Transcripts

July 11, 2016

Subjects: Gippsland, The Nationals, The Coalition Agreement, Election 2016

MATT WORDSWORTH:
The real success story for the Coalition in this election was the strong showing by the Nationals. That's led to speculation the junior partner might score another spot in the ministry, even a cabinet position. Nationals Leader and Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce wants the new coalition to be kept secret while the Opposition is calling for it to be made public. The Nationals' Darren Chester is Minister for Infrastructure and Transport. He joined me a short time ago from Canberra. Minister, thanks very much for joining Lateline. Congratulations on your election. Correct me if I'm wrong, but you're the only Nationals MP who increased their majority.

DARREN CHESTER:
Well that's news to me, but I did have a good result in Gippsland. The people in Gippsland were very kind to me. So, any time you get elected to Parliament, it's very humbling, but to get an increased majority is obviously something I'm very pleased by. It only means the work begins all again. We start the new government as soon as possible and get on with the work. MATT WORDSWORTH:
So, good election too for the Nationals. You've won Capricornia today, according to the ABC computer, so that takes the number of seats to 16 more than last parliament, whereas the Liberals have lost a dozen, maybe more. Why the difference there?

DARREN CHESTER:
Well I think you've touched on something already. It's a bit of the untold story, the Nationals over the last seven or eight years. We've actually gone through a generational change in our party. Eight years ago I joined the party and there was a lot of older members who'd served our party well, been there for a long time, but were in their 60s and beyond and we've been able to generationally change our party and it's happened again during this campaign where we've got a few younger members coming through, so I think we've got a strong and vibrant team which is going to campaign very vigorously on behalf of regional Australia. The success of our campaign was very much down to being a good grassroots campaign. We focused on the issues that mattered to people in our communities, we make sure that we bring those issues front and centre to the government of the day. Obviously while we're in coalition, we're the government of the day. But having those ministers available to us to raise issues of concern to regional Australia and making sure we're in touch with our communities is the key to our success.

MATT WORDSWORTH:
So, whereas the Liberals Malcolm Turnbull, the leadership team, are talking about jobs and growth on sort of like a macro, helicopter level, the Nationals went about it differently?

DARREN CHESTER:
I was certainly talking about jobs and growth in my electorate every day. They were the big issues in my electorate. They wanted to know about the future opportunities for young people in our community, how our traditional roles in, like, timber production and paper manufacturing and energy production in the Latrobe Valley, the agricultural sector, so we were talking about jobs every day, so it did play out and did resonate in my community very strongly. So I'm not offering criticism at all of anyone else's campaign. I'm just saying at a National Party level, we performed well because we're in touch with our communities and we took those issues forward on their behalf.

MATT WORDSWORTH:
The upshot of your successes and the fact that there are fewer Liberal MPs is that your proportion has increased within the Coalition, which means you would get another cabinet position, wouldn't you?

DARREN CHESTER:
Well, the Coalition agreement is remorselessly governed by the numbers. It's something that John Howard said many years ago and it's true. I'm very reluctant to talk about the numbers because it sounds like I'm dancing on the grave of some of my political friends in the Liberal Party. I'm very sad to see...

MATT WORDSWORTH:
[Interrupts] The numbers have no sentimentality though, do they, minister?

DARREN CHESTER:
No, there's no sentiment in the numbers, you're right, but there are some good friends of mine who have missed out this time and that is the brutal reality of Australian politics, it's our democratic system, it's the way we go about it. People make their assessment and I've lost some good colleagues in this election who I'd rather who were back here. But you've made the point that, yes, the numbers do speak for themselves and if we're in a stronger position proportionally, there will be an increase in the ministerial representation for the National Party. Now whether that's in the outer ministry or within cabinet or within the parliamentary secretary ranks, I'm not sure. I haven't done those numbers. I mean, honestly, Matt, over the last seven or eight days all I've been watching is a different set of numbers. It's been the AEC count, seeing how my colleagues are going and performing on these postal votes and absentee votes, and as it's dragged on, it's become - it's become quite a sport for a lot of people who are interested in politics.

MATT WORDSWORTH:
One of the logical - one of the names being put forward is Matt Canavan, who's in the outer ministry, elevating him to cabinet. Would that make sense to you?

DARREN CHESTER:
Well, the great thing for Barnaby Joyce is he's going to have plenty of riches to choose from. As I said at the outset, we've had a bit of a generational change within our party. We've got some younger members who have come through, younger members, younger senators. Matt is one of those and Matt had the opportunity to step up into the ministry as the Minister for Northern Australia and has done a good job in that role already and only four or five months in the role. But there's some - there's plenty of talented people in the National party room...

MATT WORDSWORTH:
[Interrupts] Well who would you think should be elevated?

DARREN CHESTER:
Well, luckily for me, I'm not the leader of the party, so I don't have to make those difficult decisions.

MATT WORDSWORTH:
But you must know where the talent lies.

