ABC NEWS AFTERNOON BRIEFING
TUESDAY 7 DECEMBER 2021
Subjects: Beijing Olympics Boycott; George Christensen; Vic ombudsman; Nicolle Flint
PATRICIA KARVELAS, HOST: Time now for my political panel. Liberal MP Dave Sharma and Labor MP Peter Khalil. Nice to speak to both of you. We have to start, Dave Sharma, with George Christensen who has supported comments likening Australia’s COVID-19 health measures to Auschwitz and the Tiananmen Square massacre, what are your thoughts on the way he should be reined in? I know that we’ve heard some condemnation today, we just heard it from Michael McCormack, but surely this needs a proper rebuke from the Prime Minister, and should he really be sitting on the Government benches?
DAVE SHARMA, MEMBER FOR WENTWORTH: Let me say first of all that I think what George Christensen has said in the interview, participating was grossly disrespectful on so many levels including to the victims and survivors, particularly of the Holocaust but also Tiananmen square – I mean those sorts of comparisons should never be used lightly and certainly not in a flippant and offhand way as they have been in this instance. I mean, I am glad to see that Barnaby Joyce and Michael McCormack and David Littleproud and a number of the senior Nationals have come out, and condemned these comments, because they should be rightly condemned as they would be, I think, by all right-thinking Australians and it is important that others do so as well. George is not a member of the Government. He sits with the LNP party room from time to time, he hasn’t been voting with the Government in the last week or two of parliament. He’s indicated his intention to not contest the next election. I think that is the right thing. If he was putting up his hand for LNP preselection again I would be arguing strongly against it.
KARVELAS: Peter Khalil does that settle it?
PETER KHALIL, MEMBER FOR WILLS: No not really. I think George Christensen is a member of the government. Scott Morrison must condemn him, categorically, clearly for his outrageous comments and if he doesn’t it is a failure in Scott Morrison ‘s leadership. And, you know, we’ve all condemned this. There is no moral equivalence in comparing, obviously, Auschwitz to health restrictions in Victoria or COVID-19 quarantine restrictions. It is absolutely irresponsible. It cheapens the political debate and, you know, the misinformation and disinformation about vaccines, the giving oxygen to dangerous right-wing extremist kind of media, all add up to diminish our democracy, and this is another manifestation, Patricia, of how we are heading more and more to this polarised extreme where the sensationalism and the provocation in these areas is just serving to go to a very small sectional interest which tips over into violence and right-wing violence and it is just unacceptable and Scott Morrison has to condemn it publicly and categorically.
KARVELAS: Dave Sharma, should he be condemning it publicly, categorically? We didn’t hear from him today on this.
SHARMA: No, I’m sure when he is asked, he will. I won’t speak for him, but I am sure he shares the views that I expressed, and Barnaby Joyce has expressed and David Littleproud and Michael McCormack. I’m sure he finds these comments just as abhorrent as I do and just as distasteful and just as inappropriate for any elected representative of Australia to go around making these sorts of remarks and engaging with these sorts of platforms to be honest. It is not the sort of behaviour we would expect of our friends or fellow citizens, never mind an elected representative of Australia.
KARVELAS: I want to change the topic to talk about the Beijing boycott. National senator Matt Canavan says he thinks it is inevitable Australia will pursue a diplomatic boycott of the Beijing Winter Olympics as the United States has announced. Dave Sharma, should Australia boycott?
SHARMA: Well, look I think it is important to make the distinction here, and it is an important one, between a diplomatic book and a wholesale boycott. A wholesale boycott is when the athletes don’t participate, no delegation is sent like we had in the 1980 Moscow Olympics or the ‘84 for Los Angeles. What the Unites States administration is talking about is they are still going to send their athletes, their athletes will still participate, there just won’t be any official US Government representative at the winter Olympics. Now, I think that is something that Australia should certainly consider. I wouldn’t want to see our athletes pulled into a boycott. I think it’s something we need to consider but we also need to take a decision in our own national interest, and I am of a view that we should keep lines of communication with China open with China, I know they don’t want to have them open at the moment and they haven’t been wanting to engage with us at a ministerial level. But I think that I would always be inclined to keep dialogue open, even if the dialogue is used to criticise the policies of the other countries rather than shut off those channels altogether
KARVELAS: Peter Khalil, should Australia be boycotting, at least in the diplomatic part? Obviously not athletes.
KHALIL: Yes and I called for this a number of weeks ago, well before the Biden administration made the decision, that Australia should have a diplomatic boycott of the Games. I am not sure about Dave, he might have to clarify, but I remember at the time, he seemed to have a different position where he didn’t support a diplomatic boycott, he seems to have shifted, which I welcome. And I called on it following the disappearance of Peng Shuai not just because Peng Shuai is a high-profile case which we’ve all spoken of but it’s just one of hundreds, if not thousands of examples of people who have disappeared, the detention of political dissidents, human rights advocates, journalists, artist, Chinese citizens who have been critical of the Government, as well as forced labour camps of the Uyghurs, the human rights issues in Tibet, the suppression of democracy in Hong Kong, and all of the other international acts such as what is happening with the economic coercion in trade in South China Sea, the international community has to send a strong message that that is unacceptable. Federal Labor is very clear that we will provide bipartisan support to the Federal Government if they decide to join the diplomatic boycott with other allies, but I think it’s a really important message that needs to be said by the international community.
