Interview with Raf Epstein, ABC 774 Pollie Graph

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RAF EPSTEIN:

Your chance to ask politicians from the major parties in Canberra your questions on 1300 222 774. A year ago, Bill Shorten was adamant that he supported the Adani coal mine. This is what he said in April last year.

BILL SHORTEN:

I support ah the Adani, the Adani coal mine as long as it stacks up. I hope it stacks up by the way, but it’s gotta stack up commercially, it’s gotta stack up environmentally.

RAF EPSTEIN:

I support the Adani coal mine, I hope it stacks up. This week in Perth, he does not support the Adani coal mine.

BILL SHORTEN:

I don’t support the Adani project. It’s been spoken about since 2011. That’s a matter of record. It’s had numerous deadlines, and indeed in your paper and others, you do report periodically how they keep failing deadlines, so I am a sceptic. Labor and (inaudible) not supportive of it.

RAF EPSTEIN:

So is that a significant change? Is he saying one thing in one part of the country, and another thing in another place? And for the government. They want you to learn English but there’s less money to teach you English. That’s what it looks like. Alan Tudge is the Minister who now has carriage of this issue. In the past it looked like they wanted new citizens to learn something like university-level English. Alan Tudge was speaking about that, again with Jon Faine this morning.

ALAN TUDGE:

It’s critically important. English is the glue to our society and we want people to learn English when they come here. Now the concern that we’ve had is that the English language capability has actually deteriorated amongst new migrants over the last decade.

RAF EPSTEIN:

So is that, what is going on? Is the government effectively saying you’ve to learn English but we’re giving you less resources to be able to learn English. Let’s find out.

Also significantly, the government’s announced a range of issues around gender equality which is something the Deputy Labor Leader has got to as well. So joining us for Pollie Graph is Mark Dreyfus in our Sydney studio. He is the ALP member for the seat of Isaacs here in Melbourne. He’s also of course the shadow Attorney-General covering national security as well. Mark, Good afternoon.

MARK DREYFUS:

Great to be with you Raf.

RAF EPSTEIN:

And Kelly O’Dwyer is the Liberal member for the seat of Higgins. She’s also the Minister for Revenue and Financial Services, and I did her a great disservice last time she joined us because I did not mention that she is also the Minister for Women, about which she has been speaking this week. Kelly, good afternoon.

KELLY O’DWYER:

Good afternoon Raf, nice to be with you and Mark.

MARK DREYFUS:

Hello Kelly.

RAF EPSTEIN:

I want to talk about Adani and the English test, but let’s begin with what you said yesterday Kelly O’Dwyer, and what Tanya Plibersek began with today. And I want to get on to some of the issues you raised in your speech Kelly O’Dwyer, but just, the hashtag Me Too movement. A lot’s been made of your quote saying it could go too far, that it can become trial by media. Were you saying there that that was as big a concern as the problems that have been exposed by the hashtag Me Too?

KELLY O’DWYER:

What I was saying in my speech is that the Me Too movement I think has been very powerful in very successfully using social media to send a very clear message that we need to end harassment, and particularly sexual harassment in the workplace. And we all know that we should never tolerate violence against women and we shouldn’t tolerate sexual harassment against women in the workplace. And we’ve heard a lot of pretty awful stories from very prominent women, particularly out of the Hollywood film and entertainment industry and we have seen that movement sweep around the world and jump from social media into mainstream media. And I think it’s ignited a very genuine and thoughtful discussion about conduct and behaviour between men and women. But really what I said was that with the Me Too movement we need to also think about the implications, both good and bad that come from airing allegations in a public forum. And I think I pointed out something that’s pretty obvious to most people, which is that social media isn’t a courtroom and that those people who complain and that those people who are the subject of a complaint can be subject to trial by keyboard warriors, so I’m simply saying that natural justice is a fundamental tenet in our legal system and it’s probably a little bit absent in the wild web and we need to proceed sensitively, cautiously and thoughtfully.

RAF EPSTEIN:

Do you agree with that, Mark?

