Diversity, Double Standards and Aussies Trapped Abroad | Q+A

Diversity, Double Standards and Aussies Trapped Abroad | Q+A

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Thousands of Australians are stuck in India and our hotel quarantine system is under strain, so how do we keep Australia safe and bring those stranded home? Welcome to Q+A. Hello there and welcome to the program. Joining me on the panel tonight, director of the Power and Diplomacy Program at the Lowy Institute Herve Lemahieu, the Nationals Senate leader Bridget McKenzie, performer, advocate and all-round superstar Courtney Act... Oh, thank you. ..Shadow Minister for Health and Ageing Mark Butler and communications consultant Parnell Palme McGuinness.

Would you please make all of them feel welcome? You can stream us on iview and all the socials. #QandA is the hashtag. Please do keep it respectful. Our first question comes from Federico Higuchi.

It has now been over a year since the pandemic started. Why has the federal government not taken leadership and ownership of the quarantine situation by coordinating agencies such as the Australian Border Force, the Australian Department of Home Affairs and Department of Health to create a unified and... ..a unified approach and find a real solution to the quarantine issue? Mark Butler? Well, it's a very good question. Quarantine is unambiguously a Commonwealth responsibility, it has been for more than 100 years. And ironically, I can't remember a politician who made more of his boast of securing our borders than former Immigration Minister Scott Morrison.

But he has continually duck-shoved the question of national quarantine during a pandemic to state governments. For months and months now, he has had a very clear report and, more recently, advice from the Australian Medical Association and many others that we need a couple of things. We need dedicated facilities built outside of our CBDs and they should be supported by the Commonwealth. And to the extent we need to continue to use hotel quarantines in facilities, after all - I think it's bleedingly obvious - built for tourism, not medical quarantine. There must be national standards imposed and supported by the Commonwealth.

Standards around things like the use of personal protective equipment, ensuring that all staff working in those hotels are vaccinated - and still, I think shockingly, they're not - and, very importantly, national standards around ventilation. We've seen 14 outbreaks of COVID in the last several months in hotel quarantine, paralysing all of our major cities on the...on the mainland, most recently the long weekend in Perth, where we saw businesses lose millions and millions of dollars, veterans not able to gather on Anzac Day and workers losing substantial wages. So, it's beyond time for the Prime Minister to recognise this is his job, he's failing at it and we need a safe national quarantine system. Bridget McKenzie? Yeah, that's a really cute answer by Mark, but the reality is, 13 months ago, we have a historic grouping of premiers and the Commonwealth coming together as one nation to actually deal with the pandemic.

And in March last year, they all made a decision as sovereign entities in this country that the state governments would take control of the quarantine system in this country. Now, they made that as a collective for the common good for our nation. And every single premier, hand on heart, took that on board. Now, some have been really good at it, some have not been good at it, some have ignored recommendations from their own independent review, such as the Western Australian government, who knew that the ventilation of the Mercure Hotel was not up to scratch, and yet they used it anyway. The Victorian government, where I live, chose to back their union mates with the security sys...security firms they used rather than making sure they were wearing PPE and were actually appropriately trained.

Now, I agree with Mark. I've been calling since July last year for a nationally consistent framework to quarantine rather than having seven jurisdictions doing it differently. That is a very different thing to the Commonwealth overriding a decision of the National Cabinet, which was all premiers made together. One thing that I think the viewers and everyone here needs to be reminded is that our quarantine system has been highly successful despite some of the failures - 99.9% successful.

So we're getting people in, we're putting them in quarantine. We've had very little incursions out into the community, when you look at the numbers broadly. And I think it's great news that the federal government has built...is investing in the Howard Springs facility out of Darwin and increasing that from... ..I think it's 850 to 2,000 a fortnight. And that's going to be really exciting to be able to get more Australians home into that facility. Senator, though, the Jane Halton review conducted into hotel quarantine was handed down in October of last year.

It recommended a national quarantine facility with surge capacity for exactly an instance like this - Australians stuck elsewhere, having to bring them back in urgently. Why didn't we act on that? Well, you're seeing the Howard Springs announcement this week. We're going to 2,000... This week. This was six months ago. Well, this is the surge... This was October last year.

This is the surge capacity that's been spoken about. I mean, to think that we've had New South Wales, in this state, has done the heavy lifting of the quarantine of the nation. We want to bring more Australians home. The restricting and limiting factor on that happening is the premiers reporting to the Commonwealth what their quarantine capacity is.

So, if McGowan wants more people home, which he doesn't, he actually said this week. Is that true, Mark Butler? McGowan actually said this week, "We don't want any more back here." They don't want to be bringing people from high-risk countries.

Well, what state governments have said is that they agreed to step into the breach last year when there was an emergency situation that required some stop-gap quarantine measures, but that's not a long-term solution. As Jane Halton's report has made clear, as the AMA and many other experts have made clear, we need purpose-built dedicated facilities, and they should be supported or funded by the Commonwealth. Now, yes, there's Howard Springs in the Northern Territory, but we need them around our major cities as well. There have been proposals in Queensland and in Victoria, I suspect there will be one coming in Western Australia, where they need Commonwealth support so that they're close to airports.

The one in Victoria that was announced today would be relatively close to airports, close to hospital facilities and take the pressure off our CBD hotel system 'cause, I'll say it again, these are not built for medical quarantine, they're built for tourism. Courtney, you've been in one of these... I have. ..hotel quarantine facilities.

