ABC WEEKEND BREAKFAST
SATURDAY, 20 NOVEMBER 2021
SUBJECT/S: Trump without the toupée; Assassination of John Newman; upcoming sitting fortnight; this tired, chaotic and dysfunctional Government.
FAUZIAH IBRAHIM, HOST: The Prime Minister has rejected suggestions that he failed to adequately condemn violent threats by some protesters in Melbourne this week.
JOHANNA NICHOLSON, HOST: Scott Morrison’s been accused of double-speak and dog whistling to keep votes after again saying he understood the frustrations caused by lengthy lockdowns. But the Prime Minister maintains he denounced all violent and threatening behaviour. We’re joined by Liberal MP Tim Wilson, the Assistant Minister for Industry, Energy and Emissions Reduction, and we’re also joined by Jason Clare, the Shadow Minister for Housing, Homelessness and Regional Services. Good morning to both of you. Tim, I’ll start with you. Should the Prime Minister have been a bit more clear in his message and not added on that he can understand the plight of the protesters? Did that muddy the message a little bit?
TIM WILSON, MEMBER FOR GOLDSTEIN: The Prime Minister has been crystal-clear in condemning political violence, and I would hope that it’s one of the points that unites Jason and myself – which is we condemn political violence, period. There’s no justification for it. There’s no room for it in Australia. And it actually disrespects democracy. That, of course, does not stop you debating the issues at hand, and nor should it stop you debating the issues at hand. But we condemn it resolutely. But there are many Victorians, particularly, who have gone through the world’s largest, longest lockdown, and people have a diversity of views about the legislation being put through the Victorian Parliament, and they have every right to debate the substance of the laws. And there are many people who do have their concerns. And to try and use the vehicle to shut down that conversation, I think, is inappropriate as well.
HOST: Jason Clare, the Prime Minister did make a very clear distinction between the violent protesters and Australians who may be fed up with the state lockdown laws. Maybe he didn’t take the appropriate breath at the particular sentence and he didn’t make a clear, I suppose, full stop or period between the two sentences, or so. Is Labor then being nit-picky or pedantic when they compare Scott Morrison to President Trump?
JASON CLARE, SHADOW MINISTER FOR HOUSING AND HOMELESSNESS: Fauziah, I think this is pretty simple. You’ve got a group of people marching down the street with a life-sized execution device. You’ve got people threatening to kill the Premier of Victoria. If you’re any sort of leader, you just condemn that, full stop. You don’t go on and then say, “But I understand why people are frustrated.” I think it is legitimate to point out that Scott Morrison has pulled a sheet out of the Trump handbook here. Lie, deny, blame other people, never take responsibility for anything, try and divide the community, pander to the extreme right – this is Trump without the toupee. Seriously, I think the Australian people deserve better than that.
HOST: Tim, wasn’t that the issue, the fact that, yes, the Prime Minister condemned the violence and the violent threats, but there was a “but” in that?
WILSON: I don’t agree with that at all. The fundamental reality is the Prime Minister correctly denounced political violence. I condemn it now. I’m sure Jason condemns it now. And would hope the entire Australian community condemns it now. But we need to also recognise that there is a legitimate issue of public policy that is being debated which is around the pandemic laws. And it is an important law because Victorians have gone through the world’s longest lockdown, and there is a diversity of perspectives. Every day, I get emails into the Goldstein office. I know Jason wouldn’t get those, because he’s not in Victoria, of people frustrated and angry and they want to see this issue properly debated, not being resolved through sneaky back-room deals with upper house MPs who aren’t consulting with the community. And, frankly, the way this bill was passed through the Victorian Parliament is a disgrace. It is a substantial power given to the Premier in the circumstances of public health outbreak. The original version basically didn’t even require a public health outbreak. That is very extreme, an extreme measure that doesn’t have a place in a liberal democracy. Now, there has been changes to the laws. But they still don’t require a lot of measures go to the actual Parliament to justify. And what we’ve had in our state – and I realise that people outside of our state might find difficult sometimes to understand – is the empowerment of bureaucrats over the Parliament, but then have the power to effectively shut down the Parliament, including changing the powers that are gifted to them by the laws.
