Topics: Queensland borders; importance of voting for a strong, stable Government at the next Federal election.
MATT WEBBER: Minister for Home Affairs; Member for McPherson; Karen Andrews joins me. Hello.
KAREN ANDREWS: Hello, Matt. How are you?
MATT WEBBER: I’m going well – for the final time. I commend you for your punctuality; a lot of people don’t see this or will not be aware of it – but without a doubt – I think you’re the most punctual guest we have; right on time, every time – without fail.
KAREN ANDREWS: Oh, well, thank you very much and I appreciate you saying that.
MATT WEBBER: A trophy for you. Look, there’s a lot to talk about, and I am keen to reflect on what has been a very tricky and challenging political year. But first, if we can take the political hat off for a couple of minutes – it’s a joy to see families being reunited. I know caution is a fact of life now and moving forward it will be, but it certainly feels a little bit like we’ve overcome a hump and brighter days shall emerge from here. Do you share that sentiment?
KAREN ANDREWS: Absolutely. You know, I am delighted that Queensland borders are open. I think it’s fabulous that we will be able to see families reuniting. So many people have done it tough and, of course, for our businesses here – particularly on the Gold Coast as you know – it’s great that we’re going to have more people coming in here. I think it is really a very strong signal that in 2022, we will be putting COVID well and truly behind us; we will be focusing on what the future is; and I think that’s what all Australians need to do and need to hear.
MATT WEBBER: A little less pessimism, a little more optimism, perhaps? As we head into an election year? No doubt we’ll talk about that too. The vaccination rate is still down as we enter the ‘living-with-the-virus phase’, if I can call it that. Eighty-one point something per cent for fully dosed vaccinated Queenslanders. The Gold Coast though; still dragging its heels. Now, you’re a member here on the Gold Coast. What is it about the Gold Coast? You would think that it would be less reluctant than perhaps it has been, given it’s a front-line tourist destination. Have you got a take on that?
KAREN ANDREWS: Look, it’s hard to understand why it has been such a slow vaccination take-up here on the Gold Coast. I think it’s improved; it was really quite slow; it’s got better. But maybe it’s because we have done so well here during the whole of the COVID crisis. Yes, businesses have been absolutely smashed, but we haven’t seen outbreaks of COVID-19 here. There’s been a few little patches, but it hasn’t really taken off here, and I think people are maybe being a little bit complacent, but what I would say to those people is that we’re already seeing Omicron here. It’s here before the border opened. It’s likely to increase as more people start moving around, and the best thing you can do to protect yourself is to get medical advice and get vaccinated.
MATT WEBBER: Get the job done. Finish it off. As things stand, I suppose we’re looking now at maybe the end of January before we hit that magical 90 per cent double-vaccinated mark. That – hopefully – will occur before kids return to school. So, it remains to be seen, but the target is there, the carrot being dangled.
KAREN ANDREWS: Absolutely. I had my booster shot on Thursday last week; I’m really pleased I’ve had that shot now. I’ve given myself the best shot at protecting myself. So, I would really encourage those people; as it’s the time for their booster shot that they get out there and have that as well.
MATT WEBBER: Karen Andrews is the Member for McPherson; also the Minister for Home Affairs. As you reflect on the year that has been, and it has been a challenging one for your Government in particular; issue upon issue – Christian Porter, Brittany Higgins; I mean, it has piled on – what do you reflect on? What do you think you as a Minister, as a Member can do better as you head into an election year?
KAREN ANDREWS: Well, I think it’s fair to say that the way I’ve always worked, is every day I try to do a little better than what I did the day before. So there are some things I will be very focused on as we go into 2022; and that’s irrespective of the fact there will be an election in the first half of next year. It will be getting out there and representing my community; working with our businesses – who we know have been smashed – doing all I can to promote the Gold Coast as a place to visit; working with our families – many of those people have been very directly impacted by COVID. Infrastructure – particularly transport infrastructure – has always been right up high on my agenda, so I’m delighted that the upgrades are happening on the M1 from Varsity Lakes through to Tugun –that was a $680 million commitment from the Federal Government. So I will continue towards our transport infrastructure upgrades. As a Government, I think that we need to make sure we have always got Australia and Australians front of mind in every single action that we take. I take your point there’s been a range of issues that have taken place during the course of 2021, but I also look at it and say ‘despite all of those issues, look where Australia is now’. We’re coming through
COVID-19; our economy is looking positive; we’ve got some real opportunities. So, even though there has been a whole range of challenges – look where Australia is now. I really put that down to the fact there has been a strong consistent Government and Australians have done everything they can to keep themselves safe.
MATT WEBBER: I reckon there’s plenty of people who would be suggesting that the State Governments have had plenty to do with what it is that you’re describing.
KAREN ANDREWS: Well of course some people would say that; and we have worked with the State Governments as well along the way. I know many people pitch it as “us and them”, but there will always be a better outcome when you’ve got all levels of Government – local, state and Federal – working together. So I actually think that’s what people want to see more of, but we’ll see how 2022 goes.
