Television Interview, ABC Afternoon Briefing

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The Hon Matt Thistlethwaite MP

Assistant Minister for Defence

Assistant Minister for Veterans’ Affairs

Assistant Minister for the Republic

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Ben Leeson on 0404 648 275

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12 June 2023

SUBJECTS: Lehrmann trial; Voice to Parliament; King’s Birthday; Republic.

GREG JENNETT, HOST: Time now for our political panel and Labor frontbencher Matt Thistlethwaite is in Sydney and Liberal frontbencher, Jonno Duniam is here in the studio. We might go to you first, Katy Gallagher and her denial to a Senate hearing, no-one had any knowledge before the publication is the implication. It's pretty clear this is going to be pursued by the government's opponents this week. Should Senator Gallagher pre-empt all of this Matt with a statement to the Senate of her own?

MATT THISTLETHWAITE, ASSISTANT MINISTER FOR DEFENCE: Greg, Katy made some comments yesterday that explain her position, and she explained the context in which those comments were made before Senate estimates, and I think she has done enough to explain her position, but we also need to be conscious of the fact here that we have had a situation where there is an allegation that was made against an individual involved, played out very publicly, and the leaking of text messages, emails does have the potential to inhibit other young women and indeed other young man coming forward, where there are situations where they may have been sexually assaulted, particularly in the workplace, and I think we need to be conscious of the sensitive nature of these allegations. The other point to make, Greg, is that there is an ongoing court case here, and that all of these issues that have been aired in public will be tested in the court, and that's probably the most appropriate avenue for those allegations to be tested.

JENNETT: I understand all your points about proceeding with caution, but then things take on a life and momentum of their own here in the Parliament, don't they? I am right, aren't I, that this will be pursued by your side? Make the case if you think you can be made, for how Katy Gallagher has misled the Senate.

JONATHON DUNIAM, SENATOR FOR TASMANIA: I think it is important that Australians, given what they were promised they would have by the Prime Minister, he said he would usher in this new era of transparency, and that I think Australians are owed some very clear, concise and direct answers to the questions being asked about the state of knowledge of various Labor ministers, frontbenchers, both pre and post-election, and I don't think the statement that has been provided to us thus far is enough, it does not distinguish these issues and give us a satisfaction and comfort needed around this issue, and I take what my colleague here has said around the need to proceed with caution, but I'm not sure where that caution was when we had an allegation that was being investigated by police, pursued in the Parliament, I mean it seems to have gone out the window that we're then going to adopt, it doesn't make sense but nonetheless answers need to be given, clear and directly.

JENNETT: The politicisation of these matters, two wrongs don't make a right. Would you proceed down this path this week knowing that you might be re-politicising a very sensitive complaint, as it was originally put?

DUNIAM: What is at issue here is the state of knowledge in this case of Senator Gallagher in this point in time when the statement was made in the committee of the Senate. That is where this issue needs to be interrogated, where we need to understand exactly what the state of knowledge was, where the information came from and how long it had been in the minister's possession for rather than all of the other issues that have been interrogated and dealt with by way of police investigation and court proceedings as well, but it is about state of knowledge and what was said in Parliament at that point in time.

JENNETT: Back to you Matt, is there any ammunition that Labor has stored away, I'm thinking about people like Scott Morrison, now the member for Cook of course, there were a media reporting over the weekend about conversations that may or may not have happened with former staff member Fiona Brown and springing from that are some vague but still allegations nonetheless that Scott Morrison may have misled the parliament himself. Is this something the government is likely to pursue?

ASSISTANT MINISTER: Again, I make the point that there is still court proceedings going on, there is a defamation case going on, and that is the context in which these text messages and emails have been leaked. I think the appropriate place for all of this to be tested now is in the court. The Labor Party raises issues in a parliamentary context and I think it's important to remember this, after the allegations were made public, so after Brittany Higgins had come forward with the allegations, and of course Labor asked some questions in the Parliament because you had a Liberal staff member alleging that she was raped in the office of a minister in Parliament House, and that goes of course to workplace policies, and issues announce the context in which we raised this by going forward I think the appropriate avenue for these allegations to be and is in a court.

JENNETT: On the matter of Scott Morrison, I'm sure you read the article on the weekend, did you think it made the case for a mislead of the parliament by the then Prime Minister? This is over what conversations he may or may not have had with Fiona Brown.

DUNIAM: I saw the statement that the Prime Minister has issued, sorry the former Prime Minister, and I don't have anything to add to that but it does prove the point that it is essential that Members of Parliament are accurate with what they say on the record, and we need to do everything we can to absolutely be honest and truthful in what we say, and that and I go back to Senator Gallagher, and they are questions that need to be answered in the interests of transparency and to the interim government.

