ABC News Interview: News 24 Weekend Breakfast: National Integrity Commission, CPAC



SUBJECTS: National Integrity Commission, CPAC  

JOSH SZEPS, HOST:  Joining us to discuss is Labor MP Peter Khalil and LNP Senator Amanda Stoker. Thank you to both of you for being here. Peter, I might just start with you if we could. The latest news on the push for a federal Anti-corruption Watchdog is that Bill Shorten faced stiff opposition inside his Cabinet room before the election from Labor members, including Anthony Albanese, who opposed creating a corruption-fighting body. Was Albo wrong about that? 

PETER KHALIL MP: Morning Josh and Joanna and Amanda. What I know about that is that we took to the last election, a policy which was for a National Integrity Commission, a federal ICAC, if you like. And that was a party position. We promoted that policy and talked about it throughout the election campaign. And we reason we did – and that includes Albo and all of the leadership team who were supportive of that during the campaign – is because we know that Australians want to see a body that can actually address issues with the capacity to investigate issues at the national level with respect to corruption and restore some of the confidence that we need to have in our democratic institutions. So I know that there’s a bit of a mischief around some of these stories. I don’t know where they’re coming from, but the fact is – our policy is to have a National Integrity Commission. That hasn’t changed. 

SZEPS: I’m not trying to corner you into creating an artificial stoush between you and the leader of the Labor Party. When you say that you don’t know where the stories come from, the Fairfax press say that several Labor Shadow Cabinet members have told the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age that Penny Wong and Anthony Albanese and Tony Burke were against the creation of such a commission. So do you think that they were valid, on the substance?  

KHALIL: I support a National Integrity Commission as a backbencher, that’s my position. I think it’s important for our democracy to restore that confidence in our institutions so that we can have the capacity to investigate issues like this at a national level, in a coordinated way. So that’s my policy position on that. With respect to the deliberations in shadow cabinet, Josh, you’re going to have all sorts of arguments in the shadow cabinet. I wasn’t privy to those conversations but you’re always having long, thorough discussions around policy and the formulation of policy and the ins and outs of it and different arguments that occur. What is most important, though, is at the end of the process when you have an agreement by the shadow cabinet and there’s a consensus around the policy position, everyone supports that policy position and then prosecutes it as we did in the Federal Election campaign. And as we do now with the need for having this National Integrity Commission.  

JOHANNA NICHOLSON, HOST: Amanda, the Government is pushing hard for the so-called union-busting bill to hold union members to account. Why isn’t the same applying to members of the Federal Government? 

LNP SENATOR AMANDA STOKER: I think the Coalition has expressed its strong support for a Commonwealth integrity commission. And can I say – there’s nothing wrong with the now Leader of the Opposition expressing his concerns about what Labor’s proposal was that it took to the election. What it proposed was a couple of principles, back of the beer coaster style, that would have given, if implemented, so much power. It would have repeated many of the mistakes of rushed Anti-Corruption Commissions that have been set up in the states. Mr Albanese comes from New South Wales where the New South Wales ICAC has been guilty of some incredible overreach of its powers and it can show the way that when they aren’t designed well, Anti-Corruption Commissions can, in fact, be quite damaging in an unfair, unjust way, to people’s careers. They can ruin professional reputations, and in a way that doesn’t necessarily fit with the evidence. So what we’ve proposed, at the Coalition level, is a Commonwealth integrity commission that is properly funding – about three times the funding proposed by Labor. And that has two divisions. One that deals with law enforcement that would have public hearings in the way that the existing law enforcement integrity commission operates. And a second division to deal with politicians. The way that that would work is that there are investigations conducted by this new Commission in private, and that’s important so that it isn’t abused for political purposes by political opponents. But with the real kicker and that is that it will refer fully investigated briefs for criminal prosecution to the DPP. And that’s how we make sure that we fairly and fully deal with corruption complaints when they arise.  

NICHOLSON: So Amanda you say that this shouldn’t be rushed, but what sort of time frame are you towards?  