Do you think they're the right approach? Do you think that there should be a national quarantine facility? I think there definitely should be a national quarantine facility. It just makes sense. When you've got all of these people in metropolitan areas, we do see what can happen. And although they have been extremely effective, there's just no need to extend the risk any further.

We can have a facility that is out of the CBD area that...that people can go to and we won't have that risk. It just makes sense. And it doesn't make sense that we... ..it has taken so long for even Howard Springs to have extra capacity added.

Like you said, it was in October. Like, we're trying to move at a fast pace here because people are dying overseas. And people...there's many Australians trying to get home all around the world. And it's...it's...it's not just like a casual, like,

"Well, I want to come home to Australia," they're stuck in the middle of the eye of the pandemic. And we need to be compassionate to those Australians and give them as fast an entry as possible. Alright. Let's take our next question. It comes from Farida Alvi in our studio audience.

Last week, I lost my brother, who was a doctor, and he was serving homeless patients... ..and extremely...people extremely under poverty, he was helping those people. This is in India, right? This is in India, in Delhi. In Delhi.

He passed away due to the shortage of beds and oxygen in the hospitals. Mismanagement of essential needs has taken his life. The government there is in denial and even is blocking the social media in these issues. Now, the growing crisis in India is... Like, our Australians are there, and then we are worried about them, how to bring them back here.

With the conditions there worsening, the crisis there growing, I'm worried about our Australian fellows and trying to get them home back to Australia. All I want to know is why is the Australian government not doing anything and bringing them back? I had some answers from you, but still not very satisfying. Before we go to them, I'm really sorry to hear of your loss. Your brother was a doctor working with some of the hardest... Homeless patients. ..hit by this. Night after night he used to go to the places where these, you know, homeless people are and he used to visit individually.

And he was working in the COVID clinic where he got... And what's it like for you watching this from afar, seeing all of this unfold... Yes, yes. ..having it touch your family? It's very devastating and it's really heartbreaking. And it's like... I just can't explain.

Parnell? I'm so sorry... I don't want, like, my Australian fellows, you know, not...to go into all these situations. And they should be brought home as soon as possible because the crises are growing. We don't know what's...

And they say the peak has not come yet because... So it's going to get worse. Parnell? Hi. I'm so, so sorry to hear about your brother. And I agree - I think we need to bring people home as quickly as we can.

I think it's so important for the Australian government to say, "These are our residents, these are our citizens, "and they're in trouble and we need to help them come home." And I think it's devastating that flights have been cut rather than increased lately, partly because hotel quarantine has been so effective here that we actually could say we can bring people in. Our hotels at the moment are at 50% occupancy. There is no reason why a city like New South Wales, which has handled these...

..which has handled hotel quarantine very well, couldn't take in those people, why other states couldn't copy that hotel quarantine approach and also take people. I'm glad that they're bringing Howard Springs online, I'm glad that there are other facilities being built, but we have facilities right now who can help people, and they need to be helped. You know, there was a... But this is also a decision about cutting off flights, right? Right, and it's... Which is just unconscionable. I mean, so they're flying supplies to make vaccine and to provide oxygen to India and the planes are coming back empty.

They need to be coming back filled with people. They need to be coming back filled with people who need help, who can be put in the facilities which exist right now and treated. And why we are not doing that is politics. It's down to pure politics. It was... And I frankly don't care whether this is politics at a state level or politics at a federal level. They've got to stop playing politics and sort this out because this is Australian citizens.

They have a right to come home and they need our help. Doesn't the federal government, Bridget, have to stop...? (APPLAUSE) Doesn't the federal government have to stop pointing the finger at the states and find a way to get these people home? Well, I think there's a couple of issues.

And I just want to say deepest sympathies to you and your broader family. I think we're all watching what's happening in India with great concern. And it's a tragedy, and that's not just if you're from the Indian community. Your brother was on the front line. We're not just sending oxygen, we're sending PPE, we're sending ventilators, we're sending a whole lot of practical support on the ground to help India through this crisis.

We're also obviously going to remove this temporary ban as soon as possible, and the Prime Minister's made that very, very clear. But why are these planes going and coming back empty? It was actually... Why are they coming back empty? It was actually instigated on medical advice. And it's not the first time we've put a temporary ban on flights as a nation. This is a very high-risk area, and the government's made that decision based on medical advice. We can't sort of say it's OK to take the medical advice in some examples and not in others.

COURTNEY ACT: But we didn't make those bans... So, we're being consistent, and I hope that, come May 15, we can actually get people on planes and get them home and get them into the expanded facilities at Howard Springs so that we can do exactly what we all want, is get those citizens home safely. We didn't make those bans when there were similar numbers in the UK and the US. That's the peculiar thing, is that we've seen these high figures in these countries before and we haven't banned travel to Australia, so... Well, there's a number of examples where we have, and we take the advice of our medical professionals, as we should.

Herve, do you think the Australian government has an obligation to be doing more immediately to actually get these Australian nationals home? Yeah, look, I think it's a tough call. Not an easy judgement to make. I can see the arguments on both sides, but I would have gone the other way. I think we have a humanitarian responsibility here towards our citizens, towards permanent residents abroad. And we could have, I think...

We're sometimes a little bit too precious in the way that we see our responsibilities in what is really a global pandemic, a global disaster. I'm also similarly frustrated. On the one hand, in awe of the achievements that Australia has created in terms of setting up what was, at the time, the most effective quarantine system in the world. That was a real policy innovation, but we haven't seen much innovation since then and we haven't seen the capacity to surge when we have emergencies like this.

