ABC AFTERNOON BRIEFING
SUBJECTS: John Setka, Family Law Inquiry, Gladys Liu, Israeli Election
PATRICIA KARVELAS, HOST: I’m joined by my panel, Liberal MP Dave Sharma and Labor MP Peter Khalil, welcome to both of you. Peter I’ll start with you. John Setka denied he was making a threat when he said politicians who supported the Coalition bill to curb union power would wear the consequences. Did it sound threatening to you?
PETER KHALIL, MP: Well, you know, I’ve got to say about this whole Setka issue. It is entirely appropriate that we have made a decision as a Party, our leader has made a decision, to expel this member as a member of the Party. We don’t think it’s right to have a member of the party, someone who has been convicted on harassment of women or multiple breaches of a Family Court order and, and as a matter of principle, a Leader of our Party and our National Executive, should on behalf of the Party be able to make those decisions and I it is the right decision to make. So, what Setka does is a matter for John Setka. I think on the issue of the Bill that’s before us, it should be opposed on its merits. It’s a bad Bill. It is a bad Bill for workers and that’s why we oppose it. And, look, I don’t like the fact that some Members of Parliament feel intimidated. That’s a problem. But from our perspective as a party, we’ve taken the decision through our Leader to expel and the National Executive to expel him from the party.
KARVELAS: OK. You’ve talked about the Labor Party issue and it’s a matter for members, but do you believe that the language he used was intimidation?
KHALIL: Well, I wasn’t in the meeting. I’ve seen reports of it in the press and so on. You know, people can make subjective decisions about whether language is intimidating and how far it goes and whether it is lobbying from one perspective or whether it is actually intimidating language. So, if those people who feel they have been intimidated are saying that, you’ve got to take that on face value.
KARVELAS: OK. So, you think it’s appropriate then that the Australian Federal Police should look at this?
KHALIL: Well, I can’t make that decision, Patricia. I wasn’t in the meeting, I wasn’t subject to the language, I don’t know what was said…
KARVELAS: But the question is, these people say that they were intimidated. You think it is appropriate that the Federal Police should look into this?
KHALIL: Well, if they’ve made a complaint to law enforcement then it’s a matter for the law enforcement agencies, whether it’s the AFP to determine whether it should be pursued.
KARVELAS: Alright, let’s move on to another issue and Dave Sharma, I will bring you in here. Pauline Hanson says some women are making up domestic violence claims to stop men having access to their children. Do you think that she is right, what do you make of that claim?
David Sharma, MP: Is that for me, Patricia?
KARVELAS: Yeah It is.
SHARMA: Yeah sorry. Look, I wouldn’t agree with that claim whatsoever. I think domestic violence against women in the home, in any context is something that we need to be doing more to combat. It’s a serious problem and, you know, I wouldn’t link these issues together whatsoever. I think that’s not a reference I would agree with at all.
KARVELAS: OK, so, is it appropriate then that Pauline Hanson who is making the claims, Dave Sharma, should be the Deputy Chair of this Parliamentary Inquiry?
SHARMA: Well, I’m not aware that she is. I know Kevin Andrews has been asked to chair it, I don’t know who the other members will be.
KARVELAS: The Government has now confirmed that she will be the Deputy Chair. Is that appropriate given her views about women fabricating, fabricating domestic violence to try to use it as leverage in these custody battles?
SHARMA: I’ll let Pauline Hanson explain her views, I’m not going to go out there and defend them but the purpose of this inquiry is to really look at the family law system, how it operates, and to try and allow these difficult situations, which break-ups of families always are, particularly for children and for all parties to try and make sure that we’re resolving them as amicable and as smooth and as less traumatic a way as possible, and I think that’s a good purpose.
KARVELAS: Ok, Peter, we spoke to Simon Birmingham a little earlier, the Minister, and he made it clear that if Labor, what are you against, he essentially argues? Are you against an inquiry that looks at improving the system? It is a relevant question though. Why oppose it? Isn’t that the purpose, it’s about to improve the system.
KHALIL: I’ll tell you why, Patricia. First, two points. First point, it is a weak capitulation by the Prime Minister and this Government to appoint Senator Hanson as the Deputy Chair who is going to weaponise this, politicise this, her political agenda and use that as a platform for her views, pre-empt the findings of such an inquiry, cause she is already out there talking about it. Now, at least Kevin Andrews, who is the chair, who was on the ABC earlier, said he is not going to pre-empt any of the findings of this enquiry. He is going to remain as objective as possible. But the point is there has been a House of Representatives bipartisan committee that’s looked at this. The Australian Law Reform Commission has put out a report with robust recommendations both of which the Government should start with, to actually stop dragging their heels on this. There are recommendations around the cost, the cost delays, the issues around the delay in hearings in the Family Courts, the scourge of family violence. And the overwhelming evidence that we all are aware of, that women have been killed in domestic violence incidents. It’s a regular occurrence. It happens every couple of days, and the fact that she is running on this agenda and trying to weaponise this agenda is absolutely disgraceful, and more disgraceful that the governments capitulated on this. They should actually get on, and if you want to have a real bipartisan committee, Albo’s not against that. He said that’s fine. We weren’t consulted. If you want genuine bipartisanship, you’re talking about the official opposition, that has almost a hundred MP’s and Senators in this place, not capitulating to one, One Nation Senator.
