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'It is beholden upon us as parliamentarians to get this job done, and get it done by Christmas.' ABC Hobart Breakfast Radio Interview, Wednesday 16 November 2017

E&OE TRANSCRIPT

RADIO INTERVIEW

936 ABC HOBART MORNINGS WITH LEON COMPTON 

THURSDAY, 16 NOVEMBER 2017

SUBJECTS: Yes vote; Same-sex marriage by Christmas; Julian Simpson; Jacqui Lambie’s resignation; Political independent’s success; State Liberal Party tactics; Bruce Englefield and the Devil Island Project; Asbestos Awareness Month.

LEON COMPTON: We've been lucky enough to have Senator Lisa Singh and Senator Eric Abetz join us from Canberra for a chat about some of the issues of the week this morning. Senators, thank-you for joining us for 'Senators in Space'.

ERIC ABETZ, LIBERAL SENATOR FOR TASMANIA: Good morning Leon, good to be back with you.

LISA SINGH, LABOR SENATOR FOR TASMANIA: Good Morning Leon, and to your listeners.

COMPTON: Yesterday, Australia's vote was heard in the same-sex marriage survey. Senator Eric Abetz, the Prime Minister says same-sex marriage will be delivered by Christmas. Is he right?

ABETZ: I think so. I think there's a sense around the Parliament that the Australian people have spoken in relation to this matter. I have every expectation that same-sex marriage will become law by Christmas. And, I think that the only matters that remain to be debated therefore are the issues of what protections to parental rights, freedom of speech, freedom of religion and conscientious objection – and some of us are working on amendments – but I don't detect amongst any colleagues that there is a desire to filibuster or delay anything of that nature. The people have spoken and the question then is, in our system, that these matters are then put to rest. Having said that, there was, nevertheless, a sizeable 'No' vote. Nearly 40 per cent and I think that does need to be considered in the final framework.

COMPTON: Senator, you've just named a lot of things that need to be nutted out before you think this legislation can pass. Can that be done between now and Christmas?

ABETZ: Yes. Because basically those views are part and parcel of the James Paterson Bill. So a lot of the drafting has already been done and therefore, rather than having to talk about or put pen to paper, fingers to a keyboard drafting these amendments, that's basically been done. They'll be circulated I would imagine today or very shortly, and then when we resume on Monday the 27th of November, we'll finish the second reading debate – I would think sometime Tuesday – and then go into committee stage and I think have it wrapped up by the end of that week.

COMPTON: Lisa Singh?

SINGH: Leon firstly can I just say 'Thank-you' to Tasmanians who voted overwhelmingly for marriage equality. Indeed, we in Tasmania voted above the national average even in support of marriage equality. Fantastic result yesterday. I think it does, as Eric has said, show that the people have spoken loud and clear. This, as you know, was a process that I don't believe – and Labor doesn't believe – we needed to spend $120-odd million to go down-

ABETZ: Only $100 million now. They saved $20 million, they tell us.

SINGH: That $100 million would have been very well spent, I'm sure Eric, at the Royal Hospital and in a number of services needed in Tasmania. But having got there-

ABETZ: The Labor Party have spent this all over the country.

SINGH: Having got there now. The people now have spoken clearly for marriage equality so it is now up to us. It is beholden upon us as parliamentarians to get this job done, and get it done by Christmas. As we speak Leon, Senator Dean Smith is speaking on – as it's known, the 'Dean Smith Bill' – Dean is on his feet giving his second-reading speech on why it is so important to pass this bill. A bill that has cross-party support. A bill that has some nine senators signed on to it of Liberal, Labor, Green, Derryn Hinch, you name it! There is whole, wide-ranging support for this bill. And I want to see this bill passed as it is. That is because it has already been through a very rigorous Senate Select Committee process, which again was a cross-party committee-

ABETZ: It hasn't. That's wrong.