MARK DREYFUS:

I’m a bit disappointed to hear the Minister for Women speaking like that. I happen to think that Me Too, is not just about social media, it’s not just about front page stories, it’s actually about empowering all women to call out sexual assault and sexual harassment and knowing that they’ll be listened to. It’s actually about empowering all women and we shouldn’t get distracted with the high profile aspects of that.

RAF EPSTEIN:

Isn’t that what Kelly O’Dwyer just said?

MARK DREYFUS:

Well, I hope, if that’s what Kelly O’Dwyer said it’s a good thing. I thought she was talking about perhaps misuse of social media. I don’t think it’s about that at all. I think it’s about achieving culture change, it’s about getting to a position where we’ve got no tolerance of harassment in any workplace, at every level in every organisation.

RAF EPSTEIN:

Kelly O’Dwyer?

KELLY O’DWYER:

Well that’s exactly what I did say Mark.

MARK DREYFUS:

Well that’s good.

KELLY O’DWYER:

And I find it really odd that you would try and sort of look at that slightly differently. I mean the Government’s got a real commitment here. I’ve spoken to Kate Jenkins, who’s the Sex Discrimination Commissioner, she regularly conducts a survey and has done – the Sex Discrimination Commissioner – has done that over the past 15 years. They’re about to conduct the fourth survey about harassment in the workplace, and we have extended the number of participants in that survey from 2,000 to 10,000 because we recognise that Me Too isn’t just about women in Hollywood. Women in all kinds of workplaces need to be safe from sexual harassment and we need to examine how workplaces are in fact taking into account sexual harassment in the social media age.

RAF EPSTEIN:

Look 1300 222 774 is the phone number if you’ve got a question for Kelly O’Dwyer or Mark Dreyfus. Kelly I want to address some of the concrete measures you spoke about yesterday. I think a lot of people would be attracted to the idea of a fighting fund for female coalition candidates but there’s, you’ve got a problem in your party don’t you, in that you’ve got a, it’s okay to have a geographic quota for your Cabinet. You’ve gotta have people from WA. But you don’t have a gender quota. That’s contradictory isn’t it?

KELLY O’DWYER:

Well we definitely have a target and it’s taken a long time, it’s true, for the Coalition, for the Liberal Party in particular, to have a target for women, getting them elected into Parliament. But we now have one. It’s 50% by 2025. I think that’s very important because in having a target it means that we can be measured against that target and there is a level of accountability, but we also need to remove the artificial barriers that would actually stop women from being supported in getting into Parliament and one of those issues is around whether they have the capacity when they do put their hand up to be able to fight effective campaigns, which was one of the issues that I discussed with my female colleagues. My mother always said to me, Raf, that the thing you need to have as a woman is to have financial independence. And I think that’s true in politics as well which is why we are setting up a fighting fund for other women in the Liberal Party who want to put their hand up and serve the public in our nation’s Parliament.

RAF EPSTEIN:

That sounds like a good idea but it’s not an answer to my question. Why does the Cabinet have a geographic quota but not a gender quota?

KELLY O’DWYER:

Well it doesn’t have a geographic quota. I mean you tell me where’s the geographic quota?

RAF EPSTEIN:

You reckon any Coalition Prime Minister could have a Cabinet without people from WA in it?

KELLY O’DWYER:

Well we’ve certainly had situations in a number of Cabinets over many years where you’ve got overrepresentation of people in one particular state versus another by virtue of the talent pool that the Prime Minister has selected from and chosen. I don’t think there’s any surprise in that. Look I think there is a broader issue around women and women in Parliament and I think it’s an issue basically for all political parties and I don’t think that the Labor Party escapes scrutiny here either because the truth is that if you actually look at the MPs who are elected, the majority of those MPs who are elected with a majority of less than 10 per cent are in fact women.

RAF EPSTEIN:

Look I’ll get Mark to respond to that but Mark there’s a caller also who’s got a bone to pick with you, so I’ll let Anthony in Box Hill have a go and you can respond to Kelly O’Dwyer and to Anthony. Go for it Anthony.

