Australian politics live: NSW and Victoria to ease Covid isolation rules; Morrison says Solomon Islands-China pact exposes ‘very real risk’ | Australian election 2022

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03.16

Further to Murph’s story.

The ACL has released this statement:

This week, the Australian Christian Lobby launches its national election campaign, powered by an army of 7,700 active volunteers.

The purpose of the campaign is to highlight the record of certain MPs and Senators – both good and bad – with a special focus on those who refused to protect people of faith from discrimination and tried to severely compromise Christian schooling.

We ask the question of voters, “Do their attacks on faith accord with your values?”

The truth about these candidates will be spread in target electorates through multiple flyers, digital ads, phone canvassing, billboards, and more.

The Australian Christian Lobby’s campaigning activities come off the back of new survey results revealing that thousands of local voters are yet to learn the truth about these Liberal rebels.

The survey of 4063 voters in the Liberal-held seats of Bass (Bridget Archer), North Sydney (Trent Zimmerman), Reid (Fiona Martin), Wentworth (Dave Sharma) and the independent seat of Mayo (Rebekah Sharkie) found 49 per cent were unaware of the role played by their MPs in ending a bid to protect religious Australians from discrimination.

“These survey results mean there are still thousands of Christian voters who need to hear the truth about their MPs,” ACL Managing Director Martyn Iles said.

“I urge Christians to take the time to learn the truth about each of the candidates and understand where they stand on the important issues of religious freedom and protections for Christian schools.

“This campaign is blind to party colours. Rather, it sees individuals and their voting record. When the election is over, whichever party wins, it is our hope that more individual parliamentarians from all parties will stand up for faith communities and the protection of Christian schools.”

03.13

Peter Hannam

There’s been an effort by the Morrison government over the past day to challenge Labor about the costs of its plans to accelerate the decarbonisation of the power sector (see Adam Morton’s pieces here and here).

However, whoever forms government from 21 May, Australia’s power sector needs urgent attention as ageing coal plants near the end of their (often shortened) design lives.

The latest evidence comes today from AGL Energy, the largest electricity generator, which said a quarter of its 2.215 gigawatt Loy Yang A power plant will be offline after an electrical fault that it’s still investigating.

@AGLEnergy shares are down about 6% after it said one of its Loy Yang A units would be offline until Aug 1 (subject to working out how to fix the fault). Awkward timing given the planned demerger soon, and a reminder ageing coal-fired power plants are not so reliable. #ausvotes pic.twitter.com/4yKLPWScrz

— Peter Hannam (@p_hannam) April 20, 2022

AGL expects to update the market by the first week of May on how long its Unit 2 will be offline.

As we noted earlier this week, wholesale electricity prices have soared in recent months, in part because of the closure of coal plant capacity – and are double the level touted in the recent federal budget for most of the national electricity market:

AGL’s announcement will nudge power prices higher, particularly in Victoria, where Loy Yang A is the biggest single plant.

03.12

‘Don’t send text messages’: Dom Perrottet on PM text message leak

Adeshola Ore

Adeshola Ore

NSW premier Dominic Perrottet says he is unaware of how a text message exchange between him and Scott Morrison was leaked to the media.

The Australian has reported that Perrottet texted Morrison to express support for him standing by the Liberal party’s controversial candidate for the seat of Warringah.

Katherine Deves has come under fierce internal criticism over her comments on transgender issues and women’s sports.

Perrottet told reporters he did not know how the text message had been obtained by The Australian:

The moral of the story is don’t send text messages.

He also played down differences with NSW treasurer Matt Kean who has called for Deves to be disendorsed:

Matt has a view in relation to the candidate and the way she’s expressed those positions. Now, I actually agree with Matt on that point … when you are dealing with issues that are delicate, it’s incredibly important that we are sensitive in our language and when we are sensitive when we are engaging in those discussions.

03.09

Guide Dogs Victoria investigates CEO endorsement of Josh Frydenberg

Khaled AlKhawaldeh and Josh Butler have a story on this coming in just a moment – but they have sent through a blog post because they know you don’t like to wait:

Guide Dogs Victoria has asked treasurer Josh Frydenberg to stop circulating election flyers featuring an endorsement from its CEO, with the charity saying it had “no prior knowledge” of the ad.

Guide Dogs VIC chair Iain Edwards said the organisation had launched an investigation, saying it was “absolutely committed to its important work as a charitable apolitical organisation”.

Frydenberg has recently been sharing ads and flyers featuring endorsements from local community members, as he faces a stiff challenge from independent Monique Ryan in his Victorian seat of Kooyong. One such ad, featuring Guide Dogs VIC CEO Karen Hayes, has been distributed to letterboxes and is being boosted with paid Facebook ads.

