Minister Shorten interview on 2GB Question Time with Deborah Knight


SUBJECTS: Resignation of Senator Marise Payne, Qatar and Qantas Airlines; Alan Joyce retirement; Scott Morrison’s comments on relations with China; re-gifting

DEBORAH KNIGHT, HOSTAYLOR: And don't we have a lot to discuss? It's been a turbulent week in Canberra and yes, the fallout from Qantas has dominated debate. With me now is the Minister for Government Services, Bill Shorten, and the Shadow Treasurer, Angus Taylor, for our regular Friday Question Time. Fellas, thanks so much for joining us as always. We'll get into Qantas in just a moment, but I want to start with Marise Payne, who has just announced she's retiring from the Senate at the end of the month after more than 26 years in Parliament. Angus It's quite a long innings.

ANGUS TAYLOR, SHADOW TREASURER: It is extraordinary public service over 26 years, we’ll miss her. I was disappointed, disappointed to hear that she's moving on, but on the other hand, she has made a great contribution over a very long period of time, as you point out, and has been a great female contributor to the Parliament in so many ways. And we'll miss her.

KNIGHT: Who should replace her?

TAYLOR: Oh, look, I think it's a bit pre-emptive Deb, we've only just heard about it -

KNIGHT: Oh, come on, you guys are doing all the deals before the door even slams shut behind her.

TAYLOR: We're not the Labor Party.

KNIGHT: Oh, come on…

TAYLOR: That's what they do. We don't work that way. It'll just be a civilised matter and a cup of tea and a biccie and merit, of course.

KNIGHT: Yes, yes. As if. Has there been any word on when former PM Scott Morrison might retire?

TAYLOR: Look, I'm not getting into any of that. That's a matter for him. I've only just heard about this one with Marise. I actually didn't realise that was coming, Deb. So, as I say, we'll miss her. She's been a great public servant.

KNIGHT: Yeah, a lot of portfolios, Human Services, defence, most recently Minister for Foreign Affairs and Minister for Women and I love too when she was appointed, Scomo then described her as the Prime Minister for women. So yes, a very long innings, 26 years in Parliament and public service. Now, Qantas and Qatar Airways, and speaking of retirement, Alan Joyce brought forward his retirement by two months. Qantas is hoping that it will be the circuit breaker that the airline needs. Its reputation is in absolute tatters Bill. Are you sad to see Alan Joyce go?

BILL SHORTEN, MINISTER FO RTHE NDIS AND GOVERNMENT SERVICES: I cast a giant shadow on aviation in the last decade plus, but I do think the $24 million package being paid to him for going is so over the top, it's sort of breathtaking. Listen, he and I have had a chequered relationship because my worker background, I used to look after Qantas engineers before I came into Parliament. And I think that whilst Qantas is good at some things, I think it's been too adversarial in the way it's treated its workforce, and during Covid they laid off literally thousands of baggage handlers, which was a disaster in my opinion, and I feel very - and Tullamarine airports in my electorate. I've got a lot of aviation people. So, listen, he's probably been good for the shareholders and he's -

KNIGHT: Although the share price hasn't been that flash, so they haven't benefited either.

SHORTEN: I guess what I'm trying to do is not just sound totally negative. He's cast a big figure and, you know, I've always found him personally very avuncular, but we have disagreed on the way they've approached their workforce. I feel they've taken their workforce for granted. And, you know, that has consequences. And I think the workforce haven't - I think they've done well, but they've been let down by their industrial relations policies or their leadership.

KNIGHT: So why has the government been defending and protecting Qantas from Qatar Airways? Because it's murkier and murkier. We've had nine different excuses from the Transport Minister, Catherine King, about why those extra flights from Qatar weren't granted. It's got to be revisited, surely.

SHORTEN: Well, I think the debate about Qatar and the Qatari government getting access rights has become quite distorted. International airlines seek additional slots in Australian airports. Periodically they're accepted and periodically they're rejected. I think that the Minister for Transport, she's made her decision, the Government supports her decision. Qatar could put more planes into Australia right now if they wanted to. They just don't want to fly them to Adelaide or Avalon or Canberra or Cairns or the Gold Coast.

KNIGHT: But hasn't human rights been cited as a as an excuse for not granting those extra flights?

SHORTEN: Well human rights aren’t an excuse, I think that -

KNIGHT: Well, it's a factor.

