Transcript of Interview, Sky News AM Agenda with Keiran Gilbert

Interview

BPC020/2014

26 March 2014

Kieran Gilbert: This morning we're going to start with the government's draft changes to the Racial Discrimination Act, and I'll be discussing that shortly with Jamie Briggs and Richard Marles.

First though, the Prime Minister Tony Abbott was on the Nine Network's Today show.

[Excerpt]

Tony Abbott: The laws that we are proposing do actually make racial vilification an offence, in fact in many respects they're stronger than the laws that they will replace. But what we are going to do is ensure that you've got strong [audio skip] against racial vilification, but strong protections of the right of free speech.

[End of excerpt]

Kieran Gilbert: And as I mentioned, with me on the program this morning the Shadow Immigration Minister Richard Marles, and the Assistant Infrastructure Minister Jamie Briggs. Gentlemen, welcome. First of all, Jamie Briggs, to you on the reaction to this…I know it's a draft and, you know, it's out there for discussion, but if I just look at one response, the Australian/Israel Jewish Advisory Council's Colin Rubenstein says that he believes that it's gone too far, that it threatens the rights of citizens to go about their lives with dignity and free from racial harassment.

Jamie Briggs: Colin's a good person, and his feedback will be vitally important, as the rest of the Australian community's feedback will be in the next 30 days as we seek to get the balance right in this clause. And I think it's a real credit to George Brandis, the way he's gone about consulting with the community, and it's of course in vast contrast with the behaviour of the previous government, where they just inflicted change on people—the mining tax, classic example, where they put a tax in place which doesn't raise any revenue, has massive spending against it, and of course is damaging our mining industry without consultation with the community.

Kieran Gilbert: Let's stick to the Racial Discrimination Act.

Jamie Briggs: Well that's the point though, and what we've done here is we made a commitment before the election to look at the current section, to address the problems that we see that are there with it, and to try and improve it. And now what we've done is drafted something, going to the community to consult with them, and look I welcome very much the Labor Party's new found commitment to stop playing games on these issues.

And I know Richard's about to apologise for the brochure that was put out in the South Australian election about Carolyn Habib, a candidate with a Lebanese last name which was used in the most disgusting way that even some Labor members publicly [indistinct], privately many of them have expressed grave concern about. And also I'm sure Richard's about to say the union movement should stop playing the dog whistle with 457 workers. Now, if we can move on from that sort of behavior, that would be terrific.

Kieran Gilbert: Richard Marles, the point that Jamie Briggs makes about consultation, this is something- an exposure draft of the legislation, and the Prime Minister was very keen to highlight that yesterday.

Richard Marles: Well they've come to consultation kicking and screaming. That's the truth of it. And they have yet to articulate exactly what was wrong with the Racial Discrimination Act as it stood. I mean it is right that we should have laws in this country that prevent racial vilification, which incite hatred, and on occasions, violence. People should be able to feel that they can go about their lives in safety no matter what their background, and racial vilification ought to have no place within our society. So it's right that we have laws about it.

And, you know, these were laws which banned the most extreme kind of behaviour. There were not many prosecutions under it as it existed, so it's not obvious to anybody why there is a need to water it down, and what public policy objective is being sought by watering it down. But this is ideological bent on the part of the government. I think in truth they have a particular case in mind—and it's always dangerous to legislate across the whole country because of one incident, but that's what they've got in mind. And they are only consulting now because we dragged them to it.

Kieran Gilbert: Well Jamie Briggs there's one—you can respond to…Richard, I also want to point to clause four in the draft exposure, which seems to be a catch-all, and I suppose this is something that the attorney's been asked about. But doesn't it diminish the rest of the measures when you say in section four: this section does not apply to words, sounds, images, or writing spoken, broadcast, published or otherwise communicated in the course of participating in the public discussion of any political, social, cultural, religious, artistic, academic or scientific matter.

It's hard to think that David Erving, the Holocaust denier would be caught up in this when you've got that catch-all.

Jamie Briggs: That is why we're consulting. And I know it's a…it's an unusual concept for the Labor Party, for a government to go through a proper process of talking to the community before inflicting bad policy, and if there are improvements that you can make to what has been released, then the Attorney-General has indicated we'll make them.

Richard Marles: But are you saying that would be an improvement, to get rid of that provision that Kieran just described?