SINGH:  -which looked at the issue of religious freedoms. This bill has those protections. So now it's time for us– as I said – to take that will of the people into the Parliament and end discrimination, not reintroduce a whole new set of other discriminations. 

COMPTON: Senator Abetz was talking about some possible amendments there. So what happens when these amendments are put? How long will it take to debate each of the amendments from those that want to change this bill might want to put forward?

ABETZ: I think the principles are fairly clear and to suggest that giving people freedom of speech, or parental rights, or freedom of religion, is somehow to introduce a new discrimination is sadly a misunderstanding of the fundamental human rights that were enshrined in international documents, unlike same-sex marriage. Sure, a country can legislate for same-sex marriage but it has never been recognised as an international human right. Whereas parental rights, freedom of speech, freedom of religion have, so the arguments are pretty clear – you either support those classical, liberal freedoms that are enshrined in the international political covenant on civil rights etcetera, or you don't, and that's going to be-

COMPTON: But Senator Abetz they clearly potentially clash based on some of the issues that were raised out of the Paterson Bill.  Freedom of religion for some, people are arguing and have done on this program, would they want the right to be able to say, "No gays here"? That is something that Australians – if you extrapolate that to "No whites", "No Christians", "I don't serve Jews"…

SINGH: And on top of that freedom of religion should not be the right to discriminate without consequences. That is, I think, what the Paterson Bill was about and what Senator Abetz is talking about. 

ABETZ: You clearly haven't read it? Have you read the Paterson Bill? You haven't.

SINGH:  Eric, if there are further amendments that you want to make, or arguments that you want to make, I'm sure that you will put them on the floor and they will be voted on accordingly.

ABETZ: Of course they will. 

SINGH: But you have to acknowledge that this bill has already gone through this process, and it has got the balance right and if there are further religious freedoms required they don’t have to be in this bill. 

COMPTON: I just want to pull you up, Senator Abetz. Both Lisa Singh, and earlier today one of the Greens Senators for Tasmania said that this bill has been fully debated through the committee stage. You say that hasn't happened. What do you mean?

ABETZ: No. What happened was a Senate Select Committee chaired by a Senator David Fawcett looked at a number of principles but the Dean Smith Bill has not been put through the Senate committee process.

SINGH:  Yes it has. There was a Senate Select Committee. I've got the report! I can give it to you if you want? It has gone through a very rigorous process.

ABETZ: The principles, that if we were to introduce same-sex marriage, what should be some of the freedoms and other matters addressed. That is what that committee looked at. But look, having said that specifically, the Senator Dean Smith Bill is there, as is the Senator James Paterson Bill and we will discuss these issues.

SINGH:  I thought the Paterson bill had been withdrawn?

COMPTON: Has he not withdrawn the Paterson bill?

ABETZ: The principles enunciated in the Paterson Bill will undoubtedly be moved by way of amendments to the Dean Smith Bill, because there are fundamental freedoms of speech, religion, parental rights, that are deserving and worthy of protection. The Dean Smith Bill itself provides certain religious exemptions, which of course confirms that there are consequences, and I suppose my concern is that what government gives, the government can take away, and we as human beings have certain innate human rights that governments have no business in giving or taking away for that matter, and that is what is enshrined in the international treaties on human rights, and they're the sort of rights that I want to see incorporated in the legislation to ensure that there is an understanding of these fundamental rights that we as unique individual human beings have as of right, and not as a result of gift of government.

COMPTON: Okay, we'll move on this morning because the community expectation I think, and certainly the community expectation that the Prime Minister has set, is that same-sex couples will be able to get married after Christmas. It will be interesting to see if the Parliament-

ABETZ: I'm sure that will happen, Leon.

COMPTON: Well, it will be interesting to see if it gets delivered in the end. Good to talk to you both of you this morning, Senators Eric Abetz and Lisa Singh, you're our guests for ‘Senators in Space’. Look, I just wanted to take a pause. Senator Lisa Singh, you had some contact with the young diplomat Julian Simpson who has lost his life in New York overnight, and you just wanted to spend a moment reflecting on that.