So, I would look at this from the perspective of those involved, those stranded abroad, also those within the system, because it takes a huge emotional, physical, financial toll on them. And I think we can also free up capacity by perhaps having another look at some green lists - which countries offer the lowest risks to us. Could we, for example, institute something that the UK has experimented with? And it seems to have implemented that rather effectively in the last few weeks, which is the first 10 days in hotel quarantine, followed by two tests. If you're still negative, you finish your quarantine from home. But we've got to get the state premiers to agree to it.

This is the problem. Oh, well... Like, we've got some premiers that are happy to take the heavy lifting, like the New South Wales premier. And we've got other premiers shutting their whole state down for one case. But Victoria's proposed quarantine facility, do you support that - the national one? Well, I would propose, actually... That actually is either an admission that their own system has failed...

We had over 800 Victorians die as a result of the mismanagement of the quarantine system. Just want to be clear, though - do you support this proposal or not? No, I would support. We've got empty hotels ready and waiting to be filled with Australians coming home. Hotels are not a long-term solution. I'm sorry, you can actually... The AMA says that. Every expert says that.

It's 99.9% effective. Hotels are not a long-term solution. The stats bear it out. They're not a long-term solution. Every expert has said that, including the advisers to the federal government. And I think, until we get a range of those large quarantine facilities scattered around the country, we can't just rely upon one in the Northern Territory. So, how many would Labor...?

We're going to continue to have these hotel outbreaks. If you were in charge, how many would you have? How many national facilities? Well, certainly... Certainly, I would be thinking about them in the major states and, look, I don't have the planning resources available to me, but that's what we've done in the past. The Commonwealth has run quarantine facilities in all major states for decades upon decades.

Can I just agree with Bridget, though, that the decision taken to pause flights from India was taken on medical advice. Now, I wish we had better quarantine facilities in place and did not have to take that decision, but we are where we are. PARNELL: But the medical advice... And the scale...

And the scale of the crisis in India is jaw-droppingly bad. Like, it is jaw-droppingly bad, so we do need to make that period work, build something that allows us to get back the 9,000 people who are wanting to come home from India, but recognise also that that's only one small part of the crisis. Just want to bring in... This is... ..Amar Singh, who represents Turbans 4 Australia, which is an incredible charity organisation and community group.

How many people have you heard from today, or groups of people have you heard from today, wanting to get people back from India? I've been working with people for the last 12 months trying to get back home, so it's not just today. But just this morning, what was the number of calls you got? Oh, mate, I counted hundreds in the last week - messages, WhatsApp, people saying, "You know, can you please help us? "This is a petition. These are videos. "What can we do?" I mean, I'm a small community leader, if I can call myself that, but people look up to me and say, "Can you please raise these issues?" These people have no voice. They're stuck. They're Australians. And we urge the government to help them.

And what are you getting from the government when you reflect these views? Pretty much nothing. You know, we haven't had any answers. I mean, we should have done more when the quarantine... ..when COVID was better here in Australia. And these people deserve to be home. You've got young people separated from their parents. People are suffering financially, you know, mentally. Relationships are at stake.

Young kids don't want to talk to their parents because they're not coming home. What do you tell a five-year-old saying, you know, "I see planes every day. Why isn't my dad coming home?" So, a lot of people are suffering and they have no way of getting here. Financial constraint of people. I know many people who've jumped onto flights or agents trying to book a flight back home and they're losing money left, right and centre.

And am I right in saying that there's some fear amongst the Australian-Indian community about speaking out publicly about this stuff? People with visa situations are concerned that if they go public. Why is that? Because there's many things. I mean, we come from a Third World country.

Let's be open about it. I've been here 20 years, but I know how the system works there. Even I could be picked up. I mean, Twitter has been asked to take down anti-government posts in India, so people are fearful because they live in a system now where the police could be harassing them or their families, and this is how the nature of the thing works. Parnell, do you have a view as to how the government should be responding differently to people like those Amar is describing? Well, as I say, I think we should be bringing people back. I think that the entire attitude that we can eliminate risk entirely, whether it is coming from health professionals or from politicians, it is just wrongheaded.

We can never eliminate risk entirely, and we have been trying for some reason. Instead of flattening the curve, we ended up with this complete elimination strategy, which is not going to work long term. Doesn't matter how many quarantine facilities we have in Howard Springs and anywhere else around the country - risk is not going to go away, so we need to start figuring out how we can deal with situations like this, respond to them in a humanitarian way, but also accept the fact that life is going to have to go on and we are never going to be completely risk-free. And if that means politicians biting the bullet and understanding that they have to start taking some leadership rather than hiding behind health professionals, then I say so be it. (LAUGHS)

OK, let's take our next question. It's a video from Leonie Rogers. (APPLAUSE) We've seen another leak from hotel quarantine this week. It put two states at risk. There have been questions raised regarding the appropriateness of overseas travel during a pandemic, and our vaccine rollout has stalled for a variety of reasons. Yet our Olympic athletes - a group potentially at a much lower risk from COVID-19 - have been prioritised for both vaccination and overseas travel.

Is this not the height of governmental hypocrisy? Herve? Look, I don't see why we can't walk and chew gum at the same time, frankly. I don't know why, you know, we've had as many delays on the vaccine rollout, but I also understand that, if you're going to send a contingent of 2,500 athletes to represent Australia, that you have some sort of responsibility towards their welfare and safety as well, as well as Japan, the hosts here. I mean, they're having to receive thousands of athletes from all across the world. Imagine if we had to do likewise and deal with the risks ourselves.

