Senator Scott Ryan thank you very much for joining us. This afternoon Pauline Hanson doubled down on those comments from last night. Have a listen:
[Audio clip Pauline Hanson -“Let me put it in this analogy. We have a disease, we vaccinate ourselves against it. Islam is a disease, we need to vaccinate ourselves against that.”]
Senator Ryan, first your reaction.
SENATOR SCOTT RYAN: Well I think the comments are disgraceful. But can I say two things briefly David on top of that? Firstly, no Australian should be worried that anything can be done along those lines. We’ve got Constitutional protection against the Government legislating, or the Parliament legislating, with respect to religion. So, no Australian should be concerned that the Parliament could ever be done along those lines. But secondly can I say to people who think that making comments, judging Australians by a label, an ethnicity, a creed or a gender, that is not the way of modern Australia. That is not the way this country works. We treat people as individuals, we judge citizens by their character and by their deeds. And I’m never going to support and I don’t think the overwhelming majority of Australians will support people that judge others by a label.
LIPSON: Ed Husic what do you think?
ED HUSIC: Well Pauline had a terrific, terrifically bad run when it came to immunisation a few weeks ago and she’s returned back to the same thing. It seems like, she’s got problems learning from her mistakes. And be it on that, or penalty rates, or whatever Pauline’s touched, it seems like she’s stuffed up. And I think frankly, what we do need to do in these times where people are worried is have a sense of calm. Get our act together, and work together in the national interest, on something that’s as important as this.
LIPSON: Scott Ryan, to this point, the Government has not ruled out preferencing One Nation last in future elections. Should that change after these comments today?
RYAN: Look, the next election is two and a half years away, and the point the Government’s made over and over again is that we’re not focused on the next election.
LIPSON: Sure, but are you not going to draw a line in the sand as John Howard did?
RYAN: I’m not going to get drawn into a discussion about potential how-to-vote cards at an election two and a half years from now.
HUSIC: Can I just make a point?
HUSIC: I mean, Pauline Hanson has been given a whole lot of airtime today on a, what? Proposal? We don’t know. Any bill before us? No. Any detail to consider? Can’t see any. You know if people, this is the problem where we’re at right now. The political and the media system reward division, and really the key has to be rewarding unity, rewarding unifiers to bring people together. And you know if Pauline’s actually got a proposal that she can bring forward, bring it forward. But you know again we’re rewarding a grab, a headline. We’re not rewarding detail and bringing people together.
LIPSON: All right let’s move onto some of the details this week. After two years of trying, the Government has finally got its childcare package through the Senate at least. First they had to pass savings measures, which essentially were an indexation freeze on Family Tax Benefits. This was Senator Jacqui Lambie remembering her time when she was on welfare:
[Jacqui Lambie audio]
Scott Ryan, first to you on this. Is this cutting welfare by stealth by freezing indexation?
RYAN: Well, I was in the chamber for Senator Lambie’s speech, and it was quite an emotional one. We’ve all had people in our offices, and I’m sure hers has as well, where people are confronting difficult circumstances, but what this bill does is actually address those very challenges for lots of other people for whom childcare is a very expensive cost to the family budget and can prevent them going to work, which enables the family to be better off overall. A freeze on indexation does not take any money off anyone; it’s something the Labor Party used as well. It allows us to re-prioritise spending, and in a deficit environment where we are bringing the budget back to balance we do need to re-prioritise.
LIPSON: Ed Husic, the big sticking point for Labor was the fact that childcare, or access to childcare was going to be cut from 24 hours, to 12 hours if people don’t do four hours work or volunteering. Is that not a reasonable incentive to try and get people back out into the workforce and community?
HUSIC: Well I think on our side of the fence there are a lot of people that firmly believe, I included, that childcare isn’t just about minding the kids, it’s about actually providing them with a pathway into early learning, and putting them onto the best possible footing to do well in school, and by virtue of that, later on in their lives. The concern that we, and a number of stakeholders, have about what was being proposed, and the deal that was stitched up, is that it denied access, particularly for vulnerable children to early childhood learning. And it’s been panned widely, the compromise that’s been pushed in the Senate has been panned widely by early educators for what it does vulnerable kids. And I think that’s a real problem.
LIPSON: Just a quick response, Scott Ryan.
RYAN: Well anyone who’s meeting the activity test under mutual obligation of a welfare payment, for example Newstart, they’re not limited to that 12 hours. So as you mentioned in your introduction, four hours of volunteer work, four hours of other volunteering or work can meet the activity test. It is a very, very reasonable test to allow for an enormous investment in childcare support for those at the end of the income scale.
Okay, news today that the Attorney-General’s Department has been asked to cost a postal vote for same-sex marriage. So Scott Ryan this is clearly, actively being considered by the Government.
How could you verify, you’re the Special Minister of State, how could you verify that someone sending in a vote was the person they said they were, that these things weren’t being gamed somehow?
