RICHARD KING, PRESENTER: Just again a reminder we spoke to the Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce on Monday. He came to town, to Glendale, and teamed up with the Mayor of Lake Macquarie Kay Fraser. The announcement was $10 million from the Building Better Regions Fund which went to Lake Mac Council as part of, I think, a $25 million project to bring to international standard the Hunter Sports Complex at Glendale. And since then we’ve heard quite a bit from Labor MPs. Catherine King who is the infrastructure spokesperson – I received an email from Catherine on Monday saying ‘look this is another sports rorts grant all over again, Barnaby Joyce has hijacked that $300 million fund and that basically 90 per cent has gone to either Coalition seats or marginal seats’.
Well I thought it would be good to catch up with Pat because as I understand it, Pat was instrumental in getting the $10 million for Lake Macquarie Council, and the Member for Shortland, Labor’s Pat Conroy is on the line.
SHANNA BULL, PRESENTER: Good morning Pat.
PAT CONROY, MEMBER FOR SHORTLAND: Good morning guys, how are we?
KING: Yeah well thank you. Look, and I’ve received also too an email from Sharon Claydon earlier in the week saying the same thing, that they got bugger all in Newcastle even though they’d put in several applications. But I rang Kay Fraser, the Mayor of Lake Macquarie, and she said that you were very instrumental in lobbying for that money over quite a period of time. I mean, you were successful in getting money Pat.
CONROY: Well I’ve been fighting for this investment in the Hunter Sports Centre for a long time because it’s so, so important. It’s a centrepiece of sports in our region, heaps of kids including my own do gymnastics there, and basically every athletics carnival than can be held there is being held there. So I am really delighted that we were able to secure the funding.
That said, we do have serious concerns about how the Building Better Regions Fund has been used because it’s basically just being used as a pork-barrelling exercise for the National Party. So I welcome the funding, I’ve been fighting for it for a long time, but this is just another example of these funding programs that are being rorted by the National and Liberal Party.
BULL: Pat do you believe this is just another reason to highlight the need for some kind of anti-corruption body at a federal level?
CONROY: Absolutely. These decisions should be made on the basis of merit, rather than the political interests of whatever party is in government of the day, and we desperately need a national integrity commission. You just look at Mr Morrison’s response to Gladys Berejiklian resigning which was basically to say ‘well this demonstrates we shouldn’t have a strong national integrity commission’ which is just rubbish.
It is in the top three issues that people raise with me, and it’s actually in the interests of politicians to have a national integrity commission because trust in politics is at an all time low. I think the only profession less trusted than us is used cars salespeople, and we need to rebuild that trust, and an integrity commission is essential to that.
KING: Yeah, but look my point being you were successful in getting $10 million for Lake Macquarie, I mean it might raise the argument that maybe you were better at lobbying than some other Labor MPs Pat.
CONROY: Well I’d like to think that but it’s just not true. The reason we were successful is, I think, twofold. One, the money technically goes to the seat of Hunter which is a marginal seat. The project is 300 metres from my electorate of Shortland, and it’s regionally significant and that’s why I have been fighting for it. So it’s a marginal seat that the National Party want to win at the next election. And secondly, they had to put a few Labor projects in as a bit of a fig leaf.
But the truth is that this fund, despite only having 60 per cent of the seats eligible to apply, the National Party got 72 per cent of the funding, and 90 per cent of the funding went to either National or Liberal Party seats or marginal seats they want to win. And that’s hugely problematic. This is just another example of these programs being rorted for political advantage, and that’s really dispiriting, and it shouldn’t be the way it operates.
BULL: Just changing issues now Pat, climate change is still a very hot issue. We know several nations have already committed to net zero emissions by 2050, but we haven’t done that as of yet, and there’s a lot of pressure at the moment on the Prime Minister to commit to going to Glasgow at the end of the month for the UN climate change conference. Do you think we keep embarrassing ourselves on the world stage when it comes to our failure to address climate change?
CONROY: Well it is an embarrassment, but quite frankly it’s much worse than that. It’s actually imperilling the economic future of this country. Over 50 countries have committed to net zero emissions. We’ve already had demonstrations that if we don’t commit to that and commit to a serious target by 2030, we will be paying more for money we borrow from overseas which will lead to higher interest rates for the average household. We will be threatened with border tariffs in places like Europe and the United States which will make it harder to export our goods to those countries, and as importantly, we will miss out on the economic opportunities from the new industries. Whether it’s batteries, lithium mining, building the next generation of renewable energy, clean steel, clean aluminium – these are all opportunities that we are losing out on because this Government is just hopeless on climate change and is hopelessly divided.
KING: Well Andrew Forrest is doing his bit here, you know, injecting billions into this clean hydrogen, and certainly Newcastle looks like it will be a hub for hydrogen production. There’s still a lot of question marks as to how it will be done. As I understand it, hydrogen is expensive to produce and it’s a bit problematic storing it as well, but do you see hydrogen as something of a panacea here?
