4BC Radio Breakfast

February 01, 2021





SUBJECT/S: Queensland Resources; Shadow Cabinet reshuffle; Federal election in Queensland; One Nation voters; Queensland jobs; casualisation in mining; impact of Morrison Government’s policies on Queenslanders; WorkChoices 2.0; JobKeeper/JobSeeker cuts; Queensland borders; WA quarantine.

NEIL BREEN, HOST: Anthony Albanese did announce his new Shadow Cabinet last week, and he gave Queensland Senator Murray Watt a new portfolio. And that portfolio absolutely piqued my interest - Shadow Minister for Queensland Resources, Shadow Minister for Queensland Resources. That just shows how important Queensland is, and the blue collar vote in the regions of Queensland is. So that's on top of Disaster & Emergency Management and Northern Australia. I've got him on the line, good morning to you, Senator.


BREEN: Why the need for a Shadow Minister for Queensland Resources?

WATT: Well, I think in appointing me to this role what Albo's done is show, to everyone in Queensland, that he gets how important our resources sector is. I've been out with Albo with mining communities and meeting with mining workers, and he knows how many jobs are on the line for our resources industry, along with how many exports and royalties the industry produces as well. So by me taking on this portfolio, it means that we've got someone based in Queensland, who knows the industry well, being able to get out there and advocate for the industry and make sure we keep those jobs going.

BREEN: This is the key thing for Labor, isn't it? It's seriously key at the next federal election - we won't get into speculation whether it's this year or next year, whenever it is - is 'old Labor' which you're going to represent through the mining communities and the blue collar workers and the blue collar base, versus 'new Labor', the inner city, touchy feely lefty greenies with the climate policies, how are you going to walk a fine line between 'old' and 'new' Labor in that portfolio in Queensland?

WATT: Well, I think the first thing to say is that this isn't a new challenge for Labor. For 30 or 40 years, Labor has only ever won government at a federal level by getting working people and, you know, what might be described as the university-educated inner city people to vote for us as well. And if we only try to chase one of those groups we lose, and the record shows that.

So it's something that we have managed to do before, by talking about fairness, whether that's if you live in the regions or whether you're living in the inner city on a whole range of issues as well. But I think that, as I say, by appointing me to this role, I think it's a clear signal from Albo that we recognise that we haven't delivered what regional people in mining communities have wanted from us in the past. And we're absolutely determined to get that back.

I mean, I think one of the things that a lot of people have missed in the last federal election is that in those mining communities - and I spent a lot of time campaigning in them at the last election - the LNP primary vote didn't actually increase by a huge amount. What happened was that a lot of traditional Labor voters went across to One Nation as a bit of a protest against us. And, you know, the state election recently showed that the One Nation vote is up for grabs. And if we can demonstrate to working people, whether they’re in the cities or the regions, that we've got their interests at heart, then I think we've got a good chance at the next federal election.

BREEN: Senator, what are their interests? Jobs?

WATT: Well, I think first and foremost, making sure they've got a secure job. Obviously, there's other things like making sure they have good healthcare, and roads is always a big issue when you get out in the regions as well. But of course, everyone wants to make sure that they've got a secure job. 

And I suppose that's one of the reasons why Labor's worked so hard over the last few years on issues like casualisation in the mining industry. I've met so many labour hire and casual workers in the mining industry throughout Central Queensland who have worked the same roster, the same shifts, year after year after year. They don't get paid the same rate as a permanent worker and they miss out on the leave benefits of permanent work as well. And by talking about those sorts of issues, then I think we can demonstrate to workers in the industry that we're actually on their side and we're going to put their interests first.

BREEN: You can probably demonstrate that by convincing State Labor to approve a mine like Adani.

WATT: Well, it's been approved now, hasn't it? So, you know, I think that's a good thing. I think it's good that that's actually gone ahead, got through the approval processes-

BREEN:  -it's still bogged down in court cases, though. And State Labor's sitting on its hands, always hiding behind the court case.

WATT: I think you might be talking about the New Acland mine, rather than Adani?

BREEN: Oh, yeah, sorry, the New Acland mine, sorry. Sorry, I've misspoke.

WATT: No problem, yeah so obviously Adani is proceeding, but the one that you're talking about, New Acland outside Toowoomba is currently tied up in the courts. My understanding is that there's a court decision expected from the High Court on that this week, so I'm not going to say too much about that before the court decision, but I think it's in everyone's interest that this gets resolved.

BREEN: When's that due, next week?

WATT: My understanding is it's Wednesday this week, or certainly one day this week. So we'll probably have a clearer idea about what's going to happen then. But as I say, I think it's in everyone's interest that this gets resolved as quickly as possible. But I suppose you've got to give (it to) the Palaszczuk Government for being consistent on this - they've always said that it was going to depend on the court decisions, and that's the way they've kept it ever since.

