13 October 2023

Violence in the Middle East; protests in Sydney; the Voice referendum; reality TV
DEBORAH KNIGHT, HOST: And we have a lot to cover with our pollies today. Unspeakable tragedy, of course, in the Middle East, The last-minute push from both the yes and no sides ahead of the referendum tomorrow. Bill Shorten, the Minister for the NDIS, and Angus Taylor, the shadow treasurer, are both with me now. Welcome to you both as always.



KNIGHT: Before we get into the issues, I want to ask you, Angus, you're almost finished with the pollie pedal. You've been hard at it, the big fundraiser. How are the legs?

TAYLOR: Well, there's not much left, Deb. 900km or so into it. A week in and there's not much there, but a great cause. We're supporting our Special forces veterans this year, which is fantastic, and a number of them riding with us. And I have a new respect for them. They're pretty tough. They're pretty tough. So, but it's been a good ride. 

KNIGHT: Yeah, we'll put a link to donate on our social media as well, and on my Facebook page just so people can help you out, because it's a fantastic cause and well done to you for the pollie pedal. Another year raising much needed funds. Now let's get into the very heavy news that we are facing at the moment, Israel, and Palestine. And what's happening is horrific, unspeakable atrocities, innocent lives lost. We've got the first repatriation flight for Australians leaving today for London, and Qantas will bring home people from London, the first flights leaving on Tuesday. Bill, what help, if any, can Australia provide and have you have you got any information on request directly from Israel?

SHORTEN: First thing is to, as I've already done this week, I personally, but I know the government, absolutely condemns these acts of savage evil by Hamas. It is shocking. And we're seeing on YouTube and modern images, stuff which honestly used to be in black and white reels from World War 2 in terms of the way Jewish people are being treated. In terms of what we're doing. I can say that we've secured assisted departure flights for Australians who want to leave both Palestinian territories and Israel. The first of two flights operated by Qantas from Tel Aviv will take off today, and subject to the necessary security clearances, we've got a government organised charter which will fly Australians who want to leave to another regional hub. We've got phone numbers that people can ring. My team at Services Australia are helping the back-office function of DFAT. We know that we've received hundreds of calls, so there is flights and there is crisis, there's a DFAT crisis portal. People who want to leave already and don't have plans to depart should register via DFAT’s crisis portal, or there's a 24-hour consular emergency centre number, which we can give you to put up on your social media. So, there are things which we can do, and we are doing.

KNIGHT: And what about Australians who are also trapped in Gaza because there are Australians there living in fear? No food, no water, no power, and there's no humanitarian corridor for people to get safely out of Gaza. What are we doing to help them?

SHORTEN: Look, there's no way to get out. That is a challenge. But what we are saying. So, all my remarks about the crisis portal and the numbers phone numbers we’ll give you social media, as I think I mentioned in my opening remark, apply to people both in the Palestinian territory and in Israel. I know DFAT is working with regional authorities to do whatever we can to try and help facilitate that, but it's a diabolical situation for everyday Palestinians. But Hamas, I have to say, are their actions show they don't give a stuff for everyday Palestinians, just like they didn't give a stuff for everyday Israelis. What they did, they might say that the Palestinians are martyrs, but I think what Hamas is doing is they don't care what the body count is, and the harm is, because they have a way of thinking which is so repugnant and evil that most of us just can't even wrap our heads around it. It's extraordinary. It's just evil.

KNIGHT: It's sickening. That's exactly what it is. And look, you're to be congratulated, Bill, on being as decisive and acting and speaking out as quickly as you have against Hamas. But, Angus, there's been criticism directed at the Prime Minister by Peter Dutton, saying that the Prime Minister, Anthony Albanese, should have acted more swiftly and spoken out more swiftly. And we've also got ASIO warning about opportunistic violence on all sides. Do you think, Angus, that we need to tone down a bit of the rhetoric here in light of that warning from ASIO?

TAYLOR: Well, Deb, I mean, what we've seen here, as Bill rightly said, was a malicious act of terrorism and you can't expect people to be toned down in condemning a malicious act of terrorism, which it clearly was. And I mean, unspeakable sights that we have, we have heard about that have been confirmed. We've had we've had journalists say these things are not true and it's been proven otherwise. Beheading of babies, I mean, this this stuff is just next level. So, to expect people to be restrained in their condemnation of that, I think is unrealistic. And I think we all need to be very clear about condemning it. We have seen people who are talking about some kind of moral equivalence between these Palestinian terrorists and Israel. I just can't accept that for a second. And I don't think Bill accepted that in his comments a moment ago. 

SHORTEN: No, I don't, no. 

