20 October 2023


SUBJECTS: Middle East conflict; Voice referendum result; calls for Royal Commission; strange weddings

DEBORAH KNIGHT, HOST: It's certainly been a big week in politics. The failed Voice referendum, the war in Israel and Gaza, and as always, I'm joined by the Minister for the NDIS, Bill Shorten and the Shadow Treasurer, Angus Taylor. Fellas, thanks for joining us. I want to start with the Middle East. Now, the Prime Minister is heading to the US on Monday, and he's ruled out visiting Tel Aviv on the way. We've had the leaders of the US and Britain visit. We've had the French leader also set to visit Israel. It's a strong show of solidarity, Bill, should our Prime Minister visit as well?

BILL SHORTEN, MINISTER FOR THE NDIS AND GOVERNMENT SERVICES: Oh no, I don't believe he has to visit. I think we're demonstrating our solidarity with Israel.

KNIGHT: So, you don't believe that after the US, the UK and the French leader visiting, the fact that we have been questioned by the opposition and by others about our commitment, that a visit wouldn't be the strongest sign that you could give of our solidarity with Israel?

SHORTEN: Oh, there's many ways we can show solidarity, and I think you've gone to the heart of it. The opposition's questioning it. You know, maybe the opposition need to step up a bit and stop trying to look at every issue through the lens of pinging Anthony Albanese. Labor has expressed their solidarity with Israel. I've done it personally many times, absolutely. So, I think it's a bit of a red herring debate what the opposition just tried to fling it at the end of Question Time tomorrow – yesterday, sorry.

KNIGHT: Angus, is it a red herring?

ANGUS TAYLOR, SHADOW TREASURER: No. Absolutely not. Look, Bill, Bill may have has stood with Israel, but we've had several –

SHORTEN: I have.

TAYLOR: Hang on, hang on. Hear me out.

SHORTEN: Angus, no, no, no, don't mischaracterize my position. Because when we talk about foreign affairs and matters so important, don't say I may have…

TAYLOR: Well, you have.

SHORTEN: So just so there's no debate. Thank you.

TAYLOR: But your leader hasn’t. You have had several senior members, including Ed Husic, talk about Israel handing out collective punishment on the Palestinian people. And the Prime Minister has failed to condemn those comments, and he should. Now, you know, if he has information to suggest that that's what Israel is doing, rather than defending itself against a terrorist attack, the Prime Minister should give us that information. But of course, we haven't seen anything like that. He should condemn that, and he should stand strong with Israel, and he should visit Israel, to let them know that despite what his Ministers are saying, he is fully behind Israel in defending itself against this malicious terrorist attack.

KNIGHT: And Bill, we have seen Ed Husic the senior cabinet minister, the junior minister Anne Aly, speaking about the plight of the Palestinians, accusing Israel of, quote, collective punishment. Is there a divide within the Labor Party over this?

SHORTEN: No there's not. I think when you look at what Ed and Anne say, they condemn Hamas, but they're raising the plight of Palestinians who are caught up in this. I don't blame ordinary Palestinians for Hamas’ evil, but I certainly - 

TAYLOR: Do you accept that language of collective punishment being handed out to the Palestinian people. Do you really accept that language?

SHORTEN: I don't use that language because I think Israel has a right to defend itself.

KNIGHT: That's the language that Ed Husic has used and backed up by Anne Aly.

TAYLOR: Oh, so you condemn that language?

SHORTEN: You know what, Angus? This nation needs a little better than the semantics. You know, you must condemn Ed Husic… Is that the best you've got on this debate?

TAYLOR: That's not –

SHORTEN: You know, I think the Liberals – no, let me go now. I think the Liberal Party needs to grow up here. You know that the government is supporting Israel. You know it. You know it. You also know that ordinary Palestinians –

TAYLOR: But the Prime Minister won't go to Israel.

SHORTEN: - and when you've finished interrupting, why don't you let me get my point out?