BREEN: Anthony Albanese is talking today, and saying that there's eight seats Labor is targeting: Leichhardt, Herbert, Flynn, Capricornia, Longman, Forde, Petrie and Brisbane. We know that in federal elections, Queensland's an unusual beast. It can either vote Labor holus bolus, which it's done numerous times in the past, probably in the Rudd slide, but it can also vote holus bolus for the Coalition in a federal election. Are eight seats winnable?

WATT: Yeah, look, I think we can do very well in Queensland and frankly, we won't win government at the next federal election unless if we do pick up seats in Queensland- 

BREEN: -You have to, you simply have to.

WATT: It's essential. And I think everyone in Canberra recognises that. And again, I think that's why we have really redoubled our efforts in Queensland since the last federal election. But I think that, you know, one of the reasons I've got hope heading into this election is that I think the regional areas and the outer suburban areas, which is where most of those seats are, that are likely to really feel the pinch from some of the decisions that Morrison Government's making.

You know, they're pushing on with changes to workplace laws, and they're not prepared to give anyone a guarantee that they won't be worse off as a result of that, so you could be looking at thousands of Queensland workers getting a pay cut-

BREEN: -I agree, that will be a big issue this year, workplace laws.

WATT: And let's face it, that's the last time that Labor won federally was on the back of WorkChoices. The last time a federal Liberal Government tried to push through draconian workplace laws, Labor won, and that's what we're potentially looking at again.

And also, you know, in terms of the recession, it's likely that some of those cuts that Scott Morrison's got lined up for March, whether it be JobKeeper or JobSeeker, it's not going to be people so much in the inner city who feel the pinch from that, it's going to be in the regions and outer suburbs. So we'll be campaigning hard, as I say, to make really clear to people that we're on their side. We're not going to be about looking after mates and rorts and all that sort of stuff that Morrison and his Government get up to. And I'm very hopeful that we can do well next time.

BREEN: You served in the Queensland Government for a long time. You've been a chief of staff to the former Premier Anna Bligh, and did a lot of other jobs. And you talk about Scott Morrison and JobKeeper and JobSeeker and these things will hurt Queenslanders. Didn't the Queensland Government hurt Queenslanders with too harsh a border policy?

WATT: No, look, I personally think - and my experience is that most Queenslanders think - that the Palaszczuk Government has made the right decisions about our borders and protecting our health. You know, you can only look at the results of the Queensland election to see that Queenslanders backed in the Queensland Government about this-

BREEN: -And they did. There's no doubt about that. And those One Nation voters you spoke about.

WATT: Absolutely. That's how we won seats like Bundaberg, Caloundra, Nicklin.

BREEN: Exactly.

WATT: Seats that you wouldn't have ever thought that Labor would win - Pumicestone, which is in the federal seat of Longman. But importantly, you know, I think that Annastacia has proven since the election that her decisions have always been based on health grounds. You know, there was a lot of cynicism that she was only doing this about politics in the run up to the election. But over Christmas/New Year, they relied on the health advice to put Brisbane in a bit of a lockdown for the short term, and that proved to be the right decision. So I'm pretty confident that they've done the right thing. Obviously, that does involve some economic pain at different times, and that just emphasises why we've all got to take this seriously and get on top of it as quickly as we can.

BREEN: Where are you today? Are you in Canberra?

WATT: Yeah, back in the big house down in Canberra now.

BREEK: What's happening there today?

WATT: We actually don't begin sitting until tomorrow, so today is really just about, sort of, internal meetings and things like that. But I got out there for a run in my Maroons jersey to make sure they knew the Queenslanders were back in town. 

BREEN: I did see on the news, Murray Watt, that a lot of your colleagues from Perth arrived and had to go into quarantine or something because they were on those flights last night when all the shutdowns happened.

WATT: Yeah, that's right. That's thrown a bit of a spanner in the works for our colleagues from WA. I don't think it'd be much fun to be boarding one of those long-haul flights over from Perth and find out when you land here that you can't actually go and do your job in Parliament.


WATT: So my understanding is that they've all had to go immediately home to quarantine. And I think they’re really just sort of keeping the situation under review. But it looks like there's a reasonable chance that our WA colleagues might not be able to participate this week. And again, that's a reminder that we've all got to be on our toes with this stuff.

BREEN: OK, Murray Watt, he's the new Shadow Minister for Queensland Resources. He's got some other portfolios as well, but Queensland Resources - an interesting move by Labor and it might just well pay off next time we go to the ballot box for a federal election. Thanks for joining us on 4BC Breakfast.

WATT: Good to talk to you Neil.