Matthew Abraham: Joining us in the studio, the Labor MP for the Federal Seat of Adelaide, the Shadow Minister for Education Kate Ellis, welcome.
Kate Ellis: Good morning.
Matthew Abraham: Bob Day, Family First Senator for South Australia, welcome Senator.
Bob Day: Yeah, good morning.
Matthew Abraham: And on the dog and bone, Simon Birmingham, Liberal Senator, Minister for Education and Training. Welcome Simon Birmingham.
Simon Birmingham: Good morning everybody.
Matthew Abraham: Now we wouldn’t normally start with a song, but a song is making news today, and it’s by a very well-known performer, Tim Minchin, and it’s about George Pell, urging him to come home. It’s gone nuts on social media, as you would expect I suppose, and it was released last night. All proceeds from the song are going to the victims of clerical abuse, and there’s even a crowdfunding campaign now so that while George Pell has got a sick leave not to attend in person in Australia, the Royal Commission into institutional sex abuse, he – his victims are saying well if that’s not going to happen, we want to go to Rome to watch him give his evidence in person. And the commission’s considering how that would be structured, so quite a lot of money’s already been raised from that. Here’s a little bit of Tim Minchin.
Tim Minchin: [Sings] It’s a lovely day in Ballarat, I’m kicking back, thinking of you. I hear that you’ve been poorly, I am sorry that you’re feeling blue. I know what it’s like when you feel a little shitty, you just want to curl up and have an itty-bitty doona day. But a lot of people here really miss you, Georgie. They really think you ought to just get on a plane. We all just want you to come home, Cardinal Pell. I know you’re not feeling well, and being crook ain’t much fun. Even so, we think you should come …
[End of excerpt]
David Bevan: Okay, so I think we get the message – Kate Ellis, when you hear something like that, what’s your response to that?
Kate Ellis: Well, I’m not sure that … I mean, I guess the serious issue here is that this is an incredibly important royal commission that’s been established, and we do need to make sure that victims of sexual abuse feel like this is a chance to be heard, and this is a chance to do some healing. That is …
Matthew Abraham: [Interrupts] Well I’ll tell you my response to it is that there’s nowhere for people who for centuries have been incredibly powerful to hide now. You can’t hide. You can be a cardinal, and you can be sitting in the Vatican – and that used to be a very safe place for a cardinal to go – you can’t hide now. The victims will crowd surf to get the money together, popular support to get a plane and confront you. Comedians, composers will put together songs like that, and you’ve got nowhere to hide anymore.
Kate Ellis: Well obviously I don’t know the background of George Pell’s medical condition …
Matthew Abraham: [Interrupts] Okay, let’s cut through it then. Should George Pell come home, Kate Ellis?
Kate Ellis: Well as I said, I don’t know the background of his medical condition …
Matthew Abraham: [Talks over] No, no …
Kate Ellis: … so if he has medical advice then he can’t travel, then obviously that needs to be listened to, but equally for me the number one most important thing is that we provide some healing for victims and that we get some answers here, and that we find a process to enable us to do that.
Matthew Abraham: Senator Bob Day. Do you think George Pell should have come home? There’s some feeling that somehow he’s hiding behind a medical condition. I – that’s what the victims say. The Commission has accepted the advice of his doctors that he’s too unwell to travel.
Bob Day: Well, you really kicked off the discussion like this. Reminds me of that old joke about the two jumper leads who walk into a bar and the barman says now don’t you start anything. So you’ve started something here this morning. Look, I …
Matthew Abraham: [Interrupts] I haven’t heard that joke, but anyway, it’s not a bad one.
Kate Ellis: I think it is a bad one [laughs].
Bob Day: Well look, look it’s not for me to say …
Matthew Abraham: Well say it. Yes or no, I mean, you must have feelings about it …
David Bevan: [Talks over] Do you think he should come home?
