Release type: Transcript

Date:

Interview — Sky News Live Afternoon Agenda with Kieran Gilbert

Ministers:

The Hon Stuart Robert MP
Minister for Employment, Workforce, Skills, Small and Family Business
Acting Minister for Education and Youth

Topics: Russia; AUKUS; East Coast submarine base; COVID-19 measures; Safety of elected officials; Cost of living.

E&OE-------------------------------------

KIERAN GILBERT:

In the meantime, let’s go live to Hobart. The Employment Minister, Stuart Robert, joins me. Just picking up on that story from Jonathan Lea there, that nothing seems to be going right for Russia right now, and this latest move by our government and the Dutch, another aspect to piling on the pressure on the Putin regime.

MINISTER ROBERT:

Russia is doing everything it can, Kieran, to become a pariah state. Quite simple when it comes to the downing of MH17, let’s remember, 38 Australians who call or called Australia home were murdered in that incident. Russia needs to hand over, extradite those accountable. It needs to return to the negotiating table, it needs to compensate, and it needs to provide guarantees. And that’s just on the MH17 issue, let alone on what it’s doing in Ukraine, which is completely and utterly indefensible.

KIERAN GILBERT:

Stuart Robert, my apologies. I hope to get back to you in Hobart shortly.

[Break]

KIERAN GILBERT:

Let's bring in Stuart Robert, the Cabinet minister who's been listening in and waiting patiently. Thank you for your time and thanks for staying with us, Stuart Robert. The Prime Minister said US and UK subs will be operating out of Australia. This was significant news there and an early kick-off to the AUKUS framework. What's your read on that? Is that always part of the plan here, as we await our own nuclear subs, to bring in the US and UK subs in the meantime to operate out of our ports?

MINISTER ROBERT:

A number of weeks ago, Kieran, we made the point we needed a submarine base on the east coast, so today, of course, the Prime Minister is in Perth announcing that Stirling over there, HMAS Stirling, will be the home base for our fleet. Of course, we'll have a separate base over in the east, the submarines both visiting as well as our own submarines coming in and out. 

The Prime Minister again reiterating that further upgrades to our base in the west of HMAS Stirling will allow visiting submarines of the nuclear-propelled or nuclear propulsion from the US and the UK, as we of course move to operate or to build and operate our east coast base, which will also allow visiting submarines. 

We want AUKUS to be real and alive, and the first part of the AUKUS arrangement is the nuclear-propelled submarines, but of course, we’ll continue to expand that in areas of cyber security, in areas of missiles and the like.

KIERAN GILBERT:

How soon would you expect those submarines to start their operational tours and visits through Australian facilities?

MINISTER ROBERT:

Well, if you think through what a US battle fleet looks like every time we get a carrier that comes into Australian waters, the US aircraft carrier, it is generally accompanied by surface combatants as well as a nuclear-powered submarine, the only submarine that can keep up with the speed of a US battle fleet for the most part. So you'd be expecting over the next couple of years, as our fleet continues to expand, we see more and more US assets, but that would be the time frame we'd be looking for not just surface combatants to visit from the US and UK, but also their subsurface nuclear-powered submarines.

KIERAN GILBERT:

Now onto a few other stories, my colleague Andrew Clennell broke the news earlier, the timing of when the close contact rule for those with family members and so on with COVID could be lifted within a few weeks. The National Cabinet waiting the advice of Paul Kelly, but his information is that it could be lifted within weeks. Obviously not a moment too soon, Stuart Robert, for many around this country.

MINISTER ROBERT:

We'll all wait for the health advice, and the health advice has guided us through exceptionally well, Kieran. In terms of comparison with other nations, we have had one of the best responses to COVID. I think we all recognise that. A mortality rate, 30,000 less than commensurate nations overseas. One of the highest vaccination rates in the world. One of the fastest vaccine rollouts. We're dispensing with mask rules in the east coast, as you heard the Prime Minister say. I think we’re all looking forward to the further dispensing of those rules and getting back to normal. And of course the final piece of the puzzle, if you like is for National Cabinet to agree to move to stage D in the National Plan, whereby COVID will be treated as an endemic disease in similar ways to the flu and chickenpox and the like. I think everyone is looking forward to back to normal, quickly as possible.

KIERAN GILBERT:

We've got the election only a couple of months away and obviously lots at stake, but today, concerning news from the federal police. A statement released this afternoon during this program in which it confirmed the AFP that two people, a man and a woman arrested, over alleged online threats to an Australian senator. That senator, as it turns out, was my guest on the program earlier, Kristina Keneally. A reminder, Stuart Robert, of where civil debate and discourse - well, if it not ends in that place, it certainly should be well short of that sort of approach, shouldn't it?

MINISTER ROBERT:

Absolutely, it should. There is no excuse for threatening anyone, let alone public figures who are putting themselves forward to help lead our country. My heart goes out to Kristina Keneally. No one should have to deal with that. Many of us have in the past, many ministers. And of course, you're seeing more and more senior cabinet ministers getting police protection. And that's a terrible thing in our national discourse. We should be free to move around. And Kristina Keneally is not alone in facing those threats. And it's good to see the AFP stepping up and providing every support and assistance. 

We should have a zero tolerance for that sort of threatening behaviour. We should be using the AFP to provide guidance, but, Kieran, it would be great if we could just get on with our normal lives, serve our communities, come in and out of parliament without having to deal with that. That is quite sad.

KIERAN GILBERT:

Entirely inappropriate. Absolutely agree with you on that. And now, just finally, cost of living. It's a huge political issue right now, as you know from your constituents. People hurting at the bowser particularly when it comes to cost of living, is the Government more of a mind to say extend something like the low and middle income tax offset as opposed to tweak the excise on fuel, for example?

MINISTER ROBERT:

Cost of living has always been an issue. Ever since I've been in parliament - for 14 years - these discussions have been about. We're seeing inflation headline at 3.5, but of course, underlying in the twos. We haven't seen that underlying inflation in between the RBA band of two to three per cent for six years. We just haven't seen it. So Australia has been in a very low inflation environment. 

Now, we haven't taken that for granted. In terms of electricity, prices have gone down eight per cent in the last two years. Under Labor, of course, they doubled. 

You saw the announcements I made on the 7 March, just a week ago, $2 billion investment to ensure that the average Australian with the second and third child into childcare will be $2200 better off because of these changes for the second and third child in the childcare system. 

It's these point areas of concern where you start to see cost of living increases go up. 

The Government is acting cautiously in the indexation across the pensions coming through in a week's time, as the Prime Minister said. 

So our concern has always been to relieve the pressure for these staples from Australians and deliver tax cuts, so Australians have got more money in their pocket. 

And in terms of where we are with fuel, this is a direct consequence of the completely and utterly unacceptable invasion by Russia into Ukraine. It is unacceptable. It needs to stop. The world is at one in denouncing what the Putin regime is doing. These are the unfortunate and terrible consequences of that.

KIERAN GILBERT:

Stuart Robert, appreciate your patience today, joining us live from Hobart. Talk to you soon.

MINISTER ROBERT:

Thanks, Kieran.

[ENDS]