Sky News Interview: News Day: Nationals Split, Press Freedom, Brian Houston and Morrison White House Dinner



SUBJECTS:  Nationals split, Press Freedom, Brian Houston and Morrison White House Dinner

TOM CONNELL, HOST: Let’s get to our political panel joining me here in the studio. Liberal MP Julian Leeser, and from the Labor party Peter Khalil. Gentleman thanks both for your time. Let’s start with this old chestnut, tension in the Nationals, it seems like Julian Leeser. According to conversations I have had, there was a call for the deputy position yesterday to be spilled that didn’t happen because Bridget McKenzie wasn’t there, pretty extraordinary this soon after the election isn’t it?  

LEESERI think Bridget McKenzie is doing a fantastic job as deputy leader of the Nationals and the Agriculture Minister. I am obviously not a member of the National Party party room, but we are in middle of the worst drought in living memory. She has been very focussed on ensuring that we make changes to the household assistance scheme which is very important because we have to get more people taking the money that’s available from that scheme, she has helped to reduce the red tape and to ensure that people can enjoy that scheme and acknowledge that we don’t have a drought 3 years, that we have droughts every 10 years. (inaudible) 

CONNELL: What is your message for National MPs who apparently are a little bit skittish at the moment? 

LEESERLook the media loves this sort of story, the tensions and so on. I think the important thing is to focus on the thing that people in rural and regional Australia want us to focus on.  

CONNELL: That’s what you are telling the National MPs? 

LEESER: That is what I am saying to everyone. That is what I am focused on, that is what Bridget McKenzie is focused on, that is what the Government is focused on. 

CONNELL: Peter Khalil some of your colleagues are also talking to journalists as is their want and they are not convinced [interrupted] 

PETER KHALIL MP: We are talking to you. 

CONNELL: You are. But even when the cameras are  not on though. And they are not convinced Anthony Albanese is doing a good job or has a plan. 

KHALIL: Look, all the politicians talk to journalists, whether it is on the record like Julian and I, or some journalists background. And that’s how you do your job, put out the stories, and what’s going on. These guys just won government and they are a couple of months in, and they are fighting themselves instead of focussing on what is a diabolical drought, a diabolical situation for farmers, and they have absolutely failed. The drought is a national disaster, and all they can do is fight each other, this is not you Julian, this is the Nats, your colleagues, the agrarian socialists of the national party, and all they are doing is ripping themselves apart instead of focussing on governing.  

CONNELL: And I am going to ask Julian that. But about your thoughts. What is Anthony Albonese’s plan do you think for Australia? 

KHALIL: Well Albo has been very very clear. We are going through a policy review, we have got the election review coming down, the part of the review around the election that’s due very soon. And Anthony has been very good at articulating the fact that we are working through all of our policies. He is not going to be rushed. He is not going to be rushed by you. He is not going to be rushed by them. But we have some policies that are there obviously, there are fundamental values that we ascribe to, that Anthony ascribes to that I don’t think we you can change. Labor values that we hold dear. It is about now working through our policies, and there are a lot of big policies that we have got to get right. We are not going to rush that in the first couple of months. 

LEESERI enjoy watching Peter, he is a wonderful dancer. But he has papered over the fact that Labor is divided over tax policy, divided over renewable energy, and they are divided over the question whether Albo himself should be the leader anymore. Bill Shorten has obviously put out on the press in the last few days that he wanted to change his image and he wasn’t able to, we have very interested article written by Troy Branston who has always got great sources within the Labor Party. Labor is divided. 

CONNELL: I want to ask you about press freedom. It has been spoken about in relation, more broadly as well to seemingly increased secrecy within government and departments as well. One tale is a journalist trying to get information about Brian Heusten via FOI. Whether or not he was invited to the White House. Pretty simple question. He is now being told that there is another 30 day extension to get that response. That’s a bit ridiculous isn’t it? 

LEESERTom, I sit on the parliamentary joint committee on intelligence and security which is looking at the issues, we have had wide range of submissions from media organisations, everything from security law, to FOI, to defamation. And we are considering those submissions in the context (interrupted). 

Leeser: Well I can’t explain the nature of those particular things.  I’m telling what my role is on the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security, which is to deal with the reference that the Government… 

Connell: Does it seem like a long time to you.  

Leeser: Well I don’t know. I’ve never been a public servant whose dealt with FOI applications before, I’ve never made an FOI application. But often they have to go through, there are a range of different people who have to be consulted in relation… 

Connell: But isn’t this the problem. The process is broken if that task, was he invited, takes thirty days on top of the initial request. 

Leeser:  Well, you know, departments and agencies are doing a whole range of different functions from time to time in Government. Their looking after the national interest. Their obviously assessing FOI applications as they assess other matters that come in from time to time. 

