Transcript: ABC 774 Melbourne, Interview with Rafael Epstein

8 November 2017

The Hon Alan Tudge MP

Minister for Human Services
Topics: 
Offshore detention, Same sex marriage plebiscite
E&OE

RAFAEL EPSTEIN:      
There are a lot of Liberal and Labor people sitting in rooms together today. The Prime Minister and the Opposition Leader have done it.

This afternoon, so too Alan Tudge and Clare O'Neil. Alan is the Member for the Liberal Party in the seat of Aston here in Melbourne. He is also Minister for Human Services. Alan, welcome.

ALAN TUDGE:
G'day Raf.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN:      
He is sitting right next to, right alongside, without any acrimony, Clare O'Neil, the Member for Hotham. She is the ALP's member there and she is the Shadow Minister for Justice. Welcome.

CLARE O'NEIL:
Thanks Raf, hi Alan.

ALAN TUDGE:
G'day Clare.

CLARE O'NEIL:           
BFFs today, Labor and Liberal.

ALAN TUDGE:
Absolutely.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN:      
Absolutely. I should mention that they met for two hours, I am not sure if they had resolution.

Something that may or may not concern us all, Alan Tudge, Minister Tudge, are we going to get extra sitting days? Are they going to have extra days in Parliament before Christmas to try and tie this up?

ALAN TUDGE:
I think if we need to we may, but at this stage it is unclear. I think we have a very clear determination to try to clear it all up this year, to be able to put it behind us, whereby the Australian public can have confidence that every person in the Parliament is eligible to be in the Parliament and then start the new year next year.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN:      
But this is self-reporting, isn't it? Neither Labor nor Liberal is supporting an audit. It seems to me it is just a discussion about the number of days you have got to disclose. Do the differences, as much as you know, are they minor?

ALAN TUDGE:
My understanding is that that is one of the areas still of dispute, but hopefully we can make a landing over the next couple of weeks and get this resolution through the Parliament.

We want bipartisan support on this because it affects all parties and we want a resolution which the Australian public can have confidence in.

We then have to reveal all of our details on the public record, and if anybody has got an ambiguous issue, then that will be referred to the High Court.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN:      
Sounds messy. Clare, is your understanding that Bill Shorten and Malcolm Turnbull kind of agree on most of what MPs and senators will be required to disclose?

CLARE O'NEIL:           
Mostly there is agreement and we are really pleased that the Government has seen the need to create a formal process for this.

It is a total fiasco that we have a government in Canberra that cannot even be clear about whether it has a majority and we do need to resolve it. There are two issues that Labor is concerned about.

The first is the length of time that this is going to take. This process could potentially drag out for months and we just want to see something that is as short and sharp as possible. So that is one of the matters that is in discussion at the moment.

But the second is about to what extent disclosure will be required. What Labor wants is, we know that citizenship is sometimes conferred through grandparents, so we want a declaration of the place of birth of grandparents, and also a requirement for people who would have inherited citizenship to explain what they have done to renounce it.

That implements what the High Court has said is the test, and we think that this needs to give voice to what the High Court said is the law.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN:      
Can I put something to both of you? The Greens, I think One Nation very early on, some of the other independents, they want an audit. And I suppose the prime example for an audit, as opposed to hey this is what I have got, is any number of MPs on both sides who have failed to disclose financial matters.

I mean, history is littered with examples of people not declaring shares they should have declared or a mortgage they should have declared. Why should the major parties be trusted to self-disclose? Why shouldn't there be an audit? I will start with you, Clare.

CLARE O'NEIL:           
It is not about the major parties; this is going to apply to all parliamentarians…

RAFAEL EPSTEIN:      
Understood, but it is the major parties that do not want to do it.

CLARE O'NEIL:           
So we need to make sure. I mean, let's remember that the Greens and the Nationals are actually the people who have got most caught out by this.

We sre trying to establish a process that actually gives the public some sense that all of the people that represent them are eligible to sit in the Parliament. As to whether people will be honest, I think people make some mistakes sometimes, but I do not think people are going to be dishonest about where their parents and grandparents are born.

That seems to be a pretty basic and verifiable statement to make. I am confident that the process that's going to be set up to establish this is going to work properly.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN:      
Alan, why no audit?

ALAN TUDGE:
The issue with the audit is that only the High Court can adjudicate whether somebody actually is eligible or not. An audit, by definition, would be an independent third party who would do it.

That person may declare that Clare O'Neil, for example, is eligible, but they cannot actually make that declaration. Only the High Court, as such, can make that declaration.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN:
Maybe the public, though, want someone beyond the politicians, beyond the parties to run the ruler over.

ALAN TUDGE:
But what will occur is, with this disclosure, everything will be on the public record and then there will be swarms of people across the country, including right here in the ABC, who will be going through every single line of every single person's backgrounds and making determinations themselves.

