ABC Afternoon Briefing – constitutional recognition, religious freedoms, tax cuts

Thursday, 11 July 2019

Television interview - ABC Afternoon Briefing

SUBJECTS: Constitutional recognition; religious freedom;, tax cuts; ALP election review

JANE NORMAN: Let’s also get the views of one of Anthony Albanese’s frontbench colleagues, Amanda Rishworth. She joins us from our Adelaide studios, thanks for joining us for Afternoon Briefing Amanda.


NORMAN: Well firstly let me ask you, do you think we’ll be seeing a referendum in this term of Parliament for constitutional recognition?

RISHWORTH: Well I certainly hope so. It is absolutely long overdue in terms of the recognition of our First Australians in the constitution and importantly recognition of when Indigenous leaders came together with the Uluru Statement from the Heart and mapped out really what they would like to see in terms of that recognition. So I think we have a pathway forward and I think it’s time for us to start working towards that. Of course we’ve got to build consensus within the Parliament and build consensus within the community, but importantly we do have to listen to the voices of First Australians. I think that can be achieved, I think we can see a successful referendum and we need to start taking the steps towards that.

NORMAN: As I was saying just before we brought you in this has been on the agenda for decades, I remember it being debated during the Howard years. Why do you think it has a chance of success now, what’s changed?

RISHWORTH: I think firstly we reflect now ten years out from the apology to the stolen generation, and we recognise now I think in hindsight despite a lot of controversy in the lead up to that, it was a really important healing moment for our nation. It was one that brought everyone together, our country together, it didn’t divide us. So now that over ten years has passed since that apology, I think a majority of Australians do want to take the next step. We do recognise our First Australians deserve a place in our constitution. We can’t deny First Australians exist in this country and existed before European settlement. So I think most Australians are ready for the next step in that recognition and that’s why I feel very confident about it. But we do need to build consensus, we do need to respect the voices of First Australians, so of course we do have to nut out the detail. But I am confident we can achieve a consensus position that does importantly recognise our First Australians.

NORMAN: How would you feel about perhaps a more minimalist change, a symbolic recognition in our constitution to acknowledge the fact that long before British and white settlement, we had thousands of years of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander heritage?

RISHWORTH: What we can’t ignore as I said before is the voices of our First Australians. They came together in good faith to bring together the Uluru Statement from the Heart, and I can understand the frustration that many Indigenous people around this country had when that statement was just brushed aside and ignored. I think in any constitutional change we need to make sure we do build consensus with the wider Australian community, but importantly the voice of First Australians must be listened to and I think without that we won’t get the buy in and wide community support. And that’s why the Voice to Parliament is so important as part of this change. This was something that came up through the process and it’s important we do listen to our First Australians, because ultimately for them it is critically important that they are leading this.

NORMAN: The Voice to Parliament concept seems to be one of the trickiest issues here, largely because as you say when the Uluru Statement was first put forward it was immediately dismissed and that’s because some sort to characterise that as like a third chamber of Parliament. Well that is clearly incorrect, Ken Wyatt has likened it to more of an advisory body. Is that the kind of Voice to Parliament that you could realistically see being put in place?

RISHWORTH: I think a Voice to Parliament is a body that makes sure in the design of programs and in issues that affect First Nations people, First Nations people actually have a say. They are able to help co-design and are involved in the processes. That they have some sort of agency, rather than have programs and other things imposed on them. So I certainly see a Voice to Parliament as really important in putting First Nations voices and the views of First Nations people directly at the centre of the issues that affect them. And I think when we talk about feeling empowered, feeling able to have some agency over one’s destiny, a Voice to Parliament is critically important.

NORMAN: Alright on to another rather tricky issue and that is religious freedoms. The Attorney-General Christian Porter is as we know drafting a religious discrimination bill as we speak, we don’t know exactly what it’s going to look like. But Amanda Rishworth do you believe there is currently a gap in protections in our legislative framework for religious freedoms and do you think this is a way of plugging it?

RISHWORTH: I’ve spoken to a lot of religious leaders in my own electorate and while they’ve said they don’t feel like there’s a significant problem right now, they would like to see some confidence in the future of making sure that they are able to have their beliefs protected. So look this is a very sensitive issue and one that Labor has said we are willing to work with the Government to look at how we actually make sure that religious beliefs and freedoms in this country are protected. But it’s not an easy process and I think it’s important to always recognise that whether we’re talking about freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom to live your life without discrimination, some of those freedoms do come into conflict and there is tension between some of those things. So I think we’ve got to be very careful to make sure that in any drafting of legislation, that we do balance those competing rights of citizens. But most importantly, whatever we work towards, and I haven’t seen the legislation and I haven’t been briefed on it, that what we’re doing is promoting a harmonious, multicultural, successfully tolerant society.  And I think that’s a really important part of anything going forward.

