Prepared: Wednesday 15 June 2022
Title: Interview with Kieran Gilbert, Sky News Afternoon Agenda
Description: Kieran Gilbert interview with Minister Murray Watt discussing the Cabinet meeting in Gladstone, agricultural workforce challenges and energy policy
Channel: Sky News
Program: Afternoon Agenda
Date Broadcast: 14 June 2022
Time Broadcast: 2:48PM - 2:56PM
KIERAN GILBERT, HOST: Welcome back to the program. Let's go live to Gladstone now, joining me live is the Agriculture and Emergency Management Minister Murray Watt, who I know is a mad football fan, so I'll get to the Socceroos a bit later - the news that's dominating most of our attention today.
MURRAY WATT, MINISTER FOR AGRICULTURE: It's been a great day, Kieran!
GILBERT: It has been a great day, a wonderful, wonderful story and nice to cheer us all up. A few issues going on, let's get to them. Why are the Cabinet Ministry in Gladstone of all places, Cabinet meeting in Gladstone to kick off?
WATT: Look, I think this is a really terrific move from the Prime Minister, Kieran, to host of the very first regional Cabinet meeting of the new Albanese Government in regional Queensland. And where better than Gladstone, where better than regional Queensland?
Albo's talked for quite a while about wanting to make sure that if we're elected he took the Cabinet out on the road to meet with real people, to better understand the issues that are confronting every single part of the country. And I suppose we, as Queenslanders, have long thought that federal politics can end up often being dominated by the Sydney-Melbourne- Canberra triangle, and I think it's really important that the full Cabinet has an opportunity to get out on the road, hear directly from people in regional Queensland. And we're very proud of the fact that everywhere that Albo has decided to take the Cabinet to, he's chosen regional Queensland as the first stop.
I think Gladstone is a really interesting place for the Cabinet to come. It's somewhere that a lot of the issues that the country is really grappling with right now come to the fore - so energy issues, manufacturing issues, workforce shortages. All those sorts of things that the country as a whole is facing, Gladstone and Central Queensland is a real microcosm of that. So I think it'll be a really great experience for everyone who participates.
GILBERT: Is it important as well for an Albanese Government to say even though you don't have seats in those areas, that you're going to govern for the whole continent, because there are big swathes of the country where there are no Labor seats, including in this part of Queensland we're talking about?
WATT: Yeah, I think that it does send a really strong message along those lines, Kieran, and the Prime Minister's been very clear about wanting to be a Prime Minister for all Australians and lead a government that caters to all Australians, whether they voted for us or not.
You know, I was really pleased that we did make some big inroads into those margins across Central Queensland. We obviously started a very long way behind after the wipe-out that we suffered in 2019. Unfortunately, we didn't pick up those seats, but it was always going to be pretty difficult to do that in one go after 2019, but we've certainly put ourselves in a competitive position for next time.
But this visit really isn't so much about campaigning. It's about governing and showing the kind of government that this will be, that it will get out there and listen to people on the ground no matter where they live, no matter where they voted.
I think that the Cabinet members are really going to learn a lot, myself included, about these challenges. But yeah, I think that everyone around Australia can see that this is about making sure we listen to everyone no matter who they voted. Which is I think a really refreshing change from the kind of hyper-partisan government that we've just had over the last ten years or so.
GILBERT: We've got quite a loyal audience in the bush, many people on the land who watch us in the afternoons, and you're the Agriculture Minister now. What's your message to them that Labor is listening to the concerns of people on the land, because in terms of ag visas that's going under Labor? That had been something the farmers had been calling for. What are you going to do to try and say you're listening to people, to farmers and their concerns?
WATT: Yeah, look, I think there's no doubt that there's a really big list of serious challenges that the agriculture sector is facing in our country, and rural and regional Australia is facing. You know, we made a number of commitments around dealing with some of those challenges in the lead-up to the election, but I've obviously already been out there hitting the ground running meeting with people, listening to them directly. Last week I was on a cotton farm just outside Emerald. I made a point of getting to a farm as the new minister within a week of being sworn in, and I've had a number of meetings already with a lot of key stakeholders to get my head around some of the challenges even more than what I understood already.
In terms of workforce, I would say that probably is the number one issue that's been raised with me by people in the farm sector. And I have to say I've been speaking to a broad range of people, farm groups as well as unions, because I think that, you know, there's a range of groups that have an interest in resolving these issues. And the feedback that I've received is that people are prepared to give us a go in terms of the commitment we made to expand the Pacific Labour Scheme and try to strengthen it. We did say that we would introduce a new agricultural scheme through the Pacific Labour Scheme, and we think that that will go a long way to meeting the workforce needs that our farms absolutely have while providing a really robust regime to avoid exploitation of workers as well.
But I've said both to unions, to farmers, to farm groups that if there are other solutions that people want to talk about to this workforce shortage, then I'm all ears and I'm intending to consult very widely about those sorts of solutions going ahead.
GILBERT: Just before we wrap up, I've got to ask you about that energy crisis - you touched on it earlier. I think most people would say ‘OK, you've only been in office a month, there's only, sort of, so much the Government could have done in terms of the grid and reform around it’, but you would know, as I'm sure Prime Minister Albanese knows, there's only so much grace that voters will give the Government, so it's an urgent area of sort of medium to longer-term reform but immediate reform as well that's necessary.
WATT: Yeah, look, it's a very big problem, Kieran, which has been a long time in the making and, you know, I think it is fair to point out that these problems haven't just arisen overnight, and they are a direct result of the previous government's failure to land a single energy policy over ten years. Unfortunately, we're now paying the price. But you're right, people will expect us to come up with solutions rather than just blame others, and one thing you haven't heard from anyone in the Albanese Government is that it's someone else's problem or someone else's job to fix it. Chris Bowen stepped up immediately, along with Madeleine King.
WATT: There's been a meeting of state and territory and Commonwealth ministers already. They've tasked the various regulatory bodies with coming up with solutions and we are very much stepping up to the plate because we have the great honour of being in government and what that means is that challenges come with is it. So it's a huge problem affecting households, industries. Again, it's been raised with me by all the farm groups because it's flowing to their input costs and we're all on the job trying to come up with solutions as quickly as we can.
GILBERT: OK we've got to go, but quickly, how about that Grey Wiggle? What a story!
WATT: Fantastic, wasn't it? I was sitting there watching it with my kids. I woke them up to see a moment in history and I must admit I wasn't sure it was going to turn out quite as positively as it did but, you know, that footage of Andrew Redmayne's going to probably replace John Aloisi’s for the next 20 years. It was great way to start the day.
GILBERT: Yeah, I'm going to start working on that beard too. Murray Watt, thank you. Talk to you soon.
WATT: Good on you, Kieran.
Interview with Kieran Gilbert, Sky News