ABC NEWS AFTERNOON BRIEFING
MONDAY 22 NOVEMBER 2021
Subjects: vaccine mandates; PM’s Hawaii holiday
PATRICIA KARVELAS, HOST: Time now for my political panel this afternoon, Liberal MP Jason Falinski, and in a moment, Labor MP Peter Khalil. Just beginning with you if I can, Jason? Gerard Rennick and Alex Antic are threatening to abstain from voting on the controversial religious discrimination bill until the Prime Minister opposes state vaccination orders. Firstly, I just want to get your take on this behaviour, is this appropriate from Coalition Senators?
JASON FALINSKI, MEMBER FOR MACKELLAR: No, it’s not PK, it’s not appropriate from anyone who is a member of the Liberal or National Party frankly and I’m not going to itemise them for you, but everything I vote for in the Parliament is not necessarily something that I would have done that way or that I agree to. But the fact is that we live in a democracy, a parliamentary democracy, and majority rules. And the view of what happens in the party room is the view that we need to stick with. Now what’s happening here is that the Prime Minister is being put in an impossible position. He has no influence – well he might have influence – but he has no capacity to tell the states what to do over vaccinations and whether they’re mandatory or not, and I just don’t think what’s happening here is either fair to him, fair to the Liberal-National party, and it’s certainly not fair to the Parliament or the Australian people.
KARVELAS: Is it fair though that your government prioritised this bill in the first place?
FALINSKI: Which bill would that be?
KARVELAS: Pauline Hanson’s bill.
FALINSKI: For those of us in the House of Representatives, what goes on in the Senate can be sometimes very mysterious. But my understanding is that this was a matter where there were always these negotiations with the crossbench and to a certain extent they have latitude about what bills they put up so this wasn’t actually a matter of the Liberal party or the Government prioritising the bill. It was a matter of in order for the Senate to function there are these arrangements in place where crossbench parties, both the Greens and One Nation and others, can put bills forward that they deem to be priorities for themselves.
KARVELAS: Peter Khalil, does that stack up to you?
PETER KHALIL, MEMBER FOR WILLS: No mystery here, Patricia. No mystery here, Jason.
FALINSKI: The Senate is one giant mystery to those of us in the House of Representatives.
KHALIL: If you are going to interrupt me, Jason, it’s a pathetic argument. The government allowed this bill to come up for debate, they knocked over the bill that Senator McMahon was so interested in, which was scheduled around the territory issues. And they probably did it, and I’m being cynical here because you’ve interrupted me, because they’re pandering to Pauline Hanson, they are afraid of her threat that she would not vote for any government legislation if she wasn’t allowed to put this bill up. And then we saw five Coalition Senators cross the floor and vote with her on this bill. And it took the rest of the government Senators and the opposition to oppose it.
KARVELAS: So Jason, I suppose the question is – in relation to the substantive issue as well. The government has been arguing, or if you’re listening to the Prime Minister, you should be able to go to a café if you’re not vaccinated in Brisbane. In your own state in NSW, in Sydney where you come from, you have to be vaccinated to go to cafes or restaurants, isn’t that reasonable?
FALINSKI: I think to a certain point it is, I’ve got to say though at some point in New South Wales – I think it’s December 15 – it all becomes a bit silly. When you’ve got vaccination rates around the 92-93%, forcing people, well saying businesses can’t serve people or have to check whether a person is vaccinated or not, really becomes just a bit, I don’t know. Someone would have to explain to me the health reasons behind that. I mean we’re in Canberra at the moment, Peter and I, and I think they have vaccination rates over 98% and we’re all still wearing masks around the building. What do you want it to be, 101% before we start relaxing some of these restrictions?
KARVELAS: Okay but – Peter you want to speak.
