Liberal Leadership Spill, Liberal bullying and intimidation allegations, Peter Dutton au pair allegations, Paris Agreement and Catholic Church rejecting lifting confessional seal recommendations.

September 01, 2018


SUBJECT: Liberal Leadership Spill, Liberal bullying and intimidation allegations, Peter Dutton au pair allegations, Paris Agreement and Catholic Church rejecting lifting confessional seal recommendations.

JOHANNA NICHOLSON, PRESENTER: As Australia's new Prime Minister Scott Morrison comes to the end of his first week in the top job, many are reflecting on the culture in Parliament. The Liberals' Julia Banks announced that she will not contest the next election after experiencing what she describes as bullying and intimidation from both major parties.

ANDREW GEOGHAN, PRESENTER: But others including Federal Liberal MP Craig Kelly are disappointed in Miss Banks' decision. To discuss this and more we are talking to with Craig Kelly and Labor MP Pat Conroy. Welcome to both of you.



GEOGHAN: Craig so a week on, was it all worth it?

KELLY: Well, certainly has been a tough week. Scott Morrison has taken on the job of new Prime Minister of our country - He's taken on well. First trip over to Indonesia has gone fantastic - Great reception over there. There has been a reset in some of the policy areas and we will push on to the next election.

GEOGHAN: But you have taken a huge hit in the polls - which is no surprise. How on earth do you recover in time for the next election?

KELLY: Well let's just see what happens. Those polls we've seen over the last number of years they can be very fluctuating. Peoples votes move around very quickly in small periods. Let's see what happens over the next couple of months.

NICHOLSON: Pat, we will get to you in just a moment, but Craig, as we mentioned, Julia Banks is not going to contest the next election. She said bullying and intimidation from both major parties. Your response to that is part of the rough and tumble of politics and she has to roll with the punches, so to speak. Do you stand by those comments?

KELLY: Well, sadly, Julia, the reasons why for leaving, she also said because of the change of Prime Minister. When you throw all of those things in the mix. I hope she might reconsider after a week or so. This is a tough game, Pat throws alot of things at me and I throw a lot of things back at the Pat. Some of the emails and correspondence that we receive from outside is really tough. Some of the media commentary is hard in this job, things get taken out of context, spun and twisted the meanings around - it is a tough job. So I hope when Julia sits down and thinks through the week, she may reconsider.

GEOGHAN: Pat, the same could be said for Labor. Of course we saw how Emma Husar has been treated. Who knows, she may well reconsider stepping down, but would you agree it is part of the rough and tumble of politics and are the women in both parties being treated fairly?

CONROY: Well, I disagree to try compare those two incidents. Husar incident was subject to a full
investigation about the various claims. I think there is a deep cultural issue within the Liberal Party. There was a deep cultural issue that led to the this national embarrassment of overthrowing of Prime Minister only two years after an election, and secondly….

KELLY: Gillard and Rudd and Gillard.

CONROY: We are at 48% female representation, something I'm exceedingly proud of, the Liberals around 20% and that goes to the culture of their organisation and the culture of bullying and intimidation that we saw on display last week where some blokes in the Dutton camp were clearly running around threatening preselections forcing people to sign petitions.

KELLY: Hang on, that's not what the allegations were.

CONROY: Well, they were the exact allegations.

KELLY: That is not what Julia Banks has alleged whatsoever.

CONROY: Well, others have alleged that repeatedly to a number of news outlets and we have to reflect on the culture of the two major parties We've learned from our past mistakes on leadership things, I’m not going to pretend otherwise. It was shambolic when we were in government. We changed the rules of the party so that is virtually impossible to be repeated. Our culture is very strong and a big part of that is having close to 50 precent female representation.

NICHOLSON: Craig, Julia Banks had a career before politics she would be used to rough and tumble, but there is obviously something different in politics. Why are we seeing that cultural problem in politics and why are we not seeing our politicians lead in those areas?

KELLY: You're right. We have to lead. We have to show respect in our debates. I come in here and often
get called a dinosaur, your a knuckle-dragger. Their the barbs that get thrown at us. It is a tough game, It shouldn't be like that. We should not attack the person in this issue. I hope Julia, when she sits and thinks about it, I know she was a good, big supporter of Malcolm Turnbull, she was elected under Malcolm Turnbull, that she may sit down and reconsider because the issues that she is fighting for are important and I hope she continues to represent those electors at Chisholm - hopefully after the next election.

CONROY: But, Craig, you've got to accept that having MPs in tears, reporting to the Prime Minister that they were in tears and being intimidated. Linda Reynolds, for example, whose a very tough operator, ex-army Brigadier made a speech in the Senate about the conduct last week and I think it behoves all Liberal MPs to reflect on the behaviour they witnessed last week or participated in.

KELLY: Well Pat, I didn't see any bullying. There may have been vigorous debates, but I didn't see anyone threatening anyone, I didn't see anyone bullying anyone. In fact, as Julia said the bullying she has experienced has been from both sides of politics.

GEOGHAN: More broadly, you've also lost Julie Bishop. How much of a loss is she to the party?

KELLY: Well, I understand that Julie will continue to run at the next election.

GEOGHAN: But not in a leadership role.

KELLY: She can play a big role from the backbench. That probably gives her more time to go around the electorates. Julie is very, very popular around the electorates. Now if she is on the backbench rather then having a job as Foreign Minister, that gives her more timeout to get help...

GEOGHAN: She managed to do both quite adequately. People have said she did a brilliant performance on many accounts both as Foreign Minister but also, obviously in the amount of support she generates in the electorates she goes to.

KELLY: As I said, that now gives her more time to get out and about in the local electorates.

NICHOLSON: More controversy surrounding Peter Dutton this week, Craig. Was it wrong for him to overrule departmental advice over the au pairs?

