'Penny Wong giving her third reading speech on the marriage equality debate.' ABC Hobart Breakfast Radio Interview, Wednesday 13 December 2017





SUBJECTS: Sam Dastyari; Foreign donations; 2017’s best speech; Parliament’s best speakers; Parliamentary crushes; Legislative goal for Tasmania in 2018.

LEON COMPTON: On mornings round Tasmania, it is time for 'Senators in Space'. It is the Christmas edition, and lots of good cheer no doubt as we welcome in our guests this morning. Eric Abetz, Liberal Senator for Tasmania. Senator, good morning to you.

ERIC ABETZ, LIBERAL SENATOR FOR TASMANIA: Good morning and happy Christmas to all of your listeners.

COMPTON: Merry Christmas to you, and merry Christmas to you Lisa Singh. Thanks for coming in!

 LISA SINGH, LABOR SENATOR FOR TASMANIA: Thank-you Leon, and happy Christmas to all your listeners, and to you to Eric.

ABETZ: And to you, Lisa...and to you Leon!

SINGH: Thank-you!

COMPTON: Isn't that beautiful? And to me too!

SINGH: And thank-you for the Christmas Card, Eric.

ABETZ: A pleasure.

COMPTON: You are the last, best Christmas Card sender in all of Tasmania. If there is one thing I can count on with Christmas Cards Senator, it is your Christmas Card. A tradition that you stick to?

ABETZ: Yes, absolutely. I think Christmas is a wonderful time of year. From a religious point of view, but also from a social point of view. It's about giving, it's about family, it’s about recognising that there are things more important than yourself, your career or whatever. It is about community coming together and the spirit of giving. So, it's a time of year that's worth celebrating. 

COMPTON: Could you feel that as you walked past the giving tree? All stripes and colours. How many presents have been donated in Launceston? It looks the same.

SINGH: Yeah.

COMPTON: And then of course from Roseberry to Burnie to Quiz Nights that we've had around, the people are donating at 'MyState'. But how great do the presents look?

SINGH: The Giving Tree looks fantastic. I dropped my present there this morning and it was 'where do I put it?' There were so many presents here from so many Tasmanians.

ABETZ: And the line-up of bikes!


ABETZ: Very impressive. 

COMPTON: Yeah, and look – one lady came in yesterday who I want to say a special 'hello' to. She would not tell me her name because she didn't want to be named on air. But made a really generous donation as well and she'll be having a quieter Christmas and if you're listening – I know you're listening – a quieter Christmas perhaps on her alone, but thank-you for your generosity and I hope that you brighten up the Christmases of many children.

SINGH: It's great to see Leon, that Christmas extends all the way to space!

COMPTON: Well, indeed. Is there Christmas in space? Let me think about it. 

ABETZ: Christmas comes from heaven so of course it must. 

COMPTON: Team, we've got some serious stuff to talk about first. Can we put our serious faces on just for a moment, and then we'll lighten it up. Sam Dastyari...Lisa Singh, how widespread do you think is the influence that Chinese money could buy on opinions about the South China Sea? How widespread do you think that the purchasing of opinions by Chinese money in your party actually is? 

SINGH: I think that what we've just had is quite an extraordinary situation take place over the last week or so that's led, obviously, to Sam resigning now. And I think he's done the right thing in doing that. But it's come on a reflection of the fact that political donations – foreign political donations – have been received by both political parties, not just the Labor Party, and in all of this I go back to that one thing that should have happened over a year ago and that is the banning of foreign donations. We need to get rid of foreign donations in our political system – like the UK, in Canada and so many other countries – the US have done. And I do reflect on the fact at this time that if that would have happened and the government would've taken Labor's foreign donations legislation over a year ago, maybe Sam wouldn't have been in this position. Maybe we wouldn't be talking about the loss of someone's political career.

COMPTON: He was having his legal fees paid as well. This is a serious issue. It literally-

SINGH: He's resigned, Leon! It is serious. I think we need to reflect that he has done the right thing in resigning, and also reflect on the fact at this time, that in the short time that he was in the Senate he did contribute in a really positive way to a number of issues-

COMPTON: There is no doubt of that, but his view was bought on the subject of the South China Sea. It is a major area of international-

SINGH: He did the wrong thing there. He certainly did the wrong thing. Absolutely.

