ABC News Interview: Matter of Fact with Stan Grant: Victorian State Election, Bourke Street Attack, Immigration and Multiculturalism, Infrastructure Spending



SUBJECTS: Victorian State Election, Bourke Street Attack, Immigration and Multiculturalism, Infrastructure Spending

STAN GRANT, HOST: The Victorian campaign has been waged against the backdrop of federal issues like terrorism, immigration and energy policies. The two major parties are watching on nervously from Canberra to see who might gain a boost from this weekend’s results. A short while ago I spoke to two Victorian MPs, the Liberals’ Tim Wilson and Labor’s Peter Khalil. As you’ll see, there’s no love lost already as this campaign trail gets under way. Good to see both of you. I want to start with an overview of the Victorian election. Tim, how much of this will be seen as a litmus test for what we’re going to have next year federally. How much can we take away from this and get a pointer for where the whole nation may be at right now?

TIM WILSON, LIBERAL MP: I think very little. The reality is this election has been fought on state issues, on both sides of the aisle. I think there is something to be learned from how the parties have approached the election and how they’re doing their campaigning activities. When it comes down to policy it’s marginal at best.

GRANT: Peter, policy is one thing, perception is another. I know it depends on who wins and who loses as to how much stock you want to place in the outcome. But to the extent that it builds perception and potentially builds momentum after the by-elections that we’ve had federally in recent times and looking ahead to the New South Wales election as well, what would you be looking for from Labor’s side?

PETER KHALIL, FEDERAL LABOR MEMBER FOR WILLS: Well, while I agree that state and federal issues are different and people understand that, I think you’re right about the perception side of things. Certainly looking at the Andrews government, they’re a government that is projecting the fact that they deliver for Victorians and delivered on a lot of policy areas, whether it is removal of level crossings, TAFE places, hospitals, schools — 70 new schools in the past four years, 1,300 upgraded — ambulance times being reduced. These are all practical things that make a real difference to people’s lives. People respond to that and the voters will be looking for governments that do their job. If perception is an important element, then the perception around the Federal Government is that they’re not delivering for the Australian people and that’s what we’ve been arguing in Opposition.

GRANT: Tim will certainly want to respond to that.

KHALIL: I’m sure he will!

GRANT: But given what we have seen in Wentworth and we know there’s always some analysis and extrapolation of these results, even if it does just go to the idea of perception, what’s an ideal outcome for you on the weekend?

WILSON: A Liberal majority government is my ideal!

GRANT: But federally, are there things you’re specifically looking for? The marginal seats at the state election are going to be decisive. And it’s basically seeing the next federal election will be fought around the country in key marginal seats?

WILSON: Of course. That’s always the case. We will all be focused on what’s happening around the sand belt, in Frankston where we have a marginal seat in the federal electorate of Dunkley, the same will be true around Geelong, very interested to see what happens there around the marginal seat of Corangamite. Nobody is trying to pretend otherwise. Just to respond to that point that Peter raised before, people will be looking for a government that respects the community and actually delivers for them. When we outline our agenda around cutting taxes and what we’ve actually done and delivered for small business and for households, what we’ve done on construction sites and across the board, I don’t dispute that resonates and responds and I think people will get it from the federal election as well. That’s why I said what’s more interesting is what’s happening on the ground campaigning-wise. That will be more instructive for both the parties when the’re looking at how they’re going to approach the next federal election. What’s clear is there are crime problems, crime in the state, people acknowledge that. We’ve had a terrible incident recently, a terrorist attack in Bourke Street in Melbourne. So I think people are going to respond to that because it already fits within a clear narrative about some of the criticisms we have directly been raising about Dan Andrews and his priorities and Labor and it’s been realised tragically.

GRANT: Peter, this event in Bourke Street has now become a critical issue at the state level and it’s being played out at the national level. We have had tension around the Muslim community and the Prime Minister and refusal of Muslim leaders to meet with the Prime Minister and criticism of Daniel Andrews as well around bail laws in Victoria that may have actually prevented this. So there is this overlap between a tragic event like that which raises serious issues of national security, it’s also going to be decisive in the election on the weekend?

KHALIL: Yeah, you’ve raised a couple of key issues in that question. First of all, Sisto Malaspina, who was murdered by the terrorist in the Bourke Street attack. I knew him and used to go to Pellegrinis like many millions of people have, you know, thousands of people have…

WILSON: Many of us did.

KHALIL: I’m sure Tim has been there as well. His last act in his life was an act of kindness which contrasted with the act of hatred by the murderer and the terrorist. That really is symbolic of the elemental struggle that we face against this. Having said that, I think there’s a lot of politics being played around this issue. Many of the Islamic and Muslim community leaders and the Sheiks and Imams are working very, very hard on their youth and making sure they’re on the right path and steered away from radicalised elements. I want to see the politics taken out of this. Of course, it’s important to engage with government at the federal and state level as well to work but that is actually happening. All you have to do is talk to the agencies, the security and intelligence agencies…

GRANT: But Peter, the Muslim leaders would not sit down with the Prime Minister. We’re talking about taking the politics out of it. Surely when the Prime Minister asked to sit down with you, you meet and you discuss these things. The politics is being played on both sides here?

