Sky News Interview: First Edition: Liberal Sexual Harassment, Marise Payne on HK, Crown Casino Foreign Interference, Robo-Debt



SUBJECTS: Liberal Sexual Harassment, Marise Payne on HK, Crown Casino Foreign Interference, Robo-Debt

LAURA JAYES, HOST: These stories on the front page of nine newspapers this morning, where liberal staffers are telling of sexual assault allegations and talking about a culture within the Liberal Party. Do you think this is a wider political culture, or is it just confined to the Liberal Party? 

PETER KHALIL, MP: Well look, any of those allegations and that kind of culture is completely unacceptable, whatever the political party, whether it is a major party, a minor party, independents, anywhere in this place on Parliament it is absolutely unacceptable, and of course it is a matter for the Liberal party to, you know, investigate those allegations, get people charged if that is a serious police matter with respect to the harassment. This has to be wiped out, it has to be cleaned out. I know there has been issues like this in the past, in politics, in the political, sort of, culture, if you like. For our party, our party has tried to do our best to get rid of this kind of culture, to really press upon people the importance of respect for people of gender, of different backgrounds and colour and diversity, and make sure that this is out of our system. 

JAYES: Well we will await any kind of response from the Prime Minister, President of the Liberal party which we have not seen as yet. I know you would have heard some of Marise Payne’s comments on Hong Kong yesterday, Peter Khalil. She’s made her strongest comments to date. Did she strike the right note do you think? 

KHALIL: Well look, credit to Marise Payne the Foreign Minister for speaking out with respect to freedom of speech, particularly of those students that were rightfully, you know, exercising their free speech, at the, in the University of Queensland, and that’s really important. But once again there’s two issues that I have with this. One is that she didn’t go anywhere near addressing the key antagonism in this issue, and that is that basically the protestors in Hong Kong, and many of them young people, but not all, but millions of them, understand that they don’t want to shift in 2047 away from this ‘two systems, one country’ approach, the basic law that they have. They see it being eroded even now. And that is their fear, and many of them really have nothing to lose with that respect because they know what is coming. And the other issue that I have is that, again, where is the Prime Minister, where are the world leaders, the democratic leaders of the world standing up and supporting democracy, democratic freedoms, the principles that we all cherish here in this country, there’s an eerie silence, from across the western world particularly. 

JAYESYeah, I agree with you with that. You have been critical of Marise Payne’s reticence to do much media, or to do many media interviews or appearances. Do you think that has undermined our diplomatic power? 

KHALIL: Well I think that a Foreign Minister or any Minister of the Crown for that matter needs to do their job. As I said I give credit to Marise Payne for coming out and speaking and standing strong for freedom of speech, particularly for students in Australia that are exercising free speech in their protests, and that is a fundamental principle for our democracy, but then fall short again in really discussing the issue in an international context, and that is what is really important. Democracy, if we don’t support democracy, if we don’t speak up for democracy and the freedoms we have, who is? Which countries are? 
JAYESYep, and look, this reticence really I believe has revealed a, and the revelations about Crown Casino links and our, you know, that business falling over itself to make sure that Chinese high rollers get to Crown, does it show that we’re subservient to China, that the lure of the Chinese dollar is too strong. Your own party in question time this week didn’t choose to pursue this issue. 

KHALIL: Look, to the first part of your question, I don’t think it is subservience. I think there has been issues with foreign interference, absolutely, and that has basically effected most of the major parties, that’s certainly true and it is on the record. We have done our best to try and remove that, obviously. We unilaterally as a party a couple of years ago put a ban on foreign donations, followed by the government, you know, somewhat late but at least doing that as well through the parliament. That’s important for our body politic, absolutely. Foreign interference, and it is not just from that particular country that you’re talking about, or people from that country, there is foreign interference from other sources as well, that try and diminish democracy and elections. We have seen that around the world, and certainly we are not immune from that. So, this needs to be cleaned out, this needs to be addressed. And I know yesterday the parliament referred the Crown issues to the Law Enforcement Integrity Commissioner for investigation. If any law enforcement officials are found to be implicated, if there are charges to be laid, if any politicians or ex-politicians or other officials, they will be referred to the Australian Federal Police, and that should be the process that we undertake.  

JAYESThis does not look at current, at politicians though does it, it only looks at the service.  

KHALIL: No but if the investigation implicates anyone involved in any criminal wrongdoing, or any breaking of the law, that will be referred to the Australian Federal Police for prosecution, presumably. 

