Scott Ryan on the same-sex marriage plebiscite and political donations

September 28, 2016

Monday’s government-Labor meeting over the proposed same-sex marriage plebiscite ended in a stalemate. But Special Minister of State Scott Ryan tells Michelle Grattan the government has made it very clear it will consider in “good faith” any proposal that Bill Shorten and the Labor Party bring forward.

“The meeting was an opportunity for them - even if they didn’t have the power to make formal suggestions - to actually say ‘these are the terms upon we want to come back to you in a week or two’,” he says.

Ryan gives no encouragement to the view that if the plebsicite legislation is defeated, the government could move to a parliamentary vote. “The government’s position I think, and we’ve done this on a number of issues, is to stick with the policy we took to the election.”

Having launched a parliamentary inquiry into electoral matters, which will include an examination of political donation rules, Ryan says he has no problem with corporate donations “in principle”.

“I’m not going to participate or support any measure that seeks to create an unfair playing field in political donations or political participation and the ludicrous position of the Greens to ban corporations that make a profit but allow unions and non-profit corporations to make political contributions is an example of that.”

Following much debate about the impact of Labor’s so-called “Mediscare” campaign on the outcome of this year’s election, Ryan says he would require a lot of convincing to go down the path of further regulating political speech, through truth in advertising measures.

“My personal view is that I require a lot of convincing because in politics, unlike in say commercial transactions where we do have consumer law that protects people from misleading conduct, politics is a lot more about opinion and interpretation of fact, so I think we need to be careful to not have a system that would end up in people needing more lawyers to argue the case of whether something is true or not. That would distract from the fact that this is a political contest.”

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Politics podcast: Peter Jennings on Turnbull’s trip to the US

September 16, 2016

At next week’s UN General Assembly, Malcolm Turnbull will be among many leaders responding to the large movements of refugees and migrants across the world. Peter Jennings, executive director of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, tells Michelle Grattan that the purpose of Barack Obama’s meeting is to get other countries to accept more refugees through legal channels.

“I don’t think he’s going to make much headway because at the moment the Europeans are closing their doors rather than opening them. But I wouldn’t be surprised if we see significant pledges of new aid and Australia will probably be doing the same thing at that meeting,” he says.

While Turnbull is in the US, he will take part in a dialogue on cyber security. Jennings, who is head of one of the think tanks sponsoring the talks, says the idea is to see if they can find ways to more effectively link business into a discussion about cyber security, including on issues like counter-radicalisation.

“I think what the hope is is that we’ll see closer Australia-US cooperation emerging not only in government but also between business entities as well.”


Music credit: “Ebani”, by Dlay on the Free Music Archive

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Don Watson on the rise of Trump

September 13, 2016

Earlier this year, Australian writer Don Watson visited the United States, observing the race for president. Rather than examine the “rust belt” or “down-at-heel” cities, Watson chose America’s heartland.

“I found in Wisconsin many of the underlying themes of this election. And that sort of Gothic quality of the United States where everything has a very deep and often dark story behind it.”

Watson tells Michelle Grattan that what is happening in the United States now has “something to do with the religion of neoliberalism and the really nasty tactics of the Republican Party since Reagan”.

“We ought to be careful I think that we don’t go the same way. Certainly inequality is increasing here and we have seen the revival of Hansonism and we know that Australia is prone to bouts of xenophobia and even of racism,” he says.

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Eric Abetz on the conservatives in the Liberal Party

September 1, 2016

In the first sitting of the new parliament, conservatives within the government have muscled a proposed amendment to the Racial Discrimination Act onto the agenda. Senator Eric Abetz, a strong advocate for change, tells Michelle Grattan that he doubts it will be dealt with this year.

“It will be introduced and then I think it would make sense for it to go through the normal processes. It may well go to a Senate committee, things of that nature. So how it transpires - no timetable has been set but we did want to put it up there on the agenda so it could be dealt with in due course,” he says.