KHALIL: Yeah, I think the issue that has arisen out of that heralded meeting by the Prime Minister relates back to some of the earlier remarks around… and the way they were interpreted is that Muslim leaders were not taking responsibility for engaging with their communities. And the evidence is…

WILSON: [interrupting] That’s an appalling excuse.

KHALIL: Hold on, Tim.

WILSON: [interrupting] That’s an appalling excuse.

KHALIL: The evidence is very clear. You just have to ask the heads of ASIO, the intelligence services,  the security agencies, the day to day work that occurs with the Muslim community, with the leadership, engaging with the security agencies about making sure young people are not radicalised and when red flags go up the engagement those community leaders have with the agencies and that is 100% necessary.

WILSON: [interrupting] That’s 100% right. The security agencies absolutely work with Muslim leadership and those within affected communities and that’s well understood by government. The comments by the Prime Minister were entirely measured proportion about saying let’s keep this work going. They then went on to organise a meeting with that leadership basically behind closed doors. And Peter has admitted, it’s not what the PM said, it was the interpretation of that which is now boycotting us. I think it was Jason Clare, Labor member for one of the Western Sydney seats, he said when the Prime Minister wants to sit down and have a conversation, you actually  do it and don’t miss up that chance. This is not a fight we’re going to fight in isolation. We have to work with people and that’s what the Prime Minister is doing. If you want to see politics about this issue, look at the disgraceful statement you just made, Peter. Misrepresenting to try and make a point against the Prime Minister.

KHALIL: Again, you’re again getting hot and bothered under the collar as you always do.

WILSON: I’m not bothered I’m calling out your poor behaviour.

KHALIL: That’s ridiculous. The problem…

WILSON: [interrupting] You’re misrepresenting the situation.

KHALIL: Since he has taken over and removed Malcolm Turnbull, he has effectively had a series of thought bubbles and politicising issues. He’s like an ad salesman who is detail-free on pretty much everything. We saw the ridiculousness of him talking about moving the Australian embassy from the…

WILSON: One extreme to the other now. The audience on the ABC is smart than that..

GRANT: It wasn’t a thought bubble that there was an attack in Bourke Street and you’d expect the Prime Minister to make comment about that?

KHALIL: Rather than Tim distorting what I’m saying. I said clearly it’s important to engage Muslim community leaders, important to engage with all levels of government.

WILSON: Correct.

KHALIL: That includes the Prime Minister.

WILSON: Correct.

KHALIL: That’s what I said. You didn’t pick up on that, did you Tim?

WILSON: Calm down, Peter. Calm down.

KHALIL: The Prime Minister is very prone to politicising issues and in acts of desperation putting out thought bubbles and making issues all about the politics rather than the substance.

WILSON: You excused the situation where they refused to have a conversation with the Prime Minister on the basis of interpretation which wasn’t the same as what he said. That’s the critical point. We have had an incident. It’s a serious one. The Australian community is looking for the Government, the Opposition, including members of the Opposition as well as the Government is to stand up. They’re looking to the affected community leaders to stand up as well.

KHALIL: Tim, you know very well, you know very well that in politics – you’ve been in the parliament long enough to understand this – there are two types of leadership. The leadership that unites Australians, there’s a leadership that doesn’t divide the community and brings Australians together under our multicultural [inaudible]

WILSON: Let’s try and solve a problem around the table [inaudible]

KHALIL: Then there’s the type of leadership which preys on fear, which preys on division and we’ve seen this again and again from the Coalition.

WILSON: Peter, please.

GRANT: We’re going to end up completely bogged down in this and there are other issues I want to get to. Tim, another issue that’s cutting across federally and at the state level in Victoria is the question of immigration. Clearly, this is now building to be a critical issue, not just a question of immigration, but the question of crowding, a question of infrastructure. It’s clearly going to be a critical issue at the federal election as well. What impact will it have on the weekend do you think?

WILSON: Well, I know it’s one of the bits of feedback I regularly get from my constituents and all across the state. We’ve had a spectacular population growth in Victoria, but services and infrastructure haven’t met with that growth. And that’s become a critical problem where people are stuck on roads. Stuck in trying to get their kids into school and unable necessarily to have the whole suite of hospital services they expect. That’s partly what the Federal Government is responding to but becoming a critical challenge. The population projections for Victoria continue to go out. That’s why there’s been such a clear focus by the Opposition on saying we need to build the whole of the state and build the opportunity that exists in the whole of the state so that people who come to Victoria have choices but more critically we take a lot of the ease and the burden off Melbourne where the pressure sits.

