Sky News Live To the Point



19 January 2016

Topics: Islamic State, NSW pre-selections

Paul Fletcher: Good afternoon Kristina and Peter.

Peter Van Onselen: G'day.

Kristina Keneally: Look, let's start with the Prime Minister's speech overnight in Washington, DC. He says that unilateral- excuse me, he said that … he made some comments about Islam, particularly about—they were in stark contrast to those of his predecessor Tony Abbott. You know, he made very clear that we should not be so delicate to say that Islam … the Islamic State has nothing to do with Islam, but neither should we tag all Muslims with the responsibility for the crimes of a tiny terrorist organisation. What effect do you think the PM's language will have on Muslims in Australia as we continue this fight against Islamic State?

Paul Fletcher: Well, I think it's a careful and accurate analysis. I hope that it will be seen by all Australians—Muslim Australians and all Australians—as a sensible piece of analysis. Clearly, as the PM said, there is a nexus between Islamic State and Islam, but at the same time the overwhelming majority of people of Islamic faith are not supporters of IS—indeed violently, or very strongly opposed, and we've seen that in some of the reaction in Indonesia, for example, in recent days. So I think it's important to have a careful and measured analysis, and to have that underpin the strategy that we as a nation are following in responding to this threat, working with other nations around the world.

Peter Van Onselen: Paul Fletcher, is it your view that it is reasonable for some of the internal eruptions that we've seen from the likes of Kevin Andrews arguing for boots on the ground—I guess he's a backbencher now, he's free to say and express opinions that are different to the frontbench opinions—or do you think that there's a little bit of gamesmanship going on here from a bitter and twisted ex-minister who got unceremoniously dumped from the Defence portfolio after pleading for his life in the lead-up to the reshuffle?

Paul Fletcher: Well, Kevin is a respected and valued colleague, and obviously somebody with a lot of frontbench experience, including as Minister for Defence. As you rightly point out, as a backbencher he's entirely free to exercise and to express his views on a whole range of subjects, and certainly I think it's no bad thing that we have, in the public policy debate in Australia, lots of perspectives being brought forward. And I think in a democracy that's no bad thing at all.

Kristina Keneally: Well one of the perspectives that has been brought forward, as we alluded to in our opening conversation was Julie Bishop last year saying that ISIS, or Daesh as she calls them, represents an existential threat, in fact the greatest existential threat to Australia since the Second World War. But the Prime Minister is playing that down, Barrack Obama is playing that down; what is your view?

Paul Fletcher: Clearly a terrorist organisation of this kind presents a very substantial and real threat. That is why the Australian Government is working with the US Government and other governments to respond to that threat. That's why we've got defence personnel and resources in the Middle East. So it's a very significant threat. Of course it's the nature of government that you deal with a whole range of threats, and of course what you also need to do is manage the economic challenges, stimulate economic growth, so the physical security of the Australian people, the economic security of the Australian people. These are the many challenges that governments deal with, and we need to be alive to the threats we face and to have a strategy to deal with them when we do.

Kristina Keneally: But we need to be- sorry, go ahead Peter.

Peter Van Onselen: No, I was just going to say, I'm keen to sort of deep dive into this idea though about whether you think that it was a legitimate comment from Julie Bishop that it is the greatest existential threat to Australian since World War II, and if you agree with that, what do you think of Malcolm Turnbull's comments that we need to be careful not to overstate the threat and the power and the strength of Islamic State?

Paul Fletcher: Look, I'm not going to get into the subtleties of particular gradations or analyses…

Peter Van Onselen: Do you really think it's subtle? I think they're pretty black and white.

Paul Fletcher: The careful parsing of words, I'll leave that to commentators. The Turnbull Government is focused on the issues that face Australia. Issues like seizing economic opportunity, and certainly in my portfolio responsibilities. I'm focused on infrastructure. We have a need for improved infrastructure around the country; we have a need for strategies to deal with congestion in our major cities. We're backing major projects like WestConnex in Sydney, like the South Road, the Southern Expressway in Adelaide, and all around the country, these are the projects that I'm working on as Minister for Major Projects with state counterparts to deliver better outcomes to citizens, and that's what I think the Australian people expect us to get on and do.

