Transcripts

July 11, 2016

Subjects: Election Campaign, Coalition Agreement, 45th Parliament; Same Sex Marriage

PATRICIA KARVELAS:
…Senior Nationals Minister Darren Chester is confidant of another National on the front bench and he’s my first guest tonight. Welcome to the programme.

DARREN CHESTER:
Good evening.

PATRICIA KARVELAS:
In the last 20 minutes the ABC election computer says The Nationals, or the LNP, has won Capricornia which brings your party’s count to 16. Is one new front bench position for the Nats going to satisfy your party or will you be going for more?

DARREN CHESTER:
Well, can I firstly just say that is great news for The Nationals in the sense that Michelle Landry has fought a very hard campaign. Everything was thrown at her in the seat of Capricornia, which is in Rockhampton, and it’s one that we have struggled to hold in consecutive elections. In the past it has gone back and forth between us and the Labor Party. So it’s great news for Michelle and particular. In relation to the Coalition agreement, you’re right, it’s finally about the numbers. Where the numbers fall once all the counting has been done. It’s remorselessly about the numbers. The Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister will look at who’s won what, and the proportionality is then attributed to the party. So we need to wait and see the final numbers. Obviously I want, I am very happy to see Michelle Landry returned, just as I am happy to see all my colleagues returned. It’s been perhaps one of the untold stories of the election campaign, is how The Nationals have held our own very strongly in the campaign, and we’re very satisfied with the result. And now we are looking to form the kind of stable and competent Government that I think Australia needs.

PATRICIA KARVELAS:
Ok, but given the result and you just said it is one untold story but we are telling it now on RN Drive, Darren Chester, so given that you deserve an extra spot do you think that is likely to be the case?

DARREN CHESTER:
Well as I tried to explain, it’s not about what we deserve, it’s a question of the numbers will tell the story. At the end of the day, we end up going ahead and the Liberals go backwards a bit then our proportionality increases so it’s not a question of what we deserve or what I think we deserve. The agreement will specify when it comes time for the two leaders to sign the agreement it will specify what proportion each party gets. So if we have done well relative to the Liberal Party then we’re in a position where we might pick up another ministerial spot. And obviously if that is the case then we look to allocate that position to a person who can do a damn good job for regional Australia.

PATRICIA KARVELAS:
What are the priority issues on The Nationals Party Room agenda for tomorrow?

DARREN CHESTER:
Well, first of all it is welcoming a few new colleagues. Another one of the untold stories is that we have some new colleagues coming. We’ve been able to transition our party over the past eight years. The Party Room that I joined eight years ago was a lot older than the one we’ve got now. We had a lot of colleagues who were well into their 60s towards the end of their careers and they had served the party well. Now we’ve got younger colleagues, a lot of people in their 40s and early 50s so it’s been a bit of generational change in The National Party. First of all I will be welcoming them to Canberra. Then it’s a question of we go through the process of electing our office bearers, our leaders and deputy leader. I am not expecting too many changes there after a good result. So I think that Barnaby and Fiona will continue in those roles. And then it’s a question of going through what worked in the campaign for us, what are the big issues that we fought that came out in the campaign. Obviously as a geographically aligned party, as a regionally based party we’re pretty passionate about making sure that regional Australia gets a fair go and gets a fair share so we’re very keen to pursue those sort of issues that will involve infrastructure and service delivery for regional Australia.

PATRICIA KARVELAS:
One of the big messages that came out of this election is that the public does not trust the Coalition, your side of politics, broadly on health. The Nationals of course often represent poorer electorates where these sorts of cost of living issues are very dominant. Will you push for changes on the health policy because so far the Government said lots about acknowledging that this is a concern but nothing about actually altering the policy settings?

DARREN CHESTER:
I think you’ve made a terrific point and one that is not always understood by some people is that the Nationals by virtue of the fact that we do represent regional seats is that we do actually represent the poorest electorates in Australia. We have the lowest household incomes on average across the nation. So there are a lot of battlers who vote for The National Party and they want us to go and fight for them and the cost of living issue is one of the ones that we are obviously very focused on. I think the issue of health and the role it played in the campaign is one that needs full analysis. I’m not going to re-prosecute about what I thought was quite a malicious and misleading campaign by the Labor Party. The bottom line is ah people are concerned about health. They want to make sure that their Federal Government, whether it be a Coalition Government or a Labor Government is planning well for the future health needs of our nation. So I think there is a message in that for us and it is a question now of, given the opportunity to be in Government, to make sure that we have heard the message, listened to the concerns of the voters and deliver the kind of stability they want in terms of our health services.

PATRICIA KARVELAS:
Do you think that should be actually changing the policy parameters and not just changing the language?

