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E&OE TRANSCRIPT RADIO INTERVIEW DARWIN MIX 104.9 WITH KATIE WOOLF FRIDAY, 30 AUGUST 2019

August 30, 2019

KATIE WOOLF: Joining me in the studio this morning is Brendan O’Connor who is the Federal Shadow Minister for Employment and Industry as well as Science and a couple of other things, Brendan.

BRENDAN O’CONNOR, SHADOW MINISTER FOR SMALL BUSINESS: Yes, that’s right.
 
WOOLF: Small and Family Business though, that’s a good one for the Northern Territory.
 
O’CONNOR: It is, Katie.
 
WOOLF: It is something that we feel a lot of Territorians at the moment are you know maybe not going as well as they would like to be, when it comes to small business.
 
O’CONNOR: Yes.
 
WOOLF: And we’re going to get to that in just a moment. I am keen to talk to you, though,  just briefly about this national story that is making headlines and the Northern Territory has come into play this morning because the Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton has apparently stared down the supporters of this Sri Lankan family which is facing deportation and says he wants them to accept that they are not refugees. Now we know that the fate of this family and their two Australian born daughters is going to be decided in an urgent court hearing in Melbourne this morning. But they were in a hotel room this morning, I believe they still are, in Darwin at the moment. It’s a sad situation, there’s no doubt about it.
 
O’CONNOR: It is. And you can be very sympathetic for people who may not have or may have a genuine application to be determined a refugee. That’s for the courts to decide.  I think it’s fair to say that the injunction that was granted has now allowed the opportunity for arguments to be presented to the court. And that court will have to hear evidence as to whether the claims they are making are justified.
 
What we do know, though, is the community in Queensland  are very supportive of them. So whatever the outcome of the court case, particularly if it is not in the interest of this family, would be very disappointing. And you can understand they have been embraced by the community of Biloela, a small town in Queensland. And they want them to stay. The Minister has made a decision. He may well have made a decision based on evidence. I guess we are going to find that out. So at least it provides them an opportunity now for their case to be heard.
 
WOOLF: It is such an interesting story, and I guess a little place like Biloela, a lot of people would never had heard of Biloela in central Queensland and now it is right on the map. And the way that this community has just bandied behind this little family. And we know these two little girls are born there as well, as I understand it.
 
O’CONNOR: That’s right. So children born in this country. I think the last time Biloela was in the news it was confronted with floods, actually, may years ago when that whole region was flooded, in terms of being on the national stage. Here it is again, really saying to the government and to the Minister please reconsider your position. I’m not sure whether the Minister has used any discretion in that regard. But as I say the court now in Melbourne will hear the matter. Hopefully it will go to the merits of the application by the family. And I think certainly there’s some considerable arguments to be made. It  will turn though, partly back to whether the application is sound. You have to feel for the family regardless of the circumstances and the facts of the matter.
 
WOOLF: Yeah, we are going to keep a close eye on it. I know there are, actually as I understand it there are actually people here in Darwin out at the airport today protesting for this family. So we’ll keep a close eye on things.
 
O’CONNOR: It just shows you how they have capture the national imagination and the sympathy goes beyond just the community in which they live.
 
WOOLF: It does. It really does. Now, let’s talk about the reason for the visit for Darwin. We know that you are actually hosting a national small business roadshow and this is your Darwin stop. So on Monday you are going to be hosting a round table with quite a few small businesses I understand?
 
O’CONNOR: That’s right. So we are talking to employment services, operators, we’ll be talking to small businesses. I mean just driving around Darwin this morning you can see shopfronts empty. You’ve seen a bunch of restaurants and retail stores no longer open. That’s the visible signs of an economy in some decline given the boom with the Inpex project finishing its construction phase, fewer jobs, less injection of capital into the city and the region. And one of the things we are here to listen to from small business operators, is what else can be done by government at any level? What can we do to ensure that the economy grows again and people can find opportunities, and businesses can survive because too many have hit the wall in recent times.
 
