March 20, 2024

PAUL CULLIVER, PRESENTER: The Minister for Defence Industry and Member for Shortland is Pat Conroy, joins us this afternoon. Minister, good afternoon.

PAT CONROY, MEMBER FOR SHORTLAND: Good afternoon. How are you? 

CULLIVER: I'm very well. How bright a light bulb is Kevin Rudd? 

CONROY: I think Kevin Rudd is ferociously intelligent and he's doing an excellent job advancing Australia's interests in the United States.

CULLIVER: Alright. Are you concerned about Donald Trump's comments?

CONROY: Oh, look, I think that Ambassador Rudd's experience and skills mean that he'll be able to work closely with whoever is elected by the American people as US President. And I've seen him in action. I've made a number of visits to the United States, particularly to support efforts to get legislation critical to AUKUS, and in particular the advanced submarines we’re acquiring, and Kevin's got an excellent relationship with members of Congress on both sides of politics. And if you look at the legislation that passed the US Congress that authorised the transfer of the most advanced submarines in the world to Australia, the vote was 80 per cent yes in the Senate and 75 per cent yes in the House of Congress, the House of Representatives. That's strong bipartisan commitment, and Kevin Rudd was instrumental in that.

CULLIVER: Of course, this comes off the back of a tweet. This is from 2020. Kevin Rudd, of course, former Prime Minister of Australia, current US Ambassador, most destructive president in history is what Kevin Rudd said of Donald Trump. He drags America and democracy through the mud. Now, I do know that usually when you have, like, a presidential election going on in the US, or really anyone that might be an ally of Australia, politicians I've observed, Minister, generally tend to be quite, let's say, democratic about saying anything negative, even if they're ideologically opposed. Is this a problem, having Kevin Rudd sort of disparaged on Trump, despite the fact that we didn't know that he may well come back to be another candidate for the US presidency.

CONROY: I'm not going to get into comments that people may have made when they're all private citizens. I just make the point that Ambassador Rudd's doing a great job in the United States, and part of him doing a great job is his demonstrated ability to work with both Democrats and Republicans to achieve things that are in the interests of our nation, and that's why we're very confident that he can work closely with whoever's elected, because he's been able to do that over the last year.

CULLIVER: Alright. Another big event that happened in Canberra today was that the Chinese Foreign Minister, Wang Yi, has been visiting Australia, met with Foreign Minister Penny Wong. What was the outcome of that? Have we made some inroads?

CONROY: Well I think it was an excellent meeting and I think there was a discussion of a range of shared interests including, obviously, our continued discussion around the sentencing of Dr. Yang Hengjun, and we've raised our concerns about other Australians who are facing death penalty cases. But we did welcome progress on the removal of trade impediments on barley and wine. People may remember that in 2020, China imposed a range of measures that affected about $20 billion worth of Australian exports, and through good work, without sacrificing Australia's position or our values, we've managed to get removal of those impediments across about $19 billion worth of trade. So that means more jobs for Australians, and that's through doing good diplomatic work and stabilising the relationship with China.

CULLIVER: Any clarity on when that wine tariff will lift?

CONROY: Well there's an interim decision by China that their duties - and those duties doubled and in some cases tripled the cost of Australian wine in the Chinese market. So there's an interim review decision that said that they'll no longer be necessary, and we expect the review to be completed and its outcomes implemented by the end of this month. So, that's very good news if they do follow through with that. About just over $1 billion worth of wine exports were impacted, including many wine producers in the Hunter. So if the interim reviews findings are confirmed at the end of the month, we can expect great news for Australian winemakers and supporting thousands of jobs in the industry.

CULLIVER: Right. Just finally Minister Pat Conroy is your guest, local Member for Shortland. Of course, right here in Newcastle, we have seen some back and forth today about the future of religious discrimination bills. It was promised at the election that Labor would bring in religious discrimination reforms that would protect LGBT students and teachers now suggestions that that might not happen. Where is that up to?

CONROY: Well we've got two pieces of legislation prepared, a Religious Discrimination Bill and a Sex Discrimination Amendment Act, and they’re to achieve the objectives of ensuring that people of faith can practice their faith free of discrimination, but also that people are protected and not discriminated against based on their gender, their sexuality or their faith. And I think that those two pieces are prepared. But we've made it very clear that we need bipartisan support to ensure that they're passed through the Senate and we are very committed to that. We've seen ugly debates in the past. We do not want that. Again, we're up for progressing these proposals on the basis of bipartisan support so that they can be achieved.

CULLIVER: Senator - senior Liberal Simon Burningham has said it's hard for the Coalition to support these laws as it has not seen them. Are you going to show them to them?

CONROY: Well, as I said, we've had roundtables with the Opposition and they've participated in that and we'll keep engaging with them on that. And I really do applaud Senator Birmingham's comments about that. In an ideal world, this should be done in a bipartisan way, but we have engaged with the opposition, including through roundtables, and we'll continue to do so.

CULLIVER: To particularly students and teachers that have identified as LGBT and currently studying, currently teaching. What's your message to them given you may well hear the news today that maybe this legislation won't pass and they may well be disheartened by that.

CONROY: Well it's really important that we resolve this issue, but we've got to do it in a way that is respectful to everyone and is one that will actually be successful. We can't pass legislation in the Senate unless we get the Coalition to support it or the Greens political party and a couple of independents. So there's no point opening up a debate that could be quite hurtful to lots of people if we can't get it through Parliament. That will be really counterproductive, and we've seen that in the past. So that's why we're doing this in a calm, measured way, where we can tackle these issues of discrimination and ensure that we support both people of faith and people - to ensure that also people don't face discrimination based on their gender or their sexuality.

CULLIVER: Minister, I appreciate your time today. Thank you.

CONROY: Thank you. Have a great afternoon. Bye bye.