Interview on ABC Adelaide 891, Breakfast with Spence Denny
Topics: Sam Dastyari; NAPLAN and Civics/Citizenship test results



Spence Denny:            And it’s a Wednesday. It’s my first chance to do Super Wednesday. I’m quite looking forward to this. Amanda Rishworth is in the studio, Member for Kingston, shadow minister for early childhood education and development, and for defence personnel and for veterans’ affairs.

Hello, Amanda.

Amanda Rishworth:     Hello. It’s great to be here.

Spence Denny:            Why are you looking so tanned? Have you been out in the garden?

Amanda Rishworth:     Oh no, no, I think we’ve been out at Christmas carols and lots of community events have been happening over the weekend, so I think I might have taken in a bit of sun.

Spence Denny:            Taken in a bit of sun. Well you look fantastic. You’re healthy and happy …

Amanda Rishworth:     Thank you.

Spence Denny:            … is how you look, which is a good thing.

Federal Education Minister, Senator Simon Birmingham, is on the phone. Hello, Senator.

Simon Birmingham:    Good morning, Spence, and good morning Amanda.

Spence Denny:            And Greens Senator for South Australia and spokesperson on finance and trade, Senator Sarah Hanson-Young. Hello, Senator.

Sarah Hanson-Young: Good morning.

Spence Denny:            And welcome to you. Well, we’ll talk about one of your colleagues first, if we can. We might start with somebody in the same house as Senator Simon Birmingham. Are you happy with this big political scalp in the demise of Senator Sam Dastyari?

Simon Birmingham:    Well, it’s right, Spence, that Sam Dastyari has indicated he will resign from the Senate, but he should have gone weeks ago. He should go now. It shouldn’t be delayed and Bill Shorten should have demanded the resignation. So, I think, really Australians expect every single Member of Parliament to be there for the Australian interests and to stand up for Australia, and Sam Dastyari was found wanting in that regard and it is to Bill Shorten’s eternal failure that he, of course, did not tell Sam to resign, and to do so weeks ago.

Spence Denny:            How does it affect our relationship with a significant trading partner?

Simon Birmingham:    Well, China stands up for China’s national interests and Australian MPs should stand up for Australian national interests, and I think China fully expects that. That is what we would expect of Australian members and senators and everybody in the Australian political process. So, this is not about Australia’s relationship with China, it’s our largest trading partner. We have a strong one, but we are a sovereign nation. We should stand up for ourselves and we should certainly expect that every Member of Parliament puts the national interest, the Australian interest first, and that’s clearly not what Sam Dastyari was doing.

Spence Denny:            Has it given Labor a leg up in the Bennelong by-election?

Simon Birmingham:    No, Spence. I think people in Bennelong will, I trust, vote and think about the issues that matter most to them, which are their jobs, and the Turnbull Government’s jobs record is now really a strong one. It’s delivered around 1000 jobs every day, day in day out, 350,000-odd jobs over the course of the last year. They’re the types of things that people in Bennelong ought to focus on. Labor, of course, are trying to turn it into- turn Bennelong into an issue of question about racism or otherwise. Well, that’s just bunkum. What we are doing here is making sure that Australian Members of Parliament stand up for Australian interests, full stop.

Spence Denny:            Twenty one to nine is the time. You’re listening to ABC Radio Adelaide. Member for Kingston and Parliamentary colleague of Senator Sam Dastyari, what are your feelings surrounding the circumstances of his decision to resign his position in the Senate.

Amanda Rishworth:     Well look, I think he’s made the right decision. I think it has been recognised he had made an error of judgement. I do reject Simon’s sort of characterisation that he was somehow a disloyal Australian, but he made some poor judgements and he has now paid the ultimate sacrifice. I think, Simon, it’s a bit disingenuous in suggesting that any other member of a political party can force someone to resign their elected position. Of course, Bill Shorten took very swift action to strip him of his Labor Party duties, whether that was originally on the front bench or as deputy whip. But to suggest someone can force someone to resign from Parliament is quite disingenuous, but look, Sam’s done the right thing and I think we can move on now. What I would like to see us move on to, though, is actually taking some steps in our national interests, which include banning foreign donations. The Liberal Party is trying to suggest that they don’t receive foreign donations. Indeed, from this individual in question, the Chinese businessman, they have received hundreds of thousands of dollars. So, I think we need to actually make sure that we ban foreign donations. Indeed, Labor has a private members’ bill in the House to do just that. So let’s actually take these steps …

Simon Birmingham:    Well, Amanda, the Government has legislation in the Parliament to ban foreign donations as well [indistinct] …

Amanda Rishworth:     Well, we could have actually passed that in the House of Reps when you cancelled it, but anyway.

