Sky News – Karvelas Live

Interviewer:

Patricia Karvelas

E&OE

Patricia Karvelas:

My next guest is another Canberran and I will find out if he’s also rolled down, if he did the other day, I don’t think he did the other day. The Assistant Multicultural Affairs Minister, Zed Seselja joins us, Zed Seselja welcome.

Senator Seselja:

Thanks Patricia

Patricia Karvelas:

Just on that Republic issue that we kind of ended on, or nearly ended on, we’ll get to the rolling down in the moment, but on the Republic issue: The Prime Minister obviously delivered his speech articulating a two-step process, a plebiscite first. What do you make of the vision that the Prime Minister articulated?

Senator Seselja:

Well I think it’s a very sensible vision, you know, I share the Prime Minister’s desire to see an Australian Head of State, but we need to be aware of the realities that, when it was last put to the people, it was comprehensively voted down. That the model that was put forward was not accepted and you can’t just force your will on the Australian people. If people want to see a change, they have to make a case to the Australian people over a period of time, a case that certainly was rejected in 1999 so I think it’s a very sensible way forward, I mean I for one don’t support a Republic at any cost, you would look at the model that was put forward, it has to be a model that improves the situation and, from my perspective, the way I see it that doesn’t undermine the foundations of our system because I think that we, broadly, have a very very good system, one that works very well. I’m drawn to the symbolism of an Australian Head of State but I certainly wouldn’t do that at any cost to our system.

Patricia Karvelas:

Then what do you make of some right wing MPs being critical of the Prime Minister of even addressing the Republican Forum the other night, on Saturday night? What do you say to your colleagues who think that he overreached and shouldn’t have even gone?

Senator Seselja:

Well look I think it’s very legitimate for the Prime Minister to go to the anniversary, obviously he was one of the drivers of the Australian Republican Movement and of course it’s reasonable that he addresses their 25th anniversary dinner but going forward I think what he set out in the speech was very sensible and what he was doing was, as Prime Minister, saying that as a Republican Prime Minister this is the way he saw forward. It’s not on the top of his agenda, the focus of the Government is very much on other things but he was addressing it and he was putting a way forward for those who want to see an Australian Head of State, he was putting a way forward for how that might be achieved.

Patricia Karvelas:

Today some have said that the Liberal Party would face a backlash if you went down this Republican road, do you agree with that analysis? That’d you’d be abandoned?

Senator Seselja:

Well I don’t think that there’s any great push in the community at the moment, I think it’s fair to say, I don’t think that there is massive momentum for a Republic at the moment and I think that people who are advocating a Republic should recognise that, that we are not, that we don’t have people beating down our doors saying we need a republican referendum but, you know, it’s one of those issues that whilst it’s not a first order issue, people have strong views on it and, you know, at some point in time I’m sure we’ll revisit it but I don’t see it being particularly revisited in the next few years.

Patricia Karvelas:

Let’s move to MYEFO which happens tomorrow, the Mid Year Economic Outlook, delivered by the Government, really a mini budget if you want to describe it, I think there’s a one-hour lock up so I’ll call it that. Is a downgrade to the triple A credit rating now inevitable?

Senator Seselja:

Well let’s wait and see. I mean in the end that’s a decision for the ratings agencies, the decisions for the Government are about how we control spending and of course what other measure we put in place but I can tell you one thing that’s certain out of MYEFO, it’s that MYEFO, the update under us, will be about $16 billion better off than it would have been had there been a change of government because the Labor Party went to the last election promising $16 billion in higher deficits over the forward estimates and that’s just what they promised. I’ve got to correct one thing that Katy Gallagher had to say: she seemed to be suggesting that the Labor Party doesn’t support the changes to the pension, they did adopt them in their election costings at the last election so unless they’re saying that their election costings were wrong, then they now support the changes to pensions.

Patricia Karvelas:

The Government has been arguing for a long time now that all debt is bad but it’s been observed that over the last couple of weeks there’s been a change in tune. Is there now good debt?

Senator Seselja:

Well I would disagree with the assertion that the government has said that all debt is bad, we’ve certainly said that we need to absolutely get the budget under control, that means getting rid of the deficits and bringing the budget back in balance, that’s the opposite approach of what our predecessors took. But when you look at some of the borrowings that we’ve been forced to undertake in recent times, it’s to pay off interest and recurrent spending. Certainly when you borrow for productive infrastructure that’s far more powerful, but the fundamental equation remains for us as a nation and that is that we are spending more than we are earning. Now you can do that for a little while but if you do that over an extended period of time that will start to cause your economy issues and it certainly will cause issues for future generations who will have to pay that money back. So we haven’t changed our approach to debt, we want to see a reduction in debt. We want to see a reduction in the deficits, that’s what the forward estimates show, that’s what all of the savings measures we’ve taken, sometimes we’ve been able to get savings measures through with the support of Labor, but often it hasn’t been with the support of Labor and we’ve been blocked from doing so. Our resolve remains that we want to bring down the deficits, we want to return the budget back to balance as soon as we possibly can but also we don’t want to do it by massively hiking taxes which is the approach that our opponents certainly have taken in the past and certainly that’s what they put forward at the last election and fundamentally that’s something we rejected.

Patricia Karvelas:

Do you agree that in 2017 the government is going to need a much sharper economic narrative, a much sharper economic story, to really deal with the grievances that are growing in the electorate? I mean if you look at the polling for One Nation in Queensland, obviously One Nation making an announcement today around candidates, isn’t that something that you need to have a much sharper message on in 2017?