Bob Day: Well, if he’s too sick to travel then obviously he can’t travel, and … ah look, yeah Tim Minchin can – you know, they can gang up on George Pell, you know, I’ve met George Pell a number of years ago. Look, I’m not qualified to answer that fully.
Matthew Abraham: Okay. Simon Birmingham, are you going to tiptoe around this? Should George Pell come home?
Simon Birmingham: Look, ideally, yes he would. There’s little doubt about that, and I understand why victims of child sex abuse in particular would feel aggrieved and concerned at the circumstances here, but the Royal Commission is the right body to make that determination. We can all have opinions on it, and I think it would be better if he were to front the Royal Commission in person, but only the Royal Commission is really able to make that informed decision based on all of the medical evidence put before them.
Matthew Abraham: Okay. I suppose though the other question though is should the examination of George Pell – I assume it will be over a video link with the Royal Commission – be done … the victims want it to replicate a courtroom or a commission setting in terms of formality, in other words it’s not from your bedroom in a beanbag. Should that happen? Should it be structured so that there could be witnesses sitting and watching the evidence being given, in person, in Rome? Let’s put it that way, then. If we all accept that it’s not up to us to be his doctor.
Simon Birmingham: Well I think if it were to have been an open hearing at the Royal Commission had he appeared in person in Australia, then if there are people who wish to witness him give his evidence from Rome, or the Vatican, they should be entitled to do so. An open hearing should be an open hearing, and the person giving that evidence should be in public view, if you like, if there are those wishing to undertake such scrutiny.
Matthew Abraham: Okay, Bob has called from Tusmore, good morning Bob.
Caller Bob: Oh good morning. Look, I think that irrespective of whether we’re Christians, Catholic, atheists or whatever, we should all get together and pray that he makes a speedy recovery so he can appear in person, you know, it’d be the best solution.
Matthew Abraham: Thank you Bob from Tusmore, thank you for that. If we can get onto the question of the Nuclear Royal Commission. Bob Day, we now have this … well, it’s hard apart from the Greens to find anyone who’s not happy with having a nuclear waste dump stroke storage facility in South Australia, including high level waste from overseas. You’re pretty happy with that?
Bob Day: Yes I am. I think nuclear science has an awful lot to offer South Australia in areas of health and industry and with energy, and I think it’s a great step forward. And to have bans on the development of nuclear facilities and nuclear science, I think it’s really sad. I don’t think there should be any restrictions there, we should embrace all aspects of science, particularly nuclear, it’s- it’d be great for South Australia.
Matthew Abraham: Kate Ellis are you happy to see a high level nuclear waste dump in South Australia?
Kate Ellis: No look I’d actually question Matt’s assertion that there’s nobody that isn’t happy to see nuclear waste in South Australia. What I would say is there is an increasing consensus that we should be having a proper debate and we should be looking at all of the evidence.
Matthew Abraham: But we know what that’s code for don’t we?
Kate Ellis: Well no I don’t think that’s right.
Matthew Abraham: That’s sort of Jay Weatherill speak.
Kate Ellis: No I don’t believe that Matt, I mean I think that as someone who is incredibly committed to looking at South Australia’s future economic growth, making sure that we have jobs and a strong economy going forward, then we need to be looking at a range of options but at the same time, I do think there are incredibly serious answers and that we don’t yet have all of the evidence and have all of the answers to. This should be examined properly; I don’t think that we need to have an interim report and 24 or 48 hours later-
David Bevan: Kate Ellis is this fair- if we’d asked you ten years ago, you would have said no way, you would have been shoulder to shoulder with Mike Rann all the way to the High Court opposing this and now you’re saying I’ve got concerns but I’ve got an open mind, is that fair?
Kate Ellis: Well I don’t know about the Kate Ellis of ten years ago, I certainly- I didn’t grow up in the generation of the hysteria almost around nuclear, around nuclear power and around nuclear weapons, I didn’t share that. My view previously has been that there are serious concerns around waste, around environmental impacts and around the questions that- this isn’t just about today, this isn’t just about you and me and the jobs we want to create today, this is about hundreds of years into the future.
