ABC Afternoon Briefing – Holden departure; Chinese Ambassador’s remarks; press freedom

Monday, 17 February 2020

PATRICIA KARVELAS, HOST: I want to bring in my political panel this afternoon, Shadow Minister for Early Childhood Education Amanda Rishworth and Liberal Senator Eric Abetz. Welcome to both of you. Eric Abetz in 2013 then Prime Minister Tony Abbott announced the Government would reduce support for car manufacturers, despite appeals for help. How responsible is your Government for the death of Holden and the subsequent job losses we’re seeing?

ERIC ABETZ, LIBERAL SENATOR FOR TASMANIA: Everybody is concerned and upset with Holden’s decision today, but let’s get it clear, before the Holden decision two other manufacturers decided to pull out of Australia and that was under the Labor Party’s watch. And so there was a trend that automotive manufacturing in Australia was no longer viable, and we then had Holden make its decision and then finally Toyota as well. So a regrettable decision but the long-suffering taxpayer had been subsidising the car manufacturing sector in Australia to levels that were no longer sustainable and in fact, when these manufacturers withdrew, they said irrespective of the amount of support that would be given they would be making the move. And today we’ve seen the final decision, and that is how some of these multinationals act, and the lack of notice today was nothing short of unacceptable and I think the Prime Minister struck the right cord in that regard.

KARVELAS: Amanda Rishworth, should GM have given the Government more notice?

AMANDA RISHWORTH, SHADOW MINISTER FOR EARLY CHILDHOOD EDUCATION AND DEVELOPMENT: We can always ask companies to give the Government more notice, but I think this is the end of what has been a sorry saga in terms of the Government’s disrespect for manufacturing in this country. I was in the Parliament watching Joe Hockey dare Holden to leave this country, and the consequence of that was significant in my home town in South Australia. Holden the brand was really synonymous with high-quality Australian manufacturing. So it’s not a surprising decision, and while it’s a very sad decision, I feel very sad for those workers, the Government is entirely responsible for this going way back to when this Government actually goaded them to leave the country, dared them to leave the country, and they now have.

KARVELAS: Eric Abetz I’d like a response from you on that, because we all know the former Treasurer Joe Hockey did do that, it was well-reported at the time. With the benefit of hindsight was that the wrong thing to do?

ABETZ: One statement by a Treasurer does not lead to this sort of consequence, so let’s get a reality check here, let’s have some maturity. The simple fact is three other car manufacturers also left Australia because they couldn’t make ends meet without huge, huge taxpayer subsidies. And let’s keep in mind as a result, Australians are now getting cheaper cars, which means they have more money in their pockets, as a result they can spend it on other things. That said, it is a huge blow or was a huge blow to car manufacturing and all those workers involved, and today will be another blow to those 600 or so workers who now face an uncertain future. That said the Government will work with them to see where they might be picked up in other areas of manufacturing, and of course as Labor was so poor, we are really ramping up defence manufacturing and hopefully there will be a future for them there.

KARVELAS: In terms of taxpayer funding for industry as a concept, you’ve been critical of taxpayer funding having gone to this industry. But at the moment there’s this live debate about perhaps this feasibility study into taxpayer funding going into a coal-fired power plant. How is that intellectually consistent?

ABETZ: It’s completely intellectually consistent –


ABETZ: Allow me to finish. Because we are having Government assistance in relation to other power generation as well. So for example in my home state of Tasmania, Hydro 2.0 to make sure that stacks up with a cable across Bass Strait. Snowy 2.0, that is being examined as well with taxpayer funds. And as a nation we desperately need baseload energy, we need it most importantly affordable and it’s therefore right and proper, given that we now have a national grid, for the national Government to invest to see what areas would be the best for ongoing future hopefully private investment. And so you’ve got to make a joint effort here, that’s what the Government’s doing and I think the Australian people overwhelmingly see the need for it and as a result support our energy policy.

KARVELAS: So you would like to see taxpayer funding going into Collinsville?

ABETZ: In relation to feasibility studies that is appropriate, let’s wait to see what happens after that.

KARVELAS: But if it gets a tick off would you like to see it funded?

