Sky News Interview: AM Agenda: Press Freedom, Tax Cuts, Labor Post-Election



SUBJECTS: Press Freedom, Tax Cuts, Labor Post-Election

LAURA JAYES, HOST: Peter Khalil joins us now from Melbourne. Is Labor really committed to freedom of the press? I ask you in this context Peter Khalil, we have a former Prime Minister in Kevin Rudd seeking a Royal Commission into one section of the media and Anthony Albanese himself, wanted to, at one stage, licence media companies? 

PETER KHALIL MP: Good morning Laura, good morning Kieran. It is good to be back. I was going to say Albo stole all my lines but with your question, it’s a bit of a curly one. I, look absolutely, we are committed to freedom of the press. It’s a pillar of our democracy and it’s something we all have to defend and with the recent events we should all be very very concerned. You should be concerned obviously as journalists with whats transpired. And look I think its really problematic that both Scott Morrison and Peter Dutton are hiding overseas in some respects, hiding behind an argument that we are somehow criticising the AFP, we are not criticising the AFP. We are seeking for them to explain their conduct. They are the government. They are the ones that referred this to the agency. They need to explain this and its no good for Peter Dutton to say “I wasn’t involved”. Um well, he might not have been involved, but he certainly knew what was coming. And so, it’s a really chilling effect on the freedom of the press on journalists, when you have the AFP raiding a journalist like An XXXX, who is a very respected journalist, who is doing her job. And to have them there for 8 hours, trawling through her private belongings is very very confronting. But it goes to deeper problems about this governments lack of defence of what is a pillar of our democracy. And I think Albo’s right, we are all right????, Mark Dreyfus is right to call them out on this. 

KIERAN GILBERT, POLITICAL REPORTER: And do you think your own colleagues that have been on the joint, you know, committee for national security and intelligence need to take a bit of accountability as well, for allowing the encroachment of the laws to, I guess, the position where the AFP felt emboldened enough to, to do what they did this week, in terms of those raids?   

KHALIL: Well that’s an interesting point that you make Kieran because the laws that they are utilising, I guess with respect to this investigation, are the older laws, the crimes act of 1914. There is a difference, obviously, with those and the new laws, the espionage laws and foreign interference laws, which do have a public interest defence for journalists, that were put into them. They’re not using those particular laws for these particular investigations. So there is a, I think, a debate that has to be had about the efficacy of some of our laws, with respect to protecting journalists and public interest and there is also by the way, the issue about whistleblowers. And there is a separate bit of legislation for that as well. In fact Australia has multiple legislation across the national securit –   

JAYES: So you’d like to review, how should that happen? 

KHALIL: Well there has been a lot of work done on this, obviously by the committee that Kieran referred to, and certainly more recently with those laws that were passed last year. In fact, many of the Labor members of that committee pushed very hard and Mark Dreyfus, to ensure that that public interest, those tests and those protections for journalists were put in place. Those laws when they were first put up, if you remember in 2017, were not good enough. And we fought very hard to make those amendments, so I think there is a process that we go through and I think Labor has done a pretty good job in trying to make sure that those issues are addressed. 

GILBERTDo you think the broader climate, the ever toughening national security legislation that we have seen over the last 18 years, since September 11, has created a situation where we’ve lost sight of some of the freedoms that we need to be very protective of in this country? 

KHALIL: Yeah, Kieran it’s really important that you raised that because this is always getting the balance right between what is our collective security, we call it national security and the collective security and safety of our citizens and our country and our interests, versus, civil liberties and individual rights. And it is about getting that balance right. It’s a very very difficult thing to do, overtime, and certainly since September 11, things have changed significantly. Now I’ve worked in national security most of my career, before I entered parliament, in national security, defence, in foreign policy, in counter-terrorism, I know the importance of the work of the agencies do in protecting Australians and protecting our interests. But I am also cognisant of the need to protect the rights of individuals and the freedoms we have in our democracy and we need to get that balance right and it is a very very difficult challenge in the current environment.   

JAYES: It certainly is. Can I ask you about some domestic policy, its two and a half, almost three weeks since the election and the government had central to its policy platform this entire package through tranches of tax cuts. Should Labor get behind it, does the government have a mandate? 

