TOM CONNELL: We’ll go to our political panel of the day. Joining me from Brisbane, Labor MP, Graham Perrett and from Sydney, Liberal MP Craig Kelly. Gentlemen, thanks for your time. Let’s start on the world scene there. Craig Kelly, Donald Trump and Scott Morrison with this meeting yesterday, Scott Morrison making some urgings about trade, everyone’s going to do that, but also his big push on tech companies, making sure they can’t promote violence. He seems to be getting support. Is this about a sort of realistic achievement for Scott Morrison? He’s not going to single-handedly convince, I guess, Donald Trump on China is he?
CRAIG KELLY, MEMBER FOR HUGHES: Well firstly Tom, it’s good to see President Trump there and it’s also good to see that Sky News cut from President Trump to come to Graham and myself to discuss the issues of the day. But look it was fantastic to see our Prime Minister and President Trump together as they were last night at that dinner and it just shows the important relationship that we have with the USA, how it is very important that we maintain it and you would wonder if the election result had of gone the other way you would have had someone in there trying to have dinner with President Trump that actually vilified him before he was elected.
CONNELL: Graham Perrett the relationship right now between Scott Morrison and Donald Trump and the way Scott Morrison’s handling this, does he get some credit?
GRAHAM PERRETT, MEMBER FOR MORETON: Look, yeah, definitely. It’s well known that we’ve had very strong connections with the United States under a variety of Prime Ministers and Presidents and that will continue, but one shouldn’t confuse a good meal with a good deal. Obviously we need more to come out of this than a shared main course. We actually need as a trading nation to get the balance right and while China, our number one trading partner, and the US, one of our strongest allies, are at war that is not good for a country like Australia that relies so heavily on world trade, selling so many of our farm products and other products overseas, so I hope that good comes out of the G20 meetings and I certainly wish Scott Morrison and all the team that are there, all the DFAT support team, all the best in terms of those negotiations. And I hope Mr Trump settles down and actually works out what is good for world business.
CONNELL: Craig Kelly, how tough should Australia be on the issue of China, particularly this sort of soft indication from Scott Morrison that he has sympathy for China’s position but also having a go at the US for plonking tariffs as their response? Should we really muscle up with China a bit more on this?
KELLY: It’s a difficult pathway to tread. We’ve got to look after both relationships of course but I can understand the US position where they see the trade barriers that China has up to the US manufactured goods. I certainly have strong sympathy for the US position but we have to be, as I said, very careful with this. We as a trading nation, we rely on free trade, the more free trade around the world the better it is for our nation, the better it is for our prosperity, so we hope this current trade dispute between the US and China is resolved and it’s resolved quickly because that is not only in our national interest, it’s in the national interest of the USA, also China and the rest of the world.
CONNELL: Let’s go to a few domestic issues and Graham Perrett interesting break down of the tax cut that Labor is still, well figuring out its exact position on suggesting that PBO analysis puts two-thirds of this final stage of the tax cuts, and this is the one Labor has an issue with, two-thirds of the overall value actually goes to people earning less than $180,000. Does that strengthen the case for Labor passing it?
PERRETT: Well, the flip side of that obviously Tom is that for every three dollars of the benefit, one dollar is going to the top ten per cent of people, the people earning over $180,000 who don’t spend it in the economy, that doesn’t flow around as rapidly as it does for those that are middle Australians and people who are battling, so why would Craig and his team be so focussed on something that, we’ve got 262 weeks to get this right, why would they be focussed on giving one in three dollars to that group of people earning more than $180,000. We know that businesses are doing it tough. We want more people spending money in the economy. We know that small businesses in my area need more people to spend.
CONNELL: Isn’t this the case that no matter how you give a tax cut unless it’s basically just really going after the whole bottom end and almost nothing for the top end that it’s always going to skew in some way towards those people on that income?
PERRETT: Well we’ve got plenty of time to have a look at these figures and see where it breaks. Remember stage one, stage two, we could have actually legislated these right now. Scott Morrison didn’t have to break his word before Parliament even sat. We could have actually had that flowing out to the people of Australia, the people that need it most, the people who will spend it. We know that conditions are deteriorating, that people are effectively going backwards because there has been slow wage growth. We’ve got all those other problems in the economy that the Reserve Bank Governor has put a spotlight on. Let’s get… Labor already has something on the table that we’re happy to support. Stage one, stage two, let’s get that out of the way and then we’ll look at the details of stage three and the benefits that might flow from it.
CONNELL: Do you like the idea of the bring-forward of part of the tax cut Craig Kelly, get the economy going? It seems to need it.
