RICHARD KING, HOST: Labor’s Member for Shortland Pat Conroy, he is in the line. Good morning Pat.
SHANNA BULL, HOST: Morning.
PAT CONROY, MEMBER FOR SHORTLAND: Morning Richard, morning Shanna. How are we?
KING: We’re both well. The Budget is being handed down tonight and obviously it’s a big spending Budget. But just specifically focusing on Shortland, if you had the wish list and the magic wand Pat, what would you be wanting for your electorate in tonight’s Budget?
CONROY: Well number one would be a proper fix for the aged care crisis we’ve got on at the moment. We’ve seen plenty of headlines of dollars being splashed around but we’ve got 90,000 people on the home care package waiting list. We desperately need all of the aged care royal commission recommendations implemented and minimum staffing ratios, increasing the pay for workers, because you can have all of the recommendations and cash you want, but unless you have a skilled and well paid workforce, our seniors aren’t going to get the care they need.
BULL: Pat obviously you’d agree getting unemployment down should be one of the main priorities for the Government tonight?
CONROY: It definitely needs to be, and we’ve got a really two-speed recovery. Some parts of the economy have come roaring back – real estate is one example – but there are two million Australians who are either out of work or desperately needing more hours. So we need real policy announcements that will help them. Last year’s centrepiece of the Budget was the JobMaker credit that discriminated against older people. That was supposed to drive 450,000 jobs. It only created something like 600 jobs. So we need something that will work to get Australians back into jobs.
KING: Right. Look, just getting away from the Budget slightly, you’ve had quite a bit to say on the lack of a decision on the PEP-11 exploration license off the coast here. It’s two months since it expired. We’ve heard - well in fact we spoke to Angus Taylor only a couple of weeks ago about this and he said ‘look it’s with Keith Pitt’. They’re still on about the establishment of a gas-fired power station at Kurri Kurri on the old Hydro site. I’m not sure where the gas is going to come from, and obviously that’s still a possibility that we might have gas exploration off the coast of Newcastle?
CONROY: It’s a real possibility, and I am very worried that Minister Pitt has being sitting on this decision for over two months. We should not allow oil and gas drilling five kilometres off Redhead Beach. That’s just a disgrace. It’s an environmental catastrophe waiting to happen, and from an economic point of view, this project might deliver 100 jobs and they could be FIFO workers for that. That’s versus the tens of thousands of jobs locally that depend on tourism and commercial and recreational fishing.
This is a bad project in the wrong spot. There’s a gas development happening up in Narrabri that will supply gas for New South Wales and that’s fine. This offshore oil and gas drilling is a project that I’ve seen attract almost universal opposition, and the Government needs to oppose it. It risks the environment and it risks tens of thousands of local jobs.
BULL: Pat, look I know Labor has been quite critical of the pace of the Government’s vaccine rollout. Are you still holding concerns with the pace of the rollout at this stage?
CONROY: I think it is the worst part of the Government’s response. Some things they’ve done well and I am willing to support that – we should be positive where we can – but this Government said that they would achieve four million vaccines by the end of March. They achieved 600,000. They promised to have every Australian fully vaccinated - so two doses – by October. On the current pace, we are looking at somewhere in 2023 for that to be achieved. That’s April 2023.
This is really important because we will see more outbreaks from hotel quarantine because of the flaws with that system. We’ll see more lockdowns like we saw in Brisbane and Perth, and unless we have the whole population fully vaccinated, we won’t ever get back to anything close to a normal life, and that’s essential.
KING: Have you had the jab yet Pat?
CONROY: No, I’m not on a priority list. I’m under 50 so I’ll wait my turn, but the system is really distressing. I was down at Valhalla Village and people are still waiting. We are getting on average around 1,000 a [week] in our electorate, and we’ve got 24,000 people over the age of 70 for example that are in a priority group, and they’re just not getting access to the doses. And the people I feel most sorry for are the receptionists at the 11 GPs in Shortland that are providing the vaccine and what they’re copping on the phone because people are very stressed and very worried.
KING: Well I was about to ask you, because yours is one of the, in terms of demographics, one of the oldest electorates in the country and I daresay you’ve had many constituents in your electorate expressing concern about, you know, which vaccine they should get or whether they should have one at all. Is that the case, that you have had many people querying what they should do?
CONROY: To be honest, there’s not a lot of vaccine hesitancy that I’ve heard about. Most people actually want to get it. I was, as I said, down at Valhalla Village on the Central Coast with its 750 people, and they actually contacted the Federal Department of Health saying ‘can you set up a vaccination spot in our community hall? We’ve got 750 people here and you could knock us off in a day and a half instead of having us spread all over the place to 20 or 30 GPs’, and the Department of Health just said no. So most people I’ve seen are actually keen because they understand it’s the passport to getting back to something close to a normal life and that’s why I’ve been so disappointed with the Government’s handling of this matter. They’ve said that this is their number one priority and they are failing sadly.
BULL: I’ve got some good news for you Pat. If you’re aged between 40 and 49 as of five o’clock last night you can register on the Government’s website to get your Pfizer jab. There you go.
CONROY: Excellent, I’ll get on the computer, although I hear their website had a few challenges.
BULL: Yeah, apparently so.
KING: You have an economics background and I mean it’s always the case that we get plenty of leaks re the Budget before the Budget, but it’s almost as if this time around the whole Budget has been exposed before it’s actually been announced by the Treasurer.
CONROY: That’s right Richard, it’s a very interesting announcement strategy, and look they’ve probably held back one or two big surprises for tonight so they can get headlines. I think the big one will be that the bottom line will be significantly better than forecast last year largely because Australians have done so well at following the rules and there’s been a massive boom in the iron ore price thanks to demand from places like China.
So I think that will be the big headline, but we should not lost sight of the fact that this Government inherited debt at about $200 billion and it’s now north of $1 trillion. That’s $1 trillion. So I think we will see what comes out tonight. There will probably be a couple more sugar hits because it’s an election year, but I think we really need to focus on how this Budget actually improves the lives of Australians.
KING: Good to talk to you Pat, thank you very much for your time this morning.
CONROY: Thanks guys, have a great morning.