ABETZ: Look this is way into the future, and my view is it would be best for the private sector to be able to run this. But as with Hydro 2.0 and Snowy 2.0, the issue will be whether it’s federal funding or private sector funding, so that will be the case with every aspect of energy generation and let’s not get started on the huge taxpayer subsidies in relation to solar and wind power. So it’s only appropriate that we be technology neutral and give the assistance for every form of power generation, so we can make a genuine decision on the figures, not an emotional decision.

KARVELAS: Amanda Rishworth, China’s Ambassador to Australia has said the decision to block Huawei from the 5G network is a political decision, and serves as discrimination, adding it’s a thorny issue in the Australia-China relationship. What’s your response to this?

RISHWORTH: Look I’m not privy to all the national security briefings, I hope and I assume that the Government has acted on security advice, you would expect a Government to do that. So I’m not really able to comment on the ins and outs, I am aware of course that the US has also chosen not to have Huawei as part of its 5G rollout. So look I’m not able to comment in terms of the politics of it, but I would hope the Government would be taking a sensible approach and a responsible approach and be doing it on the national security advice. Scott Morrison and the Liberal Government haven’t managed the Australia-China relationship well, but in saying that when it comes to the 5G network one would assume they’ve acted on the national security advice. In talking about the politicians and the leaking of the briefings, that was probably really inappropriate of any politician to leak private conversations and not great for our diplomatic relationship with Britain.

KARVELAS: Eric Abetz, what do you think about the leaking of these conversations?

ABETZ: Being on the Intelligence and Security Committee, I have been the beneficiary of some advice. But putting it simply, the concern is about the Chinese Communist Party involvement, so this is not about China, it’s more about the Chinese Communist Government’s involvement in Huawei and then with the 5G network. As I understand it the Labor Party is in lockstep with the Government in relation to this, it’s a pity that Amanda couldn’t bring herself to say that. The United States as I understand it both sides of politics there are in lockstep, and our other Five Eye partners are very concerned about what’s happening in the United Kingdom. So very serious, but coming back to the Chinese Ambassador’s comments, well of course he would say that wouldn’t he. But at the end of the day I think we need to understand that we have a duty to our fellow Australians and those with whom we have partnered in the Five Eyes partnership, to ensure that security is maintained for the benefit of all Australians.

KARVELAS: Amanda Rishworth, today the Federal Court has dismissed the ABC’s case challenging these police raids on its Sydney headquarters, are you concerned by this verdict and do you think there needs to be reforms to the laws?

RISHWORTH: I do have some concerns, this decision has I think created a lot of concerns for Australians out there, that journalists can’t get on and do their job. It’s really important in a democracy that we have journalists who can keep governments to account, and ensure the public get the information that they have the right to. I do think we do need to see if we’ve got the balance right, we do need to examine the laws to see if they need to be updated, to make sure journalists can get on and do their job without fear of prosecution, without fear of newsrooms being raided. Of course we’ve always got to get the balance right, there is an interest in terms of national security, to make sure agencies can keep the public safe. But that has to be balanced with the ability for people to have transparent government and I think we do need to have a look at these laws.

KARVELAS: Eric Abetz, what’s your view on this? I know the Government is reviewing these issues, but does it show there needs to be broad reforms around media freedom in this country?

ABETZ: One of the underpinning pillars of our democracy is the freedom of the press, fundamental concept in a liberal democracy, that is my starting point on these issues. That said national security also has to be considered, and that is why the committee on which I serve in the intelligence and security space is looking at how we balance these competing interests. A commitment to freedom of the press, but also a need to ensure that national security is maintained at all times, and we don’t prejudice the safety of our fellow Australians. We’ll need the wisdom of Solomon and that, and myself and other committee member are working through those issues and I’m sure we will come to a sensible landing. That said the court decision stands, I don’t know whether the ABC will seek to appeal it or not. But in all the circumstances, that’s the decision and that is where we are at – .

KARVELAS: That’s the decision based on the laws that exist, doesn’t it demonstrate the laws need to change?

ABETZ: That is something that will need to be examined very carefully in relation to the specific decision and I haven’t had the opportunity to read the judgement. But, in the general, the committee is looking at the fundamental underpinning principles, and as I said at the outset, freedom of the press is one of the underpinning pillars of our democracy and it needs to be supported as much as is possible.

KARVELAS: Thank you so much to both of you for joining me.


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