Simon Birmingham:    …So can give a straight answer on air this morning – will the Labor Party vote for the Government’s legislation to ban foreign donations?

Amanda Rishworth:     Well, the question is – will you vote for our private members’ motion? We have been calling …

Spence Denny:            What are the fundamental differences in this?   

Amanda Rishworth:     We have been calling for this. We have been calling for this, Simon, for a long time. We’ve also been calling for a range of different measures, including reducing the disclosure threshold from $13,000 to $1000. You refuse to support that. I don’t know why you do. You want to keep it hidden …

Simon Birmingham:    Amanda, when it comes to foreign donations …

Amanda Rishworth:     Let me finish, Simon. You had a good go.

Simon Birmingham:    Our legislation goes a lot further …

Amanda Rishworth:     Simon, you had a …

Simon Birmingham:    A lot further in terms of ensuring that it’s not just political parties who don’t accept foreign donations, but all political players.

Amanda Rishworth:     Well, you also want to ban charities from getting any support internationally and that is, of course, the big concern in your- is that World Vision could, indeed, if they were being politically active about the amount of money we donate around the world, if they make a political statement, that they would not be able to get international donations. So, this isn’t- don’t try and cloud this issue, Simon.

But I make a point in response as well about the Bennelong by-election. That is absolutely not the arguments we have been running in Bennelong. We’ve been running the issues in Bennelong like health, like education, like your record on penalty rates. All with a very poor record and that is what I believe the people of Bennelong will be considering when they go to the polls.

Spence Denny:            We will move onto Bennelong in a second, if we can. But I want to finish off with Senator Sam Dastyari.

Senator Sarah Hanson-Young, you’re in the background. You’re pretty keen to make some points here, particularly about political donations. Where do you stand with this and is there a preference that you would place on either the private members or the Liberal option when it comes to donations from foreign entities?

Sarah Hanson-Young: Look, I think there’s a whole raft of double standards going on here. The Liberal Party and the Government are beating up on Sam Dastyari in relation to his relationship with this particular donor. Let’s not forget, $20,000 from the same person was donated to Minister Cormann’s campaign. Other money has been donated from the same person to the Liberal Party. The Liberal Party take hundreds of thousands worth of donations from other Chinese nationals, including Sally Zou, who we know is notorious at the moment in Adelaide for taking out those full page ads in The Advertiser. What does she want for being one of the largest donors to the Liberal Party?

It’s not where they money comes from that’s the problem, Spence. It’s not whether it’s foreign donations or domestic donations. It’s why people are donating the money in the first place. Senator Cormann and Senator Brandis, when they put on the table last week legislation to talk about donations and cracking down on foreign donations, they said that it’s about having influence. What kind of influence does the mining corporations and the mining industry, or the gambling industry, think they’re getting from Government and the Opposition when they donate? It’s why people are donating the money and what they want from it that’s the problem. You can’t just talk about- we can’t just talk about banning foreign donations and think that money given here in Australia, from big mining corporations or big gambling or big tobacco, is A-Okay. If you think donations are a problem, they’re a problem across the board.

Spence Denny:            Well, I don’t know how our political process would work if, in some ways, political parties couldn’t be funded. So therein lies the problem. But Senator Simon Birmingham, aren’t we in la-la land if we think that those who make significant donations aren’t anticipating some form of benefit from it?

Simon Birmingham:    Well Spence, the point is, are people making donations because they believe in- support the policies of the party, or are they making donations because it will change or influence what people say or do? In the case of Sam Dastyari, it changed and influenced what he did. He spoke against Australia’s national interest, he spoke against Australia’s foreign policy, he spoke against the Labor Party’s foreign policy. He did so in a covert way, designed for the Australian media not to see it, but for the Chinese media to see it. He did so in a way where he tried to avoid scrutiny by Australia’s intelligence services. This is a vast, vast difference compared to people who donate to the Labor Party via trade unions, or donate to the Liberal Party, via small businesses, because they believe in the policies of those parties.

Amanda Rishworth:     I would add, there is donations given to the Greens as well, so …

Spence Denny:            So everyone wins. So the majority of donations are all philanthropic. We don’t want anything back, we like what you do so here, have some money.

Sarah Hanson-Young: I just don’t think that washes with the public. I mean, if we had proper transparency with donations, if we had caps on donations and real time disclosure, then the public could be satisfied that they would have a direct understanding as to who is donating to what political parties or candidates, how much and they would be able to be seen to- whether there is a direct link to policy, or statements in real time. The whole system needs to be cleaned up and I don’t think just using one example as a scapegoat, or Sam Dastyari’s donation from a Chinese national as a fall guy cleans up the system. If you want transparency, it’s got to be across the board.

