27 May 2015

SUBJECT/S: National security; Changes to citizenship laws; Marriage equality.

KIERAN GILBERT: With me is Josh Frydenberg and Ed Husic. Gentlemen, the Prime Minister is saying these children will be treated like children of any other criminal. Obviously a very, very complex situation if these young people are to be brought back into Australia given how brutalised they would be.

JOSH FRYDENBERG, ASSISTANT TREASURER: Yeah, and its a very sad situation because clearly those children have been taken to the Middle East where theyve been exposed to horrific crimes, and thats going to affect them greatly in the years ahead. So we have to think about the children. But what the Prime Minister has done in his announcement yesterday around citizenship is basically underline that Australia needs to do more than weve already done to ensure our community is protected because the scale of the problem is very significant, Kieran. We have more than 100 Australians that are over there fighting in Iraq and Syria; another 150 here in Australia that are providing support, whether its financing or recruiting; and then ASIO tells us that they have 400 high priority terrorism related investigations, and the terrorism alert here in Australia is high, which means a terrorist attack is likely. So we do not want to understate the significance of this challenge, and it has to be said: there has been important bipartisan support on the various tranches of legislation we have already passed through the Parliament.

GILBERT: And I know there was a debate about the rule of law, and so on, in the Cabinet, and I want to get to your thoughts in a moment; but first to Ed Husic. The way Ill put it to you this morning is that a senior Liberal told me recently that regardless of how far the Prime Minister goes on this issue of national security, particularly in the wake of the Lindt Caf siege, the view in the electorate is that they want him to go further. While we may have this debate about the rule of law, citizenship, and so on; the view in the broader electorate is that you go as hard as you can, and as far as hes gone, they would like him to go even further.

ED HUSIC, SHADOW PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY TO THE SHADOW TREASURER: I think people want to be secure, they want to be safe, and they want anything that government does do to be effective. I think these are the three areas we need to focus on. When you are dealing with people that are heinous and truly awful as Daesh are, and what they seek to do they dont seek to actually enable people to do good things in their lives they are using people as pawns in a broader game or power struggle, and they dont care what ends they use; they dont care how barbarous they are to achieve what they want. So we are dealing with some pretty evil people, and you obviously need to take some pretty strong measures. So weve certainly said to the Government that were more than happy, and believe its important for all us to work together in terms of providing that safety and security I mentioned earlier. We want to make sure too that in some of the changes that have been announced, that theyre effective in terms of whats being announced in citizenship and recognising too in international law. There are issues with doing things that will render people stateless so we have to be mindful, obviously, of that. We need to take the hard effective line to ensure that people in our community can continue to live their lives the way they rightly expect; that is safely.

GILBERT: Safely and securely, as he says. But the thing is, and Josh Frydenberg over to you, someone that is well versed on international norms as well, and as a global citizen; is it appropriate that we simply export a terrorist problem over to another country?

FRYDENBERG: Well, were not seeking to export

GILBERT: Well, thats what youre doing. If you have a dual national here who is sympathising with a terrorist group, you strip them of their citizenship, deport them to that other country; were exporting the problem.

FRYDENBERG: Well, two points; the first is what we are proposing to do here in Australia is on par with what a number of other like jurisdictions the United Kingdom, the United States, France, and others already have laws that strip dual nationals of their citizenship where they have been involved in terrorism offenses; and dare I say it, there is also an element of judicial review there against a ministers decision. The second point is that theyre not going down the path of making anyone stateless. The Prime Minister has made that clear in his press conference. What he wants to do though is to start a broader conversation about the rights and responsibilities of citizenship and to see if we need to be doing more to make people aware of their obligations when theyre a citizen of Australia.

GILBERT: But when you say this about the statelessness thing, if the Government and the Prime Minister say hes open to the idea this was the subject of debate in Cabinet a couple of nights ago that caused some concern from Cabinet ministers that raised their issues with this at the time. But I guess the question is: most people in the electorate, or a lot of people, would think good riddance take their citizenship, get rid of them, and if theyre stateless, then bad luck.

