Interview with Minister Kearney and Ali Moore, ABC Radio Melbourne - 25 February 2023

Read the transcript of Assistant Minister Kearney's interview with Ali Moore on Silicosis/engineered stone ban.

The Hon Ged Kearney MP
Assistant Minister for Health and Aged Care

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ALI MOORE: And this morning it is a big welcome to our party liners for this week - Ged Kearney joins us, Assistant Minister for Health and Aged Care and Labor MP for Cooper. Good morning. 



ASSISTANT MINISTER FOR HEALTH AND AGED CARE GED KEARNEY: Good morning. Thanks for having me on. I love that introduction, always makes me smile.



MOORE: But you're not allowed to leave the chamber, when in fact, you have left the chamber because I think you're probably in Canberra, but you need to stay wherever you are for the next month. And David Van joins us, Liberal Senator for Victoria. David, hello, and welcome. 



SENATOR DAVID VAN: Good morning, Ali. How are you? Good to speak to you again. 



MOORE: We have been focusing this morning on quite a few issues. But let's start on the economy. And, in fact, we have been asking people whether they'd like to put their hand up for the Reserve Bank Board, given that overnight, the bank, well, the Australian Public Services Jobs Portal, has actually gotten expressions of interest from the public for two positions on the Reserve Bank Board. I don't know Ged, what do you reckon? When you finished your career in politics? Could that be a post political job? 



KEARNEY: I think it's slightly above my skill set. But look in all honesty, I think, you know, there is a review of the board happening right now. And I'm quite interested to see who will put their hand up. I think, for example, it would be very good to have a worker representative on there. So you can actually say on a day to day basis, what's happening in their households with their budgets.



MOORE: There is an overwhelming sense certainly from our audience, that there needs to be less - we need the experts, but we also need some people with real on the street experience if you like. David, what do you think? And I know that there is a review, and we'll get the outcome of that review in coming weeks. But do you think that we need more on the street experience maybe a worker representative?



VAN: I think you'll find that there's a range of people who have been on the board and who may be on the board in the future that have both the expertise and the real life lived experience. If you're a professor at a university, you probably haven't, you're not that far above the people on the street. So I think there's some some real experts out there that we should be relying on rather than political appointments. 



MOORE: But what about just people, normal people, you know, people who get up and go to work everyday, maybe as I had a text earlier, David, that, you know, the hairdresser, a taxi driver, the teacher?



VAN: Well, as the portal will say, there will be a set of skill sets that's going to be needed on that on that board. And if you know, my very good friend Ged says it's above her pay grade, then I'm sure after all the representation of workers that she's done, if she doesn't think that she's capable of it, well, you know, I'm not sure that having our local hairdressers - not that I need one all that often - but I think it's better off that these positions are independent of government. 



MOORE: Independent of government, I have to say if you look, if you look at the list of positions, you know, what you need, the skill sets that you do need, it does leave some open, you do need some knowledge or experience in some things. But when you look at industry or public policy formulation, that does actually leave it pretty broad. But you both have jobs, you're obviously not looking for another job, not that we know off. So, the big, I suppose the big economic issue that's making the headlines at the moment is the latest wages data. We've heard a lot from the Reserve Bank about wage price spiral risks of inflation, and if that leads to wage increases, entrenching inflation even further. Ged Kearney, it's not a good outcome for people is it when you get the first wage growth, and first significant wage growth for some time, completely and utterly wiped out by inflation?



KEARNEY: Yeah, this is the challenge of the day isn't it, as the Treasurer says, inflation really is the defining economic thing at the moment that he's trying to deal with. And I think that we've been very successful in managing inflation, all of the budgetary outcomes that we're looking for have really been designed not to push inflation up. It's a global problem. It's coming at us from all angles, really. And the balance is to make sure that people do get wages growth, to keep up with inflation without it being inflationary itself. And I think, you know, we've supported wage rises for minimum and award wage workers. We're very proud of that. We've passed legislation making it easier for people to bargain and get wages moving up. We supported 10 days paid domestic and family violence leave, a pay rise for aged care workers. So we're really focusing on those workers that are struggling with household budgets, and investing in creating good, decent, well paying jobs.