KELLY: I've seen some beat-ups in stories. As Minister for Immigration, you have the ministerial discretion which gets exercised in many cases, it was under the Labor Party, It was also under Scott Morrison and was also under Peter Dutton. These au pairs or nannies, as I understand it, someone was a actually a cousin coming to live with their cousin and going to do a few jobs around the house as well. Now if that is something that I see the ministerial discretion should be used for. I think he did exactly the right thing.

NICHOLSON: Peter Dutton said he did this because it was in the interests of Australia as a humane and generous society. Why does that not apply to refugees as well?

KELLY: Of course, it does - It applies across the board. The humane and humanitarian issues around refugees. The previous policy that Peter Dutton and Scott Morrison inherited under the Labor Party saw 1,200 refugees drown at sea. That was the policy we that inherited and that was the mess that we've been fixing up.

GEOGHAN: The question is not the legality of the decisions, Pat, has he misled Parliament?

CONROY: Well, it is beyond that. It think there is a real case about wether he misled Parliament when asked about it during Question Time. Let's concentrate on some facts, at least two au pairs were blocked at the airport because they had breached their visas previously - they worked under tourism visas previously. Phone calls were then made by people with strong Liberal connections or police connections through the Queensland Police Force to Peter Dutton to Peter Dutton's office. He then exercised his discretion against the advice from Border Command to issue visas for these au pairs. Their is a huge case to answer here. No-one questions the legality of it because he does have that ability but the question is about the judgement of it, were there any other links between the families involved and Mr Dutton or the Liberal Party? And he hasn't made any full answer to this and he should cooperate with the Senate inquiry. And your’e absolutely right, this is a Government that could have accepted New Zealand's offer to get all the children and families off Nauru right now. They've refused to do that. That is not humane. They are happy to play politics with refugees, but when it comes to au pairs for connected families, they are happy to wave them through. It's hypocrisy on a grand scale.

NICHOLSON: We've got a lot to cover this morning so we might move on from that topic and talk energy reports this morning in the Sydney Morning Herald about potentially a $15 billion trade deal with Europe at risk if the Paris accord is not abided by and we don't see those emissions being cut. Are we putting that at risk with the Government's policy on energy?

KELLY: Well, I would be interested to see what the EU are doing with their trade deal to the USA.

NICHOLSON: But we're not talking about the USA.

KELLY: Well, what trade deals will that effect? If you look at many of those EU countries, they are nowhere near their Paris targets. We have President Macron early in the year lecturing us - CO2 emissions in France actually increased 3% last year, much higher than Australia even without the population...

GEOGHAN: Hang on, but are you saying this is an empty threat

KELLY: Well, who knows what the threats are.

GEOGHAN: Do you maintain that Australia should withdraw from the Paris Agreement?

KELLY: What we should do we should have a full audit so we can explain to the Australian people what is actually required. And we need to do that across every sector of the economy. In agriculture, transport, commercial aviation, cement manufacturing - all the industries that we have. What will that cost and what will that require? And I think If you have that debate, people would be very concerned about how we can possibly achieve - a 26% target will be hard. A 45% target which Labor have, is going to be economy devastating.

CONROY: This Government this week walked away from any pretence of satisfying its climate change commitments as inadequate as they are. They have the energy sector that is a full one third of our carbon emissions. To say we're not worried about their pollution at all, we're not worried about that at all, we are signing the death warrant for this Government's commitment to taking effective action on climate change. And the great tragedy besides the impact on the environment, is that by having that uncertainty in energy policy, we won't get new investment into renewables and other low emissions, which means power prices will go up at the same time as pollution does. This is a Government that has zero credibility on climate change and energy policy, and our constituents will pay the price for that.

GEOGHAN: We are almost out of time and we did want to touch on another subject which is not politics believe it or not. Yesterday we saw the Catholic Church's response to the recommendations from the royal commission. Craig, they said they would not break the seal of the confessional because that would undermine religious freedom. What's your reaction to that?

KELLY: The Catholic Church has really dropped the ball over the years when it comes to cracking down on paedophilia and child abuse. I'm not a Catholic myself, but I do have some concerns with that change in the laws of the seal of the confessional. It could actually have the adverse consequences someone that’s an actual perpetrator of child sex offenders, I can't see them going into a confessional and admitting what they've done. I'm not sure if this is actually going to work, it could have the actual adverse consequences and whatever we do, I think it should be done in consultation with the Church.
GEOGHAN: So you say the Church has made the right decision?

KELLY: No, I'm saying we should have consultation with the Church on this issue. I don't think the
Government should come in over the top and put regulations in.

NICHOLSON: Pat, what do you make of that and more broadly...

CONROY: I think the Catholic Church's decision was an absolute disgrace. My home region, the Hunter Valley was the focal point, the locus for so much child abuse perpetrated by the Catholic Church and the Anglican Church, and for thirty or forty years, the Catholic Church not only allowed this, they actively transferred priests around to avoid accusations being proven. We had Bishop Wilson found guilty of crimes in Maitland of knowingly not going to the police when he had accusations of child abuse. The Catholic Church's culture must change. This sends an appalling symbol that they consider respecting the rights of people confessing to paedophilia within the sanctity of the confessional more important than protecting children. I'm dead opposed to it, I think it's disgraceful and they need to move on because ultimately too many families have been destroyed by this attitude.

NICHOLSON: Are you encouraged that the Catholic Church has accepted 98% of the recommendations?

CONROY: That's a good sign, I recognise and I welcome that, but sadly they need to take this step. My community won't stand for it. We've seen too much abuse with the Catholic Church turning a blind eye to and this is another step.

GEOGHAN: Pat Conroy, Craig Kelly, thanks for joining us.

KELLY: Thanks a lot.

CONROY: Thank you.