SKY NEWS FIRST EDITION
SUBJECTS: Hong Kong Extradition Bill/Democratic Rights, Religious Freedoms, Tax Reform
LAURA JAYES, HOST: Joining me now is Labor MP Peter Khalil. Peter Khalil, this has been going on for a month, longer on and off now. The extradition Bill, Carrie Lam says is dead but, looking at this in a macro sense, it’s extraordinary how little support foreign governments have given protestors given what’s at stake here?
PETER KHALIL, MP: Yeah good morning Laura, I actually commented on this a couple of days ago. I was shocked that not more leaders of the Free World, if you like, leaders of democracies, were coming out in support of the protestors in Hong Kong.
JAYES: Including Australia.
KHALIL: Yep, including Australia. You know that given that we are democracies, we enjoy these democratic rights, and we are seeing millions of people in Hong Kong standing up with great courage it should be said for their political rights, their civil rights, their democratic rights. You know, all be it, there were some violent protestors, a very tiny minority of the two million that went out on the streets last week. That should be condemned. But on the whole, the vast majority were protesting peacefully, and there has been an eerie silence not just from Australia but from most democracies, democratic leaders throughout the world. To be fair, Jeremy Hunt, the Foreign Secretary in the UK, made some strong statements, and our Foreign Minister Marise Payne put out I think a three or four line press release, and Penny Wong also spoke in the media on it. There have been some comment, but there hasn’t been the Prime Ministers or the Presidents of the Free World standing up and really supporting there right to protest, and also their right for their democratic freedoms. These people are staring down the barrel of 2047 Laura, they know what’s coming when the Basic Law ends and the so-called ‘One Country Two System’ framework comes to an end, and they’ve got nothing to lose. They want to fight for their freedom.
JAYES: What can we have, what can we do, and what should Australia have done realistically?
KHALIL: Well we’ve got, we’ve got sort of precedents in the past on this where leaders have shown great conviction. Of course I’ll go to Bob Hawke, who stood up when it came to Apartheid. Who stood up when the Tiananmen Square protests occurred and actually followed the courage of his conviction and did what was right. So even symbolic statements by world leaders does have an impact, and will give great strength and courage and support for the people of Hong Kong.
JAYES: Can I change tack now to religious freedom. This is a debate that is ongoing, because there’s not a perfect and immediate solution to all of this. Religious freedom – how should it be presented in law, and how do you think people of faith need to be protected and I ask this of course in the context of the Israel Folau case.
KHALIL: Sure. Good question, and of course we’re very keen to see what Christian Porter puts forward with respect to a Religious Discrimination Bill or the proposed Religious Discrimination Act. Because fundamentally the form of that legislation will determine the legal or contractual issues where you have this balance between employers and employees, and how much control an employer can have over an employee’s statements on their religious beliefs or even other beliefs frankly in other parts of legislation, outside of their work. And of course that depends on whether that person is a public figure like Israel Folau, or an AFL player, versus someone who works in a local market. There are differences there. Because there social media now almost becomes integrated with their fame, and what they’re doing. So there’s a legal question that we have to face as a Parliament and determine where that balance should be placed between employers and employees. That’s a legal contractual part. I mean obviously with the Israel Folau issue it’s broader than that, there are other questions, you know, theological questions. The meme that he used was, is one that is popular with very hard right wing churches like the Westboro Church in the US that use hate speech and so on, and also there was a corruption of the biblical, it wasn’t the actual biblical verse that he put on there. Left out a few things and distorted a few things, and there’s theological questions about the interpretation of the text. Now I don’t know if the courts are going to look at all of that, but these are very very serious questions and I think that what we have to look at as Members of Parliament is the type of legislation that will afford people the ability to protect their free speech, their religious rights, their freedom of religion, and see if we can get the balance right between with respect to contract law and what employers can say they want their employees to say or not to say outside of their workspace.
JAYES: You’re talking about contract law, and the Israel Folau case is a good one. There’s an argument from Frank Brennan and others that essentially that is about a contract. But if I could retrofit the Israel Folau situation into someone who’s not famous, and is not on a 4 million dollar contract. If they’re in a workplace and they’re posting on their own social media, whether it’s a formal contract or they’re just an employee that is technically a contract with their workplace. So should that individual in that case be sacked for posting things on social media?
KHALIL: Well it depends on what they’re posting, right Laura.
JAYES: Well if it is the same type of meme.
KHALIL: Well this is the question that’s not answered, because you only deal in the court case with the particular individual case. There’s going to be a multitude of variables that may play out with employees posting things on social media. We all use social media, right? So some of us have employers that have stricter codes of conduct about what can and can’t be said. We’re looking at whether that balance is right, with respect to legislation I think that’s the work that we’re doing. So if someone is working at a local market and posts stuff that is part of their religious beliefs, that are against the kind of food that they’re selling at the market, and the employer thinks that’s damaging their business, does the employer have a right to say ‘well hold on, you can’t say that.’
JAYES: Well what do you think? Should they?
KHALIL: Well, I mean my view on that, it depends on, if that kind of example that I used is not necessarily a hate speech example. That example is in respect to a commercial impact on the employers business. It’s a very interesting question around contract law and employer versus employee power.
JAYES: Yeah, well I mean this conversation that we’re having right now demonstrates how tricky it is going to be.
KHALIL: It’s really difficult, yeah.
JAYES: And we will return to it. I want to ask you just quickly about tax cuts. Labor eventually got there. You and Joel Fitzgibbon had been calling for that position for quite some time. Why was it such a tortured process for Labor in the end?
KHALIL: Well Laura, you mentioned the position, I had said very clearly that the third tranche is out in the never-never. They hadn’t explained how they’re going to pay for it, what cuts they’re going to make. I preferred that it wasn’t part of the package at all, it should be split off. We tried to split it off through amendments, we lost. We didn’t have the numbers in both the House and the Senate. But what I did say is that if we were given no choice and the Government kept playing politics on this, we shouldn’t be blocking the tax cuts that we supported for lower-income earners. And we landed on that position. That means that people who are, you know, lower-income earners, working class Australians will get the tax relief that we supported and we put forward. That’s important.
JAYES: Just quickly, I’m sorry to interrupt you there because you’re having a conversation about, you know, where you’d go with your policies to the next election. Is it tenable in your mind that you take any form of franking credit reform or negative gearing policy to the next election?
KHALIL: We can do two approaches. We can say clean slate, let’s just wipe everything off the table and start from the beginning and rebuild the whole policy framework. Or we can do what our leader is suggesting, which I think is the right path actually. Which is to take our time, review all of the policies that we took, wait for the campaign review which will have some insights there as well.
JAYES: They’re ripe for a scare campaign, wouldn’t it?
KHALIL: Well, you know, we’re not going to be scared by the Government. I’m sorry, we’re going to do our job as an opposition and part of the job of a good opposition is to do proper policy development and policy work. That’s why we’re going to look at everything. There’s some good policies in there. Some of those policies weren’t articulated well. There was a communications problem in some respects. So we need to look through all of it, and that’s what I think we’re doing. But we’re having this debate last week about personal tax cuts. I want to bring into the debate why multinational companies aren’t paying their taxes, one in three big companies don’t pay tax here – why aren’t we talking about that? We’re talking about whether a local punter can pay his 30 or 32 cents or 37 cents in the dollar, when you’ve got Chevron who made $2.2 billion and did not pay a cent in tax. So I mean you know, we should be talking about that.
JAYES: Okay, yep and I’m sure you will. You’ve got three years to do it. Peter Khalil we will speak to you very soon.