Simon Birmingham:    But an important point here is the reason we know about these donations is because they are disclosed. Now, questions though come about is there enough transparency when the money comes in from overseas and we’ve formed the judgement that there isn’t, which is why we want to ban foreign donations. But it’s not good enough to say you just do it to political parties, you have to accept that in this day and age, the likes of GetUp!, trade unions, others; are very big spenders and players in the political space. And you don’t want to set up a system where you ban foreign donations to political parties, then they all filter in through other means to achieve the same objectives. So you’ve got to shut the door on the whole lot.

Sarah Hanson-Young: I’d like to see the Liberal Party ban donations from big gambling industry as well, Birmo. I mean you can’t just pick and choose. Either it’s, you’re worried about the influence, and so therefore you do something about it, or you’re just cherry-picking, and I think at the moment the Government’s just cherry-picking.

Spence Denny:            Amanda Rishworth if I can just briefly. So you make a fair point, but I just want to quickly ask you a question and obviously you want to make a point here.

Amanda Rishworth:     Yeah look, I just say that all political parties get donations. The Greens get donations and they get very large donations from some groups. But I do agree with Sarah Hanson-Young in the fact that the transparency is absolutely the key. Seeing that quickly, in real time, or as close to possible as real time, could be one of the ways that are we are able to shine a bit more light on these donations. But I do think transparency is critical for the public to actually have access to and we need to work really hard and that’s where reducing the threshold from $13,000 – I mean that’s a lot of money – to $1000, is critical. Because if you can donate up to $13,000 and no one knows about it, then that’s a problem.

Spence Denny:            So time is rapidly running out on us here and we’ve devoted way too much time for that. [Laughs], you’re all in trouble. It’s 08.48 and you’re listening to ABC Radio Adelaide.I wanted to pick up on the front page story of The Australian today that reads: Australian teenagers are more socially aware than ever, are passionate about human rights, ethical shopping and protecting the environment, but almost two thirds lack the basic knowledge required to become informed and active citizens of our democracy. Senator Simon Birmingham, are we raising a generation of illiterate greenies?

Simon Birmingham:    Well it’s a real concern, people – though they may have strong passions – have little idea as to how to exercise those passions or how to engage in getting something done about them. And that’s really what’s coming through there that in terms of people who are sometimes just two years away from voting, less than 40 per cent of those year 9 students are showing high levels or even minimum standards of knowledge in the way our systems of government work, the way our courts work and it clearly shows we have to spend more time in the classroom and in the home talking to kids about the way in which our democracy works and what it is that allows us to have such a free and successful country.

Spence Denny:                        And also to be proficient readers, writers and users of maths. By the same token, Sarah Hanson-Young, you must be encouraged by this philosophical change we are seeing in the next generation?

Sarah Hanson-Young:  Look I think the fact that young people more than ever are concerned about their community, that they’re passionate about what kind of world we live in is of course encouraging. But the fact that they don’t know what to do about that and how to engage in the democratic process is a concern. And I remember being in high school and learning very little about the political process …

Spence Denny:            Me too.

Sarah Hanson-Young   … and I think there does need to be more emphasis on civic education. By so I think part of the problem here is actually that teachers have been warned off talking about politics in the classroom and I think this is the result. Young people are engaged, they can get the information from a variety of different sources. They’re linked in 24-7 to the internet, to Facebook, to Instagram, they can get the information. What they know about how they are empowered as young people to act in where they need to be taught and I think for too long we’ve told teachers to back out, don’t talk about politics, keep your nose out of it, they’ve been fearful of raising these issues in the classroom and they’ve [indistinct] …

Simon Birmingham:    Not sure I agree there, Sarah. I think there’s plenty of evidence that political issues are often discussed in the classroom but obviously not enough time on the political process.

Spence Denny:            Well there’s a lengthy conversation there to be had about the way in which people can pick and choose the news they want to read nowadays as well, so there’s an issue there. Amanda Rishworth, last word to you. As a young mum, you’re going to go through this process.

Amanda Rishworth:     Well, I actually agree with both Simon and Sarah, you know, we’re actually united on this is that I do think our political system does need to be spoken a lot more in the classroom. I mean I have to say I don’t remember learning anything about it at school and actually chose to do some of those topics at university just because I felt that there was a bit of a gap in my understanding. So, I think we do need to make sure that we are talking about our parliamentary process and not be too scared. I mean I think Sarah’s right in some respects that we do need to be able to have the opportunity to talk about how our system works and how you can influence a system.

Spence Denny:            Amanda Rishworth, thank you. We must leave it there if we can, member for Kingston. Senator Simon Birmingham, Federal Education Minister, thank you, and Senator Sarah Hanson-Young Greens Senator for South Australia, thank you so much indeed.