Interview with Laura Jayes, Sky News Australia

  • Transcript, E&OE
Subjects: Resignation of British PM, Greens Senator Lidia Thorpe, sports sponsorship and gas supply.

Laura Jayes, Host: Liz Truss, the British Prime Minister, is gone after just 44 days in office. Embarrassing for her, but also has some of Britain's trading partners scratching their heads. Not a lot will change diplomatically, but let's find out if there is concern. Joining me live is the Assistant Trade and Manufacturing Minister, Tim Ayres.

Tim Ayres, I mean, we're all a little bit surprised that it happened so quickly. Certainly, the writing was on the wall, but when you woke up this morning what did you think? Does it change anything?

Tim Ayres, Assistant Minister for Trade and Manufacturing: Well, it's certainly a turbulent time in UK politics, but I don't think for Australia it changes very much. It's been very clear that in terms of the trading relationship and the UK-Australia FTA and, secondly, in terms of our close strategic cooperation that while there might be changes from time to time in the leadership in British politics that the relationship between the two countries is remarkably consistent. And that reflects, of course, our common political systems and common outlook but also the depth of our strategic and economic relationship.

Jayes: Yeah, that's very true, indeed. And if Boris Johnson returns or whoever the next Prime Minister will be, I think that will remain the case.

Let's come home to domestic politics now. The Greens are in all sorts at the moment. This is centred around Lidia Thorpe. She has stood down as deputy leader of the party. What does Labor think should happen next with her?

Assistant Minister for Trade: Well, I think at the very least Lidia Thorpe, Senator Thorpe, and Adam Bandt in the House of Representatives owe the parliament a clear explanation for what has happened here. There is an apparent conflict, a conflict that should have been properly declared. There are conflicts that arise from time to time. The most important thing that you can do as a public official, whether you're in the parliament or in the public service or, indeed in a boardroom, is declare the conflict and allow the institution to deal with the conflict. That hasn't happened here.

Mr Bandt in the House of Representatives, the Leader of the Greens owes the parliament an explanation about why it was that he didn't ac. His explanation so far doesn't really hang together. And I think if he took the weekend to think very carefully about making sure that there's consistency between what the Greens say about conduct in public office and making that consistent with what the Greens do in public office, then he ought to come to the parliament with a very clear explanation on Monday, and we'll proceed from there.

Jayes: And what would you think would be the right course of action, though? Eject her from the Greens altogether? Would Labor refuse to take her vote in the parliament?

Assistant Minister for Trade: Well, let's wait and see what the explanation is, Laura.

Jayes: I mean, does it matter though? What explanation would make this sit right with you?

Assistant Minister for Trade: Well, all I say is let's wait and see. But there's a very clear apparent conflict of interest, a failure to declare it. Let's – the first point of call here is a proper explanation to the parliament I reckon, and let's just do this one step at a time.

Jayes: Okay. There's a censure motion looming though. The opposition will move it. Would you vote for that censure motion?

Assistant Minister for Trade: Once step at a time, I reckon. Let's wait and see what the explanation is… I mean, this is –

Jayes: I mean, if you think this is so egregious on the face of it, I mean it would be pretty easy to vote for a censure, to vote to censure her, wouldn't it?

Assistant Minister for Trade: I'm not going to commit on the program on Friday to how we're going to deal with parliamentary procedure.

I just make the point that it's got – you know, you actually have to have a consistent approach to these issues. And that does mean, yeah, I'm demanding consistency from the Greens political party here, consistency in terms of what they say about public officials and how they should act and a consistency with what they do. But that also demands of us as other parliamentarians that we, while we're demanding an explanation, that we're not pre-judging what happens next. There are a series of possibilities here. You flagged one of them. But let's just behave consistently with the approach that we're advocating. And I think that does mean the first step here is she should front up to the parliament – more importantly, the Leader of the Greens, Mr Bandt, has some explaining to do himself. This idea that he claims that some of his staff knew about this but he didn't know, I mean, that is not an explanation that they would accept if that were put to them. And I think the parliament and the public deserve to learn a little bit more about that.

Jayes: Would it be reasonable to see an investigation by the anti-corruption commission? Are you concerned that perhaps privileged information may have been passed on?

Assistant Minister for Trade: Well, that will be a decision for the future National Anti-Corruption Commission Commissioner. They will have a wide remit and an independence in terms of who and what they investigate. And that will be a matter for them. And that's a really important principle, Laura – that it's not up to politicians, ministers, the executive government to determine who is the priority investigations for the Anti-Corruption Commissioner. It is a matter for the Commissioner herself or himself.

Jayes: Okay. One final question, because this has been a big issue this week, and this is the idea of ‘sports washing'. Fans and players in some sports – AFL, netball, for example – no longer want to be represented by fossil fuel companies. Now, these fossil fuel companies aren't illegal. What do you think about this new trend, if you like?

Assistant Minister for Trade: Well, I think it's an important principle that players in whatever sport and whatever code have got a right in the workplace to be able to put their view. And I think that's what's going on here. I mean, sports sponsorship is critical for sport. You know, sports are now billion-dollar, multimillion-dollar industries. They're not – it's not volunteer club sport anymore.

I note in the case of Netball Australia, which is really the beginning of this discussion, that, you know, an Indigenous player has raised a series of issues about the past comments of Lang Hancock. I do think that is an important opportunity for the sponsor and Netball Australia and Indigenous players to get together and discuss this and talk about it.

You know, it's pretty hard, I think, for me to criticise a First Nations netball player who's found it difficult to walk past those comments.

Jayes: Sure, but what about fossil fuel companies? Because that's the next frontier. I mean, should – we want more gas in this country at the moment. Your government has been talking about it. But apparently Woodside is not good enough to sponsor a football team. Does that sit all right with you?

Assistant Minister for Trade: Well, this is part of the democratic debate. I'm not worried about the democratic discussion in club football. I mean, on gas, what I want to see is these gas companies who have agreed with the Commonwealth Government to ensuring sufficient supply for east coast manufacturers and east coast households, I want to see those companies deliver on price in a way that maintains the sustainability of Australian manufacturing.

You know, there are a series of businesses, significant businesses, that rely upon gas as, you know, a fuel stock in their manufacturing processes, not just to provide energy and power but as a fuel for their processes that are reliant upon the gas industry, and the price is stratospherically high at the moment. So we've done what's required to do to deliver supply.

Now these companies are engaged in sponsorships all over the place. It's part of them establishing their social licence. I'd just say part of their social licence is as well delivering economically at a sustainable price for Australian industry. And if I was asked what are you more interested in – a debate within football about sponsorship or the future of manufacturing jobs on the east coast of Australia, I know what my answer would be.

Jayes: Tim Ayres, good to talk to you, as always. See you soon.

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