FRYDENBERG: Well, we have international obligations around not making someone a stateless person

GILBERT: But the Brits do; dont they have that effectively in law?

FRYDENBERG: What they do say is if you are a British citizen, but you are entitled to become a citizen of another country, then you can lose your British citizenship. The Prime Minister has said that he wants Connie Fierravanti-Wells and Philip Ruddock, two people who are well respected in migrant communities, to go out as his envoys, to go out as the Parliamentary Secretary and out to the Attorney General, in Connies case, and speak to the communities and get a better understanding of what, maybe, new measures [inaudible].

GILBERT: But in terms of Islamic State, Ed Husic, if theyre there and they believe its a caliphate, they believe its a state, and then theyre Australian citizens I guess the question a lot of our viewers would be asking is: why not strip them of their citizenship? If they think its a state, let them stay there.

HUSIC: Weve had provisions within our existing laws that deal with the fact that if you go and join a foreign power, another military force, that will put you outside the bounds of citizenship, and you get dealt with accordingly

FRYDENBERG: If they are at war with Australia. Thats the criteria.

HUSIC: Sure. But given what Daesh has been saying, they are not following the norms and the usual procedures for the way these things are conducted. They have said basically to Western civilization that youre on notice. So there is that. But I want to come to another point, Kieran. We need to obviously take a very strong line with those people that want to leave Australia to side with a group that is doing terrible things to other people, regardless of religion they are doing it to Christians, to Muslims, to Jews; regardless, they are enacting that barbarity.

GILBERT: And including their own

HUSIC: Exactly. If youre prepared to sign up for that, there are consequences in it. But there is another important element to this, and that is to remove this sense that there is a division; that people feel because of who they are, that they are excluded within Australian society, which is simply not the case since Australia is very accommodating, it allows people to seize their own opportunities to do well in their lives. I think the type of things that the Government has said in terms of de-radicalisation and seeing what other countries, like Germany, have been able to achieve in doing this; I think this is truly important, and Im certainly very supportive of the type of announcements that Julie Bishop has raised. I think the quicker this happens, the better. $1.4 million has been assigned to 34 groups to do this work. Weve got to keep doing this. Weve got to keep working on it. This is a complex problem that requires a number of different avenues to deal with it, and certainly on that element, weve got to fast track it. Weve got to get moving on it, and make this very effective.

FRYDENBERG: I think Ed makes a very good point there, which is community harmony is paramount here.

GILBERT: But its being strained.

FRYDENBERG: It is being strained

GILBERT: Including by women wearing hijabs, being abused on public transport. Im seeing reports of that quite regularly now.

FRYDENBERG: Kieran, that is completely unacceptable, and when I saw your reports of that

GILBERT: It is unacceptable. It is absolutely unacceptable, but I guess given all the rhetoric and language around national security, and the prism that were having this debate in the first place, isnt that the result unless were talking about harmony throughout?

FRYDENBERG: I actually think the language from both sides of Parliament have been quite measured here. The Prime Minister would be derelict in his duty if he didnt tell the Australian people how it is in relation to the radicalisation of some Australians. If he didnt actually say that we have a terrorist threat that is high in Australia, on the advice of our security agencies, which there are up to 30 Australians who have already been killed, including some suicide bombers, and that hundreds are involved either over there or supporting them. He would be derelict in doing his duty if he didnt come clean with the Australian people about that; so he had done that. Now this level of community engagement that Ed refers to is actually around $40 million that has been provided. Now weve also beefed up our security agencies as well and our law enforcement agencies. But we really have to re-emphasise that everybody who takes their oath of citizenship in this country is an Australian and as good an Australian citizen as the next person. Thats absolutely important to me. When you look at some of the great Australians, theyve been born overseas. Someone like Victor Chang when he was Australian of the Year, who was tragically killed; he was of Chinese background. The Australian newspapers Australian of the Year was Jamal Rifi, who is from a Muslim background. We think of Sir John Monash of Prussian-German-Jewish background. We are a wonderful country with tolerance, multiculturalism, and diversity; that is our strength. This is a threat we face; and therefore, we need to react in a considered and proportionate manner.