ANTHONY FROM BOX HILL:

Oh hi, look I’ve got to say this is not partisan, political partisan, I’ve just listened to Kelly O’Dwyer make an absolutely reasonable statement, an absolutely reasonable descriptive statement about people getting onto the Me Too campaign and making the absolutely reasonable point that yes it could get to a bit of trial by media because that’s the nature of our society, that’s the nature of it. I mean couldn’t Mark Dreyfus, I mean what did Kelly say, and you know if anything I’m to the left of politics, I’m not party political, what did Kelly say that Mark Dreyfus couldn’t have just said “yep, agree”. I don’t understand.

RAF EPSTEIN:

Mark, go for it, a response.

MARK DREYFUS:

Very happy to answer Anthony. I was responding to what I thought was Kelly’s undue emphasis on social media, to what she said in her speech, to what the newspaper reports today were of her speech. And I absolutely think it’s about empowering all women. We’ve got to keep saying that and not get distracted by front page scandals or by particularly social media bursts. It’s about culture change across the whole of our community and if Kelly’s saying that, I congratulate her.

RAF EPSTEIN:

So Mark Dreyfus, a quick response though because Kelly’s point as well was that a lot of the women in the Labor Party have to fight for the tougher seats,  that you don’t give them to the men, you give them to the women.

MARK DREYFUS:

Ah we’ve got plenty of women in safe seats too and we’ve also got just shy of 50% of our members of the House of Representatives are women.  And the Liberal Party’s got a woefully long way to go. They’re at presently 22%, before I even get to their Cabinet which has got a vanishingly small number of women. If it’s good enough for the Liberal Party to have a secret agreement with the Nats that gives them a certain number of Cabinet seats regardless of talent, and you’ve only got to look at the National Party ministers in Cabinet to see that, then it ought to be good enough for the Liberal Party to try a lot harder to get a Cabinet, that is ministers, who reflect Australian society, with a much larger number of women. And I’ve got to say that we’ve worked at this since the early 90s, the Liberal Party hasn’t. In the early 90s about 15% of both parties were women MPs, we’ve now got to 48%, the Liberals have just got over 20%. And it’s because you need to work at this, you need to have a culture, you need to have policies that bring women into Parliament and we’ve done that.

RAF EPSTEIN:

Understood. Mark Dreyfus, then I’ll give Kelly a chance to respond in a moment, but Tanya Plibersek today, the Deputy Labor Leader, was talking about 50% of women in senior public service roles by 2025. It’s eight years away. I think at the moment, 31% of agencies are headed by women, so I’m assuming the senior public service roles is a little lower. Can you get to 50% senior public service roles held by women in eight years, can you get there?

MARK DREYFUS:

I’m sure we can. I know that when we were last in government we had a target for appointment of women to government boards which we met, and as it happens the Australian Public Service is a much better than average employer of women in senior ranks already.

RAF EPSTEIN:

You mean than the corporate sector?

MARK DREYFUS:

Than the corporate sector. Once you’ve got to a certain level of representation of women within your workforce, it’s totally achievable that within eight years we can get to 50% at the senior level.

RAF EPSTEIN:

Kelly O’Dwyer, he had a bit of a whack there at I guess the Liberal Party’s lack of progress at getting women into Parliament.

KELLY O’DWYER:

Well I think it’s a bit disappointing that Mark sort of wants to be party political here. The truth is the Liberal Party has a real legacy, a real history of firsts. We had the first woman elected to Parliament, we had the first President of the Senate, we had the first woman who had the finance portfolio, I’m in fact the first woman in Cabinet to hold a Treasury portfolio, I’m the first woman in Cabinet to have had a child, given birth whilst in Cabinet. We’ve had the first Defence Minister, that’s Marise Payne, who’s a woman, the first Foreign Minister, Julie Bishop who’s a woman, we’ve got five women in Cabinet. Would I like to see more, absolutely, and there are hugely talented women who are in the Liberal Party so I think it’s actually quite wrong for Mark to suggest that we don’t have a strong talent pool, we absolutely do. We have women who are not just union officials, but we’ve got women who have experience as engineers, as small business owners, as farmers, and there are occasionally a couple of lawyers like me.

RAF EPSTEIN:

Ok, I’ll get back to our two lawyers in just a moment. We do need to get onto Adani and the English language test. Your calls as well on 1300 222 774, if you’ve got a question.