CONROY: I am so, so excited about this. I had the privilege of writing Labor’s $1 billion hydrogen policy which we took to the last election. This is a great example of the sort of clean industries that we can develop, and the Hunter is in a great position to produce the equipment to make clean hydrogen, to make the clean hydrogen, and then to use it with iron ore to make green steel. And in fact the Grattan Institute which is a centre-of-the-road thinktank thought that we could get 10,000 local jobs in a rebuilt green steel industry for Newcastle.
So I am really excited about these announcements. We just need a Federal Government that will get on board to support what private investors like Twiggy Forrest are doing, and to be quite frank the State Liberal Government. So this is not about politics. The State Liberal Government has been very good on this, as have the Queensland Labor Government, we just need a Federal Government that will back it in and there will literally be thousands of jobs, thousands of good paying manufacturing jobs for people in the Hunter if we can get on with it.
KING: You mentioned that Glendale, it just falls into Hunter which is a marginal seat, and Labor leader Anthony Albanese along with the outgoing Member for Hunter Joel Fitzgibbon along with the endorsed candidate Daniel Repacholi will be in Toronto this morning. What’s your feeling on rank-and-file being, you know, the group that anoint the endorsed candidate rather, you know, than the captain’s pick?
CONROY: Well rank-and-file preselections are usually the way we preselect Labor candidates, but not always. It’s something that is the standard procedure. I’ve gone through now four rank-and-file preselections and it’s always my preference. That being said, Dan Repacholi is an outstanding candidate. Yes there’s been some colourful social media posts when he was in his 20s, which quite frankly I think a lot of people would have some understanding about that. But he’s an outstanding candidate. He’s a five-time Olympian, he’s built up a local manufacturing business from 12 employees to over 70, and Albo made the call that he was the right person for the seat and sometimes these things happen. Obviously I would have loved for the branch members to have their say, but Dan is the right candidate for Hunter and he will be a really strong voice in Parliament if he’s elected.
BULL: Pat you wrote a really interesting opinion piece in the Newcastle Herald the other week speaking about the possibility on when the next federal election will be and also that Labor will be ready whenever the Prime Minister does call that date. Are there any political whispers around yet on when the next federal election might be?
CONROY: Yeah, well obviously only the Prime Minister knows. I think there’s a slight chance that it’s early December but I think it’s unlikely, especially if the Prime Minister listens to the global community and goes to Glasgow because that means he will be out of action for two or three weeks. My tip is early March. I think he will call it straight after Australia Day and hope that people are still feeling a bit – feeling in a good mood from their summer holidays if they manage to get any. And March 5 was when Bob Hawke was first elected in 83, so it’s a date with some history.
So that’s my tip. We are ready to go. We’ve got good policies out there that are nice and positive about how we will make Australia and the Hunter a better place, and I’m just raring at the bit to get on with it because I’m pretty sick of this Government.
KING: And we’re out of lockdown, are you overdue for a haircut Pat?
CONROY: I am not too bad. My wife took the clippers to me about three weeks ago, so my six-year-old boy and I were sitting in the backyard with our shirts off while she went with the clippers, so I’m in pretty good nick. I’m going down to Canberra on the weekend for two weeks of Parliament so I suspect by the time I come back the mullet will be there which will desperately need to be shaved off.
KING: And have you had a draught beer this week?
CONROY: I have had one at home but I haven’t gone out just because I am still a bit worried about the figures in our region.
CONROY: I completely understand why people have been desperate to get out of lockdown because it’s been a very hard period, but I am worried about the numbers locally and the need to get that under control.
BULL: But just quickly, you have been pushing for more walk-in vaccination clinics for quite some time Pat and it’s good to hear and see that some action has been taken with more now in the region particularly in your electorate.
CONROY: Absolutely. They are desperately needed and I am so thankful that NSW Health have established them. Our rate of vaccination is still significantly behind Sydney, not helped by those vaccines being redirected or stolen from the Belmont hub. So I am really delighted that we’ve got those pop-up vax clinics because we need them. Not only is the regional vax rate still below the State average, the Indigenous rate is much lower than that, and that’s why the Windale hub was so important. But all of them are there. We just need to get everyone who can be to be vaccinated.
KING: Hear, hear.
CONROY: It’s our only way out of this, and I encourage everyone to do it. And you should have confidence that no matter what vaccine you get, it is safe and effective, and we just need to get on with the job. So I am really glad that NSW Health listened to the calls of MPs like me and others for those pop-up clinics.
KING: Thank you very much for your time this morning Pat and have a great day.
BULL: Thanks Pat.
CONROY: Yeah you too, have a great morning. Thanks guys.