Topics: Ministerial standards; AUKUS nuclear submarine arrangements; Tamil Family.
MATT WEBBER: Karen Andrews, Federal Minister for Home Affairs and Member for McPherson here on the Gold Coast. Good morning, Minister.
KAREN ANDREWS: Good morning, Matt. How are you?
MATT WEBBER: I’m going very well, school holidays upon us – of course we’ll get to all the serious stuff in a moment, but I am keen to know – September school holidays, do you reckon it’s the pick?
KAREN ANDREWS: I always like the Christmas holidays I’ve got to say – but at this point in time – I would be encouraging everyone to come and holiday on the Gold Coast these school holidays.
MATT WEBBER: Did you have a favourite location back in the day?
KAREN ANDREWS: I actually grew up in Townsville – every year we would come to the Gold Coast and we normally stayed at Mermaid Beach in William Street – it was a little block of units in William Street and every morning was spent going to the beach, and in the afternoon we’d either drive down to Coolie or go to the shops. We’d do that every year and we loved it.
MATT WEBBER: Yeah, a lot of love for the Gold Coast this time of year particularly. It’s hard to beat I reckon. We had some good trips here too back in the day with my family. Now, I wish we could talk about school holidays for all of our conversation this morning, but alas there’s some pretty serious stuff going on. Christian Porter is no longer Minister for Industry and Science, after no longer being Attorney General; his future on the frontbench had been in doubt following his declaration that a blind trust had paid for part of his discontinued defamation case against the ABC. He’ll now disappear to the backbench. We have a right to know who paid him, don’t we?
KAREN ANDREWS: Let me start by saying I think Christian Porter has done exactly the right thing by resigning from the frontbench and going to the backbench, and then it will be his decision as to whether he contests the next election; my understanding is that he intends to do that. He’s done absolutely the right thing. Let’s be honest – one of the issues with the blind trust was the lack of understanding of who the contributors to that were – and I think Christian understood that was an issue as well. As the Prime Minister very rightly said, because of the structure of that trust Christian was unable to provide the information that was needed about the nature of those arrangements; he could not provide information to conclusively rule out a perceived conflict of interest. Given he was unable to do that, he needed to resign.
MATT WEBBER: He accepted money from strangers. They – if he is to be believed – could literally be anyone. This is incomprehensibly unwise.
KAREN ANDREWS: Christian did that for his own reasons. I’m very strongly of the view that as a politician if you’re going to accept money, there are rules in place to make sure that when happens it should be transparent. That’s why we have a register of members’ interests; that’s why we have Ministerial Standards. Given Christian was unable to provide the information, it led to his resignation. Those standards are important; I think it is very important that people understand if donations or money or gifts are being provided to politicians, that it is properly declared and people know where that money is coming from; I’m very firm on that view.
MATT WEBBER: If anyone in any job accepted a million dollars from a stranger, they’d be out on their rear immediately, if they accepted that money anonymously. He is drifting from a Ministerial job to a backbench job. Why is he even in Parliament?
KAREN ANDREWS: It’s one of the most interesting things about Parliamentary Members and Senators and how they are elected. I’ll use the case of any Member of Parliament: once they are elected, they are Members of Parliament, and they remain there until such time as they choose to resign their seat or they’re voted out at an election. It is at the discretion of the individual. It is not the party who can determine that. In fact, I believe they cannot put pressure on an MP or a Senator to resign; no one can. I’m pretty confident that is the status. So, it is up to the individual to determine what their future is going to be. It’s not a party matter.
MATT WEBBER: Why is he fit to remain in Parliament?
KAREN ANDREWS: That is a decision Christian has to make, as would any MP or Senator in those circumstances. He has said he is planning to contest the next election and the people of Pearce in Western Australia will then form their views as to whether or not he should be re-elected. Christian did make a very lengthy statement that set out a lot of his reasoning, so I’m not in a position to comment on the specifics of that, I’m not familiar with all of those circumstances, but Christian has made his views very clearly.
MATT WEBBER: Should he – in your view – remain a member of the Liberal Party?
KAREN ANDREWS: Look, we’re actually quite separate organisations. I would not interfere in what was happening in Western Australia; New South Wales; in relation to the Liberal Party. My comments would only be behind closed doors in relation to the Liberal–National Party in Queensland. It is really a decision now for Christian – for his future – as to what he wants to do, I’m sure he will do that in discussion with many other people over the coming weeks.
MATT WEBBER: Does it make you uncomfortable that he remains a colleague of yours?
KAREN ANDREWS: It doesn’t make me uncomfortable. I am very clear on what I think the appropriate standards for MPs are to uphold and for Ministers in particular. I do my very best to uphold those standards and be open and transparent in relation to matters that I need to declare. So I will just stay in my own lane – quite frankly – in relation to that and not pass comments on how others may choose to act.
MATT WEBBER: From a practical point of view, how disruptive is it for a Government to have a bloke in as Attorney General, out as Attorney General, in as Industry and Science Minister, out as Industry and Science Minister? We’re talking about the time frame of six months. It’s hardly ideal, is it? How do you overcome these kinds of disruptions?
KAREN ANDREWS: Let’s be honest – and I’m not going to sugar-coat this – it is not great. I was the previous Industry Minister; I was in that role for around about 18 months; it’s a fantastic portfolio; it was great to be able to provide a level of stability and consistency in there. Now Angus Taylor is the acting Minister; he has been in that portfolio area for a number of years now and he’ll take on those additional support services. I’ll do whatever I can to support industry – as I always have done. It would be much better to have a level of consistency – but in the circumstances that was not possible.