HUSIC: And when we go to citizenship ceremonies, we do hear the pledge that is given, the pledge to be followed by people that become citizens to respect and uphold the laws of the land. So thats there. And to understand that were all brought from all different backgrounds to work together. This is the important point, in terms of the de-radicalisation, the elements of it and the community harmony elements of it; this is a problem that requires us to all work together to find ways to bind people together. The $1.4 million is the first round there is $40 million. Its the first round that Minister Bishop just announced, which I think is really important. But again, youre absolutely right Josh. When you go to those citizenship ceremonies and you see how much people value it; their families are so happy that they have now been accepted in their second home. That is a spirit and an energy we need to seize upon to build a stronger community.

GILBERT: Gents, lets take a break. Well back in just a moment.

Commercial break

GILBERT: This is AM Agenda. With me this morning, Josh Frydenberg and Ed Husic. Just before we came back on air, we were just engaging in a bit of banter. Josh, you were complimenting him. Do you want to repeat that?

HUSIC: [laughing] No, he doesnt want to at all.

FRYDENBERG: [laughing] I dont want to hurt his career prospects.

HUSIC: All you treasury people have enough problems as it is. I dont want to contribute to it.

GILBERT: Lets talk about the Governments economic message with the Prime Minister. You have no concerns about that; the consistency of it? Hes out about the small business today and the Treasurer on Monday night raising the prospect of removing the GST on tampons, which caused quite a bit of distraction yesterday.

HUSIC: Wait, you guys have consistency on economic message? Is that on breaking news now? Is it on the bottom of the screen?

FRYDENBERG: Absolutely. Not only do we have consistency, weve got the record on it from the economic side of the debate at the moment. So in relation to this issue with GST on tampons, as the Treasurer said on Q&A, and I was watching it like many other Australians; its an issue thats been raised with him numerous times, but the GST and all of its revenue goes to the states. So he said he was happy to raise the issue with the states. He has asked Treasury to cost what the implications would be for removing the GST from tampons

GILBERT: The Prime Minister says the Government has got no enthusiasm to pursue it so why is the Treasurer doing it?

FRYDENBERG: Well, the Prime Minister, to what he actually said was that the states are the ones

HUSIC: Is this your Boutros Boutros-Frydenberg moment? You may consult the PM and the Treasurer?

FRYDENBERG: [laughing] The states are the ones that make that final decision, and the states are the ones that need to have that discussion. And look, I was sitting alongside the Treasurer this year at a meeting of the state treasurers, which the Federal Treasurer chaired, and its not easy to get them to agree on much

GILBERT: So this is not going to happen?

HUSIC: They seem to be agreeing on this! Theyre ready to work. You just said that Treasurer Hockey said hell refer it to the states, and the states thought about it and said ok, well do it. [inaudible]

GILBERT: This is all a distraction. Surely, the key argument, if either side of politics have the medal, it is all about broadening the GST base. Talk to any economist, and thats what they say.

HUSIC: Excuse me. Why do you always undercut me?

GILBERT: I want to be serious for a change.

FRYDENBERG: Kieran, you make a good point.

HUSIC: Every time he agrees with you, you say that.

FRYDENBERG: In the tax discussion paper that we released earlier this year, when it came to the GST, it said two things. The first thing it said was the 10 percent rate in Australia is about half of where the OECD average is.

GILBERT: Yeah, but youre not talking about broadening the base. No one is.

FRYDENBERG: But the second thing it said is the GST in Australia only covers less than 50 percent of our good and services

GILBERT: How do you change it?

FRYDENBERG: Well, as the Prime Minister has said, we will need both Bill Shorten and our side of the House

HUSIC: [laughing] Bring it back to us

FRYDENBERG: But its the reality.

GILBERT: But I think Dan Tehan and maybe one or two others are saying the reality here, like most economists saw and like most economists worth their salt say, is that we need to broaden the base.

FRYDENBERG: But this is not a debate were about to argue

GILBERT: Thats because Labor is backing you and reducing it now through the GST discussions

FRYDENBERG: This is not a debate were about to open. Were having a broader a discussion about tax reform in this country, and weve got a long runway to rollout before the next election.