DARREN CHESTER:
I look around my room and all I see is talent. I'm looking forward there tomorrow to welcome that new talent in the room.

MATT WORDSWORTH:
Can you give me a name at all or ... ?

DARREN CHESTER:
Well, there's a long list of names. I mean, it's reckless of me to talk much about my colleagues other than the fact there's plenty of talent in the room.

MATT WORDSWORTH:
Should the Coalition agreement be made public?

DARREN CHESTER:
Well, I can understand why Bill Shorten wants to play these little political games. I mean, we're in the business of beating the Labor Party and it's not our job to tell Bill Shorten how we're going to do it. We have a principled agreement, broad principles in that agreement. I've never actually read the agreement myself. It's not something that's made available to individual members of Parliament.

MATT WORDSWORTH:
So you don't even know what's in the Coalition agreement?

DARREN CHESTER:
What it does, it sets out the broad principles of how we're going to provide the stability, the certainty and the confidence that Australia needs in its government. Now, the Coalition government has served Australia well in many incarnations over many years through different leadership teams. It's never been made public before and I can understand why Bill would like to see a copy of it because it probably would help him to beat us next time, but we've got no intention of giving Bill Shorten any help at all.

MATT WORDSWORTH:
I'm just a bit surprised that you haven't even seen the Coalition agreement.

DARREN CHESTER:
Well, what you will see in terms of the most public demonstration of the agreement is at the Governor-General's residence in a week or 10 days time when you'll see the swearing in of Government ministers. It'll be the most public example of all of the negotiations because you'll know which portfolios have been negotiated between the Deputy Leader - sorry, the Deputy Prime Minister and the Prime Minister. So, to pretend it's some great secret I think is a bit mischievous. MATT

WORDSWORTH:
But it does - it has made a couple of pretty major changes. According to the word of Warren Truss and Barnaby Joyce back in September when it was renegotiated, water policy went over to the Nats, the effects test was guaranteed to be changed and competition policy, reduce mobile phone blackspots. Some big changes are made in that Coalition agreement and you don't even know what they are and we don't deserve to know.

DARREN CHESTER:
Well it's not a question of what people deserve to know or whether I know or don't know, Matt, to be fair. What I'm saying is it sets out the broad principles of how the Coalition operates and people understand those broad principles in the sense that there's no three-corner contest unless there's agreement to have that contest so we don't compete against each other and waste our resources. The ministerial split and the proportions of that are well understood, depending on how many seats you win on each party. Now in terms of the way you've described those other issues, I don't believe there's going to be a long shopping list of other issues attached to it by any stretch.
I mean, it's about how the Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister will work together to provide the stability our country needs and I think it's only reasonable that they have a confidential agreement between the two individuals involved.

MATT WORDSWORTH:
On the issue of greyhounds, the Baird Government in New South Wales announced it will ban greyhound racing. Where do you stand on that?

DARREN CHESTER:
Well, you're right, it's a state issue and it's primarily one for the NSW Government to deal with. I have some concerns though about the way in which we're effectively punishing a vast number of people for the misdeeds of a smaller number of people. Now I understand the findings of the report into the - in the investigations into the NSW greyhound industry were very damning and I've read some of it today. No-one - there's no-one who thinks that the mistreatment of animals is appropriate, but it is a concern when a small number of people relative to the greater group involved in the greyhound racing industry are going to see this industry banned at the expense of others. Now, in Victoria, the Victorian greyhound racing industry went as far as appointing a former homicide detective in Charlie Bezzina as their lead investigator into integrity matters. I would be hopeful - be hopeful that there's an opportunity for the greyhound racing industry to work with the NSW Government, seek one more chance, if you like, put some more integrity measures in place. I'd be hopeful that's possible, but it really is a question for the NSW Government. I am uncomfortable with the loss of an important industry, particularly as it impacts on a lot of battlers in regional areas and regional parts of NSW.

MATT WORDSWORTH:
Can you draw an analogy here to the live export? Is this live export ban all over again?

DARREN CHESTER:
Well I think that's too big a line to draw because the NSW Government went through a process of quite an exhaustive inquiry over a 12-month period whereas the live export ban was really in response to a TV program and a Twitter outrage campaign and a whole bunch of emails and it was done over in about 72 hours. So I think the NSW Government has gone through a fair and legitimate process. I'm not comfortable with the outcome, but again, it's a NSW Government decision to make. I'm just not comfortable with the outcome and I would have hoped that there's a way to get the industry back on its feet, so to speak. If I was involved in the greyhound racing industry in NSW, I'd be going back
to the Government and saying, "By all means, double the penalties if you have to, increase the auditing process, increase the investigatory activities, but give us a chance to prove we can get this right and give us a chance to prove we can get the industry back on its feet."

MATT WORDSWORTH:
Alright. Minister Darren Chester, thank you very much for your time.

DARREN CHESTER:
Thank you.

You are here: