Television interview with Assistant Minister Kearney, ABC News Afternoon Briefing - 23 April 2024

Read the transcript of Assistant Minister Kearney's interview with Greg Jennett on the legal battle with X (formerly Twitter), anti-vaping laws

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

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GREG JENNETT, ABC NEWS: Let's bring in our panel today. And joining us, Labor frontbencher Ged Kearney. Ged’s in Melbourne. Welcome back, Ged. And Angie Bell, LNP frontbencher, is on the Gold Coast. Welcome to you too, Angie.

Hard to go past today – Ged, I'll start with you – the fight with X. It looks like it's going to be slugged out in the courts. The Government seems very confident that it's on firm ground here with community sentiment, but can you be so certain legally?

GED KEARNEY, ASSISTANT MINISTER FOR HEALTH AND AGED CARE: I think we heard the Minister, Greg, talking about this before in your excellent interview, saying that, yes, there is still quite a bit of this that will be determined by the courts and by indeed the lawyers. I'm sorry, did I just disappear then for a minute?

JENNETT: No, no, no, you're coming through loud and clear, so please continue, Ged. We're getting you.

KEARNEY: Good. But really, you know, that is something that will play out, and we will watch that very carefully and very seriously because this is a serious issue and I'm sure Angie would agree. And I listened to your interview just then with David Littleproud. This is something that I think most Australians will feel very strongly about. We do not want to see that sort of content going viral across the country. We don't want our young people to see it. I have six beautiful grandchildren who I think it would be quite distressing for them to come across it even accidentally on any platform. And I think it is a matter of decency, as the Minister said before, that X should take this down. We support the eSafety Commissioner. We think this is something that we are on solid ground with, and I really do hope that at the end of the day, such content is taken down. We know that it leads to not only distress, but it can lead to copycat killings. It can lead to radicalisation. And it is not the sort of content that we want to see on our platforms anywhere.

JENNETT: All right, Angie, correct me if I'm wrong, but I'm going to assume that you fully support the takedowns. But in so doing, do you also harbour any concerns about incursions on free speech as we start to invoke what were pretty obscure sections of the Online Safety Act until now?

ANGIE BELL, LNP FRONTBENCHER: Well, firstly, Greg, I'd say that Ged has outdone me on the grandchild front. I only have three, not six. And so, of course, I too have concerns about online safety for the most young Australians across the nation. I think the Government really needs to be brave on this and take a very courageous stance because we want to see the online world mirroring the real world. And I do have very grave concerns, shared with my Coalition colleagues, about the safety of young children. That's why we put in place the online safety eCommissioner [sic]. It's also why we pass laws for online safety. I think the Government really needs to step up and make sure that children are safe, but also make sure that this sort of content doesn't inspire would be terrorists across the nation. And so, they are-

JENNETT: [Talks over] Is it clear to you, Angie- sorry, I think we're all having a go here. Ged, I don't know if we're- yeah, I'll stay with Angie. I think we're just trying to sort out a mic issue with Ged. But is it clear to you, Angie Bell, what additional powers the Government might need to step up with?

BELL: Well, I think they need to continue the good work that the Coalition has done in this space, Greg. We have a track record in online safety, and there's much more work to do for young people. And as the Shadow Minister for Early Childhood Education and indeed the Shadow Minister for Youth, I have some very strong feelings and thoughts on how or what the Government should be doing to move forward to improve on the work that we did when we were in government, and keep that work going. So I think that's something that Ged and I both agree on. This sort of harm should not be available for young eyes to see, and the Government needs to do more work in this space.

JENNETT: There does seem to be common ground on that. Ged, similar question to one I've asked of other guests today. I think you are still active as an MP on X, would you consider abandoning it if Elon Musk and the company's performance isn't up to scratch as we move through this episode?

KEARNEY: Well, to be honest with you, Greg, I am really not that active on X anymore. I just find it very difficult platform to engage with, to be honest. I do keep an eye on it and I do watch it, but I myself find it a platform that is very difficult, as I say, to engage with. But yes, you know, this is a bit of a line in the sand, I think, and if Elon Musk is not prepared to really take that down like Meta has, without much question or much ado, then I think maybe, you know, a lot of people will be rethinking their engagement with the site.

JENNETT: What about you, Angie, on that same question? Would you leave it?

BELL: Well, I actually don't engage in X or Twitter before that. I think that the immediate vitriol that some people receive after putting up the information on that platform is unfounded, and sometimes it's just downright not good for people's mental health. And so, I, too, don't have an account on that platform.

JENNETT: All right. Thank you for clearing that up. Well, let's move on. Anti-vaping laws, Ged, I think this kind of roughly falls into your Assistant Health Minister area. Mark Butler’s talking up seizures at the borders - 1.5 million vapes I think he said today have been seized since the start of this calendar year. Why then are they still, apparently, so widely available at various stores around?