MOORE: David, what do you think?



VAN: It's probably good that Ged isn't putting her hand up for the board. It's been made very clear by Governor Lowe, that what we need to avoid is a wage price cycle. And just economics 101 says one follows the other. So somehow this government's got to try and reduce costs somewhere else yet all we're seeing is an excess of spending. That's going to hit the budget in couple months time. And I'm just afraid that the blowout in that budget is going to be enormous. 



KEARNEY: Well, the thing is, David, as you know, that making childcare cheaper for people is certainly something that is not necessarily inflationary, it's actually taking a lot of pressure off people's household budgets, while at the same time allowing them to increase their working hours. So there's a double benefit there. Making sure that people have cheaper medicines is certainly taking pressure off household budgets. We've heard that, you know, for some families that can be up to $400 a year cheaper for the cost of medicines, you know, there's savings in there. Fee free TAFE, which certainly takes a lot of pressure off people who are trying to upskill and get better jobs and better paying jobs in the economy. So all of these things are very sensible ways that we're having a really positive impact on household budgets without it being inflationary. And I think that is, quite frankly, the genius of our Treasurer. 



MOORE: David, that's the trick, isn't it, to assist people without making it inflationary?



VAN: The part about that is, is that all that's doing is transferring it to the budget bottom line. And now why we see this so called genius is now going after people’s super, he's going to tax people’s super to pay for all that shopping list that Ged just read out.



KEARNEY: That's not true David.



VAN: You're looking for the magic pudding Ged, that seems to be what Labor seems to do.



MOORE: David, you want to move to super, which we will, but I just want to ask one more question on the the wage price spiral, which doesn't seem to be in existence at the moment. But the whole issue that faces people is that they, you know, they're facing high inflation and they're facing ever higher interest rates? Do you both think that there is more pain to come on the interest rate front? David?



VAN: As we said before, the election last year, it won't be easy under Albanese, and we're just gonna see higher and higher wage price spirals that the RBA are going have to take action on and it's going to hurt people, people are going to feel a lot of pain. 



MOORE: So are you tipping one more rise, two more rises, three more rises?



VAN: Like Ged, I'm not putting my hand up for that role. So I'm going to leave it to them to make those decisions.



MOORE: Ged, do you have thoughts? 



KEARNEY: Yes, yes. Look, the Treasurer has made it very clear that inflation is the challenge of the time. And he's been extremely clear about how he's going to manage that in the upcoming budget. First of all, he's going to focus on relief, and relief is incredibly important for people to have confidence that they can afford any interest rate rises that come along. It will be budgetary relief for households-



MOORE: But you’re not going to tell me what you think we're going to be in for? 



KEARNEY: No I really wouldn't want to predict that. But I can say that, given the budgetary mess that the previous government left us in, a trillion dollars of debt with nothing left to pay for it. The budget is also going to focus on recovery and repair of that. And I think that the Treasurer has made it very clear that he has some very clear views about that. And also restraint. Unfortunately, as David says, you know, because of the mess that we were left, we are going to have to show budget restraint. And this is going to be the interesting juggle for the Treasurer and I have every confidence in him.



MOORE: Oh you both definitely are underlining your titles as politicians this morning. So let me move on to super and I know David, you could say I didn't let you respond to that. But I think that we could go on all day with this because you've both got your lines that you are going to deliver but let me ask you about super because you brought it up, David. And what we have got now is a proposed purpose for super. The objective of super is to preserve savings to deliver income for a dignified retirement alongside government support in an equitable and sustainable way. That's a proposed purpose been put forward by the Treasurer. David Van, what do you think of that as a purpose?



VAN: Well, all I think it is, is a stalking horse for the Treasurer to start taxing people’s super.



