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Journalist discusses pressure to modify both counter-terrorism and industrial relations legislation; and whether there will be a conscience vote on the abortion drug RU486

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Tuesday, 29 November 2005


FRAN KELLY:  The Prime Minister returned last night to the real world of Australian politics and it seems it’s a world characterised by compromise. Already, he’s moved some way on the IR legislation, after pressure from the unions and Barnaby Joyce, and now there’s real pressure to modify the counter-terrorism package, too, as we’ve been hearing this morning.


Michelle Grattan joins us in our Parliament House studio. Michelle, the pressure to amend the counter-terror laws is again coming from John Howard’s own troops?


MICHELLE GRATTAN:   Well, that’s right. It’s a very strong committee report, Fran, with the three coalition members led by Marise Payne saying that significant changes should be made to these laws. They’re not disputing the need for strong extra legislation and they are united also with Labor in this because Labor, of course, is supporting the bill as a whole but, nevertheless, there’s a bipartisan push saying that these measures should be changed in detail and that the sedition provision should be withdrawn and re-looked at by the Law Reform Commission.


FRAN KELLY:  Michelle, governments often ignore Senate committee reports but it’s harder to ignore one when it’s your own senators leading the charge, isn’t it? How much pressure do you think this puts on the government for some change? How much pressure do you think that the joint party room will bring to bear?


MICHELLE GRATTAN:   I think quite a lot of pressure and it certainly puts the government on the spot but, as we’ve seen, Philip Ruddock is resisting any significant changes and certainly resisting holding over the sedition provisions, even though he himself, when he was introducing the legislation, said there would be a departmental review of these next year. So in other words, he’s admitted they need a look and yet he’s saying: no, no, we won’t fix all this up before they go through; we’ll wait until after they go through, after flawed legislation is passed—which is really a nonsense.


FRAN KELLY:  Doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense. We’ll speak to Liberal senator Marise Payne in a moment about this. Michelle, the Barnaby question mark over the IR laws seems to have been resolved. He will vote for the government’s industrial relations bill even though he hasn’t won locked-in penalty rates for Christmas Day, has he?


MICHELLE GRATTAN:   Well, he’s pretty satisfied that he’s saved Christmas Day, Fran. His line is that if no-one can be sacked for refusing to work Christmas Day, which is the government’s compromise, this does mean that people can get penalty rates because they will simply say: It’s not worth my working this day, I won’t do it. I can’t be sacked unless I get some more money.


FRAN KELLY:  Michelle, another issue is bubbling away there. We’ve spoken about it a little on this program—the contentious RU486, what’s called the abortion drug. There’s a debate going on around the place. There’s some meetings to be held in Parliament House today. Do you think, in the end, there will be a conscience vote allowed on this and if so, how will these consciences vote?


MICHELLE GRATTAN:   Well, no-one can be quite sure how the vote will go. I think there will be a conscience vote because John Howard has indicated he’s inclined that way. He would face yet another revolt if he said: no, no, we’re going to have a binding vote, I think, at this stage. But that’s all still to be confirmed. It’s hard to know how the numbers will go in the end. The people who want to lift the ban on the abortion drug are reasonably confident that they’ll get the numbers in the end. But they’ll be a lot of lobbying going on between now and then.


FRAN KELLY:  Okay, Michelle, thank you very much. We’ll speak again tomorrow.




FRAN KELLY:  Michelle Grattan there, political editor with the Age newspaper, ensconced in the heart of compromise in Parliament House.