November 08, 2021


SUBJECTS: Scott Morrison’s lies; trust in politics; unused $4.7 billion Emergency Response Fund; Queensland vaccination rates.
MATT WEBBER, HOST: Murray Watt, ALP Senator for Queensland joins me to bounce around things on his radar. Good morning to you, Senator.
WEBBER: Going well, couldn't help but notice over the weekend and well slightly before that it seems, a battle line of sorts has been drawn.
CHRIS BOWEN, SHADOW MINISTER FOR CLIMATE CHANGE: And we’ve also seen the Prime Minister's fundamental dishonesty on display to the world. Now we know Scott Morrison's a liar. He lies in Parliament about briefings for Anthony Albanese on COVID. He lies about whether he's ever called EV weekend wrecking, he lies about whether he ever used the term “Shanghai Sam”, he lies about Christian Porter's disclosures. This guy is a liar, and it is now impacting on our national security.
WEBBER: Your colleague, Chris Bowen there. Fighting words over the weekend, he had a couple of cracks at the same line over the last little while, since the Prime Minister's visit to Glasgow, of course, and that, that famous interaction with the French president. Now I want to talk about the wisdom of a politician using truth as a sword this morning, Murray Watt, is it really wise?
WATT: I think it's really wise and really vital that politicians tell the truth, Matt. I think that one of the reasons that the public has lost confidence in politics, and our parliament, is that they're sick of politicians lying, and there is no one who does that more than our Prime Minister, Scott Morrison. Labor’s has been saying for quite a while now that this bloke just doesn't take responsibility for any problem. When the vaccines rollout goes wrong, he blames someone else. When the bushfires were out of control, he blamed someone else. Whatever the problem is, he's always got someone to blame. And at the same time, he just lies his way through a problem. And I think that diminishes trust. That's one of the reasons Labor's been calling for a national anti corruption commission for so long is that we think that the public's trust in this government and in politics in general, is at an all time low. And we've got to try and turn that around.
WEBBER: It paints a bit of a picture, though doesn't it, ahead of any upcoming election that it ain't exactly going to be the most positive of experiences. If you start labelling, with monotony, as you have been the Prime Minister, a liar, or less than truthful, just about every little half-truth or mistruth added by a Labor politician in the next little while is obviously going to be raked over with a fine-tooth comb, should we be bracing ourselves for a campaign drawn on those lines?
WATT: Well, I've got no doubt that Labor will be putting forward a range of positive policies for this election campaign. And in fact, we've already released a number of positive policies as well. But I think that the Prime Minister's character, his tendency to lie, his tendency to not take responsibility, is a really crucial issue for this coming election. Because I think people will be wanting to know that whatever challenges and crises we face in the future, that they've got a leader who they can rely on. And unfortunately, we just haven't had that in Scott Morrison. You know, we even, just over the last couple of years, we've faced challenges that none of us predicted, whether it was bushfires, whether it was a pandemic, economic challenges as well. And if people can't trust their Prime Minister to be telling them the truth - and what we've learned in the last week or so is that international leaders can't trust our Prime Minister - that is a really damaging thing for the country, whether it's about national security, our economy, our healthcare or anything else.
WEBBER: Is it really that damaging, though? I mean, if you look at the last three Newspolls, Scott Morrison is easily the preferred Prime Minister, 47 points to 35, 47-34, 48-34 in the most recent edition, I mean, this sort of stuff doesn't really seem to matter to those polled by Newspoll.
WATT: Well, I don't get too hung up about polls because they bounce around…
WEBBER: But they’re pretty stark numbers, they’re pretty stark numbers Senator. You can’t ignore the margin.
WATT: Sure but if we're going to talk about the polls, then what you can also notice is that Scott Morrison's personal approval ratings have been tanking over the last few months, really since the beginning of this year. You can point to particular times where they really hit the skids. It was all around the time initially that - the way he handled the terrible incident surrounding Brittany Higgins and the contempt that he showed for her and women in general, his personal approval ratings took a hit then. They took an even bigger hit when he stuffed up the vaccine rollout and again tried to blame everyone else for the problems rather than take responsibility. So I actually do think that the way, that the Prime Minister's character is starting to have any impact on both him and his government. I think people have really changed their view about Scott Morrison over the course of this year, because they're starting to not like what they see and the events of the last week or so can only damage his reputation further.
WEBBER: Senator Murray Watt’s with me this morning, ALP Senator for Queensland, of course, you have been busy in Senate estimates over the last little while.
AUDIO FROM ESTIMATES: (Watt) “But as we sit here now, it hasn't spent a cent, in the sense of money being provided to anyone else?” (Official) “At this point, no money has flowed.”
WEBBER: And the Emergency Response Fund has been very much the focus of a lot of your attention. First and foremost, talk us through the Senate estimates process for those who aren't entirely aware of it, and then perhaps drill down into some specifics about why this topic is of such relevance to you.