At the very minimum, we'd want to have those athletes inoculated against COVID, so... But that's not to say that we... ..that that should interrupt the vaccine program. The athletes only go out, I think, in July. Hopefully, by July, at least the group 1a - the priority group - has been fully, fully inoculated. And if there aren't, I don't think it will be as a result of the Olympics.

It will be as a result of other, more serious considerations and problems. Courtney, should we prioritise these people over vulnerable Australians, over people working in hotel quarantine who still haven't been vaccinated? I mean, I agree with Herve that we... It doesn't make sense that these people haven't been vaccinated yet. We've got the vaccines. We've got the... There's... I think everybody's a little bit at their wits' end as to why the vaccine rollout is going so slowly. I don't know what the answer is, and there doesn't seem to be answers for that.

Bridget, do you support these athletes going to Japan in a time like this? Look, I think we're all looking forward to life getting back to normal. I think the Olympics being staged is sort of part of that normalcy. I think elite athletes, and particularly for us in Australia, we find that quite inspirational. But I think there is a challenge with the sense that the athletes are jumping the queue, shall we say, in terms of getting vaccinations when there are vulnerable people in our communities that are still waiting. Herve's right - where the vaccination schedule is at that point in time.

But I think the other challenge is looking at Japan itself. I think a recent survey said over 70% of the Japanese people want the Olympics sort of stalled, if you like, or even cancelled. And I think they are dealing with in the eye of the pandemic right now and we're thinking of staging a sporting event. I think that's a real challenge.

I would hate to see our athletes jumping the queue at the expense of more vulnerable Australians, and also the quarantine, when they're returning, to take up those valuable spaces we were talking about at the expense of returning Australians. So, I think the AOC, to be frank, is more than capable of footing the bill, and I know that they have actually been in discussions about a private provider assisting with the vaccinations and also the quarantine requirements. Well... Quickly, if you can. Yeah, well, more than two-thirds of aged-care residents still aren't fully vaccinated. 90% of aged-care workers aren't.

More than 99% of disability-facility residents are not fully vaccinated. Now, that's what I'm really focused on. If I thought that this Olympics process was going to derogate from that job, I would not support it... Mm. ..but I do think we can do both. I think the AOC has a very clear obligation to make sure that proper arrangements are in place, that quarantine arrangements are going to be probably put in place for them, probably supported by the government. But I think Australians do want to see a group of young people who've spent their lives preparing for this Olympics, compete, if at all possible.

Let's take our next question. It comes from Jet Chong. My question is for Courtney Act. How much of an extent does gender identity have an impact on high-schoolers or even primary-schoolers? Do you believe that people's sexuality and gender can be declared during their teenage years? Good question. Thank you. I have some personal experience on both accounts. Look, gender and sexuality are things that can occur pre-puberty, but certainly puberty is a time when all of those hormones start raging and we start understanding that we're attracted to boys, girls, both. And the same for gender identity.

And it's so important in schools to have open and frank and honest conversations about gender and identity and sexuality. And I know that there are people in the government who have that halted, and I just think that the most important thing... I mean, it's 2021. I think most young people understand that there's more than straight and that there's more than male and female.

I think that the older people who are making the decisions are just not the ones who are on board with that because they grew up in a different world. And I think they need to look and listen to young people and start understanding that these things are important to talk about in schools. Parnell? (APPLAUSE) Look, I agree that we should be able to talk about it. I understand also, as a parent, where sometimes concerns come from in schools.

So, you want every child to be supported and also to understand that, as they unfold and discover themselves, that what they discover is going to be OK and they're going to be loved for that. Where I think parents get concerned is when they feel like something is being foisted upon their children. Now, my son is too young for any of this to be anywhere near relevant, so I'm not speaking from experience here. I'm just speaking from what I've heard from parents and their concerns.

And so I think it is important that we do sort of understand that, when we're talking about sexuality and gender, that we're also talking about how parents are helping their children to understand life, and we need to sort of help them find a bit of a balance there. And so that's... You know, we... (SIGHS) School should be about learning what life is about, about discovering yourself, and not having your teachers tell you what it's about or not having your parents force you to be something you aren't.

You know, we're all there - adults are there - to help children develop and learn and become themselves. So...it's a balance. (CHUCKLES) Is that, though, correct - that teachers don't tell you what life is about? I mean, isn't that what every religious school does - it offers you a pathway through life? So, it offers you a moral system, right? Just like your parents offer you a moral system. And I suppose this is... You know, there is a lot of emphasis in even religious schools that it shouldn't be preached as a...

..some kind of hard-and-fast ideology. So, certainly, these days, the way that it's supposed... Did you go to a religious school? No, I didn't. OK. I went to International Grammar School, which is completely the opposite direction these days.

I think you'll find that about a quarter of the students now identify as gender diverse. That figure could be wrong, don't quote me on that one. But it's quite high. And so there is a balance about... You know, so the... We don't want children having a very...

..a very overbearing religious system foisted upon them in schools. And even in religious schools in Australia, we say there's got to be limits to that because the child has to feel safe and be able to develop its own sort of personality. On the other side, you know, we also don't want, in non-religious schools, belief systems being foisted upon children that, you know, can be a bit more random, even, than religious schools. Mark Butler, is gender fluidity being foisted upon students in any Australian schools? Well, not that I've heard.

In my experience in the deep, dark days when I was young, and certainly having teenage children myself, is that young people don't tend to listen to parents and teachers who try and tell them how to live their lives. And that's not the problem as I see it. The problem is treating difference and diversity with respect and tolerance and recognising that the politicisation of these debates, which too often happens in this country, actually has real consequences for individuals. The self-harm rates, the suicide attempt rates of young people, particularly with fluid gender or sexuality, is just frightening.

