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Transcript of interview with Peter Van Onselen: Sky News, News Day: 20 August 2015: foreign fighters; Canning by-election; China FTA; same sex marriage

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Sky News, News Day - interview with Peter Van Onselen

Subjects: Foreign fighters, Canning by-election, China FTA, same sex marriage

Transcript, E&OE

20 August 2015


Can I just ask you off the top about what is our top story today, these seven people that

are alleged to have been trying to make their way to Syria and Iraq that have been stopped at, I believe, Sydney

and Melbourne airport. Is there any more information you can enlighten us on about this? It is the largest group to

be stopped under such circumstances.


Peter I can confirm there was an incident at Sydney airport on the 12th of August but I can’t

go into the details of it because of course these investigations are ongoing and those involved will be subject to

further surveillance so I’d rather not go into the details. But this is all part of the work that our security and

intelligence and law enforcement agencies are doing to prevent Australian citizens from travelling to Syria, Iraq, to

take part in the conflict on the side of this brutal terrorist organisation known as Islamic State or Da’esh. So to date

we’ve cancelled about 125 passports, we have suspended about 20 pending further investigations, and we have

refused to issue about 16, all based on national security grounds. This really is a concerning development but at

least we were able to prevent some people leaving who would otherwise have taken up with a terrorist

organisation, become experienced terrorists in our view, and then being a threat to Australia should they try to

come back to our country.


Let me segue, if I can into, over to your home state of Western Australia, the by-

election in the seat of Canning. The Liberal Party could hardly have preselected a better candidate, not just in

general terms, but Andrew Hastie - an SAS officer. He well knows the war on terror firsthand being at the pointy

end of the sphere having fought in places like Afghanistan on a number of tours with our special services. Given

you’ve got such a good candidate you know well the fundraising prowess of yourself and others in the West

Australian division. It’s not a Labor state to say the least. They weren’t even able to do better than one Senator at

the rerun Senate election. How good is good enough beyond just winning the seat in terms of stopping the drift of

the vote? You’ve got nearly a 12 per cent margin that you’re working with.


Well Peter you know that by-elections are often seen as a reflection of the national position,

but I believe in the case of Canning we have pre-selected one of the most outstanding candidates that I have seen

and put their name forward for a very long time. He is a captain in the SAS, or of course was. He has been to

Afghanistan on a number of tours. You know that the kind of person accepted into the SAS has to show

exceptional leadership and other capabilities. Andrew Hastie is, I believe, one of the most outstanding candidates

we’ve had in some time. Of course I believe he would make an outstanding Member for Canning. Having fought

for his country he is now prepared to fight for the people of Canning and I believe that he will attract a lot of

support. He is a leader. He is married with a young child, his wife is very supportive of what he is seeking to do

and I believe that he will be able to present our policies on border protection, on the fight against terrorism, as well

as focus on the issues for the people of Canning, in the most extraordinary way. I couldn’t be more delighted than

to have Andrew Hastie as our candidate in what will be an important by-election following the tragic death of Don



Those sort of circumstances of a by-election, after a tragic passing like that of Don

Randall, we know from the Aston by-election it was only a 3.5 per cent swing against the Government then which

you were part of. You would expect, therefore, that it wouldn’t be some sort of large-scale revolt in terms of the

percentage wouldn’t you, because of those circumstances?


I’m sure that many commentators will draw parallels with the Aston by-election, where the

Howard Government was in the polls at that time, the circumstances it gave rise to at the Aston by-election. I’m

sure there are parallels that will be drawn and can be drawn but each by-election, like each election, will have to

be judged on the particular circumstances. Western Australia is a very different state than Victoria and the

circumstances of the Abbott Government are very different to the Howard Government. The issues that we will be

fighting on will be different, so I won’t go into any more detailed analysis of it, except to assure the people of

Canning that we will do all we can to present the very best candidate for them and a person who they will be proud

to have as their representative for the people of Canning in Canberra.


I can reveal Labor sources have told me that they think he is about as good a

candidate on paper as they’ve seen for a seat like Canning but I doubt they’ll make that endorsement publicly

Julie Bishop.


Well Peter he’s even better when you meet him. He looks good on paper but he’s an even

better person when you meet him.


We’ll see how it goes. Let me ask you about the Free Trade Agreement with China just

quickly if I can before we move on to other issues. The Labor Party seem like, in conjunction with the union

movement, to have problems with significant parts of this. How does this work from the standpoint of - you do a

deal, if you like, at the international level, diplomatically with another nation, another trading partner like China, but

then equally, in fairness, parts of it do need Parliamentary approval, parts of it that is. How do you sort of bridge

the gap between duty of care to the process domestically with honouring the word of what’s been signed and

agreed to at an international level?