TAYLOR: But we have seen people like Andrew Barr hold out, you know, ACT Labor leader, hold out that there is some kind of moral equivalence. Well, there's just not. There's just not. And we all need to condemn what is going on here, and we should ask others to do the same.

KNIGHT: And what about for the protests that we've seen already, the anti-Semitic hate being spewed, and the Israeli flag being burned on the steps of the Opera House on Monday night? There is another pro-Palestine rally taking place in Sydney on Sunday at Hyde Park, and the organisers of that rally have admitted that while they want it to be peaceful, they've got absolutely no control about who comes and what they do. Police have been very strong, saying that they will use special powers that were brought in after the Cronulla riots to stop and search people. Should we allow these sorts of protests to go ahead, Bill?

SHORTEN: Hmm. I just want to take up one point that Angus said, but I really specifically answer your question. I think Australian political leaders, by all means, let's condemn Hamas because they deserve that. And I agree that this is not a case, that somehow everyone is as bad as each other in the Middle East, and somehow Israel's actions somehow justifies the shocking barbarity, which should be confined to newsreels of World War Two. But I do think we've got to recognize social cohesion. There'll be a lot of people out there suffering, people of Israeli heritage, but also Palestinian heritage. I distinguish Hamas from everyday Palestinians. And what I would just say, though, is when you're making a case for your argument, you've got to make sure that it doesn't get hijacked or contaminated by people who are just plainly anti-Semitic or cheering terrorism.

KNIGHT: Do you think that's what's happened with Peter Dutton's comments?

SHORTEN: No, I think - listen, I think Mr. Dutton can afford to just tone it down a bit. Not about condemning Hamas, but I do think - anyway, it's on him. Listen, he's not going to take my advice, but I'd having been an Opposition Leader in times of national emergency although this is unique and shocking. I think Australians expect us to try and pull together. I think the Prime Minister at every stage has been doing things exactly right. I know the Australians of Jewish heritage community leaders are grateful and respect the commitment of the government and also the opposition. But I also recognise here that when it comes to protest, people have a right to protest. But in the face, I do not know why you would want to attend a protest which could be hijacked by people celebrating the wanton butchery of babies, of thousands of people, indeed, bringing on retaliatory action against ordinary Palestinians who are being used as human shields by the gangster murdocracy of the of the Hamas regime.

KNIGHT: Yeah. And that's the concern and that's what we saw - 

SHORTEN: Well, that’s the message.

KNIGHT: That's what we saw on Monday night. We saw this, this celebration. In light of that, Angus, should we allow the protest to happen on Sunday? Because the organisers on Monday night said, yep, it'll be peaceful. And then it was hijacked. It's proven, actions have proven, that these groups can't be controlled. So why should this protest be allowed on Sunday at Hyde Park? Angus?

TAYLOR: Well, we are a democracy, and we have freedom to protest. But Deb, here's the issue. Hate speech, incitement of violence is completely unacceptable. And the language we saw, the burning of the Israeli flag, 

KNIGHT: But we've seen no action against those who've done it. Not a zip.

TAYLOR: And this is the point I'm making, is that when we see that kind of behaviour and that kind of language being used, I think they're crossing the line. There's no doubt about that. And I think that needs to be dealt with appropriately. Now, I don't have the intelligence on what's intended for this weekend, but that kind of behaviour is completely unacceptable, and I'm sure Bill agrees with that.

SHORTEN: Yeah, I think Chris Minns has been pretty clear. You know, this is - we're in unchartered territory. Last Saturday in Israel was the greatest loss of Jewish life on one day since World War Two. Whilst there are legitimate debates about Palestine and Israel and the path towards a two-state solution, Hamas isn't interested in that. And they don't accept the right of Israel to exist. But the point is, no cause can be justified by these actions. Sure, the Middle East is a very complex place. We know that there's a lot of age-old disputes. There's a lot of hurt, rights and wrongs. But some matters are of such clear moral clarity that there is no ambiguity. And I do not understand, in the shadow and aftermath of this dreadful violence, why people would want to just assemble, to chant ugly slogans and give, in part succour to let hide in the nest of the rally, a strand of 2000 year old anti-Semitism, which is in part what drives some of this. Not all of it, but it does drive some of it. And it's evil. 

KNIGHT: Yeah. Well said. Now I want to talk about The Voice. Obviously, the referendum tomorrow. And regardless of the result, when we wake up on Sunday morning, Angus, where will we be left as a nation? Because the polls indicate that the no vote is going to win, and overwhelmingly so. Where do we where do we go from here if that's the case? Angus.

