Topics: 2021 Federal Budget, Gold Coast light rail, Andrew Lamming, treatment of women, Biloela family
MATT WEBBER: Minister, a very good morning to you.
KAREN ANDREWS: Good morning Matt, how are you?
MATT WEBBER: I’m going particularly well, good to have you with us on the program.
KAREN ANDREWS: Pleasure.
MATT WEBBER: The Budget first and foremost. Here on the Gold Coast, we’re in the midst of a housing crisis, house prices out of control, rentals are scarce, homelessness on the rise. We’re a town that’s built on tourism. We also get a fair whack of revenue from people coming here to go to university. But none of these issues addressed in any truly meaningful way in the Budget. So what is in it for Gold Coasters this time around?
KAREN ANDREWS: Well, I think there were a number of things that are really quite specific on the Gold Coast. I mean, the tax relief that is going to apply to many Australians will apply to Gold Coasters, so let’s not discount that. Let’s not discount what’s happening with infrastructure. But I do take on board the issues that you’ve raised in relation to housing, and of course, we implemented the Home Builder strategy to support people being able to get into the market to build a home. That is going to provide significant support to the Gold Coast. We do need to make sure that there is more housing available.
And you’re right, we are subject to significant increases in housing, and a lot of that has to do with people from the southern States who are moving up to the Gold Coast because we have demonstrated that even within Australia, it is a safe and secure place to live. So many people are coming in from the southern States, they’re pretty cashed up and they can afford to pay more than many of the locals. So it’s made our housing market incredibly competitive. And if it’s not great for locals who are trying to purchase, it’s good for those that are trying to sell. But that’s one of the circumstances that we find ourselves in as a result of the pandemic, which quite
frankly, we’re still working our way through.
There are some key things though, and it’s in my portfolio area, in relation to visas that will support our tourism and hospitality sectors here on the Gold Coast. We do know that it’s been very difficult for many of our providers to recruit the workers that they need. So we’ve made some changes with the visas. We’ve removed the caps on student visa holders. That used to be maxed out at 40 hours a fortnight, that’s actually been removed now, so students are able to work more, those who are here on visas, and there are students still here on visas. We’ve also opened up the pandemic event visa so that those people who are already working in tourism and hospitality or intend to work there, can apply for that and then can stay for an additional 12 months. So that’s going to deal with some of the workforce shortages that we have on the Gold Coast.
So there are some things for us here on the Coast. I understand Light Rail is a contentious, particularly on the southern end of the coast, but there was $126 million injected into that because of the shortfall.
Click play to listen to the full interview:
MATT WEBBER: Just on that Minister, by providing that funding, you’ve kind of tied your colours to the mast, haven’t you? It’s saying to the people of Palm Beach that you think it’s a good idea when, as you say, it is a very contentious idea. I reckon ears will be burning down Palm Beach way as we speak right now. How comfortable are you that this is a decision that your constituents here on the Gold Coast really want to see come to fruition? On what evidence is that contribution based?
KAREN ANDREWS: So the additional funding that we have announced in the Budget goes to the extension from Broadbeach to Burleigh. We had already committed to that, and I’m sure that you and many of the listeners would remember that before the last Federal Election, there was a pretty intense discussion about where the final stop of that should be. Now my view was it should be out front of the Burleigh Heads State School. Ultimately, the decision was made by the State Government that it would continue around further. We committed as a Federal Government to support the extension to Burleigh. I have always been of the view that there has to be proper consultation with those people who are affected by it. Now, that consultation has not happened, and we’ve been trying to push the State Government to open up the consultation, not just about where the stops will be, but whether or not that route is the right route.
Now, if there are reports that are indicating that the best route is down the Gold Coast Highway through Palm Beach, the State Government should make that public and not just embark on some sort of a sales trip to try and sell a strategy when people haven’t been consulted. Now, that is a State Government issue. I will continue to push them. My issue is making sure that people who are affected have the right to have some input into where the light rail goes. Now having said that, I am committed to making sure that we do get light rail through to the airport. We just need to find the best possible route and make sure that affected residents have their chance to
have their say on whether the best route is down the Gold Coast Highway.