COMPTON: It shows that a politician's views that are at odds with all of the mainstream Australian political views on the South China Sea can be bought by Chinese money. My question is what are we doing to see how widespread that problem is in your party, and Senator Eric Abetz, in yours as well?

ABETZ: Leon, with situations like that, it is a test of character, of the individual characters. I think, if I might say, Bob Carr with his so-called “institute” – we now know that it's got $1.8 million from a similar source – and he is now pushing lines pro-China. But the good news is, with respect to the Labor Party and my own party, that I think Sam Dastyari was one of a kind in relation to that. And with all the good will in the world and legislation, if somebody's got a character flaw that allows them to trail their personal debts to people and say, 'Would you mind paying these for me?' etcetera, that is a personal character flaw which made him completely unsuited for public office. In relation to foreign donations, I've said on air a number of times it was one of my failings as Special Minister of State in the Howard Government. I tried to get foreign donations banned. I was not successful. The good news is that it is now Liberal policy and legislation has been tabled for that to occur.

SINGH: But Eric it was on the last day of Parliament that legislation was tabled.

ABETZ: And it will occur in 2018.

COMPTON: So Senator you're saying you were thinking about this as a Senator back before 2007? What sort of warnings were you getting from Australia's security services back as far as 2005/06 that this was a potential issue here?

ABETZ: For me none at all. I was not given any warnings. It was simply for me the question that our body politic should as much as possible be self-contained within Australia and not be subject to the bankrolling of foreign influences, where large lumps of money could be contributed to try and push our policy agenda in one way or another, which may not be in Australia's best interests. So it was from an Australia-first point of view that I was philosophically opposed to that. I've never served on a national security council so was never given such advice.

COMPTON: Do you think we're being paranoid about the China issue or do you think we're being too relaxed about it?

ABETZ: I think we're being realistic.

SINGH: I think there are a lot of unanswered questions. I mean, who was it that was listening in to Sam's conversations? Regardless of the nature of the conversations who was it that was listening in? These questions need to be answered, who was tapping whose phone here?  

COMPTON: Well maybe ASIO…

SINGH: And for what purpose?

COMPTON: ASIO might well have been tapping Chinese nationals.

SINGH: Who knows?  It could be a foreign power; it could have been our own security agencies. We don't know. This is the thing Leon that I think still needs to be investigated.

COMPTON: How did Sam Dastyari know that someone might have been tapping that person's phone and then passed that information on.

SINGH: Well it was the media.

ABETZ: No that's the issue Lisa, that Sam walked out…

SINGH: Well there are a number of issues here Eric.

ABETZ: Sam walked out, Sam walked out, advising the Chinese gentleman that they should walk outside for their conversations leaving their mobile phones behind because they might be being used as a detection mechanism. Now the reason that one would do that and pass that onto somebody is I think, well, it's stronger than a dereliction of duty it is a complete denial of your responsibilities as a public official to warn somebody about something like that. 

SINGH: Can I just say in the spirit of Christmas, Eric and putting some of this, the kind of, the situation of this issue aside and recognising it for what it is – Sam's contribution to the Senate is worth noting. He was a fierce advocate for victims of banking misconduct, he was a fierce advocate for multinational tax avoidance, as well as standing up against Pauline Hanson's racial intolerance and for a more multicultural nation. I think it is worth recognising in the short time he was in the Senate he certainly campaigned passionately for those issues and I hope the voters recognise that about him.

ABETZ: Look that's trying to put a sugar coating over something which is-

SINGH: No it's not Eric, that's not fair.

ABETZ: -Completely unacceptable in the Australian body politic to have somebody deliberately trailing their personal accounts seeking payment only by virtue of the fact you are a public official that might be able to do favours in return for the payment of private bills. Now, with all the other things I just think this will go down as a very sad, thank goodness, small chapter in Australian politics because we have been largely corruption free.

SINGH: But just recognise Eric that your party has also taken donations from this particular Chinese businessman.

ABETZ: But we haven't changed our policies. Nobody has said South China Sea should be a free go for China, nobody has argued for a change of policy in exchange-

COMPTON: But we can all agree that it is undesirable for Australian politicians and political parties to have their campaigns bankrolled by Chinese nationals. 

