ABC BRISBANE DRIVE
MONDAY, 2 NOVEMBER 2020
SUBJECTS: Queensland State Election; Australia Post and Christine Holgate’s Resignation; National Integrity Commission; Agricultural workforce.
STEVE AUSTIN, HOST: The Shadow Treasury spokesperson, and Federal Member for Rankin here in Queensland, Jim Chalmers. Good afternoon to you, Jim Chalmers.
JIM CHALMERS, SHADOW TREASURER: Good afternoon, Steve Austin.
AUSTIN: A question without notice if I may: the head of Australia Post Christine Holgate has announced her resignation. What's Labor's reaction?
CHALMERS: It was pretty obvious that was where it was going to land. I think, though, it doesn't really deal with some of the underlying issues at Australia Post that we've talked about before. There are still the cutbacks in services which won't change with her resignation, and there's still this issue of the board being stacked with a lot of Liberal mates. One of the issues that has come out of all of this is that the board oversight has been lacking as well. Christine Holgate's resignation was, on the whole, expected.
AUSTIN: Has she been treated unfairly?
CHALMERS: There were some issues there, Steve, that the inquiry was getting to the bottom of. I assume that the inquiry is still going to make a report about some of the spending that went on there. She's not responsible for everything that's not going right at Australia Post. The Government themselves supported the cutback in services; the board obviously hasn't done a good enough job overseeing some of this. There are some other issues but, Steve, if you take a step back for a moment, the most important thing is that Christine Holgate's time at Australia Post has hit the fence because of $20,000 in watches at the same time as some of these Ministers that sit behind Scott Morrison have been sprung paying $30 million for a $3 million parcel of land, and paying that money to a Liberal donor -
AUSTIN: That was a bureaucracy decision, though?
CHALMERS: No Steve there are a lot of questions for Ministers to answer about this, but if not that then doctored documents and a whole series of rorts. The point that I'm making is if this is the standard applied to Christine Holgate, with all this faux outrage from the Prime Minister about standards, why doesn't he apply those same standards to his own Ministers?
AUSTIN: On that issue of the block of land question, I don't know if there's a connection but Christian Porter the federal Attorney General released today a draft plan for discussion at some point about some sort of national Independent Commission Against Corruption. I haven't seen it, Jim Chalmers, I don't know what's actually in it. All I've seen is a flashing on the screen of what was on News24. Have you seen it? Can I get your reaction to whatever was actually released?
CHALMERS: We've got it now, and my colleague Mark Dreyfus, who's a distinguished QC, is going through it. His initial reaction is that it's quite a weak model, it's quite a secretive model, and certainly not the kind of national integrity commission that most people would want to see, particularly in light of some of those recent Morrison Government scandals. He'll keep going through it. We'll come to a considered view. Certainly those are his first impressions. The best way for your listeners to understand what's going on here is that the Government's had this draft legislation since December last year. They've said for some years that they want a national integrity commission but they've been doing the big go-slow on it. Now that they've released it, we think it's likely to fall short in lots of key areas.
AUSTIN: One of the areas that stood out to me was that apparently the plan is that it can only activate an investigation upon referral from the federal government. Was that in the plan that was released today by Christian Porter?
CHALMERS: Yeah, there are those issues around referral, and again we'll go through them and reserve final judgment. That's one of the things that leapt out at Mark and other colleagues as they went through it. The other thing is whether the hearings will be conducted in private or in public, and I know that's one of the other things that Mark Dreyfus has been very focused on. This is something that we'll take a bit of time to go through. Our first impression is that it's not up to scratch. When you consider this alongside the fact that the Government has cut back on the Auditor General which is another really important independent institution that we need to be strong to get to the bottom of some of these issues, when you consider those two things together it's a bit disappointing.
AUSTIN: My guest is Jim Chalmers, the Federal Member for Rankin here in Queensland. Also the ALP's Shadow Treasury spokesperson. Final thoughts after you've had a sleep now? Observations about the Queensland state election, Jim Chalmers?
