15 June 2020

MONDAY, 15 JUNE 2020

SUBJECTS: Adem Somyurek; Senator Amanda Stoker; Indigenous constitutional recognition; Black Lives Matter; statues; remote Indigenous communities.

PATRICIA KARVELAS, HOST: I want to bring in my panel; Liberal MP Julian Leeser and Shadow Assistant Treasurer Stephen Jones. Welcome to both of you.



KARVELAS: I can hear some bells. Let's hope we're going to be okay. I want to start on the Victorian Labor Party. Stephen, I know you're a New South Wales MP, but obviously there's huge implications to this story in terms of branch stacking, these claims about trying to even control, you know, federal MPs as well. How damaging are these allegations to the Labor brand?

JONES: I was shocked. I think the behaviour is deplorable. Obviously, it's not good. Let's not try and, you know, deny the undeniable but I think what we can see is both Daniel Andrews and Anthony Albanese have acted swiftly and decisively, just as Anthony did in relation to the John Setka affair. I think expelling Mr Somyurek from the party and ensuring that he expelled from the ministry are both essential steps for both Dan Andrews and Anthony Albanese  to take. Obviously, there's a lot more to go in all of this but I think decisive steps have been taken by both the Victorian and the national leader and I think that's what people expect. 

KARVELAS: Yeah, but it's bigger than just about one man, isn't it? This is a sort of culture that formed or the ability of one person to have that kind of power and to get away with it for so long. Isn't that really at the heart of the problem? 

JONES: Political parties attract people who are attracted to power, there’s no doubt about it. And sometimes, whether it's the Liberal Party, the Labor Party, or the National Party, people try and use those mechanisms for an end in themselves instead of what we're all elected to Parliament to do and that's to make this country a better place, to ensure that we're delivering jobs, to ensure that we're delivering a fair a better society. When you forget that purpose and you focus on power for its own sake it becomes corruption, it eventually gets found out as it was in this episode and I think both Dan Andrews and Anthony Albanese have taken the appropriate steps. 

KARVELAS: Look, Julian Leeser, I know I'm always very reluctant to ask a question that allows a free kick to any panelists because it's not how I like to roll, but obviously this is a story that is difficult for Labor. But branch stacking is a broader issue for political parties, isn't it?

LEESER: Yes, look these are some very serious allegations that have been made here about a senior Victorian minister and a member of the Labor Party's National Executive. They’re now the subject of corruption investigations. They're now the subject of a police investigation. There are bad eggs in organisations and it's up to those organisations to move them on and to get them out. 

KARVELAS:  Look I want to move to another story. There seems to be a bit of controversy around a particular senator for your political party, if I can stay with you Julian Leeser, and Senator Murray Watt is this, Senator Amanda Stoker has accused the Queensland premier of being and I quote "the knee on the throat of the businesses of Queensland stopping them from breathing". He says, you know, who uses the words of a dying man to score a political point. Is that appropriate? I know that Mathias Cormann's says he's going to talk to her. But, Julian Leeser, was that sort of language you should be using at this point?

LEESER: Well, I didn't make these particular statements and Senator Stoker is a friend of mine. What I will say is that, you know, I think it's for many people, the fact that the Queensland Government has taken so long to come to the party and reopened its borders, particularly when you've got an economy in Queensland that is so dependent on tourism, has been a concern to Queenslanders and has been a concern to people across the country more broadly. So I think that, you know, we've got a Queensland election this year, the debate on these things will be fairly willing and I think that we're going to have very robust contest in Queensland.

KARVELAS: Yeah, but ask you about the form of words at a really, really important time, I think, in history particularly, you know, given the black lives matter protests and the sentiment, I mean, we've got to be careful about language like that don't we?

LEESER: As I said, Patricia, it's not me making the statement and I wouldn't have used that form of words. 

KARVELAS: Okay, Stephen Jones, obviously Murray Watt's pursuing this, questions have been asked. Do you see it as deliberate? 