STOKER: Well, we’re looking to have a complete bill by the end of the year. That reflects a really robust consultation process and the efforts that are being made to ensure that the lessons of the state Corruption Commissions and where things have gone wrong in their design aren’t repeated at the Commonwealth level. That’s the kind of good sense policy work that you expect from a grown-up, sensible government – that’s doing it right. 

SZEPS: Let’s move on to the second story we’d like to talk about, which is CPAC, the conservative conference which will be taking place and Senator, you’ll be attending. There is a question over whether or not foreign speakers associated with alt-right figures should be banned from entering Australia? What’s your position on that? 

STOKER: I have a view that wherever speakers on the left or the right or anywhere in between, want to come to Australia to share ideas, they’re welcome to do so, provided they aren’t providing hate speech. But that’s a term that’s been bandied around in a pretty unhelpful kind of way. Let’s be clear about what hate speech is. Hate speech is speech that incites people to violence. The bloke that’s been identified by Senator Keneally and co and they’ve been carrying on about all week, he’s got some pretty odious views on a couple of things – they aren’t things that I agree with. But it’s not hate speech and no-one is being incited to violence. So in circumstances where we’re just dealing with people whose ideas you might not like, the answer isn’t to ban them from the country. The answer is for them to be engaged with, to be spoken with, to be debated robustly, so that all Australians can benefit from the good ideas rising to the top. That’s important for a free and healthy democracy. If we have a situation where we’re only able to enter rooms and talk to people with whom we already agree, that’s a recipe for a divided society where people who think differently don’t engage with one another, and that’s not healthy.  

NICHOLSON: In 2016, this man, Raheem Kassam, tweeted about Scotland’s first minister Nicola Sturgeon saying after she had a miscarriage asking if someone could “tape her mouth and legs shut so that she couldn’t reproduce.” While that might not be directly inciting violence, can’t a line be drawn between words and behaviour? 

STOKER: I’m never going to endorse words like that. They are stupid and crass and they are awful. I understand he’s also apologised fully for them for what it matters. The reality is – it’s awful stuff. But, let him be grilled for that. He deserves to be scrutinised for that kind of speech, but that doesn’t mean you shut him down. It means that you put him in a room full of people who think a lot more sensibly, and in the process, we don’t just talk him around, but we help all Australians to understand the importance of the much better ideas. 

SZEPS: Peter, Kristina Keneally has said that maybe we shouldn’t offer a visa to this guy and shouldn’t let him into the country. Should essentially be sorting out, using the immigration system, precisely, who is allowed to speak and to visit Australia and not. In the past, there have been controversies around people like Milo Yiannopoulos and Gavin McInnes who have been declined visas to come and speak in Australia. The point has been made that if Kristina Keneally hadn’t said this, then we wouldn’t know who this guy is and he wouldn’t be able to cloak himself in the flag of free speech and say that he is representing a persecuted minority and we should just ignore it. Is that position right? 

KHALIL: A couple of points here. With all due respect here to Senator Stoker. She knows who this guy is, because she’s going to be standing next to him at a conference and speaking alongside him. So a couple of really important points here. With all due respect to Senator Stoker, hate speech is not just speech that incites violence that’s a fundamental misunderstanding of what hate speech is. Within speech where you vilify, abusively disparage a person based on attributes of that person, whether it is ethnicity, race, gender, sexual orientation or faith or insult or injury. There are laws both federal and state in this country, which we have led the way with starting with the Racial Discrimination Act back in the 1970s, and more recent acts around sex discrimination and other forms of discrimination, where we, as a society, have said – we believe it is unacceptable and the law has taken the lead in this. She may have a philosophical disagreement with me, but the law has taken a lead to say it is unacceptable for someone to abusively disparage another based on their attributes as a person. Because that is not what we’re talking about with respect to free speech. You, Amanda, can have an argument with someone on a rational level about ideas and so on. That doesn’t mean that you have to actually abusively disparage someone, denigrate that person, based on ethnicity and race or their faith. 

SZEPS: This guy hasn’t done that in Australia. He hasn’t broken those laws in Australia? Why are we using the Immigration Department? 