I'm not the Attorney-General, Richard, and I appreciate your faith in me, but this is something the Attorney-General is consulting with the Australian public about. We said before the election—and again, I know promises prior to the election and keeping them afterwards is a foreign concept…

Richard Marles: Well we'll get to that in a moment.

Jamie Briggs: And it's taking some time for you to work it out, I know. But that's what we said we'd do, and we do think that there was a problem with the previous legislation.

Richard Marles: And what was that problem? That's the thing that everyone is scratching their head about.

Jamie Briggs: Well that was the issue that we said before the election we thought there was an issue, and it related to-

Richard Marles: [Interrupts] But what was it?

Jamie Briggs: Well there were issues in relation to Andrew Bolt's case-

Richard Marles: [Interrupts] So it's about Andrew Bolt?

Jamie Briggs: No, the issues raised within that case caused concern. The Attorney-General indicated before the election we would, if elected, look at that, and we've done that. We're now consulting with the general community and if there are improvements that can be made this government will listen, and make them.

Richard Marles: So what we've got is the Andrew Bolt legislation. I mean that's essentially what Jamie's just said. And it's what I said before: it's a mistake-

Jamie Briggs: Welcome to the modern Labor Party. You can't have a debate, you just have to-

Richard Marles: [Interrupts] Well it's a mistake. No no, it's just- it's a mistake on the basis of one case, one incident, to now put in place legislation or change legislation which will apply to everybody. And I think that is the problem here. There hasn't been any proper articulation of what was the public policy wrong which needed to be solved here. And that's why I think everyone is scratching their heads. And it's fine to go out and consult.

Jamie Briggs: Scratching their heads…?

Richard Marles: It's great that the Libs are now doing that. Fact of the matter is they weren't going to until we raised this and made this an issue, as we've done from day one.

Jamie Briggs: Well Richard he's right, he has switched sides and he sat in our party room yesterday and we welcome Richard coming over and sitting in our party room [indistinct].

Kieran Gilbert: Are your colleagues relaxed about it though?

Richard Marles: How could they be [indistinct]?

Kieran Gilbert: Because I've spoken to a number who have issues with it, are they comfortable with this now?

Jamie Briggs: Gee oh my gosh, there's a debate within a political party about a policy issue. I know, again, this parliament has become so obsessed in the last five years about who's knifing who, and who is Bill Shorten doing the job on this time. This is a policy issue which people are having a debate about. I know it's unusual, I know people are struggling with the concept, but stick with us, it's a good thing.

Richard Marles: We're just struggling with the substance.

Jamie Briggs: I know you're struggling with the substance mate. I know you're struggling with substance.

Richard Marles: No one has been able to articulate what was the problem. That's the issue. And I know that you're doing an admirable job in talking about everything else other than this, and we've gone from mining tax to, you know, Labor Party history.

Jamie Briggs: Well it's a good point, I'm glad you raised mining tax. I'm glad you've raised it.

Richard Marles: But in terms of this issue, fundamental thing is: what was wrong in the first place? Just can't work it out.

Jamie Briggs: It was an issue, as we said, we took to the election because we [indistinct].

Kieran Gilbert: [Interrupts] Did Sir George Brandis over step the mark when he said people have a right to be a bigot [indistinct]? Is that the sort of language you should use?

Jamie Briggs: The point that the Attorney-General was making is a very simple one: you cannot stop, you cannot prevent, through legislation, improper behaviour, improper words being used in debate. When you live in a free society you have to, unfortunately, at times, counter bigoted arguments with facts. We are trying to counter the bigoted argument from the union movement on 457s all the time, with facts.

Kieran Gilbert: And there was-

Jamie Briggs: We are trying to counter-

Kieran Gilbert: [Interrupts] Well let's bring in Richard on that, because there was a famous person who espoused quite a few bigoted points in this very place not so long ago—Pauline Hanson. And she did it on the floor of the parliament.

Richard Marles: Well I think in terms of improper behaviour Jamie is right, the legislation won't stop improper behaviour. But if we are now getting to a point where we are saying that we ought not to have laws which prohibit improper behaviour, whatever that behaviour is.

Jamie Briggs: I'm not saying that.

Richard Marles: Well that's what you-

Jamie Briggs: No it's not.