CHALMERS: I actually had a big sleep on Saturday night which is unusual for an election night because I was on with your colleague Sabra Lane in the morning on early AM - a special bulletin. Reflecting on it, it was a pretty stunning win by Annastacia Palaszczuk. She deserves all of the plaudits that have come her way. I noticed today that she's already back at work. People really rallied to her in big numbers and that's because she took difficult decisions at difficult times. She did the right thing overwhelmingly no matter what the political price and she got rewarded for it. That's something that we should pay tribute to her for.
AUSTIN: You already, yesterday, made your thoughts known about One Nation. What stood out to me was, doesn't this election show that wealthy people can't necessarily buy election outcomes? In other words all the money spent by Clive Palmer and the United Australia Party didn't appear to have any noticeable effect at all?
CHALMERS: Absolutely. One of the really heartening conclusions to draw is that despite all the millions of dollars that Clive Palmer threw at this election, he didn't even get one per cent of the state-wide vote. He barely troubled the scorers where there were Palmer United candidates. I don't know if you've seen that footage, Steve, of all the Liberal VIPs mingling on Clive Palmer's boat on the Brisbane River on election night?
AUSTIN: I saw a photograph of former LNP Members, not current ones?
CHALMERS: There they were on the deck of the boat, watching the election results come in. The point I'm making is that he didn't come near winning any seats. It may be that he's just throwing all these millions of dollars at the election as an LNP front. All of his ads were anti-Labor. He never seems to contest anything the LNP is doing. There they all are drinking the champers on the decks of his boat on the Brisbane River. I think that speaks volumes about what he's really in politics to do and that's just to damage to the Labor Party. He wasn't able to do it on this occasion and that's a good thing.
AUSTIN: Why didn't Federal Labor leader Anthony Albanese come to Queensland at all during the campaign?
CHALMERS: Annastacia Palaszczuk didn't need any help.
AUSTIN: Did she want his help?
CHALMERS: I don't know. You'd have to ask her. There's no version or interpretation of the election campaign which says that Annastacia Palaszczuk needed help from anybody. I think she stood on her own two feet. She's got a great team of state Cabinet colleagues and caucus colleagues. She made the case forcefully and people backed her in. I think that's fine.
AUSTIN: My guest is Jim Chalmers. For a couple of months now, during the pandemic, I've been interviewing fruit pickers, farmers, and what have you about the difficulty getting labour to pick fruit. It's now getting dire. You wouldn't have heard this but earlier on today I interviewed a couple up north; crops are now being sprayed to kill it. This is going to have a significant effect on Australian food prices, particularly around Christmas but also into next year, and affect the availability of Australian grown produce. What should state or federal governments do to get workers organised to pick fruit or bring workers into the country to solve this problem because it's growing, not being solved, Jim Chalmers?
CHALMERS: First of all I think it's heartbreaking for growers and producers to have to take those steps. One of the things I've tried to do in the last few months is to get out west and north, out of Brisbane, to spend some time with growers and producers. It wasn't that long ago that I was in the packing sheds of Stanthorpe talking to apple growers there. Clearly this is a big issue and kudos to you for highlighting it for a lot of people who may not understand how big an issue it is for the growers and producers, but also for prices. We want people to be eating healthy Queensland produce. If prices spike because of some of this then that's obviously a bad thing.
AUSTIN: We've got 19 per cent youth unemployment in Queensland. It doesn't make sense.
CHALMERS: It doesn't make sense. The best way to approach it is to first of all remember that this isn't just a COVID problem. This has been a problem for some time. It's been turbocharged by the shutting of the international border and all of the obvious implications of that. There have been workforce shortages in this industry for some years even before COVID. The best way to come at it is to think, what is it about this industry and these roles which are not attractive to local young people? I think the thing that really stands out - and it's not the growers' and producers' fault - but there doesn't seem to be a sense of career progression. There doesn't seem to be a sense of what the next steps are from doing some of these entry level roles. What can we teach and train young people about the agriculture sector? It's going to be strong for some time in this country. We've got to supply the region with our tremendous fruit and veg. We need to give people a sense that there is career progression, not just something that you might do for two or three months for beer money as you travel through the regions, as good and as fun as that sounds, there needs to be careers in it too because we're going to have a shortage. I think there's a role for government for teaching and training and all the other ways that we can try and make this more attractive than it is currently.
AUSTIN: Jim Chalmers, thanks for your time.
CHALMERS: Thank you Steve.