In the Facebook ad, Hayes praises the treasurer as an “amazing supporter” of the organisation, for which she was “enormously grateful”. On the flyer, Hayes said he has “genuine care” for Guide Dogs VIC and that her has “delivered in so many ways” for his electorate.

In a statement to Guardian Australia, Edwards said Guide Dogs VIC wasn’t aware of the ad.

Guide Dogs Victoria has been made aware of the distribution of political material which includes comments from our CEO who appears to endorse a local candidate in the upcoming federal election. The board of Guide Dogs Victoria fully understands the concerns that have been raised by members of the community and from our supporters about this matter,” he said.

The board has launched an internal investigation and requested that this material be immediately removed from circulation. We will make no further comment during this process.

The board had no prior knowledge of the distribution of this material and does not endorse it.”

Guardian Australia has contacted Frydenberg for comment.

The treasurer Josh Frydenberg.
The treasurer Josh Frydenberg. Photograph: Trevor Collens/AAP

03.07

‘We’re not going to have a submissive relationship with China’: Morrison

Q: What is your red line for China’s presence in our region?

Scott Morrison:

Well, we will always stand up for Australia’s national interests and call out coercion and interference from China wherever it occurs. Now, I know that has meant that Australia has been the target of China’s coercion.

We’ve been the target of a nation that is seeking to exert its influence in our area, which is in Australia’s interest. But I’m often asked this question.

Why is Australia so forward-leaning when it comes to China? Because if not us, then who? Who has the most to lose in our region, if Australia were not to stand up? Australians would.

And that’s why I haven’t been shy about it. I haven’t been intimidated, whether it was knocking back the Kidman property sale when I was the treasurer, or ensuring that appropriate arrangements were put in place to protect Australia through our national defences, or calling out China, which is where the pandemic started, and the many issues that flowed on from that.

We’ve always stood up to China because it’s in our interests. Now, we would like to have a very positive relationship but we’re not going to have a submissive relationship with China and I don’t think it’s in the interests of Pacific nations to have a submissive nature with China, any more than it is to have a submissive relationship with Australia, and we’re not [suggesting] that. We have a partnership of equals with our neighbours and when prime minister Ardern and I addressed these issues in the Pacific, we both understand that and share an approach to how we deal with issues in the Pacific. And we’ve discussed this issue, Jacinda and I, many times. And the approach we’ve taken, as the larger economies in the Pacific theatre, is to respect and engage and not seek to throw the weight of large countries around.

03.05

Q: Can you guarantee 100% that the fleets under the Aukus agreement will be built in Australia, will they be built here in Adelaide?

Scott Morrison:

As much as possible will be built here in Australia. Now, we haven’t down selected even the vessel that will be made. So no-one can respond to that question in the way you would like them to.

…The other point I’d make about Aukus is this. Aukus is not just about Australia having nuclear-powered submarines. Aukusis about Australia being able to produce them. Because in the United States and in the UK, they are both making lots of nuclear-powered submarines.

They want another partner making nuclear-powered submarines. Now, obviously, the reactors and things that are directly related to the nuclear elements of those programs obviously have to be done in other places, but our agreement, our discussions are about maximising what can be done in Australia, because that is in the shared national security interests of the three partners to Aukus. So the point of Aukus is not just to have this capability, but to be able to build and develop that capability right here in South Australia.

03.02

Scott Morrison: There’s no need to yell. So why don’t we all take the temperature down and ask your questions.

Q: No-one is arguing against the merits against the various projects under the Step-Up and infrastructure facility, but the record says this: Two countries have switched their allegiance from Taiwan to China in the time that we have had this Step-Up. We now have this security agreement which could pave the way for a Chinese defence base in the Solomon Islands. What’s the evidence that the Step-Up has worked in any way? Where is the soft power win? Hasn’t been nothing but failure?

Morrison:

First of all, I’d say this: the Prime Minister of the Solomon Islands has made it very clear that they are not accepting of any base in the Solomon Islands. They are not. So that is a false claim.

That there is no basis to make that assertion. It’s just not there. That would be the first point that I would make.

What I would also point to is the work we have done within the Pacific Islands Forum on so many areas of their economic development, Papua New Guinea is a very good example. Do you think there’s not the same pressure going on – in Papua New Guinea? That there is in the Solomon Islands? Of course there is.

You don’t think the same pressure is put in place on Fiji or Samoa or that’s happening in all of those countries. We keep re-enforcing to all our our Pacific family that will always be there for you in your interests and that is what we believe will ultimately prevail. Now, there are lots of pressures and we’re not dismissing those.

I mean, when Anthony Albanese was asked about this, he thought this issue was about – he said was only three things – climate change, climate change and climate change*.

That’s a nonsense. China has the biggest emissions and growing emissions in the world. So they haven’t – they may have just woken up to the issue. They have been highly critical of our Government and me and the strong stand that I have taken against China. But what these issues highlight is the risk – the uncertainty and the fact that you need to be constant in your relations with all these Pacific countries. The Pacific Step-Up was not a one or 2-year program.

