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Shadow Minister for Science and the Arts

Shadow Minister for Government Services and the Digital Economy

Manager of Opposition Business in the House




12 OCTOBER 2023



JOHN STANLEY: Now, I wanted to have a quick chat with an MP in the area in Sydney, but he's one of the Shadow Ministers in Peter Dutton's Shadow Ministry, Paul Fletcher. He's the Acting Shadow Foreign Affairs Minister. He's also a Shadow Minister for Science, Arts, and a whole range of other portfolios. But Paul Fletcher's a member for Bradfield, so he's been a member there for something like 14, 15 years, Paul Fletcher. But he's also someone who represents an area where there's a very significant Jewish community. And I wanted to touch on him, how his community's been affected by this, because I think fundamentally, you don't want people living in Australia feeling unsafe and feeling as though there are those who are targeting them. So here's the conversation I had with Paul Fletcher earlier tonight.

PAUL FLETCHER: Good to be with you, John.

JOHN STANLEY:As an MP, I mean, you're the Shadow Foreign Affairs Minister at the moment, but as an MP, you deal with your community. What are they saying? What feedback are you getting of how they're feeling?

PAUL FLETCHER: Well, John, I do have a significant Jewish community in the electorate of Bradfield. In fact, of all the federal electorates in New South Wales, Bradfield has the second biggest Jewish community, four synagogues, a significant Jewish school, Masada College. And it's fair to say that our local Jewish community is understandably extremely distressed by the vicious terrorist attacks carried out in Israel over the weekend, and also quite troubled by some of what we've seen here in Sydney, including the frankly disgusting behaviour by some apologists for the Hamas terrorist movement in the conduct of that march on Monday night. Now, while that was happening in the city, on Monday night in Bradfield, there was an event where five of the local synagogues came together for a prayer night, and that was in support of and in sympathy for the people of Israel, and particularly the victims of that appalling attack, and family members and friends. And I'm pleased to say that at that event, I was pleased to be there as the local federal MP, Matt Cross was there as the member for Davidson, Alister Henskens as the member for Wahroonga, and indeed the mayor of Ku-Ring-Gai Sam Ngai. So we wanted to send a strong message to the Jewish community of the upper North Shore that they had our full support and indeed to all Jewish Australians.

JOHN STANLEY: Because we touched on this last night, that the school you referred to in your electorate and the schools in the eastern suburbs of Sydney, they've got security around them, security guards at the gates, they've got metal detectors. So this sense of threat, it's an ongoing thing. The anti-Semitism in our community, do you understand it? 

PAUL FLETCHER: It is an unfortunate reality that there are special security arrangements for Jewish schools, for synagogues, certainly in Bradfield, but around Australia, other parts of Sydney and Melbourne, and indeed other parts of Australia. What we know sadly is that anti-Semitism is something that does have a continuing presence in Australia, and one of the most sickening things I think about the appalling terrorist attacks in Israel over the weekend was the chilling reminder of the evils of the Holocaust, in which of course many millions of Jews died. And this was once again violence being perpetrated against Jewish people because of their religion. I think that's one reason of many to be appalled and horrified by what's happened. Of course another is that Israel is a vibrant multi-party democracy. Now that certainly could not be said of the regime in Gaza. Hamas is a violent autocratic terrorist organisation, well known for perpetrating violence within the Palestinian community, and of course as we saw over the weekend, appalling violence against innocent men, women and children.

JOHN STANLEY: We have freedom of speech in this country, so you can express support for Palestine and you can express support for Israel, but where we have racial slurs, we have hate speech, which is not just offensive and reprehensible, it's illegal. And you've got Hamas flags, now if Hamas is a proscribed organisation, you shouldn't be able to wave their flags, should you?