And that, for me, is the thing I'm worried about, and I think the sort of... The degree to which these questions become part of the culture wars, with a whole lot of adults talking about this, I think is highly damaging to the mental health of young people. COURTNEY ACT: I think the best thing to do for young trans kids, young gender-diverse people and people of variant sexualities is to affirm them and to support them. And I think there's so much... There IS so much in-fighting and so much politicising of those identities. And really hearing yourself be represented is one of the most important things in growing up as a whole human.

I know, when I was younger, I had... I was very fortunate to have parents who loved me and were very kind, but I still struggled with my gender and my sexuality because I just didn't see who I was being talked about in school, who I was being broadcast on television and talked about in the media, and it is a real struggle, and that's the thing that's leading to these feelings of isolation and self-harm and suicide attempts in young people. And I think that there's maybe some misconception that there's ideologies being forced on young people. That's being used as a political sort of slogan, and that's not happening. Talking to young people about gender doesn't make them trans. You know what I mean? There's this very peculiar idea... (LAUGHTER)

You chuckle, but that's what some people, you know, are suggesting, and it's just absurd. And the best way to make any young person, you know, regardless of their gender or their sexuality, is to affirm them and to support them and let them know that who they are is correct. And I think that's what we should be focusing on, rather than getting this sort of, like, in-fighting about, you know, bathrooms or sports teams or whatever else is going on. But there is a political dimension to these conversations, isn't there, Bridget? Oh, well, it ends up in this country, it seems. That ends up where we end up, and it's, I think, an indictment on all of us.

We need to be able to have these complicated conversations within families and within our society and our communities in a really respectful, compassionate and sensible way. And I don't know, for whatever reason, we really, really struggle with that in this country. We end up everybody to their corner punching on like it's - I don't know - 1865.

But it is about having... Like, I watched your story, Courtney, on the... ..Australian Story? Yeah. And your parents, exactly, you know, just hands-down awesome support and allowed you to grow up as yourself.

And I think that is what all parents should be striving to do to support their kids to grow up to be themselves as they discover themselves, etc, and how they interact. And I think that's parents' job. School's job is to broaden that out into a community space. But at the end of the day, as a society, we need to make sure everybody - all difference - is accepted and tolerated and spoken about, and even difference of beliefs and views. So, not everyone is going to agree with me and what I think about certain issues, but there should be the ability to respectfully have that conversation.

I guess the problem about putting the onus on parents is that we know - from your acknowledgement of my parents being so wonderful and supportive - we know that that isn't the case for most young people. And I think that having these conversations in schools and on television and in the media just is such an important facet. It's not just one and done, like, "Oh, that's the parents' job," and then we're going to leave that alone.

It has to be something that we talk about in the wider community and at schools and in media. MARK BUTLER: I agree. Herve, you've got a young child - way too young to be talking about anything like this - but would you tackle these topics with your kid? Would you sit down and eventually talk about gender fluidity? Do you think that's the parents' role? Yeah, I think within measure. I've got all these things to look forward to, but... And a lot to learn. But, you know, I grew up with a lot of diversity as well through lots of school systems, changing countries every four years, so not exactly the issues we're talking about.

But, you know, you often felt as if you were the outsider, and I think I can sympathise with anyone who feels the outsider in a classroom, and I think... Did they talk about gender fluidity at high school in Myanmar where you grew up? Um, yeah, I think it appeared. It was a... We had a very... We had a school of 100 students, so it was a tiny, tiny microcosm.

But we had huge amounts of diversity, and I think huge amounts of tolerance by... Not by any grand principle of virtue or philosophy, just by necessity, because we have all these people from different backgrounds speaking different languages with different customs and religions. And so I think we actually did a pretty good job out of what was a very chaotic situation. I think that, though, if you feel the outsider... And I'm not the best person to, you know, speak on behalf of these issues. You might have the most supportive parents, you might even have supportive classmates and a good school system, but you will probably still have to go through a lot of internal anguish and deal with these issues yourself, and that is something that deserves space and consideration as well.

So, as much, as a society, we like to sort of blame ourselves - and I think there are things that we can do to alleviate the pressure on our kids - I guess the other thing is just to understand that these are issues that people have to navigate as individuals, and that's the core point as well. Alright, let's take our next question. I should say, though, that if you know anyone or you are yourself experiencing difficulties right now, you can contact Lifeline or Kids Helpline. The numbers are on your screen right now. They do great work and please do support them. Our next question comes from Harry Chiam.

My question is to Senator McKenzie, because you were the only person to step down as a result of the so-called sports rorts matter. Why is it, when these things happen in Parliament, it's always women who lose their job? You lost your job, Christine Holgate lost her job, and so did Brittany Higgins. I'm a man, and I'm quite fed up with it. Bridget McKenzie. Well, thank you so much for your question.

Look, I resigned from my job. There were a lot of people that had issue with how I... ..made my ministerial decisions around the sports grants, but, you know, I made those decisions within the ministerial authority that I had. I resigned because I breached the ministerial standards around a gifted $30 membership that I... ..to a gun club that I never actually used. But I do believe in conducting yourself with integrity.

I did not declare that in a timely manner, and so I resigned. I remain very proud of the program. It resulted in 684 clubs getting infrastructure grants. It was fairer because I exercised my ministerial discretion.

And so, yeah, I guess, Christine... In a Senate inquiry at the moment, Ms Holgate disputes her resignation and obviously is having issues with Australia Post as a result. This is a question about why it's the women that take the fall. Well, I can only speak for myself. Yeah. Right?