KHALIL: Well that wasn’t the question that you asked, Patricia. But anyway, the point really is about the fact that these measures have actually led to the high vaccination rates that Jason is celebrating – they were part of the reason why we have such high vaccination rates. Its about following the medical advice, and the fact is the Prime Minister is selective when it comes to being critical. The very same rules are in New South Wales yet they are unmentioned by the Prime Minister yet he picks on, it’s very partisan, he picks on Labor premiers and states that have Labor governments in there to be critical of them and yet New South Wales not a mention.
KARVELAS: Yeah look, Jason, I’ve been watching this very closely and it is the case that it was actually New South Wales that began these mandates really before anyone, on teachers, then on these venues. It’s actually a Coalition state that began proposing these mandates for participation in society so why is it just the Labor states that are getting hand-picked for criticism?
FALINSKI: Do you mean mandates so people could enter the venue, or do you mean mandates so people could work in the venue?
KARVELAS: Both because we’ve seen both of those happen, I’m thinking of the teacher mandate that all teachers had to be vaccinated, that happened in New South Wales first, right? Those who work in aged care because your government keeps saying they support it in aged care. But clearly in schools it’s happening in Victoria and New South Wales, in both states.
FALINSKI: Yes, so I think the difference is between New South Wales and Queensland is that in Queensland, baristas are being forced to get vaccinated or else you can’t work – that’s not the case in New South Wales – but you are allowed to go into a restaurant or a bar or a café if you haven’t been vaccinated so I assume that includes people who aren’t – and hairdressers as well – so I assume that includes people who work in those venues but that is something that will come off on December 15. With teachers, I’m not sure in New South Wales that’s something that comes off. And let me be clear, I understand that vaccine mandates for workers in aged care, I certainly understand it for frontline healthcare workers, but a broader mandate across all sorts of sectors where it’s not necessary, seems to me a bit intrusive.
KARVELAS: What do you think, Peter? Is it intrusive?
KHALIL: Well, I think with all of these rules, the inconsistency of these rules is one big problem. And I think part of the broader point here is actually in the breakdown of our federal system in many respects, the lack of national leadership, particularly by the Prime Minister, the abrogation of responsibility to the state premiers and chief ministers, the lack of consistency across all of the states and territories, the breakdown in national cabinet. He has overseen the diminishment, I think, of our federation. That to me is a really big cross against his record as far as the need for a Prime Minister to be showing national leadership during this period and not mitigating his responsibilities to others. He sometimes takes credit for when the premiers get it right, and when things aren’t working well, he’ll hoe in hard and be quite critical and run the political lines. So, the politicisation of this is something that has disturbed me as well. On the substance of the issues very quickly, Patricia, obviously these rules need to come into some form of consistent framework as we go forward, as we are at 90 and 95% vaccination rates, that is an excellent thing. We need to see a standardisation of these rules across the nation.
KARVELAS: Do you think there should be a standardisation too, Jason? Because it is confusing.
FALINSKI: I don’t
KARVELAS: You don’t?
FALINSKI: No, I mean the whole point of the federation is that there is public policy experimentation so this sort of absolute need that what happens in Sydney must happen in Perth is actually not what federations are designed to do. They’re designed so that you can experiment with one set of policies in New South Wales, if they work then maybe you can adopt them across the board. If they don’t work then we go and look at other stuff.
KHALIL: So you think federation is a petri dish? That’s what you think, Jason? You think our federal is an experimental lab? Like come on. Where’s the national leadership on this? We’re not six different countries, okay. I mean it’s pathetic to say that it’s an experiment. No, it’s not – it’s supposed to be a form of governance and functioning. Yes, there is decentralisation within our constitution where it actually matters because there are different conditions obviously in some states and territories and cities. But we’re not talking about that. We’re talking about basic rules, health, we’re talking about travel that goes on between states and territories, it’s very different.
KARVELAS: Alright, you clearly disagree on this issue.