Well of course all treaties are subject to the Parliamentary process of the Joint Standing

Committee on Treaties and you’ll recall that the Howard Government introduced that process in 1996 I believe. So

there will be a Parliamentary Committee to scrutinise the Free Trade Agreement and so the agreement is struck

on the basis that it is subject to the domestic process, as it would be in the other negotiating country. So it will be

subject to the Joint Standing Committee on Treaties processes.

But I thought it was interesting that today former Foreign Minister Bob Carr came out and said that the terms of the

treaty will not have to be rewritten, that the concerns that the union movement have raised are not in fact concerns

that should give rise to a change in the treaty. So I was heartened by the fact that Bob Carr, like other Labor

Premiers around the country, see the incredible value in this agreement for promoting economic growth and

creating more jobs for Australians who want to export our goods and services into one of the largest consumer

markets in the world. So this Free Trade Agreement is undoubtedly good for Australian jobs and good for

economic growth in this country. And the union movement is waging an extraordinarily negative, deceitful,

dishonest campaign trying to suggest that Australian jobs are at risk when in actual fact Australian jobs will be

enhanced by the Free Trade Agreement.


I’m going to talk a little bit more about that actually with your Parliamentary Secretary

Steven Ciobo in about 10 minutes from now but before I let you go, Julie Bishop, I have to give this a go. I would

like to see if I can prise out of you your position on same-sex marriage. I know that in the Party Room you

refrained from offering a personal view on this. I believe that the Huffington Post asked you the same question.

You are the Deputy Leader of the Liberal Party. It’s a reasonable question isn’t it, to know somebody of your

seniority, touted as a future leader of the Liberal Party no less, what your actual position is on same sex marriage



Well I’ve made it very clear from the outset that this would require a change to the Marriage

Act, so therefore I would like to see the legislation that would give rise to such a change before I made a decision.

Now I’m a former lawyer and I’m also a legislator now so I focus very much on the consequences and the


of the legislation that comes before us. I don’t have any answers yet from those who are promoting same sex

marriage for some of the concerns that I have as to how this will impact on religious institutions or those who

refuse to conduct same sex marriages, what sort of sanctions will be in place, what sort of exemptions there would

be. So there are a whole raft of questions that I would like to see answered before I’m prepared to commit to a

change to the Marriage Act.

Likewise, I am an elected representative. I’m very conscious of the views of my electorate on such a personal and

sensitive issue. It is running at about 50/50 at present so I was one who said let’s make this an issue for the

Australian people. Of course I have my views, but I think the responsible thing is for the Australian public to have a

say and that’s why we are looking at the form of giving the Australian people their say and when that will take

place and I see this as the best outcome on this issue. Now the Irish model, the Irish referendum they called it -

although it was actually a plebiscite - was hailed as a breakthrough for this issue around the world. So that’s what

I would like to see. The Australian people having their say on this issue.


Okay, but let me just follow that up with one question on it because I can understand

that you’d prefer the people to make a decision. I can understand that if, for example, it went to the Parliament you

might choose to vote almost as a delegate rather than a trustee of your electorate in a representational sense if

you think that is where the views are, whatever your personal views might be, but putting that to one side, is it a

fair characterisation of what you just said that you are philosophically not opposed to same sex marriage but the

logistics and the legalities of how it is framed may make you support or not support such legislative change?

Would that be a fair characterisation?


Well go back one step first. I’m the Deputy Leader of the Party and a Member of Cabinet so of

course I support the Government’s position, as articulated by the Prime Minister on behalf of the Cabinet and the

Party, and that is there be no change to the Marriage Act in this term of Parliament. I support that policy. But the

Prime Minister said that after the election then it is time for the people to have their say. So I think you’ve

articulated my position rather well. And while maintaining Cabinet and Party solidarity on our current position,

that’s why I think that there are many people in a position such as I am philosophically, who want to have their say

in the sanctity of the ballot box and I think this is precisely the kind of issue where a plebiscite is called for.

Otherwise, I think representative government works exceedingly well, but this kind of plebiscite, or referendum

that is provided for in our system of Government is used sparingly. I think the last time there were plebiscites of

this nature were back in World War 1 when we were looking at the issue of conscription. There have been

referenda, as you know as well as anyone, on a number of issues and they rarely get up, but a plebiscite we have

used in the past on a matter that went to a fundamental issue for Australian society.


Alright Julie Bishop, the Deputy Leader of the Liberal Party, we appreciate you joining

us on News Day. Thanks for your company as always.

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