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Opposition Leader discusses banning the chador; terrorist alert and advertising campaign; screening of airport luggage; and leadership.

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Subjects: Banning of Muslim Chador; Terrorist Alert and Advertising Campaign; Screening of Airport Luggage; Leadership

HINCH: On the line, the Federal Opposition Leader Mr Simon Crean. Good morning.

CREAN: Good morning, Derryn. How are you?

HINCH: I’m well. I finished on a frivolous note, but this is very serious. I mean, you can’t - this, to my mind, just puts petrol on the fire.

CREAN: It does. It was a silly statement, and it should have been jumped on immediately by the Prime Minister. He shouldn’t have equivocated and the fact that he did equivocate, Derryn, was what gave resonance to this sort of claim. And what we have to do in these circumstances, as tough as they are, we can’t stereotype people, we can’t make scapegoats of them. And the equivocation enabled that to happen.

HINCH: Yes, this virtually means that every person of a Muslim persuasion, a woman who wears - for whatever reason, I mean, wears a burka or chador or just a veil or headscarf - comes under some sort of suspicion or comes under public ridicule and suspicion.

CREAN: Yes, and see, the Prime Minister would say, “Well I don’t believe that.” But you see, because he doesn’t rule it out, because he doesn’t stomp on it quickly, it just leaves it hanging out there. Of course, he would then go on and argue that he’s for religious tolerance and we can’t make scapegoats, but to leave open the question as to whether they should change their dress is the inappropriate response in these circumstances. It’s inappropriate in all circumstances, but particularly now. And it’s this sort of equivocation at the time of Hansonism that showed the damage that could be done to the social fabric in our country.


HINCH: Yes, well, sadly this doesn’t surprise me. Sadly I saw the vote line in the Herald Sun this morning. The question was asked on Friday, ‘Should Muslim women in Australia be banned from wearing traditional dress?’. The answer from more than 8,500 calls was: yes, nearly 70 per cent; no, about 30 per cent. And that’s sad.

CREAN: Well, it is but again it goes to show why national leaders have to stand up and make the right call on these things, Derryn - not appeal to the instinctive view of some. You know there’s a lot of people out there that say, ‘Well if people come to this country, they should be all like us.’ But the great strength of our country is that we are what we are, because we’re comprised of people different from us and we’ve been able to embrace, we’ve been able to work together. Our best friends come from different cultures and backgrounds, all of those sorts of things, that’s the strength of Australia. Of course, you can raise fear and concerns in individuals about differences and not understanding, but the challenge for leadership in this country is to stand up for tolerance. It’s to stand up for inclusion, it’s to stand up for a society that can strengthen from differences rather than divide itself through those differences.

HINCH: An interesting story that I read over the weekend, that Mr Howard’s office put out a statement trying to clarify it, saying it’s absurd the suggestion that Mr Howard had implied that Muslim women could be banned in public, etcetera, etcetera. AAP reported it that way, until the spokesman came back again and said, ‘No, that’s wrong. Mr Howard has neither ruled in his support nor ruled it out.’

CREAN: Yes, because he continues to want to sit on the fence and, quite frankly, leaders in these circumstances have to stand up for what’s right in the interests of the country. That’s not to say that everyone is going to agree with them, but the strength of us as a nation, acceptance of multiculturalism and diversity, has come because there has been bipartisan support for that at all levels of leadership over a long period of time. That’s not to say that there aren’t differences in the community about it, but the leadership of the nation has to try and ensure that the nation does not divide, does not split, does not look for excuses - but looks for strength and unity. And that’s particularly so in these very troubled times.

HINCH: I think it was a disgrace that in Afghanistan, the Taliban made the wearing of the burka compulsory for women. But this isn’t the issue here. This is when people of their own free will because of their religious beliefs want to wear a yarmulke on their head or a shroud or a hat or a scarf, that’s their business.

CREAN: We have invited people here and we’ve enjoined them to take out citizenship and commitment to the country. We’ve never made it a condition that they have to give up their culture or their traditions, and we have become the model that other countries actually look to in terms of tolerance and racial tolerance and involvement and inclusion. That’s what we’ve got to get back to, Derryn, not this divide.


