Television Interview, ABC Afternoon Briefing

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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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30 April 2024

SUBJECTS: NZYQ; Bonza; Quantum announcement; Future Made in Australia.

GREG JENNETT, HOST: Why don't we introduce now our political panel guests and joining us, Assistant Defence Minister Matt Thistlethwaite. Matt's in Sydney. Welcome back, Matt. And shadow frontbencher Jonno Duniam. Jonno, welcome to you. Jonno’s in Hobart, as normal. Why don't we start with the Perth home invasion? And Matt, I'll go to you first. I will preface this question with the recently discovered information that Andrew Giles is in fact doing a radio interview this evening. But still there are questions around why we can't get more thorough explanations about whether applications were sought on the bail hearings in Western Australia by the Federal Police or even on the work of the Community Protection Board that monitors preventative detention, community supervision and the like. Aren't we entitled to know what the government's up to here?

MATT THISTLETHWAITE, ASSISTANT MINISTER FOR DEFENCE: Firstly, Greg, our thoughts are with Ninette Simons and her husband, who have been the victims of this horrific crime. The alleged perpetrator is someone that was in immigration detention. The Commonwealth's responsibility is around the immigration system. The criminal justice system is, of course, administered by the states. This individual was in immigration detention but was released as a result of a High Court case. That wasn't a decision of the government, that was the High Court. We've sought to act and put laws in place so that individuals such as this can be deported substantially. However, those laws have been blocked in the Parliament by the Coalition and the Greens. We want to get on with the job of trying to deport people such as this who have alleged crimes such as this have no place in Australia.

JENNETT: Sure, that was tranche two of the laws, and you're right, that's pending in the Senate. But there was tranche one, which was preventative detention orders way back in early December. Why was it not possible to have gone to the courts if not in the Perth case, because we don't know the particulars, but for any of the release detainees because we were told those powers were urgent back in December?

ASSISTANT MINISTER: I can't speak about the case in Perth. That's still before the courts, obviously, and it's subject to the WA jurisdiction. They're matters that are made by the Commonwealth department and they're not matters that the government influences because matters associated with court proceedings and applications for such orders are dealt with by the relevant authorities at a Commonwealth level and the government doesn't seek to influence those. There are decisions that the Director of Public Prosecution have to make based on the merits and that's based on the separation of powers.

JENNETT: Okay, Jonno Duniam, your response to that. What is it precisely that you're saying the government could have done, but has failed to do, either in reference to the Perth case or any of the other recent arrests?

JONATHON DUNIAM, SENATOR FOR TASMANIA: Well, more broadly, Greg, I think you've referenced one of the things the government could have done, and that is to look to preventative detention orders. I mean, we're not talking about run of the mill criminals here, we're talking about serious offenders. And the most recent example is one of the most heinous examples we've seen. The imagery that's been presented to Australians is heartbreaking. To see a woman senior in years affected this way is just dreadful. And so I think Australians are owed an explanation by the Ministers and by the Prime Minister about why they didn't take action. Now, I understand the separation of powers, I understand the role of the Director of Public Prosecutions, but the buck stops with the government. You can't point to a state jurisdiction. You can't point to the department and say, well, it was something they should have taken care of. I'm afraid this is the role of government and their job number one priority is to keep Australians safe. And I think the facts are starting to show that we're not. And this is why I think so many of my colleagues and so many in the community are concerned. Something needs to happen here. And at the very beginning of all of this, Ministers need to explain why they've taken the decisions they have or haven't taken actions they should have.

JENNETT: From a media point of view, that would be helpful. And we'll await whatever it is Andrew Giles might have said to our colleagues at the PM program this evening. Let's move on, and Jonno, I might go to you first of all on Bonza, the airline startup. It's obviously hit big financial difficulties, which may have to do with its own internal finances and structures. But what's the fallout, particularly in your home state of Tasmania there, which used to be linked by Bonza flights, what's happening?

DUNIAM: Well, obviously, being an island state, we are probably more affected than most jurisdictions, perhaps, say, for far flung corners of mainland Australia. But the reality is we do have a situation that does need addressing, and that is the fact that 93% of the aviation market is controlled by two significant operators. And that is something that is even more significant than perhaps the matter that's being so intensely scrutinised with regard to groceries and supermarkets at the moment with Coles and Woolworths and their significant market share. So, the government does need to, I believe, and so do many of my colleagues, look at this and see if there is a way of protecting consumers. We, of course, did introduce a bill into the Parliament to bolster consumer protections when they're caught up in situations like this and there will be thousands of people travelling for work and for personal reasons. There will be the employees affected by today's announcement and it really is now over to the government to tell us why they're not going to support our legislation and indeed what it is they're going to do to protect consumers into the future.