KARVELAS: I want to move to another issue. Liberal MP Nicolle Flint has labelled a podcast from Youtuber ‘Friendlyjordies’ as sexist and called for Labor and others to condemn it. I will start with you, Peter Khalil, have you seen it, and do you condemn it?
KHALIL: Well, I haven’t seen it, I have seen reporting of some of the lines if you like in this comedy. Look, there’s a place for political satire in comedy about us as politicians. I think that is part of our free speech. Where we get into the grey area is when those become personal attacks based on a person’s gender or their ethnic identity, as so on, then it is not so funny. I have never found that funny when you attack someone personally. I think it is crass. It is not effective even as satire and just crosses the line. So, what I saw of the comments, I thought that they crossed the line without having viewed it myself, reading them I thought they crossed a line and were unacceptable, and so that needs to be called out, absolutely, and especially if Nicolle has taken great offence and other people who’ve been attacked in that have taken offence.
KARVELAS: Yeah Dave Sharma, obviously, I think the point that was made by Peter was a really important one. Satire has to be kind of protected and is part of our free speech, and we don’t want a society where we kind of stop people being able to make jokes, particularly about politicians, but does this breach a line?
KHALIL And journalists!
KARVELAS: No, not journalists. Just politicians.
SHARMA: I listened to a bit of this last night, my wife was actually playing it last night, I found it disgusting and abhorrent. I didn’t see there were any grey areas there at all. I think whatever line exists was well and truly crossed and was in the other side of the ballpark. It doesn’t mean I am going to say that we should silence him, or de-platform him or put him in jail or anything, I just think this stuff is just in poor taste and I don’t think it adds to the quality of our political debate. He is denigrating women, not just Nicolle Flint, Lisa Wilkinson, a number of other people. Just cheap shots, poor humour, poor taste. It is just really crass. I am sorry that we are even having to talk about it because I think it gives it more legitimacy than it deserves.
KARVELAS: Just finally before I let you both go, really interesting report from the Victorian Ombudsman saying that the State Government failed to exercise discretion when reviewing exemption applications for border permits. Deborah Glass joined me earlier and made quite a compelling case for the way she read the situation. Peter Khalil, should the Government take on her recommendations and really reflect on the conduct on this?
KHALIL: Yes. Here is a really interesting and stark contrast with the way that Deborah Glass has provided some very constructive criticism where the executive has overreached, for example, or there is inconsistency in rules. When you compare that to George Christensen, who is kind of sensationalising this and peddling misinformation. Here are some really constructive criticisms about decisions that governments have made that have an impact on people. I have made a lot of representations on behalf of constituents trying to get back in, I thought there was lack of common sense around some of these rules, especially as our own outbreaks in Victoria took off, it didn’t make any sense why there was such overly restrictive rules, with respect to crossing the border. So I think, yes, absolutely, the Victorian government should look at this. Victorian Government, other state governments, federal governments, have all made mistakes during the pandemic. It is important that there are checks and balances to the executive power and we are seeing a lot of debate about that. I think Deborah Glass has played a really important role in our democracy to highlight issues so that we can actually address those issues. And some of us, it is incumbent on some of us to actually make the same points and hold governments to account.
KARVELAS: I know you’re not from Victoria, Dave Sharma, but obviously some of the hard and fast rules we have had around dealing with COVID have been a broader issue, right?
SHARMA: Yes. I think anyone who has seen this stuff up close, particularly with constituents who wanted to cross state borders, they’ve known intuitively that there has been a kind of a bloody-mindedness or a dogmatism that’s infected some of this decision-making that should never have been there. We saw it certainly with the Queensland-New South Wales border but also with the New South Wales-Victoria border. This is a sensible recommendation and an argument for a bit of proportionality, common sense and a touch of humanity when dealing with these situations which touch people’s lives deeply.
PATRICIA: Humanity. We need more of it.
KHALIL: Before you go, Patricia this is the last chance we’re all together, me, you, and Dave.
KARVELAS: We will be together again but yes, the last Afternoon Briefing where the three of us will be together. I just know we will be together again
KHALIL: Good luck with the radio.
SHARMA: I am going to miss this routine.
KARVELAS: You will both be listening to me on RM breakfast every morning, correct? I’ll send you 700 selfies of myself, It’ll be fine. Thank you so much.
KHALIL: Thanks Patricia
KARVELAS: Liberal MP Dave Sharma and Labor MP Peter Khalil joining me there.