JONES: Of course it's deliberate. It seems there's a competition between Senate members in the LNP to say the most outrageous things. Last week it was a war on childcare, this week these really inappropriate statements and I could rattle off a dozen others as well. It seems to me that the way to get ahead in the Queensland LNP is to say the most outrageous things, deliberately causing offence in the hope that your garner the support of your pre-selectors. I hope that the response, the right response, that has been occurring as a result of these outrageous statements today sober the Queensland LNP up and ensure that they focus on the things that matter and this sort of language is inappropriate.

KARVELAS: Well staying on the theme of Black Lives Matter, Indigenous recognition, all the things that are kind of at the heart of some of the bigger debates were having around equality and race in Australia, Julian Leeser, Ken Wyatt now says it's unlikely that a vote on constitutional recognition for Indigenous Australians will happen in this term of parliament. Are you disappointed by this, that this is to be delayed again?

LEESER: This is a statement Ken made several weeks ago before the Black Lives Matter protests started. Unfortunately because of COVID-19 the co-design process of the voice has been delayed. We've always said, going back to the committee that I chaired with Pat Dodson, that it was important to get the co-design of the voice done right. That process is being led nationally and now by Marcia Langton and Calma. It's been hard to get out to communities to do that properly, that process is recommencing now, but it's just meant that the timetable for any constitutional recognition will be delayed. It's important that we have a referendum when we can get a majority of people in a majority of states to agree to a proposition when there's broad political consensus and when there's support from the Indigenous leadership. Those conditions don't exist today and indeed there's no current referendum proposal that is being discussed. So we are a little, we are a little way off doing this but I remain committed to constitutional recognition as I know the minister does too

KARVELAS: Look, I want to ask you another question, I know Stephen you're also passionate about this and have worked on it, previously we've talked so many times about it, but still with you Julian Leeser, do you think there's a link here to self-determination, having a bigger say over their lives and Indigenous people having a say over their lives and decreasing incarceration rates, because many of the people who are strong advocates of a voice tell me they're actually all linked?

LEESER: Well, I certainly think that the voice can play a role in determining policy and having input into policy in relation to Indigenous justice matters. The purpose of the voice bodies is all about consulting people who are affected by policy directly about the policy that that affects their own lives. So I think it'll make a point. Is it that the Panacea? No, it's not. I mean there's a multi-faceted reason why we have so much Indigenous incarceration. Some of those issues were covered by the royal commission 30 years ago. Some of those issues are things that have emerged more recently like mental health issues and so on that set to the Indigenous community and co-morbidities some of it is the way in which the training that we give to police and so on. So it's a it's a multi-faceted issue where we have to focus on, in terms of improving the number of deaths in custody, is really on some of those health issues, particularly mental health issue.

KARVELAS: Stephen Jones, we're not going to have a referendum in this term of parliament. I think in many ways a lot of people won't be surprised by that. It was all heading in this direction. It is disappointing to Indigenous people have been campaigning around this, but until you can get a consensus it's inevitable, isn’t it?

JONES: Here's two reasons why I think it's a bit of a missed opportunity. The first is that in probably the first time in all of my time in parliament, first time in 10 years, we have got a national mood for consensus building, for team Australia, for coming together, putting politics aside and focusing on the big challenges in the big issues, putting forward bipartisan proposition. And we've got a track record over the last three months on delivering that. So I think there's a national mood for it and a national capacity for it. Secondly, I think that as we are imagining Australia reconstructed, Australia put back together at the end of this economic and social upheaval, if we do not have the sorts of reconciliation architecture put in place, then we are really missing some fundamental things that, as you said in your introduction, it's not all we do. Do we do economic recovery and then do we do reconciliation? They've both got to be done together to get it right. I guess the third thing and the third reason why I say it's a missed opportunity is parliament's not actually that busy at the moment. If you look at the legislative schedule there’s not that much on it. So I think there is some time, there is a will and there is a need for us to be focusing on these issues. And I know people will also say but the most important thing is jobs. We don't need to make one the enemy of the other. We actually have the wit and ability to do both of these things together. 