Mark Dreyfus is the shadow Attorney-General, Kelly O’Dwyer is the Minister for Revenue and Minister for Women. So Kelly O’Dwyer is representing of course the Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull and herself, and Mark Dreyfus is representing the Opposition Leader Bill Shorten and Labor. Mark Dreyfus, I played those grabs before but it’s pretty simple. In April last year Bill Shorten said “I support the Adani coal mine”. On Monday in Perth he said “I don’t support the Adani coal mine”. What’s going on?

MARK DREYFUS:

In April last year, almost a year ago, Bill said that the project shouldn’t go ahead if it doesn’t stack up.

RAF EPSTEIN:

He didn’t say that though.

MARK DREYFUS:

He did.

RAF EPSTEIN:

In April last year he said “I hope it stacks up”.

MARK DREYFUS:

But he said it shouldn’t go ahead if it doesn’t stack up and he’s absolutely still saying that if it doesn’t stack up environmentally or commercially then it shouldn’t go ahead. And in almost the year that’s gone past, what’s happened Raf, is that some environmental disasters, and more details about Adani’s environmental record.

RAF EPSTEIN:

They haven’t lost a single environmental approval have they?

MARK DREYFUS:

Record in other projects has come to light. It’s a curious debate this Raf, we’re talking about what is in effect a ghost project, that is a proposed project. It’s a bit of a phony war, where people are asked for views on something that as yet hasn’t received any kind of financial backing from any Australian bank or from any foreign bank, has been given a set of approvals by the Federal Government, a set of approvals by the State Government, which have got hundreds and hundreds of environmental conditions attached to them, but as yet it hasn’t gone ahead. The other thing that Bill’s been very clear about is that we won’t hand over a billion dollars of taxpayers’ funds to an overseas mining company, something that regrettably the current Turnbull Government won’t rule out doing.

RAF EPSTEIN:

Kelly O’Dwyer (inaudible)

KELLY O’DWYER:

Well I’m happy to do that. Because of course it’s just completely false Mark, to say that the Federal Government is providing any taxpayer funds to the Adani project. I hear this repeated by Labor people with their talking points but it’s just wrong. We have also been very clear in saying that these things need to commercially stack up, but we don’t sort of have a two-faced view about this. I do think that Bill Shorten has been a bit of an eco-warrior in inner city Melbourne, and of course he’s been the miners’ mate whenever he’s been wandering around up in Queensland. We need to actually look at these issues on their merits and we need to see whether or not in fact it sacks up

RAF EPSTEIN:

You did want to help them build the rail line though didn’t you? Clearly Matt Canavan was interested in that and it was killed off by the Labor Government in Queensland.

KELLY O’DWYER:

No, no that’s not true there was no federal funding for this – none whatsoever.

RAF EPSTEIN:

Kelly O’Dwyer it’s not controversial to say that Matt Canavan as resources minister was very keen for Adani to apply for a loan to build a rail line.

KELLY O’DWYER:

There was absolutely no way under the current rules of the fund that they would be able to receive any Commonwealth funding. No funding has been provided. I know that this is something the people spruiked – the Labor Party and the Greens and others but it’s just simply factually incorrect and all we have simply done is apply federal environmental laws as the State Government in Queensland has done to say whether or not you would be able to have this project go ahead and whether in fact there ought to be protections around it. That’s happened as would happen with any project in the normal course of events, we apply the law.

RAF EPSTEIN:

Can I just ask you both, you know Melbourne reasonably well, now this isn’t a whether or not Adani should or should not be an issue in the Batman by-election but whether or not it will be a crucial issue and there is Labor and the Greens who are competing over this – Kelly O’Dwyer do you think it is an issue that will swing votes.

KELLY O’DWYER:

Well I think probably the bigger issue is more people being about to trust Bill Shorten or not and obviously that’s going to be an issue that is tested in the Batman by-election and I suppose this issue represents that test.

RAF EPSTEIN:

Mark Dreyfus do you think it is actually going to be a determining factor in whether Ged Kearney wins or Alex Bhathal wins for the Greens?

MARK DREYFUS:

Labor’s only actual opponent in the Greens Party because the Liberal Party hasn’t had the courage to stand a candidate, it is putting about all sorts of misinformation about this issue. But let’s be clear – I think the environment should always be an issue in every Australian election , by-election or general election.

