PRESENTER: Kate Ellis is the Labor MP for Adelaide and Shadow Education Minister, Shadow Minister for Early Childhood and I think number one ticket holder for the Crows. Is that correct officially?
KATE ELLIS, SHADOW MINISTER FOR EDUCATION: Yes, that is correct.
PRESENTER: And Chris Pyne Liberal MP for Sturt, Education Minister, Manager of Government Business in the House who is an ambassador for the Crows.
CHRISTOPHER PYNE, MINISTER FOR EDUCATION: I am an ambassador for the Crows.
PRESENTER: What does that mean that you are not quite number one?
PYNE: No, not quite number one. Never quite made it to number one that is what people will say about me in my epitaph. Kate’s got that job. I hope she does it well, quite frankly.
PRESENTER: As we all do, we know you will serve admirable as ambassador for the Crows. Chris Pyne we were listening on AM this morning to the Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, saying that he would like a, effectively, red card system to, without legislation, but for the Government to have the discretion to ban visiting ‘hate preachists’, to coin a phrase, why would that be necessary?
PYNE: Well I haven’t seen that story and as you didn’t give me notice of it I can’t really comment on it.
PRESENTER: Oh okay.
PYNE: I don’t know about that story, was that in the newspaper?
PRESENTER: No, he was talking to Alan Jones on 2GB about it this morning.
PYNE: No, I’m sorry, I am not aware of it.
PRESENTER: Can I reframe the question though? Is there a broader concern in the Coalition and maybe in the community about what is being preached and the access so called hate preachers would get to young and maybe impressionable people?
PYNE: Obviously nobody would support hate preaching and the Racial Discrimination Act is there to protect everyone in the community against hatred and abuse and offence and if that is being committed by preachers they are no more immune, than anybody else in the Australian community, of community standards. We are a tolerant, multicultural, successful country of largely immigrants and therefore we have to respect each other’s backgrounds and if there are preachers who are preaching hate or violence against the state or against individuals then they should be prosecuted under the Racial Discrimination Act.
PRESENTER: Kate Ellis, shoulder to shoulder with Chris Pyne on this one?
ELLIS: Well I guess I am a little bit ahead of Chris on this one, in that I have read the article this morning. There was a story in the Herald Sun which is basically about organisations coming from overseas who aren’t listed as terrorist organisations but who come out here and are defending or promoting terrorist organisations. The Prime Minister has said that under the current laws they do not have the power to stop them entering Australia and speaking out and promoting these terrorist groups so they said that they want to act be the end of the year to introduce new rules to stop them from coming.
PRESENTER: So you think it’s a good idea?
ELLIS: Well certainly we would support - I am a bit surprised under the current laws you would think that nobody can incite violence or incite an act of terrorism, but if there is a gap there, then we said absolutely that we will work with the Government and make sure we close these things down. Freedom of speech is something that is incredibly important in Australia but I don’t think anyone wants trouble makers from overseas getting access into Australia to come and spread these sorts of stories which are only going to stir up trouble.
PRESENTER: It is moments like this that we find principles that we hold dear staring to crash against each other don’t we? Principle of free speech, principle of being able to be safe in your own country.
ELLIS: Well I think, at the risk of supporting the Prime Minister too much this morning, I don’t like to make a habit of it, but he did make the point today - it is one thing about having Australians have the freedom to say what they want to say. It is quite another thing to give people a visa and come in and stir up Australians with idiotic ideas and promoting things which are against everything we stand for.
PRESENTER: Now I want to make an assumption here. I have assumed that you are a feminist, yes?
ELLIS: Well, that’s a fair assumption.
PRESENTER: As a feminist, do you find a similar problem regarding the Burka? Do you have similar misgivings about the Burka and the Niqab because, as a Labor MP, you would be a strong supporter of multiculturalism and the freedom of people and women to wear whatever they like, but also there are many people who seem to have a reasonable grounds to believe that for some women it is a mark of oppression. That some women choose to wear it and they embrace it and they find it a joyful thing, but for other women it is a sign of oppression. So as a feminist do you find yourself conflicted over this one?
ELLIS: Well as a feminist I find it really difficult to have the likes of Cory Bernardi telling women what they can and can’t wear. I think that we should be empowering women to make those decisions for themselves, and ensuring that women are making those decisions for themselves. But some of the rubbish we have seen in the last couple of weeks – dressed up as feminist concern, from people who have never stood up for women’s rights – and that’s not what they’re doing now. I think it is a tricky issue –
PRESENTER: Would you include in that, women who have taken photos of themselves in headscarves like TV personality Jessica Rowe to show solidarity with Muslim sisters? Because Janet Albrechtsen is arguing this morning that many of those people are feel good feminists and missed the point that for many women the Burka is a symbol of oppression.
