Sky News with Kieran Gilbert

18 March 2024

Subjects: Cyclone Megan, NZYQ, Queensland state by-elections


KIERAN GILBERT, HOST: As Matt said there, this category three could be upgraded to category four with the eye of the cyclone due to hit those communities this afternoon, either late this afternoon or this evening, it's a bit of a worry.


SENATOR TIM AYRES, ASSISTANT MINISTER FOR TRADE AND ASSISTANT MINISTER FOR MANUFACTURING: It's a very significant cyclone obviously. Murray Watt, the Emergency Services Minister, is watching this closely, I know he's been engaged with the Northern Territory government already. I suppose right now the message for Territorians is bunker down, follow the directions of the authorities. Take real care now. It's the next 24 to 48 hours that really matter.


GILBERT: Luckily those evacuations are also underway as Matt articulated to our viewers, in two of those more remote communities. Let's turn now to the politics here in Canberra. It’s the final sitting fortnight of the autumn session, big focus on immigration detention. Dan Tehan says between 100 and 150 more detainees, hardened criminals as they put it, could be released into the community. Is that right, that figure?


AYRES: Well, I'm not sure what the providence of Dan Tehan's assertions are. I've learned to take all this with a grain of salt. It's in their political interest to try now really to sort of beat the drum here. They've made claims before. The central issue for Mr. Tehan and Michaelia Cash, who lead the opposition's partisan approach to these issues, is it's been 105 days since it was suggested to them that a briefing was available from the Department. That would mean that they are in full possession of all of the information they need to be. They haven't taken the Department or the Minister up on those options. I'd just say to them, do your homework, get across the issues and work with the Government on making sure that we're doing the right thing here in the Australian interest and in the interest of public safety.


GILBERT: Should your colleagues Andrew Giles and Clare O'Neil be more upfront with what's at stake here in terms of the numbers of people concerned and so on? Because if they don't, they can leave an information vacuum that's filled by the opposition claims.


AYRES: Well, I suspect that… I'm very suspicious about the reasons why the opposition refuses to be briefed. Very suspicious about that. It can't be that they're too busy. It would be good if they were in full possession of the facts here. The Government is working hard, both on the implementing the response to the NZYQ decision and the legislation that went through the parliament late last year. Now, these are challenging issues. The Government's primary position was the position that we put in the High Court. Governments of all persuasions have to, though, respect the Court and respond to the decisions of the Court because that is the law, and we are working carefully through these issues. You saw what happened in the lead up to the Dunkley by-election. These guys, nothing is below them, nothing is beneath their politics, to try and elevate these issues in a hyperpartisan sort of way.


GILBERT: They just want to be reassured that they've got a handle on it.


AYRES: Absolutely. The Government is just focused on the substance and the implementation here. That is what the Minister is doing here. Minister Giles and Minister O'Neil, working carefully through these issues, and Australians should be confident that the government is going to do that to the fullest extent that can be done.


GILBERT: We saw the by-elections in Queensland at the weekend. We just spoke to our correspondent there and the Opposition Leader in Queensland says it was not federal issues at play, it was all state, state based issues. I guess you'd agree with that and hope that's the case because it looks like the baseball bats are out for Queensland Labor.


AYRES: Well, I agree. I don't want to bore your listeners, but voters at federal and state level, you've all heard this response before, when there's been state by-elections on. What it does mean for Queensland, of course, though, is this by-election will really focus Queenslanders' minds on the choices that are in front of them in the lead up to the state election. It can never be taken for granted, an election, and I'm sure Premier Miles doesn't take this election for granted. We are going to continue as a government focused on the issues that matter for Queenslanders.


GILBERT: It might work okay federally. If they do change in October, to an LNP government, then you've got a few months before the federal election. You'd be hoping that they've done that and they can then focus federally on potentially returning your Government.


AYRES: Well, I'll leave the political commentary to you and others. We are just focused right now on those cost of living issues that matter for Queenslanders. We are focused on rebuilding manufacturing capability in this country. That matters, particularly in central Queensland. That's what the Albanese Government is going to be about over the coming months as we go through to the budget and then through an election that's likely to be happening in the first half of next year.


GILBERT: Assistant Trade Minister Tim Ayres. Appreciate it.


AYRES: Anytime.