FALINSKI: What I would say is that Peter is simply misunderstanding the founding principles of liberal democracies which is that we have limited government that allow people in states, so that you have governance that is closer to the people. That is the basis of the EU, that is the basis of the United States, that is the basis of Canada. Federations are fully understood in that form. For him to suggest that policy experimentation is not meant to be part of a federation goes against nearly three-hundred years of how federation works. [inaudible]
KHALIL: Thanks for the lecture, Jason. I actually studied constitutional law.
FALINSKI: It interests me that Peter and the Labor party are very happy to talk about “we need national leadership on these things” but are quite happy to see state borders closed to other Australians. So, it interests me where this leadership is meant to begin and end. If there is one thing that should be national, all Australians should be able to travel from one part of the country to the other.
KARVELAS: I want to put a pause on this very animated conversation and have another animated conversation if we can. Starting with you, Peter Khalil, bit of a weird stoush at the end of question time, the Prime Minister and the Opposition Leader really gave conflicting accounts about an SMS about whether the Prime Minister was going to Hawaii. The Prime Minister has now since clarified saying he didn’t actually tell Anthony Albanese where he was going on a holiday. This is of course the very controversial holiday to Hawaii. Why does this matter? Why is Labor pursuing this?
KHALIL: Because it goes to integrity, Patricia, it goes to trustworthiness. It goes to the fact that this Prime Minister has a glass jaw and lies about things blatantly. He basically said that he, well he revealed on 2GB, that he text messaged Anthony Albanese that he was going on leave. And then he came out on the chamber and said “I told him where I was going” and Anthony was like “I didn’t release this. I didn’t make the text exchange public, you did. Also, you did not tell me where you were going.” And he has gone back and forward, I think he’s gone back into the chamber twice to actually clarify his statements. And he was huffing and puffing, he was all over the shop because he was actually caught out telling porkies again. This guy cannot be trusted, he can’t be trusted with a basic thing like a text exchange with the Leader of the Opposition where he uses it for political purposes when he is under the pump on a radio interview. That was a private exchange, but he chose to make it public and then lied about it.
KARVELAS: Well Jason, it seems like a pretty big own goal from the Prime Minister because now he’s talking about the Hawaii trip again, and he also had to clarify that he didn’t actually say that it was Hawaii. What’s going on?
FALINSKI: So, the Prime Minister was asked in Question Time whether his office lied about whether he was on holiday or not. He stood up and he said “I didn’t lie. I can only speak to what I said which was that I was on holidays and that I texted the Leader of the Opposition when I was on the plane that I was taking leave to go with my family to Hawaii”. The last part of that which was that he was going to Hawaii, he didn’t tell the Leader of the Opposition. He went back into Parliament and clarified that he did tell him that he was going on holidays but he didn’t tell him where he was going. Honestly, if this is what politics in the 21st century has been reduced to by the Labor party, really no wonder Australians hold us in such low regard.
KHALIL: Really? Integrity, trustworthiness is not important? Is that what you’re saying?
FALINSKI: Seriously? This is it, because he told him he was going on holidays?
KARVELAS: Just finally to you, Jason Falinski, are you guaranteed that this religious discrimination legislation is coming to the party room tomorrow?
FALINSKI: Nothing in politics is guaranteed, PK. But my understanding is that it is coming to the party room tomorrow. I really haven’t seen it or know much more about it.
KARVELAS: Would you like to? Are you feeling like this is something you’d like to scrutinise?
FALINSKI: Look, I’m not trying to show off or anything but I’ve been very much focused on the housing affordability enquiry that I’m chairing with a whole bunch of other members of parliament which has been very interesting, and very worrying I have to say, so I haven’t had a lot of bandwidth to focus on the religious discrimination bill which I understand is coming to the party room tomorrow.
KHALIL: That’s because we haven’t seen it.
KARVELAS: Alright, well let’s hope that we do see it tomorrow if it’s going to be taken to the party room – and people come onto this show and show-off all the time, Jason, so it’s okay. Thank you so much for coming on.