Sky News Interview: Julia Banks, Liberal Party Leadership, Tony Abbott, Population Debate



Subjects: Julia Banks, Liberal Party Leadership, Tony Abbott, Population Debate

LAURA JAYES, HOST: Time for Peter Khalil and Craig Kelly now here on News Day. Gentlemen, thanks so much for your time. First I want to get to these really extraordinary claims by Julia Banks. She’s said she’s not contesting the next election. She says essentially, she’s seen bullying and intimidation over the last week and she wanted to see, essentially, Malcolm Turnbull and Julie Bishop remain where they are. I asked Michael Kroger about these claims of bullying and intimidation. This is what he had to say to me last hour.


JAYES: Michael Kroger there, the Victorian Liberal Party President. Craig Kelly, first to you. Julia Banks has obviously thought about what she wanted to say in this statement. She felt intimidated and bullied last week. Do you know of any other MPs that felt that way?

CRAIG KELLY, LIBERAL MP: Look, I don’t. I think it’s a bit disappointing. And she did also say that she was bullied by people from the Labor Party. Look, this is a rough and tumble game. Peter gives me as good as I give him back. Just because someone says something harsh to you, it is not defined – it shouldn’t be defined as bullying. I would hope maybe Julia may have a rethink about her position over the next couple of days. She wasn’t elected under the Turnbull coalition. She was elected as a member of the Liberal Party of Australia.

JAYES: But just give me an idea in these leadership challenges, Craig. Politics is pretty willing at the best of times. Does it become even more willing in the rough and tumble of a leadership spill and could some of these actions by your colleagues be interpreted as bullying or intimidation?

KELLY: I don’t know what discussions that anyone had with Julia Banks, but for myself, each of the leadership potential candidates give you a real quick call, they give you a 2-minute spiel or a minute spiel and you say, “Look, thanks a lot. I appreciate the call. There’s no –

JAYES: “Have you heard of this idea that pre-selections are threatened when it comes to who people are voting for?

KELLY: I haven’t, no.

JAYES: Peter Khalil, what do you make of the statement from Julia Banks? Politics is pretty willing. She’s also singled out the Labor Party for bullying, as she puts it.

PETER KHALIL, FEDERAL LABOR MEMBER FOR WILLS: Yeah, look, you’re right about that, Laura. I was going to say Craig bullies me all the time in Khalil versus Kelly.

KELLY: C’mon!

KHALIL: But he’s right. We disagree. It is a robust engagement. It is a robust argument but it she done with a degree of respect for the political opponent and we are discussing policies and that is how it should be. I don’t know who Julia is referring to with respect to the bullying and intimidation. It might be in relation to that leadership spill that occurred, but I think it is true to say that we should have a bit more respect for our opponents. We cross that white line, with go in hard and make our arguments. We don’t play the man, to use the footy parlance down here in Victoria, play the ball and have a drink afterwards or you know be respectful and have the common decency with each other because it is a hard enough game as it is. I hope that people act in that way and have that decency. I should say, with the Labor Party, I know even with us after we got turfed out of Parliament when the Coalition Government shut down Parliament last week, we gathered in the lobby and Tanya and Bill and the leadership spoke to us as a team. We were all there, it was quite the contrast with the Coalition and did say in our speeches, yes, we have our disagreements within our party. We are a big party, but we have done it with a degree of respect. We haven’t blown each other up and people were nodding their heads. There has been a good degree of unity in the team, even though we have some disagreements as we work through our policies

JAYES: It is a pretty even scorecard now. The Liberal Party have rolled two prime ministers and so has the Labor Party. Let’s not go back into too much history. Craig Kelly, can I ask you about the transaction cost of what happened last week in Parliament? Obviously one transaction cost is the fact that Julia Banks, she’s the only Liberal MP in Victoria to win a seat at the last election. She is not recontesting. What are the other transaction costs?

KELLY: It is disappointing. When we put our hands up to run as members of Parliament, I think we should commit to at least doing so for a couple of terms. For better or worse, as they say. None of us are going to get all of the policies that we like…

JAYES: So do you think she’s done the wrong thing?

KELLY: Personally, I do. I think she’s done the wrong thing.


KELLY: I think that you have got to roll with the punches in this game. Whoever your preferred leader is, that shouldn’t matter whether you pull out. I think you also owe certain obligations to the party, which are reciprocal. The party gives you the opportunity to run. You owe the party that back to recontest the seat. I just hope that Julia actually reconsiders. I understand this is the first leadership challenge. It is a very testing and trying time for everyone and maybe over the next week or so she may think again.

