Interview with Natalie Barr, Prime 7, Sunrise

NATALIE BARR: Politicians are returning to Canberra this morning for the last sitting fortnight of the year, and it’s shaping up to be a fiery finish. The Coalition is hoping to deliver on a major election commitment – the religious discrimination bill – but its plans to introduce the new laws could be derailed by a revolt from the backbench over vaccine mandates. Two Liberal senators are threatening to withhold their votes, demanding the Federal Government ban all vaccine discrimination. For their take we’re joined by Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce and Labor MP Joel Fitzgibbon. Good morning to you both.

BARNABY JOYCE: Good morning, Nat.

NATALIE BARR: Barnaby, the Government needs the support of these two backbenchers, doesn’t it? How are you going to navigate this?

BARNABY JOYCE: I don’t know why you’d put at risk the religious freedoms bill. That’s going to be the big thing that we’re debating this week. This is something that’s also, to be quite frank, from the conservative side of politics and I think there’ll be a lot of people around a lot of churches and a lot of schools that will be pretty upset if you decide that you’re going to not support something they’ve been wanting us to do that we took to the last election and said would do, and we’ve got to make sure that we get it done. This is something that’s been hard fought for, and the religious freedoms bill is one of the fundamental rights of our nation – is to have a faith and be able to stand behind it, so long as it doesn’t hurt somebody and profess your faith. We’re trying to bring that into law, and we’ve heard that people are not going to be supporting it. It doesn’t make sense to me.

NATALIE BARR: So what are you going to do?

BARNABY JOYCE: It’s not what we do. You’re the master of your own ship, you row your own boat. If people decide that, you know, they're politicians, they don’t come here and in chains and irons, they can do what they want. It’s a free nation. But you’re supposed to apply to what you believe is their better judgement and talk to their constituents, especially the constituents that want this religious freedoms bill through.

NATALIE BARR: Joel, will you support this legislation, the religious freedom bill?

JOEL FITZGIBBON: We haven’t even seen the legislation, Nat, that’s the big problem here. But the key point is that we should not have been having this really important debate in the shadow of an election campaign. The Prime Minister promised this legislation at the last election and here we are five minutes to midnight and to another election and we are having this very difficult debate. That’s the most unfortunate part about it and, of course, now he’s being hijacked by some members of his own party who are trying to conflate or mix up two issues – the other being, of course, vaccination mandates. So it’s disappointing. This is really important. We need to ensure that people of faith and faith-based institutions don’t feel threatened by an excessively progressive agenda. But, at the same time, I’ll fight with everyone determined to ensure people aren’t discriminated against, for example, on the basis of their sexuality. So it’s a very fine and difficult balance. It’s one we need to get right, and it’s a debate we should have been having at least two years ago.

NATALIE BARR: Okay. Look, a few issues going around. The Prime Minister’s been accused of sympathising with right-wing extremists after saying he understood why protestors who staged that mock execution of Dan Andrews were so angry. Have a listen.

[EXCERPT] DAN ANDREWS: When the Prime Minister stops double-speaking to extremists his relationship with me will be a lot better.

NATALIE BARR: Barnaby, is he cuddling up to these protestors?

BARNABY JOYCE: No, Nat. There’s not a person in this building – not one, I hope, exists – that says that threatening a person’s life, building gallows, doing all that kind of total garbage, is something that is just – we don’t want it, okay. No one is suggesting for one second we do that. It’s outrageous. But just because there’s a crazy person in the Carlton crowd at a football game who throws a rock doesn’t mean that every person in the Carlton crowd is crazy. We’ve got to understand the frustrations that are behind this, and you can’t say, “Oh, well, therefore you’re a sympathiser”, because you acknowledge that there are also people in these protests who are not outrageous, who are mums and dads who are law-abiding citizens who also want to be heard. You can’t say every person in that crowd is somehow, you know, a madman or a madwoman or a bad person. They’re not. When you say that, that also is kind of insulting, because there are a lot of people, they’ve just had it. They’re frustrated. And I have to say, a lot of these laws that they’re protesting against are state laws, they’re not federal laws. They’re state laws. And it’s state politicians who have got to go to the forecourt and talk to the people.

NATALIE BARR: But, Barnaby –

BARNABY JOYCE: And the police have got to be there to arrest the crazy ones.

NATALIE BARR: Look, exactly, and we agree with freedom of expression. But I guess people are getting at this this week – in August 2020 Morrison said, “I would expect the COVID jab to be as mandatory as you can possibly make it.” Now he’s got this line, “I want governments to butt out of everyone’s lives.” Obviously there’s an election coming and it feels like he’s changing his whole stance on vaccination. He’s giving people who are unvaccinated – we’ve been trying for a year to get everyone vaccinated, and now he’s sucking up to them. What do you say to that?

BARNABY JOYCE: I’m understandably mocked because one of my posts from some time ago saying you want the Government out of your face, so I think that’s generally the view of the Australian people. By reason of the Australian people being so good – and we’re over 85 per cent now of people vaccinated, which means we can start opening up the borders a lot more – that’s great, but we are not mandating vaccines. We’re not going to be chasing people down the road at a federal level. I don’t even know whether we could even if we wanted to. A lot of these laws that people are upset about are state laws. And states have got to answer for them. In Queensland – we don’t care if you go to a restaurant or not. We don’t have any power. That’s state legislation. Whether you go to the football is state legislation. Whether you go to a museum is state legislation. Whether you go into someone’s shop is state legislation. It’s not federal legislation.

NATALIE BARR: We know that, but, I mean, it’s in the language. It’s in the messaging that’s getting out.

BARNABY JOYCE: Okay, let’s make this really clear – we don’t believe in mandating the Australian population, compulsory mandates. We don’t. We want people to – like any other – lots of procedures, you can say it’s an incredibly good idea if you do it. We want you to do it, but we’re not mandating it. And the Australian people have been incredibly good because the vast, vast majority have done it.

NATALIE BARR: Yep, okay. Look, we’ve run out of time, gents. Thank you very much. We’ll talk to you next week.

BARNABY JOYCE: You’re welcome, Nat.