KHALIL: Well we lost the election, the government won the election, they have a mandate as such and with respect to these tax cuts, I’ve seen this morning Albo and Jim Chalmers talking about the fact that we and we have been very supportive of the first tranche. If the government is willing to come forward and put forward a proposal particularly around the second tranche which is for middle income earners they are willing to discuss that as well, they are willing to discuss those second and third tranches. But here is a big problem with this, yes they have a mandate, that’s pretty much the only policy they have in their bare cupboard of policies. That was the one thing they ran with. There was nothing else. How are they going to pay for it? With the cuts to hospitals, cuts to education, cuts to national security. There is a real concern, a real reservation around this because it is out in the never-never and they haven’t explained it to the Australian people. They haven’t sought to tell the Australian people how they are going to pay for these cuts. You know we have had a fake sort of budget surplus where I think Morrison said something about bringing forward the budget surplus. He mangled his past tense and his future tense. So there is a real concern on that. But I know that Jim Chalmers is willing to discuss this with the government and Albo’s willing to discuss this with the government because there is a real need to stimulate the economy now. And if they were willing to bring it forward, particularly that second tranche, there could be some benefits to the economy and benefits for middle class Australians.  

GILBERTIn relation to the Labor party position its hard to see how you wouldn’t at least exceed to this commitment, given as you said, this was their big policy. Clearly many voters, quiet Australians as the Prime Minister describes them, aspirational voters, rejected Labor’s proscription. Why wouldn’t you just let this through and be done with it and move on? 

KHALIL: Well as Jim was talking about this morning and Albo, there has been no proposal put forward by the government. If they’re willing to discuss it then fine, they can have that discussion in the frontbench. Our frontbench will have that discussion with them because it is about the national interest. Tax cuts for the first tranche, people up to 90 thousand absolutely important, we’ve supported that all the way through. If they’re willing to discuss how they’d pay for the second and third tranche, Josh Frydenberg can tell us he’s not going to cut education he’s not going to cut healthcare, he’s not going to cut national security, he’s not going to cut services around the country, maybe explain to us how they’re going to pay for the cuts tax cuts out in the never never? 

JAYESIsn’t it Labor that has some explaining to do, Peter Khalil? I mean you got 33.3 percent of the primary vote. 

KHALIL: Oh absolutely Laura, we’ve got a lot of work to do on our policy, it’s not just the messaging, you know, I have this ringing in my ear, two and a half years ago we had dinner with Paul Keating, and the words that he gave us as new MPs, and he said if you want to win the next election, you’ve got to appeal to the aspirational voter, you’ve got to be a part of their success, you’ve got to be creating the conditions for their success, and he’s spot on. And I think it’s really problematic for us, because we lost a lot of the blue collar Australians, the aspirational Australians, the middle class Australians at the last election they didn’t vote for us. A mate of mine works in Woolworths out in the outer suburbs here, he told me of the 18 of his co-workers, not one voted Labor. They voted Liberal and they voted Clive Palmer. And these are working class Australians. So we have a real issue that we need to deal with. Who do we stand for? Who do we represent? What’s our vision for Australia? How are we going to make people’s lives better? 

GILBERTCan you get the balance right, do you think between the seats like yours and the seats like Batman, and so on in the, you know, those seats of Melbourne and elsewhere where you would potentially lose votes to the Greens, but then you need to win back that blue collar, that working class base that’s been so important to the Labor party in its history.  

KHALIL: Yeah Kieran, my seat is actually a microcosm of this in some respects. I’ve got an inner city element in Brunswick, down in the southern part, but I’ve got outer suburbs in Glenroy and Faulkner and Pascoe Vale, which are middle class and working class. I have all of it in my electorate. And I think we can appeal to all parts of Australia, and all Australians. It’s about that fairness, that equality of opportunity, creating the conditions for success. Getting national security right, getting economic management right, building the trust that Hawke and Keating had effectively with the Australian people, allows you the capital to do the social policies well, as well. Because people think you know what, you are looking after the economy, you are looking after our, you know, hip pocket, you are keeping us safe and secure. Australian’s are fair. They’ll give us a chance to then go ahead and do lots of great social policy as well. On education, on healthcare, on the rights of minorities and so on. So I think we need to get those two pillars right, national security and economic management, and it is about building or rebuilding that trust with the Australian people.  

JAYES: Wow, quite an honest assessment from you Peter Khalil this morning, thank you for that, and I know you wrote a piece about multiculturalism in Australia this morning. We will talk about that one another time. Appreciate your time this morning. 

Khalil: Thanks Laura.