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'Minister Dutton needs to do something about this immediately. It is absolutely appalling, and disgusting, and breaches our international obligations.' ABC Hobart Breakfast Radio Interview, Wednesday 2 November 2017



SUBJECTS: Senator Stephen Parry; Citizenship crisis; Tasmanian Liberals’ negative campaigning; Palestinian refugees; Manus Island.

LEON COMPTON: Two people who have really been bopping away to that while it was playing this morning is Liberal Senator for Tasmania, Eric Abetz, and Labor for Tasmania, Lisa Singh – to both of you good morning for another edition of 'Senators in Space'.

ERIC ABETZ, LIBERAL SENATOR FOR TASMANIA: Good Morning, Leon. Good to be on the program, but I've got to say your introduction was not completely correct. I wasn't "bopping away" that much.

COMPTON: No. I think I even saw a 'WTF' expression across the desk. Lisa, good morning to you.

LISA SINGH, LABOR SENATOR FOR TASMANIA: Good morning, Leon and to your listeners. I quite enjoyed that song, but I did like the Oils song that you played earlier as well.

COMPTON: A little bit of 'Burnie'. Let's have a chat about the citizenship scandal. Is it now time to declare that there should be penalties for MPs who haven't declared concerns about their citizenship? We know that it's an issue. The High Court has said as much. From now on, if you get busted with citizenship concerns, you've got to hand back your salary. Is that an idea we should embrace?

ABETZ: Well, look first of all I don't think it's a scandal as such because I think men and women of good faith – from the Greens to One Nation and in-between – nominated for the Parliament believing that they were not in contravention of section 44 of the Constitution. I think we have to accept that men and women did that in good faith-

COMPTON: But now we have Senator Parry who chose to wait it out and decide to take a different approach. He knew he had concerns. He would have known them for a significant period of time, and took a wait and see strategy.

ABETZ: Well, at the very beginning when it first came out the advice was very strong and the Prime Minister himself said in the Parliament that Barnaby Joyce would be OK. And of course, armed with that, I think Stephen Parry did the right thing and then, as soon as the High Court ruled opposite to that which the government had advised, then of course he blew the whistle on himself. That was the honourable thing to do. That's why I've been calling for an audit of all MPs so that this matter can be cleared up once and for all.

And apart from that – if I may quickly Leon – I think we do need a repository of some authority or institution in Australia, possibly the Electoral Commission, where potential candidates can go and ask for advice, because – let's say you've got Italian descent in your bloodline – where would you start to try to find out what Italian law actually says? And so I think having a repository somewhere in Australia where potential candidates can go to ask, 'What is the law given my heritage, given my antecedents?' I think that would be the right way to go, and then if people don't check, then I think there should be consequences.

SINGH: I think first I just want to put on the record that Tasmania's lost a decent Senator in Stephen Parry, and also a very effective and impartial President. But it is very strange that he didn't come forward. I mean he could have been part of the "Citizenship Seven" and made it "Citizenship Eight". The fact that he waited – I have to say it is very strange. And also, it brings into question whether or not Malcolm Turnbull did know about Stephen Parry?

But this all goes back to the fact Leon, that the law is the law and it has been in place for a very long time that you can't be a dual citizen. In the Labor Party we go through a really stringent process to make sure – before nomination – that we have ourselves checked out that we're not dual citizens. And that is exactly what every single political party should do. And it's the failure of the Greens, of One Nation, of the National Party, and now the Liberal Party to have not gone through that same process. It's letting down the Australian people, the fact that they haven't applied the law as it should have been. We're up for looking at changes, which is going through a Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters-

COMPTON: What about an audit? Would you support the Senator's idea for an audit?

SINGH: It wouldn't be necessary if people would have done the correct thing in the first place, which we have been pushing and saying from day one, that we do. So why don't all the other parties do that?

ABETZ: But that is why auditors exist. Because we can't rely on everybody doing the right thing. That is why there is such a thing as calling an audit.

SINGH: Eric, I can't help thinking that you just want to take an alternative view to your Prime Minister again! Clearly he hasn't called for this audit.

COMPTON: Actually the Prime Minister has come out and been critical of Senator Stephen Parry in the last 12 hours or so, and said he should have done this earlier and criticised the Senator for his conduct in this matter.

