Television Interview, Sky News First Edition

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The Hon Matt Thistlethwaite MP

Assistant Minister for Defence

Assistant Minister for Veterans’ Affairs

Assistant Minister for the Republic

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Ben Leeson on 0404 648 275

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7 September 2023

SUBJECTS: Decision on additional Qatar flights; Bravery Trek; Workplace relations legislation; Qantas; Special Purpose Aircraft and international travel.

PETER STEFANOVIC, HOST: Joining us live now is Liberal Senator Hollie Hughes and the Assistant Defence Minister Matt Thistlethwaite. Hollie, we'll start off with you. So, Catherine King, she did say, I mean, that was part of it, there are other reasons she wouldn't elaborate on that, though. She also says colleagues were informed without specifying who. What do you make of the admission this morning?

HOLLIE HUGHES, LIBERAL SENATOR FOR NSW: Well, it'd be interesting to know when colleagues were informed because we have heard from the Prime Minister that he wasn't informed for three days after the decision was made. Thankfully, now we're going to have a Senate inquiry into this and hopefully we will be able to get to the bottom of it. What, though, is very interesting in the context and this just isn't opinion, this just isn't me telling you that I think that this decision stinks to high heaven. But in Minister King's own green paper, aviation green paper, and I brought it with me, there's two quotes that, and this is September this year. So, now, right, what are we, eight days into September? A safe, efficient, sustainable, productive and competitive aviation sector is critical to the economy and the standard of living of all Australians. That is the first line of the Minister's foreword and the last line of the second paragraph. These aviation services need to be reliable, competitive and affordable, supported by a robust consumer rights framework. These are the Minister's own words, yet she has thrown them out as she has made this decision, which appears to be nothing more than running a protection racket for Qantas. And the fact that this government who professed before the election, they would be all about integrity, they would all be about transparency, they are doing everything they can to avoid answering questions. And it's not just this issue. They will not allow an inquiry in the Senate into where these transmission lines are going to go. They've now blocked it five times. They're going to block again today an inquiry into where some of the money around Aboriginal corporations is being spent. This is a government that is obsessed with secrecy and doing everything under a veil of darkness, and this is just another example.

STEFANOVIC: Okay, Matt, over to you. First of all, did you just come from the gym?

MATT THISTLETHWAITE, ASSISTANT MINISTER FOR DEFENCE: Pete, I joined about 100 MPs and Senators, former ADF personnel, veterans, serving personnel, staffers, and we did a 10 kilometre run around Lake Burley Griffin this morning to raise funds for Bravery Trek. It's a wonderful veterans’ charity that brings veterans together around exercise and social connectedness. So, please support Bravery Trek.

STEFANOVIC: All right, well done. Okay, so we've spoken about that. Well done. So, now back to this issue of transparency here. There appears to be a lack thereof. Why not just outline the reasons why Qatar's extra flights were nixed? Why don't you just say it? Why not kind of just stumble about and refer to this and this and this and this and this and that?

ASSISTANT MINISTER: Well, I think the Minister has, she said that the decision…

STEFANOVIC: [interjecting] No, no, no, no, she said this morning she talked about the invasive searches of those Australian women. That's fine, but then she said there are other issues, but she wouldn't go into the details.

ASSISTANT MINISTER: Well, she's mentioned that the strip searches around that time of Australian women was one of the factors. She's also mentioned the issue of the industry recovering after COVID. I think we need to remember that the industry that was probably most affected by COVID was international travel in Australia. The industry was wiped out and a lot of people, including in my electorate, where Kingsford Smith Airport is, lost their jobs and the industry is still only recovering. That's been a factor that was mentioned by the Minister, ensuring that the domestic industry could recover. But this decision was made prior to that. Now, I'm not going to defend Qantas, and I've been very critical of Qantas. They sacked a lot of baggage handlers that live in my electorate and contracted their jobs out to a foreign corporation at lower rates of pay. And I think that's a disgrace. And I called that out in Parliament. But that's why the government's active with these new industrial laws, same job, same pay. So, you can't do that anymore and Qantas or other organisations can't get away with that. I'm not going to defend Qantas, but the Minister's made this decision in the national interest.

HUGHES: You know, Matt, it's not called same job, same pay anymore, because that was not polling too well. So, it's actually now called closing loopholes legislation. Same job, same pay. It is disgraceful, IR reforms that are being proposed. They've been contempt by business. And if the government can't even, within its own Ministerial team, get the name of its legislation right, that has been a deliberate change in legislation. No wonder there's no transparency. Clearly, there's no transparency even within its own Ministerial team.

STEFANOVIC: Well, and just on the myriad of excuses at the moment, too, Matt. I mean, as James Patterson pointed out last hour, is Stephen Jones the only one here who's kind of been found guilty of telling the truth when he kind of slipped up to suggest that Qantas' profits was what was being protected here?

ASSISTANT MINISTER: Well, if you look at legislation, there are a number of areas where decisions are made in the national interest. The Foreign Investment Review Board is another area, and former Treasurer Josh Frydenberg knocked back a number of investments into Australia based on the national interest…

STEFANOVIC: [interjecting] Yeah, but we're not talking about FIRB here. We're talking about Qantas' profits.

ASSISTANT MINISTER: But this is a similar decision where the legislation allows the national interest to be one of the considerations. And it was on that basis that this decision's been made. And the Minister's outlined that there were competitive issues, there were issues associated with the recovery of COVID. And she's also outlined today that the strip searching of Australians was an issue that was a factor as well.

HUGHES: Qatar is not a new airline entering into the Australian aviation space. That is absolutely the most ridiculous excuse I've ever heard. And in fact, we've heard in the Senate today that if Qatar wants to bring bigger planes in, that it can do so. And I think it's Adelaide and Perth that they've also said that they're more than happy to look at allowing routes there. So, this has got nothing to do with the national interest, because if it had to do with the national interest, if it had to do with those strip searches, they wouldn't be allowing Qatar to bring bigger planes, which they're now encouraging them to do so. And Senator Farrell last night also said that he encourages them to make another application. This just smells to high heaven, and everyone knows what it is. And it's just time that this government comes clean and explains their cosy relationship with Alan Joyce. I mean, the embarrassment and the disgrace and the PR disaster that Qantas itself is facing after just a shocking week. It's time that perhaps Qantas maybe stepped forward and said, well, this was what.

STEFANOVIC: We’ve got to go now. But Matt, you know who's happy about this is Richard Marles. It takes the focus off him and his VIP flights.

ASSISTANT MINISTER: Richard has at all times applied by the guidelines when it comes to…

HUGHES: [interjecting] Maybe Qatar doesn't take golf clubs.

STEFANOVIC: We're out of time on that one. Matt and Hollie, good to see you. Well done, Matt. Good work with the charity.


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