Craig Zonca: Long serving Queensland Liberal Senator based in the North Ian Macdonald says that Josh Frydenberg is an odd choice to take charge of the Northern Australia portfolio. Senator Macdonald spoke to me a short time ago about Malcolm Turnbull cabinet reshuffle.
Senator Macdonald: Well there are some good things and bad things about it Craig. I am delighted to see three additional Queenslanders in the ministry in one way or another, I think we have gone up by 3 and down by 1 so that’s good for Queensland. The other thing is that there is actually a Minister for Northern Australia appointed in cabinet with that specific role. Now Warren Truss a Queenslander was doing that before but for reasons that I am not aware of that has now gone to Josh Frydenberg.
Craig Zonca: About that decision to appoint an inner city Melbournian to oversee the Northern Australia portfolio. How tough a task is in front of Josh Frydenberg?
Senator Macdonald: Josh is a very enthusiastic, very keen and capable person, I think he will do well at anything he does but he does come from inner city Melbourne and it just looks odd. Now I appreciate you don’t have to live on a farm to be Agriculture Minister but we’ll wait and see. That’s one of the good things about it, there is a separate Minister, the other bit that I do like about the Cabinet is that Steve Ciobo’s been appointed Minister for the Pacific and that’s very much part of northern Australia which as you know is my major focus. Paul Fletcher, again, inner city Sydney but he has been appointed Minister for Major Projects and I’m certainly hoping that there will be major projects as part of the North Australia White Paper. There is now a Minister for Tourism and International Education and that I think is good for the tourism industry and Queensland so there’s some major positives out of it. On the negative side of course there are very few Ministers from regional Australia and as I counted only one, and that’s Nigel Scullion from sort of north of the Brisbane line but again, we just have to see how it all turns out and make sure it does work.
Craig Zonca: Well in saying that do you feel that regional Australia, regional Queensland, Northern Australia is being taken seriously by the new Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull if there are no ministers that really reside outside the capitals?
Senator Macdonald: There are no Ministers and that’s a matter of fact but there is a specific Minister for Northern Australia and that has to be positive and the Minister for the Pacific, Minister for Major Projects, Minister for Tourism, they’re all positives that will be important in northern Australia and Craig, can I just point out that Warren Entsch is Chairman of the Parliamentary Northern Australia Committee, I’m Chairman of the Northern White Paper Implementation Oversight Committee, neither of us, as you might say, have anything to lose, and what our role will continue to be as it was under the previous Leader, is to make sure all the good things that were announced and promised in the North Australia White Paper actually happen and that’s a role that both Warren Entsch and I will continue to do enthusiastically to make sure those wonderful plans do happen. Whether the Minister is from Melbourne or from Darwin doesn’t really matter, we’re there to make sure that it does happen and we intend to pursue that job with rigor, aggression and determination.
Craig Zonca: How do you convince a Melbournian like Josh Frydenberg that his inner city constituents tax payer dollars are well spent in Northern Australia. How do you make sure there is the investment to back up those plans that you talk about?
Senator Macdonald: Craig, the White Paper was launched some months ago. In the last year’s budget there was money put aside for Northern Australia so it’s not really that the Minister has to make decisions in relation to what’s happening, he’s just got to make sure that it happens. And as I say, Warren Entsch and I will be snapping at his heels to make sure those things do happen.
Craig Zonca: Keeping him honest so to speak Senator Macdonald?
Senator Macdonald: Keeping him honest and, look, he is an intelligent and very competent energetic young Minister and I’m confident that he understands what the role is he’s been given and Warren Entsch and I are there to make sure that he does.
Craig Zonca: Senator Macdonald you have spent many years in parliament. You have seen the trials and tribulations from the opposition benches and the government benches. The last week in politics when you look at what’s happened and the fact that we’ve had four Prime Ministers in the space of just a couple of years, do you lament where we are in politics?
Senator Macdonald: Well I do Craig lament how politics is. I don’t think it’s new and it does disturb me. I’ve never been a game player, I’m there, I’ve always thought for a particular role, a particular purpose, some things that I was very keen on but these things do upset the momentum. As you know I wasn’t particularly fond of Tony Abbott but I voted to keep him because I don’t think these changes work and you’ve only got to look at the Labor experience for that to become obvious. I just hope that we in the Liberal Party are more mature. The decision has been made, we’ve got to make it work and as I say, it’s not for my sake or Malcolm Turnbull’s sake or anyone else’s sake, it’s for Australia’s sake because I genuinely believe that this country needs at least two terms of a Liberal government to get it out of the mess that Labor created and anything that interferes with that end goal is something I’m concerned about. But it’s happened, we’ve got to make sure it works, that we can move forward, win the next election and get Australia back on track.
Craig Zonca: You are in Ayr today, have you heard from the people, not that you have probably had much time to do much walking down the streets so to speak?
Senator Macdonald: I’ve been in Townsville and Ayr and around the north in the last couple of days. Look, I think people are very much like me. They want it to work. Many in Queensland I think had my view that change can be disruptive but as it’s happened we’ve just got to, and this is what’s coming through, some people are unhappy but the alternative is Bill Shorten and a Labor government and from the people that I talk to closely, that’s certainly not an option. Craig, I’m on my annual ten day driving tour out in the north-west starting in a day or so and I’ll get a much better idea then what people are thinking. But look, I’m confident that the overall feeling will be, it’s happened, let’s make the best of it, let’s think about Australia and make sure Australia moves forward.
Craig Zonca: In saying that Senator Macdonald, if you can send a message to Josh Frydenberg, how do you sum up what he needs to do in a sentence?
Senator Macdonald: My message to Josh is first of all Congratulations, secondly make sure you do the job and thirdly you can be assured that myself, Warren Entsch, Ewen Jones, George Christensen, Natasha Griggs we’ll all be there to make sure you do the job well.
Craig Zonca: It sounds like he has a bit of work ahead of him. Senator Macdonald it is always good to catch up. Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts with me today.
Senator Macdonald: Thanks Craig