MOORE: Why?



VAN: Overturning 30 years - well you started talking about different levels that you need, that there's going to be - it's just a change in, in the way that the super has always been governed, you've made no doubt about it. What this all means is that Jim Chalmers is going to be taxing people's super. It is that clear and that simple.



MOORE: Taxing everybody's super or the pension of rich people's super?



VAN: Well, you know, that super is guaranteed was put in by legislation by Labor. Now, if people have accumulated large amounts, they can't just change the rules and go after their money just because you've spent all your money on something else. Like the list that Ged read out before, you've gotta be fair about these things to give people you know, if they've built up their super, that it's not then part of the government's piggy bank. And that's what we're seeing here. This is purely a stalking horse for what we're going to hear in the budget about people's super thing taxed. 



MOORE: But we haven't actually, we're not seeing anything yet because there's nothing on the table, but Ged Kearney, your response?



KEARNEY: You know, I'm old Ali, I've been around a long time. And as long as I can remember, from my years of the nurses union, my years at the ACTU, my years in opposition here, I have fought hard to defend attacks on superannuation by the Liberal Party. They hate it, they've always attacked it, they've tried to undermine it, they've tried to get rid of it. They just don't like it. And we saw in the previous government that they, you know, they allowed people to raid their superannuation system for the government's own purposes, so that they didn't have to support people during the COVID pandemic. And now, it just really, I've got to say it really gets on my gall a bit when people like David start saying, oh, you know, we're the champions of super. It is a great Labor legacy. And it is something that we are 100% committed to keeping.



MOORE: When you get a definition, or a purpose that says equitable and sustainable, is that code for cutting concessions?



KEARNEY: I think is code for fairness. And the Treasurer has quite rightly asked a question. And he is the Treasurer, and he can ask the question, are the tax concessions for people with very high income stocks, more than 3 million in their account and $5.8 million on average. Are they fair? Now, David's wrong. It's not about taking away any of that money. It's about the taxpayers supporting those tax concessions. And I think, you know, the Treasurer says, nothing's on the table. He's just doing his job, which is absolutely what he should be doing, asking, is this the best way to keep it sustainable for the future? As he said it could possibly cost more than the age pension in a few years time. 



MOORE: Yes, and David Van that is the point the Treasurer made - that super concessions, as they run at the moment will cost more than the age pension by 2050. So just a question for you, David. Is it fair that, you know, once you get past, I don't know, 2 million, 3 million in your super account, you continue to attract the same concessions as someone who's got half a million?



VAN: I’ve just got to take it back a point because Ged was saying we left a billion dollars in debt. What she's forgetting was that that was because of COVID. And now she's saying because we let people access the super. If we hadn't of done that we would have, like they were proposing another whatever it was $90 billion in payments, that trillion dollars of debt would have been far higher under Labor. So you can't have it both ways. Either you stopped spending or you support people. Now what we did was help people through a once in a century pandemic. And people got through in much better shape, the economy when when we lost the election was in incredible shape. And now what we're seeing is Labor's policies just degrading that.



MOORE: Can you answer my question though? So the question is, is it fair that someone who has, let's say 2, 4 million, in their super account, continues to attract the same tax concession as someone who maybe has half a million?



VAN: It's always been that the flat rate for super, should always be a flat rate for super. Otherwise people will find other ways to invest their money.



MOORE: That won't attract tax concessions.



VAN: Well, the investment industry is pretty big, pretty broad, pretty good at finding ways of doing things. So people have a right to be able to invest their money in the way they get the best return. And that's why you know, when we were in government, we cut fees for low balance accounts. We stopped unnecessary insurances. We reduced duplicate accounts. We did an awful lot to protect super so I won't have this attack that Liberals are against super. We're not, we're against the unions siphoning it off to pay for Labor's elections.