MATT WEBBER: You do have an election coming up next year. One thing I wanted to dwell on, because I think it’s really intriguing, and I’ll begin this by quoting former ABC staffer now Independent candidate for Goldstein in Victoria, who said words to the effect, “If not me, who? If not now, when?” when announcing she was going to have a dip at Federal politics. This raft of female Independent candidates popping up against male LNP candidates and I’ll list them: Zoe Daniel in Goldstein; Monique Ryan, Kooyong, that’s where the Treasurer currently sits; Kylea Tink in North Sydney, up against Trent Zimmerman; Allegra Spender in Wentworth up against Dave Sharma. There’s a couple of Senators in the mix too. But you get the gist. This new wave of centrist female candidates putting their hand up, but not aligning themselves to any particular party, right or left; what do you make of it?
KAREN ANDREWS: Well, I think it’s an enormously high-risk strategy for people to even consider voting for an Independent, because normally Independent candidates run on a single issue and that could well be a range of different things at this point in time they may choose to run on. Our democracy means we do need to have a majority of Government formed in the Lower House and we do need the Prime Minister to come from whoever has the majority. If you elect an Independent, then you run the risk that you probably would get little achieved in your electorate – because being in Government means your member has access to speak directly to the Prime Minister. But I think when you actually look at the Independents and how they operate in Parliament, you’re probably not even getting a true Independent – because they do work together; often you’ll find in a vote all of the Independents will vote together; they work closely together so you’re really just supporting the ‘Independent party’.
MATT WEBBER: But if we look back, I mean Julia Gillard’s Government famously got a fair bit done with a significant raft of Independents separating right from left. I mean, we do have to look at the real world experience factor here too. Zoe Daniel, a significant journalist, domestically and abroad; Monique Ryan is a doctor. I mean female candidates – we should be celebrating that. Female candidates that don’t come out of a party machine too. Surely that is an argument for the celebration of diversity in our Parliament?
KAREN ANDREWS: I’m all for supporting female candidates without a doubt, but it’s not just “let’s get a female Independent elected.” You’ve got to look at what happens post-election. How are they then going to vote in the Parliament? What is the issue that they’re actually standing on? If it’s a single issue; what about every other piece of legislation? I’m not aware of any Independent at this point in time who is actually taking national security as a lead issue for them going into the election. So, it’s not to say the single issue they may choose is not important, but what about the issues like national security? What about the issues like health, and what’s their strategy to deal with COVID? I mean, this is what I think people need to look at when they even consider an Independent. What is the suite of policies and strategies? How are they going to vote on the issues that are important? If it’s a major party, then people know.
MATT WEBBER: If your policies are good policies, they’ll just vote with you, won’t they, on things like national security? Perhaps climate change is a bigger issue – is what they think – it needs to be bumped up the ladder a few rungs? It’s sort of what works out in a democracy. That’s how it rolls.
KAREN ANDREWS: Well, I think you need to look at how Independents have voted and what their various allegiances have been over the course of – not just this Parliament, previous Parliaments as well – and I do think people need to look at the whole suite of policies that Independents are putting up. Often you have Independents running on not so much a positive policy platform; it’s “get rid of the Government” or “get rid of this particular individual”. Whilst they have been successful, people need to realise they’re actually voting for someone who’s going to vote for them in Parliament. We should all know what they stand for, not for what they’re anti.
MATT WEBBER: Karen Andrews, Minister for Home Affairs, Member for McPherson. As we head into Christmas and we see plenty of families reuniting, we’ve been celebrating that fact this morning, of course, there’s one family on Christmas Island who won’t necessarily be heading home. Any updates on the Murugappan family for us?
KAREN ANDREWS: They are in Western Australia at this point in time. They are going through their legal processes; they have a number of matters before the courts that will be playing out; they have the right to be able to pursue those actions in the various courts, so we’ll see what happens as a result of that.
MATT WEBBER: Still an uncertain future, though. There’s no chance of an expedited result is there?
KAREN ANDREWS: Well, that’s a matter for the courts as to when they’re going to be dealing with the matters that are currently before the courts. So, I don’t have anything to add to that. It’s just going to continue before the courts.
MATT WEBBER: How do you spend your Christmas period? Do our Federal politicians and our Ministers get a break of any significance?
KAREN ANDREWS: Often we get time off between Christmas and New Year, but that’s more because people don’t generally want to talk to a politician during that period of time anyway, so it’s a naturally quiet period of time for us, which is an opportunity for us to spend as much time as we can catching up with our families and friends.
MATT WEBBER: Are you going to drop an election date for us before you leave?
KAREN ANDREWS: I wish I knew it myself. But no, it will be the first half of next year.
MATT WEBBER: We wish you a happy Christmas, and thanks for your contribution across the year. We look forward to having you back next time around.
KAREN ANDREWS: It’s a pleasure, and a very merry Christmas to you and your family and to everyone listening today. It’s been a pleasure.