E&OE…

Patricia Karvelas

My next guest tonight is Assistant Minister for Social Services and Multicultural Affairs, Zed Seselja. Zed Seselja, welcome.

Senator Seselja

Thanks very much Patricia.

Patricia Karvelas

Nationals Senator Fiona Nash is now the third Coalition minister to be hit by this dual citizenship crisis, it seems like the Nationals, your partners in government, haven’t been very good at vetting people. Are you concerned by their vetting process?

Senator Seselja

Well, look, obviously these circumstances that have arisen for a number of our colleagues are all fairly unique and obviously it’s now going to be a matter for the High Court but I think it’s fair to say that in all of those cases that it’s fairly obscure and it’s not something that any of them would’ve seen coming and so obviously the Government has legal advice that suggests they have very strong grounds, these are things that I guess no one has really considered in terms of the detail of it up until recent times and so I’m not going to get into, I don’t know what obviously the National Party’s vetting processes are but these are fairly unique and relatively obscure circumstances in many cases and so we’ll obviously wait and see what the High Court rules.

Patricia Karvelas

Your issue of course is this issue of the double standard. Matt Canavan was forced to stand down but of course now Barnaby Joyce and Fiona Nash are not planning to stand down. If you look at the calls for them to stand down from the executive, from the cabinet, they are now very wide. In fact I just spoke to Peter Georgiou, he’s from One Nation, he says they should stand. Rebekha Sharkie, from the Nick Xenophon team, says they should stand aside, in fact a very strong quote from her in the Fairfax press saying that it shows disrespect to the Australian community to have them still in the cabinet. Doesn’t this now become quite a significant issue for you, where a wide range of politicians say that this isn’t sustainable and the public is clearly concerned too. Shouldn’t you stand them aside to show that the system has integrity and that you’re taking it seriously?

Senator Seselja

Well look no I don’t think there is a need for them to stand aside but in terms of some of those individuals you’ve mentioned, I think Rebekha Sharkie’s comments, I then understand Nick Xenopon was walking them back subsequently and obviously because only a few hours later he was found to be a dual citizen so I’m not sure whether Rebekha Sharkie would necessarily be doubling down on those calls given obviously her party leader will see his citizenship or certainly his circumstances tested in the High Court, as has been publicised over the weekend. Obviously in all of those cases, and I think Nick Xenophon has indicated, and Nick Xenophon of course is an important player in the Federal Parliament and the Senate, having balance of power, and I think he’s indicated that he will continue to do his job and I think that is his right, given that it’s not up to him to prove that he’s not eligible under the section, it’s up to the High Court to determine that and only if they were to determine that he’s not eligible to sit should he take action to be removed from Parliament.

Patricia Karvelas

Did you give your colleague George Brandis a standing ovation after he responded to the Burqa stunt?

Senator Seselja

No I didn’t but obviously George gave a very strong and impressive response. I think that we could talk about the stunt, and I was not a fan of it at all, I think it was demeaning, and I’d very happy to get into the discussion on that, but in terms of responding to George’s words, I think the standing ovation from the Labor Party and the Greens, I haven’t seen standing ovations in the past as a general rule in the Senate, we as a Coalition obviously were behind George but you could argue that there’s a little bit of politics in the standing ovation, as much as there was in the stunt that Pauline Hanson pulled in the Senate.

Patricia Karvelas

What was the politics? Because they say they thought it was a good speech that called out what was a potential dog whistle or an attempt to demean or put in the corner the Muslim community. Wasn’t it just that?

Senator Seselja

Well it was a good speech but I’ve never seen, there’s been many fine speeches delivered by George Brandis and the Labor Party and the Greens  haven’t in the past given him a standing ovation so you’d have to ask them why they chose to in this case. I’m sure there’s other things they would agree with him on and other things they would disagree with him on. Can I go to the substance of the issue though because I think that it was a demeaning stunt, I don’t think that Parliament should be used in that way and obviously there would be many Muslims who would’ve felt offended by it and I think that it’s really important when we have these discussions that we can have, and I’ve spoken about this many times, about we should have honest and open discussions about terrorism and Islamist terrorism, and we should do it in a way that doesn’t seek to condemn all Muslims, and that’s certainly the way that the Government has approached this issue, that we can be honest about some of the religious motivations of some Islamist terrorists, there’s no doubt about that, and when we don’t have that discussion I think it does leave it open to things like stunts and perhaps to more extreme voices who seek to demonise an entire religion or an entire community, something that we would reject. So I thought it was a very disappointing stunt, I certainly disagree with it, but when it comes to this issue I think we should honest and open discussions but do it in a way that doesn’t in any way seek to denigrate our fellow Australians who happen to be of the Muslim faith.