Kristina Keneally: Oh Paul Fletcher, it is why you are one of the Government's best performers. You take a question about the Islamic State and turn it into a discussion on congestion and major projects, [indistinct] …

Peter Van Onselen: [Talks over] I've got- Kristina Keneally, my question's to you here, my question's to you. Why does that make him one of the best performers? I'll—why are you rewarding this kind of on-message dialogue rather than really answering the question?

Kristina Keneally: Ah look, it's—I just thought that pivot was beautiful, I mean a basketball player couldn't pivot that neatly, I mean my gosh. You've got to give him credit for that, it was well executed. Let's—look, before we run out of time, Peter, I think both of us are very keen to hear Paul Fletcher's views on the Liberal Party pre-selections in New South Wales. They opened up today for the Senate and Government-held seats; I'm pretty sure we can assume you, Paul Fletcher, are going to declare your candidacy for the seat of Bradfield.

Paul Fletcher: I can share that with you now.

Kristina Keneally: [Laughs] Exclusive here on Sky News.

Paul Fletcher: I am a candidate in the electorate of Bradfield. I will be seeking Liberal pre-selection …

Peter Van Onselen: [Talks over] See, if you'd backed Tony Abbott though, if you'd backed Tony Abbott … well if you'd backed Tony Abbott you might be under threat. I mean, you might be an Angus Taylor or a Craig Kelly or someone as unfortunate as that. Lucky for you, backed the right horse; you're not being challenged by the moderates.

Paul Fletcher: Look, I think the key point is Liberal members of Parliament are there because we'd been pre-selected by members of the party. Every election, every three years we need to submit ourselves to our party organisation to again contest pre-selection, to seat pre-selection. Now that's how the system works, it's how the system should work. This is not a job for life, and as a party we operate according to these principles. Now the Turnbull Government has a capable collection of parliamentarians in New South Wales—as indeed we do all around Australia—and I'm expecting that we will go through the pre-selection season as we see in the lead-up to every election, and it will be for the pre-selectors to make their judgement.

Kristina Keneally: Well let me ask about that, because Peter Hendy did say this morning on Sky Newsthat you can't have a situation where you can never challenge an incumbent, but yet there seems to be some suggestion that some of these incumbents—say Philip Ruddock—can't be challenged in their seat, even if they've lost the numbers. I mean, do we need to have some type of special protection for people like that, or are you quite comfortable with city members being challenged by incumbents?

Paul Fletcher: Well, look what I support is the democratic process within the Liberal Party, it's a democratic process that I'm exposed to, it's the democratic process that every parliamentarian in the Liberal Party is exposed to. That's a good competitive discipline on all of us. We value competition as a principle in the economy; it's a key principle in the way that an effective political party works as well. But can I say I am proud of the quality of Liberal parliamentarians. I think the diversity of background amongst Liberal parliamentarians.

I thought Peter, you were a little bit unfair in your comments yesterday, perhaps I would say that but I think if you look at the range of people who have come into the Liberal party room over the past few years, we've had a diverse range of people from all walks of life, I can think of someone like Ken Wyatt who's the first Indigenous MP in the Lower House, a former eminent bureaucrat, senior official in New South Wales in Western Australia, Sarah Henderson, a former journalist, a former lawyer, the Member for Corangamite, Craig Laundy, a man from a strong business background, my good friend Alan Tudge, a Harvard MBA, former management consultant and then deputy director of Noel Pearson's Cape York Institute. In other words, the diversity of people that we have around the country and in New South Wales on the Liberals side of politics, Liberal/National side of politics is a real strength to us.