JENNETT: Somehow, I think we will have those questions in the Parliament this week. Why don’t we move onto the Voice, and Noel Pearson has put his hand in his heart and made a couple of  admissions about how things are going in the precampaign period, I suppose we could call it a. Firstly, he has admitted that he has probably been a bit more robust and some of his arguments against doubters and the No campaign is that he should have been on the other, is that we need to zero-in on reconciliation, even more so than the Voice. What sort of admission were they, do you think? Do you think this is from someone who has started to be worried about where this is going?

ASSISTANT MINISTER: Certainly, when Noel Pearson speaks, Australians listen and so they should, he is a very well respected leader of First Nations people of Australia. He was making the point that we do need to make sure that the information that Australians get is clear and concise, and they understand this issue. That is something that the government will be doing, has already done, but certainly will be doing a lot more in the coming weeks. I think we need to remember, Greg, that the legislation to establish the referendum has not passed the parliament yet, and that will, hopefully in the next couple of weeks. Then you will start to see the government to start to spend public resources on an information campaign that will explain what the Voice is all about, and really if you narrow it down, it's down to two issues, recognising Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people as the first Australians, and establishing a Voice to Parliament so we can listen to and consult them about matters affecting them. Really that's what this comes down to, and that is what the context of the Yes campaign will be moving forward.


JENNETT: Did you find it an unusual set of acknowledgements, I suppose, from Noel Pearson that it is kind of reconciliation, that's the horse that needs to be put ahead of the cart, which is the Voice? He said we haven't yet been able to distil the clear message, and yet it's been a fair bit of time to have prepared the ground for this.


DUNIAM: Absolutely Greg, what we have seen with Mr Pearson's public remarks around the Yes campaign is exactly what many people have seen in relation to this debate for a long period of time, having participated in the 2018 joint select committee on Constitutional recognition, that a major divergence of views across First Nations’ views about how to progress these issues is huge, there are so many different views and opinions and Mr Pearson has belled the cat on, there is no agreement on things and we are only debating legislation to have a referendum which then paves the way for a Voice, we haven't even started the debate on what a Voice would look like if the referendum succeeds, so if we can't agree on this part of the debate, how are we going to go when an actual institution needs to be formed.

JENNETT: Again, the starting gun begins when the Senate passes the alteration bill which it should do, I think you are in that chamber, that should happen this fortnight, the numbers are clearly there.

DUNIAM: We want Australians to have their say. We opposed the Voice for the reasons outlined and Mr Pearson's arguments add to that but, yes, it will pass.

JENNETT: Matt is Assistant Minister for the Republic. We can conclude you are in fact working today, is that out of protest as a Republican?

ASSISTANT MINISTER: No, not at all. I spent the morning with my family. Becoming a Republic, recognising our maturity and independence is not about public days, about the flag and issues like that, it is about recognising we are a mature, independent nation and we make our own decisions and do it well.

JENNETT: It would be an anachronism, wouldn't it, jumping ahead five or 10 years, we would not be retaining this particular long weekend and this name, would we?

ASSISTANT MINISTER: Well, I think if we did become a Republic than there would be a debate about retaining the King’s Birthday as the name for this public holiday. I think we would still maintain the public holiday as we should but perhaps, we could look to another way of recognising the great contribution of Australians. I am attracted to the idea of a volunteers’ day, where we recognise a wonderful contribution to Australians who volunteer their time to making this place a better society to live in, particularly in the context of volunteers in the wake of the bushfires and floods that have devastated Australia over recent years but, as you know, the Voice is a priority this year and the Republic is ahead.

JENNETT: It does seem a long way to talk about a Republic before clearing the Voice. You are also here working but you have an excuse, we have asked you to be here, but doesn't this weekend, this occasion have any meaning to you?

DUNIAM: Look, I should admit to I am wearing jeans, so I am semi-not working. If we happen to one day become a Republic, I think Matt is right, you change the name the day holds but this time is about recognising members of our community that do wonderful things and are not recognised in other ways. It is a low order issue for people. I am not a monarchist, I am not a Republican, I am sticking with the model that works and we get along we can along the way.

JENNETT: There does seem to be a bit of clamouring publicly for people to examine Australia Day, the 26th January and occasions like this and it is not too hard to imagine someone at sometime will choose to do that through a of national leadership?

DUNIAM: I suspect if I were a betting man, I would be putting money on that but it is going to be a long way down the track and when that time comes, I will be asking people to stick with the model we have because it ain't broken.

JENNETT: But you might then be the minister responsible for the Republic, and who knows, Matt and Jonno, thank you. We will all be together again in this building before too long.

DUNIAM: Thank you. Happy King’s birthday.




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