Matthew Abraham: Do you think it’s long enough to discuss- just quickly do you think the period to discuss the tentative findings is long enough?
Kate Ellis: Well I think we’ll see whether we get clear answers and whether we get some form of consensus. I don’t think we should rush a decision of this magnitude at all.
David Bevan: So you’re sitting firmly on the fence of this one?
Kate Ellis: I am and I’m not doing this for any sort of political reasons, I’m doing this because I think this is an incredibly important debate for South Australia and we should not rush it and we should consider all sides.
David Bevan: Simon Birmingham, are you a fence sitter?
Simon Birmingham: No, no, I am in principal at least in favour of seeing South Australia explore and develop opportunities in the nuclear fuel cycle including in the storage of waste. I can recall back to the 2004 federal election when Kate and I were both marginal seat candidates in that election. One of us won, one of us lost. I was the one who lost but I remember a big issue in that campaign was of course Mike Rann campaigned against having a low level nuclear waste facility in South Australia and look I’m very pleased to see that the Labor Party has come a long way in terms of at least being willing to have a mature discussion about this.
Matthew Abraham: Are you saying the campaign- are you saying the campaign that Mike Rann ran back in 2004 is one of the reasons that Kate was able to get ahead?
Simon Birmingham: I’m sure that at that stage it was a very effective scare campaign that all looks a little cynical nowadays given where the debate has gone and where the Labor Party’s taken it but that’s in the past; I want to look to the future, and I’m pleased the Labor Party for whatever motivations has seemingly opened its mind. I hope this isn’t just a charade. I hope they are fair dinkum about taking the report from the Royal Commission when it is finalised and working through the evidence of it and if the economics and if the environmental sustainability do all stack up and obviously Kevin Scarce seems to be indicating that is the case, then the state should be looking to progress things further.
Matthew Abraham: Minister you’re Education Minister obviously, Bob Day who’s sitting in the studio with us here has called on you to cease funding an in-school gay promotion program, that’s the words on his press release, pairing- pending a parent poll approval from parents. Do you have any concerns at all about the Safe Schools program?
Simon Birmingham: Matt, look I think some of the material and the detail within it perhaps raises an eyebrow in terms of whether it is material that’s more aligned to academic debates at universities than exactly tailored towards school content but overwhelmingly the program, overwhelmingly, has objectives that are sound and that overarching objective is of course that homophobia should be no more tolerated in our schools than racism. That every student should feel included and that students should understand the differences between one another and show tolerance to one another and we should really make sure we help to ensure those students struggling with questions in relation to their sexuality feel included in a safe learning environment.
Matthew Abraham: Minister there have been some reports that this program, perhaps at a high school level, encourages the children to role play. So okay, Bob, today imagine yourself as a transgender person, and how do you feel about a particular situation? Now there are some reports that it involves that. Is that the case?
Simon Birmingham: That is one scenario out of many different options that are given to teachers and we should fully appreciate that schools participate on this program purely on an opt-in basis. And then of course school communities and teachers decide which bits of the resources that are produced out of this program they want to use and are most appropriate for their classrooms.
Matthew Abraham: Is that sort of roleplaying done at a primary school level?
Simon Birmingham: Well and roleplaying is of course done for all manner of circumstances at all levels throughout the schooling life so I’ve walked into plenty of classrooms where you see students encouraged to role play and imagine themselves in different circumstances, particularly if you’re dealing with issues in relation to tolerance of people or understanding of people…
David Bevan: [Interrupts] Yeah but are primary school students being asked to role play as a transgender or a lesbian gay or bisexual person?
Simon Birmingham: No David, I don’t imagine there would be terribly many schools in the country…
David Bevan: [Interrupts] Alright we’re just trying to get the facts, because there’s been a lot of hysteria surrounding this.