DARREN CHESTER:
Well you’ll be disappointed to hear that I am not going to change our policy on your program tonight. I haven’t even met with my colleagues yet Patricia. I think…

PATRICIA KARVELAS:
[Interrupts] …but do you anticipate that those sorts of things will come up in The Nationals agreement with Malcolm Turnbull as well, that you will be pushing some of those issues?

DARREN CHESTER:
What I certainly anticipate Patricia is the issue of health will come up many times in the next few weeks as members of the Coalition and members of The National Party in particular raise their concerns about how it played out for them in the election campaign and how it became a hot button issue for them and it’s one that we need to listen to the Australian voters. I mean the bottom line is we have a world class health system in Australia. If you’re sick and particularly if you are critically injured in any form of accident or suffering a major health event almost overwhelmingly you will get well treated in a world class hospital with world class hard working staff. Now, Australians have made it very clear during this campaign they expect that to continue and you know we need to make sure we listen to them.

PATRICIA KARVELAS:
Why won’t the arrangement between The Nationals and the Liberal Party be made public? You know today it’s been a big issue. The Labor Party is calling on you to make it public. Seems logical to me to that we should be able to see what you’ve actually horse-traded in this deal.

DARREN CHESTER:
Well I’ve never seen the agreement myself, and I understand it is mainly a…

PATRICIA KARVELAS:
[Interrupts] …you must know what is in it.

DARREN CHESTER:
Well I understand it is mainly some broad principles on how the two parties will work together to provide a stable agreement, a stable Government. Not it’s not very secret Patricia when there will be a morning tea with the Governor General and it will be broadcast live on the ABC, where the outcomes of any negotiations will be on show for all Australians when the ministerial positions are allocated by the Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister. So I think it’s been a bit of a quiet news day in some regards it’s got a head of steam that perhaps it didn’t deserve. It’s been a process that has been around for decades and it has been a part of stable Government in the past.

PATRICIA KARVELAS:
Sure, but we knew The Greens/Labor deal very much when Julia Gillard formed that minority Government so isn’t it logical that we should know the actual fine detail of your detail too given there will be many demands that Barnaby Joyce will be making and Fiona Nash on the Prime Minister and Julie Bishop.

DARREN CHESTER:
Well, what I am suggesting to you Patricia is, it sets out broad principles. I don’t think there is a long list of demands as you are referring to. And look I can understand why Bill Shorten, the Opposition Leader, would like to see every bit of internal party documentation he can to find out how we plan to beat him at future elections. I mean we are in the business of beating Labor and keeping them out of Government, why would we be telling Mr Shorten how we plan to do that?

PATRICIA KARVELAS:
Nationals Leader Barnaby Joyce has talked about setting up a commonwealth run bank for drought loans through the Department of Agriculture. Why is this important? Why is it a top priority?

DARREN CHESTER:
Well, it is important because we believe there is a need for a single national body to deliver, to assess and to allocate the concessional loans for drought hit farmers and we think appropriately as part of the discussions we are having at the moment, we think the Agriculture Minister has a significant role to play in all of that so you know, these are
discussions that I understand are occurring. I haven’t been privy to those conversations but I think it is important that people in the rural and regional communities understand that they do have ministers going in to bat for them on these serious issues. From time to time we do have major droughts and flooding events and in recent times we have had the downturn in the dairy industry which is very undesirable and we are taking a big hit in many regional communities. The way those concessional loans are administered is something of critical importance to regional communities and I think that the discussion that is going on is an important one for us to be having.

PATRICIA KARVELAS:
Both Leaders have talked about, and this is Malcolm Turnbull and Bill Shorten, about delivering good Government in the next term of Parliament. Working together is what we’ve heard. Do you think that will happen?

DARREN CHESTER:
Well it’s an opportunity. I mean there is a chance for a fresh start with a new Parliament. I think what we have seen in this most recent vote is that there is a fair bit of disenchantment, a fair bit of disengagement by a section of the community who really don’t like the way they are seeing the Government run. Whether it is Labor or Coalition it has been growing over the past 5 or 10 years that level of disenchantment and we need to listen. We need to understand what those concerns are and I think that there are plenty of opportunities where we can work together…

PATRICIA KARVELAS:
But do you think it is likely to happen? We know what politics is like- do you think there’s, you know, kumbayas going to be sung when everyone gets together

DARREN CHESTER:
Well we could start with singing Kumbaya in the chamber and Kamal could become Speaker of the House, with apologies to Tony Smith our current speaker. Look, on a serious side there is a chance for a more civil and a less personalised debate. I think we can strike a better balance I think voters don’t like the behaviour they see in Parliament, particularly in Question Time. And you and I both know that Question Time is only a small part of the day. But it is a part which is broadcast and makes the headlines each night so we need to find ways to have a robust debate without descending into the name calling or the chaos we sometimes see. I think we need a strong and effective speaker, and we have one in Tony Smith. Hopefully he continues in that role and that will set the scene. At the end of the day it is about respect and it takes good will on both sides of the Parliament and I think we have a lot of new MPs coming in to the 45th Parliament, and they will be forming new habits and let’s hope they’ll be good habits.