KHALIL: That’s a really important point that you make there, Craig. To take such an extreme step to pull out after one term in Parliament after getting in and getting elected, there must be such a toxic culture there, whether it is on leadership or differences in policy, that she’s had to take that extreme step, and I think that is something that needs to be looked at internally as well in all political parties, how we can respectfully work through our differences and come to agreement on things without having to take that step.

KELLY: Peter, you know, it is a tough game as well. You are away from home a lot. You are doing a lot of travel in the game. A lot of people find that – I can understand that some people may say, “Look, hey, this is not for me.” But it shouldn’t then be used you know to beat it up a bit wider than that.

JAYES: Sure, but Craig Kelly, you have a pretty tough pre-selection battle at the moment. I am sure you have been up against it and behind the scenes it’s got pretty willing at times. Has any of that behaviour crossed the line, do you think?

KELLY: I don’t think so. We are political parties. It is a rough and tumble game. The Labor Party will throw plenty of barbs at you and your own side will throw plenty of barbs. There are certainly robust discussions across the board. But that’s just not unique to politics. That is in many industries. That is the same way, it’s the way it works.

JAYES: I have got to raise one thing with you, about the sanctity of having the secret ballot. Many MPs have argued to me on the Liberal side in the last week about how the Liberal party fought to have the secret ballot and how it’s important that that is maintained and by having this petition last week that essentially meant that the secret ballot wasn’t so secret. But I know of MPs within the party room who showed their ballot paper to each other and it was demanded of some MPs. That goes on, doesn’t it?

KELLY: It is a secret ballot and I think there is one thing about writing a name on a piece of paper and just verifying it to someone next to you so when you say afterwards…

JAYES: That does happen, quite frequently?

KELLY: does happen on both sides. Even though it is a secret ballot, ultimately we are there voting on behalf of our constituents.

JAYES: Doesn’t that show there is such distrust or mistrust between your colleagues?

KELLY: I think you need to be able to look your constituents in the eye and when they say, “How did you actually vote, because you are voting on behalf of me”. You are not voting for yourself personally. You have got to be able to say how you voted and explain to them how you voted and the reasons why. I think that reason, it is sort of like a quasi-secret ballot.

JAYES: OK. Peter Khalil let’s get to some policy now. Tony Abbott is back into the frame. He is not in Cabinet. He is not in the outer ministry but he has an important job. He is Special Envoy on Indigenous Affairs and he will be concentrating on school attendance. Is that a good thing?

KHALIL: Well, that is a matter for the Liberal Party to figure out who the best performers are for their front bench and for them to determine how to actually run the country. Right now, what with are seeing is the exact opposite of that. They are all over the place. It is a shambles. You have people like Julia Banks resigning and people like Anne Ruston who has no idea at all why she was put on the frontbench. She was in a radio interview the other day, she is the new Minister for Pacific affairs and international development and she said I have no idea at all why I am doing this job. It is an absolute rabble. I think Australians deserve better. They want a government that can actually govern and not focus on themselves and all we’re seeing with all of this is just a lot of inconsistency and instability in the Government of Australia and I am saddened by that. I want to see better for our country.

JAYES: How do you explain this to the Australian public, Craig? How can you possibly win the next election?

KELLY: We are arguing on policy. This is what the debate was all about…

KHALIL: No, you’re not. You are talking about yourselves.

KELLY: …That is what the leadership challenge was all about. Now we’re talking about the issue of Aboriginal Affairs, Peter. And I think you would agree, Peter, that we want to close the gap and lift all those outcomes…

KHALIL: Is that why Tony Abbott cut $500 million in funding to Indigenous communities when he was Prime Minister?

KELLY: We had to clean up the awful mess of the Budget that you guys left us. You should never forget that.

KHALIL: Ah, mate, c’mon…

KELLY: You should never forget the mess you left Peter. The billions of dollars…

KHALIL: You have doubled the deficit…

KELLY: Paying interest on the debt that you got. We have finally almost cleaned up the mess, Peter, and got…

KHALIL: You haven’t cleaned up anything, mate.

KELLY: We are back to a surplus. That’s what we’ve done…

KHALIL: Australians are sick and tired of your lines, Craig.

KELLY: Now, when it comes to Indigenous Affairs, we have got Nigel Scullion, who is the Minister. I think it is very good that Tony Abbott, who has shown a lot of interest in this area and done a lot of good work over many years. Tony spent a lot of time in the outback of Australia working with the Indigenous Australians. I think it is a great move of the Prime Minister to use Tony’s skills in that sphere. If Tony can go out and get some more Indigenous kids and get them into school, surely, Peter, that is something that you think would be a good idea.