KARVELAS: Alright let’s move on to another issue. And Gladys Liu has been dominating as an issue throughout the week. Dave Sharma, an opinion piece in Chinese media has praised the Prime Minister for his support of Gladys Liu. What do you make of that?
SHARMA: Well, I don’t pay much attention to the editorials and the Global Times, just as I wouldn’t when they castigate Australia and our political class for doing things they disagree with. I’m not going to single them out when they agree with us. They are a mouthpiece for official organs of the Chinese State, and they shouldn’t be influencing the decisions we take here in Australia.
KARVELAS: No they shouldn’t, but they clearly like the line that your Government’s taken to defend Gladys Liu. Do you find that alarming?
SHARMA: No, I don’t find it alarming. I wouldn’t find it alarming when the Global Times doesn’t like a line that we’re taking on issues like the South China Sea, for instance, or, you know, foreign interference. We shouldn’t, they shouldn’t be a factor in our decision making.
KARVELAS: You have been very concerned about Chinese influence and you’ve raised these issues in the past, but why don’t you believe that more questions should be answered by Gladys Liu? Is it just because it’s politically convenient in this time given you don’t have a big buffer in the House of Representatives. Why shouldn’t she make a statement to the House of Representatives?
SHARMA: Not at all, I mean, look. She has made a statement; and I don’t actually think there is any charges to answer here.
KARVELAS: To the House of Representatives.
KHALIL: Written by the Prime Minister’s office.
SHARMA: I mean, but, what’s the accusation here? I mean, no one is suggesting that she’s been advocating positions of a foreign Government in Parliament. No one’s suggested that she’s been changing her positions, you know, in return for money or favours.
KHALIL: Do you want me to tell you.
KARVELAS: Let him finish, let him finish.
SHARMA: I mean this is like, I mean, people try and draw parallels with the Sam Dastyari case. They’re worlds apart, they’re universes apart. I just can’t see what the charges here are at all. I mean, the accusations are baseless…
KHALIL: Really, Dave?
SHARMA: …and the opposition is running this for their own political purposes, cause they see, you know, a Government with a narrow majority and they’d like to unseat a sitting member, that’s what this comes down to.
KARVELAS: Peter, WA Treasurer and deputy leader Ben Wyatt has called on his federal colleagues to take a step back from their attacks on Gladys Liu and to be mindful of the importance of the trading relationship with China. That’s your own Labor colleagues in WA. What’s your response to this?
KHALIL: Well, he is entitled to his opinion, Patricia, and I think we are entirely appropriate in asking these valid and legitimate questions about Gladys Liu and all of the issues that she hasn’t actually answered any of these questions. In fact the real problem here, Dave, which you’re failing to see, is that she lied on camera about her membership of an association that is part of the United Front, the propaganda arm of the Chinese Government. Look, there are other members of all these associations, there are MP’s, State level candidates, all the rest of it on different sides of politics. But she lied about it. But more importantly, she has not answered questions about the donations, the undeclared donations, there are several of them, 105,000 that was donated through donors for a dinner with Malcolm Turnbull that never happened. 300,000 that was returned because of security reasons around the donors from our own national security agencies. So set that aside. But if you were to look at the causality of those unanswered issues, with the fact she has also failed miserably to confirm what is a bipartisan position on the South China Sea, on camera, a very tepid answer on any support for the right of peaceful protest in Hong Kong, you start to ask these very legitimate questions about whether she is a fit and proper person. Now, I think Penny Wong nailed it in the Senate today when she talked about the fact that this Government is actually putting their own political interest on their Member, or a protection racket around her, over the national interest and our national security priorities. And why shouldn’t we ask the questions? I mean these are legitimate questions. And then for the Prime Minister to say, oh, play the race card. As if 1.2 million Chinese Australians can’t think for themselves. A criticism of a MP has nothing to do with her ethnicity. A criticism of the Chinese Communist Party and its policies has nothing to do with the vast majority of Chinese. They can think for themselves, and to draw that, or conflate the two, is absolutely disgraceful by the Prime Minister.
KARVELAS: I’m gonna allow you to answer some of the claims made there, Dave Sharma. Particularly in relation to the race, the racism. It was I think you before the Prime Minister even did who said that perhaps there are, this is racially tinged. Do you still believe that?