PATRICIA KARVELAS:
If you’re just tuning in to RN Drive my guest is Darren Chester. He’s a Minister and Nationals MP for Gippsland. 0418 552 676 is the number you can text on. Your leader Barnaby Joyce says a same sex marriage plebiscite is and I quote “not front and centre politics with the public”. Is that what you’re hearing as well?

DARREN CHESTER:
It didn’t come up a lot in my campaign in Gippsland I must say Patricia. I have quite a large regional seat, and I travel around a fair bit during the campaign as you’d expect. It wasn’t a front of mind issue, they were more focused on issues of jobs and infrastructure and service delivery, but it is still an important issue for a lot in the community. So I am not sure how you judge it in the scale of issues. I think the policy position that we took to the election is the one that has won the support of the public more generally, although it is a costly option to have a plebiscite, the fact that you are going to have one means that people get to have their say. And so whatever I think, it’s only worth one vote and whatever you think is only worth one vote as well.

PATRICIA KARVELAS:
Sure. But Darren Chester, you very controversially same out in favour of gay marriage in The Nationals Party room. You’re the first one, your preselection was even threatened and yet you’ve done ok out of it all. And there wasn’t a backlash as far as I can see despite you taking that position in a rural seat. What’s the message that you get given you weren’t punished for taking that position?

DARREN CHESTER:
Well there was no reason why I should be punished. I approached the issue in a very respectful and moderate way, in fact I had a swing towards me in my electorate. I had a positive result in terms of my primary vote so there is no question that it didn’t impact negatively on me in my electorate. But the whole time through the debate on same sex marriage I’ve endeavoured to be very moderate and respectful and calm in my discussion of the issue, because I understand for some people this is a particularly hot issue for them on both sides of the debate. So it’s got to the point where the Parliament for better or for worse hasn’t been able to resolve it and taking it to the people on one of these rare occasions when you have to do this, taking it to the people is a fair result…

PATRICIA KARVELAS:
Should it happen this year though because there has been talk of some delay I’ve heard reports The Nationals would like it delayed and not prioritised this year. What’s your view?

DARREN CHESTER:
Well we’re already in July. I think it potentially could be done this year. I am not sure of the time frames; how busy the Australian Electoral Commission is. We’ve still got to wrap up the Senate vote in the next few weeks and that will take a bit of time as well. I’m not sure about the logistics of how quickly you can organise it. My greater concern is not the actual time you hold it, it’s getting it right, getting the question right…

PATRICIA KARVELAS:
Didn’t you promise to do it this year? Isn’t that what the election promise was?

DARREN CHESTER:
Well, I’m actually not sure there was a timeframe Patricia. You might be giving me fresh information. I thought…

PATRICIA KARVELAS:
The Prime Minister said it would happen this year.

DARREN CHESTER:
Well I thought during the conversation it was always about to hold it as soon as possible. Now, I can’t recall that date so I am not going to argue with you. I just can’t recall that conversation. I think that we, the imperative is to hold it as soon as reasonably possible, to get it right, and to hold it in a way that people respect the decision, whichever way it falls and then we get on with you know, the other issues which are important in Australian public life as well. So I’m not saying no to this year, I’m just simply saying do it as quick as you possibly can in a respectful way and a calm way and get a decision that the Australian people can live with.

PATRICIA KARVELAS:
Just finally you’re the MP for Gippsland in Eastern Victoria, the NSW ban on greyhound racing is having a big impact in regional areas in that state. What’s your take on that ban? Do you support a Senate Inquiry? Senator Sam Dastyari wants one into the economic impact on the ban.

DARREN CHESTER:
Well, you’re right it’s a state decision by the NSW State Government but as a matter of principle I am very uncomfortable when governments come out and ban something almost out of the blue. I know there was a scathing report and no one is making excuses for the appalling mistreatment of animals that was reported in that inquiry by the NSW Government. But I am concerned that there are a lot of people who have their livelihoods tied up in the greyhound racing industry. There are a lot people for whom it is a sport that has been their passion for decades, and I’m worried when it seems to me that a minority of people who have performed and behaved badly are going to cause the loss of a whole industry where other people have been performing properly. In Victoria they went as far as appointing an investigator in the form of Charlie Bezzina, the former homicide detective, to be in charge of integrity here in Victoria because they recognised there were some issues there in terms of integrity in the sport. I would hope that we can revisit the issue and find a way where the industry can possibly flourish into the future but obviously take into consideration those animal rights issues that are obviously well documented in that report.

PATRICIA KARVELAS:
Darren Chester many thanks for your time. Good luck at the meeting tomorrow. That’s Nationals Minister Darren Chester, who of course The Nationals meeting is happening tomorrow, their Party Room Meeting.
- Ends -

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