KHALIL: Are you really trying to tell us and the public and everyone that is watching that Tony Abbott hasn’t been spending the vast majority of his time on revenge and trying to knock off Malcolm Turnbull? No, seriously. What has he been up to?

KELLY: We are trying to hear debate, how to help the Indigenous people of this country, how to lift their educational standards and all you want to do is go down playing politics.


KELLY: The Australian people deserve better than that.

JAYES: Peter, what’s wrong with this new role? Is there anything wrong with it?

KELLY: Exactly right. What is wrong with it?

KHALIL: What’s wrong with the whole government? They are not governing this country. They are focused on themselves, even now. They have no idea that they are doing. Ministers don’t even know what their role is and they have spent all of this time trying to knock each other off and for all of that, Dutton comes back and he’s the Home Affairs Minister and the former prime minister gets a role as a Parl Sec.

JAYES: What is wrong with that role? Special Envoy on Indigenous Affairs is one of the most important portfolios in Parliament. Do you have a problem with…

KHALIL: What really matters, Laura, what really matters is actual outcomes on Indigenous Australia. This is the bloke that cut $500 million from Indigenous Australia when he was PM. So let’s not pretend…

JAYES: Government after government has not been able to fix this problem and the problems plaguing the communities…

KHALIL: …and Tony Abbott, Tony Abbott…

JAYES: No-one comes to this with clean hands. It is not an easily solved problem.

KHALIL: Of course it’s not.

JAYES: So what is wrong with having this special role?

KHALIL: Well, I hope he actually focuses on his job, rather than trying to knock off his opponents, which is basically what he has been basically doing for the past few years.

JAYES: Now let’s look at the population debate now. There is some suggestion that this government, Peter Khalil, look at new migrants and having some sort of special visa where they have to spend five years in the regions and not our capital cities. Is that a good idea?

KHALIL: Well I’ve been talking about this for months now, actually even since I got elected, that we have to have the discourse around migration and migration numbers because around 90% of new migrants are coming into just Melbourne and Sydney, out of the 180,000 that come in year on year of skilled migrants. You have got, on top of that – here is the other really important point – you have got temporary – people on temporary work visas who work in this country, who are not citizens. There is 1.2 million or thereabouts who are on those visas and they’re largely in Melbourne and Sydney and you have the students on top of that. The congestion and inability for spending on infrastructure to keep up with that intake is absolutely cruelling those two cities. People are fed up with it. They are tired of it. We have to have the conversation, without the racist overlay. Without the crazies on the far right or the fringes of politics filling that vacuum and talking about it and saying, “We ban people based on race if they are African or on their faith.” That’s not what we do here. Australians are Australians because they embrace democracy; they are members of society who believe in quality before law. That is a conversation we have to have.

JAYES: How would you structure this though if it was you putting this policy in place, how would you make sure that people went to the regions? What category of new migrants would you send to the regions?

KHALIL: The first problem I’ve got with what they have announced is the thinness, the lack of detail. They are talking about compelling migrants to go to a regional centre for five years. How do you enforce that and how do you make sure it happens?

JAYES: Well, how do you? If it is such a good idea, how would you do it?

KHALIL: What you have to do is actually incentivise the migrants to go to regional cities like Adelaide and Hobart and Perth because you have created the jobs there, you’ve built the infrastructure there, you’ve actually put in tax havens around FinTech or BioTech or certain skill sectors and you have created more manufacturing opportunities. These are the ways that you do it. You can’t just force people to stay in a regional town where there are no jobs.

JAYES: Alright, Craig Kelly, what is your view on this? Is this one of the reasons, this change in policy, one of the reasons that you rolled a first-term Prime Minister last week?

KELLY: Oh no, I think on the policy, this is a sensible policy. It is clear to everyone, I am sure both sides of politics agree, that the rates of migration that we have and, as Peter said, we’ve got to get more people moving into our regional areas. We have to strengthen those regional areas. There is many ways you can do it. You can’t put a fence around the town. You have got to do it through incentives, there the taxation system, maybe through other ways. There can be many incentives that can be thrown in the mix. It is a great discussion we should be having and we should be doing it, Peter, on a bipartisan matter rather than throwing barbs at each other.

KELLY: I thought bipartisanship was the problem. You didn’t want it on energy, Craig Kelly.

KELLY: Absolutely. Because Labor’s policy, let’s be very clear. What Peter wants to do…

JAYES: I’ve started a policy debate, just quickly…

KELLY: …is copy South Australia and wreck the South Australian, highest electricity prices in the world….

KHALIL: You’ve set him off Laura

KELLY: (inaudible)

JAYES: Alright Peter Khalil and Craig Kelly, we will talk about it next week. Thank you.

KHALIL: Thanks Laura

KELLY: Thank you.