Richard Marles: Well if you're not saying that, then it is appropriate to have laws which prevent improper behaviour, that doesn't mean that people won't behaviour improperly but it does mean that they are then contrary to the law. I think to go out there, as George Brandis did, and say that people have a right to be bigots, is an appalling statement, a very awkward statement, from our Attorney-General. I mean obviously he's trying to say something about freedom of speech, but it is exactly why the repeal of Section 18(c) is not in that space. 18(c) is not about freedom of speech, it's about racial vilification and making people's lives a misery.

Kieran Gilbert: Let's move on to the economic debate now, and I will have more on this one with Colin Rubenstein from the Jewish Council and also representatives from the institute of public affairs—that's after nine o'clock. But on the economic debate Joe Hockey's message, warning of a time bomb in previous Labor spending, $27 billion in the out year—has Labor left the Coalition with a little nasty surprise?

Richard Marles: Labor left this government with a AAA credit rating from all the international credit rating agencies. Now that's not something that John Howard left the Rudd Government in 2007.

Jamie Briggs: Now you're attacking John Howard's economic record.

Richard Marles: No I'm not, I'm just saying it's actually the fact. What Labor did in terms of our economy was see a million jobs added during the global economic crisis where every other developed economy was shedding jobs. We saw our economy grow through the global economic crisis, where every other economy, bar Korea's, shrunk. So that's what we did. And that's the economy we left to this government.

What we have seen since they have come to power is a desperate attempt to deficit pad, a desperate attempt to create this faux-crisis, which just simply does not exist. You know, and you saw the near $9 billion shift of money to the Reserve Bank with the stroke of a pen, adding that amount onto the deficit. All of that deficit padding so that they can make these arguments.

But it goes back to what Jamie said before, saying one thing prior to an election and another thing after. Before the election, we saw the Coalition absolutely [audio skip] to all of Labor's spending on education, to the National Disability Insurance Scheme. This is about softening the ground so that they can attack both of those areas, and others.

Kieran Gilbert: Okay, let's hear Jamie's response.

Jamie Briggs: The point that the Treasurer makes is exactly right. We budget over four years in the Federal Government, and Richard knows this well, and what the Labor Party are trying to claim are spends outside those four years. So, you know, you hear Jenny Macklin and other Labor Party luminaries who were part of that successful Labor Government that we've just had that was so successful the Australian people expressed its view on September last year—they can't yet deal with that. But they keep telling us that the NDIS is fully funded. Well, it's not fully funded because you're not actually at the year where you need to fund it yet. The point the Treasurer made yesterday is that's this year. That's this year.

So there is a whole bunch of spending, it's the same with the Gonski, the so-called Gonski review- reforms—where all of the spending was in the fifth and sixth year on the Commonwealth books. Now, if the Labor Party can't recognise that it is little wonder that Wayne Swan promised a surplus over 300 times and Chris Bowen in fact said he delivered one. I mean, they're so unfamiliar with the concept of surpluses that they promise them before they deliver them, and now they want to talk about them again. I mean, it is embarrassing for them.

Kieran Gilbert: What about [indistinct].

Richard Marles: [Indistinct].

Jamie Briggs: Chris Bowen's display yesterday just shows how inexperienced he is, and would be such a risk if he was ever to be part of a, a senior part of a government.

Kieran Gilbert: Richard I'll come back to you just briefly, but I just want to ask Jamie quickly, we've got to wrap it up on this issue.

On the Parliamentary Budget Office analysis that- released by Labor? Your thoughts on that given it's saying that on the pre-election parameters, you'd be in surplus in five years?

Jamie Briggs: The Labor Party are voting against their own saving measures in the Parliament. So their own pre-election commitments, they're now voting against in the Parliament.

Kieran Gilbert: Yep. Richard?

Richard Marles: Jamie made an important contribution before and he and I are in agreement, because what this is all about is the NDIS, and it is Gonski [audio skip] what it's about. And this is about softening the ground so that the-

Jamie Briggs: That's just complete rubbish.

Richard Marles: So that the Coalition-

Jamie Briggs: It's complete rubbish.

Richard Marles: Has said before the election they were committing to both of those things.

Jamie Briggs: We never said the fifth and sixth year of Gonski. No we did not.

Richard Marles: Well you signed-

Jamie Briggs: You don't commit to five and six years Richard.

Richard Marles: You signed up to Gonski, you signed up to the NDIS, and you're about to walk away from it, and that's what this is all about.

Kieran Gilbert: Alright.

Jamie Briggs: Just shows you how they can't manage the budget if they don't even understand how many years you budget over.

