Sky News - Chris Smith Tonight - 13 March 2022

SUNDAY, 13th MARCH 2022

SUBJECTS: Senator Kimberly Kitching, Queensland and New South Wales Floods, Fuel Prices
CHRIS SMITH, HOST: To unpack today's political issues and what we can expect in the week ahead, I'm joined now by New South Wales liberal Senator Holly Hughes and Queensland Labor MP Milton Dick. Thank you both for joining us, Milton. Good to have you on Holly. 


SMITH: Hi, Milton. Now Holly, can I get your reaction? Firstly, can I get your reaction firstly to your colleague, Senator Kimberly Kitching and her tragic passing, you were close. You all were close in that quarter of Parliament House, weren't you? 

SENATOR HOLLY HUGHES: Well Milton and I were both very close to Kimberly and I'm sure Milton will have something to say on this. He was very long term. In fact, it could be said that she joined the Labor Party because of Milton Dick. But she was my next-door neighbour in Parliament. And Kimberly was hilarious. She had the most infectious laughter she always had a smile on her face. Her and I had a competition at Christmas who could have the most blow ups at the front of our office. So if you came down our corridor, there was blown up Santas and reindeers and snowman and you name it. But she is a great loss not only to those of us who called her a friend, but to the Australian Parliament and I think to the Australian Labor Party because she really was a voice of reason. When it came to things like China and human rights. She was just an incredible intellect and a really really lovely person and she has gone way too soon. Way too soon, Milton you're responsible in part for her entry into politics.

DICK: Chris, I signed Kimberly's Labor Party membership form we were both at university together. We were terribly close as friends at university and had always remained, particularly when she joined the Parliament only five years ago. She was a Brisbane girl and my condolences go to her parents Bill and May Kitching and her brother who I went to school with. They are terribly devastated as we all are. But Holly is right. She was well respected and loved by both sides of politics, particularly because of her outspoken views on sometimes issues not particularly popular within the Labor Party. Now, we often sided on a number of issues. And we felt we were a bit on the on the outer side of spec, but she always was true to her word. And she always stood up for what she believed in. 

SMITH: Yeah, while I've still got you, your electorate is just recovering from these floods. You've been through hell and back, talking about those within your electorate, what really happened with the declaration of a national emergency in southeast Queensland has the Premier or the Prime Minister got this wrong?

DICK: Look, I think the time for the emergency to be declared was a little while ago, we're now in the clean-up and recovery phase and the rebuilding phrase, Chris, we needed to make sure that declaration was put into place. The Prime Minister doesn't need the New South Wales Premier or the Queensland Premier to activate that, the legislation makes that clear. I guess I'd say we needed that help a little earlier. I don't want to be too political tonight, because I'm still dealing with a lot of flood recovery. But, you know, a lot of Australians are asking where was the Prime Minister? Where is the Government? And I think those questions need to be unpacked. And we need to have some answers. 

SMITH: Holly, does he deserve that criticism?

HUGHES: Look, I don't think so because the Labor Party is very, very quick to dismiss constitutional requirements when it comes to these sorts of declarations that need to be made. The Prime Minister is right when he talks about the states that drive a lot of that immediate resource issues, whether it's around the hospitals, the SES is, I think, as no doubt we're going to talk about - is incredibly-

SMITH: Like in practical time calling a national emergency, what physically or practically happens differently, if that's to happen early?

HUGHES: I mean, it's not going to happen while the rain’s falling, it's going to have to happen when the clean-up’s occurring. I really do hope that we're not seeing politics being played about this. And as Milton knows, his state's going through it at the moment, I've lived through floods, they're very messy. They're very difficult afterwards. But we do need to start acknowledging there are constitutional requirements around these Federation issues. And I think COVID showed us that Premier's had a little more power than I guess some of us really wanted when it came to border closures and the like. And perhaps when it comes to these responses, we need to have a bit of a constitutional review about the state of the Federation to ensure that if we're going to blame the feds, every time something happens, they actually have the power to do it, as opposed to the states being able to hold them to ransom.

SMITH: What other protocols Milton, The Sunday Telegraph in Sydney has revealed today that the New South Wales SES, rejected assistance from our defence forces twice. I spoke with Andrea about it just a short time ago. Can I just say this, I could easily come out and say let's criticise the New South Wales Government. Let's now get stuck right into the SES. But based on what we've heard on the forecast at the time, I don't think there were too many people in all of Australia who knew the extent of flooding that was about to fall in northern New South Wales.

