THURSDAY, 10 FEBRUARY 2022
SUBJECTS: Religious discrimination; sex discrimination; shareholders win on proxy advisors.
KIERAN GLIBERT, HOST: Yesterday, we brought you some of Labor MP Stephen Jones' powerful speech made in the House of Reps while debate raged about the government's proposed Religious Discrimination Bill. Mr. Jones spoke personally and passionately, revealing the recent suicide of his gay nephew. He spoke about fears for his own 14-year-old son's safety.
JONES (TAPE): I worry myself sick every time he leaves the house. I think to myself, you look beautiful, but you have to go out looking like that because I know that the love and protection that he enjoys with his mother and his friends and his family is very different to the reception that he may receive in the outside world
GILBERT: Today, Paddy Quilter-Jones, the high-heel-wearing son of Stephen Jones, spoke just as powerfully and passionately about his own experience, and he outlined some of his concerns about the government's proposed bill. While his father watched on.
PADDY QUILTER-JONES (TAPE): A school having the right to expel a gay or trans student just for being who they are is disgusting and it's just not right. These are children that you're talking about and they should have the same rights as every other child. Like they shouldn't be punished for being who they are.
GILBERT: Let's bring in Stephen Jones now. He joins me in the studio, Labor frontbencher. You watched that appearance by your son on Channel 7. What was your reaction to it?
STEPHEN JONES, SHADOW ASSISTANT TREASURER: Oh, I'm used to the rough and tumble of politics in this place, Kieran. But I was balling my eyes out. Yeah. Tears of pride. Very, very, very proud of my young boy and the messages that he's received and others have. I think he's struck a real note of a chord.
GILBERT: He's asked 'Are you a girl or boy?' He says 'I'm Paddy.'
JONES: Just treat me as I am, and I don't attach a label to me. Maybe one day he will, maybe one day he won't. But he's my son and his mother and I love him dearly, and we just think he's just brave, courageous, intelligent, creative. What more could a parent ask for?
GILBERT: How do you reflect on the week that you've had? Because it can't be easy when you when you see the House of Reps, it is a place of rough and tumble and then you go out and, you know, divulge such personal information.
JONES: Was a pretty raw week for myself and my family. We had a personal tragedy that we were dealing with. Last week we buried my nephew. I spoke about that in the house, you know, another wonderful, talented young man. He was gay, had some gender identity issues that he was working through. He was dealing with depression and the love and comfort that my sister and her family provided him and his friends provided him just weren't enough to help him through. And I reflected on that when I came in here, I just thought, you know, we've been to too many funerals and there's too many families have been to too many funerals. If I as a father, I can't do something to stand up for my son and other kids like him, then what's the point of me being a member of parliament and what sort of father am I? So I spoke from the heart about what I felt and what my son's experience were, what the experience of other parents were, and implored parliament and indeed the country to embrace everybody. I think the words I used, we are the Australia of Storm Boy, of Breaker Morant, of Puberty Blues, and Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, and there's got to be place in our national story for all of our kids.
GILBERT: Well, it looked like it was obviously convincing for five Liberal MPs ended up voting with Labor. But did you expect as many as we saw? I've been talking to Stuart Robert about the difficulties the government's faced this week on that front. But five, essentially five Liberals voting with Labor that hasn't happened since 1982 for a Liberal government.
JONES: In one sense, it was extraordinary and took a lot of guts from those five MPs and I thank them for their courage. In another sense it wasn't so surprising because I'd be astounded if they weren't wrestling with the same issues that we were in the Labor Party and the crossbenchers were wrestling with. And if they hadn't received the same sorts of stories that I'd received and others and received from parents and kids about their concerns about what Parliament was doing. I want the religious discrimination laws to go through because I talked about the fear that I have when my son walks out the door because of the way he's dressed. And I spoke to so many Muslim parents who have the same fear about their daughters walking down the shops in a hijab and being assaulted because of their dress. And I thought, this is the same issue. You know, we've got to be a big Australia. We've got to protect the schools.
GILBERT: That bill's not going to go through the parliament by the time of the election.
JONES: Yeah. Well, I think it's unfortunate. It seems like a big dummy spit in some respects. We think the law was improved. We think the protections were improved.
GILBERT: The Government says it's created unintended consequences. Its legal advice suggests trans kids can be more susceptible to discrimination, according to its legal advice.
JONES: Don't, don't. If that's true. You know, in my portfolio, I deal with one third of the legislation that comes through the parliament in any week and in every bill that comes through my portfolio, we deal with fix-ups. An unintended consequence here, a loophole there, a grammatical error here, and we deal with them as a matter of course. And if there really is a problem, we can fix it in the Senate. Tell us how we fix it in the Senate. I actually don't think there is one, by the way, but if there is, we can fix it in the Senate, we can do it tonight. We can have it back in the House on Monday morning, and this will be the law of the land by Tuesday. If that really is the objection, it's easily dealt with. You know, I just don't think it is.
GILBERT: On the proxy adviser regulations the Treasurer put in place just before Christmas. They've been revoked now by the Senate. It's a very sort of complex area of advice for institutional investors done by these proxy advisers. But it was seen as an attempt or a move that would reduce activism in the corporate space. Do you welcome this?
JONES: Whatever the motivation, the effect of the law was to remove transparency and accountability in boardrooms and in annual general meetings in Australian companies. It was anti-shareholder and it was anti-transparency. It was a solution in search of a problem.
We think there should be advisory firms advising the big institutional investors about everything from corporate, social governance and environmental responsibility, but also whether the remuneration requests that the directors put to the AGM are warranted on the performance of the board over the last twelve months. I think all of those questions are worthy of scrutiny. The institutional investors, we're not talking about mum and dad investors. These are some of, we're talking about $100 billion entities here. They accept the advice of these proxy advisers, probably 50 percent of the time. There was no problem. This was a deal cooked up by Josh Frydenberg and a couple of his mates. It was unnecessary. It would cause damage. We've got some real problems.
GILBERT: Now it's gone.
JONES: And it's gone, and that's a good thing. I call on the Treasurer to focus on the real economic challenges that we've got in this country, and that's not one of them.
GILBERT: Stephen Jones big week as I said at the start, thanks.
JONES: Good to be with you.