MATT WEBBER: Karen Andrews, Minister for Home Affairs, Member for McPherson with me, Matt Webber, on Mornings this morning. Bucket loads to get through, and we’re running at the very beginning. I’m going to play something for you. This is you, Ms Andrews, speaking to 7.30 back in March:
KAREN ANDREWS: We need to get to the bottom of what some of these issues are and people need to be empowered to speak up. I mean I can’t remember how many times I’ve been in a situation where I felt that if I spoke up, I would be called a bad sport or I would be told I couldn’t take a joke. I’ve had enough and I want to see other women and other people empowered to speak up about behaviour that is just not acceptable.
[End of Excerpt]
MATT WEBBER: Now Minister, you’ve literally just supported Andrew Laming in remaining the head of a Parliamentary committee he himself said he’d step away from, doesn’t seem to be the case anymore, do you stand by those comments?
KAREN ANDREWS: I do, and I would say exactly the same thing if I was asked those questions now. So everything I said back in March, I absolutely meant. Now, in relation to Andrew Laming, he’s lost his job.
MATT WEBBER: Well he hasn’t, has he?
KAREN ANDREWS: Well, he has because he’s not been endorsed to stand as a candidate at the next election.
MATT WEBBER: He’s still there now though, and he’s still being paid to appear as the head of a Parliamentary committee.
KAREN ANDREWS: He’s been elected as the member for Bowman, and that continues, whether or not he is a member of the LNP or any other party. Once you’re elected – and this is I think, a point that some people don’t realise and that’s why you do have people that do change their political intentions during the course of the term that they’re elected. They actually can do that. They can choose to become an independent. They can swap parties. So he is the elected Member for Bowman. From the LNP’s point of view, we’ve made it clear to him, he hasn’t been pre-selected. He didn’t get through the vetting process. I understand how concerned people are about him continuing on, but that’s the way things are at the moment. He does Chair a committee. Look, he’s not without skills. Do you punish people mercilessly for making mistakes?
MATT WEBBER: Well, yes. Frankly, yes.
KAREN ANDREWS: Is that the right thing to do?
MATT WEBBER: Well, does it past the pub test? I mean, there’d be people leaning a little bit later, I’m not going to say they’re leaning there now on the bar at the Varsity Tavern, or wherever else, pondering these very issues. I mean, you’re a woman who has entirely admirably worked really, really hard to get where you are, literally against the odds based on what we’ve seen recently. Don’t you find it galling that blokes like Mr Laming continue to cling on to positions of public responsibility, when literally anyone in any other job would be out on their backside?
KAREN ANDREWS: Look, I find a lot of things that are concerning about a whole range of issues, Matt, to be perfectly honest. And you know me well enough to know that I would find a lot of things particularly galling, and I made some pretty strong statements in March which I absolutely stand by. But I’m interested that you talk about the pub test, because in relation to Laming, is it the pub test or is it the Twitter test? Because when I’m out and about, quite frankly, not one person has asked me about Andrew Laming. They actually ask me when I’m out on the Coast about light rail, predominantly when I’m out on the southern Gold Coast. They talk to me about jobs. I mean, I held a series of listening posts not that long ago, and the comments were really locals focused on what the issues were.
Now, I’m not dismissing at all any of the actions because they are important, but in Andrew Laming’s case, he’s lost his job. He’s lost his career. That’s going to come to a conclusion at the next election.
MATT WEBBER: Let’s be clear. He hasn’t lost his job. He’s still in his job and it remains to be seen what happens here after.
KAREN ANDREWS: You know, I will concede the point that he hasn’t lost the job immediately, but he has lost continuing employment.
