9.51am | November 26, 2021


SUBJECTS: Religious discrimination legislation; federal anti-corruption commission.
PATRICIA KARVELAS, HOST: Time now for my political panel. Liberal MP Trent Zimmerman and Labor Senator Jenny McAllister.
KARVELAS: Trent Zimmerman, you want the Government to fix the Sex Discrimination Act in relation to gay teachers and students, something that was promised a long time ago it feels. Are you getting any action on this because I just asked the Minister and the view from the executive of the Government is that it’s for later and this Religious Discrimination Bill is for now? Are you convincing them they should be done at the same time?

ZIMMERMAN: Well, it's a little bit too early to tell on that front. I wouldn't want to try and raise expectations and say anyone has given me a commitment that there's going to be a change of course. The point I made is that I don't see why we have to wait so much longer. I don't see why there's a nexus between passing the RDA through the parliament and the reporting time for the ALRC. I don't see why, particularly in relation to students, it can't happen earlier. And I think it is pressing because whilst I think overwhelmingly the majority of schools - government and non-government - provide an incredibly supportive environment for students and particularly transgender students. And things have changed from when I was a teenager. The fear of discovery and the fear of the consequences of that can be a very debilitating thing for any individual and I know that from my own personal experience. So, I think that there is a really important case for getting on with this. And I hope we can.

KARVELAS: Yeah, I think you're right. And I had similar experiences. It's not easy. It's very hard. And I think it's still very hard for lots of young people. The question is what message is the Government sending by kicking that can down the road like it is?

ZIMMERMAN: The Government has made it clear, it doesn't think students should be expelled or penalised based on attributes like their sexuality. I think sometimes there is an appreciation, when most schools do do the right thing, there isn't the appreciation of what damage it can do for the minority that face less positive environments at school. If I think about my local schools, I remember the joy in hearing from a principal that was telling me about the support she was providing for a transgender child, the first time she had to experience that in her teaching career. It actually made me really proud that's the attitude she had. But not in my electorate, I'm pleased to say, I remember asking one high school principal of a girls school what they did to support students coming out, she said we never had any lesbians at our school. And I thought crikey! If that’s the attitude, that’s not a very encouraging environment and I'm sure statistically that's not the case.

KARVELAS: Seems unlikely.

ZIMMERMAN: I do think we need to move on with this so that kids can go to school and go through the process which can be quite traumatic, knowing the one thing they don't have to be worried about is being penalised or expelled by their institution which should be a nurturing place, not a punitive place.

KARVELAS: Jenny McAllister, Labor will back new powers to enshrine religious freedom and called for stronger protections just like what Trent was saying for gay and lesbian students and teachers. Will you withhold support for this bill when it finally does come to a vote before you can see the other part settled?

JENNY MCALLISTER, SHADOW ASSISTANT MINISTER FOR COMMUNITIES AND THE PREVENTION OF FAMILY VIOLENCE: I think our priority is having the opportunities to properly discuss this legislation. We are essentially 24 hours in to a piece of very complex legislation. It's a piece of legislation that's about three years overdue. It's a long time since Scott Morrison promised to bring this piece of legislation forward. And as Trent has pointed out, it's really unfortunate it's not being brought forward at the same time as legislation to meet another promise Scott Morrison made which was to protect gay and lesbian students at school. Our view is that there needs to be time for a proper consideration of these matters – both the question of how students are treated at school and the question of religious discrimination. We've made it really clear today that what we are looking for is a joint select committee that would allow both MPs and senators to participate in that debate. It will allow community members to bring forward their views. And we'd also like to see that committee given enough time to work through what is actually a very complex piece of legislation.

KARVELAS: I want to go to some other issues. The Prime Minister has likened the ICAC to a kangaroo court. But if you look at what happened in the Parliament today, and I know you have, it seems a lot of people, including one of your own, would like to debate an ICAC. We still don't have any legislation. Do you understand why people think your government isn't taking this thing seriously?

ZIMMERMAN: I want to see a Commonwealth Integrity Commission as well. That's what we'll continue to argue for. It's important we get the model right. Each state in Australia has its own variation of what an ICAC or an integrity commission should look like. Some are more successful than others. And that's what I think the consultation process has been about over the last 12 months to try and get that model right because there are pitfalls if you get it wrong. And I think in New South Wales there are significant issues with ICAC. In South Australia, we saw I think - I don't want to verbal any party, the Greens, Labor and the Liberals come together to amend their own act because they thought it was overreaching. So, that’s why getting it right in the first instance is really important. 

KARVELAS: Getting it right is the language heard that over and over again from different people in the Coalition today. Jenny McAllister, is it fair enough? I even heard from the Minister before that you need to get Labor onboard before you  do it? She compared it to the Indigenous recognition issue. Is it the same?
MCALLISTER: They've had three years to get it right. It's nearly three years since Scott Morrison promised to bring forward a federal anti-corruption commission. Labor of course, would be interested in a dialogue about what that anti-corruption commission looks like. But at the moment we just see a government dragging their heels. This is an issue they'll do anything to avoid. There was a majority on the floor of the House of Representatives to debate a bill brought forward by Helen Haines. The government used a technical requirement to prevent that debate from taking place. And you've got to ask what is it that Scott Morrison is afraid of? Why wait so long to bring forward a proposal that the majority of Australians want to see, something that he promised such a long time ago?

KARVELAS: Look, we just got news this afternoon about Zoe Daniel running against Tim Wilson. You have issues going on in your own electorate. There's a lot of climate change campaigners, independents targeting some of the more moderate seats, including your own. Is this going to be, is this a genuine threat you're all facing?

ZIMMERMAN: Look, I've never taken my own re-election for granted. And there's always been stiff competition in North Sydney. I've had two election battles against very high-profile independents in my first election and in my second from memory. But what I'd say is that firstly, I do wonder at what point these independents stop calling themselves independents when it's actually such a coordinated network? But, secondly, I do find it curious that firstly they are, their collective is only targeting Liberal seats and it seems only targeting moderate Liberals. It's quite bizarre that's the approach they would take because I hold the strong view, always have, before I was in parliament, the Liberal Party, the Government is better served by having progressive voices like my own or like Tim Wilson in it. I would hate to see that not be the case. And those progressive voices are achieving things. We've achieved things like net zero by 2050. We've achieved things like the significant modifications that's happened to the Religious Discrimination Act. These are important things that we are advocating for on behalf of our electorate. To extinguish those voices makes no sense to me.

KARVELAS: We’re out of time. Thank you.