WATT: Yeah, well, Senate estimates is a really important accountability tool in the Federal Parliament. So three times a year, Senators have the opportunity to ask Ministers and public servants pretty much any question they like about how the government's being administered. And it's a really important way of getting to the bottom of things that the government of the day doesn't want to talk about. One of the things that we did establish at Senate Estimates a couple of weeks ago was that the government's Emergency Response Fund has not spent a single dollar in the over two years that it's been established. Now, this fund was actually established in 2019. Even before we saw the Black Summer bushfires. It was, it was, a $4 billion fund that the government established for disaster response, recovery and prevention. And what we've learned is that basically two and a half years after it was announced, it hasn't spent a single dollar on disaster recovery or prevention. And in fact, it's actually earned the government over $700 million in interest by sitting there not being used.
WEBBER: Money must be coming from somewhere else to fund disaster recovery. I mean, projects have been ongoing.
WATT: There has certainly been some funding provided for disaster recovery.
WEBBER: Where’s it coming from, if not this fund?
WATT: Well it comes straight off the budget. So it basically causes the deficit of this government to grow, because they're using that rather than funds that they've set aside for this purpose. But the big problem, we think, in this funding not being used is its lack of investment in disaster prevention. This fund could have been used over the last couple of years to build flood levees, cyclone shelters, fire breaks, improve telecommunications, in disaster prone regions. It hasn't been used, and that leaves communities more vulnerable to the disasters we know are coming. Even this week, we know that around much of the country, we're going to be facing very heavy rain, likely to cause flooding. If this fund had been used in the way Scott Morrison promised it would be, then that damage would be less, it would mean that communities will be kept safe, and it would mean that we don't have to raid the budget to pay for recovery work and repair work like we will have to do otherwise.
WEBBER: Senator Murray Watt, ALP Senator with us this morning on ABC Gold Coast Mornings. Just finally, getting the southeast of Queensland up and running vaccination wise. Murray, it strikes me as almost a little contrary, we're on the frontline here of what will be an influx towards the end of December. We've got a lot to lose if people get sick here on the Gold Coast. And yet our vaccine numbers aren't really where they should be compared to national trends. What do you think's amiss? And what would you do to fix it?
WATT: Yeah, it's very frustrating, Matt, that so many people in the community haven't yet taken up the opportunity to get vaccinated when we know from the science that this is the single best thing we can do to protect our own health and protect the health of those around us. It's the single best thing we can do to make sure that the Gold Coast and other parts of Queensland don't go back into lockdown. But unfortunately, I think that to some extent, we've been a victim of our own success in Queensland. Queensland obviously hasn't had the outbreaks that we've seen in other states. And I think there are a lot of people who feel that it won't affect them. They don't need to worry about it too much. But of course, there's just so much misinformation out there as well, including, I might say, being promoted by some members of Scott Morrison's government that I think is scaring people off.
WEBBER: It's kind of interesting, though, that you're talking about the Gold Coast, the Whitsundays specifically, in and around Cairns, too. I mean, these are tourist centres. And yet there is a hesitancy or a reluctance specifically in these areas. Now you can talk about the kinds of information leaking from certain types in certain sectors among those particular geographic areas, but you can't pin it down entirely on that surely.
WATT: No, I don't think that the only factor but I certainly think it's not helping to have constant, a constant barrage of misinformation, particularly through social media, that is influencing people's opinions. Now, we know that there have been some adverse events from the vaccination program, like there are with all vaccinations. But the government's own data shows that overwhelmingly, this is a safe thing for people to do. And I think it's a real problem for our tourism industry on the Gold Coast as well, who have been suffering really badly over the last 18 months or so. The last thing the tourism industry needs is more lockdowns, which are caused because there's an outbreak from people not getting vaccinated. So I again, just encourage any of your listeners who are out there who haven't got vaccinated, please do it today. It's important for your health, your family's health, the community's health, and it's also really important for the Gold Coast economy going forward.
WEBBER: What structurally would you do? It's one thing to encourage people to do what it is that we know they should be doing, according to our public health officials. But is there any sort of structural change to the rollout that you could implement?
WATT: Well, I know that the Queensland Government, especially over the last couple of months, has been doing a lot more pop up clinics around the place, whether it be at Bunnings, or at sporting events and things like that. And I think more and more of that is probably useful as well. I think that we've always needed more public information campaigns, particularly from the Federal Government, to sort of encourage people to get vaccinated and actually put the facts on the table rather than the misinformation. You'll remember that some time ago, Labor called for an incentive to be provided to people to get them vaccinated, because we've seen that sort of approach work in other countries, but unfortunately, Scott Morrison didn't want to take up that option. And we probably would have been, had higher vaccination rates by now if he had. So there's a range of things that I think could still be done. It's not too late. We know that the borders are looking at being opened in mid December. So we've got a real race on our hands to get as many people vaccinated as possible before then.
WEBBER: Appreciate your time Senator, thank you.
WATT: Good to talk to you Matt.