KEARNEY: Well, we- this is brand new legislation and we are still working through all the various tranches of legislation that we need passed. There is a very important one coming up in the next sitting, or the next parliamentary sitting. And I really do hope that we get this legislation through, because it will be the last bit where you are not able to buy vapes at retail or convenience stores, I think this is going to be an incredibly important part. 

We do know that the vapes are incredibly dangerous for young people, and it seems to be young people that are taking that up. We've seen a massive increase in vaping rates and nicotine addictions in the young people over the last few years, after we'd seen a decrease because of the plain packaging in cigarettes. I think this is really worrying. We know that one in four young people do vape, and four out of five young people tell us they know exactly where to get them. It's really easy to access them. 

So we need to shut down those access points. We need to make sure that they are not easy to buy. They are dangerous. I was at a World Health Organization meeting just this morning discussing this very issue and I'm pleased to say that the World Health Organization is backing a full out ban on vapes and encouraging countries around the world to do what Australia is doing, and we are leading the way in this. 

I think we've learned- you know, we want to learn from the mistakes from cigarettes. This is a once in an opportunity, a once in a lifetime opportunity for us to get this right for future generations and I think we're tackling it right. 

JENNET: Sure. And enforcement and compliance at the retail level will be really important. In fact, I think, Angie, the very package of bills that Jed is alluding to there does just that. The Coalition's intentions, any reservation? I mean, are you supporting it and are there any reservations about enforcement and compliance? 

BELL: We would like to see this particular set of bills go to a Senate inquiry so that we can have a much closer look. We know that the current vaping laws are not doing the job, but we do ask the government where they're promised Vaping Commissioner is? And we'd also like to know where they're going to, or how they're going to fund border controls that are necessary for this. Because Border Force don't have the equipment to detect the illegal vapes that are coming in with nicotine in them and so there needs to be an investment there through Border Force. 

So, we have a few questions like, how are they going to minimise harm to children? So we have some questions that we'd like to answer through a Senate inquiry on this particular topic. But of course, vaping is doing harm to young people and we'd like to see more done. 

JENNETT: All right. Well, neither of you are senators. I imagine the Senate will do as the Senate does and go ahead and run that inquiry. Look, let's move to job sharing. I'm having a bit of trouble finding much support from sitting MPs or senators for job sharing, at least as it was presented by the two candidates hoping to run on the same ballot in the Seat of Higgins. I'll go to you first, Jed. Ever been a time where you simply wanted to hand over to an alternate for a week or so or is this just not going to fly? 

KEARNEY: Look, first of all, can I say I think we have a wonderful Member in Higgins. Doctor Michelle Ananda-Rajah does a great job. She's a great representative. I know you've had her on your show a number of times and I have every confidence that she will be successful again. It is a tough job, there's no doubt about that, and it requires long hours. It requires travel not only to Canberra but if you have a ministerial responsibility you need to travel elsewhere. And I'm sure Angie can attest to that, it is not easy. 

But we have tried very hard to make it accessible for women, particularly in the Labor Party. As you know, we have a majority of women for the first time in a government, which is fantastic. We've implemented the recommendations from the Jenkins report, including things like not having divisions after 6:30 - most of the time it has to be, you know, extraordinary for that to happen - so that women with children they've brought to Canberra can actually go home and get them fed and bath and into bed after 6:30. We have tried to make the workplaces as friendly as we possibly can, so I think we should keep working on those things. It's a very interesting proposal. 

JENNETT: Very interesting. 

KEARNEY: Personally, I'm not sure how it would work, but it's very interesting nonetheless. 

JENNETT: Well, it is. Angie, I'll get your response, it's a pretty open ended question. Obviously, I think you'd have extreme legal doubts over it, but can you see the superficial attraction even to outsiders? 

BELL: Look, I admire people for looking at options but I would prefer to see a singular member for Higgins in a fantastic candidate, Katie Allen, who's a very experienced Liberal Party candidate running there. And I think that most MP’s would agree that you wouldn't want to be spending your time every morning and every afternoon having a meeting over every email in the inbox to come to a consensus between two MP’s sharing one role, and I think that's what would happen at the end of the day. It's about continuity and consistency and our democracy and the way we run our government. And so, in the Lower House, we have single representatives representing single seats and so I think that should remain.

JENNETT: All right. And that is an ongoing piece of work, isn't it, the project that Jed sort of summarised there for us? Angie, can you say, as a veteran of a couple of parliaments, that things are a little easier for women, Angie, just finally?

BELL: Look, I think the Jenkins Review has delivered some reforms for women. And I do particularly admire my colleagues in Canberra who have small children, and we occasionally see them in the halls of Parliament House - not usually after 7:00 because hopefully they're in bed but we do see some children in the Parliament now and I think it is a more family friendly place thanks to the Jenkins Review. 

JEnNETT: All right. All progress is good progress on that front, I think. Angie Bell, Ged Kearney, thank you to both. It's been a real pleasure this afternoon. We'll get you both back before too long.

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