SINGH: Absolutely. Absolutely. 

ABETZ: For foreign donations, absolutely I agree.  

SINGH: And we need to ban foreign donations and get rid of this out of our political system.

COMPTON: On Mornings around Tasmania it is 11 to ten, Leon Compton in the chair. Now let's get some Christmas cheer. What was the best speech you heard in Parliament this year Lisa? We'll start with you. What was the best speech that you heard and I've asked you particularly and you're allowed to perhaps talk about the other side as much as your own. But what’s the best speech that you've heard in parliament in 2017?

SINGH: Well actually it was just the other day Leon; it was Penny Wong giving her third reading speech on the marriage equality debate. And she particularly talked about how it wasn't long ago that gay and lesbian Australians were seen as criminals under our laws just for who they were. And she went onto talk about the principle of equality being such a defining principle that continues to stand the test of time and the inherent dignity within each human being. And I just thought it was a very moving speech after a very long debate that captivated me and indeed, in my six and a half-odd years in the Senate, I think will remain with me as very momentous and special occasion.

COMPTON: Eric Abetz?

ABETZ: Senator Lucy Gichuhi from South Australia, I think gave the best speech. She gave her first speech in the Senate, and it was as speech about her journey from a Kenyan village to becoming an Australian Senator. So a black African woman – the first black African sitting in our federal parliament – and a life journey that was just amazing to learn about. I have heard a fair bit of it in private discussions with Lucy but to hear that publicly spoken in the Senate for me, was if you like, something that was above politics, above policy issues. It was just a very heart-warming speech and should give inspiration to every single person who is thinking of running for politics in Australia that, anybody in our body politic can run for office and achieve office. I felt it was the highlight speech of the year. 

SINGH: It was a good speech.

COMPTON: Who shoots the lights out? Who aims, in parliament these days, to really orate? They say that great speech-making is something that perhaps happened more in the past and less so now. Who is there that actually aims to really orate on the floor that springs to mind?

SINGH: For me it's Penny. For me it's Penny Wong. I guess I spend most of my time in the Senate, as does Eric, so we see more of those speeches than we do of those in the House. But for me, Penny Wong is a very captivating speaker and speaks with a sense of real, genuine appreciation of our role in parliament and the importance of policy. She's captivated me. Before her, when I first started in the Senate, I have to say I was very captivated by Senator John Faulkner, who used to similarly give very captivating speeches and was a great orator as well.

COMPTON: George Brandis has had a couple of moments in federal politics this year as well, when you've felt like he's spoken to Australia as much as spoken to the people in the room as well.

SINGH: Actually George did give a speech that was very memorable and that was when Pauline Hanson came into the Senate wearing a burka with that gratuitous stunt that she pulled and George's response to that – it was a very short speech and I think is an example of how you can do a very meaningful, captivating speech in quite a short amount of time – his response to her was very worthy.

ABETZ: I think the point Lisa makes is an indication of the change that has occurred in the parliament. The great orators of the past used to speak to a full Senate because if you wanted to hear what was going on you actually had to sit in the Senate Chamber. Then of course, they started broadcasting it with a radio-speaker into your room. We now have a TV monitor in our room so we can be sitting there in our room preparing our speech, our comments, while listening in. And I recall once getting up and giving a speech in reply to a whole lot of other Senators, and somebody who'd been sitting in the gallery said, 'How are you able to come in, not having been there knowing what all the others said and respond to their points?' And I think what's happening now – and I confess I do it as well – you give speeches in the Senate with a view to putting up one or two minutes of it on social media. Get a clip and tweet it, put it on Facebook, whatever. And so I think the dynamic has changed as opposed to those that would give good speeches to a full house. The emphasis I think is more on sharp, short, sharp grabs, rather than, let's say a 20 minute emotional speech that stirs the cockles of peoples' hearts.

COMPTON: On Mornings around Tasmania, you're Senators in Space. Lisa Singh, Eric Abetz. Senator Eric Abetz, who did you develop a man-on-lady crush on? A man-crush for you. It's a lady-crush for Lisa. Who did you develop a man-crush on?

ABETZ: Leon, thank goodness you gave me notice of this question but can I tell you I can honestly say I don't think I did.

COMPTON: C'mon! 