SINGH:  Yes, I did Leon. It's very unfortunate news to wake up to this morning. To find out that a young diplomat named Julian Simpson, he was Second Secretary at the Australian Mission to the UN in New York, has passed away through an accident overnight. I knew Julian very well. He looked after me for 3 months last year while I was at the UN and he's a fine young man and carried out his duties as a diplomat very well. It's just very, very saddening to hear that Australia has lost a fine young diplomat and my heartfelt condolences to his family, his friends, and to the Mission staff in New York.

COMPTON: On mornings around Tasmania, back with our Senators up next. Senators Eric Abetz and Lisa Singh are our guests this morning, joining us from Canberra. Dean Smith is still on his feet and beginning debate on the marriage bill that is eponymously titled. 

Look, you are both loveable in your respective ways Senators, but Jacqui Lambie received an outpouring of emotion and supportable that would be hard to beat, as she left the floor earlier this week. What are the lessons about what that tells you about what people want from their Senators?

SINGH:  Well, I'm glad you say that we're both loveable in our respective ways, Leon. But look, there was an outpouring for Jacqui in the Senate chamber, and rightly so. She has been a courageous fighter for Tasmania, as both Eric and I are, but we all are in our different ways. Whilst I didn't always agree with everything that Jacqui stood for and her the positions she took, she fought for Tasmania. She worked hard and she stood by her convictions. That's what Tasmanians want to see in their elected representatives and she did that role very well. I think that the outpouring also though was that it was so unexpected that she would be leaving the Senate. That of course was because of the fact that she failed to comply with Section 44(1) of our Constitution, which we are now finding so many others in this Parliament have failed to do also. I'm not sure if there's more to come but to lose now two senators from Tasmania certainly is a loss. I think both Senator Parry and Senator Lambie will be missed. But unfortunately this is a lesson learnt. If you don't comply with that section of our Constitution you can't sit in our Parliament. I think it was just such a shock and it's a shame that she had to go out in this way.

ABETZ: Leon, I'm sure you're loveable in your own way as well, thank you. Thank you for that. Look, the feeling in the Senate chamber, I think, was based on everybody around the chamber, irrespective of political colour, actually feeling sorry for Jacqui, and I suppose it underpins that which I have called for before, namely that for the future in particular, we ought to have, within the Australian Electoral Commission or similar body, a repository of information from around the world, and a capacity for advice to be provided to people as to whether they are eligible to run at a Federal election, because in fairness, somebody like Jacqui as an independent would not have the resources to employ lawyers etcetera prior to her election to ascertain all the citizenship status requirements. But look no matter what you thought of Jacqui, the simple fact is, she got a quota in her own right at the last election, and nobody will be able to take that away from her and I for one wish her well, for her future, whatever that maybe.

COMPTON: Is it your expectation she'll be back in, that she'll make it back in the political fray, Senator Abetz?

ABETZ: I've got a funny hunch that Jacqui is now addicted to public life, and I think she will look for an opportunity to come back, and my own view is that the seat of Braddon will be declared vacant in due course and in those circumstances Jacqui may well run, and if you had a look at the Jacqui Lambie Network advertisement that was in the paper the other day, and I just read through it out of interest, the vast majority of her supporters came from the Braddon electorate, so if she were to have a crack there it would be very interesting to see how she'd go.

COMPTON: It was interesting in the weekend papers, as well, looking through those names and addresses, there were two parties that were registering for the upcoming State election, and that was her party, Jacqui Lambie Network, and One Nation. One Nation came within a whisker of winning a Senate spot at the last election. How do you think they'll go the next time people have a chance to vote, to both of you?

ABETZ: Yeah look, 141 votes separated the One Nation candidate and Senator Nick McKim. So a very close run thing, in circumstances where One Nation virtually had a non-existent and non-visible campaign. So one imagines that if they would have campaigned a bit harder, had more resource, they may have got a Senate seat. But let’s keep in mind this was a double dissolution election. Next time round there'll only be half the senators to be elected, as a result the quota will double, and as a result it will be so much harder for One Nation to crack a seat.

