4 March 2022

Interview with Andrew Clennell, Sky News Sunday Agenda

Note

Topics: Natural disaster recovery, Federal Budget, cost of living, interest rates.

ANDREW CLENNELL:

Joining me now from Melbourne is the Assistant Treasurer, Michael Sukkar. Michael Sukkar, thanks for joining us. 

MINISTER SUKKAR:

Good to be with you. 

ANDREW CLENNELL:

So, Thursday afternoon, Scott Morrison says there is going to be a National Emergency declared for Queensland. Friday night, there is not. Can you explain to us what happened here?

MINISTER SUKKAR:

Well, Andrew, obviously I’ve seen your remarks and you obviously showed the Prime Minister’s remarks there. A request wasn’t made and obviously the ordinary course of evets and the requirements are that with such a declaration, a request is made from the government of the affected area. That request wasn’t made. Having said that – not withstanding a declaration or otherwise – ADF support was provided immediately, support to flood affected communities was provided immediately. The declaration which, I believe are really important for that recovery phase of a disaster, has been decided by, obviously the Premier and the Queensland Government, that it’s not necessary to request that declaration. I think it’s as simple as that, Andrew. But right now, with communities impacted in Queensland and northern New South Wales, our focus wholly is on supporting them. A forensic timeline of who said what and when might be interesting to some people, but I don’t think is of any relevance to those on the ground who we’re supporting. 

ANDREW CLENNELL:

I understand that Mr Sukkar, but speaking of a forensic timeline, we see this Sunday Telegraph story today detailing how Defence made two requests to come in and help and the New South Wales state emergency service rebuffed those requests. Why didn’t the Prime Minister call a National Emergency then if the Federal Government had the belief that Defence should be in then? And that was a week earlier than he did. 

MINISTER SUKKAR:

Well Defence was on the ground extraordinarily quickly, I don’t think anybody doubts that. Defence was deployed very quickly. Again, the requests or the declarations of emergency rely on requests being made by state governments, that’s wholly appropriate. State governments…interrupted

ANDREW CLENNELL:

But according to the legislation you don’t need that letter, do you? You can just go in as a Federal Government, can’t you?

MINISTER SUKKAR:

Sure, and support was provided straight away, Andrew. 

ANDREW CLENNELL:

Well, why did the Prime Minister say that he needed the letters from New South Wales and Queensland?

MINISTER SUKKAR:

To make the declaration you do, Andrew but to provide support immediately – which we did through the ADF particularly – that happened before and can happen without a declaration being made. I think you’ve got to separate the two, Andrew. There’s a declaration which makes, in my view – and this is my view – it makes the reconstruction task and recovery task much easier because it empowers all Commonwealth agencies to do what they need to do to support those communities without any encumbrance. But the initial deployment of assets and support, of course that would be co‑ordinated with the State Government. You wouldn’t expect that that wouldn’t be co‑ordinated with local SES, obviously, which reports through to State Government. Local emergency management services at a State Government level. It would be wholly inappropriate, Andrew, for us not to be co‑ordinating with the State Government on the ground. Those deployments were made prior to – and can be made – without a declaration being made and ultimately the declaration requires a request from the State Government. Where that request is forthcoming, we have absolutely made the declaration and supported the State Government. Where it hasn’t, in the case of Queensland, we’ll continue to support them on the ground with ADF support. We continue to support communities with disaster recovery payments, significant support. We’ve obviously continued to support through joint funding with the New South Wales Government, $551 million for housing support. 

ANDREW CLENNELL:

Mr Sukkar just on that support, it leads me into the Lismore‑Ballina question. Will we see areas like Ballina, Mullumbimby, given these $1,000 payments?  Is that under consideration or are you going to stay where you are now? Only those three local government areas?

MINISTER SUKKAR:

Andrew I’m not privy to those discussions. I think the basic point always here is where people need the support, where they’ve been affected in a significant way by a natural disaster, we’ve always sought to support those communities. There’s always questions around which communities are affected more and at what point and where the line falls on a map, but we’ll always support communities where people have been significantly affected by a natural disaster. As for the specifics of those discussions, I’m obviously not privy to them. 

