RICHARD KING, PRESENTER: Some good news certainly in my neck of the woods – Federal Member for Shortland, Pat Conroy securing a seat at the table in the Ministry. He will take on the role of Defence Industry and International Development and also the Pacific, our most senior local government politician, and he is on the line now. Pat Conroy, good morning. And congratulations, Pat!
PAT CONROY, MEMBER FOR SHORTLAND: Oh thanks Richard, how are you?
KING: Very well, thank you. So, did you celebrate yesterday, the new Ministry?
CONROY: I had dinner at a local restaurant with my family who came down for the swearing in, so it’s really nice to be together and celebrate this real privilege I’ve got.
KING: Yeah, fantastic, and of course now that you’ve won the seat of Gilmore down on the South Coast, with 77 seats it’s going to make it a lot easier I should imagine. Everyone was predicting a hung parliament, but you can now rule in your own right.
CONROY: Absolutely. It was a really happy day for us, and I think that’s what the Australian people want. They want a Parliament that works properly, that is moderate, that works with everyone there, but obviously having a majority in our own right is really important.
KING: Alright, now obviously this wasn’t a surprise. You didn’t find out yesterday morning when it was announced by our new Prime Minister. You obviously knew in advance. How does it work? You know, do you move into fields that you have an interest in or do you sit down with Anthony Albanese, does he say ‘would you like to do this?’ How does it work, the selection of ministries?
CONROY: Well we are allowed to express an interest obviously, but ultimately the Prime Minister will make the decision of matching up the right people with the right positions. And experienced expertise does play a role. I held these two portfolios in Opposition, so I have been working in these areas for the last three years, and in fact I have worked in defence on and off for the last 20 years. So it’s a great opportunity.
KING: On the subject of defence, Newcastle was mooted to be one of the three possible bases – east coast bases – for the AUKUS nuclear submarines. When and if they arrive, are we still in the mix – Newcastle – for that base?
CONROY: Well I’m yet to receive the briefings, that will start today, and we’ve said we’ll look at the defence report that was leaked – or a summary of it was leaked – to the newspapers by the previous government. But you’re right to say when the new nuclear submarines arrive because that’s one of our main jobs is to get that project started. These submarines are unlikely to hit the water until the late 2030s if not early 2040s, and that is a real concern for this Government, and it’s one of the main jobs Richard Marles as the Defence Minister and I will be working on. But obviously, basing for those submarines on the east coast will be an important consideration.
KING: Right. And look, while we’re talking about the Port of Newcastle too, apparently it was revealed that the Morrison Government was close to announcing a $250 million infrastructure package to establish a container terminal here at the Port. Will that be one of the things that you and other local Government ministers will be championing, Pat?
CONROY: Well we’ll be trying to get to the bottom of is the money actually there, but I moved a motion at the Labor National Conference in 2018 calling for support for a container terminal in Newcastle. It’s essential that we diversify our exports and our operations of the Port, and this is a great opportunity.
So I’m a big supporter of it the container terminal. I think we’d already have investment flowing if the Liberal State Government hadn’t done a dirty deal to lock us out of that opportunity, and I will be looking into the Budget Papers and asking questions alongside other local MPs like Sharon Claydon about is the money there, is it something we can commit to, because I think it’s really critical to the economic future of our region.
KING: Wednesday morning, eight to eight, my guest is the Federal Labor Member for Shortland in my neck of the woods, Pat Conroy whose secured a seat in the Ministry, the roles of Defence Industry, International Development and also a very hot topic, the Pacific. A pledge made by Labor during the campaign was foreign aid to Pacific Island countries and Timor-Leste, over half a billion dollars over four years. What do you say to those people who might be listening now, you know, that say $525 million, surely that would be better spent building, you know, spent building another hospital or improving roads etcetera?
CONROY: Look I understand people’s concerns and we’ve made significant announcements around health and infrastructure as well, but I would respond by saying our security, Australia’s security, depends on our region’s security, and the failure of the last government to prevent the agreement between the Solomon Islands and China represented the greatest strategic failure in our region since World War II.
And I think people understand how important it is that Australia is the partner of choice for our Pacific family. That is critical to our ongoing security, and developments in the Solomon Islands for example, of course, huge concern in our nation, and I think it’s really important that we return to being the partner of choice for that region. It’s in our interests. I honestly believe it’s in the interests of those Pacific nations who are sovereign and will make their own decisions, but I just think this is a critical security area for our nation.
KING: As somebody who has been in Opposition for a number of years now Pat, I noticed that you got together with Labor members on the Central Coast and here in Newcastle, Lake Macquarie, and the Hunter Valley, and you were obviously a group and you did say there are now six – if you take in the Central Coast and our neck of the woods – six local Government MPs. How big a difference does that make when you’re lobbying for the local area being in Government compared to being in Opposition?
CONROY: Oh absolutely, so beyond me being the senior Hunter MP as the Minister, we’ve got Labor MPs across the region as I say from Muswellbrook to Mooney Mooney Bridge it’s a sea of red and having those six voices in the Albanese Labor Government is a real opportunity to advance our region’s interests. It is something that people should not overestimate. It is something that is really important for our region and it just gives us multiple voices and a really strong influence.
And to be frank, Prime Minister Albanese is no stranger to our region. I can’t think of a Prime Minister who has spent more time in our region. His first speech during the election year was on 2 January at Cooks Hill, so he knows how important our region is and he respects our contribution.
KING: I believe the Prime Minister passed on some advice to you and the other new Ministers. What was that, Pat?
CONROY: It was don’t waste a day, get on with it. We’ve got to make sure that we’re a stable Government that is delivering on all of our election commitments so that in three years’ time, people can have the confidence to re-elect the Albanese Labor Government.
KING: And what’s the process now? You’re all sworn in today, is that correct?
CONROY: Yes, I’m about to drive with the family to Government House to get sworn in by the Governor-General, and then I think Prime Minister Albanese has indicated we’ll have a ministerial meeting today and then we will get on with the briefings from the departments, and they organise incoming briefing books, so there’s going to be a lot of homework for me over the next few weeks!
KING: (laughs) You’ll be very busy. Exciting times, but very busy times, and I daresay the family won’t see too much of you maybe on an ongoing basis now that you are in the Ministry, Pat.
CONROY: Yeah, it’s hard on families. My family has been incredibly supportive. I’m very grateful for all of that. And they, sort of, understand the sacrifices that are involved. My wife, Keara couldn’t be more supportive and the kids, they’re really excited for me. We took a family road trip down to Canberra on Sunday and dropped in at the Big Merino which the kids hadn’t seen before, and they’re really excited for me, and hopefully they’re understanding of why I need to be away from home so much.
KING: Yes, and down in one of the coldest parts of the country at the moment. I bet it’s chilly this morning.
CONROY: It was -3 when I drove into Parliament House.
KING: (laughs) Oh well you can have that, it’s not quite as cold here. Thank you very much for your time. Congratulations and good luck, Pat.
CONROY: Thanks Richard, and have a great morning.