KNIGHT: You all make your point, Bill. And then, Angus, you have your say.

SHORTEN: I think the opposition is actually letting the country down here at the moment. The real issue here is that Israel was the victim of a shocking atrocity, and no previous complaints about the failures of Palestinian-Israeli relations justifies what Hamas did. These people are evil and psychotic, and they want to - they don't care how many ordinary Palestinians they martyr. But it is okay for members of Parliament to say, as people in the community say, that we want to see international laws observed. Democracies have to - we don't, I mean, I'm so fortunate. We are so fortunate that we don't have some of the neighbours that Israel has. But, you know, I think the opposition need to recognize what do we agree on here? We agree that Israel has a right to defend itself. We agree that a lot of the anti-Israel case is fuelled by that deep, you know, evil of anti-Semitism. But there's ordinary Palestinians who are affectively human shields for Hamas, and we all want to make sure that they can be as safe as they can.

KNIGHT: And Angus, your response?

TAYLOR: That's not the point. If I may respond, Deb, that is not the point, Bill. The point is, you've had two ministers in the government talk about Israel handing out collective punishment to the Palestinian people. There is no evidence that they've done that. None whatsoever. If the government has evidence of that, they should bring it forward and those comments should be condemned. And frankly, the Prime Minister should go to Israel and give his unequivocal support for them to defend themselves against this absolutely disgraceful, as you rightly say, this absolutely disgraceful terrorist attack.

KNIGHT: And, Bill, do you support Ed Husic's call to light up the monuments in Sydney, like the Opera House in the colours of the Palestinian flag, because of the number of innocent Palestinian civilians who have been killed in Gaza.

SHORTEN: I haven't thought about that issue.

KNIGHT: Well, I'm asking you to think about it. What do you think?

SHORTEN: Okay, I will. I'll get back to you. I'm not going to – see, what we're getting here is a debate, which I think is, you know, who's going to be the strongest virtue signaller to particular groups. I'm not interested in that. I am genuinely interested in making sure that this shocking catastrophe, this act of evil on October the 7th, is resolved as quickly as it can with the least possible harm to anyone. But Hamas took that, you know, Hamas took a whole lot of sensible, just took common sense out the window by their bizarre act of butchery. But I think it's important that in the Australian political scene, we're trying to encourage the social cohesion here. And it comes on the main parties. I don't expect the Greens to do it. They're just they just consign themselves to just being, you know, sort of cheerleaders for stupid resolutions. But the opposition and the government need to just stop trying to pin each other down on who said what, when and condemn this and condemn that. Look, it's more important than this, Angus.

TAYLOR: Well, exactly. That is exactly right. It is important. And that's why the words of senior ministers and they are inflammatory words, they should be condemned.

KNIGHT: All right. I want to touch on some other issues today. Of course, it was this time last week that we were heading to the polls for the failed Voice referendum. How disappointed are you, Bill, at the resounding loss?

SHORTEN: I accept it, I'm disappointed for a lot of Aboriginal Australians who wanted it. But, you know, this is the mechanism and the people have spoken. So, I'm disappointed for - I don't want Australians of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander heritage to feel rejected, so I worry about them. I feel sad for those people who, you know, pin their hopes in this. But having said that, this is our democracy, and this is the process, and a very clear majority of people didn't think it was the right way to go. So, that's sad. The people have spoken.

KNIGHT: And Angus, do you think we'll ever see a referendum again in this country? Because even Peter Dutton backtracked from the previous statement that he would have a referendum if he won the election, on indigenous recognition.

TAYLOR: Well, it's very clear that Labor and others don't want a referendum that's specifically on recognition. So, I don't think that's likely to proceed any time soon, no. But look, this proposal and the process should have been designed to unite Australia and instead it didn't. It divided us and the Australian people have condemned it. And that is, as Bill rightly said, that's the outcome. Now we've got to focus on the local issues and improving the lives of those disadvantaged Indigenous Australians and then getting back, perhaps most importantly of all, to the cost-of-living crisis that's bearing down on Australian families. And I think that was a big part of the rejection here. We have a government that's distracted and is not prioritising those issues that are the top priority for Australian families.