Khalil: Maybe they’re looking for the invitation with the pretty writing on it. 

Connell: Can I ask you finally about the invitation itself. So, Brian Houston, is there an issue with him being invited if he was, that he’s currently under investigation by New South Wales police for allegedly not informing them of his father’s abuse of children. 

Leeser: Well can I say of Brian Houston he is a constituent of mine, I support what he does at Hillsong. I think it’s a magnificent religious organization. I have confidence in Brian Houston. I think that the media’s obsession and the Labor party’s obsession with Brian Houston is, is very sad. 

Connell: Well, the Royal Commission found that he didn’t pass on information and allowed his father to quietly exit the church and tried to arrange for essentially hush payments to victims. 

Leeser: Brian Houston has owned up to the person his father was. I’ve actually been in his church when he’s talked about his father and the crimes that he committed. These matters that were raised before the royal commission are matters for, obviously, individual organizations to deal with, or agencies to deal with as well. Child sexual abuse is a terrible thing and it should be dealt with. 

Connell: What would the victims of his father think of that invite. Do you think they’d be comfortable with it? 

Lesser: I can’t answer for them, but I would say that the matter of the invitation is as I understand it is a matter for the US government, it’s not a matter for the Australian government. 

Connell: Does, is Labor casting aspersions in the words of the Prime Minister, about the invitation itself. 

Khalil: No, I mean, you said I was a good dancer, mate you can do a pretty good tango or cha cha cha over there cause that was impressive. He’s completely, Julian has completely obfuscated what this is about. It’s not about Brian Houston, it’s about the Prime, it goes to the Prime Minister. Why can’t he answer a simple question? And it goes also to the fact that if he did invite someone to a White House state dinner, I think that’s pretty fair game for us to ask, who is it, was he invited, did you invite him, why, how does that aid our relationship with the US, why are you inviting him to a state dinner. And the fact is that the Prime Minister has dodged this. So, it’s not about Brian Houston, it’s not about that particularly, it doesn’t pertain to that. It goes to the character of the Prime Minister 

Connell: You don’t think any element of it at all is about Brian Houston. 

Khalil: Well, it is in the sense that, you know, who is this guy that has been purportedly or allegedly invited to a state dinner with, with our, one of our most important allies… 

Connell: There’s a sense though Labor will go all the way out to sort of, as the Prime Minister said the other day, casting aspersions, it doesn’t quite want to do it. 

Khalil: I think the focus, and it has been on the Prime Minster and his inability to answer a very simple basic question. You go to Washington, you have, you’ve asked to have a certain people invited, that’s a pretty big deal, when you’re meeting with the President. 

Connell: So just finally, Labor is supporting having the, obviously, more of an exemption if journalists are writing in the public interest if they are writing in the public interest from a lot of these terror laws. What about the warrant process, and that going before a judge, rather than being granted automatically.  

Khalil: On that point, just so you, so the context of this. I’m mean, we obviously support the right to know campaign. The concerns that we have had, and I have had particularly – Mark Dreyfus has talked about this. There has been long standing convention where we’ve allowed journalists to do their jobs. The problem I’ve had with the way that this government has operated is the political weaponization of national security laws. You know, some of the laws that Annika Smethurst and some of the other journalists have got done over are older national security laws – the Crimes Act of 1914. And there were conventions in place where you wouldn’t use that, or weaponize that in the way it has been weaponized by this Government. 

Connell: Ok, we are nearly out of time, but what about that warrant process 

Khalil: Well, that has to, we have to do a review. Mark’s talked about the need for us to do a review to look at codifying what has been convention, cause its failed. 

LeeserThat is the [inaubile] of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security review right at the moment. I think it’s also to be remembered that the journalists themselves are not the subject of the, of these particular enquiries. Its officials who’ve has access to classified information who’ve dealt with that information allegedly contrary… 

Connell: Well we don’t, we don’t, we don’t know yet though that journalists are not going to be charged. 

Lesser: Well, but that’s not the nature of the inquiry and you look at what… 

Connell: But it hasn’t been able to be ruled out that. First of all journalists, but journalists can be charged still, and the people you’re talking about are also known in another language as whistle-blowers. 

Lesser: If you look at what the, the Minister for Home Affairs and the Attorney General have said in recent weeks in relation to the directions they’ve given both to the ALP and the prosecuting agencies, there’s no intention to charge journalists. 

Connell: But there’s still the question of whistle-blowers. 

Lesser: Well, you know, there’s a balance here to be dealt with between the protection of national security. Particular people have put Australia’s security at risk. 

Connell: Julian Leeser, Peter Khalil, thank you. 

Khalil: Thanks Tom, thanks Julian. 

LeeserThanks very much.