And so it was my decision... But you must have seen everything that's gone on in Parliament in recent months. Well, it was my decision to resign on the back of an investigation... You used the word... ..that was done that said it was fairer because of my discretion, and I had the authority to exercise that.

But I did breach the ministerial standards by not declaring this membership. I declared it, you know, a few months later. So, to me, I then, as a minister, have to make my decision about my... ..you know, how I react to those standards. The Prime Minister takes his ministerial standards very seriously, and I take my integrity seriously, so I resigned from a job I loved as agriculture minister, so... But I'm still serving the people.

And she did it with dignity. I've got two words - Angus Taylor. You know, this is... (LAUGHTER) This is a guy who is just a walking, talking scandal. I shadowed him for years.

I'll tell you, there were Question Times where we had too much material to fit into 10 questions for Angus. So, I think Bridget acted with dignity in stepping down when she did, but I part company with her on her assessment that Scott Morrison takes his ministerial standards seriously, 'cause I just cannot imagine how Angus Taylor has managed to keep his job with the litany of scandals that follow him around, let alone his performance in the climate change and energy portfolio. I hope, Bridget, you'll end up back on the frontbench. I think what you see from the National Party is probably your three best performers now on the backbench, which is great for us, but probably not great for the National Party. I think there are some really serious questions about the selectiveness with which the Prime Minister applies those standards.

Bridget... (APPLAUSE) I... I do want to go to the others on this, but it should be noted, you were one of the few Coalition MPs that attended the march... Yeah. ..in front of Parliament House. The March 4 Justice. I mean, you must have observed everything that's happened in the last few months, with various ministers embroiled in scandals, MPs not stepping down when they're being embroiled in scandals.

Do you really think that these standards are applied evenly? Well, that's not a question for me, Hamish. But it is... No, no. What's the question for you? The people of Victoria sent me to Canberra to serve them - predominantly rural and regional Victorians. Yeah.

I take that privilege very seriously, and I have to, each and every day, say, "Well, what am I going to do?" Now, with respect to the March 4 Justice and the issues that that raised, I think we had, you know, two substantive issues on this side - the allegations of rape, etc - colliding with what I think is the lived experience of women across this country. If it didn't happen to you, it happened to your sister, your mother, your girlfriend, your daughter. Everyone has a story to tell, and that...

These two issues galvanised and collided with that broader issue within society, and women just went, "You know what? "Sexual harassment, violence against women is not OK." And that's why I went to the march. Was I subscribing to the broader agenda and the log of claims that the march brought forward? No, but I was there for every woman who told me her story, for every girlfriend, you know, for everybody that wants to stand up and say, "It's not OK. It shouldn't be OK at work. "It's not OK in Parliament House. It's not OK at any workplace. "It's not OK in a sports club. It's not OK in your home." And we, as a community, have to stand up and say that.

My disappointment is that this gets politicised, 'cause you know who misses out when politics gets play with this issue? It is women. It is women. And so if you want to stand up and be loud and proud about women's rights and be a feminist in this space, you'd better be a feminist and stand up for all women. And that includes women whose beliefs you don't agree with, like Nicolle Flint, like Amanda Stoker, like me sometimes, because we should be, I think, galvanising about the things that unite us rather than, again, dividing, and then women end up losing. COURTNEY: Amanda Stoker, bravo. PARNELL: Yes. Amanda Stoker doesn't stand up for all women, though, does she? 'Cause she has an anti-trans petition.

But, Courtney, that's the whole point. Like, women are diverse... Mm. ..as any other cohort in this country. And you can't say that we only stand up for the women that agree with us. Yeah, exactly. You have to stand up for all women. So, I would be standing up with my Labor colleagues in the Senate against sexual violence and harassment against women...

Of course, yeah. ..irrespective of whether they were a card-carrying member of the Greens or whether it's Pauline Hanson and One Nation. You have to actually... But not if they're trans women. No, no, no. Courtney, I'm talking about the diversity, because I... No, but Amanda Stoker specifically has anti-trans...

..an anti-trans petition, right? Well, I not Amanda Stoker. I'm Bridget McKenzie, and I'm here saying that the only people that miss out when we politicise this are women. Parnell, do you...? Just to come back to the original question, do you think that Bridget McKenzie and other women in public life actually pay a higher price than the men do when there's some kind of transgression or an allegation of a transgression? Look, it's hard to... It's hard to unpack that question because, number one, women are much more visible in public life because there are fewer of them.

So, it can look like they're paying a higher price and maybe they're not always than... You know, statistically, it's just that woman is going to stand out more than the bunch of men, the one of whom steps back. However, I do think that there is also another dynamic at play, which is that there do tend to be sort of longer-lasting supportive relationships between men in workplaces where there are more men. And so they are more likely to trust one another and also therefore to say, "Oh, yeah, I'll put my hand in the fire "that what he did was OK." You know, "We've got his back on this one."

And I think that that's less likely to happen for women, simply by virtue of the fact that there are fewer women in those environments who know them over time, or fewer people who have the kind of... ..the kind of relationships of friendliness and trust to back them up. Because this is the other thing - it doesn't always have to be women sticking up for women. It can be men sticking up for women as well.

But those sorts of arrangements tend to happen from a long... ..from a long relationship of feeling like you're on the same wavelength. And the fact that there are fewer women means that the women who are there are more exposed in those situations.

