ABC News: Afternoon Briefing: Branch Stacking, Statues Debate



SUBJECTS: Branch Stacking, Statues Debate  

PATRICIA KERVALAS, HOST: I want to bring in my panel, Liberal MP Dave Sharma, and Labor MP Peter Khalil. Welcome to both of you.  

DAVE SHARMA MP: Thanks Patricia. 

HOST: Peter Khalil I’ll start with you. Have you spoken to Anthony Byrne? 

PETER KHALIL MP: No, I haven’t. I’ve texted him just really as a health check, just to say, are you okay? How are you doing? Just to check up on him. 

HOST: Did he reply?  

KHALIL: Yeah, he said, thanks, appreciate the thought. 

HOST: Do you think it’s a bit odd that his office was used for this covert filming? 

KHALIL: Well, all of that’s going to be investigated by IBAC and the Vic Police. I should say the premier has referred all of this to the authorities for investigation, rightfully so. Anthony Albanese and Daniel Andrews have acted swiftly and decisively to respond to this unacceptable conduct and also the misogynistic and homophobic slurs that we saw in those reports. There was swift and decisive action to expel the former minister from the party and to refer all of the matters to the Victorian police and IBAC. And they’re going to conduct those investigations, including around all of the elements that you’ve just referred to. 

HOST: Peter, I spoke to a former state secretary, Eric Locke, who said waiting for a couple of years until Victorian Labor party members actually can have their vote is too long a wait. What’s your view? 

KHALIL: Look, this is a big step, for federal intervention into the Victorian branch has not occurred, I think for 50 years. It was just before Gough Whitlam got elected they took this kind of decisive action back then when there were problems in Victoria. It is a very extreme step. The point I want to make though, Patricia, is there’s some 16,000 Victorian party members. If some of these reports are correct, or we don’t know, that 20% or 25% are infected by stacking. And what we mean by stacking is they’re not genuine members. They either haven’t paid for their membership, or they don’t even know that they’re a member as well. But the vast majority of members are genuine members. They are engaged and I know in my community, they’re people who are committed. They’re engaged at party branch meetings, they exchange ideas, they volunteer to help the community, they volunteer on campaigning and they get involved in policy forums. They are really people who are giving their time because they believe that they can play a part and contribute positively through the political party, the Labor Party. 

HOST: So should they be waiting till 2023 to get their votes back? 

KHALIL: So that is a big issue. And I know that many members that I’ve just started to speak to over the last couple of days have raised some of those issues with me. It is not entirely the case that the Bracks-Macklin review, by the way headed up by two party elders, will be handing down their report in November. There has been a suspension of voting rights to January next year. Pre-selections are going to be covered by the national executive. And the reasoning behind that, frankly, Patricia is to ensure that they can go through 16,000 members and make sure that everyone is a genuine member. And ticks off on the authenticity of their membership and are really committed. And I think that process will be a successful one. And you’ll see people who are really committed to the party, the vast majority, retain their membership and go on to have their voices heard as premier Andrews stated today. 

HOST: Okay. So I just want to pin you down on this before I get to Dave Sharma. 2023, is that too long? 

KHALIL: Not all voting rights will be suspended until 2023. There is a point at January next year where it’s been suspended until for pre-selections. A part of it. There are other voting rights that party members have around local, delegate elections and for conferences and things like that. And if this process is undertaken swiftly and efficiently, as I suspect it will be by these party elders who are very experienced. You may see a return of voting rights for those party members after they’ve handed down their report and their recommendations are followed through on. 

HOST: Dave Sharma I’m going to bring you in on something entirely different. And that’s because I’m not really a big fan of giving free kicks to my panellists. We all know this is sort of a mess for Labor – not your political party at this stage. You’ve received a lot of criticism for your Tweet overnight. You Tweeted a picture of the pyramids in Egypt, alongside the caption, “Worried that someone will soon realise ancient Egyptians used slave labour without modern award protections and turn their fury on the pyramids”, something along the lines of that. What point did you want to make with this tweet? Because you’ve made a lot of people angry. 

SHARMA: Well, I think that’s just Twitter for you, Patricia, that’s par for the course on Twitter. The point I was making, and I did a tweet about the Captain Cook statue that was defaced in Randwick just outside my electorate a couple of days ago, people are afraid to examine our history and express views on it, including some of our leading historical figures. We should have those debates and we should recognise that the standards by which people were judged in their own times are not the standards by which we would seek to judge people today. But the way to do that is through an open debate, not going through and destroying property or rule by mobs. We’ve sent some pretty extraordinary things. People defacing statues of Gandhi. People defacing statues of Winston Churchill, which people can say Winston Churchill did some great things, and he did, but he also did some bad things by the standards of today. Likewise, Captain Cook. I don’t think the right way to litigate these sorts of disputes is by going around wrecking property and saying the rule of the mob is correct. That was the point I was making on Twitter. People have strong views about this. 

HOST: Well some people like- 

KHALIL: I do! 

HOST: Wait a minute, let me put one to you because I had a bit of time with you, Peter Khalil. Ben Wyatt, who is the treasurer in WA, also an Indigenous man said this is not becoming, basically, for a serious federal politician. Essentially, some people thought you were making light of slavery? 

SHARMA: Well, no, absolutely not. But I don’t think, this is a topic of live debate around the world, I think it’s completely appropriate that federal politicians and state politicians express their views on these things. My view is that people should be free to have these sorts of debates, but the way to have the debate is through the use of speech, not through the use of violence. 

HOST: No one in this forum said that there should be violence. I’m talking about making light of slavery. 

SHARMA: No, I was talking about property damage, people making their views known by tearing down statues that they decided they disagreed with the view of that person, their role in life or their character or their record. That’s not the way to do it – write an essay, pen an op-ed, write a petition, go to your local representative and say you want to have it pulled down. That was the point I was making and I think it is a completely legitimate point.  

HOST: And you’d Tweet it again if you had your time? 

SHARMA: Yes absolutely, and I’m sure Peter would Tweet his reply again which I know he’s very keen to tell you about. 

HOST: We’ll he’d love to talk, but I silenced him because I wanted to pursue you and now he’s had to go to a division – so welcome to the parliamentary sitting week, that’s how I roll!