Television Interview with Farziah Ibrahim and Joanne Nicholson – ABC Weekend Breakfast – Saturday 12 February 2022


SUBJECT/S: Religious Discrimination Bill; Neighbours.

FAUZIAH IBRAHIM, HOST: Now to unpack a very complicated week of politics and to do just that we’re joined in the studio by Labor MP Jason Clare and Liberal MP Jason Falinski. Thanks to you both. Good to have you in the studio.

JASON FALINSKI MP: I feel like we should be cracking a bottle of champagne. But that’d be a waste of champagne, I agree with you.

HOST: After the segment.


HOST: Let’s start with the religious discrimination bill, which was a huge discussion all of this week, of course. Jason Falinkski, you know, this bill was promised in 2019, as was the federal integrity commission as well. The next election is right around the corner. Neither have been delivered as yet. Why not? Are promises being broken here?

FALINSKI: Well, yes, promises are being broken, not for want of trying. We’ve made a good faith effort to get it done. Jason and I were awake on Thursday morning at 5:05 in the morning. It was a very difficult bill. I mean, they say, if you love sausages and laws, you don’t want to see either getting made. And I think that there were a lot of people with very good intentions. And I regret that the Parliament couldn’t come to a conclusion on this because now the situation we have is we still have people who on the basis of their gender identity or sexuality are not protected under law in religious institutions. We don’t have protection for people of belief and this is something that the Parliament is now going to have to revisit in its next term.

JOHANNA NICHOLSON, HOST: Jason Clare, is Jason Falinkski right on that, that there is a void now?

CLARE: It’s a pity that we weren’t able to come together as a Parliament and pass legislation here. I represent a community where there are a lot of people of faith, a lot of people who are discriminated against because of their faith. Ask any Muslim woman who wears a veil and they’ll tell you horrific stories of discrimination. So yes, there is a need for laws like this. We have laws like this in almost every state in the country at the moment, many of them introduced by Labor governments when all of us were at primary school. But it is right that there’s a role for federal legislation here to accompany those state laws, just like we have with laws to make it unlawful to discriminate against someone based on their sex or their gender. I think the problem here was that the Prime Minister tried to wedge the Labor Party, ended up wedging himself. He promised bipartisanship. He should have sat down not just with the moderate members of the Liberal party like Jason, but also the Opposition. He said that he would amend the legislation to address this issue of gender identity. The amendment didn’t do that. And hence, you had five members of the government cross the floor. Now to put that in perspective, that’s the biggest number of government members to cross the floor since 1982. Back in the dying days of the Fraser government. And now that division is metastasizing. The front pages of the papers today, The Age and The Australian, show war breaking out in the Liberal Party. They’re accusing these people of betraying the Prime Minister, of misleading the Prime Minister. The old saying is true, division is death in politics, and you’re starting to see the government just focusing on itself and fighting amongst itself. Australians are sick of that.

HOST: Jason Falinski, some of your colleagues have said that the Prime Minister was misled here. Do you believe that?

FALINSKI: I don’t think the Prime Minister or anyone in the executive was under any illusions, or any, you know, was under any sort of, they didn’t know that those five members and a number of other people as well were concerned about the issues that Jason Clare was just talking about then. We thought, or they thought, they had a resolution to those issues that couldn’t have come to an agreement with Bridget Archer. Trent Zimmerman had indicated that there were three issues that he felt he couldn’t vote for in good conscience. The Liberal Party has always allowed people to vote on their conscience if there was an issue. In the end, these things going down to very technical matters because we were amending the Sex Discrimination Act Section 38, which was the Mark Dreyfus inspired section around sexuality to remove that as an exemption. The question was around gender identity. The Labor Party and those five members and the crossbench wanted that exemption removed immediately. The Government felt that there needed to be a process through the Australian Law Reform Commission over six months to come up with a form of words that created a sphere of protection for people who are transitioning, that allowed that to be done in a sensible fashion. These are really difficult issues. There is no right or wrong here. People were working in good faith to try deliver a process that expanded tolerance, diminished discrimination and created more protection for all Australians.

HOST: The general view is that the Prime Minister did not handle this bill very well at all. And he’s not had a very good week at all. You know, we’ve had texts that have been leaked, we’ve got Cabinet reports that have been leaked as well. Is there an internal agenda against the Prime Minister at them at this moment? His leadership has been undermined just before an election.

FALINSKI: Absolutely not is the answer to that question. I just want to put that to bed. There is no one in the Liberal Party undermining the Prime Minister.

