Anika Wells MP on ABC Weekend Breakfast






SUBJECTS: Sports Rorts, Division in political parties.

JOHANNA NICHOLSON, CO-HOST: Now we’ve had some new revelations about the sports grants scandal this week from the Senate Inquiry looking into it.  It’s been revealed that by the time the approvals were signed off, a lot of the projects, some 43% of them were ineligible.

FAUZIAH IBRAHIM, CO-HOST:  The head of the Prime Minister’s own department has also conceded that there were, and quote here, “significant shortcomings,” in the government’s handling of the controversial sports grants scheme.  Well let’s discuss this further with our “polly panel.”  We’re joined this morning by Labor MP, Anika Wells, the Member for Lilley in Queensland and we’re also joined by Liberal MP, Tim Wilson, who is the member for Goldstein in Victoria.  Welcome to you both, thank you so much for taking time to speak with us.  It does seem that this is a story that just does not seem to go away at all.  It has become the albatross around the Prime Minister’s neck here.  I tend to think that there seems to be this fine line between pork barrelling and actual funding for the community.  Tim, where do you draw that line?

TIM WILSON MP, MEMBER FOR GOLDSTEIN: Well the line we’re focussed on is making sure that sports infrastructure where there’s community need is being delivered to Australians, and that’s the focus of this program as well as many other programs, because when you’ve got sports facilities where they don’t have women’s changing rooms because of historical issues of gender inequity, they need to be addressed.  Where upgrades….

IBRAHIM:  But that’s also being used as an excuse in some of these programs as well.

WILSON: What, to make sure we’re delivering the facilities to the people who need them?  That’s true, because that’s the core focus, actually making sure that we support communities on the ground.  You know, Labor did the same at the election, they made a series of promises for sports infrastructure across the country, and they’re making different promises to different communities, and that’s what the government both did before the election, and is getting on with now, making sure programs and roll outs are being done so we can help build the future of the country.

NICHOLSON: Anika we’ll get to you in just a moment, but I want to pick up Tim on the issue of community needs.  So through this Senate Inquiry this week we’ve heard that by the time the approvals were signed off, for 43% of these projects they were ineligible, and the Prime Minister has said that they were eligible at the time of awarding them, but the fact that they weren’t eligible by the time they were signed off, does that make the case for community need Tim?

WILSON: This is a silly technicality.  What it means is when they were awarded they hadn’t started, and then many of them had started to get on with it.  That was one of the technicalities that was applied whether they were eligible or not.  You couldn’t fund things that were previously being built.  They were awarded, they started building, and by the time all of the paperwork was signed off, they had commenced.  So it’s good, because it shows very clearly that when the government makes commitments to spend money and to build community infrastructure, the communities were ready to build it and were getting on with the job, to get the money and the resources to communities, for local and important sports infrastructure as quickly as possible.

IBRAHIM: Anika we can see that you’re just impatient to weigh into this conversation as well.  What’s your take on it?

WELLS: Local clubs getting done over by this government is not a silly technicality.  It is so hard to hear this on behalf of all of the mums and the dads and the active citizens who volunteer for these sports clubs, who act in best faith, who did their best by the guidelines, only to hear last night that 270 ineligible projects were given money.  270 ineligible projects got money.  What we needed to hear from Tim this morning was “I’m sorry, we’re sorry.”  Australians are looking for some sense of contrition from this government and some sense of it’s not going to happen again, and instead they get “this is a silly technicality.”  It is so frustrating to hear.

NICHOLSON: Anika the head of the Prime Minister’s office’s own department conceded this week that there were significant shortcomings in the government’s handling of this, that there was a lack of transparency.  This was Phil Gaetjens, and that report has not been released, we had a page from him yesterday, but the actual full report has not been released.  Is that something you would like to see?

WELLS: Well a report coming from someone who can be hired and fired at will by the Prime Minister, someone who was previously a political operative of the Prime Minister, probably doesn’t carry a lot of water to start with.  The fact that the Prime Minister can’t even release that speaks to the omnishambles that he is in.  We had more evidence last night that the Prime Minister’s office sent dozens of emails to the Minister’s office.  They are up to their necks in it.  If they can’t even show us this report, I think he’s got a lot of questions to answer, and I think all Australians are keen to hear them.   

IBRAHIM: Tim, why do you think that this issue has really come about under this particular government?  There didn’t seem to be much of this sort of reporting on this particular issue, on the Sports Rorts issue, in previous governments.  But this particular government, under Scott Morrison, it’s become headline grabbing.

WILSON: Well I think the clarity that’s occurring is that there have been major projects rolled out by this government, major grants programs, to actually build community based infrastructure, to build the strength of the country from the the citizen and community up.  When you go down that path there will always be debates about how money is allocated, where it’s allocated and what time frame, it’s because we’re taking a community first approach rather than a Canberra based approach.

WELLS: Marginal seat first approach.

WILSON: Well no a community based approach.  As the reports have outlined, there was no additional money allocated to any particular kind of seats, including Labor seats, any more or less as the consequence of this program.  So when you take a community first approach rather than a Canberra based approach, people will debate how the money should be allocated.

