SUBJECTS: Australia Day awards; long range missiles; Indo-Pacific region, NT Senator Sam McMahon’s taxpayer funded trip to Townsville; letter to President Biden; Labor leadership; military history grants  

Joining me live in the studio for the first time this year, Luke Gosling, Labor’s Member for Solomon. Good morning.

LUKE GOSLING, MEMBER FOR SOLOMON: Good morning Katie and congratulations.

WOOLF: Oh thanks mate, Thank you very much for that. I understand your dad was also recognised on Australia Day. Is that right?

GOSLING: Johnny G has been training people with a vision impairment with Guide Dogs for 50 years. And he’s put in a heap of volunteer work in that time, helping other countries to get their Guide Dog programs up. And he’s still doing it, after all these years. Like this morning, he’ll be walking dogs, teaching them how to look after blind people on the street.

WOOLF: Oh, good on him. There are so many amazing people in Australia. I mean, I know I talk a lot on this show about the different issues that we’ve got. But I tell you what, whenever you’re feeling down or whenever you sort of think, ‘oh, goodness, you know, how are we going to get through this issue?’ You just look around at the wonderful Australians that we’ve got in this country who do so much and expect nothing in return.

GOSLING: That’s why we celebrate, you know, and that’s why it was really awesome to see so many great Australians including Miriam-Rose [Ungunmerr-Baumann], of course, who took out the Senior Australian of the Year. Territory proud, mate. There’s a lot to be proud of and happy about, particularly with this awesome rain.  

WOOLF: I know, it’s so nice out there, that’s for sure. But always timely reminder for us to stay cautious on the roads.

GOSLING: I saw a prang last night just up the road in Stuart Park. We just need to slow down when the rain comes.

WOOLF: Yeah, absolutely. Now Luke, there is quite a bit of discussion at the moment and quite a few people wondering whether we’re going to end up going to an early election. Do you reckon it’s going to get called this year?

GOSLING: Well, a lot of people are saying that there’s murmurings in the Liberal Party about it and that they’re trying to get some of their seats lined up, and both parties are getting prepared for an election later on this year. But it also could be early in 2022. But either way, you’d really hope that some of the commitments that have been made by Scott Morrison the Prime Minister and his team come to fruition this year and we’re not just straight into more promises before we’ve got the previous lot of promises bedded down.

WOOLF: When are you heading back to Canberra? When do you sit again?

GOSLING: Heading back this Sunday and we’re down there most of February actually, with three sitting weeks out of the short month. So it will be good to hook right back into it. But I’ve reached out to the Prime Minister and invited him up to Darwin; it’s been a long time since he’s been up here, and also with so much conversation at the moment and hope, I guess, with the new [US] President that he’ll come and visit. I’ve been talking to the PM about how we can coordinate the PM’s plan for Joe Biden visiting Australia and our plan for Joe Biden visiting Darwin.

WOOLF: Oh, that’d be good, there’s no doubt about that. We spoke yesterday to the Chief Minister about the possibility of long-range missiles being based here in Darwin. Now, the Chief Minister had said that the Navy, obviously, are here at different times and their platforms would be the ones that would then have those long-range missiles. We talked about whether that would make the Northern Territory or indeed the Top End a target. That’s something you and I have certainly discussed before. Is it a concern for you, do you think that this would be a good move if it does indeed happen?

GOSLING: I think more broadly the destabilisation that’s happening at the moment in the Indo-Pacific, really manifesting in the situation in Taiwan at the moment, is concerning. But I think what we’ve got to be clear-eyed about is the fact that we do need to stand up for our sovereignty and the sovereignty of other nations. That’s vital. Trade will come and go. Part of my role with Federal Labor has been to look at the Indo-Pacific, and I’ve been doing that work over the last year and a half to see what markets we can diversify, so we’re not too strongly dependent on any one market —because we want to continue to look after our interests — but also work with our allies like the US, and other countries. I’d like to see us helping Indonesia a lot more, for example, because they’re really copping it with COVID at the moment. I think there’s a big role for us. I’m so proud of the work that the National Critical Care and Trauma Response Centre has been doing in the past in our health relationships with Timor and Indonesia. But also obviously there’s the work they’re doing at Howard Springs, which is first class. And I think there’s a lot more we could be doing to help out in our region with our partners.

WOOLF: Luke, I do want to ask you about a story which has broken this morning by the ABC. It’s been reported that Senator Sam McMahon spent part of a trip to Townsville supporting LNP candidates during last year’s Queensland election, saying she was entitled to bill taxpayers for flights because the main purpose of the trip was to research live cattle export policies affecting her constituents. Now, the total cost of the taxpayer funded flights was $1,090. The senator paid for accommodation, food and other transport out of her own pocket. She reckons that she was there to attend official meetings and supported the LNP candidates between meetings. I understand that she’s now going to pay that money back. Do you think it was appropriate to take that trip?

GOSLING: I’m glad to hear that she’s going to pay the money back because it’s pretty obvious that it was a trip that was designed to coincide with the election to help out over there. I’m not too sure how it would have helped any Townsville Liberal Party candidates to have Sam over there with them. But if there were some good outcomes with the live cattle, obviously we need to have a great amount of support for that industry and I hear the buffalo numbers are also up, which is fantastic. So I think it’s appropriate that Sam pays it back. And it’s just important to be clear about when you’re using taxpayers funds: what is the real purpose of those trips?

WOOLF: Would you take a trip like that?

GOSLING: Well, I wouldn’t coincide it. If I was going to go and help some mates in an election I’d pay for it myself. If there is work to be done — and I’ll certainly be in Townsville in the near future, but it’ll be about veterans and defence issues that I’ve been asked to come there and speak about. It wouldn’t be to help anyone out with an election.

WOOLF: Now, Luke, I understand just on a positive note, there is some funding which is available at the moment for projects that preserve our local military history and honour our service personnel. Can you just tell us a little bit more about that and who might be eligible?

GOSLING: Our service organisations can apply for that. Local councils, local organisations can fund things like flagpoles, memorials, and it’s really so that we continue just to make sure in the community there’s a deep understanding and appreciation of the sacrifices of those that have served. And coming up to 19th of February, is the Bombing of Darwin [anniversary]. And also it’s 50 years since the end of the Vietnam War. So there’s a big focus on making sure we don’t forget those who paid the ultimate sacrifice. Out at Reg Hillier House and the rural area where the Vietnam veterans camp, they’ve got a fantastic memorial structure there. And I know people in the rural area want to establish some memorials as well. We’ve got fantastic World War Two history, so we really want to really commemorate that. We’ve got the 80th anniversary of the Bombing of Darwin next February that we are hoping the US President might make the trip out for next year. So this funding up to $10,000 dollars, or if it’s a big project, there can be up to $150,000 and that allows you to do some good projects. But also little organisations also might want to put in flagpoles, for example. And that’s really good and I support that. And anyone out there that wants a set of flags, they can get them from my office.

WOOLF: Luke Gosling we are going to have to leave it there. Good to catch up with you again for 2021.

GOSLING: It’s been awesome to catch up with you again, Katie, and I look forward to giving you some updates from Canberra.

WOOLF: Good on you, Luke. Thanks for coming in this morning.