MATT WEBBER: There’s a bit of a list now, isn’t there? Stuart Robert, Christian Porter, Andrew Laming. Do your colleagues – well, does your party – have a problem with blokes being unable to do the right thing?
KAREN ANDREWS: Well that’s actually an interesting slant on things, Matt. Look, no I don’t think so. There’s a very high level of scrutiny of politicians and that’s a good thing in my view. I think that it’s incumbent on all politicians – irrespective of whether they’re representing a party or whether they’re an Independent – to actually uphold standards the public think are appropriate. We have pretty stringent measures in place and we’re held to very high standards; I don’t have an issue with that. Some politicians – historically – have done things that have not been appropriate, and they have fallen on their sword for it.
MATT WEBBER: Does it give you the irrits that our Prime Minister – who famously didn’t hold a hose back in bushfire times – has seen all this unfold on the Sunday before a new week begins, and now he’s off overseas leaving the likes of you to answer the questions?
KAREN ANDREWS: Well I’m happy to answer your questions. This is what I signed on for as a politician and when I said, “Yes, I’ll come on to your show every two weeks”. You know I take the good with the bad; sometimes it’s a good news story; other times its things I would prefer I didn’t have the spotlight focused in my direction on. It’s just one of those things, but I do think that people deserve answers and they deserve a bit of straight talking; some things are just not okay.
MATT WEBBER: Let’s shift focus – submarines; we had a deal with France; now we don’t. They say they were kept in the dark about our decision to scrap that deal in favour of what we’ve been hearing and reading about in the last little while – a new direction for our Defence Forces. Pretty rough way to deal with a long-term ally, isn’t it?
KAREN ANDREWS: Let me say a couple of things there. I don’t think anyone in the Government should be apologising for putting Australia’s national interests first; and I think the decision for us to proceed down the path of nuclear-powered submarines is actually the right decision for us to be making. Secondly-
MATT WEBBER: We don’t get them for 20 years though.
KAREN ANDREWS: It’s going to take a significant length of time to make sure that we are going through the true capability that we need here in Australia; a task force has already been set up. That will start work – it’s probably already started work now – on the process that we will need to be undertaking. It also sends a very strong message about the alliances that Australia is part of and that is particularly strong with the United States and the United Kingdom, and it also sends a very strong message to the Australian people that this Government is looking after their best and long-term security interests.
In terms of France – just to go back to that point – just as we are looking after Australia’s best interests, you would expect that President Macron would be speaking on behalf of France and looking after their best interests as well. Clearly, they would be – to say the least – disappointed, that a significant contract was not going to be able to proceed; but at the end of the day, the view was taken – and it was the right decision – that we needed nuclear-powered submarines because of where we are in the world; the waters in which we need to have a presence; and the fact that nuclear submarines are much quieter – amongst other things – and less likely to be detected than the diesel-powered submarines.
MATT WEBBER: There’s those who can’t get JobSeeker at the moment; they can’t work; they can’t cross borders; they can’t visit loved ones; they can’t get a vaccine in their arm in some instances; they’ve burnt through their savings. They might not necessarily be thinking that – you know, big nasty nuclear submarines – should be the number one priority. Can you understand that there might be a little bit of pushback on this?
KAREN ANDREWS: I understand people have got different priorities and for people who are deeply affected by COVID at the moment – whether they are ill or have a loved one who is ill with the disease at the moment, or their business is being seriously affected – I understand that would absolutely be their focus. I was actually down at Cooly yesterday speaking to some of the business owners down there – it was quiet as. I could not believe it was the first week of school holidays with the very low numbers of people who were there. It’s devastating for those people with the border closures to New South Wales. So yes, I understand that their concern is really how they’re going to put food on the table every night, but we also have a job as Government to make sure that Australians are safe and secure in the short, medium and long term. That means from a defence point of view, we’re going to look at how we’re going to defend and protect ourselves, and nuclear submarines are a key part of that.
MATT WEBBER: Maybe you should set up a showcase down at Coolangatta just singing the praises of a submarine or two and see how that goes down in Coolangatta?
KAREN ANDREWS: When I go to Coolangatta, I’m interested in talking to the businesses down there about COVID.
MATT WEBBER: I thought you might be. The Murugappan family – the family from Biloela – will be allowed to stay in Australia for at least another three months. The Immigration Minister Alex Hawke told a Court he intended to renew their bridging visas next week. How long is this sustainable though? Three months here; three months there; what does the future hold – realistically – for this family and what can be done?
KAREN ANDREWS: They have a number of avenues that they are progressing at the moment. It will go through the various challenges which are underway at the moment, and we will deal with it as the situation arises. I’m really conscious that we need to make sure we are clearly articulating what needs to be done – Alex Hawke has done that; he’s signalled it will be a further three months available to this family so they can continue with what they are doing currently before the courts. That will play out over the next three months and we’ll see what happens at the end of that – I’m not going to predict what those outcomes might be.
MATT WEBBER: Are there any discussions about just letting them stay?
KAREN ANDREWS: Not that I’m part of.
MATT WEBBER: Appreciate your time this morning Ms Andrews. We’ve covered a number of different topics and thank you for spending a few moments with us.
KAREN ANDREWS: It’s a pleasure. You take care, Matt.