COMPTON: Lisa?

SINGH:  Leon, I think if you look at the State elections over the years, they very much have favoured the two major parties. I think in the lead up to this State election, which is only months away, I'm sure you'll see these other registered parties, getting out there and campaigning. And that's part of our healthy democratic process. But at the end of the day I'm very much hopeful that there will be a Rebecca White Labor Government elected, because Bec White has been hard campaigning-

COMPTON: Okay Senator, I'm going to pull you up there because-

ABETZ: Come on, Come on, this is the party line-

COMPTON: Eric is going to start talking about strong stable Liberal government and we're going to be away from where we want to be.

SINGH: Well I don't think One Nation and the Lambie Network, I don't think will dominate the outcome of the State election, but I could be wrong.

COMPTON: Do you think they could win seats in the State election, you don't think so Lisa, you don't think they're in with a shot of picking up seats in one of the five elections that will be fought over in the State election?

SINGH:  Based on past history, if you look at State elections, I say that. Having said that, it's worth acknowledging that Jacqui as an individual herself has a strong following, and as Eric said, was elected in her own right. So it would be interesting to see how that would transpire at the State level. We'll have to wait and see, but I do only go on what my understanding of past State elections have been and that's been people have wanted a majority government elected, and that means voting for one of the major parties.

COMPTON: Senator, without saying "strong stable, majority Liberal government", can you please give us an opinion on what role you think independents, or what prospect independents might have from parties like these, or independently in their own right, might have at the election?

ABETZ: Leon, you've already told the Tasmanian people in that introduction to the question what is needed, but look, in fairness, I don't think One Nation or the Jacqui Lambie Network will pick up seats in the State election. Jacqui Lambie might if she were to run personally in Braddon, but I understand she's not interested in doing that, and then translating Jacqui to other candidates, that doesn't work. Senator Brian Harradine found that when he ran, and he had a running mate at the off elections when he wasn't running. He never got a running mate up, and I would doubt that either of those parties would win a seat. However, if they score a few percentage points, it would cannibalise, I think, from Jacqui's base and the One Nation base, would cannibalise both the Liberal and Labor vote, and so I think it would be interesting to see how that affects the outcomes of particular quotas in the various electorates, especially in Braddon, but that's crystal ball stuff and we'll have to wait and see.

COMPTON: It was interesting talking to – we had Andrew Wilkie in the studio and I've chatted to him a couple of times recently, where he talked about the fact that he had considered stepping down from a Federal role and doing a “Xenophon” if you like, and stepping into state politics, had considered it but has decided no. But it's interesting perhaps, that feeling that it's easier to see what you might get done fairly quickly as a State rep rather than operating in the Federal space which is something to reflect on at the moment?

SINGH: Well I very much enjoyed my time in the State Parliament, but also equally find being in the Senate just as rewarding. They are different kind of colours of the same kind of occupation but I think that a bigger picture approach to the country’s needs as well as your state’s needs. Obviously at the state level you can focus particularly on the issues of the day at the state level and how you can make a difference there in liaising with, of course, the government of the day. They’re both very different but both very rewarding.

COMPTON: On mornings around Tasmania – do we need to keep a very close eye to both of you two now with politicians looking to book study trips over to Moscow in two years’ time? Exactly the same time as the World Cup will be on. Senators, will you be onto that?

ABETZ: Very simple answer: no.

SINGH:  No.

COMPTON: Good.

SINGH: But well done Australia for last night.

COMPTON: Senator Abetz we had Doug Chipman on earlier, you would probably know Doug Chipman quite well.

ABETZ: Yes.

COMPTON: And he was talking for the first time since the Pembroke race wrapped up. He says there Liberal tactics not only cost him Pembroke but the Liberal party as well, he said that the party’s out-of-the-box tactics attacking him were a wrong turn and not what the members he has spoken to believe the Liberal party stands for. Is he right?