ABETZ: Stephen, rightly or wrongly, relied on the assertions made in the House of Representatives that Barnaby Joyce's situation was OK and in those circumstances I think Stephen did the right thing. But look, the Labor Party should be somewhat more circumspect – with respect to Lisa. I would be gobsmacked if there wasn't some unfortunate Labor Member of the Parliament who has similarly got something in their background which has not been fully disclosed.

COMPTON: The suggestion at the moment is that in fact there are a number of politicians who were sitting around knowing that there were concerns and just hoped to skate through this unscathed. Do both of you agree with that sentiment? That there are still politicians sitting parliament at the moment who are hoping to skate through this and get away with it? 

ABETZ: I would be surprised if there weren't. That is why I think there should be this audit, because above and beyond anything else as parliamentarians we have a responsibility to ensure the public's faith in the integrity of the Parliament. And that is why I believe the audit has to be considered above and beyond short-term political prospects and concerns.

SINGH: This needs to sit with the conscience of every politician – knowing what the law is. If there is anyone else they do need to come forward immediately. They should know that. Again, I go back to the fact that in knowing what the law is, in knowing what section 44 states, political parties need to do due diligence – just like the Labor Party does. I thought the Liberal Party did as well actually Eric, until the Stephen Parry situation. That you had those kind of legal checks that went on. So it is surprising what's happened to Stephen Parry, but I do find it interesting that this kind of division that keeps brewing within the government on this issue, because where is it going to end? Are we going to end up in a constitutional crisis on this issue?

COMPTON: How would that happen?

SINGH: If there were more that came forward on the government's side in the lower house – obviously the numbers, as they stand at the moment having lost Barnaby Joyce, leaves them in a very insecure position. If they lost anymore then obviously they would lose government.

ABETZ: This is a two way street potentially. That is why I think it should be above short-term considerations and indeed partisan considerations. I know the Member for Braddon claims that she's OK because of the Sykes v Cleary case. Well, the latest High Court decision has basically superseded Sykes v Cleary and I think the Member for Braddon has some real questions to answer because as I understand it, her situation – her renunciation certificate – is dated after nominations closed.

COMPTON: Do you accept, Lisa Singh, that Justine Keay, should be doing more to have her eligibility tested? 

SINGH:  I think Justine has made her statement and made it very clear that she’s eligible to be in the Parliament and that's what each and every individual needs to come forward and make clear if there is any circumstantial evidence that they have that says otherwise-

ABETZ: But Lisa just asserting is not good enough in circumstances where the High Court has now ruled seven-nil a blackletter interpretation of the constitution – which I think is good because it makes it very clear – and as a result the Member for Braddon's reliance on the Sykes v Cleary decision is no longer valid because we've now got a new High Court interpretation which I think puts her into difficulty and just to say, ‘Well, we can rely on her statement,’ in my day – way back when I was a lawyer – everybody, if you were to rely on their word, they'd be saying ‘Not guilty!’ and walk free from court- 

SINGH: I think this idea of picking on one particular MP or Senator is a little bit ridiculous when Eric how did you declare your one citizenship and your renunciation? Just asserting? Have you produced your documents? Have I produced mine? How many people do you want to be out there producing all of their documents?

ABETZ: Lisa, you've got a very short memory. I had to produce all my documents to the High Court of Australia in 2010, and thank goodness the person that went on this silly frolic walked away from the court tail between their legs and didn't pursue the case.

COMPTON: One of the issues about the independent audit office is that the major parties have resources to investigate this stuff, and should, but a lot of minor players and independents now are rising. People increasingly want to vote for those sorts of people who don't have the resources to do perhaps the background checking and maybe this central area would make this easier for them. Look let's move on, there's still lots of stuff to discuss. Although allied to this, I noticed that George Brandis, the other day, said the Tasmanian Liberal Branch should have done a better job of checking Stephen Parry's qualifications. He points directly at Sam McQuestin!

Sam McQuestin's running an interesting line at the moment in the seat of Pembroke – targeting the age and where the political opponent in Pembroke lives. Do you support Sam McQuestin's decision to run a negative campaign and to target Doug Chipman so directly on the basis of his age and where he lives?