HOST: But, Tim, it’s not that people can’t agree with the pandemic bill, it’s not that they can’t protest, it’s the mock nooses and gallows and the violent threats.
CLARE: That’s right.
WILSON: There’s no place for political violence in this country. And what, unfortunately, some members of the Labor Party are trying to equate the two, between people having legitimate views on public policy, and then saying, “Anybody who’s involved with that is somehow sanctioning this conduct.” There is no place for gallows in Australian society and political protest. There is no place for threats of violence in Australian society and politics. There is no threat justification or space for threats of family members, made against family members in Australia as a consequence of political violence. There is no ifs or buts there, but you can still address the fundamental issues around legislation. And to equate the two is trying to distract and smear, and that’s exactly the game, of course, that Jason is up to.
HOST: Jason Clare, is that the game that you’re playing?
CLARE: It shows just how extraordinary this has got, that Tim has to say there’s no place in Australian politics for gallows. This shows just what’s happening here at the moment. Yes, you’ve had lockdowns in Victoria, and we’ve had them in Western Sydney as well. No-one likes lockdowns. But 95 pr cent of Aussies have followed the rules, 95 per cent of Aussies have got vaccinated, or will be vaccinated by the time this is over, and those 95 per cent of Australians would be looking at that protest, saying, “This is crazy.” And they’d be saying to the Prime Minister, ‘Don’t associate me with this.’
I’ve got to tell you, back in the 1990s, an Australian politician here in Western Sydney was assassinated, John Newman. He was a friend of mine. So, this is personal for me. This doesn’t just happen in America or in the UK, it’s happened here in Australia as well. And when there’s threats of violence, it can incite violence here. The only way to respond is with strength. You need to be unequivocal. You can’t pander to extreme groups by saying, “I feel your pain. I understand why you’re frustrated.” That’s what happened in America. We don’t want to see that here in Australia.
HOST: Alright. We do want to move on, because we are heading into the final sitting fortnight of Parliament for the year. Tim, what can we expect in the next couple of weeks to see on the introduction of a legislation for a federal anti-corruption commission? Can we expect to see movement on that?
WILSON: Well, as you know, that’s what’s been flagged previously, but this is ultimately a question for the Attorney-General. I’m not the minister responsible for introducing that legislation. But we know that this issue has come up consistently in the Parliament over the past couple of years. It’s one that obviously Australians are mindful of and it’s an important part of making sure we get the legislation right. Because what we’ve had too often is proposals which are designed to establish, kind of, kangaroo courts, and actually would do more to breed distrust in the political conversation. We’ve seen that particularly in the consequence of what’s happening in ICAC in New South Wales. We want a process that’s based around integrity, that’s been consulted with the Australian community, and is actually going to do the job we need it to do, which is actually to breed trust and strength in the political system, not simply to create show trials, as I’ve seen it many times. The Labor Party has referred Members of Parliament off to the Australian Federal Police, investigations go nowhere, but they get the headline, and they actually actively breed distrust in our political process for partisan political gain.
HOST: Tim, is it the process that’s breeding distrust or the actions of leaders?
WILSON: It’s the deliberate attempt to weaponize our institutions for partisan political gain as particularly the Labor Party has done, where they refer people to the Australian Federal Police, the investigations go nowhere, they get the headline which says that they’ve been referred to the Federal Police, but they never get – no member of parliament then gets the clearance where there’s the article that says, “It went nowhere,” which is what happened. And what we want to stop doing is having institutions that weaponize and breed distrust in the political process for purely partisan political gain, particularly by the Labor Party and, of course, the chief and most frequent culprit of that is the Opposition Shadow Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus, who literally uses referral to the AFP like a kind of dodgy doctor notepad for scripts, and sends them off willy-nilly every five minutes, because he thinks that’s the job of the Federal Police.