MARK BUTLER: Well, there's not fewer women in the Labor Party. They're half our caucus. Women are half of our shadow cabinet, they're half of our leadership team, and they have been for some years, and it's because we put the hard work in to get to that point, and it's changed the culture of our party dramatically. But they're not your leader. They're not your deputy leader. Well, our Senate leader... Two of our four leadership team are women - Penny and Kristina.

Half of our shadow cabinet are women. Half of our caucus are women. You can't belittle that, Hamish. No, no. BRIDGET: Can I just...? Like, I think you're right, but then you've got to sort of think about... Because we've had a huge influx of women into the National Party party room at the last election.

So, I lead the Senate team - we're 80% female. They're all these smart... Very different. ..articulate... Yeah. ..passionate regional women. And now nearly a third of our party room is women - now that is just transform... ..it's been transformative. But I think once you get women into these positions, then it is about positions of power. And so for...

It is about who the factional leaders are within the Labor Party, for instance, rather than just who's holding the leadership positions, and, for us, it's making sure there's pathways to ministerial positions so they can have some real power. Agreed. Do you think that there's a difference... You've watched everything play out in Australian politics over the last six months. Do you think there's a difference for women in the public space compared with men? Yeah, look, there probably is. I think it's a very heated discussion at this point in Australia.

When I compare that to the political discussions ongoing, in, say, Europe, where I think we've become a lot more used to seeing women in power... Merkel. We had a female... Yeah, that's right - female German chancellor, female prime minister of Belgium, any number of leaders. And I think there is a point where there's a sort of tipping point where that becomes normalised.

And a lot of these critical issues remain, I think, critical - they have to be - but, on the other hand, they're less polarising and less of a lightning rod, and that's the point you really want to get to. I mean, if I can speak from the experience of... ..sort of a non-political perspective, I mean, we've tried very hard, Lowy Institute, to ban all 'manels' to make...as a minimum...

As in 'male panels'? As an all-male panels. Ah, right. I was wondering what you were talking about! Sorry if you weren't familiar... Might be a bit of a millennial term or something, but anyway... I think that's more a think tank term. Yeah, right, right. Call me old, I am over 50.

Sorry. But the point is you want to get to a point where that becomes automatic, where you don't even have to think about it, where it doesn't require an effort anymore, and that's where we know... ..that's the day we'll know we'll have succeeded. So, I mean, I sort of... I sort of see the progress being made in the Labor Party, but I think, you know, we're still some way away from being able to sort of be completely au fait about gender balance, whether it's in politics or in wider society.

It's kind of the quota question as well. I think the Labor Party's chosen to do that by instigating quotas. The National Party has got some fantastic figures after our last election - yes, a little later but without quotas - and I think that's a real debate too. Courtney, you're someone that, uniquely on this panel, presents as both male and female at different times. Do you have a different experience in terms of the way people interact with you? It's really fascinating, Hamish, because when I'm dressed like this, as Courtney, men treat me a certain way, and when I'm not dressed like this, as Shane, men...

Particularly men, women also, but straight men specifically, when I'm dressed as Courtney, it's fascinating to see the eyes through both genders. And I think sometimes women aren't even aware how women are treated differently by men. So what's the difference? I am... I mean, I'm like a pretty blonde and men treat me exactly like you would expect the archetypical pretty blonde - I get flirted with, I get patronised. I also think, like, the male body only has so much blood in it, and so sometimes when the blood is being used by other parts of their body, they're not as smart, which is handy, but they also often think that I'm not as smart.

And it's a really fascinating observation and I just don't think that women understand how differently they ARE treated by men, and it's a real problem. And I do think it comes down to, you know, education, these conversations. We can't even teach consent in our schools appropriately.

We have adults who are in charge... The police commissioner and his suggestion of a consent app - he clearly doesn't understand what consent is or how it works, and he's the commissioner. You know, Scott Morrison, not...

..not being able to have empathy unless it was seen through the eyes of his daughters and wife. It just seems that the men in this country don't have the capacities for empathy, and we need to see more women, particularly in the Liberal Party, taking control, because then we will have less of these issues when people who have lived experience are in charge. OK. (APPLAUSE) Let's take our next question. It comes from Joseph Bates in Wolli Creek, New South Wales. Recently, Scott Morrison gave a speech at a Pentecostal Christian conference on the Gold Coast.

Does Scott Morrison's rhetoric around 'being called to do God's work as prime minister' call into question whether the PM can separate his faith with his political obligations? Palme? You're getting all the questions. I...I don't think that it has proven to be a problem for Scott Morrison.

So, first of all, I think that this whole debate over whether or not a prime minister or any other person in our midst should be able to have a faith is very strange to me. People... Some people are religious. In fact, statistically in Australia, more people are religious than aren't, so I don't think... ..I think that it is very peculiar, this whole...this sort of mocking stance towards the prime minister for having a faith.

So, that's the first thing. I think that that's absolutely fine. The other thing is that... ..he has spoken about how his faith and his politics interact in the past and said that he doesn't...

..that, you know, his religion is not a policy, it's not a policy platform, and that's also how he's governed. Now, I can take issue with some of the ways that he's governed, but he certainly has not governed as some kind of religious zealot, and so I think we need to take him at his word on that. But most importantly, I really think that we do have to come back to the question of tolerance. And it's not just about, you know, celebrating and tolerating things that are happening now in society.