Simon Birmingham: It really- and that’s why it is really important to emphasise that these are resources that are developed and it is entirely up to individual schools and the school community and the parents involved in those decisions to decide if any of it is used and if so how it is used.
Matthew Abraham: It’s 13 to 9 on 891 ABC Adelaide Breakfast. This is Super Wednesday, Simon Birmingham’s voice there, he’s the Minister for Education. We’ll come to his Shadow Minister Kate Ellis in a moment from the Labor Party, Federal MP for Adelaide, but Bob Day, you want these programs frozen, is that correct? Until what?
Bob Day: Until parents can have a say and what’s being raised with me is the concerns that these are not anti-bullying or a safe schools program, they’ve got all the hallmarks of a recruitment campaign. They look like those join the army, see the world kind of campaigns, you know, join the LBGTI community you don’t know what you’re missing. And it’s akin to a recruitment or promotional campaign.
Matthew Abraham: On what do you base that?
Bob Day: On seeing the video and reading some of the material, and what I’m saying is …
Matthew Abraham: [Interrupts] So the video is, you say, part of the program that’s shown in schools?
Bob Day: Yes it is, yes. And what I’m saying is that if children are to be exposed to this kind of material, and some of it’s pretty graphic, then parents should have oversight of this, and that it should be up to parents to decide whether their child is at a state of emotional development or whether they’re ready or they want their child to be exposed to this kind of material. I’m not saying it should be banned or withdrawn, I’m just saying that the funding of it, because it’s federally funded …
Matthew Abraham: [Interrupts] Well you want to freeze the funding and withdraw permission for the program …
Bob Day: Until …
Matthew Abraham: … until all school parents have been given a vote.
Bob Day: A vote, and to decide whether those parent bodies of those schools approve of that particular program being rolled out in their schools. And it’s not an opt-in scenario as Simon has said in some, because children are coming home and telling their parents what they’ve seen during that day.
David Bevan: Kate Ellis, you’re Shadow Minister, Kate.
Kate Ellis: Look, to be honest with you I just think it’s really weird that of all the issues facing Australian schools at the moment, that this is the one that Bob should be speaking out about. Let’s be really clear that we are in a position where we know that our international competitiveness in our schools is slipping, we know that the gap is getting ever wider between poor performing schools and high performing schools, and we know that the Government has pledged to cut $30 billion from our schools …
Matthew Abraham: [Interrupts] But that doesn’t mean he can’t be concerned about individual programs.
Kate Ellis: Well no, so my issue is, in light of all of that …
Bob Day: [Talks over] [Indistinct] to raise concerns, that’s what our- people are coming to me and saying we’re very concerned about this, so I responded.
Kate Ellis: Well I’m concerned about literacy and numeracy programs …
Bob Day: Aren’t we all.
Kate Ellis: … that won’t be able to be continued. I’m concerned about a whole range of issues. I am not concerned that our schools are trying to cut back on youth suicides, which we know are higher- at a higher rate amongst young gay and lesbian students, and I’m certainly not concerned that when we know that 80 per cent of the abuse and bullying that gay and lesbians face is during their time at school, that we should have programs in place to try and address it.
David Bevan: So you’ve seen this program, and you’re satisfied with it?
Kate Ellis: Look, I think it’s incredibly important that we have resources in place, I think it’s also important …
David Bevan: [Interrupts] But just sorry, just yes or no, because we won’t have a lot of time. You’ve seen the program, and you’re happy with it?
Kate Ellis: Look, what I’m happy with is principals choosing what is best place in their school communities, and working with parents and working with the governing councils …
David Bevan: Would you like your child- yeah, I think you would like to have a say as to whether your child is exposed to this kind of material first.
Kate Ellis: And I have that say. I have a say through …
David Bevan: Not at the moment.
Kate Ellis: … you know, I think it’s really weird that the same people that campaign …
Matthew Abraham: [Interrupts] But you haven’t seen the video by the sounds of it, because you haven’t answered that question frankly.