Senator Seselja:

Well on the last part of that question Patricia we certainly never take the voters for granted. People talk about the base and all of that, we know that we have to earn the vote of every last one of our voters; we don’t take any of them for granted…

Patricia Karvelas:

[Interrupting] do you agree that they’re feeling frustrated at the moment?

Senator Seselja:

Well I’m sure that there are some who would be on various issues, I mean that’s not an uncommon thing, we know that you can’t keep everyone happy all of the time and certainly strive to look after people right around the nation and to make sure we govern for all Australians, whether they voted for us or whether they didn’t. And that is absolutely our focus but when it comes to the first part of your question, on the economy, I think there are some pretty emerging differences in the approach of the Coalition government and our opponents. One is on the budget, another is on tax, the Labor Party wants to ramp up a series of taxes yet still deliver higher deficits, that is an approach that we reject. And when it comes to other costs of living issues, very important economic issues like the cost of energy, there is a growing divide in approach. So if you talk about sharpening the messages, certainly I think we will see a growing difference between what we are setting out as the way back, not just to surplus for the budget, but for economic growth. And the alternative from our opponents which would see higher energy prices, which would see much higher taxes and much higher debt and deficits. So if you’re talking about sharpening, that is already emerging and will continue in 2017.

Patricia Karvelas:

Just want to change to another theme before I let you go: many of the submissions to the inquiry into 18c of the Racial Discrimination Act are now in. Do you think the mood has shifted on this issue and are you favouring taking action on changing the Racial Discrimination Act in 2017, as a Government?

Senator Seselja:

Well look the Government obviously hasn’t made any decisions, we’ve initiated this inquiry and I think that it’s good that it take place and that we air all of those views. Whether it’s the views from various leaders of ethnic groups, whether it’s the views of the Institute of Public Affairs and others arguing very much from a free speech point of view, we of course will consider all of those views. What I would say though is that I think Australians are big enough to have this conversation, I think that certainly some of the concerns that emerged during the QUT case in particular in recent times and also with Bill Leak having a complaint brought against him I think has sharpened, I think, some of the concerns around just how far 18c affects freedom of speech. Certainly in my role and more broadly in the government we have no tolerance for racial discrimination, for racial hatred, I think all Australians, a vast majority of Australians should I say, are absolutely united on that. The real question is where do you draw the line on free speech, there’s always a tension between these things, the question is are cartoonists being dragged before a tribunal, is that a good thing for democracy, is that the best way of dealing with concerns, or is it better to have a debate about issues of concern, including in racial politics.

Patricia Karvelas:

So I’ll take you back to the part of the question where I say, do you think there’s been a shift, based on the submissions that have come in? Because I think that the IPA for instance is arguing that there has, pointing to a couple of individuals who have shifted their views. Do you see it that way as well?

Senator Seselja:

Well I certainly think that many Australians when they saw for instance, that you had a cartoonist potentially being bought before a tribunal because of a cartoon, I think it sort of hit home a little bit that the balance might be a little bit out of whack. Certainly I think if you look at the mainstreaming of this, this has been a very much inside Canberra sort of debate around 18c, most Australians until recently probably wouldn’t have had much knowledge of the detail of what’s in 18c but when you do see cartoonists being potentially dragged before tribunals, uni students dragged before tribunals because of what they put on Facebook, I think there’s probably a little bit of a shift in that regard. So let’s see what the inquiry has to say, the government certainly will look at the findings of that inquiry and obviously consider what to do from there.

Patricia Karvelas:

Just one final question, I mentioned it earlier, this polling in Queensland for One Nation, some of this, not all of this, a lot of this is, well it’s multi-faceted, but some of this is on the fear, the back of fears, about Islam, about multiculturalism. You’re Assistant Multicultural Affairs Minister, are you concerned about a rejection of multiculturalism or a crisis of multiculturalism in this country?

Senator Seselja:

I wouldn’t put it in those terms. I would say that we all always need to be cognisant of concerns, whether it’s about immigration, whether it’s about other issues. Those concerns have always been there in Australia, let’s face it, from our foundation right through to the modern day, there’s always some concerns about the way we handle immigration and if we lose control of our borders that certainly heightens that, and that’s not the case today. But certainly I think we should always be making the case for why we have had great success in welcoming people from all over the world, in allowing them to recognise and celebrate their cultures but also we’ve always done it, I think, as a nation in a way that says to people, you know, we want you to become Australian, we want you to integrate into Australia, that’s my vision of a multicultural Australia. I think that has been a great success, we need to always make that case and where people raise legitimate concerns we should listen to those concerns but absolutely explain, I think, what a positive story it has been, how people have come from all over the world and helped build Australia, the vast bulk have come and made a positive contribution, we should celebrate that, we shouldn’t skate over the fact that there are sometimes issues within particular communities, we have to have honest conversation about that, and I think if we do that, if we balance those two realities, then I think we will continue to have very strong community support.

Patricia Karvelas:

And Zed Seselja, have you rolled down the Parliament House hill?

Senator Seselja:

Yes, like most Canberrans I certainly have. it has been a number of years Patricia, and can I say that the back is sorer than it used to be and I would probably struggle these days, but yeah, look, I do share some of that regret that Katy Gallagher expressed before, but I also accept that this is not being done because there’s killjoys in the Federal Parliament making these decisions: this is based on the best analysis and the best intelligence, and it is unfortunate, but I think when you get that kind of advice there’s really not much choice.

Patricia Karvelas:

Zed Seselja, merry Christmas and I hope you have a great break.

Senator Seselja:

Merry Christmas to you Patricia and to all of your viewers. Thanks for having me on.