MATT WEBBER: Let’s talk more about- well, it’s a phrase that we’ve heard a lot in recent months, the standards you walk past being the standards you accept. You were pretty outspoken, as we’ve already heard, in the wake of particular controversies that swirl around former Attorney-General Christian Porter. Last night on 7.30, Leigh Sales asked the Prime Minister about investigations into the Brittany Higgins sexual assault allegations – who knew what and when, essentially? And also, about an investigation into whether members of the Prime Minister’s Office tried to discredit Brittany Higgins’ loved ones. And we learned that that investigation, nearly two months on, is still ongoing.
SCOTT MORRISON: Well, that matter is still being addressed by my Chief of Staff and I understand that he’ll be having a conversation with Brittany herself. That was arranged not long after that I met with her just a little while ago. I found that a very, very helpful meeting and I thank her very much for the opportunity we had.
[End of excerpt]
MATT WEBBER: Now, if we can just go and lean on that bar again for a moment, I mean, how hard can this be? Did staff communicate with Higgins’ family and loved ones? How and what was the nature of that communication? Investigation closed, pretty much. How long does it take to get answers from staff in Parliamentary offices?
KAREN ANDREWS: Well, there were some issues and look, and I understand people’s concerns about this. I have concerns about what has happened in the building in which I’m currently sitting in Canberra. But the matter was referred to the police. The Gaetjens’ review was paused during that time. It is now in a position where it can continue. So I’m hoping that there’s going to be a full investigation of the issues that are before Phil Gaetjens to deal with. But it is still a matter that is subject to a criminal investigation.
MATT WEBBER: What are the chances we’ll get answers to these questions before the next election?
KAREN ANDREWS: Well, I’m hopeful that we will. I’m very much in favour of transparency and openness, and I think that within reason, the Australian public has a right to be able to understand what happened, what were the circumstances. But we are, of course, always going to be mindful and guided by what Brittany Higgins wants publicly released as well. Now, I just say that I guess as a bit of a caveat. I haven’t had a discussion with Brittany Higgins about this issue. I wasn’t in the room when she met with the Prime Minister. So I’m only aware of what has publicly been reported.
MATT WEBBER: Minister for Home Affairs, Member for McPherson Karen Andrews with me. Matt Webber this morning, I find it telling, perhaps is the word, that the issues about backgrounding of family members didn’t even come up in the Prime Minister’s own conversation with Brittany Higgins. Do you find yourself screaming in frustration sometimes, when these sorts of things are revealed?
KAREN ANDREWS: Look, there’s a whole range of things that get talked about within any particular workplace. Let’s be clear about that. But it’s not just the Australian Parliament House as a workplace that we should be focused on and concerned about, what gets said and what gets done. The issue, and I was at pains to say this when I spoke in March, the issue is much broader than what happens in Parliament House. It goes a lot to the treatment of women in the workplace and how that is, dealt with. Now, in terms of any backgrounding, I am only familiar with that to the extent that it has been reported. So there is, quite frankly, Matt, nothing else that I can add at this point in time, because I haven’t been involved in it.
MATT WEBBER: We keep hearing, you know, this happens in other workplaces. I look around my own workplace and I don’t see any particular issues here. I’m not saying it doesn’t happen. But is that just a different- I mean, you’re working in the highest office in the land. The standard is an exceptional one, speed and promptness in terms of getting to the bottom of this issue is just, it should be paramount. And the frustration is palpable out there, particularly among women, that not enough is being done quickly enough.
KAREN ANDREWS: Yep. Government should be an exemplar. And in terms of treatment of women, we have not been an exemplar and that cuts across party lines, boundaries et cetera, and it hasn’t been good enough. And we do need to, we do need to deal with that. And it’s not just the issues in relation to what happened or is alleged to have happened to Brittany Higgins. There’s been other issues that have been raised in here, as well as some of them have been very public. The standards here need to be raised, without a doubt and we need to make some serious decisions about how we’re going to go forward. Now, I’m certainly keen to hear what comes out of the investigations that have been and are being conducted by Phil Gatejens. But I’m also interested in looking at what else we can do around Parliament House. So that there are proper resources, not just for the staff here, but also for the Members and Senators, so that we can actually be the exemplar that we need to be in government.