JENNETT: Yeah, I think we've spoken to Dean Smith and others about this attempt by the Coalition. But Matt Thistlethwaite, is it clear to you that regulatory hurdles which have, you know, brought so many airline startups unstuck in this country in the past, is that a significant factor in the bonds and difficulties that have led to this flight shutdown?

ASSISTANT MINISTER: Well, we don't know, Greg. We're still waiting for the board to discuss was what's actually gone on here, but I think it highlights that, unfortunately, it's a very difficult market in Australia for new competitors to break into. We're a relatively small market, we're in the southern hemisphere. There's not a lot of countries that are close by, so you don't have that heavy concentration of flights that are close by like you do in Europe and the United States and Asia. So, it's very difficult for new players to have that capital outlay and to become competitive. My thoughts today are with the passengers, Bonza, who have been, some of them being left stranded, although I note that Qantas and Virgin and Rex are taking up the slack, which is, which is a good thing. The government is looking to do what we can to make competition laws as effective as possible in Australia. We've got this review of competition laws going on at the moment. They'll report next year. We've also had some changes around mergers in the airline industry. We've reviewed the way that slots work at Sydney Airport to make that more competitive. But at the end of the day, it's just a really, really difficult market for new players to break into because of the large capital outlays. I wish it was easier, but they're big challenges.

JENNETT: It certainly proved difficult. I remember another startup back in the day, Compass Airlines seemed to last about as long as Bonza has at present. Future Made in Australia. Jonno, I might start with you. I noticed some comments by Paul Fletcher. It appears as though the Coalition is growing more suspicious about process behind the allocation of large sums of money. So, between the Feds and Queensland today, it's $900 million for PsiQuantum to set up. Does this mean the Coalition's cooling on the idea of Federal investments, Federal investments in this future made in Australia scheme that appears to be at the centre of the Budget next month?

DUNIAM: We welcome investments that are made appropriately, that go through a proper process, and we can be certain have the right outcome. I mean, it's something we did in government as well. But I suppose it is passing strange that they've picked Queensland, of course, with a state election coming up for the base for this investment. I understand also that a lack of transparency around the process as to how they arrived at the quantum and indeed the recipient of the funding that's been announced today. You know, there are a range of Australian businesses and innovators out there that will have missed out on something that has gone to an overseas based company. Now, again, while we welcome investments in Australia that will help us do more here and help us innovate here, well, I'd love to know what process was gone through. We do want transparency, the transparency we were promised around the process and why Australian companies missed out.

JENNETT: All right, well answer that if you can, Matt Thistlethwaite, obviously Jonno, and maybe Paul Fletcher before him, edging towards this suggestion that there's a political overlay on some of the allocations of funds so far. What is the process that led, in this case, to PsiQuantum getting a combined $900 million?

ASSISTANT MINISTER: Well, PsiQuantum was chosen because they're a world leading expert on the construction and development of quantum computing and they're establishing an Asia Pacific hub in Queensland, and that's a good thing. So, they're going to base their hub for this region in Queensland, in our country, that will create co-investments, it will create ancillary industries, and most importantly, it will create jobs.

JENNETT: Just to pick that up, Matt Thistlethwaite. It's 400 jobs, which, you know, anyone could pull out the calculator, it's about $2 million per job, isn't it?

ASSISTANT MINISTER: Well, it's 400 jobs, but what it creates is a hub, a hub for innovation, and that brings other industries and other players who will work in conjunction with the industry that's being established. And this is something that Australia has done world leading research on. Just down the road from where I am at the University of NSW, Professor Michelle Simmons, who won the Prime Minister's award for science last year, has been leading the world in quantum research, quantum physics and quantum research. So, it makes sense for Australia to concentrate on this and to try and establish and we've got a business that is at the forefront of establishing that computing capacity, wanting to put their headquarters here in Australia so that they can reach out into the Asian region. That's something that I think that governments of all persuasions would be interested in because it will create jobs in a hub in this area.

JENNETT: Well, I get the scent of a stirring political debate over some of these allocations. We'll see. It's latent at the moment, but see what the Budget brings, I suppose. Jonno Duniam, Matt Thistlethwaite, we're going to wrap it up there. Thanking both of you, we’ll get you back on very soon.



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