It's about celebrating and tolerating the fact that we are a diverse society and that people have their personal beliefs, they have ways of living. If they are upstanding citizens in their own right, then what they believe and how they live their lives should be respected and tolerated, and that's what's going to make us a good society. Do you think there's a particular...? (APPLAUSE) Is there a particular discomfort, do you think, in the way it's reported, at least, around him being a Pentecostal? Yes, I think there is a lot of discomfort because it's seen as a... as an unfamiliar religion, and, of course, you know, people are always a little bit uncomfortable when they don't understand a religion or when it feels like... You know, the suggestion is that maybe it's a bit culty, or...

But really that comes from a lack of understanding, a lack of understanding the faith and a lack of understanding the people who practise it and whether or not they're actually decent human beings or not. So I think we have to take the human being as the...as the main focus here. Does he behave well? You know, does he behave with decency or does he not? That's the question, not what the faith is. Courtney, you've been talking tonight about the need for acceptance, for understanding, for letting people be who they are. Should we just let the prime minister be who he is? I agree with someone's right to faith. I think the thing about Pentecostal as a religion specifically is that they tend to interfere with other people's rights, and that's when it becomes a problem.

But is there any evidence that Scott Morrison's done that as prime minister? He hasn't carried the Pentecostal torch in policymaking, it hasn't shaped COVID policy. for example. I have been living overseas for eight years, so... (LAUGHTER) But, Mark Butler, it's true, isn't it? There's no evidence, really, that Scott Morrison, as prime minister, has used his faith to develop policy. I agree. Look, I think everyone knows Scott Morrison is a man of deep faith - I don't share his particular faith but I respect it - and I see it as a personal issue for him and his family, provided that he respects the very clear line that we have in Australia between religion and politics. There was nothing in that speech that troubled me, that he'd crossed that line, and I haven't seen him do that beforehand either.

So, I think it's really a matter for him personally, and I respect that. Bridget? Yeah, look, I'm a person of faith as well. We're a nation of many faiths. We're a nation of many people without a faith. I think the live-and-let-live sort of code of ethics that Australians sort of bring to life needs to be... I've been very surprised at the overreaction to the fact that the PM is a Christian.

What do you think it is? Everybody knew that prior to the election. And Western Sydney voted for the PM as a man of faith, even though they didn't share his particular brand of faith. And so there's a lot of people that want freedom of religion in this country.

The last time I checked, we're a liberal democracy, it's something we need to be proud of. And it goes back, I think, to that respect and tolerance piece that we were talking about earlier. I'm proud to serve in a government with many people of the Christian faith. I mean, this whole country was built on Judaeo-Christian values. What do you think it is that seems to spark such interest around this particular prime minister's faith? Because there's been plenty of faith, it just hasn't seemed to generate as much fascination.

He's not an Anglican or a Catholic. So is that the issue? I do, I do think it is. It's not a "traditional faith". Um... You know, it's...

So, wait until you have the first sort of Muslim, or, you know, any other religion. Correct, right? I think the broader point here for me is obviously the prime minister is perfectly entitled to his beliefs - I think most Australians will understand that. There may be some degree of curiosity. But, broadly speaking, this is a very tolerant and accepting society. But what I'd be interested in, and I think a lot of others would as well, is how does his religion frame his world view, his morality - and that's not something...that's not from a critical position,

but that's something we really want to know out of our politicians. And just to come full circle to where we began, I think there are a number of moral positions that Australia isn't taking. The quarantine system is one of them, seeing them as a sort of a humanitarian imperative in this global crisis. There are other things. I mean, waiving intellectual property rights on COVID-related technologies.

This is a debate at the WTO. You don't have to be Christian, or any other particular denomination - you might have none - but there is a question about morality here at stake, and I think I'd rather drive the conversation about what are the prime minister's morals and how are they driving his world view and his policy directions, and that's where I'd like the conversation to go. (APPLAUSE) Well, that is almost all we've got time for tonight. Some music for you in a moment, but first would you please thank our wonderful panel - Herve Lemahieu, Bridget McKenzie, Courtney Act, Mark Butler and Parnell Palme McGuinness.

That's your cue to go and take your position, Courtney. Thanks for joining us tonight and to those of you streaming us on iview as well. Next week we are in Melbourne, joined by finance expert Alan Kohler, investigative journalist Jess Hill, author Bri Li and Labor's Linda Burney. We're leaving you tonight with a song from Courtney's stage show Fluid. This is an anthem, she says, for coming together. Ladies and gentlemen, Courtney Act with One Tonight.

# Call us misfits # A little broken # There's no quick fix # For where we're going # It's hard to look each other in the eyes # 'Cause we know every other word is just a lie we tell ourselves # It's easier to give up than to try # But know that if you're falling you can fly # We all pick a side # But our memories rhyme # We're looking to find that one thing # If the one thing you see # Is the different in me # Then you're looking at the wrong thing # It might sound crazy but I feel like we are one tonight # Take my hand, we'll shake the world together, you and I # We're not hopeless # We're just stuck here # In this moment # Paralysed by fear # It's hard to look each other in the eye # 'Cause we can't see through all the hurt # It makes us blind to one another # It's easier to give up than to try # But know that if you're falling you fly # We all pick a side # But our memories rhyme # We're looking to find one thing # If the one thing you see # Is the different in me # Then you're looking at the wrong thing # It might sound crazy but I feel like we are one tonight # Take my hand, we'll shake the world together, you and I # There are things I can sway # But the truth will remain # Change the way that you look at the things you look at, change # What I'm saying to you # Find the music in you # Let it go and be fluid tonight # And you will fly # Fly, fly, yeah, yeah, yeah # If the one thing you see # Is the different in me # Then you're looking at the wrong thing. # Captions by Red Bee Media Copyright Australian Broadcasting Corporation

2021-05-03 15:40

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