Sky News Sharri – culture in political parties, Labor national conference

Sunday, 28 March 2021

SUBJECTS: Culture in political parties; allegations of branch stacking in the LNP; Labor national conference.

SHARRI MARKSON, HOST: Let’s bring in my political panel Labor MP Amanda Rishworth, and New South Wales state executive director for the Liberal Party, Alex Dore, Welcome to you both. Thank you so much for joining me. Look, I want to start with this issue of gender quotas. You know, this is something that is being discussed as one possible way to improve Liberal Party issues on the treatment of women. Amanda, do you think gender quotas, they’ve been successful in the Labor Party, do you think this will go some way to fixing some of the issues that the Liberal Party has been experiencing?

AMANDA RISHWORTH, SHADOW MINISTER FOR EARLY CHILDHOOD EDUCATION AND DEVELOPMENT: I do think gender quotas are a really important tool that political parties can make and can use. And the reason I think that is it forces the political parties to perhaps look a little more broadly, rather than the typical stereotype person that gets pre-selected, that may be put into a position or promoted. It actually gets those political parties to look broader and more deeply within the community. And I think that leads to better representation, and better diversity. So I think it is something that the Liberal Party should have a serious look at.

MARKSON: Alex, it has been successful in Labor. They have near 50:50 in the Federal Parliament, men and women as members. It’s something the Liberal Party has long resisted, do you think it would be a good idea, at least in getting more women into the ranks to have their say when it comes to decision making?

ALEX DORE: Well it’s a good question. I mean, I don’t agree. I actually disagree on something fundamental that both you and Amanda have said, which is that it’s been a success in the Labor Party. I don’t agree with that. I think that quotas are illiberal, I think they are dehumanising because they reduce a person to a category. They say that your race, your gender, your sexuality, is more important than actually the attributes that make a human being different and that is their ideas, their character, their values. Those are the things that I think we should look out for in our parliamentarians. And I think that, you know, we do have a lot of mediocre people in Canberra. But Amanda made a point just then about the depth of candidates putting their hand up in the Labor Party. Well, no disrespect to Amanda, but Amanda you were a union organiser before politics. And if you go through the list of Labor parliamentarians, you will see union organiser, after union organiser, after union organiser. There’s no diversity in the Labor Party representation.

RISHWORTH: I am going to have to defend myself here. I was also a trained psychologist, I did a Clinical Masters in Psychology. And I can tell you, I don’t need to go to empathy training to understand the hopes and aspirations of the people I represent. So there is a lot of diversity within the Labor Party. Yes, I worked as a union organiser, I’m proud of that. I also trained and worked as a Clinical Psychologist

DORE: It’s nothing personal. But all your colleagues worked as union –

RISHWORTH: It certainly seems that way.

DORE: Well the fundamental point is that in the Liberal Party, we value the diversity of people’s ideas. And that is really important diversity. It is definitely the case that we can do better, that we can improve our pre-selection process. I mean, no one says that it’s perfect, because it is very far from perfect. There are a lot of problems in Canberra. There are a lot of problems plaguing a lot of political parties as well. But this idea that in order to be successful, the Liberal Party has to abandon its values, that it has to replicate its political opponents. I think that is a folly. And it would be a motion of no confidence for the Liberal Party to abandon its commitment to the most progressive force, organising principle in human history, which is meritocracy. We don’t always achieve it. And it would be a folly for us to abandon the idea of the potential and the power of the individual. So with respect, it might be something that the Labor Party looks at because the Labor Party is the political tradition of collectivism, that’s not a criticism, that’s just a fact. We are the political tradition of the individual and so I think we can do better, but I think we should always put first and foremost, the consideration of who’s the best person for the job. And, you know, the truth is, and I’m sure everyone would agree with this, we of course need to attract more people into parliament from diverse backgrounds. More women, more doctors, more teachers, more police officers. But the way to do that, I think, is to change some of the things that are disincentivizing people from joining a political party or putting their hand up for pre-selection. And a lot of those things you know, are not things that you can fix with a quick fix. They are deeper than that.

MARKSON: Okay, I want to move on to cover some other issues. But just, you know, I do think on that point that it is fascinating and it shows how much pressure Scott Morrison is under that he is now entertaining publicly this idea of quotas that the party has long resisted. Amanda this has been portrayed as an issue just for the Liberal Party. Do you think in your experience that Labor, federal women have also experienced issues when it comes to the treatment of women and sexual harassment? Do you think Labor female staff, we saw that private Facebook group where many allegations are raised, do you think this is also an issue on the Labor side of politics?

