Interview on ABC Radio Adelaide Breakfast with David Bevan and Ali Clarke
Topics: Fraser Anning; National Energy Guarantee
David Bevan: Let’s welcome to our Super Wednesday panel, Federal Liberal Senator Simon Birmingham, Federal Education Minister, good morning to you.
Simon Birmingham: Good morning.
David Bevan: Amanda Rishworth, Labor MP for Kingston in Adelaide’s southern suburbs, good morning to you.
Amanda Rishworth: Good morning.
David Bevan: South Australian Senator Cory Bernardi, leader of the Australian Conservatives.
Cory Bernardi: Good morning.
David Bevan: Cory Bernardi, what did you think of Fraser Anning’s speech?
Cory Bernardi: Well a first speech is where you nail your colours to the mast and I have to say I don’t agree with the policy solution he advanced in respect to immigration so I respect our differences there and its clearly caused a great deal of grief for many people who are offended and I think some quite rightly offended, some are more just using it for political mileage but nonetheless, they are Fraser’s words and he has to standby them.
David Bevan: You were sitting behind Fraser Anning when he delivered the speech. Did you feel uncomfortable at any point?
Cory Bernardi: There was an element of yes to that David, but that’s why rostered seat in the Senate and it’s unfortunate because it looked like I was a bit asleep which I wasn’t I was actually texting my wife so I’m going to say I feel a bit guilty because the optics were bad because perhaps I wasn’t paying as much attention as I should have.
David Bevan: Which part of the speech made you feel a bit uncomfortable?
Cory Bernardi: Well it was very long speech, but I don’t agree with the white Australia policy, I don’t agree, my policy on migration, I think there has to be migration reform but it’s always been a measured and temperate one that we have to make sure that migration is working for us. I support a non-discriminatory immigration policy but I think it is far too high and we’ve got to make some adjustments to it. I support elements of reform to the visa system because these have been our policies, so elements of it I agree with but I just don’t buy into this whole white Australia policy but other people have a different view.
Ali Clarke: Does Tony Burke have a point where he says there has to be a moment where this Parliament says enough is enough and that speeches like this should not be represented in Parliament?
Cory Bernardi: Well the short answer to that is no. The Parliament offers everyone the opportunity to get elected and the Australian people elect certain people and if they don’t like what their doing they can disendorse them. If you shut down views you disagree with just before they’re inflammatory or bad, you push them into a space where you get a counter result. Now you can look at that with Pauline Hanson. She was demonised and brutalised from her first speech from many many years ago and some of those issues were ultimately addressed by subsequent government’s, but when they’ve chosen to be ignored again, you get this resurgence of what I would call and have referred to an unhealthy political organisation and that’s why you have to ventilate these ideas and you have to chase out bad ideas with good ideas but if you don’t talk about them you create a larger problem in the long run.
David Bevan: So what is the appropriate response to Fraser Anning?
Cory Bernardi: Well my presumption is this that Fraser was very happy with the media attention that he’s getting, he wants all the media chasing him down the corridor.
David Bevan: No, I’m asking you Cory Bernardi, if you say he should be able to get up in the Parliament and say these things which are truly offensive to a lot of people?
Cory Bernardi: That’s true but you can’t, what are you going to stifle or stop…
David Bevan: No no, if he gets up and says those things what is the appropriate response?
Cory Bernardi: People should counter those ideas with good ideas to say they are bad and say why they are bad. People can condemn him for them, that’s entirely up to them.
David Bevan: So you think it is a bad idea to call for more people from a European Christian background and banning Muslims?
Cory Bernardi: I’ve never supported that policy. What I’ve always said, if you want my immigration policy, I think immigration should be halved, the visa system should be reformed, we need to make sure everyone coming here is going to act in our social, cultural and economic interest. So, you know that’s been our policy platform right from day one because the principle is this. If you ban one group of people from coming to a country, then your opponents and people you disagree with can ban other groups of people. If you say you’re going to ban all Muslims from coming to Australia, what’s to stop someone from going well let’s ban the Jews as well, let’s ban the Christians, let’s ban the Muslims, let’s ban the blacks. The principle is important to me and that’s what I’m always going to advocate for.
Ali Clarke: You said these people in Parliament are elected, can you just remind us how many direct votes Senator Anning received to take his seat in the Senate.
Cory Bernardi: Well Ali that is one of these misnomers right because ultimately people vote for a ticket. He was voted in on Pauline Hanson’s ticket, he is no longer with them right. Now you can through all of this and say whether they are legitimate in the Parliament or anything else but the ultimate thing is people are elected. They’re here as Senators or Members of Parliament, they can say anything they like under parliamentary privilege and my goodness have I heard some terrible things under parliamentary privilege being said, but you chase those, I have probably said a few myself, but you can chase those ideas out through putting forward a counter view and it doesn’t mean you’re endorsing everything that people say. It doesn’t mean we should be somehow stifling debate in this place, it means we have a robust democracy and if you don’t like what somebody has said, get out there and put forward an alternative opinion.