It is an ongoing arrangement to demonstrate to the Pacific that, you know, we’re going to – engage with you over the long-term and in the treat Pacific Islanders has some sort of colony which was the impression they used to have. Now, we have been turning that around and you make the point about Taiwan and Beijing. The Australian Government recognises Beijing over Taiwan.

What hypocrisy would there be from Australia to lecture a Pacific Island nation to make a decision that the Australian Government has made. I mean, that would be – that would be the height of hypocrisy and the height of arrogance and there’s one thing that does not characterise the way I deal with Pacific leaders – I treat them with respect and I respect their sovereignty and I respect their electoral mandates.

*

03.00

Q: The point that this hasn’t come as a surprise. How were you informed that the deal was finalised? Have you spoken to Manasseh Sogavare in the last 24 hours? And given that you say this has been an ongoing issue, doesn’t that just show Australia has become complacent and that China has done a better job on the diplomatic front?

Scott Morrison:

No, I don’t think you can draw that conclusion. I think, again, what this highlights is that over the last five years in particular, the level of interference and the level of engagement and particularly, you know, with all sorts of promises of all sorts of investments that can be very persuasive.

And so that is the challenge that we’re now dealing with and we have been dealing with it for many years.

It is not a new issue and these threats still remain. I speak to other Pacific leaders about it all the time and what we reassure them about is you can’t always be fully persuasive on these issues.

What I assured them about is that Australia will be there for you as we always are, not because we want anything from you, but because we see the Pacific as our family and we want to stand by our family and be sure that they can have the sovereignty that they have earned, that they believe in very strongly.

And we want to support them in that. And so the Solomon Islands government, through a duly-elected prime minister and cabinet, have made a decision that they are allowed to make. Of course, they are. They’re a sovereign country and we have to respect their sovereignty so now with this arrangement, we need to ensure we work with them to see that Australia’s interests aren’t compromised because we believe in our interests, that their strength and their sovereignty is not compromised by these types of arrangements and that’s why I sent the national security officials to go and provide a briefing to the prime minister as I did to a number of other leaders in the region.

Now, I can’t go into the reasons as to why I am aware of whether agreements have been reached or not, that is not appropriate in terms of how the Australian government operates.

02.59

Those questions continue:

Q: Why was it not important enough for a cabinet minister to go?

Scott Morrison:

As I said before, in the Pacific, one of the things you got to be very, very cognisant of is there is a long history of frankly countries like Australia and even New Zealand and others coming around and treating Pacific Islands like they should be doing what the big countries should tell them to do.

You have asked me the question about why this is important. Now I had a lot of experience in this area and I have dealt with Pacific countries for a long time including before I went into parliament. One of the things you don’t do in the Pacific is you don’t throw your weight around. What you do is you treat others respectfully.

I’m very conscious of how visits are perceived within the Pacific. This was the right calibrated way to address this issue with the prime minister. I have had discussions with the prime minister personally about these issues. I have spoken to Manasseh Sogavare on many occasion, many, many occasions, as I talk to Pacific leaders all the time and particularly about this issue. So the judgement was made to ensure that Australia’s views were communicated very clearly and very respectfully and that has been done. And this is an ongoing issue.

That secret agreement that the Solomon Islands’ prime minister was very determined to resolve it, there is a lot of influence going on in the Pacific and a lot of pressure placed on other Pacific countries and our region and what they need to understand is that I am going to work with them. I’m not going to act like former administrations that treated the Pacific like some extension of Australia. The Pacific Islands are very sensitive to that and I have always had an approach with the Pacific Islands which understands those sensitivities because there is a lot at stake.

02.58

Q: Two questions. The first is on the very day that Zed Seselja was travelling to the Solomon Islands, Marise Payne was hosting a private fundraiser at PwC Barangaroo. Is that really the best use of the Foreign Minister at that time as opposed to going to the Solomons? My second question relates to boat turnbacks. How many have your Government done and how many have Labor done?

Scott Morrison:

We have done 27 turnbacks from memory and Labor did none. Labor did none. And I remember this very vividly because I was the Shadow Minister for Immigration and Border Protection at the time. Labor did everything they could possibly do to avoid restoring temporary protection visas, ultimately for many years, to restore offshore processing which they finally relented on too late, and sent actual kids and put them on Manus Island, and, thirdly, they just refused to do turnbacks.

Now, the policy I put together prior to the 2013 election with my team, with many others, with the great support of Tony Abbott, enabled us to be ready when we were elected to go and deal with that problem. We have worked on a plan, we have done the hard work in opposition to come forward with a plan that was going to deal with one of the most significant national security issues that were being dealt with at that time and we implemented it and it worked. And so the real test of whether you support something or not is when it really mattered and the Labor Party and Anthony Albanese opposed all of those measures for so long and they demonised those, they demonised those who sought to put them in place.

