July 26, 2022

RICHARD KING, PRESENTER: A very different feeling for my next guest who is the Member for Shortland, Pat Conroy and who is now also the Minister for Defence Industry and the Minister for International Development and for the Pacific. And Pat joins me now. Good morning, Pat. 

PAT CONROY, MEMBER FOR SHORTLAND: Morning Richard, how are you? 

KING: Good thanks, Pat. You must be feeling pretty good. Very different sitting on the other side of the House. 

CONROY: I am very excited. I was first elected to Parliament in 2013 so I’ve only known Opposition. So this is a very exciting day.

KING: What’s it like for first – I gather there’s, you know, for first time MPs, and this would have been you back in 2013, I gather there’s an induction process which goes for several days prior to the first sitting?

CONROY: Yes, yes. There’s two processes. So the Department of the House of Representatives provides two days worth of training, and then each of the political parties will provide their own training. So I know Dan Repacholi, the newly elected Member for Hunter has gone through that sort of induction process, but their eyes will still be spinning when they get into the Chamber for the first time.

KING: So what’s included in that induction? You know, obviously things like where the toilets and where everything is, but obviously protocol, what happens in the House?

CONROY: Yeah, it’s more mechanics about how do you give a speech, how do you take the point of order, how do you conduct yourself in the Chamber, I think that’s – and how the Committees work. So it’s very much focused on how the actual parliamentary formal processes work. Then different political parties provide broader training on how to be an MP, how to support your constituents, because it’s a funny thing that when MPs are elected, there’s no formal training processes which teach you how to be a Member of Parliament. You’ve sort of got to learn on the job, listen to people who have been there, and take really good advice.

KING: And do senior members within the party mentor the newbies?

CONROY: Absolutely. You’ll provide advice on how to deal with electorate enquiries, how to develop relationships across the Chamber, and it’s really the obligation of more experienced MPs to teach the newbies because we were all new once, and that’s an obligation to pass on that learning.

KING: And obviously a big part of this is making your maiden speech in the House. Does that actually start on day one? Will we hear anyone make their first speech today?

CONROY: No my understanding is it will start tomorrow, and it’s a really unusual thing in that I found it the hardest speech to give because it’s your first speech so you’re pretty inexperienced in speaking in the Chamber, and it’s also your most personal speech because you’re talking about what you want to achieve in politics and thank your family and friends who helped get you there. So it’s a good tradition, but it’s often challenging.

KING: You’ll be Minister for International Development and the Pacific, you have visited a number of Pacific nations with Penny Wong in the last couple of weeks. Obviously foot and mouth disease is rightly a very hot topic of conversation. Closing the borders has been a hot issue, but look I checked – the first notification from the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry was quite some time prior to the election. Was anything said by the then Government about foot and mouth disease?

CONROY: No, nothing of any substance and in fact as far as we can tell, there was no preparation done either. So for example, they didn’t order the sanitation mats that we’ve now ordered that travelers now have to walk across, they didn’t prepare anything else to really prepare us for where we are now. Foot and mouth disease is in 70 countries, and we have rolled out layered defenses against it and we are taking it very seriously. But in terms of border closures with Indonesia, leading industry groups such as the National Farmers Federation, the Meat Industry Council, Meat and Livestock Australia are all opposed to it. What’s really important is that we’ve put in place the strongest measures to stop visitors and quite frankly meat imports into Australia carrying the virus.

KING: On another topic, COVID-19 certainly hasn’t gone away. I think in the last week we’ve rated third in the world for case numbers and hospitalisations. The new Government, your Government, taking steps towards fixing aged care. I mean, there have been issues with aged care prior to COVID. It’s been going on for a long time the problems in aged care. Calls from the aged care sector for the ADF to extend support beyond September. What measures do you think will be taken for this industry which is obviously in a real crisis?

CONROY: Well we’re introducing 18 pieces of legislation this week. We’re getting on with the job, and two of the really critical ones are one that implements 17 recommendations from the aged care Royal Commission, and the other which implements three of our core promises around aged care reform. One of them most importantly is about putting nursing back in nursing homes, requiring a registered nurse to be on site 24 hours a day, capping management fees, and providing more oversight and independent assurance at nursing homes.

So these are really important, and you’re absolutely right Richard. The aged care system was broken before COVID and COVID has just made it worse, and that’s why this Government is so committed to fixing it starting with implementing the recommendations from the Royal Commission that have been sitting on people’s desks for quite some time, and implementing our election promises.