Kate Ellis: I haven’t seen the video, I haven’t seen the video.
Matthew Abraham: Okay. It took three goes, but anyway.
Kate Ellis: Well no, that took one go.
Matthew Abraham: No no no, David asked you twice, but [laughs] anyway.
Kate Ellis: I think it’s- well he said the materials.
Matthew Abraham: Alright.
Kate Ellis: There is a whole range of different materials here, and part of the problem is the hysteria that people are jumping on board of some parts of a program that we need to be clear, this is about giving resources to our educators to choose what is most appropriate in their classrooms and with their students. And to say that we should scrap a program I think is incredibly irresponsible. We have programs in place for all sorts of bullying, and of course we should support young people during this incredibly important time in their lives.
Bob Day: No one’s denying that.
David Bevan: It’s eight minutes to nine. Let’s finish with the Federal Education Minister, Simon Birmingham. Simon Birmingham where do you fall in this? Bob Day, he’s saying that he’s got some real concerns, Kate Ellis not concerned, you’ve got a raised eyebrow, what exactly does that mean?
Simon Birmingham: Well David I think it is ridiculous to suggest that it is a recruitment campaign, let’s knock that on the head for starters. This is a program that complements other initiatives like our Bullying. No Way! program, like school chaplains in schools, all of them designed to help promote an environment where students are safe, where we do address issues of bullying, where we do reduce rates of youth suicide, and where we do make sure that everybody can actually focus on learning in the school environment because they don’t feel that they’re being prejudiced in other ways.
David Bevan: Alright.
Simon Birmingham: Importantly, just in relation to the issue of parents, quickly touch on this, schools choose how they use this program, and of course it is the responsibility of each of those school authorities, be they government or non-government, to engage their parent communities in how they actually teach this program or any other matter in their school environment.
Matthew Abraham: Okay.
David Bevan: Hear hear.
Matthew Abraham: If we can come to you Kate Ellis, as the Labor MP for Adelaide, our first opportunity to talk to you about David Colovic, the Liberal candidate who will be running against you. And, among other things, he says he can identify with what he calls the poorer parts of your electorate because he shops with the poor people and has a Costco card. Our understanding, and we’ve actually confirmed this from several sources, is that Houssam Abiad was knocked out, and one of the reasons he was knocked out is paranoia within the Liberal Party about the fact that he’s a Muslim in a very positive way, and his surname, and he might be exposed to lose votes because of that. Do you regret that, or is that- would you say that’s a Liberal Party matter?
Kate Ellis: Well both. But I regret if any candidate is knocked back because of their religion, because of their surname, then I think that that is incredibly sad. And I want the Liberal Party to have a diverse range of candidates; I want all political parties to have a diverse range of candidates and base their decisions on that person’s merit.
Matthew Abraham: Mind you, when they tried that for Carolyn Habib she got knocked out by a Labor scare campaign, Can you trust Habib? And many people say that that was tapping into a phobia about the Muslim community, even though she wasn’t Muslim, she was Anglican.
Kate Ellis: Well, all I can say is that I think that the Liberal Party should be putting forward their strongest candidates, and I think if that is the reason why some members of the Liberal Party chose not to pre-select that candidate then that is very, very sad.
David Bevan: And do you think the state Labor Party takes any responsibility for that, given the Habib campaign just two years ago?
Kate Ellis: Oh look, I’m not going to make the state Labor Party take responsibility for what we’re saying has been the motivations for decisions made within the Liberal Party, I think that’s a ridiculous proposition. What I do think is that all political parties should make sure that we are pre-selecting the best candidates, and that if there is discrimination going on within the Liberal Party based on someone’s religion, then I think that that is a very, very grave matter.
David Bevan: Kate Ellis, thank you for coming in. Labor MP for Adelaide, Shadow Minister for Education. On the phone line is Simon Birmingham, Liberal Senator for South Australia and Minister for Education and Training, and Bob Day, Family First Senator from South Australia. Thank you for coming in.