MATT WEBBER: The cost of keeping the Biloela family in detention, the thousand days, I believe now, a report in The Guardian recently telling us it costs about $6 million to keep a family of four on Christmas Island. We’ve already received text messages this morning. James, thank you, ‘bring home the Bilo family’. He says it’s an issue that people feel very strongly about. How long must your Government cling to the symbolism of hard border control here before a rational, human solution can prevail?
KAREN ANDREWS: So, a couple of things that I can say to that, certainly in terms of that particular family, there are matters before the courts. And I have said very publicly that I’m not going to say or do anything that will prejudice either the Government’s position or that family’s position while it is going through the courts, and I will maintain that position.
The second issue is in relation to our borders. Now, we have been very clear as a Government that if you come to Australia illegally, you have got zero chance of resettling here. And we’ve been very clear about that for quite some time and when I moved into this portfolio we went to great lengths to make sure that the message was clear that a change in Minister does not mean a change in policy. And the reason we did that was to make sure that we sent very strong messages to the people smugglers that their business model is not going to be reopened. So, we needed to send that message, very, very clearly. Now, if you want to talk about our economic recovery, you cannot separate that from the safety and security of Australians. Now, we are-
MATT WEBBER: I’ll just repeat the numbers, a family of four, $6 million to keep them on Christmas Island. I mean, you make the pictures, great contributors to the fiscal future of Australia but, really? The pennies don’t really add up, do they?
KAREN ANDREWS: Well, there are more issues at stake here. There are the actions that the family is taking in the court system in Australia. And as I’ve said, I’m not going to comment on that, not going to prejudice anyone’s cases or positions. But there are significant issues that we need to make sure that we are maintaining as a nation. And as I was saying before, Matt, we can’t separate Australian security from our economic recovery. We are a safe and secure place to live and to work. And we are not going to do anything that opens the doors to people smugglers. And I know that I’ve been criticised for using the word compassion, but let me say this, that I don’t want people dying trying to get here by boat. Now, we know that previously, at least 1200 people died, we know that from the manifests. What we don’t know is how many boats didn’t make it here and how many people died at sea because of that? And I don’t want that to happen. I certainly don’t want it to happen on my watch.
MATT WEBBER: Alright. Look, I understand that. I think plenty of people will be sympathetic to that view but we’re talking about a family who were working, had moved to a small town, had integrated into the community. This is all well and truly publicised – the basic model of what we want migrants to do when they come here. And a five-year-old isn’t committing any crimes; surely you can understand the level, the palpable level of frustration in relation to the way the Government’s dealt with this situation?
KAREN ANDREWS: I do understand and I do understand why people want to come to Australia. This is a great place to live and to work. That particular family is taking their case through the court system at the moment and they are able to do that, they are progressing their claims and I’m not going to comment on it.
MATT WEBBER: Karen Andrews is the Minister for Home Affairs, Member for McPherson, here on the Gold Coast. Two very quick questions before I let you go, Minister. Have you had your vaccinations? Which one was it, and further to that, when will we be having an election?
KAREN ANDREWS: Well no, I haven’t had my vaccination. I believe that it’s coming up in the very near future, I certainly registered. So I will be having the vaccine. I understand people’s concerns about it, but I don’t have those concerns. So yes, I will be being receiving a vaccination. In relation to the election, that is with the Prime Minister only to determine when the election is going to be. All I can say is that it will more than likely be within the next 12 months. So it could be this time next year.
MATT WEBBER: Appreciate your time, grateful for your generosity with it. I know you’re very busy and thank you, Minister.
KAREN ANDREWS: Pleasure. Good to talk to you, Matt.