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Transcript of Tom Connell: Sky News: 10 September 2019: Angus Taylor; election review; drug testing trial

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SUBJECTS: Angus Taylor, election review, drug testing trial

TOM CONNELL: Here in the studio now with me, Liberal MP Julian Leeser and Labor Senator Murray Watt. Thanks both for your time. What did this prove today Murray Watt, or what was it attempting to prove?

MURRAY WATT, LABOR SENATOR FOR QUEENSLAND: Well this has obviously been a bit of a question that’s been hanging over Angus Taylor and the Government for some time now. What this really comes down to is that, Angus Taylor as Member of Parliament was able to secure a meeting with a department of the Government and a Minister’s office to talk about the department’s own action against a property that was owned by he and his family.

CONNELL: Well that’s not actually true; they weren’t actually talking about that action. That’s been made clear by the department.

WATT: At the very time that this meeting occurred between Mr Taylor and the Department of Environment, that very department was looking at taking legal action against Mr Taylor’s family company over allegations of poisoning grassland. So before we get to points about whether he declared his interests or not, we certainly think that he didn’t - what other farmer in the country has the opportunity to get a special meeting with the department at fast notice when an investigation’s underway?

CONNELL: So the department has expressly said though, that matter was not discussed an they were aware of that situation before going in. So on the

flipside does it mean that any time there’s and issue he has any involvement with in his area, he can’t advocate for it?

WATT: Well, I think that all of your viewers would really have some questions about whether it’s appropriate that a Member of Parliament gets a special meeting with the department at the very time that department is looking into that member of parliament’s own family affairs and whether they have breached the law.

But of course we’ve got the extra point which is that Mr Taylor has now been caught out on radio, admitting that he was in there representing himself and his family.

CONNELL: Well he wasn’t caught out; he said yes it was me I was representing constituents.

WATT: Well he was on a radio station admitting, that he was representing - he was trying disguise it as being representing his constituents - now we actually know that the constituents he was talking about are he and his family. What other Member of Parliament has the opportunity to get a meeting with the department that is investigating their own affairs and then gets to make representations on their own behalf?

CONNELL: Would it have been better for him to have made it absolutely clear, walk in to that meeting and say ‘by the way, don’t want to discuss it today but I do have this interest in an investigation you’re conducting at the moment’?

JULIAN LEESER: Oh this is the biggest beat up since the Pavlova, I mean, I think Angus Taylor’s a farmer, he represents farming interests, he represents his constituents like any other member of parliament does.

The Labor Party has been trying to muckrake on this because they want to gloss over the fact the New South Wales branch of the Labor Party, the branch that Anthony Albanese was the Assistant Secretary of for many years, has been breaking the law in relation to receiving foreign donations, in relation to receiving above the disclosure cap, above the actual cap on donations in plastic bags in cash. That’s what this is really about.

CONNELL: But that just sounds like you want to say ‘Hey, you’re saying Labor’s distracted on the issue and you’re saying no, no, no just look over here instead’.

LEESER: Well that’s why they’re raising these issues again, they tried to raise these issues before the winter recess. There’s nothing to see here, the Minster

hasn’t done anything wrong.

CONNELL: But would it be even easier to say, nothing to see, if again he’d walked in and said ‘by the way, everyone should know, here’s an interest I have - don’t want to talk about it, this is about the whole area’?

LEESER: Well, I have complete confidence in Angus Taylor, I think he’s done a good job, I’m sure he’s conducted himself with propriety at all times. He’s made statements about this matter to the house, he’s answered repeated questions, there’s nothing to see here.

The Labor Party is just beating this up because they want to distract from the fact that on the front page of several newspapers today you have a big spat in the Labor Party between people who want them to dump their policies from the last election and people who want them to hang onto those policies. That’s the real distraction.

WATT: Well unfortunately poor Julian can’t work out which distraction we’re apparently trying to pull off. On the one hand we’re distracting about ICAC on the other hand we’re distracting about policy. I mean that just shows you that the government is clutching at straws and trying to invent distractions.

CONNELL: Where do you sit on this debate that Labor should have tax and spend broadly still as part of it’s platform or the Mark Butler side of a ‘deep, broad, ruthlessly unsparing’ review?

