SUBJECTS: Religious discrimination bill; Voter ID bill; The need for a federal ICAC; the government inflating national security for an election; Scott Morrison is a liar
PATRICIA KARVELAS, HOST: Let’s stay with federal politics, and Deputy Opposition Leader Richard Marles joins me now. Richard Marles, welcome.
RICHARD MARLES, DEPUTY LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY: Good afternoon Patricia. How are you?
KARVELAS: Good. The Religious Discrimination bill has been released. The Equality Alliance basically says that they think that their concerns are the same. Have you seen the details yet?
MARLES: I have not seen the details of the bill, it has literally just been released, but we will have a good look at this over the next little while. We have made it clear that for a long time that we are happy to work with the government about delivering a bill which prevents religious discrimination. But obviously there – it is a complicated piece of legislation, we want to make sure there aren’t any unintended consequences, and so, we will take our time to work through this.
KARVELAS: Does the removal of both the “Folau clause” and the right for doctors and other medical staff to refuse treatment due to their religious beliefs address your concerns?
MARLES: I think we really need to have a look at a number of these provisions to properly answer that. I mean, there have been a number of issues that we have raised with the government. I think the other point here is, it is a pretty important piece of legislation. It requires scrutiny from us but it requires scrutiny in a broader sense as well. I’m hoping that this goes to some form of inquiry, Senate inquiry or parliamentary inquiry, in relation to the bill, and that will give us an opportunity to have a look at this in more detail.
KARVELAS: Some moderate Liberals are concerned the remaining statement of belief clause may be more of a sword than a shield. Are you concerned about that too, that minority groups could be discriminated against because of this?
MARLES: Again, what we want to make sure of here is that in providing for legislation which prevents discrimination on the basis of religion, that there aren’t unintended consequences. And that’s exactly the kind of issue we want to be very clear about and get the details exactly right on, so that there is proper balance here. There are other forms of discrimination which we are obviously very keen to make sure do not come into being by virtue of an unintended consequence here, so that’s exactly the kind of issue we need to look at.
KARVELAS: The Voter Identification bill is set to be introduced to parliament tonight. Labor is not supporting it. What are your concerns?
MARLES: We have got real concerns about the degree to which this might give rise to ultimately the suppression of people voting. I mean, I think there are going to be certain groups – if you were to look at indigenous populations in remote Australia, for example, this may well provide real questions, or issues around the ability to vote, or the ease with which people can vote in those circumstances. And it may give rise to a circumstance where less people are voting. Now, we have a compulsory voting system in this country which is a good thing. In a democracy we should be trying to encourage as many people as possible to vote. And we are concerned that what will happen here, is that there is a form of suppression of the vote. But the other point to make here, Patricia, is it is not at all obvious to us what problem is trying to be solved with this legislation. I mean, at the last election there was not a single prosecution in respect of somebody voting on multiple occasions. So, it is not as though there is a big issue here which needs to be dealt with. And the consequences of moving down this path, may well see a range of Australians not exercising their vote in circumstances where they have up until now.
KARVELAS: Okay, it sounds like Labor’s kind of hedging your bets on this. There has been the view – I have spoken to people in Labor who are worried that the government is wedging you with this bill. What is your answer on that?
MARLES: We are not hedging our bets, we are deeply concerned about this proposition. I don’t know how much clearer I could be about that. As I say, we are concerned that this is going to have the effect of suppressing the number of people who vote, that there will be people who won’t vote by virtue of this provision. And we don’t see it – we don’t see the problem that this bill is trying to solve. So, in those circumstances we are not supporting it.
KARVELAS: We are yet to see the government’s Commonwealth Integrity Commission Legislation. Today, a vote to bring forward debate in the Senate was defeated. Will Labor support the legislation with the aim of strengthening the body if elected?
MARLES: What we want to do is actually get a debate going on this, and ultimately the issue here, is we need to see the Federal Government putting in place an ICAC. I mean, they have had this as a promise now for years, and yet we still don’t have a proposition from them, about exactly what sort of a body they would put in place. And here we are, within a few months of the next election. I mean, integrity at a federal level is a fundamental issue. We need to have a federal anti-corruption body, and that’s what we have committed to providing if we win the next election. And ultimately that’s how we make this happen; I mean it’s a matter of seeing Labor win the next election if people want to see a federal ICAC put in place. And between now and then, it really is in the court of the government to actually present us with the proposition that they have been promising now for years.
KARVELAS: Shadow Foreign Minister Penny Wong today accused the government of inflating the threat of war with China for political gain. She says it’s the most dangerous election tactic in Australian history. But is it an election tactic? I mean, the government has been talking about its concerns about the rise of China for some time, hasn’t it?
MARLES: I think Senator Wong is making a really important point here. And that is we really should be seeking bipartisanship on questions of our national security. But what is absolutely the case is that using national security as a means by which people pursue political advantage, in a domestic context is a very dangerous game to play indeed, and that is the point that Penny Wong is making. Our national interest is served by sober judgements around what is in the best interest of our nation and to be playing with politics with this, which is what we are seeing, is a very very dangerous game, indeed. And I think it’s a very timely moment for Senator Wong to make that point, and it’s one that I completely agree with.
KARVELAS: The Opposition’s strategy with the government in Question Time all week, again this continued today, was in relation to questions around the Prime Minister’s truthfulness. Today there were questions about the so called ‘Shanghai Sam’ language that had been used by the Prime Minister when he was pursuing, as was the Government, Sam Dastyari. What’s the government trying to do here, kind of going through old stories every day? What are you trying to pin the Prime Minister with?
MARLES: The Prime Minister has an uncomfortable relationship with the truth, is the simple point here. Time and time again he simply says things which are not true, he lies. And it’s become patently clear. And we are making that point, loud and clear. And these are not questions that are there to be debated. These are moments where he is on the public record, where he will say one thing on one day and then literally pretend that it never occurred, and simply deny it on the next. Now, this is our national leader, this is a person who people look to for a sense of character and a sense of honesty. In moments of difficulty we look to him to lead us. And it’s completely legitimate for us to raise the point that this is a man who lies, constantly lies and cannot make clear his statements and is really happy to say one thing on one day and then further down the track, completely pretend as if he’d never said it at all. That is the point we are making and will continue to make.
KARVELAS: Okay, what is the political motivation though, or is it risky, is really my question? Because, you know, I think sometimes maybe voters think all politicians- with respect- are rather slippery. There is a view generally that the political class is not always truthful. Do you think people care?
MARLES: I think people do care. I think people look to their national leader as a person of character. And right now our national leader is a man who lies, it’s as simple as that. And I absolutely think that people care about that. And that is a point that we will continue to illuminate, and a point that we will continue to make. And it should be the case that in public life, when you are doing interviews such as this, that you are consistent. And when you say something on one day, on camera, recorded, you can’t then, down the track pretend you never said it. Because if that is where you are at – and that is where the Prime Minister is at – then as we seek to look to him to lead us through this very difficult period with the pandemic, people simply cannot rely on a single word that he actually says.
KARVELAS: Thank you so much for joining us.
MARLES: Thanks, Patricia.