SENATOR MURRAY WATT
SHADOW MINISTER FOR NORTHERN AUSTRALIA
SHADOW MINISTER FOR DISASTER AND EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT
SHADOW MINISTER FOR QUEENSLAND RESOURCES
LABOR SENATOR FOR QUEENSLAND
ABC FAR NORTH CAIRNS
TUESDAY, 23 NOVEMBER 2021
SUBJECTS: Disaster season starting; Morrison Government promising reinsurance pool but not delivering; vaccination disinformation campaigns; North Qld vaccination rates; next election; Scott Morrison’s lies.
KIER SHOREY, HOST: Murray Watt, Shadow Minister for Disaster and Emergency Management and Labor Senator for Queensland is in the studio this morning. So very good morning to you Senator.
MURRAY WATT, LABOR SENATOR FOR QUEENSLAND: G’day Kier, good to be back.
SHOREY: Let’s start with the fact that we have a cyclone. It's in Western Australia and Christmas Island. But it is the first one for the Australian season. So what are the issues we are facing in Northern Australia as we head into this particular disaster season?
WATT: Yeah, well, obviously, that's a concern that we do have that cyclone emerging over Western Australia. This is about the time of year that we start to see them rolling in. And before long, we expect to see them in this part of the world as well. We already know from the Bureau of Meteorology, that they've predicted a La Nina event, It's always a tricky phrase, that one, La Nina, which means more cyclones than usual, more floods than usual, particularly in Northern Australia, including here in Far North Queensland. So I think the fact that we've got this cyclone rolling in shows that this is a yearly event that we face cyclones, and unfortunately, with climate change, we're likely to see more of them. So I think it really puts a big spotlight on the insurance issues that I know we continue to see here in Northern Australia, particularly in North Queensland. I've met many people, spoken to many businesses, homeowners who either now can't afford their insurance premiums or can't get insurance. I'm sure you speak to them regularly as well Kier.
SHOREY: There are many people who are either uninsured or under insured. I think those are the two issues.
WATT: Exactly. And worryingly, I remember in Cairns, in previous times, I've been here speaking to businesses who, because of the economic conditions that Cairns has been through, over the last 18 months or so, a lot of businesses have been choosing to get rid of their insurance policy as a cost cutting exercise. So of course, if we were to see a big cyclone come through here, that would be even more damaging than usual. So yeah, I think the insurance angle is probably the one that affects people most directly. And of course, we are still waiting to see any action from the government around their promise to put in place a reinsurance pool, which they announced in this year's Federal Budget. We’re in the last two sitting weeks of Parliament, still no sign of the legislation. I'm starting to think it's yet another one of those promises that we hear from Warren Entsch and Scott Morrison that never actually materialise.
SHOREY: Do you agree with the idea of a reinsurance pool? Because I mean, there are some issues that come alongside with it.
WATT: Yeah, we certainly think that a reinsurance pool has merit. Most of the insurers seem to think that it will assist with bringing down premiums, making it easier for them to offer insurance as well. And, and I know that most North Queenslanders I've met and spoken to think this is a good idea. I think with all these things, the devil’s in the detail. You want to, you want to actually see what benefit will consumers really get. And again, for all of the headlines and announcements we've seen from Warren Entsch and Scott Morrison and others about this reinsurance pool, the one thing they haven't done yet is say how much insurance premiums will fall by. So that's the critical test of whether this is a good idea on not. How much will insurance premiums fall by? How many more people will get insurance? If those things can be delivered, then of course, that would be a good thing to see happen.
SHOREY: There's obviously been quite a bit of argy bargy between the federal government and the state government when it comes to vaccination rates, mandates as well. What should we do differently in Queensland, as a Senator for Queensland, when we see communities that are well behind the rate that we need to be at when we reopen, which is not far away.
WATT: No, it’s just around the corner Kier. And I think we should also focus on the good news here, which is that the vast majority of the population has responded to calls from governments, from doctors, from others, to get out there and get vaccinated. There's obviously been a very active disinformation campaign underway from the likes of Clive Palmer, Pauline Hanson, even members of this federal government are discouraging people from getting vaccinated.
SHOREY: There were even a few people crossing the floor during the course of the vote that was put forward by the Pauline Hanson party.
WATT: Exactly. So unfortunately, we have seen a bit of an alliance grow between some members of the government and Clive Palmer and Pauline Hanson against vaccination mandates. These are the same people who have opposed vaccination programs in the first instance. They're the same people who've opposed mask wearing, lockdowns, all other kinds of things that we've known from health advice that we need to do, to keep people safe. So I think the good news is that the vast majority of the population has ignored those sort of alarmist scare campaigns from people who are doing it just for their political benefit really, and have got out and got vaccinated. But of course, there are particular communities, especially in Indigenous communities, where the vaccination rates are still worryingly low. I've seen that the state government has been working closely with some of the community controlled medical organisations. You know, I think we've got to understand, you know, if you're talking about indigenous communities, particularly, the sort of approach to getting people vaccinated that might work for you or me might not be appropriate in those communities. Having people, having those vaccination campaigns led by local leaders who people really trust. I think that's the sort of way through. But hopefully those vaccination rates will increase quickly as we get ready to reopen in a couple of weeks time.
SHOREY: Can I ask you about the upcoming election? I ask this of every politician who comes through, do you have a date that you think it's going to happen? If you were down, you know, at the place where you could lay a bet on when it might happen? What's your sense?
WATT: Well, I suppose I should always back in my leader and Albo has said from the beginning of this term, that he thinks it'll be the first weekend in March. So I mean, essentially, it's going to be March or May. But I reckon, Scott Morrison is going to reach a point that he doesn't think things are going to get any better for him. You know, every day that goes by, people just see more and more, this guy just lies. Even yesterday in Parliament, he had to lie about a text message that he'd sent Albo in the middle of the bushfires when he was heading off to Hawaii. And certainly when I'm speaking to people, whether it be in Cairns, Brisbane, Rockhampton, anywhere else, the fact that he is a pathological liar is coming through time and time again.
SHOREY: Are you concerned about the fact that the campaign looks like it's going to be as personal as this? In the, both the ads that are coming out via the LNP and via the Labor Party are very much personally specific, not policy specific a lot of the time, does that worry you?
WATT: Well, I think to a degree, most election campaigns involve some sort of, shall we say, character assessment of each party by the other. That's not an unusual thing. I'm very confident that Labor will have a range of positive policies on display for people to vote for. We've already released some, you know, whether we're talking about changing the electricity grid to make sure that we can plug in more renewables. We've talked about cheaper childcare. Just the other day, we were talking about expanding access to fibre for the NBN, including in areas in Far North Queensland that so far have missed out. So I think there will be a whole range of positive policies on display. But I do think that the character of our national leader really matters, because we are living through uncertain times. We have had a leader now for a couple of years, who on a number of occasions has been shown to just lie to get himself through a particular situation. And we'll be asking people who do you trust, to solve whatever is the next major challenge that Australia faces. None of us saw the pandemic coming. We saw the bushfires coming, and action wasn't taken to prepare us. I think it really is important that Australians can have trust in their leader and I think it's going to be a pretty easy choice between Scott Morrison and Anthony Albanese on that front.
SHOREY: Senator, thank you so much for your time. I've no doubt I'll see you before the election.
WATT: Looking forward to it Kier.