NORMAN: This is a pretty tricky issue for Labor though isn’t it, because obviously Labor very strongly backed the same-sex marriage vote. It passed into law but we found the biggest no votes were largely in New South Wales in multicultural, religious electorates that are held by Labor members.

RISHWORTH: Yes as I said there’s competing rights and competing beliefs in communities. Having different beliefs doesn’t mean you can’t be respectful of those beliefs. In my electorate there’s different beliefs about a whole range of things, and in many electorates there’s different religious beliefs. For some religions those beliefs might align, they might be diametrically opposed on other issues. What the most important part of our society is, is respecting the right to hold those beliefs and at the same time treating others with the respect, tolerance and support they deserve. And not to discriminate against people based for example on their religion, but also on their sexuality or their gender. So importantly it’s about getting the balance right. Freedom to believe in things is absolutely one thing, it’s about whether that comes into conflict with other discrimination law or hate speech or other things that can affect the lives of others. It’s about how do we build a society that respects difference, but also allows for that difference as well.

NORMAN: Let’s get to some issues that are before Parliament or have just passed Parliament in the form of the Coalition’s full income tax cut package that just recently passed Federal Parliament. You’re in Shadow Cabinet so you’re privy to the deliberations behind the scenes on the part of the Labor Party. How comfortable were you on the position Labor came to on the tax cut package.

RISHWORTH: I think we put forward a very sensible position. It’s very clear there are weakening aspects of our economy. We’re seeing even today consumer confidence at a two-year low. So what Labor put forward I think was a sensible, helpful measure to the government. We weren’t trying to horse-trade like the crossbench.

NORMAN: But didn’t you lose out in the process there because the crossbench, well Jacqui Lambie got apparently some money for social housing in Tasmania, Centre Alliance apparently we’re waiting for details got a commitment for a reduction in gas prices. Labor ended up with nothing.

RISHWORTH: I’m not sure anything has actually been delivered to the crossbench as of yet, I guess that will be up to them to explain whether or not the government delivers to them. But Labor wasn’t interested in horse-trading for bits and pieces, we were putting forward a sensible way forward. A sensible way forward to stimulate our economy at a time when it does need some stimulation. I mean it’s not just the Labor Party that’s called for an investment in infrastructure and bringing infrastructure forward to help support the economy, it’s been the Reserve Bank. The Reserve Bank has been very clear that the Government needs to do more, and so far we’ve heard silence from the Government. So Labor was putting forward a helpful solution to the Government, they chose not to take it up because I think they were playing politics with these tax cuts. But in the end Labor was very clear that we supported Stage 1 and wanted to see Stage 2 brought forward, because we thought that was the right thing for the economy and I certainly stand by that.

NORMAN: Labor has also raised the prospect of reversing Stage 3, now that is a tax cut that’s due to come into effect in about five-years time, it certainly favours wealthier Australians. And Labor’s raised the prospect of going to the next election with a plan to reverse that. Which means you’d be going to the election with a policy to raise income tax, surely that’s not a policy Labor would actually pursue.

RISHWORTH: Actually it’s two elections time, that’s what was so ridiculous about the Coalition saying it’s now or never and that we couldn’t consider it in due process. But of course Labor’s reviewing all its policies, we’re reviewing all our policies we took to the election and we will have a policy agenda to put forward at the next election. We’re only seven weeks since the last election and we will be going through that very carefully to work out how we make sure we can deliver on a Labor agenda, deliver on Labor values and importantly make sure Australia is better off for the next generation.

NORMAN: Let’s just chat about some of the policies that are up for review. There were reports this week that Labor had basically dumped its plans to curb negative gearing and wind back franking credits. Are they still Labor policies?

RISHWORTH: As I said I’m not going to be announcing Labor policy here.

NORMAN: Please feel free to though.

RISHWORTH: We’re going to go through a very thorough process, we’re going to consult with the community. Anthony Albanese as the leader has already been out listening to communities right around the country, particularly going to areas where we didn’t do as well as we’d hoped. Of course it’s quite important that we do that and we’ll continue to listen to the community as we shape our policy agenda going forward.

NORMAN: Alright Amanda Rishworth we’ve run out of time sadly but thank you very much for joining us on Afternoon Briefing.

RISHWORTH: Thank you.


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