KARVELAS: I just want to talk about the other debate we're having at the moment around the way we commemorate heroes and history. Julian Leeser, you know, it's become a rather reductive debate around statues, but it is at the heart of a really important debate about symbolism and what we, you know, what we want to celebrate. Do you think there is room and space for a kind of mature debate about the way that we do commemorate and the kind of people that we commemorate and what we say about them?

LEESER: Yes, I do. But I don't think that debate is helped by people pulling down statues and graffitiing them. I don't think that's actually a debate or a discussion at all. And that's one of the problems of what we've seen in recent weeks. I think people do need to have a serious discussion about having a richer conversation about our history. It's one of the reasons why, in the committee that I chaired with Pat Dobson that I referred to before, one of the recommendations we gave was a having a national resting place for Indigenous remains, for Indigenous warriors here in Canberra. We had another recommendation around what Indigenous people called truth-telling, which again is a richer understanding of our history so we can know more about the culture and traditions of Indigenous people and at the same time understand both the good and the bad contact between black and white people across our country. 

KARVELAS: What do you think on that Stephen Jones, I mean, do you have any sympathy for people pulling down statues?

JONES: Look, sympathy is the wrong word. First thing I should say in the fortnight after we blew up artefacts dating back 40,000 years is a really difficult time for a white person to be engaged in finger-pointing, if you like, at people who are pulling down European statues. Be that as it may I don't think pulling down statues is the right way to go about it. I think we should be doing at least three other things. The first is change the plaque, I have in mind the statue of James Cook, he didn't discover Australia, there were heaps of other Europeans who were here before him and before them they were Asians and  let's not forget the people who've been here for 60 thousand years. So change the plaque, maybe put another statue up alongside it. And if all of that isn't enough, I don't support pulling down a statue and throwing it in a river because if we do that we bury some of the most contentious parts of our history and I think we do need to be reminding my kids my grandkids that we went through this period in Australian history where we denied Aboriginal pre-existence and 65,000 years of continuous culture. And if we throw away the statues that were a part of that contested history, we might forget some of the lessons of history. So change the plaque, put up another statue and if we must pull something down, then let's not throw it away. Let's ensure that it's included somewhere in a museum. I think a much more nuanced and a much more sophisticated response is needed.

KARVELAS: Julian Leeser, I know you're chairing an inquiry into food pricing and food security in remote Indigenous communities. Where is that going? 

LEESER: Well, it's only just started Patricia. We had our first hearings last week and we've got more hearings this week and it's due to report in October. What we're looking at is, particularly, whether there's any price gouging in remote communities where there's not a lot of competition for stores sometimes, logistically, it can be very tough to get food and groceries there, but we're also looking at the issue of food security and ensuring that there is healthy food available at reasonable prices for Indigenous people because, as we know, Indigenous Australians, particular in remote communities, often suffer some of the worst health effects of poor eating choices, and we want to make sure that they can choose quality fresh fruit and vegetables. So we will be looking to get around Australia as much as we can either through physical meetings or through telepresence. And can I say to people in Indigenous communities who are watching the program today, if you've got a particular experience in relation to pricing in remote communities, or have got a particular experience in relation to lacking food products in those communities, please email [email protected] and make a submission. Just take a photo, show us your experience, because we need to get that on the ground data if we're to make recommendations for change.

KARVELAS: Yeah, look, I've been to many remote communities. It's definitely pricing but also availability of fresh fruit and vegetables, really the offering there is sometimes pretty alarming Julian Leeser, isn't it? 
LEESER: It is. One of the things that we have to look at in this inquiry is whether there is a function of communities that are just generally remote, whether they're Indigenous or not, and whether that's the that's the key driver here, or whether there are issues of governance and other matters going on in particular remote Indigenous communities, or issues of supply where the food is just not getting there. 
KARVELAS: I want to thank you both for being my panelists this afternoon. It's been a really interesting conversation.
JONES: Good to be with you. 
LEESER: Thanks Patricia.
KARVELAS: Liberal MP Julian Leeser and the Shadow Assistant Treasurer Stephen Jones joining me. I would say a pretty sophisticated conversation there on how we commemorate our history, rather than just being, a sort of shouty conversation, a sophisticated conversation about our heroes and our history and how we commemorate that in a respectful way.