Q: And Marise Payne?

Morrison:

Look, I already answered the question. The right response was to ensure that the Minister for Pacific, we were very aware of where that agreement was up to, as were all other Pacific leaders, it was very important that we communicated very clearly to the Prime Minister of the Solomon Islands, Manasseh Sogavare, what the Australian Government’s position was. And to do that at that level made very clear that Australia was not looking to go and stamp around, that we were going to deal with it constructively and respectfully. That is…

Q: Zed Seselja doesn’t. How does that work?

Morrison:

The Foreign Minister is a different level to the Minister of Pacific. One is in Cabinet, one is not. You calibrate your diplomacy to deal with sensitive issues.

02.55

Morrison says he won’t allow people to ‘cancel’ Katherine Deves

Q: To the mental health of young people and driving down suicide rates, you’re standing by a candidate who has potentially caused more harm than good to gender diverse and trans young people. Aren’t you concerned that’s doing more harm than good? And on a second note – it’s been revealed that the candidate for Cooper is noted to attend far-right rallies, an active member of Clive Palmer fans Facebook group and once described ex-Queensland Senator Fraser Anning as a God. Why are you standing by him?

Scott Morrison:

To the first point you raised and I have raised this many times in these press conferences – the remarks that Katherine has made in the past that have been [insensitive] that she’s withdrawn those remarks and I think she has learned that in taking forward the primary issue that she is seeking to raise as a woman raising three daughters of her own is about women and girls in sport. That’s what she’s seeking to bring attention to.

Reporters interject

Morrison:

I haven’t finished my answer. You can wait until I finish my answer.

Reporters interject again

Morrison:

Women in sport is the issue that Katherine has been highlighting. She’s made a number of remarks in the past, and on a number of occasions, not in the majority, she’s stepped over the line, and she’s acknowledged that. To go forward as a member of Parliament, that is something you need to learn. That these issues are important, that you need to be able to deal with them with respect for others, to be compassionate in terms of the feelings of others.

But what I won’t allow, what I won’t allow, is for those who are seeking to cancel Katherine simply because she has a different view to them on the issue of women and girls in sport.

I’m not going to indulge that because you know in this country, I think Australians…

Reporters interject again.

Morrison:

I think Australians are getting pretty fed-up with having to walk on egg shells everyday because they may or may not say something one day that’s going to upset someone*. Now you shouldn’t seek to upset anyone else, you shouldn’t seek to upset people, you should deal with things in a very sensitive way, but in this country, I think it’s time to allow – allow people where they have made mistakes in the past about how they have said things in the past, where they’re prepared to put those behind them, and focus sensitively on the issues they’re seeking to promote, then that’s how they do it. Others might want to cancel her, others might want to cancel other Australians for standing up for things that they believe in but I am not going to be in partnership with them.

*A reminder Peter Dutton sued over a deleted twitter comment and the government has legislation it has dressed up as making social media safer, but really makes it easier for people to launch defamation action

02.51

Q: Prime minister, why was Marise Payne not sent to Solomon Islands the minute the government knew this deal was coming to a head? And is it a failure of your Pacific step-up program?

Scott Morrison:

No, I think – no, absolutely not.

Q: Why not.

Morrison:

This is highlighting the very real issue that we have been working on for many, many years. This is no surprise to us. It may be a surprise to the Labor party, but it’s not a surprise to us. I mean, the Labor party has been very passive when it comes to the risk presented by China in our region.

They have been very critical of the government, they have been very critical of me personally in the strong stand that I have taken in relation to China’s influence, not just in Australia, but across the Pacific.

I mean, I was the one who went to the G7 and tabled those items of the coercion that Australia is facing. Australia is being coerced by China because of the strong stand that our government has taken. So this is not a new issue.

It is not a new issue for my government, for our government. It’s a very serious issue and that’s why, particularly during the course of the pandemic, I’ll tell you what happened with Fiji, for example: with Fiji, we were the country that ensured they could vaccinate their entire population. And when China sought to send their vaccines to Fiji, the Fijian government was able to say, “No, thank you. The Australians have got us covered.” Now, I have been working closely with all of those political leaders because as a family, you deal with the security threats that arise from this secret agreement with China and I know that is a great concern to other members of the Pacific family.

I mean, I know what Kevin Rudd said, he thought foreign ministers should be sent up there to stomp around and tell Pacific Islanders what to do. That was the failed approach of the past. What I have done as prime minister is taken a very different approach.

Personally engaging with these leaders, constantly, and ensuring that we talk through the challenges that they have, particularly during the pandemic. We were the country that stepped up most for our Pacific family and reminded other large countries in the world about the needs in the Pacific area and that is respected in the Pacific.



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