RISHWORTH: I’ve been very clear through this whole time that this is not an issue for one political party, I think this is an issue across the Parliament. And I think Labor has been very honest about that. That’s why we didn’t just accept Scott Morrison saying we’ll have an inquiry just into the Liberal Party, we actually called for an independent inquiry across the parliament for that very reason. I would say though, I have been in Parliament for a number of years, and as I’ve seen more women join the ranks I’ve certainly seen the treatment of women improved, both on the staffing level and on an MP level. So I do think having more women in the room and reaching critical mass does change behaviour of the collective overall. But certainly I have said that we need to change the culture across the board. And I haven’t been shy about saying that this is not confined to one political party.

MARKSON: Amanda, why do you think Labor women aren’t speaking up? I mean, we saw just some of the most horrific allegations raised in that news.com.au report about the private Facebook group, really horrific. But you know, no one has spoken publicly about this.

RISHWORTH: Well previously in 2018, and now through our National Executive, the Labor Party has provided a number of avenues, which include confidential avenues. I don’t know if they’ve been taken up, but certainly there’s a number of avenues that people can get support and discuss any issues that they might have. And certainly when I look at other people speaking out, many people do speak out when they’re frustrated that there’s no process to resolve these things, when they’re just hitting their head against a brick wall. So I don’t know if it’s the case, but certainly, the Labor Party has put in place over many years processes to actually ensure people can raise issues in a way that they do get dealt with. Now, I’m not saying that necessarily is the reason why, but that is something that I know has been put in place for many people to avail themselves of.

MARKSON: Alex Dore, I want to ask you about something that pertains to your job as a director on the state executive. The Baulkham Hills branch of the Liberal Party, this is Alex Hawke’s branch, Alex Hawke is a senior factional ally of the Prime Minister. That branch was suspended late on Friday evening, allegations of branch stalking. Can you comment on this?

DORE: Well, unsurprisingly, I can’t actually comment on it, because we’ve got a strict media policy on matters like this and it is before the State Executive still. So I can only make a general comment, which is that it doesn’t matter who a dispute involves in the Liberal Party, whether it involves a Minister, whether it involves a member, we should apply the rules consistently. And it’s also true that justice delayed is justice denied. So I hope that we can reach an expeditious resolution on it. But I obviously I can’t comment much further because I don’t want to, you know, be unfair or unjust to either side of the dispute.

MARKSON: And that dispute has been going on for two years now, there was meant to be a report, and there was no report into the matter. So that’s some very internal politics, but something to keep an eye on as well. Amanda, official Labor Party national conference is being held on Tuesday. There are some sticking points that could cause quite a stink. Middle East Policy when it comes to Israel, you’ve got Bob Carr’s faction trying to say that Palestine should be recognised as a State on its own. This has never been Australian policy. Also there are some human rights motions when it comes to China as well, that are likely to be very contentious. Where do you stand on these two issues? And what do you think should happen?

RISHWORTH: Well firstly I would not like to prejudge the democratic process. We have over 400 delegates that will be voting at the conference to develop a platform. But I am very confident that our platform will have Australia’s national interest at its heart. And I think we’ll be able to resolve such issues. When it comes to each of the individual issues, while I haven’t seen any specific amendments, I do understand that the platform in 2018 clearly had a policy when it came to the Israel Palestine issue, which is that we’ve always had a policy of supporting a two-state solution in recent times. One that recognises the State of Israel and secure, peaceful borders, one that’s internationally recognised. And also, of course, the State of Palestine, to be able to live peacefully and for Palestinians to reach their aspirations. So I don’t think a two-state solution that has those principles at heart is a new thing, it is something that was adopted –

MARKSON: So you support the Michael Danby proposal that the policy remains as supporting a two state solution rather than recognising Palestine as its as its own state?

RISHWORTH: Those two elements, a two state solution, has been a long standing policy. And we will obviously have that debate. But I think that is the policy of the Labor Party and something that I think has been a responsible policy to take, so I’ll make that point. In terms of the human rights in China, I don’t think the Labor Party has shied away at all, particularly when it comes to the treatment of Uyghurs and other minorities in China. We have condemned publicly the reported abuses in China and I think, as a global power, China must uphold its responsibilities when it comes to human rights. So you know, a platform that reflects that is not necessarily something out of the ordinary of what our Foreign Affairs spokesperson has said. But look in terms of all these issues, that’s the wonderful thing about the Labor Party conference, it is very dynamic. It’ll be a bit different this year online, but the great news is everyone can, whether they’re a Labor Party member or not, actually stream it and watch the democratic process, and see how the sausage is made.

MARKSON: I’ll bring more updates next Sunday as to how you know some of those policies unfolded because I think people will be keeping a close eye on that when they decide who to vote at the next election. Amanda Rishworth, Alex Dore, thank you both very much for your time.

ENDS

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