Then, if the Parliament thinks that there is somebody who may be in doubt, they will be referred to the High Court for proper adjudication.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN:      
Okay. Look, 1300-222-774 is the phone number. You can ask anything you like of Alan Tudge and Clare O'Neil, well, not anything, but anything political. They don't give out financial advice that I think would be worth your while but 12300-222…

ALAN TUDGE:
What are you saying, Raf?

CLARE O'NEIL:           
Thanks a lot, Raf.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN:      
Are you an advisor, have you done the exam, have you got the licence? No. 1300-222-774 is the phone number.

Alan Tudge, few political questions, quite a few people saying Malcolm Turnbull as the Prime Minister won't make it to the next election, and that this is not a problem all of your own making, but it is just adding ballast to a ship that cannot handle any more.

ALAN TUDGE:
He will be the Prime Minister at the next election. We have been through that process of changing Prime Minister, as you know, before the last election. Prime Minister Turnbull was elected as the leader of our team and he will be the leader going into the next election.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN:      
There is no way the party room will jump ship?

ALAN TUDGE:
I don't think so. It is ultimately the decision of the party room, but we have got a leadership team in place headed up by Malcolm Turnbull.

We have got the policies in place, and we just need to focus on the things which matter to the Australian people and put issues like the citizenship ones behind us so that we can squarely and continually focus on those matters which are really important: electricity prices, it is crime, it is congestion, those sorts of matters.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN:      
Clare, I want to ask you the same question but with a caveat. I really do not want the Prime Minister to be replaced, and that is a non-partisan observation.

The last four people who have held that post, including him, haven't made it from election to election. I think it is bad for the system. With that as my strong personal opinion, do you think Malcolm Turnbull will be leading his party to the next election?

CLARE O'NEIL:           
I have really no idea, and it is just so depressing that we are having this conversation again.

I think Australians sitting outside looking into the political process are seeing more chaos and more just catastrophe as the days pass.

We have got real problems in this country that actually need a working government in Canberra to try to address them, and we are not going to have that while we have this citizenship fiasco.

I hope Malcolm Turnbull makes it to the next election. I think that is probably in the best interests of the country not to have more turmoil, but that is been the hallmark of the Government so what are we to say?

RAFAEL EPSTEIN:      
Quarter to 5. You are listening to Pollie Graph with Alan Tudge and Clare O'Neil.

[Unrelated item - talkback]

RAFAEL EPSTEIN:      
Quick question, Alan Tudge. This time next week we will know the answer to the same-sex survey. I think it is 10 o'clock next Wednesday morning the ADS releases the results.

There are significant sections of your party that want to have a really potentially long discussion on exemptions. Let's assume it is a yes, every poll says yes, are we going to get same-sex marriage legislated before Christmas if we have got citizenship as well?

ALAN TUDGE:
That is the ambition. There will be some debate over the extent of the exemptions in any proposed bill, assuming the yes vote does get up, but we do not know yet…

RAFAEL EPSTEIN:      
Is it going to be substantially different from the bill?

ALAN TUDGE:
We do not, first of all, we do not know whether the yes vote will get up. We were surprised by Brexit, we were surprised by Trump, who knows what will happen here.

But you are right that every poll does indicate that it will. And then there would be a proper constructive debate within our party and then within the Parliament as to what the appropriate exemptions are.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN:      
Can you do that? Have you got time to do that as well as deal with citizenship?

ALAN TUDGE:
Yeah, I think we do. I think we do. Many people have an interest in this, in terms of the exemptions, because a lot of us get representations by different community groups already, including, say, from Christian schools or other organisations.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN:      
Let me try and pin you down: can the baker exempt themselves? Should the baker be allowed to exempt themselves from baking a cake for a gay wedding?

ALAN TUDGE:
These will be some of the topics which will be under discussion.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN:      
But what do you think? What do you think?

ALAN TUDGE:
I am not convinced about that one, but I would certainly, I have had strong representations from some Christian schools, for example, in terms of what would be taught on a compulsory basis in those schools, should the yes vote get up, and we want to…

RAFAEL EPSTEIN:      
Those concerns are looked after with the bill that we have, aren't they?

ALAN TUDGE:
We want to make sure that these are properly looked after. In my view, now, the people who have made representations are concerned that they are not sufficiently protected in the existing bill, and so they would like to look at that, for example.

But we need to work through this, in terms of our party room sensibly and maturely. We obviously need to debate it within the Parliament itself with the ambition of trying to get something through by Christmas, assuming the yes vote does get up.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN:      
He is going to be busy in the lead-up to Christmas.

Clare, do you reckon we can get around bakers who do not want to bake cakes? Alan, not a priority for him, but perhaps Christian schools or Jewish and Muslim schools not wanting to teach stuff. Do you reckon we can get around it?

CLARE O'NEIL:           
Yeah. Look, I think we can if there is goodwill, Raf, and the thing that I am really worried about here is that we know that there have been a bunch of people in the Coalition party room who did not want this to happen and they have put every obstacle in the place of the clear will of the Australian people, which is that they do want this to happen.

They asked for a plebiscite, they wanted it to be done this way or that way, and everything that we resolve and we come up with there is a problem in the path of it.