DICK: Well, I think there's that's partly right, Chris, but there are a number of issues here and I don't know exactly why that call was ignored. But then there were days and days of people in New South Wales who were trapped in their homes I'm not quite sure why the SES or why the Government didn't want the ADF. I can speak from the Queensland perspective when the minister released the ADF to help, about 160 people have been in my electorate from the ADF and doing a brilliant job. That was Thursday week ago, when we needed that emergency declaration. So I'm not quite sure why that's happened in New South Wales. But I agree with Chris Minns that we probably do need a deeper investigation to get that right, to get the framework right. So when the ADF is needed, they're called out and it's delivered on time. 

SMITH: Well, what we heard today in The Sunday Telegraph was the fact that the ADF put their hand up to come and help even before the floodwaters started to rise as dramatically as they did. But putting that aside for a second, do we need to do what Peter Cosgrove is going to talk about shortly on the programme, and transform the SES into a professional unit?

HUGHES: Look, I think there's all these things that need to be looked at. But it's not only about the response to these disasters, we know had we built more dams, we probably could have mitigated some of this, when you've got dams in Queensland that are used for both drinking water and flood mitigation, you're always going to run into problems. And we've had an absolute aversion to the creation of more dams, and actually looking at mitigation strategies. So it's not about putting communities through a clean-up, but it's preventing them in the first place, if that's what we need to be doing, you know, lifting the walls of dams, all of those things that seem to be off the table, I think need to come back on.

SMITH: And I heard from some locals on my radio programme this weekend, it was saying every time we have a major flood, we have a massive build-up of sand and silt and rubbish into the main river systems. They take less water now than they ever did. We've got to do something about a major dredging effort as well.

HUGHES: Look, there's so much to be done, but we seem to be shocked every time something happens. Even though these are not in a lot of ways not completely unpredictable events. Or, you know, Dorothea Mackellar we are at sunburnt country, land of floods, you know, plains. It's sorry, I know, I got that wrong for butchering my poetry there, but it's been a long weekend. But you know, I mean, we know that it's written into our culture that we have bushfires, that we have floods, you know.

SMITH: I want to talk about petrol with you, Milton. It's at record high prices. I filled up this afternoon, something like $2.20. And they didn't even point a gun at me. They're calling on a reduction to fuel excise - your party is today. I think everyone is saying give us a little bit of a break. While this is spiking upwards, the South Australian Premier Liberal Stephen Marshall too, the US is doing something similar or trying to - is it time we did?

DICK: Well, I think there is a whole lot of cost-of-living issues. And I'll be going on a limb here and saying that that's going to be a major election focus, clearly these prices are going through the roof $2, $2.20, $3 in places like Arnhem Land. You know, I saw the Prime Minister's comments today, might be softening up for Josh Frydenberg's budget. I'll wait and see and the Federal Labor Party, we'll see what comes into the budget, but clearly cost delivering issues, whether it's be energy costs, whether it be things like childcare, all of those issues, we've got to see the Government deliver on some reform and some improvements to ease the cost of living and exactly what Anthony Albanese is doing with his policies. And I'm hopeful that the Treasurer will hear these concerns because with natural disasters, I know there's issues around Ukraine. But all of these cost-of-living issues were well on the table before any international issues. The Government's had 10 years to deal with these issues and prices just keep going up and up. 

HUGHES: Well, Milton, I know that you and your fellow Otis group members are very big supporters of coal mines in this country and ensuring that we have reliable, affordable energy throughout the country and perhaps you can get that through to a couple of your colleagues, while they try and shut down coal mines and jobs and Eraring power stations how you've got Conroy and Shortland Doll, I'll never know.

SMITH: There's a good idea Milton.

DICK: [Laughs] Well if you can get Craig Kelly - well not anymore. All the people who don't want renewable energy. We could probably meet in the middle, but we all know that renewable energy is the future of cheaper energy. We just had a Government that's not doing anything with it for the time - for the past 10 years.

HUGHES: Aw, I know how much you love coal-

SMITH: Milton Dick, good to have you on the programme. Senator Holly Hughes. Good to have you in here.