Peter Van Onselen: Well, Paul Fletcher, don't let me interrupt your flow there, you did get up to five and there are only 90 Liberals and Nationals in the Lower House plus all that swathe of senators bring in the numbers well in excess of 120. So you've got five out of 120, keep going, there must be lots more that don't- and by the way two of those names you mentioned were ex-staffers.

Paul Fletcher: There's a diversity of background. I think it's good to have a diversity of background. I think that's no bad thing with having people who have had some experience in the political process but I also think it's also important who have had experience of other areas of activity and why is it important, it's so that as a government, we can reflect the diversity of modern Australia and be alive to the issues that are of concerns to Australians, issues like a tax structure and whether the tax structure we have is one that best stimulates growth and employment and that of course is an issue that we're working on very closely and Treasurer Morrison is leading the work on that.

Kristina Keneally: Been working on that for a while but let me ask you if the democratic process is followed, it's possible or quite likely that Bronwyn Bishop will get reindorsed, by the members of her seat. This is a woman that John Hewson says you're going to have to carry her out in a box; Jeff Kennett says that she's discredited herself and discredited her government. I mean, is there really an argument to keep people like Bronwyn Bishop in the next term of the Parliament?

Paul Fletcher: Look, Bronwyn is a senior respected colleague, a valued colleague. I'm not going to get into commentary on Bronwyn Bishop or on anybody else in the party, indeed I'm not even going to give commentary on myself as to the prospects of securing the support of pre-selectors, it's a democratic process and that's a good thing.

Peter Van Onselen: Can I ask you a questions though, Paul Fletcher, a sort of a step back question, I don't know if you've seen the film Shawshank Redemption but I think it's one of the all time great films, I'd thoroughly recommend it to any viewer that hasn't seen it…

Kristina Keneally: I'm not sure where this is going Peter Van Onselen [laughs]

Peter Van Onselen: But in Shawshank Redemption, one of the inmates there becomes indoctrinated with the idea of being an inmate, you know, he'd been there for 40 or 50 years, he struggled on the outside when he moved on. Is there a bit of that amongst these long term politicians that have spent 30, 40-plus years of their lives in these jobs that they find it hard to let go. I mean, I, to some extent, can understand that. I think it's unfortunate though, quite frankly…

Paul Fletcher: Peter, if you ask me are my colleagues channelling the Shawshank Redemption, my answer to you is no. If you wanted to repeat that or replace that with The Truman Show, my answer to you would be no. but please, keep going, give me some other movies and I'll give you the same answer.

Peter Van Onselen: But that wasn't my question, you know that. My question is that, you know, somebody that has been in the Parliament for so long, often they don't optimise their best point of departure, I'm not naming names here but it happens.

Kristina Keneally: They become institutionalized and really, the manner of your going is often more important than the manner of your arrival in terms of defining the totality of your career.

Peter Van Onselen: It's a crying shame.

Kristina Keneally: Indeed.

Paul Fletcher: Well, the obvious observation which I haven't yet made and I'm going to make now is that there is vastly more diversity and representativeness of the broader community on the Liberal-National side of the Parliament than there is on the Labor side of the Parliament where the vast majority of people, particularly in the Senate, are former union officials. So, could we improve? Of course we could always improve, but I believe we've got a good diverse mix of colleagues…

Peter Van Onselen: Alright let…

Paul Fletcher: …but why does that matter? That matters because it's about delivering outcomes for the Australian people.

Kristina Keneally: We didn't get to through the program without a whack on Labor union people did we?

Peter Van Onselen: We're out of time, Kristina, we're out of time.

Kristina Keneally: Ah, there you go, Paul Fletcher [indistinct].

Peter Van Onselen: Why don't we just agree- you won't agree with this Kristina, why don't we jut agree there's a lesser of evils inside the Liberal Party but everyone has to do better. There you go, let's have consensus around that. We're out of time though.

Kristina Keneally: Alright, thank you Paul Fletcher.

Peter Van Onselen: Paul Fletcher…

Paul Fletcher: Thank you.