KELLY: Well I think Graham has here missed a golden opportunity. Several of his colleagues, notably, one Joel Fitzgibbon, a senior frontbencher on the Labor side, has actually supported the Coalition going ahead with all these tax cuts. Now you can argue and quibble about the details but the bottom line is this is what we took to the election. The Australian people have voted on this and they have decided. Surely it’s up to the Labor Party now to get out of the way, to realise they lost the election and allow the Coalition to get on with the plans that we took to the Australian people only less than a month ago and we have a mandate to introduce and get through Parliament.
PERRETT: So does that mean the Member for Gilmore should vote for Labor’s plan Craig? Does that mean the Member for Corangamite should vote for Labor’s… a different plan?
KELLY: Look, I know that this may come as a surprise to many people in the Labor Party but you did lose the election. This was a policy that was on the table that we took to the Australian people. We had an election, the Australian people have decided. You’ve even got members of your own Labor Party that were re-elected and had such big swings against them that they realised that they were wrong and they were backing the Coalition’s plan.
CONNELL: Can I just ask you about that then Graham Perrett, because some of your colleagues have been outspoken and say that even though you’d like to split up this tax policy, once it comes to parliament they should support it, you should support it given the election result. You disagree, can I clarify that?
PERRETT: Well, I’d say this, if I’m playing a game of chess I don’t announce the gambit I’ll be using before I sit down to play. You look at what comes along, so people are speculating about negotiations, let’s wait and see the details, we’ve had the PBO release some of these costings but we need to look at the details…
CONNELL: But we know what’s going to happen, we know the Government’s going to present it as is don’t we, they’ve said no to the Labor compromise?
PERRETT: Well, there were many issues in the electorate. I’m still the Member for Moreton, many people have raised this with me since the election, I respect their views, but we’ve got plenty of time. As I said we’ve got 262 weeks, no mad rush to try to give one dollar in every three to people, that top ten per cent of tax payers, I can’t see that as an urgent thing at all.
CONNELL: Let’s move on to some fallout still from the leadership crisis spill Craig Kelly, and some pretty extraordinary headlines over the past couple of days, basically that Malcolm Turnbull was ready to go nuclear and first tried to block Peter Dutton’s theoretical appointment if that happened and was also ready to go and call an election early. What do you make of this?
KELLY: Look, this is pretty much old news, yesterday’s fish and chip wrapper but one thing that’s come out of it is Christian Porter, I have always held Christian in the highest regard and I thought that he was a great Attorney-General. My opinion of Christian is only reaffirmed by what’s been reported in the paper and if I was on some trumped up murder charge the bloke that I would want representing me is one Christian Porter.
CONNELL: I’m glad it was a trumped up one you referred to there but on the issue of Malcolm Turnbull and his actions here, he was ready, according to this article in the book that’s going to come out by Niki Savva, as well to call an election to stave off a leadership contest. Basically, call an election against his own party. What does that say about him?
KELLY: Well, look I’m not aware of those details. There’s all these rumours floating around, maybe they’ll be… people are writing several books at the moment…
CONNELL: It’s more than a rumour…
KELLY: And maybe this will all be cleared up by the books. The reality is we know what happened, there was a change of leadership to Scott Morrison, Scott Morrison was successful in the election. We have a very united team. We’ve got three years and we’ve got a lot of hard work to do with Scott Morrison as the Prime Minister of this country.
CONNELL: Graham Perrett does it make you, are you surprised that Malcolm Turnbull was seemingly ready to go to these sorts of lengths?
PERRETT: Look, I’d have to read the details, but it does show the Liberal Party was prepared to just put a pause on their chaos and division during the election campaign and now they’re right back into it, throwing grenades at each other. It’d be great if they were prepared to fight for the nation rather than amongst themselves. We’ve got a nation where the economy’s tanking, we’ve got a lot of problems, I wish the Liberal Party would focus on that rather than the chaos amongst themselves.
CONNELL: The Israel Folau case rolls on at the Fair Work Commission today, not many people expecting them to come to agreement the two parties, Rugby Australia and Israel Folau. Craig Kelly what do you make of this and essentially the push now for perhaps a new law that doesn’t allow companies to write into a contract any sort of limitation of expression of religious belief?
KELLY: Look, I don’t agree with what Israel Folau said but I will defend to the death his right to say it and that’s ultimately what this case is about. The Australian Rugby Union has very badly mishandled this. They’ve created an absolute mess that is going to cost a fortune in legal fees. It would have been far best for everyone just to say these are Israel’s views, these are his private personal views according to his religion and simply leave it at that and move on rather trying to build it up as it is now into this just disaster for the Australian Rugby Union.
CONNELL: You’ve got a company though that wants to get as many people along to its matches as possible. It wants to do so within the law so the question for you becomes what should the law be around contracts and religious freedom?