Kieran Gilbert: And we're going to go to a break. Back in just a moment. Stay with us.

Kieran Gilbert: So back to Richard Marles and Jamie Briggs.

Richard, on these dames and knighthoods, your colleague Graham Perrett says it's a retrograde step. What you're view?

Richard Marles: I've got absolutely no idea what this government is doing. I mean, it's a profound waste of time. Here we are in the Parliament at the moment looking at taking money off the orphans of war veterans, we have jobs being shed throughout our economy, we're yet to see a government minister come down to Geelong and speak to Alcoa workers in the light of the decision that has been made there, but this government has got the time and the energy to focus on restoring dames and knighthoods. It's unbelievable.

I mean, they're going to have us wearing wigs, Jamie. Seriously, I expect fully when we come back to Parliament again there's going to be a moat around the place. Like, what is going on? And can I ask one other thing? Was there debate about this in the party room?

Jamie Briggs: Well, if we want to get into what goes on in party rooms and caucuses, I'd be very interested to get some information out of yours as well.

Richard Marles: We can share that later.

Jamie Briggs: Look, it's a small add on to an existing awards processes and I think Quentin Bryce has absolutely appropriately awarded this—she has done, I think, Australians very proud, she's done women very proud, and I'm surprised that the Labor Party's not more welcoming of this honour for Quentin Bryce and also for General Peter Cosgrove.

But can I just talk about going back in time, because Twitter, as Phil Coorey put it so beautifully this morning, is in defcon one this morning melting down since yesterday afternoon, and so is the Labor Party and all this feigned outrage about this. We're talking about going back in time. Sam Dastyari, new Senator, of course, wanted the sort of faceless men of note from New South Wales was yesterday trying to make a hilarious speech in the Senate—attempting to, at least—about this matter and going on about going back in time.

Well, I think Senator Dastyari would really like to go back in time after today's news. He'd like to go back in time to 2010 and have that conversation with senior HSU officials again when they told him Craig Thomson's ripping your union—ripping the union off. He's taking money from the union. All the accusations are true. He should not be preselected again. I tell you what, that would have prevented a whole lot of embarrassment for Richard and his colleagues and [indistinct]…

Richard Marles: [Interrupts] But you asked the questions about dames and knights and Jamie got us to Craig Thomson, so that's an impressive effort. But this is a remarkable decision by this government. Can I just say it's not a reflection on Quentin Bryce—far from it. She is a class act.

Kieran Gilbert: It's hard to begrudge her.

Richard Marles: She is a class act. I had the…

Jamie Briggs: And General Cosgrove?

Richard Marles: Absolutely. General Cosgrove I'm sure will do a fantastic job. But I just want to say I…

Jamie Briggs: But this is such a bad decision then, is it?

Richard Marles: This is a ridiculous decision, but it is right to celebrate Quentin Bryce today and the contribution she's made to Australia. I had the honour of travelling with her around the Pacific and seeing her represent our country with dignity, but also in such a down to earth way. It was fantastic.

Kieran Gilbert: She's been brilliant, no doubt about it. Absolutely brilliant.

Richard Marles: [Indistinct]

Kieran Gilbert: And I have no doubt that Peter Cosgrove will make a great contribution. Well, he already has, but anyway. We've got a minute left and I know it's a very serious matter this, about the knights and the dames, but I know you've got two dogs, haven't you, Gary and Ablett.

Richard Marles: I do.

Kieran Gilbert: You'd be lobbying…

Jamie Briggs: What about Gold and Coast?

Kieran Gilbert: This was discussed on another program earlier in the week on another channel.

Richard Marles: It was a difficult moment for Gary and Ablett when Gary Ablett moved to the Gold Coast, which is actually an existential moment, but…

Kieran Gilbert: You'd be thinking a knighthood.

Richard Marles: Well, maybe.

Kieran Gilbert: [Indistinct]

Richard Marles: Possibly. I'm thinking Dame Kath, Dame Kim. How about that? [Indistinct]…

Kieran Gilbert: Any thoughts?

Jamie Briggs: Well, look, I know—I've seen the draft list and I can't confirm David Spears is on it.

Kieran Gilbert: With a wig.

Jamie Briggs: It's not Dame David Spears either, so don't run that line against him.

Kieran Gilbert: Well, we've got an exclusive. Thank you for that. Appreciate it. Just tweet that.