I think it is pretty obvious that this group of Coalition MPs is trying to do that again; they are trying to find more reasons why we cannot resolve this quickly, and it is going to be up to Malcolm Turnbull to show the leadership to push back on those people and say that the plebiscite results are as we hope they will be, and we need to resolve this and move forward.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN:      
What I will canvass with you, though, Alan Tudge…

ALAN TUDGE:
Mhmm.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN:      
…there are hundreds of men in that centre on Manus Island. Can the Federal Government do something to ensure that where you want to send them, that stuff is complete?

UNHCR raised concerns about one of the three new facilities. Can the Federal Government give a G up to the PNG government? Make sure it is all ready and good to go?

ALAN TUDGE:
Well my understanding is that there are facilities ready and good to go right now but…

RAFAEL EPSTEIN:      
Not sure, well the reporting says to me there is not enough for all of them.

ALAN TUDGE:
There is two categories here. We have got the category of people who have gone through the process and who are not refugees.

They are required to return to their home country and there will be assistance in order to do that. You then have the category of people who have been deemed to be refugees…

RAFAEL EPSTEIN:      
Which is most of them.

ALAN TUDGE:
…and then they have various options available as well. The United States, we have an arrangement with them and we are working through them to be able to accommodate many of those.

But in the meantime as well, there are accommodation facilities nearby for those people to be able to stay at where they are given medical assistance, welfare, accommodation, et cetera, security.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN:      
I can't ask you if you can make them safer. I can ask you if you can get the PNG Government to ensure the facilities are better.

ALAN TUDGE:
My understanding is that those facilities are quite adequate. At the end of the day, it is the Papua New Guinean Government who is in charge of them but my understanding is that they are adequate and of course many of them will seek to go the United States where they will be looked after over there.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN:      
Clare O'Neil, can we do anything? They are, by the way, the PNG Supreme Court says it is not Australia's responsibility any more. That was pretty clear in their finding yesterday.

CLARE O'NEIL:           
I mean I 100 per cent believe that there is more we could be doing here, Raf. It is bleedingly obvious that these people are our responsibility. If it is not a strictly legal responsibility then for sure it is a moral one.

We have got people here who are digging in the ground for water, who are having food deliveries refused to the people in the centre, who are not getting access to the medical treatment they need. It is, I think, disgraceful and I cannot wait for Parliament to sit again so I can stand up in a public forum and say so.

ALAN TUDGE:
What is the solution though, I mean, Clare…

CLARE O'NEIL:           
The solution is that over the last four years, you should have been doing something about this problem, Alan.

ALAN TUDGE:
…I mean are you suggesting to bring them back to Australia?

CLARE O'NEIL:           
No, no, listen, you should have been doing something about this problem. Instead you have sat around, refusing goodwill offers like that from New Zealand.

We could have 150 people off this facility pretty much straight away. The standing offer from New Zealand sits there and Peter Dutton says that that's not good enough.

ALAN TUDGE:
First of all in the last four years, Clare, just to set the record straight, 8,000 children have been released from detention. No boats have arrived, which means we have not had 1,200 further deaths at sea and we have not had other detention centres just flooding with people.

To the contrary, we have closed 17 detention centres. That is what we have been doing over the last four years. And in relation to those people on Manus, they have now been processed.

Those who are found to be refugees have got an option to be able to go to the United States. Temporarily they have got accommodation available.

The concern with New Zealand of course, is that if you go to New Zealand you may in fact have a very easy way back to Australia because we have free movement of people across the Tasman and we have always had a very clear policy not to allow people to come to our shores if they arrive unlawfully by boat.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN:      
Clare?

CLARE O'NEIL:           
I just think if this was a priority for the Government then they would have been able to find a way to deal with it. You can make agreements with third countries as has been happen…

ALAN TUDGE:
That has been a priority. Eight thousand kids no longer in detention, that is a priority. No deaths at sea, Clare. That is a priority.

CLARE O'NEIL:           
What we are actually talking now, Alan, about the fact that there are hundreds of people in detention on Manus Island…

ALAN TUDGE:
Seventeen detention centres closed down.

CLARE O'NEIL:           
…and you have done almost nothing to find somewhere for them to go. Instead you made a $55 million deal with Cambodia, under which three refugees have resettled there.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN:      
Just before I get to the weather, Alan Tudge, in 30 seconds, one thing is very clear to me. Journalists cannot report on the state of those facilities in Papua New Guinea.

CLARE O'NEIL:           
That is right.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN:      
I have spoken to Liam Fox on air about it. Should not the Australian Government be saying to the Papua New Guinean Government reporters should be able to go wherever they want to?

We can actually - I mean we are not debating with facts because we do not know what is going on.

ALAN TUDGE:
I do not know what representations may or may not have been made to the Papua New Guinean Government. Typically if we made such representations, we would be making them confidentially rather than publicly.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN:      
Okay. Alan Tudge, Clare O'Neil thank you.

ALAN TUDGE:
Thanks Raf, thanks Clare.

CLARE O'NEIL:           
Been a pleasure, thank you.