know that we’re going to be affected in Queensland, because we’re not going to have tourists coming into a tourist destination. That’s going to impact further in more tourist destinations across Queensland, but it’s very hard for our small businesses.
NEIL BREEN: Yeah, sure is. What about those lockdown protests last weekend? Okay in Sydney, you had all those knuckleheads there, and horses involved and everything. But I couldn’t believe the scenes I saw in Brisbane CBD, were about 7000 people were there, and I had a look at the aerial shots, there was a lot of people there Karen Andrews, and you’ve had some strong words to say about them.
KAREN ANDREWS: I was just appalled at what I saw, and sure, I haven’t seen the reports of violence in Brisbane, but what did these people think they were doing? They were effectively participating in a potential super-spreading event. So they were putting, not only their own lives at risk, but those of their families and their friends, and other members of the community. And I just think it was foolhardy, it was stupid, and it was unacceptable.
NEIL BREEN: I’ll tell you what was unacceptable, your Government’s reaction to George Christensen, who’s a Member of your Government, attending one of the rallies in Mackay. He got let off with a feather-like little tap. You know, no one even had a crack at him. The Prime Minister didn’t even have a crack at him and there he was there spouting conspiracy theories at a rally. It wasn’t a good look for the Government.
KAREN ANDREWS: Well, I said I didn’t agree, and I didn’t, and I don’t. George Christensen is the representative for Dawson, but he is also a Member of the Coalition. He is entitled to his views. He is entitled to represent his community. But I don’t agree with his comments.
NEIL BREEN: No, nor do I. 100 per cent, nor do I. There was one thing I did want to talk to you about with this situation yesterday. You toured the Border Force Cargo Facility at the Port of Brisbane, and it recently seized more than 10 million illegal cigarettes. Now, I’ve got a bugbear about illegal cigarettes. I know for a fact they’re being sold at all sorts of places, in the northern suburbs of Brisbane, the southern suburbs of Brisbane, these pop-up shops turn up. People are going in and buying $20 for a pack of cigarettes that’s come in illegally from overseas, when a local pack’s $40.
KAREN ANDREWS: Look, there is a significant number of cigarettes that are coming illegally to the country. And putting aside the issue of tobacco and smoking for the point of this conversation, it is illegal, the taxes are being evaded. Last financial year it was around about $1.7 billion in taxes that were effectively evaded. Now, that’s money that could be going to schools, hospitals, roads, COVID vaccinations – so that’s money that the Australian taxpayer is missing out on. But it’s an illegal trade and Border Force is doing a fantastic job being able to stop this at the border and confiscate it.
NEIL BREEN: Yeah. I also think authorities could walk into a shop and buy a pack for $20 and charge the bloke who’s selling it.
KAREN ANDREWS: Well, I’m sure that that happens as well. But I’m very keen to make sure that we’re stepping up action too. So, this can’t be just stopping it at the border because we know that we don’t get everything the border. Some supplies do come in – unfortunately – and we need to then make sure that we’re stopping it being sold on the streets. And of course, what we shouldn’t forget is often the illegal tobacco trade is used to test out the routes to bring in drugs later, so it’s a precursor to drugs coming into the country. So it needs to be stopped also for that reason.
NEIL BREEN: The Brittany Higgins allegations were a seismic thing for the Federal Parliament and Parliament House in Canberra. I got to say, though, it’s gone a bit quiet, the police investigation into whether any charges will be laid. Has there been any updates there?
KAREN ANDREWS: Well my understanding is that there has been a brief that has been put through to the DPP. So it is being looked at now and evaluated as to whether or not charges can be laid, which would take into consideration a range of factors including the likelihood of a conviction. So that’s going through its process now. But look, the sooner that this gets resolved, I think for everyone concerned – particularly for Brittany Higgins – but everyone who has been affected by this, the better.
NEIL BREEN: Yeah. Well, the longer it takes, the more I wonder whether charges will be laid. And as you say, they’ve got to be laid so they can get a conviction. We’ll see what happens there. But it was announced this week Federal Ministers and staff will have to undergo one hour training sessions on sexual harassment. That’s a bit piecemeal, one hour, isn’t it? What do you do, sit and just do a little course for an hour?
KAREN ANDREWS: Well, I think it’s actually a start, at least. It’s not the answer. But I think that all MPs and Senators and their staff should actually go through that training process. We all get trained in our working time on a range of different issues, but this is a significant issue for the Parliament and I think everyone should be turning up and going through the one hour of training. But also taking a look at some of the other recommendations in the report that was prepared by Stephanie Foster, and make sure that we do have the Australian Parliament and Parliament House as an exemplar of what good conduct is in a workplace.
NEIL BREEN: Yeah. Alright. Look, have you noticed the culture has changed? Or have things been different there at all? Have you ever had any issues with it, Karen Andrews?
KAREN ANDREWS: Look, it’s quieter since this, and I think that that means a lot of people
NEIL BREEN: Not as boozy?
KAREN ANDREWS: Not that I’ve observed, so that’s a positive. And look, I don’t like the amount of alcohol that is consumed during the range of events at Parliament House. Now, that’s been helped by the fact that there haven’t been that many events during COVID – but it’s a workplace…
NEIL BREEN: That’s right.
KAREN ANDREWS: …I’ve always been concerned about that. I think that during COVID where there’s been less gatherings, that’s been helpful. People have been very focussed on the work that they need to do. Look, let’s hope the culture continues to improve because, quite frankly, it’s needed.
NEIL BREEN: Karen Andrews, you know, I worked at News Corporation – so Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation – for 23 years. And I’ll tell you a fact: News Corporation worldwide is dry. So I worked there as a journo. So when I first started, there was a little bit of booze in a booze fridge, it all got closed down like 1993 or something. I never saw a beer in the workplace or a wine in the workplace for two decades. I’m not kidding. It’s easy to do.
KAREN ANDREWS: I think that’s a good thing.
NEIL BREEN: Yeah, it is a good thing. It was a good place to work. Hey, good stuff. Karen Andrews, thanks so much for joining me here on 4BC Breakfast. We’ll talk to you next week.
KAREN ANDREWS: Take care.