WELLS: We sure will.

NICHOLSON: We want to move on to our second topic this morning, and this week there’s been reports of a so called “Otis Group” forming, which is 20 right-aligned Labor MPs who have been meeting for dinner and they have been discussing policy direction, particularly on climate change and on coal, and the role of coal in the future.  Does this, Anika, show that there is that policy division and policy disagreement within the Labor party, particularly on climate and coal?

WELLS: I think what it shows is that there are active MPs who want to represent their communities and do best by their country, trying to work out the biggest, most complex, polarising issue that our country has faced for 15 years.  I mean I know that I want us to transition to a renewables future as soon as possible, I want us to get to zero net emissions as soon as possible, I want us to put no new coal fired power stations into the country, and to support our coal workers and their families, and the local towns that they love, through transition and to help them with adaption….

NICHOLSON: Does everyone in the party agree with you though?

WELLS: Well everyone’s representing their own communities and that’s a good thing.  I think one of the problems is that we’ve been so polarised that we haven’t been able to galvanise together and plot a sensible past to the middle.  The fact that people want to talk these things out, that’s how good policy is made.  I’m not going to cop any curry on this from Tim Wilson, who sits in the party room with dinosaurs who are holding the country back and are misrepresenting the country and the views of Australians, and who are making these problems even worse.  He’s had seven years of government to deal with this, he hasn’t dealt with it, and I’m not going to cop any curry from this Prime Minister on any kind of debate happening about what to do.

IBRAHIM: Tim it doesn’t seem that the Liberal party is taking about transition or transitional jobs at all, in fact they do seem to be quite pro coal, particularly after the Nats kerfuffle with their leadership and now it does seem to be that more of them are leaning towards the pro-coal lobby.

WILSON: Well that’s just false.  I mean, recently the Minister for Energy and Emissions Reduction, Angus Taylor, worked in partnership to develop a new gas project for transition and renewables in NSW.  A couple hundred million dollars were spent on that exactly to build transition based energy and transition based jobs.  Other states are developing their own proposals to do so.  What we’re not going to do is commit to things where we have a marginal effect on emissions but cut jobs.  Our focus is to cut emissions and not jobs.

NICHOLSON: But there are clear divisions in your party, particularly over the last couple of weeks.  We’ve even heard people questioning the science of climate change and whether it’s man made, that was Jim Molan on the Q&A program.  What side do you fall on there?

WILSON: I’ve consistently said, and I’m the only member of the House of Representatives who has actually studied climate science on a tertiary level, so my position is pretty naked.  But the challenge for Australia is not just environmental.  It’s critically economic making sure when we transition to economy, address cutting emissions but not cutting jobs to take the whole of the community forward, and yes transition fuels will play a critical part of that.  I just outlined before the major investment this government has made working with the NSW government and working with the other states programs will come forward as well.  That comes off the back of $3.5 billion clean energy program that we introduced in the last term of parliament and we’re going to keep implementing them every step of the way to make sure Australia transitions to a cleaner future, but a prosperous future as well.

IBRAHIM: It was interesting earlier this week, Barnaby Joyce was saying that coal or energy either makes or breaks an election.  It does seem that both major parties, the Liberal Party as well as the Labor Party, are at a cross roads at this stage.  Do they comply with the demands of the coal industry or do they comply with a nation that’s demanding change and climate change policy.  Which is more important to you Tim?

WILSON: No what’s important is to make sure that we’re confronting the challenges that Australia faces.  We can’t solve global greenhouse gas emissions in isolation.  We have to make sure that we create programs and a technology focused approach so that we can reduce emissions without cutting jobs.  That’s the critical point of division between us and the Australian Labor Party, they’ve always had a tax approach and we have a technology approach.  Using technology we can reduce emissions and extend the life of existing energy generation, we can invest in new types of energy generation including renewables to help transition to that future.  But it’s not going to happen overnight.  Transition is a journey; it isn’t just flicking a switch.

NICHOLSON: But Anika this it’s certainly something that Labor is also having to deal with, particular after the result of the last election, and I know earlier you were talking about the different members in your party having to represent their electorate and their electorate’s interest.  But this is something as a party you’ll have to decide, an actual unified policy on.

WELLS: It is, and one of the elections that we took away from the election and I’m from the magnificent Republic of Queensland, is that we need to bring everyone with us when we go.  We need to make sure we have good, sound, policy that prepares us for the future and we need to make sure we take everybody with us.  Something I took away in my experience campaigning was that people were afraid of what we were going to do.  Now they shouldn’t be.  We’re there to look after them, we have their very best interest at heart, and we are working night and day to best prepare our country for a renewables future and a transition that is already upon us.  We’ve got a lot of work to do, but we have to take everybody with us when we go.  We have to galvanise, not polarise.

NICHOLSON: Alright Anika Wells and Tim Wilson, we really appreciate you joining us this morning.

WILSON: Thank you.

WELLS: You’re welcome.