HINCH: I agree. Now, on an other issue - because you are, I presume because as Leader of the Federal Opposition, on issues of national security the Prime Minister occasionally will brief you. When we had the general alert on terrorism, were you briefed by the Government or by somebody in the forces?

CREAN: Yes, I had the full briefing and I agreed with the decision that the Government took. It’s interesting in the context of this advertising campaign - which I’ve seen no details about, Derryn - that I’m just a bit suspicious about it. If it is designed to inform the public, and I think it’s essential that the public has confidence in what it is they’re being told, it can’t be a political exercise. And the Prime Minister has to involve me, again, in the nature of the advertising and the content of it. I think it’s terribly important, if we’re going to use it as an information exercise to prepare the Australian public further, that the same spirit of bipartisanship that goes into the intelligence briefings also applies to the public information that flows from it.

HINCH: Alright. Are you aware, then, of breaking news overnight that on heaps of international flights leaving Australia, the baggage is not x-rayed, not checked, and freight is not checked?

CREAN: Well, I was surprised to hear this and I’m getting more information about it as we speak, Derryn, but you’ve got ask yourself, ‘What has the Government really been doing on this?’ Fourteen months ago, after September the 11th, the Prime Minister indicated that we’re upgrading all of our security alerts. Remember he talked about the marshals flying on planes …

HINCH: By last Christmas.

CREAN: … tightened security at the airport, all of those sorts of things. You’ve got to ask the question, ‘Why did they accept the fact that the baggage didn’t have to be x-rayed?’ This isn’t a question of, what are the other airline authorities doing and what is appropriate and is agreed? It’s the question, why was the Government satisfied that x-raying of baggage was not necessary? Now I think that’s a very important question that the Government has to answer. It sat down 14 months ago to review these things, and we’re now told, effectively, that this was one of them that was not introduced. I want to know the answer to the question, why wasn’t it introduced? What were the reasons for not doing it? There may well be valid reasons, but I think we’ve got a right to know, and particularly if the Prime Minister is now saying he’s going to review it. What is it over the last 14 months that requires that review?

HINCH: Yes, [inaudible] This may sound frivolous, but last week flying to Sydney on Virgin, I had a pair of nail scissors taken from me out of my briefcase. And yet if I was a suicide bomber, my suitcase would have gone in the hold and could have been loaded with plastic explosives.

CREAN: Yes, I’ve had the same experience. I have had one of those Swiss Army knives taken out of the carry-on luggage, but I was not aware of the other


circumstances. And, as I say, I’m keen to find out. So I think this is an issue that we need to pursue.

HINCH: [inaudible] you would hope that, even if they had random x-rays, it would give anybody with a nefarious intent, maybe, pause for thought.

CREAN: Well, exactly. But as I say, I’m surprised that there isn’t some form of screening in this regard. But what’s more to the point is why, 14 months ago when this whole issue was reviewed - and I’ve been through the United States since September the 11th and I know how strict it is over there. And I accept the fact that it’s strict, because I hardly ever put baggage on a plane in Australia, I take it all through as personal baggage, so all of it is checked. And I’ve felt, you know, secure in that regard even though it might be an inconvenience. But the big question here is, why did the Government come to the conclusion 14 months ago that x-raying of booked-in baggage was not necessary? And why is it saying today it needs to review it?

HINCH: Yes. A final point - am I right in saying you feel a little bit more secure in your leadership this week than last week?

CREAN: Well, I’ve always felt secure in the leadership, Derryn. I think last week was an important exercise in flushing out some of the stuff and, whilst it’s annoying at the time, I think it’s another welcome conclusion to it. We’ve got to get on with the task of developing the responses that the public wants to know about. They’re not interested in the internals of the Labor Party, but they are interested, quite frankly, in whether we as a party are prepared to reform ourselves to be more inclusive, more open, more democratic. That’s what the party reforms were about but, most of all, they know that this country is going backwards in a lot of areas - the decline in bulk-billing, decline in education, decline in living standards, and financial pressure. They want real alternatives to that, and that’s what the Labor Party will be giving them.

HINCH: Mr Crean, thanks for your time.