ANDREW CLENNELL:

All right well in the lead up to the Budget, petrol prices and the cost of living are big issues. Will we see a cut to petrol excise in the Budget?  Is that something you support?

MINISTER SUKKAR:

I’m obviously not going to foreshadow anything that may or may not be in the Budget. I think your question is a good one though because it raises the issue that I think we're all seeing in the community and that is the cost of living is a significant issue. Fortunately for the Australian economy, we have an historically low unemployment rate of 4.2 per cent. We've obviously delivered significant personal income tax cuts to millions and millions of Australians and households which is literally putting money back in their pockets. Tax cuts that were hard fought for, I might add, by the Morrison Government. But there's no doubt that the Budget will seek to build the recovery, ensure that we keep our foot on the economic accelerator but also will take into account the fact that households are feeling the pressures of cost of living and that will be something, Andrew, that is certainly a focus of the Budget.

Andrew Clennnell:

Josh Frydenberg said today, “just factor in an interest rate rise”. Is that a fair comment?

MINISTER SUKKAR:

Yeah, it is. I think market consensus is confirmed on this. The consensus of the market is an interest rate rise in the second half of the year. Now, in the end, the Reserve Bank makes these decisions, not the Government, but it just shows that in a world of great economic and political instability, yes, we have an economic recovery underway, but it can't be taken for granted. There will undoubtedly be speed bumps into the future and that's why the Australian economy will require careful management. It will require careful management from a government that has the runs on the board as far as growing the economy, reducing taxes, keeping businesses afloat during the pandemic and that's what we will be conveying to the Australian people through the Budget heading to the election. Our economic recovery is not assured. We're in good shape but we still need to make wise decisions in a period of time where there is great instability in the world.

ANDREW CLENNELL:

Mr Sukkar, just briefly on a couple more matters. Will we see more money for mental health in the Budget coming out of that pandemic situation? You’ve obviously suffered from it down there in Victoria, more lockdowns than anyone else. Will that be a focus of the Budget?

MINISTER SUKKAR:

A good question, Andrew. Again, I obviously can't confirm one way or another what's going to be in the Budget, but I think you and the Australian public have seen a significant emphasis from particularly the Health Minister, Greg Hunt and the Prime Minister and of course Assistant Minister, David Coleman on mental health. You're right, as a Victorian I can say without being too parochial, I think Victorians have done it tougher than anybody else and are feeling the strains of that. I think it creates an environment where there is certainly a lot of support within the government to build on what we've already done, the billions of dollars we've already additionally put into mental health. Everyone will have to wait for Budget night to see a precisely what we say in that space.

ANDREW CLENNELL:

Just finally, if you could say some words in relation to Kimberley Kitching and her sad passing.

MINISTER SUKKAR:

It's sort of difficult for all of us. I was fortunate to have spent last Saturday night with Kimberly and her husband, Andrew. I never thought that would be the last time I saw her and spoke to her. She was a wonderful friend and someone who, as you’ve seen this week and all your viewers have seen this week, had respect across the political spectrum because she was always working for Australia's best interests. She wasn't petty in a partisan way. Where there were big issues that affected our country and that she could get support across the political divide for she worked hard to do that. She was a real warrior for her cause. Obviously, I was friends with Kimberly so I am biased, but I think she's a huge loss. A huge loss to the Parliament, a huge loss to the Labor Party. At times like this, you know, you just reflect on trying to make sure that every interaction with our friends and loved ones leave a lasting and positive impression because if anyone had told me that last Saturday night when I spent some time with Kimberly that that would be the last time I saw her, I wouldn't have really believed it. So, a huge loss to the country, a huge loss to the Labor Party, and obviously our condolences to Andrew and their family on such a huge loss.

ANDREW CLENNELL:

Michael Sukkar, thanks for your time.

MINISTER SUKKAR:

Thanks so much, Andrew.