WOOLF: It’s been quite a tough time, you’d have to say, in the Territory. I’m not sure whether things are starting to level out a bit or whether we are starting to see a bit of improvement. We all hope so, but there is that real downturn following on from the construction phase on Inpex.  And some of the small businesses are finding it tough. I think it is good to have different levels of government here listening to what our business owners and operators are saying. Because quite often we feel as though we are forgotten a little bit by Canberra.
 
O’CONNOR: Sure. The current Federal Government did put aside a Northern Australia Investment allocation, but never invested the money, never spent the money in the area it was allocated for. And I would really be calling upon the Morrison Government to look at what it can do to inject capital into the area to cultivate the circumstances in which businesses can thrive. More should be down. It’s a critical area of our country. People deserve, as you say, a fair share of the dividend coming from Canberra. That’s not happening to date, there’s no doubt about that. I think the Government should lift its game and listen to the community as the Federal Opposition are doing now, after the election.
 
WOOLF: One of the other things that the Gunner Labor Government here in the Northern Territory wants is this ship lift facility. They’ve said that they’re going to go ahead with it no matter what. I know that if elected at the last federal election certainly Labor had earmarked some money for that ship lift facility. It looks as if now it’s going to go ahead. Either the Territory Government is going to have to fund it themselves or it’s going to have to happen through a NAIF loan. At this stage there is no commitment from the Federal Government. Is that the wrong decision do you think?
 
O’CONNOR: Yes I do think it is. I think you do need to work in partnership with state and Territory Governments when you are in Canberra. The reason why we wanted to provide support is we need to partner such projects. It’s in the national interest, not just the interest of the Territory. So I think it would be reasonable for the Government to rethink its position and perhaps match what Labor was going to do if it had been successful at the election in May.
 
WOOLF: So Brendan, just back on to the roundtable which you are going to be hosting on Monday. If there are small businesses out there listening today is there still an opportunity for them to be involved in that?
 
O’CONNOR: Absolutely. At the moment we’ve got a really good turnout but of course. We are actually at Senator Malarndirri McCarthy’s office at 10am if people wanted to contact the Senator’s office that might be the best way for us to ensure that they can attend. If people can’t attend, and I know notice is short for some people, just making very clear we will be back. I’ll come back either later this year or early in the new year and have another engagement with small business. Last Friday I was in Hobart, I’ve been to Melbourne, during the week. We’ll be travelling throughout the country and I love coming to Darwin – who wouldn’t.
 
WOOLF: It’s the best place in Australia to be at this time of year.
 
O’CONNOR: It’s a lovely time.
 
WOOLF: The dry season has turned it on for you. Now did you bring your sneakers, because I’ve got a fun run on Sunday.
 
O’CONNOR: Look, I’m going to be at the fun run. Can I just congratulate you in being one of the people who have really inspired this run for a good cause. I’ve been touched in a similar way to other people who have had tragedy in their family.  Anything you can do to raise awareness because we know with cancer prevention or early detection is really critical for so many. It doesn’t always save people’s lives but it certainly lengthens them, almost always. And often it does give people a full life. So I’ll be there on Sunday very much supporting it. Whether I run or not is another story. Politicians running, I’m not sure I that’s a good idea so we’ll just have to see.
 
WOOLF: For some pollies it works out ok.
 
O’CONNOR: Maybe.
 
WOOLF: Some are not so coordinated.
 
O’CONNOR: I’m not sure which category I fit in, that’s all. But I’m certainly going to be there on the day. It’s a great cause and a great idea, so well done to yourself, Katie, being part of that.
 
WOOLF: Thank you. We’re really looking forward to having you there. Brendan O’Connor the Shadow Minister for Employment and Industry as well as Science and Small  and Family Business
 
O’CONNOR: Thanks very much, Katie.
 
WOOLF: Thank you.

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