JAYES: Well are you comfortable with Labor taking donations from Crown at this point? 

KHALIL: Well I don’t, I don’t have, I got invited to a Crown event and I didn’t go. But, I don’t take any donations from Crown, I can’t speak for other members of the caucus. 

JAYES: Your Party does though. 

KHALIL: Yeah well I, look, at this point if they are found to have criminal wrongdoing, and there is going to be an investigation into that, there needs to be decisions made around that. 

JAYES: Well, look, there is another link here exposed by the Herald Sun this morning. The architect of these Crown Casino junkets for the Chinese high rollers set up a business with Daniel Andrew’s ex-China advisor. This was Tom Zhou. He also met with the Labor leader in 2012 and donated $26,000 to NSW Labor in 2015. I mean, that stinks a bit doesn’t it? 

KHALIL: Well, I mean, there’s been evidence and allegations and practices across both parties, and I think, as I said earlier in my earlier answer, this needs to be addressed. And we have gone some way of addressing that by banning foreign donations as a parliament. We did it as a party obviously earlier than that. This needs to be cleaned out. I have really no time for that kind of foreign interference. I think it diminishes our democracy and those issues need to be addressed by the body politic, by Australian, the political culture, and the political body that we have here. 

JAYES: But you’re not willing to say that maybe Labor should just not be accepting donations from Crown at this point given what you’ve just laid out. 

KHALIL: Well if these, if the issues arise of the criminal wrongdoing out of these investigations that is certainly a question that has to be asked. 

JAYES: You were invited to a Crown event as you just said. Why didn’t you go? 

KHALIL: Not interested in engaging on that, with them. I mean I get invited to constituent events and I place that as a higher priority than going to a lunch at Crown, frankly. I’d much prefer to go to a local kindergarten, or a… 

JAYES: Is this about gambling, you didn’t want to give, you know, implicit support for the culture of gambling or because of revelations that we have seen in the last week.  

KHALIL: No this was before the revelations, I just, I mean as an example, I mean you know, look, I get millions, well not millions but thousands of invites every week. I prioritize my local community. I would much prefer to go to a local kindergarten, or a local school, or a fete, or engage with a local community group, or a pensioners group, that’s my job. You know, and, sure, you do have meetings and lunches with all sorts of stakeholders and national bodies and groups but, you know it is just lower, way lower down on the priority list for me. 

JAYES: Ok. Now, just on robo-debts, you’ve called on the government to stop this practice. It has called about more than about 100,000 people, or asked them to provide further information that they didn’t really need to provide. How do you propose, if you don’t have robo-debts, how do you propose the government claws back the money that’s owed to them.  

KHALIL: Well, hold on. First of all Laura, this robo-debt system, and you’re talking about what the alternative should be. The actual system now has found to have 40% of the debts that were, or the notices put out, to be false, by their own calculations, I mean there could be actually more. There have been hundreds if not thousands of debt notices that have been false, that have been given to people, that have put enormous pressure on the most vulnerable people in society. I had one kid in my electorate, 16 year old, his name is Dylan. He got a debt for $12,500. His foster parents came to see me about it, just by accident, and we worked to try to reverse that debt because it was clearly false. But they were in a panic. Now how many people, how many people got debts of $400 or $500, got a stern letter from an authority, you know, agency and thought ‘geeze I better pay this’, even though they had a doubt about whether they owed it or not. There were many people that did that. 

JAYES: Well that is fair enough, and the government has apologized for some of those, but not to that particular individual. 

KHALIL: Some. 

JAYES: But how do you propose, if you don’t have this way of doing things, how do you propose the government claws back what are tax payer funds? 

KHALIL: Put more staff on Centrelink. Actually resource the department to do… 

JAYES: And give them a pay rise, as Steven Jones suggested? 

KHALIL: Well, I didn’t hear what Steven said, its always good, he is always going for public servants and supporting, I used to be a public servant so, but, but, they get paid very well. But I should say this, put more resources into the service, to actually deal with the issues so that you can properly address whether there is a false debt or an incorrect debt, not some computer system that spits out 40% of them that are wrong, and actually puts the most vulnerable in society in the most pernicious position. And I should say, it is an obscene way of doing it because you are casting out a net, a fishing net, and catching all the dolphins with all the tuna as well, the innocent with the guilty. 

JAYES: Peter Khalil, appreciate your time.