GRANT: Peter, you’re shaking your head, do you think there is not a problem of overcrowding? That people are not worried about infrastructure and need to take the burden off?

KHALIL: There’s absolutely a problem and I have spoken about this before on the ABC and other programs here. There is an issue with the congestion, the overpopulation that’s occurring. Here’s where the furphy is that this Government and Scott Morrison are so good at throwing out smoke bombs and so on. This Government has been in power for five years. Abbott, Turnbull, Morrison. They have failed to spend on infrastructure. Unlike the Victorian Andrews Government which is removing 29 level crossings and another 75 going forward. The suburban rail loop, they’ve invested in roads, in rail, in public transport because that’s what’s needed to address the issues around congestion. And this government then…

GRANT: Tony Abbott was meant to be the Infrastructure Prime Minister, wasn’t he Tim?

KHALIL:  It never happened!

WILSON: The problem is…

KHALIL: Hold on, you had a good run there Tim. Just hold your horses.

WILSON: The problem is the State Government won’t cooperate. The State Government won’t cooperate with the Commonwealth.

KHALIL: Stop interrupting. You have seen this Government and Morrison now talking about the permanent migration numbers of 190,000, reducing them. There are 1.6 million people in this country here  on temporary work visa rights. He’s talking about reducing skilled migration by 10,000. Is he serious? What about creating incentives and the jobs for people to move away from cities like Sydney and Melbourne.

WILSON: There’s a decentralisation strategy but you can’t honestly lecture anybody about infrastructure spending when the State Government of Victoria here tore up a contract to build a road network that still needs to be built and paid a billion dollars of your tax money to make sure they didn’t have to do it. This government has an appalling record.

KHALIL: That’s ridiculous. You’re flying in the face of facts.

WILSON: I’m not ignoring the fact they have done some things. They have.

KHALIL: Oh! Concessions!

WILSON: But the whole package and dramatically undermined by a billion dollars of them giving out to a contractor not to build infrastructure. Not.

GRANT: Peter, Alan Tudge has been appointed as a Minister specifically for these demographic shifts, hasn’t he?

KHALIL: Oh, a congestion buster?

GRANT: This is something, if you say the Government is not taking it seriously, someone has been appointed specifically for this task?

KHALIL: I know you’re putting in a good defence of an appointment on a Minister on this five years into the Government. They haven’t actually addressed the need for infrastructure spending.

WILSON: You’re attacking the ABC now!

KHALIL: And Tim at least concedes the Victorian Government has been, the State Government has been absolutely marvellous in making sure they spend on this.

WILSON: I did not concede that.

KHALIL: You have conceded.

WILSON: I did say that they have done some things.

KHALIL: Let’s be serious about this. To throw in to that furphy around the 190,000 – it’s true by the way, 90% of the permanent migration does come to Melbourne and Sydney. That’s an issue. It needs to be addressed through better infrastructure spending and coordination between federal and state, I agree with Tim on that. Better federalism. But it also needs to be addressed, that the fact needs to be addressed, there are over a million people who have work visa rights in this country and they are also largely in Melbourne and Sydney. That needs to be looked at. The 457 visas and so on. And also you need to make sure you don’t start to stray into the Pauline Hanson territory of conflating the issue around ethnicity and race and faith and making migrants a problem. This is a Prime Minister who…

WILSON: [interrupting, inaudible]

GRANT: We’re almost out of time. I do need to give Tim a chance to respond to that.


WILSON: I don’t even know where to respond. Nobody has done that, nobody has equated these things in the way Peter has articulated.

KHALIL: What are you talking about?

WILSON: The focus of the Federal Government is to work with the states. We work very successfully with the New South Wales State Government, the Queensland Government. The biggest challenges we face have been here in Victoria. They’ve made it very difficult to invest in new infrastructure and to be able to build the capacity of this state. And a critical part of that is about building the regions. That’s why there’s been a clear focus from the Opposition in Victoria, if they were to come to government to build the rail infrastructure so we could have, as Matthew Guy says, not a city-state but a state of cities. That’s our focus.

KHALIL: Tim, you seem to forget the facts. You know very well the airport link which was…

WILSON: We put the money down for that first and the State Government followed.

KHALIL: They supported that and is working in coordination. And Bill Shorten also announced the other day they would also commit the $5 billion to that if we were to win Government.

WILSON: That’s great. Once again the Federal Government has led the way on infrastructure in Victoria.

GRANT: Gentlemen, there must be an election in the air given how vigorous this exchange has been.

KHALIL: It’s just me and Tim!

WILSON: Calm down, Peter!

KHALIL: I am calm! [laughter]

WILSON: Save it for Saturday on the polling booths.

GRANT: There’s a big campaign ahead next year. You want to keep something in reserve. Good to talk to both of you.

KHALIL: Thanks Stan. Cheers.

WILSON: Thank you.