ABC CAPITAL HILL
TUESDAY, 8 FEBRUARY 2022
SUBJECTS: Parliament’s workplace culture; religious freedom legislation.
JANE NORMAN, HOST: Welcome to you both. Now, I'm just gonna say…
JASON FALINSKI, LIBERAL MP: Thank you for making us the first
NORMAN: It's a special place to be.
FALINSKI: It's very special. It's always special, but it's especially special.
NORMAN: Even more so today. Look, I'm gonna go to Jason Falinski first, because we're all obviously waiting with bated breath to see what the Liberal Party have decided to do over the religious discrimination bill. You had a party room meeting this morning. Is the party room backing this bill?
FALINSKI: Look, at the moment there are, I mean, you know, uh, I shouldn't talk about what happens in party room. But the vibe is, there are some concerns, particularly around protection of children and their rights, especially for children who are transgender or are transitioning. These are very difficult issues to deal with in law. But as a Lliberal - note to Sarah Martin at The Guardian, I'm a Liberal, not a moderate - I make the point that we believe in freedom of thought, belief, etc, including religion, but it also means protecting everyone's rights. And that's going to be a difficult thing to do anymore. But that's where we're focused.
NORMAN: So there was no resolution at this morning's party room meeting?
FALINSKI: We are meeting again after question time. And I think at that meeting, there will be a resolution and there'll be a clear path forward.
NORMAN: And did Liberals stand up in today's meeting to reserve their right to vote against this bill?
FALINSKI: I can't discuss what happened in party right now. However, it's fair to say that no one has expressed that to the party room.
NORMAN: Okay. And just to get on to these issues. So there's the religious discrimination bill itself. It's been a subject of two parliamentary inquiries. Is the Government proposing any changes to the draft bill that was the subject of those inquiries?
FALINSKI: Well, I think out of that, those discussions will have to be had this afternoon. And depending where those discussions land, there may need to be some amendments to the bill that was presented to the parliament. And I think there's also the Sex Discrimination Act, which there was some amendments made under the Gillard-Rudd Government, which allowed religious schools to discriminate. And those provisions are, for example, the provisions that were used by the Christian school in Brisbane last week. So that's also been a matter of discussion.
NORMAN: Okay, well let's just get on to that, because this is the Sex Discrimination Act, which is what's being bundled together with the religious discrimination act. And so as it stands at the moment, faith based schools can discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation, gender, identity, marital or relationship status. What the Prime Minister has promised to do is to effectively scrap out the sexual orientation, so schools would no longer be able to expel a student based on sexual orientation. Why, though Jason Falinski, will he not do the same for gender identity, which relates to transgender children?
FALINSKI: And that is, because that is incredibly difficult. Firstly, I mean, Jane, I don't need to take you through the circumstances in which someone decides that they're transitioning to a different gender. But where you had single sex schools, where you have parents who are angst-ridden about that, where you had school communities, how do you manage that situation. And, look, what I think we need to do is create a sphere of protection, specifically for the child, or the person who was transitioning, but we need to do it in a way, in a manner and form that those discussions can still occur in that supportive community while that person is being protected. We also have situations where people are transitioning, and then decide that they're not transitioning. This is this is a very difficult piece of law. This is very difficult area for everyone involved, I know it is for the Labor Party as well. And we are trying to do the best we possibly can to ensure that the rights and privileges of everyone in this nation is protected for the benefit of the children involved.
NORMAN: Okay I want to bring in Madeleine King from the Labor side. So we were trying to get some details out of the party room really, which is only just wrapped a little while ago. But just to start off with, is this the issue that you expected parliament to be debating in the dying days of the 46th Parliament.
MADELEINE KING, SHADOW MINISTER FOR TRADE: It's quite frankly, staggering. And and I'm glad Jason and the Coalition team are having discussions. But this was meant to be, it should have been happening three and half years ago. I mean, today, this bill is being debated in the Parliament, and the Government has brought it forward doesn't know its own position. So how is that a way to produce legislation or to govern? And it is complex, I don't resile from that. It's a complex area. But why weren't these discussions we had over the last three and a half years amongst your own in the Liberal and National party rooms, but equally, or more so, with more stakeholders? So that's what staggers me is how we can be debating something in the parliament only half an hour ago, and it'll be back after question time, and the Liberals are about to have another meeting about their position on a bill that's already before Parliament being debate by Liberals and Labor people alike. It's just not a sound system of Government you're running here.
NORMAN: And what about Labor's involvement in the process up until now? You obviously haven't - the bill has just been introduced into Parliament, so I'm not going to ask you to sort of pass judgment on it because no one's had time to really read it. But what do you sort of think about the the level to which Labour has been brought into this process?
KING: We had invited the Government from the very start, when this debate started a number of years ago, that we would work together. And that process that wasn't taken up and a process wasn't put in, where we worked in a bipartisan fashion. And that's a terrible shame, because we probably might have done better. I'm not saying we absolutely could, there can't be any guarantees. But nonetheless, it might have been a better starting point. Because the end point, and there's only nine and a half days left of the House of Representatives, only five and a half days left of the Senate sitting before an election. And the Government still does not position on its own bill, it hard to see where this can go. It's just staggering. And I repeat myself, but I've got no other words for it.
NORMAN: So just putting aside the religious discrimination act, let's talk about the Sex Discrimination Act, which the PM has promised to amend at the same time. As I mentioned earlier, he's promised to effectively prevent a child from being discriminated against on the basis of their sexual orientation. But at this stage, the question of gender identity is not being resolved. Is that an issue for you for Labor?