RAF EPSTEIN:

Ewen in Box Hill, you have a question mate.

EWEN IN BOX HILL:

Yes I do mate, I have a question for the Minister, Minister O’Dwyer. Does she support the opening up of the Adani, the Carmichael coal mine, in North Queensland which will release billions and billions tonnes of carbon?

RAF EPSTEIN:

So you want her personal opinion?

EWEN IN BOX HILL:

Yes – I would like to hear her. She is slamming Bill Shorten saying he is a greenie lover down there and he’s a miners mater over there – I want to hear her.

RAF EPSTEIN:

Let’s hear her, let’s get an answer from Kelly O’Dwyer.

KELLY O’DWYER:

Well I certainly trust my federal colleague, the Minister for the Environment, Josh Frydenberg, in making sure that if it is a project that will not do environmental harm that it will be allowed to proceed but that obviously relies upon them getting the finances to do it.

RAF EPSTEIN:

Did you want to give a personal opinion?

KELLY O’DWYER:

Well I just don’t feel that I am equipped to give you a personal opinion on the environmental credentials or not. I mean we have got experts who look at this stuff and who actually give advice to the Government and the Government actually takes advice of experts.

RAF EPSTEIN:

Sure, can I ask Kelly O’Dwyer about the English language test? I can’t tell you the number of calls we had when the Government last tried to have a test for people who were applying for citizenships, they had been here for some years and they almost universally said “Look this is basically university level English”. It’s not clear to me what level of English the current Minister Alan Tudge wants to impose. Do you think it’s a good idea?

KELLY O’DWYER:

I think it’s a good idea that people who live here can speak English because you want people to participate in the community in which they live.

RAF EPSTEIN:

Sure, but speaking is a very elastic phrase, it can mean different things to different people.

KELLY O’DWYER:

Well I think if we expect people to be economic contributors and social contributors in our community then they need to have a good level of English. And this is simply all that the Minister is talking about, Alan Tudge, when he says we expect it, we have had it in the past, we have seen the issues…

RAF EPSTEIN:

You haven’t had an English test in the past though.

KELLY O’DWYER:

What we have had through is we have had good integration with people who want to learn English, who want to participate in our economy, who want to be able to make a contribution because all of us need to be able to make that contribution and live the best possible lives that we can live.

RAF EPSTEIN:

Absolutely. If I can nail it down a little, does the Government want new migrants applying for citizenship to have that level 6 university English?

KELLY O’DWYER:

I don’t think it’s university level English but it is certainly a strong level of English where people can understand and communicate well so that they can be economic contributors here in this country.

RAF EPSTEIN:

Mark Dreyfus, there’s pretty broad community sentiment isn’t it that people do better if they speak English better?

MARK DREYFUS:

We’ve already got a requirement for conversational level English, that’s reasonable that’s what the current test does. All of your listeners know that Melbourne is a great migrant city and that many many citizens, migrant citizens, now living in Australia who have failed a university level test. Think Greek community, Italian community, Chinese community and I just can’t – I find it extraordinary that this attempt that was made first by Peter Dutton, an old idea that failed, is now being regurgitated by the new Minister. It’s not a better idea just because we have got a new Minister, it’s the same terrible idea it was before. Everybody knows people in their 60s, 70s, 80s who have lived full lives here in Australia, contributed to the work force, raised families, without much English. And I find it bordering on obscene that the Government is proposing this test again. And Kelly and her whole Government should be ashamed of themselves for bringing this forward.

RAF EPSTEIN:

Very quick response Kelly O’Dwyer.

KELLY O’DWYER:

All I would say is we are saying nothing different to what Bill Shorten himself has said and what Tony Burke has said – that we need stronger English language requirements but now it’s something you no longer believe in. I think most people think it is reasonable to have a reasonable level of proficiency in English in order to be able to participate in the Australian way of life.

MARK DREYFUS:

And we have already got that requirement.

RAF EPSTEIN:

I will leave it there. I thank you to both of you for your time Mark Dreyfus talking to us from Sydney and Kelly O’Dwyer also in Sydney I think but on the phone. Thank you to both of you.