TAYLOR: Well, I don't think we should get ahead of ourselves here, Deb. People have got to get out there and vote. And I strongly encourage everyone listening today to get out there. If they haven't already voted, make sure they do. It's incredibly important. I think this is a very significant vote. It is true that Australians see it as a relatively low priority compared to the cost-of-living crisis and the international situation we're seeing right now. There are big issues, and we shouldn't be distracted from the importance of those issues. But this is a permanent change to our Constitution. I, of course, as I've said many times, I think it's one that has a great deal of uncertainty around it, and I think it is divisive. But most importantly, everyone's got to have their say so. So, let's get out there and vote when we obviously see the outcome of that, then is the right time to be talking about where we go from here. But I'll tell you, the one thing I think everyone is committed to is improving Indigenous disadvantage on the ground at that local level, and that that has to be the task. It's always been the task. It's unbelievably hard work. It's not a change in the Constitution that's going to fix that. It's the hard work on the ground that will fix that, and that's what's required.

KNIGHT: And what do you say to Indigenous Australians, Bill, if the no vote wins on and we wake up on Sunday morning to that result? Is the hope of closing the gap out the window?

SHORTEN: Well, I don't want to talk about hypotheticals. What I will say to not just Indigenous Australians, but all Australians, the people in my communities and the people who talk to me, is that the people have cast a verdict, and all must accept it. I hope that the next day and a half we just keep civil. We see, you know, that we just - on Sunday our system will have given an answer. So, we've all got to accept that verdict, whether or not the recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders in modern Australia's birth certificate and acceptance of their request from Uluru, many Aboriginal leaders that this was the right way to go to help improve things, whatever people finally decide, we'll have to accept that. But I know the Prime Minister, he's, you know, shown his values, his commitment. We'll do whatever we can to improve. But Uluru Voice was a suggestion from hundreds, a unanimous suggestion from hundreds of Aboriginal leaders from all around Australia, to us. And that's why I supported going into the Constitution. But I get cost of living is a giant issue as Angus says, a lot of people aren't engaged. Some people are very engaged. A lot of people aren't engaged at all. So, you know what I say to Aboriginal people is, I'm always going to fight for you and stand up for you and support you. But we've had a process and Australians have decided they did or didn't want to change the constitution. And I would recommend, to the extent that this is free advice to the yes and no camp, I guess advice is worth what you pay for, we just accept it. People have cast their view and we'll have to look elsewhere for what we can do. And I know the Labor government won't give up standing up for people, but this avenue, this particular option, will or won't be alive after a Saturday night. 

KNIGHT: All right. Well, we can look at the analysis of the result when we talk again next week. Now to end on something a bit lighter, as we do every week, we'll be catching up with our resident vet, Dr. Kate Adams, in the next hour for pet health. And she is one of the stars on The Real Housewives of Sydney, which is a guilty pleasure for a lot of people. So, I wanted to hear from you, confession time. What are your reality TV guilty pleasures? Is The Real Housewives your thing, or are you more into MAFS or The Bachelor? Angus?

TAYLOR: Well, I've watched a few bits and pieces of The Bachelor, but I've got to say, particularly when I'm on a week here with Special Forces veterans and serving military, SAS Australia is the one for me just at the moment. I understand there's a new series just starting now, but and you know, we're supporting the Wandering Warriors this week, which as I said, is a Special Forces veteran charity and particularly focuses on education for these people coming out of, out of the Special Forces. But it's a hell of a life these people lead and most importantly, incredible service they give to our country.

KNIGHT: Yeah. They're tough, I tell you. Incredible. What about you, Bill?

SHORTEN: Oh, the Hollowmen.

KNIGHT: Oh, the Hollowmen. You like a bit of - 

TAYLOR: That’s reality TV, isn't it?

SHORTEN: It's pretty close to reality.

KNIGHT: That is totally reality. Yeah, comedy about the bureaucracy and politics. But it's the truth.

SHORTEN: I mean, you know sometimes though, I've watched episodes of The Office and I thought, oh, my Lord, I've met those people. But sometimes it's uncomfortably close to - it's humour, bordering on painful. So…

KNIGHT: It’s like Utopia as well. When you watch that 

SHORTEN: Utopia. And the one thing I was disappointed to discover is that Ted Lasso is not real.

KNIGHT: Believe. Believe, Bill. You can believe.

SHORTEN: I just, I got positively upset as it approached the last episode. I got quite anxious because I just want to believe that world is there.

KNIGHT: Yeah, well, it's in your heart.

SHORTEN: Like West Wing. That's a fairy tale.

KNIGHT: They speak too quickly. I can't understand what they say in the West Wing. Fellas, always good to talk. We'll catch up again next week. 

TAYLOR: Yeah, excellent.

SHORTEN: Good on you.

KNIGHT: Angus Taylor, Bill Shorten for our weekly edition of Question Time here on afternoons with Deb Knight.