KELLY: Well, I think the law is already there. My understanding is you can’t have a provision in an employment contract that basically denies someone or discriminates against them on their religious beliefs. I understand that is already there and this is why I think…
CONNELL: You can have whatever belief you want, the question is putting it out there on Twitter isn’t it because within the contract as well it talks about so called responsible use of Twitter and that’s for example is one of the things that this rests on, so depending on this outcome that might need clarification if that’s the law you want to operate like that.
KELLY: It’ll obviously be very interesting to see what the final decision comes up but we are going down a very dangerous track, it’s not ... this case is not particularly what Israel Folau said or didn’t say, it goes down to a very dangerous track in this nation about free speech and we have serious issues in this country if someone can’t put something, a quote from the bible, on their Twitter page and that gets them sacked and basically thrown out from their employment that, I think we’re on very dangerous ground going forward.
CONNELL: Well, which also opens up the whole issue of the fact that we don’t actually have free speech per se, Graham Perrett, your thoughts?
PERRETT: Look Tom I’ve always seen this as employment law but I’ll just tease out what Craig just said. Let’s say one of Craig’s staffers is a devout Christian and reads the Old Testament very closely and let’s say they keep posting every day something from Leviticus 19:28 saying that getting a tattoo is a sinful act. Let’s say they particularly focus it on, let’s say the Attorney-General every day. Now I think if Craig’s staffer was doing that every single day Craig might go and have a talk to them and say ‘look mate we’re trying to present a unified team to the Australian people, this is detracting from us doing that, would you mind stopping posting that view which the Attorney-General is taking personally. You know, that’s the sort of conversation you might have in terms of an employment relationship. I wouldn’t necessarily see that as being about religious freedom and that’s the way these things normally should be treated. We might end up with a test case if Israel Folau doesn’t settle. I’ve got to say as a rugby fan, Israel Folau is one of the most exciting players on the field. When he was playing for the Broncos and when he was playing for the Wallabies, so it’s a shame leading into the World Cup that we won’t be seeing his services but this has always been about employment law as far as I’m concerned.
CONNELL: Well what happened to that, or should happen to that hypothetical, Craig Kelly, staffer? What do you think Craig Kelly?
KELLY: Well, Graham’s talking about if someone’s doing it every single day and it’s over the top. What Israel Folau did this what once, over what a year.
PERRETT: Twice, twice.
KELLY: Twice in a year, now come on, that’s a highly different case...
CONNELL: Hang on but that’s the only difference? So if Rugby Australia said look we don’t want you to do that again and he goes and he kept the tweet up there that would be ok? Is that really the difference, the number of times?
KELLY: Look I think if you are harping on it all the time, I think that makes it a little bit more of a difference if that’s your soapbox that you are continually going on but just one…
PERRETT: What if you passionately believe that people shouldn’t get tattoos Craig? What if you think that Star Wars tattoos are a sin against God?
KELLY: Look if someone thinks that, that is their religious belief and they should be allowed to hold that belief
PERRETT: Leviticus 19:28 makes it very clear.
CONNELL: If they can hold it Craig Kelly once, surely they can hold it a hundred times? That’s surely not the…
KELLY: Yeah, well you’re sort of drawing straws here in this argument. The reality is, the bottom line is, should…
PERRETT: You said it was an absolute Craig.
CONNELL: [inaudible] what you said about it…
KELLY: Yeah, should someone be able to express their religious belief on their social media page and to me the answer to that is yes.
PERRETT: And you’d back your employee if they wanted to bad mouth the Attorney-General Craig?
KELLY: Hang on, hang on, you’re talking about ... this is where you’re drawing the line, you’re saying he’s bad-mouthing the Attorney-General, I’m saying he’s quoting something from the bible.
CONNELL: Alright I’ll take your position as they should be able to Craig Kelly but Graham Perrett you’re saying there should be a right for an employer if they’re putting out a contrary message to have a chat. What happens at the end of that chat can they then say don’t do that again or you’ll be fired? What’s the actual consequence after that?
PERRETT: Well, as Israel Folau will find, it will turn on the facts in his contract. I’m not privy to his contract and the judge, because eventually this will end up in the Federal Court because he is outside the statutory limit, so the Federal Court a year down the track, the judge will look at the facts, what’s in the four corners of the contract and will make a decision as to whether or not he’s breached his contract or not. Like always happens in employment law and no doubt there will be a settlement. I’ve done a lot of negotiation in terms of unfair dismissals and this will turn on the facts in front of the judge.
CONNELL: Graham Perrett, Craig Kelly, always appreciate your time. Thank you.