KHALIL: I’ll explain that to you Josh. You mentioned Milo Yiannopoulos as an example. Amanda’s own Minister for Immigration used Section 501 of the Immigration Act which allows the Minister to have the power to block a visa or not award a visa to someone who does vilify people based on their race or ethnicity or their gender and so on. And he did so in respect to Milo Yiannopoulos because he made very similar remarks that Kassam has made with respect to Islam in the aftermath of the Christchurch massacre. In the words of the Liberal Minister of Immigration, he stopped Milo Yiannopoulos from entering into Australia because he believed that his statements would ferment division and hatred in this country. And just the second point that I want to make about this point that Amanda Stoker conflates around incitement of violence. When you vilify and disparagingly abuse people on that basis, you may not be directly inciting violence, but it is very, very clear, that that is the basis and the fundamental starting point for violence to come from there. Not all hate speech leads to violence. But pretty much all violence towards people of colour or people based on their faith, has, forms of hate speech. That’s why Holocaust deniers are banned. They’re not directly inciting violence but they create the conditions for people to take that next step. Is that… It’s a fundamental question for us as a society. Do we want people like that coming in here and fermenting that discord and that hatred and division? That’s different to having a rational argument on a political level about philosophies and so on. And free speech has never been absolutely free. Amanda should know that the famous legal case about shouting “Fire” in a theatre. You can’t have unmitigated, unchecked free speech. And as a society, we have made decisions under the law for normative change, to make it unacceptable for us to actually abuse people based on their faith or their religion or gender, and that’s what these guys have done. I grew up here in the 70s and 80s. I experienced racism directly. It was overt and in your face. We have changed, as a society, for the better. That doesn’t mean that racism still doesn’t exist. It doesn’t mean that that kind of prejudice still doesn’t exist. But as a society and our laws within that society, we’ve made decisions, both at the federal and state level, to not accept that. And the law has led the way in that. And I think that Amanda is wrong here and Minister Coleman was right not to let Yiannopoulos in as well. 

NICHOLSON: Your response to that, Amanda? 

STOKER: In the point about vilification, Peter is right to say that vilification can be a part of hate speech, but what makes vilification different from just speech we don’t like is that it prompts action, it prompts people to do something. And we don’t have any of that. There has been absolutely no crime of hate speech committed by this person and they have not done anything violent. They have not committed any offences. So we need to be very careful about overusing this term to censor things that we don’t like. 

SZEPS: Can I clarify, because I think that the fundamental disagreement between the two of you is what the parameters of our definition of hate speech is. Since Peter raised the question of Holocaust deniers and Milo Yiannopoulos, would you say you oppose excluding people Holocaust deniers and people like Milo Yiannopoulos from Australia as well? 

STOKER: I think the right way to approach visas and this is something which I didn’t agree with the Minister on the Milo question – I wasn’t around at the time of dealing with the Holocaust deniers. But I think our view should always be that we shouldn’t be providing political censorship in the way that we allocate visas. While it might sound fine in this current political climate, it is something that could be very easily used against people of different political views in a different environment. 

KHALIL: Where would you draw the line Amanda? Where would you draw the line? Would you stand up next to a Neo-Nazi, a fascist? Where do you draw the line on a philosophical basis. This is beyond politics to a certain extent. There’s a point where free speech cannot just be completely unmitigated.  

STOKER: Neo-Nazis do incite violence. Holocaust deniers do incite violence. There’s a difference. 

KHALIL: Would you stand next to a Neo-Nazi that doesn’t incite violence, that actually espouses Nazi views about the way that society should be shaped? 

STOKER: Look, I don’t hang out with Neo-Nazis so I don’t know exactly what they’re talking about.  

KHALIL: You should know. That’s an historical fact… (CROSS-TALK)  

STOKER: I can’t hear you, mate. Anyone talking about things which incite violence, is committing hate speech. They can be excluded and they should be. But people who just have repugnant ideas should be exposed for what they are. It is very, very unhealthy to try and insulate people from ideas that might be challenging, because then we lose our capacity, as a society, to be able to argue through and to stop bad ideas. And I don’t want to see us lose the ability to be able to smack down bad stuff when it crops up.  

SZEPS: Peter, you had a very good shot at articulating your understanding of hate speech so we’ll have to leave it there at the last word because we’re a little over time. Thanks to both of you.