August 22, 2022

SUBJECT | Ministerial appointments; worker shortage | 22 August 2022

PETE STEFANOVIC: Joining me live now is the shadow immigration minister Dan Tehan. Dan, it's good to see you; having been away for a while, a couple of weeks rest, you're back into the thick of it. Big story this has been while you've been away, as you know, so I've got to get your reaction to it as a senior member of Scott Morrison's former Cabinet. What did you know about these secret appointments?

DAN TEHAN: Look, I didn't know about the secret appointments, Pete. I did know and had conversations with Greg Hunt about the Biosecurity Act and the powers that they would give him. And he was deeply concerned about those powers, and he discussed those with me; obviously, there were some steps taken to try and address that. But the Prime Minister has apologised. Obviously, we’ve got to make sure that we do have transparency when it comes to these types of conventions, and the Opposition will work with the government to make sure that we can get the proper protocols in place to make sure that it is public when people are sworn into ministries.

STEFANOVIC: So you did know that Scott Morrison was, in effect, co-health minister?

TEHAN: Well, what I knew was that Greg Hunt had been deeply concerned about the powers that had been given to him. There was a press release that went out that was public, which said that the Prime Minister and the Health Minister would have the responsibility under that Act. Now, I wasn't aware of the details. I wasn't aware, obviously, that he was sworn in as a minister, and, as I've said, he's apologised for that. And what we need to do now is make sure that this convention, and it is a good convention, we need to ensure it's made public when anyone is sworn into any ministry - and the opposition will work with the government on that. And I think that's a sensible thing for us to be able to do.

STEFANOVIC: Right. So just to clarify there, Greg Hunt had only just told you that he was worried that he had too much power but didn't tell you that he was also sharing his portfolio with the Prime Minister?

TEHAN: No, I wasn't aware of that level of detail. Obviously, during the pandemic, we were going through various policies that we had to take. Obviously, I was Education Minister at the time; I was working hard to make sure that we kept our schools open. Greg was, obviously, dealing with all the health implications, and he did say to me that he was concerned - and of the things that I would say and when I was chair of the Intelligence and Security Committee, whenever we had major pieces of legislation which bestowed powers was that we thought were giving responsibility to ministers or agencies that you wouldn't otherwise do, we always made sure that there were review clauses. And one of the things that I think we need to do is review the Biosecurity Act because I think now, in hindsight, we know that it does bestow extraordinary powers on the health minister, and I think we need to review that and look at ways to deal with that. We've been through a pandemic. Let's learn from what happened, and I think in learning from what's happened, especially when we look at this Act, we'll make sure that we're not seeing the type of behaviour that we did when the PM swore himself in to be a co-minister with the Health Minister. Because I think learning from that is going to be incredibly important.

STEFANOVIC: How do you feel about the Prime Minister's actions? As we know now, five secret portfolios that he had without those ministers knowing.

TEHAN: Well, I think we have to put it all in context. The Prime Minister had a huge weight on his shoulders - huge weight on his shoulders - and he took that incredibly personally. Now, I think, in hindsight, we wanted to make sure that we were reaching out to him saying that we were there; we wanted to take that responsibility and share it with you and make sure that we were doing that. And I think what happened was, he took that responsibility, and he sort of thought, well, I need to be doing more and more…

STEFANOVIC: So, are you disappointed by that?

TEHAN: Well, obviously disappointed by that. But we've got to understand we were going through a pandemic, and the one thing I would say is, as a member of the government going through the pandemic, I am proud of our record, and I will not let Anthony Albanese and his focus on the Liberal Party, and the former Prime Minister - more so than a focus on running the country, especially with the cost of living crisis going on at moment - I won't let him tarnish all the wonderful things we did. If you look at the moment, long-term unemployment is at the lowest level since 2007. 50,000 long-term unemployed people are in a job as of today that wasn't in a job before the pandemic. We've got unemployment at 3.4 per cent. Everything that we did was targeted and temporary, and I would say this to all my colleagues, remember what the alternative would have been: Bill Shorten and his $389 billion worth of new taxes as we headed into this pandemic - that would have been a catastrophe for this nation. We did an extraordinary job through extraordinary circumstances.

STEFANOVIC: I've just got to squeeze all this in in the final minute that we've, Dan. So, Karen Andrews has said the Prime Minister should resign. I mean, first of all, do you agree with Karen Andrews? And if you don't, is Scott Morrison going to be a distraction if he stays?

TEHAN: Scott Morrison is a former prime minister. He deserves the respect of the Parliament to be able to decide his future under his terms. He was elected at the recent election by the people of Cook as the member for Cook. He deserves to be treated with the respect that we treat all former prime ministers with.

STEFANOVIC: Okay. And just a final one here, Dan, quick one here. The NSW Treasurer wants a sharp and immediate increase in migration levels and wants a low-skilled visa introduced. Would you support that?

TEHAN: Well, I think what we've got to make sure with what we do going forward with workforce shortages that we are now facing is get the balance right. We've got long-term unemployment trending down. That is changing people's lives. We’ve got unemployment at 3.4 per cent; obviously, business needs workers. So you've got to get the balance right. You've got to keep make sure that everything you do will keep that unemployment rate at 3.4 per cent, keep long-term unemployment trending down and then bring in those skilled workers that you need. It's all about getting the balance right, and the real test for Anthony Albanese - and this is the test he should be focusing on, not Liberal Party and the former Prime Minister - is making sure that he can address the skills shortages that we have at the moment while keeping unemployment at 3.4% and our long term unemployment trending down. 50,000 people are now in a job who were long-term unemployed, who weren't before the last election. That is the type of thing we need to see as we address this workforce shortage.

STEFANOVIC: Dan Tehan, the shadow immigration minister, thanks for your time.

Media contact | Cate Mercer-Grant 0408 564 232