David Bevan: Liberal Senator, Simon Birmingham. What do you think is the appropriate response to Fraser Anning?
Simon Birmingham: Well David, I condemn what Fraser said and I disagree entirely with the idea that we should have any type of discriminatory immigration policy. We should have an immigration policy that is based on merits, thorough assessments and that’s exactly what we do at present. We have a ceiling in terms of the number of people who come through into our migration program and that ceiling is set at 190 000 people, and last year we were some nearly 30 000 short of that ceiling because we applied all of those safeguards, all of those checks and only let in people who we believe to be in the national interests as part of that policy. But the other part I’d say in terms of the response to this is to urge Queenslanders not to vote for the Katter Australia Party at the next election. Ultimately, the way to influence who says what in the Australian Parliament is at the ballot box. And, I would strongly urge Australian voters wherever they are to reject the type of racist sentiments that are offensive to many people and that have no place in a country that promotes tolerance and understanding and is one of the most successful multicultural country’s on earth
David Bevan: Should Bob Katter chuck him out?
Simon Birmingham: Look Katter, if he disagrees with him should and of course I note that Katter was in South Australia a few times recently campaigning with Rebekah Sharkie. I’m sure Rebekah disagrees with Fraser’s views and I would hope she would be urging Katter to chuck him out if Katter is more closely aligned to her way of thinking than to his.
Ali Clarke: We’ve got a few people on the text line that it is actually, they’re curios as to how Fraser Anning came to be in the Senate. He was actually elected to the Senate after a special recount that was triggered by the removal of One Nation Senator Malcolm Roberts about citizenship status and he received 19 direct votes. Amanda Rishworth. Your response to Fraser Anning’s speech?
Amanda Rishworth: Well look I absolutely condemn it and I would like to remind Fraser Anning and others sort of put these views forward. Yes you’re entitled to put these views forward in the Parliament, however you’ve got to take responsibility for the hurt that you cause. Of course, none of us are necessarily first generation migrants that have come to this country and that have experienced racism and have worked incredibly hard in the face of this to build what this country is, and I think he’s got to realise that that has real consequences for the hurt that some of these new migrants feel and how it isolates them and it makes them feel very very isolated in a country that they are working very hard to build. And, I think taking that responsibility is something that Members of Parliament should do on a daily basis and I don’t believe that he has taken responsibly and taken his role seriously as a leader. I think that is very very alarming.
Ali Clarke: So what do you mean though? What does that look like for someone like Senator Fraser Anning in taking responsibility for that? Do you think that he should have self-censored himself and not said it or do you think now he should, because he has been doorstopped, he has been on just about every TV network going around this morning?
Amanda Rishworth: Sometimes populist politicians like to do that. Any attention is good attention but I think he needs to reflect on his role as a Senator not as a talking head and actually realise that his words have consequences and we can be outraged as I am but it has real consequences for hardworking Australians that come to this country, they turn up at citizenship ceremonies and they’re so proud to be Australian, they’re proud of the work that they’re doing, they’re proud of the way their children are getting the opportunities and he needs to reflect I think quite closely on the impact, on the psychological impact he is having on those individuals and the role he plays in isolating and making those people not feel welcome in the country that they’ve adopted.
David Bevan: Is Cory Bernardi right though when he says Fraser Anning should be allowed to say these things and if you take away his right to say these things you only supress it and make it more difficult to deal with the issue. We’re getting a number of texts from people saying that Fraser Anning is actually saying the sorts of things people want to hear in the Parliament.
Amanda Rishworth: Look I would say that firstly Fraser Anning is entitled to say whatever he wants in the Parliament. They are the rules of the Australian Senate but I think personally he needs to reflect on the responsibility of being a Senator, and I think in terms of talking with people in the community, I speak with a lot of people and I haven’t had anyone come and say bring back the white Australia policy. Of course, people do want checks in our visa system, they want to make sure people haven’t got a criminal record when they come to the country, range of other checks and balances, do they have the right skills mix, how does that fit in with Australian jobs, no one tells me they want a racist system.
David Bevan: Ok nobody has come up to you down at Colonnades, Amanda Rishworth, local MP, I really would like to see the white Australia policy brought back. Has anyone ever come to you and said I really don’t want more Muslims here?
Amanda Rishworth: Look people have concern about terrorism and concern about their safety but I think on the whole when you talk about racism or picking one group of people over another and what that means for our society, I think people on the whole recognise that they might have friends and colleagues, people that come from a different background and have made an enormous contribution to this country.
David Bevan: Simon Birmingham, does the Parliament need to pass some sort of resolution and send a message, an international message but also to Muslims in living in Australia that you are welcome, to respond to this, because Fraser Anning is getting a lot of publicity.