HOST: But there are, there are messages leaked out of out of cabinet?

FALINSKI: Well I can deal with those. But Fauziah, to your question about people saying he didn’t’ can handle this. Well, I think the Prime Minister deserves credit because this has been a third rail of Australian politics for about 12 years. This promise was made around about 2018 with a marriage equality debate and people have been putting this off and off and off, and he had the courage to actually bring it to the floor of Parliament to deal with people across the aisle, within the party, and deal with a lot of very complicated stakeholder issues. I don’t think that any leader, whether there be Liberal, Labor, whoever, should actually be criticized for doing that. In fact, that’s what we need more of in this country. People who are willing not to put difficult issues off, but actually take difficult issues on, head on. That’s what, you know, John F. Kennedy called the profile of courage and leadership. That’s what we saw this week. It didn’t work. Yes, he may have been bruised and battered through that whole process. But I would encourage the Prime Minister, I would encourage any leader, if Anthony Albanese had done it, to keep going. This is what this country needs more of. In terms of the undermining of leadership, look, there are some text messages, which frankly, were revealed by a journalist and no one believes that what he’s saying in terms of the source. No one in the Liberal Party believes that and then we have Bob Carr, starting the week with a tweet that he couldn’t justify. And we’ve ended the week with, you know, the person who said they’ve got text messages saying he’s been leaked a message out of Federal Cabinet. But all I can tell you, within the Liberal Party, we are focused on one thing, one thing only, and that is the business of the people of Australia.

HOST: From Labor’s perspective, Jason Clare, if you do win the next election, this legislation has now been put on hold likely till after the next election. How is Labor going to balance keeping both sides of this debate on side?

CLARE: I think it’s pretty simple. You can protect people from being discriminated against based on their religion without hurting other people. That was, in a sense, the fundamental flaw in this legislation. It was designed to protect people from being discriminated against based on their faith, but it undermined existing laws designed to protect other Australians. You can do both. Law at its best here is designed to provide a shield for people to protect them from being discriminated against, not a sword. And to Jason’s point here, the Prime Minister stuffed this up. He should have approached the Labor Party and said, ‘you’ve got some amendments here, I promised bipartisanship, let’s sit down and work things through’. Instead, he said, ‘It’s my way or the highway’. It forced a vote in the Parliament, and he got a mutiny, where five people crossed the floor. Late in the morning, as these votes were taking place, I opened the door of my office, the Prime Minister was walking past my office with Bob Katter trying to make sure that Bob Katter was awake and coming to the vote when instead he should have been focused on members of his own team who didn’t agree with him. He didn’t know that was going to happen. If he’d sat down with us and worked together to fix a problem that he promised to fix, there would never have been a vote and you wouldn’t have seen this division. Instead, it’s happened and now the division inside the government is getting worse.

HOST: Perhaps this division can be plastered over if we start talking about Neighbours, a cultural icon and we warned you we were going to ask you about Neighbours as well. There’s a possibility Neighbours may be axed in the UK and we may not have it.

FALINSKI: It’s a tragedy.

HOST: It is, isn’t it? It’s terrible. Jason Falinski, do you have a favourite Neighbours moment or character?

FALINSKI: Look, I want to be very clear. Home and Away is filmed in the electorate that (inaudible) so that is my favourite series. But on that basis, I think the reason the British are doing this is because the wedding of Scott to Charlene overshadowed all the royal weddings and it is the British revenge on Australian drama. Wouldn’t you agree, Jason?

HOST: Jason Clare?

CLARE: Still picking on the Poms, what’s going on?

FALINSKI: I’ll tell you what, they’re got something to answer for here. How dare they do this?

HOST: Are you a Neighbours fan, Jason Clare?

CLARE: I was a big Neighbours fan. I’ve got distant memories of my brother and I jumping up and down on my parents bed watching Neighbours as a kid. I think I modelled my first mullet on Guy Pearce.

HOST: We need photos of that.

FALINSKI: I think we have tomorrow’s front page.

CLARE: Another distraction. I want give a quick shout out to Mrs. Mangle. Okay, we all talk about Kylie. We all talk about Jason. We’re all fans of Jason.

FALINSKI: Indeed we are.

CLARE: But Mrs. Mangle, right, the local neighbourhood busybody, Vivian Gray was the woman who played Mrs Mangle, did it for two years, but she copped it in the streets. People thought that she was Mrs. Mangle. She quit the show and moved from Australia back to England. So, a quick shout out for Mrs. Mangle.

HOST: Jason Clare and Jason Falinkski, thanks very much.