After a spectacular run-in with Environment Minister Greg Hunt recently over the proposed Shenhua Watermark coal mine, broadcaster Alan Jones had Trade Minister Andrew Robb in his sights on Wednesday.
Jones took aim at the free trade agreements Robb has negotiated, and at Chinese and other foreign investment in land.
While Hunt appeared to retreat under the onslaught and change position – although he later insisted he hadn’t – Robb fired back with both barrels, suggesting Jones was using a “racist” argument and peddling the line of “the most corrupt union in Australia”.
Jones put to Robb that the government said its free trade deals had gained greater access for beef and dairy to Japan and China but “they won’t need our exports – they are going to buy up our dairy farmers and buy up our beef farms”.
“This is just a scare campaign,” Robb replied. “1% of agriculture is owned by the Chinese. 1%, and yet most people would think that it is 20% with all the ranting by the unions and everyone else.”
Jones had a list, to which Robb countered by recalling that 100 years ago the British Vestey company owned “all of the north, and they couldn’t take it away”.
Anyway, Robb added, “we cannot get Australian investors to put money into agriculture”.
“So what do we do then?” Jones asked. “Let China just buy it up?”
“Alan, in my lifetime, I have never seen a farm leave Australia,” Robb said, pointing out that Australia was a capital-limited country, and it got taxes, jobs and infrastructure from the investment.
When Robb repeated his point about Vestey’s owing a lot of land, Jones said: “We are talking about China, South Korea and Japan”.
“No, it’s a racist … ”, said Robb before Jones jumped on him: “Oh I’m racist now? Jesus, come on.”
Robb moved on to the CFMEU. “I can’t believe that you’ve been last week peddling all of the CFMEU lines … They are the most corrupt union in Australia, Alan. They are in bed with the bikies who control 15% of the drug trade in Australia. Give me a break.”
Jones had no intention of giving Robb a break. “You’re concerned that there is an argument being mounted that you can’t handle, other than throwing around those slogans.”
Robb said the CFMEU had totally misrepresented the Australia-China free trade agreement. “And why do they use the word ‘China’ every second word? Because they know it produces a nervous response throughout the community, rather than looking at the facts.”
When Jones referred to a “Chinese government-owned company on the Liverpool plains which will have an 8000 acre hole in the ground, 300 meters deep”, Robb said the planned mine was “on the ridge” not the plains.
“You don’t know what you are talking about. You are only quoting and parroting the stuff you are told in Canberra. I know the area, I’m telling you,” Jones said.
“I don’t know it as well as you do,” Robb conceded, “but I do know the area and I have looked at the topography of where this mine is”.
Jones quickly issued an invitation: “You are welcome to come with me”.
One presumes Robb might find he’s a little busy.
Jones is the most influential shock jock on the air. Many politicians fear him and he revels in his power.
This year, after the federal government reversed approval for a aged care development at Sydney’s Middle Head that Jones had campaigned against, the broadcaster quickly noted his role. The thwarted developers had no doubt about it.
In a statement made to the Federal Court, the company involved said: “The decision was catalysed and driven by Mr Jones”. The statement of claim said Jones had told his listeners he had held discussions with Hunt and parliamentary secretary Bob Baldwin and the matter was “in excellent hands”. The legal action was later settled but the reversal decision stands.
Also this year, Jones strongly attacked then-Queensland premier Campbell Newman over coal mining before the state election. Jones claimed Newman had lied to him; Newman alleged Jones had defamed him. Jones’s program was broadcast into Queensland.
Jones was unrelentingly critical of the Gillard government, saying on air that she should be “put into a chaff bag and thrown into the sea”. But his most notorious performance was not on his program but when, referring to the death of Gillard’s father, he told a Sydney University Liberal Club function that her “old man recently died a few weeks ago of shame. To think that he had a daughter who told lies every time she stood for parliament.”
When John Howard was prime minister, a staffer in the Prime Minister’s Office was specifically designated to help liaise with Jones.
As a minister in the Howard government and as prime minister, Tony Abbott has had a clear sense of Jones’ clout, treating him with care and describing him as “a friend of mine”.