ABETZ: Look, I think in general terms he is right. I think you asked me last time whether I agreed with the tactic and I indicated I didn’t. I think what the Liberal party did was concentrate on Doug Chipman rather than the real threat which is Labor and the Greens, and sadly a Labor candidate snuck through the middle on that basis. I think it is a good lesson for us in the coming State election that we focus on the main enemy, the main target, and that is Labor and the Greens because dare I say it good majority Liberal government is delivering the cranes…

SINGH: Here we go, here are the lines.

COMPTON: Lisa you started this.

ABETZ: I’m just trying to play catch up here.

COMPTON: Well here’s a question for you, if Sam McQuestin was the author of that strategy, he was also the author of strategies which saw you lose three seats in the federal election. Is he the right person to lead you to the State election and beyond?

ABETZ: Look, Sam McQuestin is an experienced State Director and in all these decision-making roles there will be some that are good, some that are not so good decisions and Sam will have learnt from this and we will move on. The Liberal party did deliver State Government some years ago. We had the tremendous election result in 2013 where we won three House of Representative seats, we won the seat of Lyons where during John Howard’s golden era he was never able to capture the electorate of Lyons. So we’ve got to put all that into perspective and accept that there have been some exceptionally good outcomes and some not so good outcomes. I think that is the nature of political parties and state directors and parliamentary leaders from all sides.

COMPTON: In a moment I’ll ask you if we’re headed to an early election but Senator Eric Abetz, you wanted to mention Bruce Englefield from the Devil Island Project?

ABETZ: I just wanted to pay tribute to Bruce Englefield and the Devil Island Project. For a guy who came out from the United Kingdom with his lovely wife Maureen. They set up on the East Coast and revamped the venture into a major tourism attraction and then in retirement continued to fight for the protection and preservation of the Tasmanian Devil. These are the sort of unsung heroes, albeit he was made a Tasmanian Australian of the year for his efforts. Now that he’s retired from that role after about a decade I just think it is appropriate that we as a community to acknowledge Bruce Englefield and the Devil Island Project for the wonderful work they did so selflessly one of Tasmania’s, if not the, Tasmanian icon.

SINGH: Absolutely, I concur.

COMPTON: Lisa, you wanted to mention Asbestos Awareness House?

SINGH: Yes, this Friday Leon, tomorrow, “Betty the House” will be coming to Hobart. It has been brought down by the Asbestos Disease Research Institute and Asbestos Free Tasmania to educate young tradespeople, apprentices but also home renovators on what to look out for in relation to asbestos to keep themselves safe and prevent disease. “Betty the House” will be in the Hobart Mall from around 11 o’clock onwards so people can come and learn about this important educational tool in the hope we can reduce the rate of people suffering from asbestos-related diseases into the future.

ABETZ: Leon, can I pay tribute to Lisa because while she was the State Minister in this area she really took up the cause in relation to asbestos. Asbestos-related diseases are a scourge, when I was shadow minster federally I sought to cooperate as much as possible with Labor when they introduced the Asbestos Safety and Eradication Agency and I think it is something which has bipartisan support but on occasions such as this it is appropriate to knowledge the efforts of Lisa while she was a state minister in advancing the cause of asbestos awareness in the country and I like to think I played my part. Chances are a lesser part than Lisa did, but together I think we can say this is a matter all Tasmanians should try to learn about because unwittingly you can become a victim of asbestos – especially doing handyman work around your older home and those type of things are worthy of public awareness campaigns. So good on Lisa for raising awareness on this.

SINGH: Thanks Eric. Thanks for your help too.

COMPTON: On that note I’ve got to let you get back to the Senate and continue the debate on the Dean Smith bill. Thank you both for joining us on Mornings around Tasmania.

ABETZ: A pleasure.

SINGH: Thank you. 

ENDS

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