Patricia Karvelas

I want to take you to a few other issues. Do ACT police have questions to answer over their handling of the Australian Christian Lobby’s bombing of their offices?

Senator Seselja

Well look, this is, obviously, there’s a court case that will go through, and obviously I’ve just seen the evidence that’s been presented publicly and in terms of the guilt or innocence of this individual that will be determined by the court so I make absolutely no comment on that other than to say obviously, the event, the explosion outside the ACL’s headquarters, was very distressing and I think that to the extent that there may be motivations, and you know there’s been public commentary about the motivations that may or may not be religious, and some of the words that this individual has used on the record, I think is very very distressing, very concerning. In terms of the police’s response, of course we’ve got a lot of confidence in our police forces to keep us safe but it’s obviously up to them to I guess put out publicly as to why they were so quick, I suppose, to rule out any religious or political motivation when, obviously, and this evidence will be tested in court, there’s evidence that’s been made public recently that perhaps suggests there was some form of religious or other motivation.

Patricia Karvelas

Just on the same sex marriage survey, and you’re a prominent No campaigner in that, or a minister who says that you’ll be voting No. Attorney-General George Brandis was on Sky this morning and he says he will not be tricked by Tony Abbott into fighting the same sex marriage survey on wider issues such as religious freedom. But you’ve raised religious freedom. Is it a trick?

Senator Seselja

Well no it’s not and so I respectfully disagree with George Brandis on this issue. If you look around the world, issues of religious freedom have flowed when we’ve seen a change to the definition of marriage. We’ve seen cases in the United States, we’ve seen cases in Canada, we’ve seen cases in Great Britain, so I would disagree with that. I think that the issue of religious freedom, the issue of freedom of speech, the issue of what parents are able to teach their children or what gets taught in schools, will of course be part of this. I’ll give you one example, I know that there’s a case at the moment in the UK where they’ve of course changed the definition of marriage, where a Jewish school is potentially having its registration threatened because it doesn’t teach, it wants to continue to teach the Jewish understanding of human sexuality and marriage, so there is a flow on consequence for freedom of religion and there is a flow on consequence in other areas.

Patricia Karvelas

There’s already exceptions though isn’t there, and they would be continued, for schools, for the Catholic Church, in terms of even employing gay people in Catholic schools. So exceptions exist, doesn’t he have a point that there exemptions, there is no effect on religious freedom, because of that exemption regime?

Senator Seselja

Well I’d make this point, in Canada they have a charter of rights and freedoms which is meant to protect speech and religion yet we’ve seen families who object to a safe schools type approach in the schools not able to exercise their right as parents because it’s deemed that other rights, the right to equality, trump some of those religious objections, or personal objections.

Patricia Karvelas

Sure but you’ve mentioned Canada, you’ve mentioned other places, but in Australia we have an exemption regime. That’s what we do here.

Senator Seselja

But what I’ve said to you, and what the evidence shows, is that when other countries have changed the law, that these consequences have flowed. So when it comes to Australia though, we know that freedom of religion at the moment for instance, Archbishop Porteous in Tasmania, who was brought before a discrimination tribunal for stating the Catholic Church’s teaching on marriage, was dragged before that tribunal, now he was dragged before that tribunal while not just expressing his religious opinion but also defending the law of the land. I think it’s difficult not to see, or it’s difficult to see a circumstance where that kind of case wouldn’t be even more difficult for a bishop or an archbishop to defend, if the law of the land had in fact been changed. So we see evidence here in Australia right now but we also see in other countries where the law has been changed that certainly does impact on freedom of religion, it does impact on parental rights and it does impact on freedom of speech.

Patricia Karvelas

Zed Seselja, thanks for joining me this evening.

Senator Seselja

Thanks very much Patricia.

[ENDS]