ABETZ: No...

COMPTON: All the women want to be with him, all the men want to be him? That sort of character?

ABETZ: Oh. Look, there is no doubt that Andrew Hastie is presenting as a person of – what's he been called? "Tasty Hastie" – as somebody that all the women think is very attractive and I think he's got leadership potential for the Liberal party for the future. If that's what you mean then yes, I think Andrew Hastie is somebody to look out for the future. I sort of tend to put the personality bits aside and look more for the content...yeah. Sorry, to be a bit boring.

COMPTON: No, that's ok. Lisa Singh? And you can't say Penny Wong again.

SINGH: Leon, it's a really hard one. It's a really quirky question. I don't know.

ABETZ: So you struggled with it as well?

COMPTON: I'm trying to keep you on your toes!

SINGH: I'm not allowed to say Penny Wong.

COMPTON: No, Penny Wong's out. Someone you've thought, 'Wow, I really like the way they go about it.' I'm not saying that you want to marry them just that you really liked the way that they went about their-

SINGH: I've always admired the way Tanya Plibersek goes about her presence as a politician, and the way she gives speeches. She is very calm, cool and collected and in that has a sense of gravitas that I have always admired. When you call these things a crush though – it’s kind-of a strange situation. We've got a number of Labor women, and there are a number of women in the parliament I think are worth keeping an eye on. 

COMPTON: On Mornings around Tasmania – to both of you, what do you want to achieve in 2018 for Tasmania? A legislative achievement, something that you would like to bring home to the state? Senator Abetz?

SINGH: The political achievement I would like to see for Tasmania in 2018 is the re-election of the Hodgman Liberal government. We've had jobs growth, we've had stability and to be able to continue that would be something of great benefit to Tasmania so in the next few months after the Christmas break I'll be doing everything I can to assist the re-election of the Hodgman Liberal government for stability and to ensure that our economy keeps going as well as it has.

COMPTON: Richard Baines has just tweeted, 'It is understood the Tasmanian Labor Party will today announce a policy of removing poker machines from pubs and clubs if elected next March. That's roughly 2300 machines.' That has just been tweeted out from Richard Baines, who has just taken holidays – he'll be spewing about that. 

SINGH: He could come back to work!

COMPTON: That will be an interesting distinction between the two parties. Lisa Singh, what would you like to achieve in 2018?

SINGH: I think we'll watch this space with what Tasmanian Labor announces on that, beyond the tweet, but other than campaigning for the return of the health funding that was taken out of our health system by Tony Abbott in 2014 and the full-funding of the Gonski schools program in Tasmania.

ABETZ: Cut it out Lisa, the talking points again-SINGH: No, these are very important things that need to continue to be included.

ABETZ: Funding has increased.

SINGH: Other than health and the full funding of Gonski for our schools, I would like to support the University of Tasmania's STEM project. I think this is a game-changer for Hobart. It's going to provide jobs and skills for Tasmanians. It’s going to completely revitalise our city and ensure that education and industry are working together to provide economic growth. But it does require infrastructure spending by the Federal government, and we haven't had any of that to date.

COMPTON: It would require a lot of things. It will be interesting to see what happens.

ABETZ: The Hobart Airport is nearly completed.

SINGH: Started under us!

COMPTON: And there are questions about-

ABETZ: No it didn't! It was our policy! I developed that policy-

SINGH: Albo started it.

COMPTON: A moment please?

ABETZ: Nonsense Lisa. Nonsense.

COMPTON: Eric Abetz-

ABETZ: That was a sad way to finish up on the year.

COMPTON: We've got seconds left.

ABETZ: Oh good.

COMPTON: We've got seconds left. What are you up to for the Christmas break?

ABETZ: Lovely break with the family. The two children on the mainland are coming home so we're looking forward to having a family Christmas.


SINGH: Similarly; time with family. Time in my garden. No flights. Just down time in Tasmania. 

COMPTON: Well, to both of you thank-you for coming in through the course of the year. If you’ll be up for it we'll pick it up in 2018 and we can put the gloves back on.

ABETZ: And happy Christmas to all of you.

COMPTON: And to both of you and your families. Thanks for coming in this morning.

ABETZ: Thanks Leon.

SINGH: Thank-you.