RYAN: Well David, when I developed the policy for a plebiscite, which we took to the Parliament last year, and which I have to make the observation as a supporter of change to the marriage law, that if that had been held on February 11, we would have the change to the Marriage Act already implemented today. So, I considered a lot of options in developing the plebiscite, and the plebiscite policy we put forward is the one we remain committed to.
LIPSON: But this postal vote one, what do you think about?
RYAN: Well our policy is for an attendance ballot. To have people turn up and vote like it is in a referendum. We developed a detailed policy -
LIPSON: But you’re obviously considering this other one now.
RYAN: Well what we did was we considered all the options and we developed legislation that Bill Shorten said, remember in 2013, a plebiscite would be a good idea, would be a reasonable way to address this, and for purely opportunistic reasons he went round and said “oh we can’t trust Australians to have a nice enough debate, so we’ll prevent the overwhelming majority of Australians having a say”. Same-sex marriage change would in my view would’ve been law now, if Labor hadn’t have been so opportunistic.
LIPSON: Sure, but this is just to be clear, do you personally support this idea of a postal vote?
RYAN: I’m committed to the Government’s policy, which is to have a plebiscite to determine the issue and then immediately address the issue in Parliament afterwards.
LIPSON: And Ed Husic?
HUSIC: We think the decision could be taken today in the Parliament, and the decision could be taken quickly. The Government has come up with a plebiscite that will just take time and divide. And now, they want to put in an extra delay, through potentially a postal vote. The decision should just be taken. You’ve got already division with the Government, you can see the reports that for example you know Barnaby Joyce has said that he’s concerned about or frustrated by the fact that these issues continue to dominate - and from their point of view distract - from what they want to get on with. Frankly the decision, the public supports this; they put in parliamentarians to make decisions in relation to what the public wants to see. Just get this decision done, and move on with it. We can go on to the other things Barnaby Joyce reckons are important.
Speaking of getting things done and moving on that’s what the Prime Minister wanted to do on the question of 18C, the Racial Discrimination Act. It was announced on Harmony Day of all days and later in the week at the Migration Council Awards Bill Shorten had this to say:
Scott Ryan, it looks like these changes, the material changes to the act, will be knocked back in the Senate. Do you believe conservatives in your party at that point, should let this go?
RYAN: Well look there are plenty of liberals and conservatives and people outside the Liberal Party and National Party that think these are important changes. What Bill Shorten said there, is actually part of the problem. Labor is running around fermenting fear about one Australian, about another Australian. Now what we have is a very reasonable proposal to remove words ‘insult’ and ‘offend’ that have lost their meaning, and that have led to some very unfair processes that punish people through procedural processes that have found them to have done nothing wrong. So inserting the word harass-
LIPSON: So why not improve the process then?
RYAN: Well because the words ‘insult’ and ‘offend’ are also part of this. This has been a long running issue, where the Coalition strongly supports changing this. And I think it’s a shame that the Labor Party is using examples like that one there that the child at school being teased, terrible though it is, is not a section 18C issue. Labor is trying to turn Australians against each other and create fear.
LIPSON: So you’re fighting this, all the way up until the election if the Senate doesn’t pass it?
RYAN: We’re putting our legislation to the Senate it will hopefully be debated next week. Look I don’t want to predict the Senate, it’s proven a very hard to predict body.
The bizarre thing is that on the day the Turnbull Government announced that they would be watering down hate laws, was they turned Harmony Day into irony day. I mean this is a day that is supposed to bring people together, and the Turnbull Government is proposing ways in which to divide. And this is not some esoteric event, this is not some small thing. This is, they are quibbling about whether or not kids get bullied in schools. There is a broader issue as well that this sends the green light for people to speak first and think later. This is the problem, that people will believe that they can just fling off any insult that they can and that they’ve now been given the green light by some watering down of hate speech laws, and I think that’s the bigger problem. And my issue is again I come back to something I touched on earlier, the time is now for us to unite. The time is not to find ways to divide, and that is what there is a deeply held view by a number of people in the Parliament, that making these moves in the way the Turnbull Government has, has sought to undermine community unity
RYAN: But Ed, you’re the one running around telling people to be scared of one another. The Labor Party is the one fermenting division. By all means argue against the changes if you wish, but you’re the party running around to community groups saying this is about stoking fear.
HUSIC: Tell me simply, he’s had a number of chances to respond to me and I just want to respond on this one point, you tell me how watering down hate speech laws brings the country together?
RYAN: Because it will actually give them credibility because what happened to four students at QUT, who for two years and tens of thousands of dollars of legal fees were subject to a process that was very harmful to them as well.
HUSIC: You can fix that process and still bring the country together.
RYAN: The hurdle itself needs to be addressed.
We’re out of time, thanks very much for joining us.
HUSIC: Thank you.