ELLIS: Well I wish it was unusual for Janet to be sounding so bitter about such things, but I think it’s a fantastic thing –
PRESENTER: She’s not being bitter. She is pointing out though that the reality that many people seem to be springing to the defence of women, the right of women to wear Burka. She is saying that it is also a symbol of oppression. For any women, they are forced to wear them.
ELLIS: Well I think what women have been doing around Australia and internationally in wearing a headscarf in solidarity is pointing out that what we have seen unfortunately in the last few weeks is that Muslim women who can be easily identified through their headscarves have been targeted in our community and elsewhere, and have been subject to awful sorts of abuse as a result of people’s fear about their religion, and what a lot of women are doing is standing up and saying, ‘hey, I can wear a headscarf too and I am going to support these women’s rights to do that’.
PRESENTER: What Albrechtsen is saying in that article is that for a more nuanced debate, she is actually saying that yes, that sort of ridiculous behaviour has gone on, but on this other side of the debate we have women who are being oppressed. Where are the feminists standing up for the Muslim women who are oppressed and are forced to wear the scarf?
ELLIS: Well I think there are a lot of examples of feminist women standing up, but I don’t think that any of these women are helped by men who have no background and have no understanding of where they are coming from trying to dictate what they should wear and why they choose to wear it. That is not the solution here.
PYNE: Well I think it is a very interesting issue and I would be - I’d ask Kate to perhaps list the examples of women standing up as feminists for Muslim women wearing the Burkas in the last couple of weeks, because I haven’t seen that. I haven’t seen any examples of it. Perhaps she should think about that while I am talking. But it is a very interesting issue, because of course for French feminists, feminists were the ones who lead the charge to ban the Niqab and the Burka in France because they saw it as a symbol of the oppression and the domination of women by men. So in fact, the French feminists saw it quite differently. It is a nuanced issue however, and Jessica Rowe’s action is not so much designed to say people should be allowed to wear the Burka, but really to say that Muslim women shouldn’t be singled out in Australia because of the horrific things we are seeing in the Middle East right now, and in fact we are committed there in a military way. And I think that is a good message to send.
PRESENTER: It would have more impact would it not if the Jessica Rowe’s and other women who pose in the headscarf had worn the full Burka because the debate isn’t really about headscarfs is it?
PYNE: Well I am seeing it in a slightly, probably a bit more like Kate, in that I see what Jessica Rowe and other women have done in wearing the headscarf as a way of saying we are a very multicultural country, very successfully so, and we don’t want the situation in the Middle East that is a bipartisan response by the Government and the Labor Party to overshadow that tolerance. That is a different debate about the wearing of the Niqab or the Burka and coming from a feminist point of view because the French feminists were the ones that lead the charge against it.
PRESENTER: But taking a selfie in a Burka is a self-defeating exercise isn’t it?
PYNE: In a practical sense it is, yes.
PRESENTER: On another topic, can you two explain your views on Ministerial Responsibility? We have a situation here in South Australia were one in five of the relevant Families SA officers is now under a cloud. What does it take to lose your job as a Minister?
PYNE: Well I don’t think Jay Weatherill will sack Jennifer Rankine because of the precarious nature of his Government, and the fact that he only won 47 per cent of the vote, and I am told that if Jennifer Rankine is sacked she’s indicated that she will not stay in the Parliament. Now that might not be true, so I am not saying it’s a fact, but I have been told that by people within the Labor Party and therefore his hands are rather tied.
PRESENTER: Kate Ellis, what do you reckon needs to be done for a Minister to lose, in this case, her job?
ELLIS: Well I think in this case Jennifer Rankine’s job is to clean up the mess that is Families SA and if that means getting to the bottom of making sure that we don’t see in future the sorts of cases we have seen in the past, if that means clearing out and cleaning out that organisation, and taking all checks to remove people who should not be in those roles, then I think that Jennifer Rankine is absolutely doing the job that we want her to do.
PRESENTER: But shouldn’t you also take responsibility for the mess which occurred under your watch?
ELLIS: Well, I mean what we don’t know at the moment is what has led to those people being stood aside, how long have those people been there, under what practices they were put into those roles. I mean the one thing that I would say is that obviously this –
PRESENTER: Well I am assuming that in the audit that we are not allowed to see; Mal Hyde’s Audit. Jennifer Rankine says ‘oh it’s not appropriate that that is released yet’ but she was no doubt reading it to the slow train to Melbourne.