MOORE: Right okay, so we could keep having a debate about super for long till the end of time. Quite possibly. And I do know you often see that headline ‘super wars’ so let's move on to I was gonna say less contested ground but not at all really. The Aston by-election, because we now do have candidates for both Liberal and Labor and earlier this week, we got the Liberal candidate. David, I did note that yesterday we had Peter Dutton in Victoria campaigning, you're wasting no time. How do you rate your chances here in Aston? 



VAN: Rosheena is an amazing candidate. So the people of Aston will be in very good hands with her as their MP. She's talented. She's a young mother. She does amazing work in the community. I rate her chances very highly. 



MOORE: And Ged Kearney, I know that Mary Doyle, who stood at the last election, she successfully reduced the margin in that seat from 10.1 to 2.8. 



KEARNEY: She did. That's true. And I know Mary Doyle, she is actually a personal friend of mine, a fabulous woman, you know, has a very rich and interesting past. She's a breast cancer survivor. She's a mom and carer to three kids. I knew her from working as a union organizer in the union movement. She's a hard worker, down to earth, amazing woman. But ultimately, you know, the people of Aston have a choice. And that's between Peter Dutton and the Liberal Party ,that's well where we've seen them recently vote against every sort of affordable cost of living legislation that we've put forward, whether it was housing or action on climate change and cheaper energy, whether it's Australian manufacturing. Or they can vote for Mary Doyle, who we know will strengthen our government, be a huge asset, I'd love to have Mary up there in Canberra with us, fighting hard for the things that make her life easier, like cheaper childcare. 



MOORE: Do you both think it's going to be a cost of living fought election? Have you got to look at the demographics of Aston?



KEARNEY: I think it will be a cost of living election. And I think that that makes it you know, pretty much an easy choice for the people of Aston. They just have to look at which government is working really, really hard to tackle the cost of living, to ease family budgets. 



MOORE: Okay, we've had that conversation. David, do you think it'll be a cost of living election?



VAN: Of course it will, because people are going through so much pain at the moment. Since May last year, cost of living has gone up. Real wages have barely gone up. It's hurting your pocket. And this is all under the Albanese Government.



KEARNEY: And yet your government votes against all the major legislation we put forward to make it cheaper, it's extraordinary David.



VAN: No we've voted against legislation - like your Rewiring The Nation. You’re going to spend $20 billion for large companies to get a guaranteed rate of return on that will only transmit electricity to people, you know, six to 12 hours a day. I mean, there's just better ways of doing things. We're pragmatic. We get things done. We don't just do slogans. 



MOORE: Okay. So can I just ask both of you to answer a question, just a straight question. So no politics around this genuine question. Ged Kearney, does it matter that your candidate in the Aston byelection doesn't live in the electorate?



KEARNEY: Look so many people ask that question, and I think as long as you know the area, she knows the area extremely well. She knows the issues that the people care about. She knows how to fight for the people there and she knows what you know that she's prepared to listen and represent them in Canberra. I think that is really the crux of the issue. 



MOORE: David, yours doesn't live in the electorate either.



VAN: Like Ged, I think we've always had a lot of elections where people have stood for an electorate and then moved into it. If that happens, then I think that that's a reasonable thing to do. 



MOORE: Okay, a completely different issue. And maybe we won't have any politics around this one. But we've seen a campaign launched this week for the federal government to ban engineered stone products. And this has been a very long standing issue. We've got thousands of workers who are suffering from silicosis, and there is going to be an import ban considered at a meeting next week. After years of this, various codes of conduct, is it time for a ban Ged Kearney?



KEARNEY: Well it's definitely on the table and we are deeply concerned about the spread of silicosis. From my background in the union movement, I've seen a lot of occupational diseases that, let's face it, they are purely preventable if safeguards are actually implemented in the workforce. I was around in the days we fought against asbestos, because of mesothelioma, and we managed, asbestos was banned because of the disease, a terrible disease. So it's not a straightforward issue. There's lots of other things as well, that have to be on the table. Tony Burke has said that he's meeting with the Work Health and Safety Ministers from around the country, and it will be discussed there. 