KING: It will, it will be an issue for many people, no doubt about it. And Jason's alluded to that, quite rightly, it's a complex area, the starting position really is that no child should be discriminated against for anything in schools. It just should not happen, and...
NORMAN: Is it quite complex because if you have, let's say, a girl school, and a child chooses to transition or change their identity, within the context of the girls school, is that where the complexity lies here that it sits...?
KING: Yeah, very much so. And people's perception of these issues are very different across different communities and within communities. So I'm not, I wouldn't pretend to say it's simple. But again, we've had an opportunity to talk about this for three years. And we're doing it at the death knell of this Parliament.
NORMAN: The 11th hour...
KING: So, it seems a bit late. But I'm glad there are in-depth discussions happening in the Liberal party room. And, you know, we haven't seen the last amendments, their amendments coming through, foreshadowed - there'll be more amendments after your party room meeting. So we can't really go any further as a Labor Party on this decision making process until the Government makes its own decision.
NORMAN: And Jason Falinski. Let's just return I mean, as it stands, would you vote for this bill?
FALINSKI: As it stands, to what Madeleine's saying, I think there are some issues that need to be resolved. I'm pretty confident they will be. Jane, look, the reason this is happening now is because the work on this did start in 2019, there was this little thing called the global pandemic that kind of got in the way anyway. And so...
NORMAN: Hang on there, this has been promised since the same sex marriage debate in 2017. And there was the Ruddock review.
NORMAN: And there was a pledge to protect gay...
FALINSKI: Absolutely. And as you and as you know, as you know, those discussions took place under the former Attorney-General, a lot of stakeholders were involved, those discussions became very difficult once the global pandemic occurred. And the legislation has been in the parliament since last year. I mean, admittedly, December last year, but it has been in the parliament since December last year. I don't think any Government could have foreshadowed the global pandemic, if they could please show me the tweet where that person did. And we've done the best that we possibly can. This is a very important piece of law, we are determined to get it right. I appreciate that the Labor Party says that they want to be involved in in getting it right as well. And we're, we're all going to work together.
NORMAN: And just finally, before we move on this issue, would you be comfortable if the Government sought to protect children with let's say, gay students, but didn't extend that protection to transgender...?
FALINSKI: I think you're asking me if we end up where we're protecting children who are gay, but the issue of children who are transitioning is given to the ALRC, to continue consultation and come back with an answer in 12 months? Would people be comfortable with that? I think that yes, the parliament will be comfortable with that. But there's still more discussions to occur on that front.
NORMAN: And just in Mackellar, your electorate in Sydney, how big an issue is this for voters there?
FALINSKI: Look, I mean, my community is a community that's an incredibly inclusive and tolerant community. So I mean, you know, they've elected someone who will not tolerate and will not support laws that discriminate against people on immutable characteristics. So, you know, regardless of where my community stands on this, the person that they've elected, being myself, is always going to stand up for people's rights to be who they are, and particularly if it doesn't infringe on the rights of others. That is how we maximize freedom of individuals in this country. And they're type of author I will always vote for and always support.
NORMAN: Okay, now that I've got so much to talk about, but we're actually running out of time. So I just want to go back to what happened in the chambers at 12 o'clock today. The apology to the victims of workplace bullying, sexual harassment and assault in this place. I mean, this has been really a year-long reckoning for Federal Parliament that spread kind of nationwide. Madeleine King, were you pleased to say the nation's leaders say sorry? And is this a long overdue apology?
KING: Absolutely. And it's an apology that came at, at the time that was appropriate after the Jenkins review. I mean, maybe some apologies could be made beforehand in different circumstances, but it was an important moment, an important thing to do and it is good that we accept that saying sorry is the right thing to do. We shouldn't as individuals or as a prime minister or a member of parliament, whatever, we recognise saying sorry is okay and the right thing to do and it helps people, hopefully, recover from the trauma they've survived but equally allows the parliament to make sure it moves on and acts on the review and actually implements it. And implements it with vigour, and does it properly. And that's what we all need to be united in.
NORMAN: Yes, you've had the Kate Jenkins report, it's recommended changes, the Government's committed to that and set up a cross-party taskforce. Are you satisfied with the process to implement these recommendations?
KING: Yeah, I think being cross-party is very important. We need to work not only bipartisan with everyone, and that's that is really important. And the Labor Party will pursue this as vigorously as the Government is attempting to.
NORMAN: And Jason Falinski we're sadly running out of time, last word to you. It's taken the Prime Minister a long time to say sorry for a lot of things. Obviously, sorry, we don't have time to go back through all the records. But there have been a few issues where he's taken a while to say sorry, but he has today...
FALINSKI: Well, let's focus on the fact that he has said sorry, that Anthony Albanese said sorry, that Adam Ban said sorry, and that the parliament said sorry for this. I mean, I endorse entirely what Madeleine has just said. And I would add to it, that we need the best and the brightest, who are interested in public policy who want to do the work of the people of Australia, in this building. And if there becomes a perception that it is not safe to work here, which by the way, is not the case. But if that perception becomes (indistinct) then that means our democracy is worse off. So I endorse everything that Madeleine is saying, and we need to get this done and we will get it done as quickly as possible.
NORMAN: What was it like in a chamber?
FALINSKI: Solemn. Very solemn. I mean, very solemn. I mean, you know, one of our, another Australian, one of our own, was assaulted, in this building. I mean, it is not acceptable in any building. But for it to have happened here, the pinnacle of democracy. It's completely unacceptable.
I think we'd all agree on that. Jason Falinski, Madeleine King, thanks so much for your time today.
KING: Thanks, Jane.