“We would hope that in the period of a three-year parliament, we can chew gum and walk at the same time and that there will be time set aside for what is a very minimalist amendment to the Racial Discrimination Act to remove the words offend and insult.”

Abetz, a former leader of the government in the upper house and a minister in the Abbott government, remains resentful of being banished by Turnbull to the backbench and still harbours frontbench ambitions.

“Chances are there’s still some ministerial capacity left within myself. Senator David Bushby, who’s the chief government whip in the Senate - clearly ministerial capacity as well. So I think it’s a disappointment that the prime minister did not see fit to appoint somebody from Tasmania for the frontbench when, if I might say, there is ministerial talent available from Tasmania.”

“I would like to be able to serve on the frontbench again but as I’ve said many a time - I got into politics to serve, not to ‘succeed’, in inverted commas. But of course if you can be on the frontbench you can make a good and positive contribution.”

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Fred Smith on The Dust of Uruzgan

August 30, 2016

Fred Smith is no ordinary Australian diplomat. In postings served in the Uruzgan Province of Afghanistan, he built relationships with tribal leaders while continuing his side-career as a folk musician.

Smith, who has written about his experiences in a book, The Dust of Uruzgan, tells Michelle Grattan for the first three or four months he stashed his guitar under the bed.

“You know, I wanted to be taken seriously as a political officer and not seen as a folk singer. But eventually as I became more comfortable on the base, I got the guitar out and started writing songs and put together bands … and of course there wasn’t much going on on a Saturday night in Tarin Kowt so a lot of people would come,” he says.

“Then they would hear me singing stories about things that had happened a couple of weeks beforehand and it resonated, you know. And that’s sort of in the very finite emotional and intellectual information economy of that base. It opened up doors and built a sense of community.”

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Bob Brown on Malcolm Turnbull and the same-sex marriage plebiscite

August 29, 2016

Since retiring from politics in 2012, former Greens leader Bob Brown has continued to offer sharp perspectives on issues of national debate. After giving the closing address at the Canberra Writers' Festival at the weekend, Brown tells Michelle Grattan that Malcolm Turnbull should have “stood up to the right wing” of his party at the end of 2015.

“We now have a reactionary and conservative government. I don’t think that’s where Malcolm Turnbull wants to be. I think he would prefer to be a Bob Menzies, and his time’s running out.

“He either will stand up to that power base of right-wing reactionaries and conservatives, or he’ll be another prime minister who failed to reach their promise, and Australia deserves a very progressive and liberal-minded leader.

“Turnbull’s got it in him, but one wonders if he’s had the life experience to be able to say: ‘Well, I’m not going to be dictated to’. It’s pretty late in the piece. ‘I’m not going to be dictated by these right wingers. I will stand up to them and if I lose out as a result of that at least I’ve tried.’,“ he says.

In the wake of a Greens portfolio reshuffle last week, Brown pays tribute to Sarah Hanson-Young’s period as the party’s immigration spokesperson.

“I think she’s helped move this nation from feeling ‘oh, you know let’s forget about those people’ to saying ‘no, we can’t. They’re under our care.’

“I was sorry to see her move because she’s done such a fine job in that portfolio. On the other hand I think it’s a very, very daunting job. You know, you are dealing with the agony and suffering of men, women and children and she’s been doing that for years. So in a way it might end up being a hidden blessing.

“I think it’ll free her a little. You know, I just think it’s a harrowing job,” he says.


Opening music credit: What Tomorrow Brings, by Ketsa on the Free Music Archive.

Closing music credit: Earth Song, written by Bob Brown. Sung by Claire Wood and accompanied by Craig Wood and Michelle Wood.

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Derryn Hinch on becoming a senator

August 25, 2016

Incoming Victorian senator Derryn Hinch has the potential to be an ally or an enemy to the government’s agenda. Describing his political philosophy, Hinch says he isn’t in the Senate “just to be opposition”.

“If I was in America I’d be a Democrat. I’m conservative on some issues. Very conservative. And that’s over law and order issues and I’ve campaigned on those over the years. If I’m a socialist about anything it’s about medicine and hospitals. … Socially I’m fairly lower case liberal,” he says.