MOORE: You're the Assistant Minister for Health though, don't you think we need a ban? 



KEARNEY: Well, we have a national strategy to manage this. 



MOORE: But it's not working is it if we've got very many sick people. 



KEARNEY: No, no, but that is a recommendation in that strategy and it's certainly something that we need coordination with right around the country. We need all of the ministers to be on board with this. It would be certainly something that we're discussing at the ministers -



MOORE: But if all the ministers around the country do agree, do you agree? I mean, is it something the federal government is pushing for? 



KEARNEY: I think it's something that we are talking with all the parties about, definitely, we need stronger regulations across all the industries.



MOORE: That sounds like you don't want to ban it.



KEARNEY: I didn't say that. I mean, as I said, I personally have been around when asbestos was banned, and I saw the terrible tragedy that was mesothelioma that was caused by asbestos. I think it's something that definitely needs to be discussed. 



MOORE: David Van?



VAN: As you know, Ali, that we put a lot of money into the National Dust Disease Taskforce, and the recommendations that came out of that we fully funded. It's an awful disease, it is preventable. It doesn't just come from engineered stone. So that's something that people should be -



MOORE: No, indeed, it's also mining and road construction. There are a number of other areas. 



VAN: Yes, but - there should be a very good look at banning engineered stone. It's got a bad track record. If it's not, if the safety around it can't be improved, then I would hope it's place in Australia is limited. 



MOORE: And just a very different issue but one that I know, David, you've talked about, and it's sort of pertinent particularly this week, because it is the one year anniversary of the war in Ukraine. A question about the Australian Embassy. I was actually surprised to read this week that the Embassy in Kyiv remains shut, a number of our, I suppose our partners, our international partners have gone back, certainly Canada's going back, I think the UK has gone back. David, is it time that we went back? Or is it still a health and safety issue? 



VAN: It's a national embarrassment. When I was in Kyiv, last August, my first morning there I went for a run past the embassy. We share a building with Canadians, you can see a Canadian flag flying at the front of it. Yet the Australian Ambassador is not back there. And this just goes to show how little the Albanese government cares about Ukraine. I mean, they haven't even delivered half of the Bushmasters that we've promised yet, they've done nothing other than send some trainers to the UK. We've got to send our Ambassador back, we've got to fulfill our commitment of Bushmasters. And then we've gotta take a really good hard look at ourselves and say, what more can we do? Because it seems like the Albanese government’s just abandoned Ukraine. 



MOORE: Ged?



KEARNEY: Well, as you know, the President was in Canberra in the last week of Parliament. They had, my understanding is, and you know, I wasn't sort of present at that meeting or not privy to what they discussed, but I know it was a very good discussion and all parties were very happy. 



MOORE: The question of opening the embassy, are we starting to look a little -



KEARNEY: Well, I was just covering off on that point that David's trying to assert that there's no commitment that is absolutely false.



VAN: Well then deliver it, deliver it. In estimates last week, it proves nothing's been delivered -



MOORE: David, let Ged speak.



KEARNEY: The reopening of the embassy, now it's under review. I do know that, under very regular review, it has to include a whole range of security, safety, legal issues, David would know, operational issues. The Embassy is operating, it's operating out of Warsaw. And I've got to say that the safety of the staff is our number one priority. And I think that is what is really being considered. 



MOORE: And Ged Kearney, no one would question that, that the safety of the staff is the number one priority. I suppose the question is, if Canada thinks it's safe, if the UK thinks it's safe, what is it that stopping us? 



KEARNEY: Well, as I said the reopening is under regular review. It will happen when it's considered safe for Australians.



MOORE: Well, Ged Kearney, Assistant Minister for Health and Aged Care and David Van, Liberal Senator for Victoria, thank you very much for joining us this week as our Party Liners.



KEARNEY: Thank you.

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