SHORTEN: - is one of the issues –

KNIGHT: Well, if that's one of the issues, then why should they have extra flights into other cities if it's a question of human rights abuses?

SHORTEN: No, my point is that they already have access and they're not using the access they've got.

KNIGHT: Yes, but if human rights was used as a factor in the decision to ban the extra flights of Qatar Airways was granted, which is what the Transport Minister conceded yesterday, then why then, if that's an issue, if they aren't justified to be flying into this country, why then say to them, well, you're encouraged to, you can go to these other cities instead. It's just…

SHORTEN: No sorry, I'm sorry, I apologise if what I've said is not clear, Deb. What I'm saying is Qatar already has rights that it doesn't exercise. But the issue is giving them additional rights beyond what they currently have. And that decision by the Transport Minister was to reject giving them additional rights beyond what they have.

KNIGHT: Of which human rights was a factor in that decision.

SHORTEN: As I understand.

KNIGHT: So, it doesn't stack up.

SHORTEN: Sorry, which bit doesn't stack up? The fact that Qatar doesn’t use existing opportunities?

KNIGHT: Well, if you're - if the Transport Minister is saying that human rights is a factor in the decision making of allowing extra flights, then why should they be allowed to have the current flights if human rights is a factor?

SHORTEN: Because they already have that.

KNIGHT: And in terms of the arguments, Angus, that are being put by the government, they're saying that the Transport Minister, Catherine King, is doing just what Michael McCormack did when he was Transport Minister back in 2018.

TAYLOR: Well, I don't think that's right. But even if you were to say that the context is very different now, we've got a situation where airfares have gone up as much as 50%, competition is not strong enough. We're seeing the performance of Qantas has been dreadful in recent times and Australian travellers both domestically and internationally, are paying for a lack of capacity in the market. We need more capacity. Now, Madeleine King has been all over the place this week.

KNIGHT: Catherine King.

TAYLOR: There has been no clear explanation.

SHORTEN: You've got the wrong Minister.

TAYLOR: Sorry. Sorry. Catherine King, I stand corrected, has been all over the shop this week. It is not clear what motivated this decision. It's not clear what role the Prime Minister played in it. It's not clear what role other Ministers played in it. And Australians deserve a better explanation than anything we've received so far.

KNIGHT: And do you think, Angus, that Alan Joyce going will provide the reset that Qantas is hoping it will? Because Vanessa Hudson, the new CEO, she was the Chief Financial Officer directly under Alan Joyce.

TAYLOR: Well, I think the challenges are well beyond one person. I mean, the core challenge is a lack of competition in the market, I would argue. Competition delivers for customers. We know that historically. We know that. And to inhibit competition at a time like this when we're seeing dreadful performance of airlines around Australia in terms of price and service, if there was ever a time to get more competition in the market, it's this. And you know, all I can say is the explanation so far don't stack up and the best explanation which Labor hasn't gone to, is that a sweetheart deal was done with Qantas. And I've got to say right now it seems that that is not what that is clearly not what Australians need or deserve.

KNIGHT: And do you think, Bill, that this should be revisited? I mean, there's so much contention and so many mixed responses being provided on the Qatar Airways issue, surely it should be revisited?

SHORTEN: No, I'm not convinced at this point that's necessary. Let's just quickly go to, Qantas has been dreadful. That's not on the workforce. I think they were ill prepared for the ramp up with the conclusion of COVID and I think that's on Qantas. I think they have made short term decisions about, for example, getting rid of all the baggage handlers and then no one could find the baggage. As for competition, generally it is a good thing. But Qatar could bring more, under existing arrangements they have the ability to provide more competition for people who live in Adelaide, for people who live in Geelong, for people who live in North Queensland, for people who live in the Gold Coast.

TAYLOR: But not in Melbourne Bill, choose the biggest market. That is just -

SHORTEN: But why are you not worried about the competition that Qatar could use for those areas, Angus? You never talk about them, the people outside of the Melbourne Sydney Triangle

TAYLOR: Because you know the -

KNIGHT: All right, well they're the main routes, so that's where they're wanting to go. I want to move on to another issue, China, because we've had the Prime Minister confirm that he has accepted the invitation to meet the Chinese president later this year. I understand, Angus, that earlier in the week the former Prime Minister Scott Morrison, addressed the party room and was criticising the Government for being, quote, too keen to restore relations with China. Do you agree with him?

TAYLOR: Well, I think - I'm not going to say what was said in the party room because we don't, but Scott Morrison -

KNIGHT: No, but do you agree with that sentiment? Is the government being too keen to get this relationship back on track?