GILBERT: A lot of economists are banging their heads against the wall. What do you think about this sanitary product idea?

HUSIC: Well, what we said here is certainly if the states are agreeable, as they have and Ill come back to your point here in a moment I saw comments from Jackie Trad in Queensland; I saw comments from Tom Koutsantonis; and Andrew Barr, Chief Minister here in the ACT, saying theyre prepared to do it and in return for that, if they needed to make up the revenue, Bill Shorten will, as you heard him say in his first question yesterday, will find other measures to help counterbalance the revenue that will be written off on this measure so we are willing to work with you guys on this. The States are prepared to work on it. The bigger issue is [Frydenberg inaudible] dont interrupt me when Im making a point. When do I ever do that to you?


HUSIC: Thank you. The bigger issue is you give Joe Hockey five minutes, and he stuffs it up. This is the problem. Everyone is lauding the Budget; they had a long run up to that, they had to get it right, the pressure was on. The issue is whenever he has clear air, and hes got to actually do something smart, he flubs it, and hes done it on this.

FRYDENBERG: Thats not true. He did a great job on Q&A.

HUSIC: Hes done a great job. In the last 24 hours, hes had to move his position from what hes said on Q&A to something different the very next day.

GILBERT: Well, lets look at the same sex marriage issue, and Bill Shorten looking to pre-empt or preclude a fight at Labor Conference by bringing it on Monday. Is this the way to deal with an issue of great importance to a lot of people, and it seems that he just wants to avoid a fight at National Conference by bringing this on this Monday?

HUSIC: I dont see that at all because weve had quite a number of people; like in my case, Ive changed my position in relation to marriage equality. A number of us have gone, ok, well this is the time to consider it. Youve seen whats happened in Ireland in the past few days when theyve voted resoundingly for marriage equality.

GILBERT: But Tanya Plibersek wanted a binding vote. This morning, she wouldnt repeat that. She wouldnt repeat that to questions.

HUSIC: Well, I think its become less of an issue on our side because youve seen the strength of conviction on our side to take a vote that would support marriage equality in this country, and certainly there are number of others; and Josh here has actually well before me, expressed a view in favour of marriage equality. There are a number of Liberals, senior and backbench, which are saying that it should go to a conscience vote. I think there is the view within parliamentarians that suddenly recognise that this is a view that should be realised and should be acted upon.

FRYDENBERG: Its hard not to be cynical about Bill Shortens timing in relation to this. As a number of my Coalition colleagues that strongly support gay marriage have said they wanted to have a considered debate, they wanted to enter into discussions with the other side. Our party room will look at any legislation that comes before it and decide whether to have a binding vote or a conscience vote. Ive strongly supported a conscience vote. But there is no doubt that the vote in Ireland, which had a 62 percent vote in favour, means that there are now 20 countries in the world that allow gay marriage on the statute books and 37 American states.

GILBERT: If there is a conscience vote, do you think there would be a majority in your party?

FRYDENBERG: Its hard to know. I think it would turn a lot on the specifics of the bill because no one wants to see religious institutions compelled to sanctify a gay marriage if thats not what they want to do. So there would need to be some subtleties in the legislation. But certainly there are a growing number of my colleagues who do believe in gay marriage.

GILBERT: Wasnt Bill Shorten trying to be a bit populist and get ahead of the Labor conference where the expectation was that he would have a tough time against Tanya Pliberseks motion to have a binding vote instead of a conscience vote?

HUSIC: Two things; I genuinely believe that when you look at the way in which, particularly in our party at a Federal Parliamentary level, people have expressed a view that they would support reform. I cant see that in the way youve expressed it, Kieran. But the second thing is, Josh, your side of politics said you would have a discussion about this in the Party Room midway through; we are literally there, weve had on the world stage and even our nearest neighbours, New Zealand, have taken the position to support this

FRYDENBERG: We have to have a bill before the Party Room.

HUSIC: Why do you need a bill?

FRYDENBERG: Because the details are important to us.

GILBERT: Well, gents were overtime unfortunately. Josh Frydenberg, Ed Husic have a good day. Thanks for joining us.