ABETZ: In any advocacy you point out the positives for your side of the argument, in this case for our candidate, a young medical professional, married with many years ahead of him, youthful vigour, in James Walker, and then of course you also point out the weaknesses of your opponent. That's the way nearly every public discussion takes place, including campaigning, and so that is what the Liberal party has decided to do.

COMPTON: James Walker doesn't endorse his own party's approach to supporting him, in inverted commas, in his campaign. Do you?

ABETZ:  Oh, I was talking in general terms as to how one conducts advocacy. Promoting your positives, and pointing out weaknesses, and the electors of Pembroke will undoubtedly decide whether that is a weakness or not-

COMPTON: Does it raise questions to you about Sam McQuestin's judgement in wading into or supporting his candidate in this campaign?

ABETZ:  Look, you can always be wise with hindsight. I personally wouldn't have done it but look, a lot worse things have been said and done about candidates, so to get high and mighty about this is, I think, not very helpful in the circumstances, and everybody does it in their advocacy no matter what the issue. You promote your positives and then point out some of the negatives. And look at age 71, compared to a 30something-year old candidate, there is that juxtaposition of youthful vigour, and as someone who might be coming towards the end of his public life.

SINGH: I think it’s pretty cheap politics to pick on someone’s age as the basis for the how you go out there and try and win votes to be honest.

ABETZ: So what did the Labor Party say about John Howard in 2007 when he was in his 60s Lisa? Come on? If we are going to be honest and open about these things let’s reflect on Labor’s approach to John Howard.

COMPTON: I think he was 64. 65 or 64.

SINGH: I think we are talking on a really local grassroots campaign for an upper house seat in the Tasmanian Parliament.

ABETZ: Oh but it’s the principle, Lisa.

SINGH: And again the fact that James has a different position to Sam McQuestin shows the ongoing division and lack of communication clearly within the Liberal Party. Why not debate the issues? That’s what people want to hear. If you go out there and talk to people they’re not talking about how old somebody is they’re talking about what the issues are. That’s what is important to people.

ABETZ: And Lisa going local – you’re absolutely right! That is why people are debating – as we are on air today – the boiled water alert for Risdon Vale and the need for TasWater to be brought into line, and that’s what James Walker is running on, and sadly the boiled water alert is under the stewardship of Doug Chipman and how TasWater is being run at the moment! They are the local issues and my colleagues tell me having been doorknocking in Pembroke that they’re the issues people are actually talking about at the door rather than peoples’ ages.

COMPTON: On mornings around Tasmania it is ‘Senators in Space’ – Lisa Singh and Eric Abetz are our guests this morning. Lisa Singh, given the issues on Manus Island at the moment and we spoke with Nick McKim from Manus Island earlier this morning, is it hypocritical for Bill Shorten to be visiting Palestinian refugees and expressing concern for their plight?

SINGH: Oh look it’s incredibly important that Bill Shorten visits Palestine and those refugee camps that are run by the UN there and to hear the Palestinian point of view, and I’m really pleased that he has done that whilst he is over there.

COMPTON: It’s not hypocritical that he has done that?

SINGH: He’s gone to Israel for the Battle of Beersheba. The hundredth-year anniversary of the Sinai-Palestine conflict and as part of that visit he has gone to the West Bank to visit the Palestinians in refugee camps and hear the Palestinian point of view. Now the issue on Manus Island is an incredibly fraught and terrible issue which needs to be addressed. It is a complete failure to start with by Minister Dutton that it has got to this situation. I’ve been calling on Minister Dutton to pick up the phone and talk to the New Zealand government, that offer still stands for New Zealand to settle refugees in their country and if Minister Dutton was a minister of his salt he would pick up the phone and negotiate an increase in that settlement arrangement so that this issue can be resolved. Because it has been absolutely disgusting the way this government has treated people who have sought our protection.

COMPTON: But they have been abetted by your party in parliament.

SINGH: They have not been abetted by our party, Leon. At all!

COMPTON: How loudly has your party been against this?