Simon Birmingham: I don’t know whether or not that is necessary, in that I think the opinion and views of parliamentarians are being well expressed and clearly put right across the parliamentary spectrum as you’ve heard from the three of us this morning. Now, the Parliament may choose to pass such motions and that is entirely in the realm of the Parliament, is not unusual, but I think it is equally clear-cut from the diversity of opinion here this morning. Cory, Amanda and myself have all made very clear views that we do not believe that Australia should have a discriminatory immigration policy. We do believe that we should make sure that our immigration policy is one that works in Australia’s interest and that Australia’s interests are best served by carefully vetting, selecting those who come to Australia as we do.
Ali Clarke: It’s 11 minutes to nine this is super Wednesday today, that was the voice of Simon Birmingham the Liberals Senator, we have Amanda Rishworth Labor MP for Kingston and the leader of the Australian Conservatives in Cory Bernardi. In fact, Mr Bernardi do you think the National Energy Guarantee will end up destroying the Coalition?
Cory Bernardi: I’m not sure it will destroy the Coalition but I think it’s going to seriously damage their electoral prospects. It’s basically a guarantee that emissions are going to meet the United Nations and the Paris Accord when other countries are not doing it, in fact they’re walking away from it. And, I think it’s going to severely damage the economic competitiveness of Australia and I make this point, I think it’s also an extraordinary success for Malcolm Turnbull who in 2009 when he was Opposition Leader wanted to have a unity ticket with Kevin Rudd on an Emissions Trading Scheme, he wanted to sell us out then and he’s now managed to turn the Liberal Party into a pale green version of Labor and he’s going to depend on Bill Shorten to team up again it’s like the old buddy system to turn their backs on every pensioner, every family and every business in this country to slavishly worship the international altar of global warming.
David Bevan: Federal Labor MP Amanda Rishworth. Labor can isolate the pro-coal MPs within the Coalition by striking a deal with the Prime Minister, does Labor need to decide whether it wants to bring the energy wars to an end or make political mischief?
Amanda Rishworth: Malcolm Turnbull does have a choice.
David Bevan: No, no, you’ve got a choice … will you sign up to the NEG and end these wars, this war which has been going on over energy policy and climate change for the last 10 years?
Amanda Rishworth: Well we’re concerned as it currently stands that this will not drive new investment and will not bring power prices down when it comes to renewable energy so we’re happy to talk with Malcolm Turnbull about how he could improve the system, we know that investors want certainty and we know that investors want a mechanism, but at the moment the ambition for this mechanism doesn’t deliver what the Prime Minister promises and that is lower prices and more renewable energy. So we’re happy to negotiate around how we improve what is currently on the table, so Malcolm Turnbull has a choice, will he negotiate and improve the NEG with Labor or will he capitulate to Tony Abbott and negotiate with him, but that is our condition, we want to see certainty absolutely but as it currently stands we’ll see less renewable energy and higher power prices. We can actually do something about that, so happy to negotiate with Malcolm Turnbull if he wants to.
Ali Clarke: We’re running out of time. Simon Birmingham, final word on the NEG?
Simon Birmingham: It’s not true to say that there would be less renewable energy and higher power prices, in fact the modelling is clear there will be $550 household bill reductions under the National Energy Guarantee that Malcolm Turnbull’s designed, around a 20 per cent lower wholesale price and ultimately what Malcolm Turnbull has done is shown the strength of conviction to get us to a point where after 15 years of arguments about energy policy in this country we have a clear proposal backed by farmers, by miners, by manufacturers.
Amanda Rishworth: Not your party room though Simon.
Simon Birmingham: A whole range of consumer groups, by the Coalition party room overwhelmingly and Bill Shorten should stop playing politics with this issue and recognise that this is a model developed by the Independent Expert Energy Security Board that ought to be legislated, if Labor wants to go to the next election promising an even higher emissions reduction target they can do that, they can then of course explain to the public what that will mean in terms of higher power prices, higher energy costs, which thermal generation plants they expect will have to close under their higher emissions target, we think we should meet the Paris obligations but do so in a way that gets prices down and delivers reliability so we never have another blackout again in SA.
Amanda Rishworth: Simon, your model doesn’t allow for any large-scale renewable energy to be built in the next decade.
Cory Bernardi: But there will be more renewables in the decade ahead and that’s caused us all the problems entirely in South Australia so far.
Simon Birmingham: The whole point of this model is it brings together certainty in terms of there must be reliability, there must be dispatchable energy together with emissions reductions and does so in the lowest cost manner. That’s why it’s good policy and it deserves to actually get thorough support from the Labor Party rather than politicking where I don’t hear any alternative coming from Labor aside from screams for higher emissions reduction targets.
Ali Clarke: Ok, Simon Birmingham thank you for your time, Amanda Rishworth as well Labor MP for Kingston and leader of the Australian Conservatives, Cory Bernardi.