In the early days of the new parliament, Hinch plans to try to lift the restrictions on press in the Senate, where current rules prevent Senators from being photographed unless they are speaking on their feet.

“I just think this is wrong, we should streamline it, bring it up-to-date. This is a public house. …So those restrictions should be lifted. Standing order should be changed,” he says.


Music credit: “Definition” by Ketsa, Free Music Archive

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Karen Middleton on ‘Albanese: Telling it Straight’

August 23, 2016

This week, political reporter Karen Middleton is releasing a book about the life and career of Labor frontbencher Anthony Albanese. At its heart is a deeply personal story of Albanese’s absent father.

As a boy, Albanese believed his father had died in a car accident shortly after his parent’s marriage. But at the age of 14 his mother told him the truth.

Middleton tells Michelle Grattan she came to know Albanese’s story over the years “sort of by accident”. “He had told a few people but not very many and he had kept this story about his father and his personal life very tightly,” she says.

Music credit: “Roll On” by Ketsa, Free Music Archive

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Anne Aly on counter-terrorism policy

August 17, 2016

When parliament returns later this month, Labor’s Anne Aly will become the first Muslim woman to take a seat in the lower house. Aly is an internationally renowned scholar on counter-terrorism and de-radicalisation.

In 2014, she was the only Australian expert invited to attend Barack Obama’s summit on countering violent extremism. Aly tells Michelle Grattan she has spoken with many people who have been involved in violent organisations, including former members of the Irish Republican Army, former right-wing neo-nazis, and violent jihadists.

Aly says most deradicalisation programs fail because all that they can do is remove the opportunity, the capability and perhaps change the environment.

“But very rarely, if someone is highly radicalised, can outside forces actually change their world orientation or their world view. Many of them need to go through a process to arrive at disillusionment … in order to fully move away from the movement itself,” she says.

On the bread-and-butter issue of the GST, she welcomes Malcolm Turnbull’s idea of reforming its distribution to give her home state of Western Australia a better deal, and would like to see Labor and Liberal come together to promote WA’s cause.

“Now that Mr Turnbull has made that, I guess, commitment, to at least looking at it, I’d like to see the Western Australian cohort work across parties for the best interests of our state,” she says.

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Linda Burney on the 50th anniversary of the Wave Hill walk-off

August 16, 2016

Next week, Australians will look back at one the most significant moments in the struggle for Indigenous rights. August 23 marks the 50th anniversary of the Wave Hill walk-off when Vincent Lingiari led a group of 200 Aboriginal workers and their families off a Northern Territory pastoral station in protest against their exploitative pay and working conditions.

Labor’s spokesperson for human services, Linda Burney, who at the election became the first Indigenous woman to win a seat in the lower house, tells Michelle Grattan the events of Wave Hill were incredibly important and continue to be.

Burney says the actions of Lingiari and the Gurindji people at Wave Hill were “heroic” and should be “fundamental to everyone’s education in Australia through the school curriculum”.

Burney also traces the modern land rights movement to the walk-off.

“The Gurindji with the support of unions and many others - non-Aboriginal people - came to the south and presented their case about living conditions, about rights to country, rights to culture, and the south and the north came together and over a long period of time eventually delivered land rights to the Gurindji,” she says.

Consititutional recognition of First Australians

Acknowledging roadblocks in the way of constitutional recognition of Indigenous Australians, Burney says she doesn’t want to “entertain the notion that it can’t happen”.

“I am very disappointed that the Referendum Council has now taken the view that they can’t deliver a report until mid next year.”

“I am still very optimistic that there will be a referendum. It will not be for the 50th anniversary [of the 1967 referendum]. That symbolism is lost but I do think there is still an appetite for a referendum at some point. I am sick of this being kicked down the road. If the Referendum Council says ‘mid next year’ then lets for heaven’s sake set a definite date so we know what we’re working towards and get a set of words, a question, so we know what we’re going to be talking about,” she says.

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