HOST: Labor has rejected the first draft of this bill, demanding that it be tougher. Where do you walk that line? How do you walk that line to ensure that justice is served but at the same time the legal system is not, as Tim said, weaponised against political enemies?
CLARE: It just shows how pathetic and hopeless this Government is, that all it’s got left now is to blame the Labor Party for this. They promised this legislation, Fauziah, three years ago, and we still haven’t seen anything. They haven’t been able to produce any legislation. I doubt we’ll even see anything in the Parliament this week. We want to see legislation with teeth. I think the Australian people want it as well. Any idea that there’s no corruption in Canberra, I think, is a fairytale. We’ve seen evidence of that in the past, and the Australian people expect that, if there are anti-corruption bodies fighting corruption at the state level, there should be at the national level as well. When governments want to act quickly, they can. We’ve seen that in the last 18 months. There’s no good excuse for why this Government is still waiting after three years to introduce a corruption body. It’s now four years since they promised to introduce a religious freedom bill – they still haven’t done that. Parliament goes back on Monday; we’re supposed to elect a new Speaker. Tony Smith is standing down. The Liberal Party still haven’t worked out who they’re going to have to replace him. And up in the Senate, you’ve got two government senators who are effectively on strike, refusing to vote for any Government legislation. You see this Government slowly rotting and falling apart. If your dog was this crook, you’d have to put it down. And after almost a decade in power, this Government doesn’t deserve another three years.
HOST: I want to move on to that issue of the religious freedom bill, Tim Wilson, and that is expected to be introduced in the next week or so. Now, this bill had its origins in the marriage equality vote about four years ago, and the successful vote allowed you and your partner to marry the next year. The reason this bill has been languishing for this long is because there is a stand-off between conservatives who want religious freedom and those who want equality on issues of gender and equality. In my view, it looks like there is no winners when it comes to this particular bill. Is there a middle ground now that we’ve had the same-sex marriage vote over and done with? Can there be a middle ground to come to some sort of consensus over this religious freedom bill? Tim Wilson?
WILSON: Well, firstly, language is very important in this discussion. Firstly, my, as you call him, “partner”, isn’t my partner. We won the right to call him my husband, and we got married. Secondly, we didn’t propose a religious freedom bill. We proposed a religious discrimination Act. Currently, you have an age, race, sex and disability discrimination commission Act. We don’t have one on the basis of religion, which is what exists in state law. It’s simple propositions, like that people can’t be discriminated against based on their religion when they seek to go and secure housing, they can’t be discriminated against in the workplace simply because they’re a person of faith, or the absence of faith. So, that is the foundational bill that is being proposed to the Parliament. Now, there are always, in anti-discrimination laws, tricky, grey areas about how to get the balance right to respect the rights and freedoms of everyone. And that’s the approach the Attorney-General has taken in developing this latest installation of the bill. There have been two previous exposure drafts to get feedback, like with the anti-corruption body, so that we get feedback so that we get it right. And that’s the approach we’re seeking to take when we introduce this bill into the Parliament. The real question is whether, if we get the balance right, the Labor Party is going to vote for it, because they’re conflicted between their kind of extreme-left progressive end and, of course, people, particularly in western marginal Labor seats in Western Sydney, where they have very strong religious communities who want Labor to back this bill but don’t have the numbers.
HOST: Jason, I understand Labor doesn’t know all the details at this stage. But how will you find that balance, given that, as Tim said, it’s deeply felt on both sides?
CLARE: I think that’s right, but the second part of Tim’s answer is what is offensive, and it just points to what the Government is all about. People’s faith is a deeply personal thing. People’s faith shouldn’t become a political battleground. We want to work constructively with the Government on this, but we haven’t seen the details. Hopefully, after four years, we will finally see some of that this week.
HOST: We have to leave it there. Jason Clare and Tim Wilson, thanks for your time this morning.
CLARE: Thank you.