WATT: Well I don’t think that these positions are necessarily inconsistent. I know that people in the media and the government are always looking for wedges within Labor, and you know, we know that every time we come into Canberra, all that the Prime Minister can talk about is something being a test for Labor and trying to wedge Labor because they’ve got no agenda of their own.

What Mark was saying, as a former President of the party and a senior frontbencher, is that we owe it to our party, to our members and to our supporters and the Australian people to take a really good hard look at ourselves. We lost the last election, we shouldn’t have but we lost the last election and we need to make sure that we have the right policies and the right campaigning approaches next time.

CONELL: Alright, I’ll put you down as team Butler then. Let’s talk about the drug testing briefly as well; I know you’ve had a bit to do with looking into this. The Government’s approach the second time around is different, there’s money here for counselling for example - should Labor be open to how well this might work, it’s just a trial?

WATT: Well, I was a member of the Senate Committee that reviewed previous versions of this legislation; we’ve had to look at two different versions and had two different inquiries into it. The consistent evidence that we received at those Senate Committee hearing from people who are actually experts in these matters - not politicians - was that first of all, every place in the world that has tried these kind of techniques, they have failed.

CONNEL: Even with the wrap around services?

WATT: Even with the wrap around services, in other countries that have tried to do it this way it hasn’t worked, it hasn’t got people of drugs and it hasn’t got people into work. All it is, is a punitive measure to try to pick on people in our community, rather than find them jobs.

The other thing, that was consistently said at the inquiry, was that there was not enough resources being provided by the Government and even if they did provide resources, we don’t have anywhere near the number of alcohol and drug counsellors that would be required to deliver these services.

CONNELL: Does this need to come with holistic look at the number of services out there that are available, not just a one of amount but you need money to get more people into this work don’t you?

LEESER: Tom, I want to get people off drugs, I want to get them into work. That’s what we’re trying to do as a government; I want to get them off welfare and into work as well. Today is World Suicide Prevention Day. We know that people who are on drugs, many people who die by suicide are often people who have used drugs. So drugs are a bad thing, we want to work to get them off drugs. There’s about 6000 people who are on welfare who have drug plans. We want to provide them with the support, that’s what the $10million is.

CONNELL: But that doesn’t go to how many counsellors we’ll have and so on. If it goes beyond trial you’d need something more substantive there would you not?

LEESER: But the legislation is for a trial program. Let me give you the example of Logan which is one of the trial sites. So already the government is in invested in the Logan area in relation to rehabilitation facilities for families, rehabilitation for drugs to the tune of about $2million over the last few years. So it’s not as if people are going into an empty space here, they’re going into space where there’s already support and there’ll be further support. I think this is a good thing, we should trial it, it’s a trial in three locations, it’s something that is worthwhile doing because getting people off drugs and getting

people of welfare and into work should be a national goal.

WATT: Everyone in the country would encourage people to get off drugs and provide support for people to do it. Like Julian I’m sure, we know people who’ve been affected by drugs, we know people who’ve been affected by suicide, people want to stop those kind of things from happening.

But the reality is that cuts that this government has made to drug and alcohol services, along with other health services is what’s caused the problem in the first place. What the Government should be doing, rather than pursuing punitive measures that experts say will not work, is actually having a plan to create jobs. When are we going to start hearing about that, when are we going to start hearing about a plan to lift wages? We’ve got the lowest wages growth that we’ve seen on record. They would be better ways of the Government helping the very people it says it wants to help.

LEESER: Murray, we’ve created $1.4 million jobs since we came to office, we had an increase in the minimum wage only a few months ago.

CONNELL: Can I just ask though, we’re running of time, there are no actually counsellors or services out of that money right? It’s just money to an area that might attract more workers or more hours, there won’t be any more drug counsellors as a result of this trial?

LEESER: Well the money is there provided to support people to get off drugs. Now the way in which that money is being used will obviously be dealt with by officials as the program is rolled out, so I’m not going to say what’s in and out in relation to that.

WATT: The consistent evidence at the Senate Inquiry was that no matter how much money the Government put up for drug and alcohol rehab counsellors, these people didn’t exist. We know that this government has failed to invest in training and this is yet another example where we haven’t got people who are trained up to be drug and alcohol counsellors. You can’t just put a pot of money forward and expect that people are ready to do the job.

CONNELL: See where this goes. Murray Watt, Julian Leeser, thanks for your time.

WATT: Thanks Tom.

LEESER: Thanks Tom.