SHARMA: I think there’s a McCarthy-esque tone to this questioning. It’s like are you now or have you ever been a member of the Chinese Communist Party? I mean, the allegations are insubstantial, I mean the stuff that Peter just said in that interview, I watched it with Andrew Bolt, she said I support the position of the Foreign Minister and I will always stand up for Australian interests first. I don’t see how that’s inconsistent with the Australian Government’s policy on the South China Sea. I don’t see that at all.
KARVELAS: Alright, I want to move on to what Alan Joyce has been saying today. And it really is in response, just for some background for our viewers, to, to commentary by the Government, including Government Ministers saying that businesses should maybe poke their nose out of social issues. Alan Joyce, of course the Qantas boss, says Qantas is not going to pull back from advocating on social issues because it’s in the interests of employees and customers and shareholders. Dave Sharma, what do you make of the role of business here in the social space?
SHARMA: Well, this is really a question for CEOs and their shareholders and their employees as well. Whenever you’re the head of a large organisation that employs tens of thousands of people and you’ve got public shareholders, I think you want to be careful that you’re speaking on behalf of those people and those employees. Some of whom could have different views about the issue and you want to make sure it is tied back to your commercial interests, cause that’s ultimately who you are accountable to.
KARVELAS: OK, so, you do think they should think twice before they get involved in social campaigns?
SHARMA: Well, I think every situation is quite specific to its own context here, but, I mean, the role of business is not to be thought leader on social issues or things like that. It’s not how our political system works.
KARVALAS: Ok, so on a specific example, I know you were a yes person on the marriage equality issue. The Qantas boss defended Qantas’ role there, do you think it was appropriate?
SHARMA: Well, I think he is the judge of that, his shareholders are the judge of that, and his employees are the judge of that. He’s defended why it was important, because it is linked to the business and the profitability of Qantas, and I accept his explanation for that.
KARVELAS: Peter, we know that Labor, particularly in the last campaign had some trouble with business, given some of your policies, clearly, didn’t please business. Does Labor need to repair its relationship with corporate Australia?
KHALIL: Well, Anthony Albanese gave a really good speech to business leaders this morning, and I spoke to a couple of them later in the day and, and they had some really good feedback. And, look, the thing is, that’s kind of a weak position about sticking to your knitting, and that was sort of said by Minister Dutton. The Morrison government should not be telling business what to say, what to do, what to believe. That’s not the role of Government. The business, business, whether it’s small business, all the way through to big business, they have a role that they play in society. They have their corporate social responsibility. They are free, not to be censored about what they do. They’re entirely free to talk about whatever they want and engage with whoever they want in civic society, with unions, with other community groups, that’s entirely up to them, and the Government shouldn’t be sticking their nose in it. I find it quite remarkable that the Government is actually engaging in trying to censor business from, you know, having their own views around issues. So, I can’t understand that frankly and I don’t understand where that’s coming from, at least even from an ideological point of view from the Liberal Party.
KARVELAS: Ok, but you absolutely avoided my question. Impressive, but I’m bringing you back to it. Does Labor need rebuild its relationship with corporate Australia?
KHALIL: I actually think, as a formula, and a template, the Keating and Hawke Governments and the way that they worked with the union movement, with big business and small business, you know, we know that history of the accord, is a fantastic template for us as a party. We set-up there the foundations for the prosperity of modern Australia because of the ability of those Labor governments to engage with business and certainly, Albo is taking those steps with businesses, he’s engaging with them as he did this morning. So yes, we’ve got a lot of work to do with business. And if you want me to answer the question about the rhetoric around the top end of town. I never use that rhetoric, Patricia, because, coming from a migrant family, we know, our parents wanted us to succeed. We worked hard, we were working class. They always wanted us to succeed. What does that mean anyway? And I think Labor has in many respects, when we have been in government, has actually set-up the conditions for that equality of opportunity so people can succeed based on their merits and hard work.
KARVELAS: Dave Sharma, a final word to you on something going on far away, but you were the ambassador to Israel. There is an election there. What’s your analysis of what’s unfolding?
SHARMA: Well, it is quite an interesting result, I think. We have only seen the exit polls, we haven’t seen the final count. But it’s clear that the, you know, the two major parties Likud and Blue and White, as it’s called, have finished, you know, very close to the same number of seats. I think it will actually be quite hard potentially for Likud to form a government here because it’s almost the result is a sort of almost a repeat of that which happened a few months ago, but with a few less seats for Likud. So, in the way these things work I’m sure it will be a protracted, you know, coalition negotiations that will last for six or seven or eight weeks, and it will be quite some time until we know what the new government looks like.
KARVELAS: I want to thank you both for coming on the program. A robust conversation as always, thank you.
KHALIL: Thanks Patricia.
SHARMA: Thanks PK.
KARVELAS: I mean that in the most positive way I can. Liberal MP Dave Sharma and Labor MP Peter Khalil joining me there.