KNIGHT: We've had the Coalition Senator Jacinta Price call for a Royal Commission into Child Sexual Abuse in Indigenous Communities. Bill, why won't Labor back it?

SHORTEN: Because just about all of the bodies who work in protecting women and children in Aboriginal communities have said that's not what they want. They want a Children's Commissioner. So again, I guess it goes down to - I mean, Jacinta is entitled to her opinion, anyone is. But when we look at ideas, you go to the people with the lived experience of working on the front line.

KNIGHT: Well, she's got lived experience. She's lived in the NT. Surely, she's got as much experience as any person.

SHORTEN: Well, actually, there's other people who work on this day to day as well. And one person's opinion is not more important than another's. If you go to all the peak bodies, and I've been reading what they've been saying in the last few days, they don't see that as the path they want to go down. They would like other approaches to improve the position of women and children.

KNIGHT: Okay. And Angus, with the money and time that a Royal Commission would take be better spent on fixing the problems on the ground as many of these indigenous groups have said?

TAYLOR: Well, we do need to fix the problems on the ground, and this is one of the biggest problems as Jacinta has pointed out, and that's why it deserves a Royal Commission. You know, look, the peaks, we've been listening to the big end of town a lot over the last six months. Actually, I think it's time to start listening to the people on the ground. And Jacinta is one of those people, and - hear me out, Bill. And these are incredibly difficult issues. They're really confronting issues. And I think, frankly, without something of the profile of a Royal Commission, I just don't think we're going to get to the bottom of it now. You know, Labor has been pressuring us for a long time to say, what's the way forward? Well, we’ve the week after this referendum said this is a really crucial part of it. They've rejected it. And the Prime Minister himself has refused to talk about what the what Labor's pathway forward is. I think this is the right answer.

KNIGHT: All right. Now I want to end on something a bit fun, as we do every week now. Barnaby Joyce and his partner Vikki Campion revealed their plans for a bush bash wedding next month on the family property, reportedly told guests to BYO ute and swag. So, a wedding with a difference. What's the strangest wedding you've ever been to? Somewhere where you might have had to BYO swag. Bill?

SHORTEN: I used to go to a few more unusual weddings in my youth. You know, when you had friends who were at uni and they sort of got married relatively young, they didn't always have budgets, so I do remember going to one wedding where it was a Dungeons and Dragons theme. That was surreal.

KNIGHT: Dress up cosplay, nothing better.

SHORTEN: Yeah… there's a lot better than that. And another time, sometimes some brides, of course it's very important how they dress the bridesmaids. But I remember one time, the four bridesmaids came sort of effectively dressed as milkmaids, and I didn't know if it was more like a proof of life video from this side, you know, send us a signal. Ridiculous. But anyway…

KNIGHT: What about you, Angus?

TAYLOR: Well, I have to say, Deb, I don't think what Barnaby and Vikki are doing is all that strange, because I've got an admission to make here on your show.

KNIGHT: Are you going?

TAYLOR: No, no, no. Our wedding, my wedding was as the same way.

KNIGHT: BYO swag. You're the agenda setter.

TAYLOR: Stayed in the shearers quarters because it was down at the grand metropolis of Nimmitabel and there wasn't enough motel accommodation, even if people wanted it. So, people slept wherever they could.

KNIGHT: Whatever it takes.

TAYLOR: A good country wedding.

KNIGHT: A good country shindig. Yeah, well, you're the trendsetter as always, Angus. And good to talk to you, Bill. Thanks, both of you for joining us.

SHORTEN: Good on you.

TAYLOR: No worries.

KNIGHT: Angus Taylor, Bill Shorten for our regular dose of Question Time.