SUBJECTS: Bob Hawke; John Setka; Western Sydney Infrastructure; National Security Legislation; Press Freedom; Huawei.
TOM CONNELL: Our first guest on the program today is Shadow Communications Minister, Michelle Rowland, in our Sky News Centre. Thanks very much for your time, Michelle Rowland. Let's start on Bob Hawke. Of course a pretty momentous day. What are your abiding memories?
MICHELLE ROWLAND MP, SHADOW MINISTER FOR COMMUNICATIONS: I think for me personally, I remember Bob Hawke as being someone who transformed school retention rates from being one of the lowest in the world at around 30% to leaving them at around 70% for school retention rates. And coming from Western Sydney, this really meant something. For me personally, the story is of my husband who grew up in a public housing estate in Mount Druitt, couldn't speak English when he started school, went to the local public school and high school and managed to earn first class honours in two degrees at Sydney University and is now a success story, a self-made person. And again, this is a direct result of those policies over that period. And we need to remember that at that time as well, Labor was cutting tariffs, we were doing big economic reforms that many commentators at the time said were going directly contrary to Labor’s base. So, to recognize that in the future we weren't going to have this high number of unskilled job vacancies, that we would need to have a smarter economy: that was really forward-looking. So I think it made an enormous difference, particularly for young people growing up in Western Sydney.
CONNELL: No, it's a good point that this widely praised reform now, it's easy to look in the mirror and you know, I was born in 1983 so, you know, pretty minimal memories of what was happening at the time, but I think it's a good point that reform is never easy at the time. Let's move on to an issue that's been tricky as well for Labor this week. John Setka says he'll plead guilty to criminal charges of harassing a woman via a carriage service. Despite that, he's staying put and he's been backed to the hilt now by his members. So is it time for Labor to consider disaffiliating itself from the Victorian CFMEU, at least for now?
ROWLAND: Let's be clear. Anthony Albanese is the Federal Parliamentary Labor Party leader, and he has made a decision which I support one hundred percent that this person should no longer be a member of the Labor Party. If anyone is going to make any public comments about Rosie Batty, particularly people in public life, they should be comments about how a woman who underwent so much trauma from family violence managed to come out of it making other people stronger, and earning an Order of Australia, Australian of the Year in her own right, and there should be nothing to the contrary context at all that can be read into it. So I one hundred percent agree with Anthony Albanese’s decision. I think it's reflective of the community's view of Rosie Batty as well. And look, as for his role in the union movement, that is for them to decide. But I would make this point that there is a certain amount of expectation, I think, from the public, there's a certain amount of expectation from members of various unions and from Labor Party members about how this individual should consider his own future.
CONNELL: Right, but the union members are backing him. There has been a statement issued on that backing him to the hilt. So if that's the case doesn't Labor have to consider further action if this is the view of the members themselves?
ROWLAND: Oh look, I think further action should be considered, but let's be clear. The one thing that can be done right now is a decision by Anthony Albanese as our leader to say this person is no longer welcome in the Labor Party. Adios.
CONNELL: I understand that, but when you say further action we’re talking about Labor disaffiliating itself from the CFMEU Victoria. Should that be on the cards?
ROWLAND: I think these are all legitimate questions to be considered. I'm not a member of the CFMEU, so I don't know how their structure works. I know that it is within the remit of our leader to decide whether or not this person should be a member of the party and make that view very clear. As to what further action should be given, I actually think we should let this play out a bit, but I think that it is going to become an issue that the union movement has to deal with and recognize that no single person is bigger than the movement, and whether that further action is Anthony Albanese or other people having those discussions, I think they should all be considered.
CONNELL: So perhaps then the federal union taking action then within the CFMMEU?
ROWLAND: It could well be. I'm not a member of this union. I don't know how its structure, its internal structure works. But I think that all of these things should be considered. But before that happens, I think it is incumbent on this individual to consider what that means for his union, what that means for the relationship between that union and the Labor Party. So the onus is on him.
CONNELL: So far, he is staying put and does not seem troubled at all by what's being put to him. We'll see how that develops. I do want to talk to you about the economy and getting it going because the Government has been saying perhaps they will fast-track infrastructure projects. Where should they look at, for example, in your area of Western Sydney?
ROWLAND: Well, as you would be well aware Western Sydney, North West and particularly South West Sydney are some of the fastest growing areas in Australia, and the infrastructure that has already been built and has been committed is barely keeping up with demand, and it's a constant struggle for quality of life improvements in Western Sydney. So it's very clear that we need action on hard infrastructure, and the Government made a lot of announcements about hard infrastructure. Here I'm talking about roads, primarily, and transport projects. A lot of those were made in the seats of Lindsay and Macquarie, for example. But I’ll tell you this: people will judge any side of politics down when these promises are made, when you have words like ‘congestion busting’ being mentioned over and over again, but not actually being delivered. So the onus really is on this Government to deliver on those promises
CONNELL: And if the money has to be brought forward and affects the budget bottom line, for example, Labor would support that?
ROWLAND: Well again, I note the Minister is talking about bringing forward some of these projects, but not in a one hundred per cent committal way. And even some of his comments that I've seen we're talking about not all of these being shovel-ready, but I think in the minds of residents, it's not a matter of whether or not these are shovel-ready or not. They are clearly projects that need to be delivered in order to keep up with the pressures that come from that growth. So I think again this is incumbent on the Government to demonstrate that it has a plan in this area.
CONNELL: I want to talk about national security because the Government last year commissioned a review of the whole legal framework that governs this area. The last role, of course, for the person doing this, Dennis Richardson's in charge of it, he's had a role as Secretary of Defence, head of ASIO as well. And he's rejected any notion of democracy under threat after those AFP raids and says critics of the AFP should quote ‘have a Bex and lie down.’ Is Dennis Richardson the right person to be carrying out this review?
ROWLAND: Well, I think that there's two elements here. The first is about freedom of the media as we have seen in the last few weeks, and let's bear in mind that the debate has grown from an issue about this action being taken under existing laws, which have been there for a very long time, and the very legitimate concerns that are held about ‘what will this mean, what sort of chilling effect will there be in future under new national security legislation?’ So that's on one side. I would also note that I don't see critics of the AFP directly involved in this, certainly not from the Labor side. This has been criticism of the Government, including of a Prime Minister who made initial tone deaf comments saying ‘well, I don't care as long as the law has been followed. I don't care what consequences flow from that.’ So it's up to the Government to front up and say what it's going to do in this area.
ROWLAND: But I think the other side of it, I mean if you want to talk about national security and as it relates to police powers, you know, you've got the issue of Huawei which is often brought up here. And again, you know, we make decisions as a Parliament, and governments make decisions, based on the best advice available and that advice from security agencies, and that has been a long held bipartisan position including when it comes to Huawei.
CONNELL: Just on that then, so what did you make of Dennis Richardson out yesterday? Now he was out there in his role within the Canberra Raiders spooking the sponsorship with Huawei, but does that seem a bit strange given the company's been banned on national security grounds from operating and participating in our 5G network? Was that a strange look to you, given he's also the man looking at our national security laws?
ROWLAND: Look, I don't read a lot into it. And I also note he was at pains to say he was there in his capacity as a director, not in any other capacity. But I think again this goes to the point that we always take our advice on these matters from security agencies. This bloke is perfectly entitled to his point of view, but it certainly doesn't impact on the advice that's being given when you consider the blurring of the edges between the core and the edge in the case of 5G. Those issues remain constant irrespective of whether or not this guy holds particular positions.
CONNELL: Michelle Rowland, appreciate your time.