SINGH: They have not been abetted by our party. The fact is this government – for nearly five years – has abrogated its responsibility of duty-of-care to people that sought our protection. And we have been calling on them to find third-country settlement options day-in and day-out. Shayne Neumann, our Shadow Immigration Minister has been calling for that, I have been calling for that, and they have failed to do so. So much so that it has ended up now with a situation where these men on Manus Island – with the closure of this facility because the PNG government itself has said it is unconstitutional to have this continue – are fearing for their own safety and Minister Dutton needs to do something about this immediately. It is absolutely appalling, and disgusting, and breaches our international obligations.

ABETZ: Well look, set aside all the hyperbole, a few facts: who established Manus Island, who established the offshore detention centres? The Australian Labor Party.

SINGH: No, it was Howard firstly that established offshore detention.

ABETZ: We stopped the boats coming to Australia, and so what we've got now are legacy issues that remain.

COMPTON: Does that matter? What matters is the situation that's there at the moment, what should happen, and it’s clearly a terrible circumstance for the people involved.

ABETZ: Oh look, it was described as a hellhole originally; now the people actually want to stay there rather than move into other facilities that I understand are brand new. These people have been offered the opportunity of going to the United States. These are people I remind you that have bypassed safe haven after safe haven-

SINGH: Eric, where is your sense of humanity? Seriously.

ABETZ: -Then got a criminal people smuggler to advance their cause. And as someone that has visited refugee camps in South East Asia and West Thailand and elsewhere, I can tell you the facilities in Manus are a lot better than what they're living in. And the question they- 

SINGH: People have died!

COMPTON: How is it going to help- 

SINGH: People have died!

ABETZ: 1200 people have died at sea because of Labor's policy.

COMPTON: How is this issue going to resolve itself? It continues. The Australian Government have some responsibility, you can argue about the questions-

ABETZ: What I would invite people like Lisa and Nick McKim to do, is to take a step back, not give false hopes to some of these people, and say- 

SINGH: I've never done that.

ABETZ: -The situation is that you have an opportunity to be settled in Papua New Guinea, in the United States, or, if it's safe, to go back from where you came from. And quite a few of them, as I understand it, have been denied the status of refugee status, and therefore they're holding out. So in all those circumstances you've got to ask, to whom should we be giving priority? And my sense of humanity, Lisa, is very clear: we should be resettling those most in need, not those that have the capacity to pay criminals to advance their cause.

SINGH: They have been deemed as refugees! They have been processed and deemed as refugees! They are refugees! And we are signatories to the Refugee Convention!

ABETZ: And Lisa, there are hundreds of thousands all around the world who have been deemed to be refugees, living in squalid circumstances a lot worse than Manus, and we are denying them the right of resettlement, in preference to people that have paid criminals to advance their cause.

SINGH: No we are not.

COMPTON: Okay, we need to move on. I'm not sure that I'm hearing though answers as to what will happen now, with the what, five, six hundred people that we're talking about who are refusing to leave this navy base on Manus Island.

ABETZ: And look, if they refuse then they become sadly the architects of their own destination, and that is a matter of concern to themselves. But facilities have been made available, alternates have been made available, and they refuse to avail themselves of that. So be it.

COMPTON: To both of you, that's it for this morning, the time has flown. I know!

ABETZ: Thanks.

COMPTON: The time has flown! Lisa, we didn't get a chance to talk about the referendum on changing the Constitution, on the fact that we've passed on an opportunity to change the Constitution to recognise First Australians; we didn't get an opportunity to talk about the Fujian Association in Tasmania; but I felt like there were some important issues that had to be covered this morning with both of you in the studio.

SINGH: You'll have to have us back!

COMPTON: We will have you back in a couple of weeks from now! Interestingly, a couple of weeks from now, after we know the results of the same sex marriage plebiscite, so that will be interesting. Quite possibly more MPs will come forward, and we'll know what the Pembroke by-election says about how the state Liberal and Labor Party are performing as well!

ABETZ: In fact the result will be known on the 15th.

COMPTON: The result of the plebiscite? 

ABETZ: Yes, of the plebiscite, which will be Wednesday fortnight.

COMPTON: Indeed, we'll be covering it live. We'll be covering it live, it's happening at ten o'clock, and it'll be happening here on Mornings around Tasmania.