ELLIS: Well, the one thing that we have seen, is that the Premier has made very clear is that they will have a Royal Commission, they will do what needs to be done to clean up this mess and to make sure that this can’t happen again and I think that’s what I want to see, that would be what Christopher would want to see, that is what everybody wants to see in the future. I mean the simple thing is there are not any easy answers here, and anyone that says that this is as simple as separating a Department or the like and all of this will be fixed are kidding themselves. This is complicated and the solutions and the expense and the answers are potentially difficult to find, and I think it’s good that the Government are opening themselves up to a Royal Commission, are saying they will do what needs to be done. That is a hard job and I hope they do it well.
PYNE: I should say that if I have been misinformed about Jennifer Rankine’s intentions, well then I apologise to her and I would withdraw, but I think Jay Weatherill’s hands are also tied a bit because he himself was the minister for Families and Community Services and so this didn’t just occur in the last year or two. This has been going on for many years and therefore he might well find himself compromised in a political sense in terms of sacking Jennifer Rankine.
PRESENTER: You haven’t had some legal advice pushed under your gaze have you Chris Pyne?
PYNE: No I just thought it was important to clear that up.
PRESENTER: Indeed. Now Chris Pyne, I know the required reading is the Southern Cross Catholic Newspaper. I notice, I don’t know if this story is out of date or not, we are having a bit of trouble getting clarity on this, but the Bishop of Port Pirie has warned the State Government that insisting on the inclusion of secular support workers in a National Chaplaincy Scheme could jeopardise 380 Christian pastoral support workers currently operating in 95 per cent of South Australian schools. The State Government had been digging in wanting also the funding that you are offering, I think it is around $30 million, to also apply to secular support workers. Now apparently on Friday they’ve…have signed on the dotted line?
PYNE: Well it is a little bit unclear. The South Australian Government had until Friday to sign up to the National School Chaplaincy Program, which the Commonwealth Government is continuing to fund which had a funding cliff at the end of this year under Labor to the tune of about $250 million. Jennifer Rankine indicated on Friday that the South Australian Labor would sign up but they also said that they, I think, reserved the right to still fund secular school councillors with this money. Now I think the arrangements with all the other states and territories have come to is that they will use the Commonwealth money to fund school chaplains and they will use their own funds to fund school councillors, and that is what will have to happen in South Australia because that is what the contract will require. They will not be able to use the money to fund school councillors, but I am very pleased that that $30 million will flow to school chaplains. That will save about 360 jobs of school chaplains and I am very pleased about that. It is a big win for the Federal Government and the schools that are concerned.
PRESENTER: Kate Ellis, what is your view on this, shouldn’t, should the Commonwealth be funding school chaplains and not secular support workers?
ELLIS: Look, my view is; sadly there is a crowded list of ridiculous policy announcements that Christopher Pyne has made and this one stars amongst it. What the Government have said is that they will continue to fund support workers in schools but only if they are directly linked to a religious organisation, they will no longer fund accredited councillors, trained welfare officers. What that means is –
PRESENTER: That will free up some State Government money I assume to do that, wouldn’t it?
ELLIS: Well, what that means is that there are 620 welfare officers in schools across Australia only right now that will lose their jobs unless Christopher changes these rules. And what the South Australian Government have said is yes they’ll sign up to get funding under this program but they have legal advice to say that they can’t discriminate based on whether someone is linked to a religion or not and nor should they have to.
PRESENTER: Chris Pyne, do they have legal advice?
PYNE: The truth is that under the Labor Party, under Kate Ellis this program was coming to an end on December 31 and 360 school chaplains in South Australia were going to lose their jobs, not to mention the 620 school councillors across Australia. So in fact Labor had not funded this program in an ongoing way, and I and the Coalition Government have saved it. Under Labor it was coming to an end.
ELLIS: Of course there would have been a Budget between now and then, wouldn’t there Christopher?
PYNE: Well you didn’t have ongoing funding past the 31st of December, so why wasn’t it in the Budget last year?
PRESENTER: But Chris Pyne if the religious chaplains aren’t allowed to make converts in the schools why can’t you have secular workers? It’s a very similar job, I mean if you take away the conversion bit, if you take out the religion bit what’s the difference?
PYNE: The program is always designed to around schools chaplains under the Howard Government. The Gillard/Rudd Governments changed the program. School councillors are properly the responsibility of the state governments or the territory governments – they should be funding school councillors. It is not something the Commonwealth should be doing, the chaplains are an addition to the Commonwealths responsibilities and we are very pleased to be able to fund them.
PRESENTER: Well Christopher Pyne, thank you for your time.
PYNE: It’s a pleasure.
PRESENTER: Local MP for Sturt, Education Minister. Kate Ellis Labor MP for Adelaide, Shadow Education Minister, thank you.
ELLIS: Thank you for having me.