KING: Talk your Government is expected to push through the Climate Change Bill with the emissions reduction target this week despite negotiations with Independents and obviously the Greens and minor parties still ongoing. And Anthony Albanese has said ‘no, they’re not moving’, and this is obviously all about committing to your promise to voters to show you’re serious when it comes to climate change, Pat?

CONROY: Well it’s more about a funny old notion of actually implementing our election commitments, honouring our election commitments, and we took to the last election a commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 43 per cent because it’s the right thing to do for the environment, but also there’s massive economic opportunities from achieving it, for example 600,000 jobs. And we’ve said we will work with all parties in Parliament. We want to end the climate wars, but we’ve got a very strong mandate from the Australian people to introduce our policy, and that’s what we are going to do.

But we have been upfront that the 43 per cent is a floor and not a ceiling, and I am confident that once the legislation gets through and business has certainty and can make their investment that they can cut greenhouse gas emissions faster. But it’s really important that we honour our commitment to the Australian people and implement our promise of 43 per cent.

KING: My guest Pat Conroy who is Minister for International Development and the Pacific and also Minister for Defence Industry. AUKUS and these nuclear submarines, has that progressed anywhere, or is it still way off over the horizon somewhere?

CONROY: Well we’re working through and waiting for a report from the Nuclear Submarines Taskforce that was established under the last government. We support the decision to have nuclear propelled submarines. What we are asking for our future submarines to do can only really be done if they have nuclear propulsion, so that’s very important. But Richard Marles and I as the Defence Ministers have flagged that we are concerned about a capability gap and we need to make sure that Australia has the best possible submarines in the water all of the time so that we can meet what is a very evolving sort of strategic environment. There’s a huge level of competition and it’s probably the most uncertain strategic environment we’ve faced since the end of World War II, and we need the best equipment for the ADF.

KING: And finally Pat, you’ve been beating your chest because you’re a Roosters fan about the fact that you flogged the Knights. Are you happy about the fact that – well, the Roosters play Manly on Thursday night but at least four players won’t be there because they don’t want to wear the club’s pride jersey. As a Roosters fan, are you happy about playing a depleted Manly team on Thursday night?

CONROY: Well first off Richard, I haven’t been beating my chest about the result on the weekend. I think it could have been very different if Ponga hadn’t sadly suffered another concussion, so I want to get that on the record first, Richard.


KING: Yeah righto.

CONROY: But I’m actually – I’d rather play a full strength Manly side. I think that what’s happened is really unfortunate. The players should have been consulted, but at the end of the day this is about respect and inclusion. And I just want to reflect on Ian Roberts who was one of my heroes growing up despite the fact of playing for two clubs that I hate in Manly and South Sydney. He is one of the toughest rugby league players to ever pull on the jersey, and he said today that every kid on the northern beaches struggling with their sexuality watching rugby league will notice this message, and I think that’s unfortunate. So I’d rather the Roosters play and beat a full strength Manly side.

KING: Yeah, look where do you stand on this? I mean, we get a lot of calls, people with very strong religious beliefs and, you know, this has popped up before with Israel Folau and I mentioned Michael Jones who played with the All Blacks who never played on a Sunday. I think Will Hopoate was much the same. I mean, if we’re going to be inclusive, we have to respect people’s beliefs, so fair enough, if they don’t want to wear the jersey, that’s their choice. It was originally seven players, I think three have reversed the call and it’s now only four. It’s one of these things that’s going to pop up more and more, and Manly are the very first team, I think they’re calling it an ‘everyone in league’ celebrating diversity and inclusivity. It’s going to become more and more – I mean they have a pride round in the AFL, do you think we should have one in the NRL?

CONROY: I think we do. It’s important as I said that players should be consulted and that they have input and I’m not sure whether that happened here. But at the end of the day, this is about respect and inclusion, and the way this has ended or looks like it’s ending sends a pretty appalling message to every kid struggling with their sexuality on the northern beaches, and I think that’s problematic.

KING: Yeah.

CONROY: And look, I respect people’s religious beliefs. I would say I hope there is some consistency in those religious beliefs, because just above the pride line in the jersey I noticed is an advertisement for gambling.

KING: Yes.

CONROY: And obviously people seem more relaxed about advertising gambling or advertising alcohol than this. But look in the end, players have to follow their conscience, and they should have been consulted, but I do think that this does send an unfortunate message, and I think we should reflect on what Ian Roberts has said about this given his status in the game and what he went through playing the game and coming out.

KING: Hear, hear. Thank you very much for your time this morning Pat, and good luck today with the brand new 47th Parliament sitting for the first time today. Appreciate your time.

CONROY: Not a problem, Richard. Have a good morning. Bye bye.