TAYLOR: Well, can I say what Scott Morrison has consistently said, which it's important to put a line in the sand with China, which he did both as Prime Minister and before that with initiatives like AUKUS, like the decisions that were made around Huawei. He was around the table when that decision was made, as was I, and putting that line in the sand was critically important. Now, what's important now is that we do attempt to rebuild some of those trade relationships, but to not move the line in the sand. We can't step back from our values, from our core beliefs.

KNIGHT: But I don't think the Prime Minister is proposing he does that, is he?

TAYLOR: Well, he's just - Scott Morrison is making, has consistently made a clear point that we need to keep that line in the sand. And I think that's a that's a salutary point. It's an important point, and I certainly agree with it.

KNIGHT: And Bill, do you think that the government is being too keen, considering that the trade sanctions are still there on some of our key industries? It's been lifted in some, but on many they remain, and we still have Australians in jail in China. Should we be re rethinking the keenness?

SHORTEN: Yeah, those Australians were in jail under the Liberals. I would just make this point. The idea that Scott Morrison saying that our Prime Minister shouldn't meet with the President of China is just stupid. It's not about our values. We maintain our values. But since Labor's come in, we've sorted out the sanctions to look after the coal industry, the cotton industry, the timber industry. Last week we've seen the first shipment of barley to China since 2020. I mean, the idea that we wouldn't talk to our major, one of our major economic partners about matters which are of value to Australia is just ludicrous. I think it was Scott Morrison, sending up -

TAYLOR: That’s not what he said -

SHORTEN: Hang on, mate.

TAYLOR: And I'm not going to, he's never said that publicly. You’re verballing him.

SHORTEN: Well, hang on.

TAYLOR: You’re verballing him

SHORTEN: You were given the opportunity to say exactly what he said, and you chose not to tell us.

TAYLOR: You just verballed him.

SHORTEN: Come on Angus. My theory is this, Scott Morrison is sending up a thought bubble, in whatever way to try and get a job outside of parliament to say he still maintains very right-wing views. Hey, he's still there and so good luck to him.

TAYLOR: Do you – if you think AUKUS and the Huawei decision were thought bubbles, then you shouldn't have agreed with them.

KNIGHT: All right, I want to end on I want to end on something civil because we need to bring some civilised debate here. There's so much division as it is with the Voice to Parliament. So, I want to end on this. So, Philip Lowe delivered his final interest rate decision as RBA Governor this week and the farewell speech that he gave yesterday, he regifted his present to Michelle Bullock, who's taking over from him. He regifted the mug that he got from his predecessor, Glenn Stevens, which said glass half full on it. Where do you two fellas stand on regifting? Have you ever done it, or have you ever received a gift that was a regift to you? Let's start with you, Angus.

TAYLOR: Well, I have suspicions about a number of gifts I've received over time that they may have been regifted, but you never - you often don't know, of course.

KNIGHT: It's only when the card’s in there from the person it was intended for.

TAYLOR: I haven't seen one of those. But we have a terrible habit in our family, which is not so much regifting, but self-gifting, where I continually seem to get presents from my wife that I think are a bit more about things she wants. So, we do end up with these paintings on the wall, which are very nice, and they're gifts to me, but I do wonder about who the true recipient is.

KNIGHT: Yeah, that happens on both sides, doesn't it, sometimes. What about you, Bill?

SHORTEN: Well, I'd like to be in the happy position to have received a lot of gifts to regift. If you look at my register of interests, we don't get a lot of gifts. It's not as good as you'd think. But sometimes you get the odd knick knack, I visited my old union, and they gave me a union beanie. So, I passed that on to my staff. You know….

KNIGHT: That's just more being a cheapskate, isn't it? Passing on something you didn't necessarily want?

SHORTEN: Oh, no. I've already got a good collection of beanies.

KNIGHT: Oh, okay. Okay. Sharing is caring.

SHORTEN: After all, doesn't everyone have a drawer full of union beanies?

KNIGHT: No, no, I've just -

SHORTEN: Alright, I'll send you one, too then.

KNIGHT: Okay, all right. Regift that one to me. Good on you, fellas. Thanks again for joining us.

TAYLOR: Thanks, Deb, and Bill.

KNIGHT: Bill Shorten and Angus Taylor joining us for our weekly edition of Question Time here on Afternoons with Deb Knight.