PAUL FLETCHER: I think it's absolutely right to be asking very serious questions about why that march was allowed to proceed, why New South Wales police effectively took such a non-interventionist approach. The fact that Jewish people were told, don't go there, it's not safe, that's a terrible thing to say to people in their own city and their own country. And of course the terrible incident in which a gentleman who turned up to show support carrying an Israeli flag was effectively ordered by the police not to display it, that is extremely troubling. So I certainly want to see the New South Wales government enforcing the law. The Premier's had some things to say over the last couple of days, which I welcome. But we need to see the law being enforced and where we are seeing a small minority of people engaging in conduct which effectively amounts to celebrating the disgusting acts of violence that we saw in Israel over the weekend. That is just atrocious and in my view it's un-Australian. And absolutely the question should be asked, is the law being enforced and if it's not, then it should be.

JOHN STANLEY: Yeah and celebrating is disgusting as you say, but when you have some of the things that were said, f the Jews, some of the worse things that were said, that then threatens the safety of people who are living in this country. They feel unsafe.

PAUL FLETCHER: Well one of the things that is absolutely appalling about it is that Australia is one of the world's most successful multi-ethnic, multi-racial, multi-cultural nations. We have all, all of us worked very hard over many decades to achieve that. And that is something absolutely precious that we must hold onto and we must treasure. And where we see a small minority of people conducting themselves in a way which threatens that tolerance and that mutual understanding, then that must be responded to very firmly. That is un-Australian and it must be absolutely rejected.

JOHN STANLEY: Go with me here because I'm moving to what's happening on Saturday and I know you have to say that the votes aren't in, we don't know which way it's going to go. We all know it's going to be no. What are we going to need to do from Sunday if we get the no vote that everyone's expecting? What do we need to do to try and move forward, to try to deal with some of the issues that have been enunciated, that are issues that need to be dealt with, how do we deal with them?

PAUL FLETCHER: Well, I will start by offering the usual politician's disclaimer that there's only one poll that counts and we won't have the answer at six o'clock on Saturday night and a little bit later than that. If the referendum is not successful, then I think it is very important first of all that there is a clear message from political leaders and from all of us that this should not be interpreted in any way as a lack of respect for Indigenous Australians or in any way a lack of a very strong commitment to the continuing process of Indigenous Australians being full and vigorous participants in every aspect of Australian life. We all know the Closing the Gap targets on issues like infant mortality, unemployment, education levels. We all know there is much more work to do so that Aboriginal Australians and Torres Strait Islanders have the same quality of life that the broader Australian population enjoys. So there is much work to do there but it is I think very important that it be understood that if the referendum does not succeed that it is not in any way about anything other than a strong continuing commitment to Aboriginal Australians having a full and vigorous participation in modern Australian life.


Now when I talk to my constituents in the electorate of Bradfield what I detect is very strong goodwill towards Aboriginal Australians, a strong recognition of the fact that there is disadvantage and we need to continue to work to address that and of course there is a strong support for constitutional recognition of our first peoples in our constitution. What I also detect amongst many people I speak to is a lack of, they are not satisfied with the information they have been getting about what the voice would be as a structure and how it would work. So I think it will be important to be clear if as looks likely at the moment, if the referendum doesn't succeed, it will be important to be clear what that means but also not to draw inaccurate conclusions from it because it certainly, from as I say my conversations with my constituents, it would be wrong if the referendum does not succeed, it would be wrong to draw the conclusion that there is not strong support for constitutional recognition because in my view, certainly in my electorate, it is pretty clear that there is.

JOHN STANLEY: The concept that there are better ideas out there and we need to try and tap into those ideas and that's what the voice is all about, that's one thing but it seems to me that the stumbling block is putting them in the constitution in the way that it's proposed without any detail and I know that the government you were part of were looking at the idea of some sort of an advisory group but it was not going to go in the constitution, it was a different form where it could be put together and people could see and then it could be tested to see if it worked.

PAUL FLETCHER: Look, that's indeed right and we took to the last election a policy to go forward with local and regional voices and we committed funding for that and indeed Peter Dutton has made it clear that that remains part of the Liberal Party's policy while we've said we don't support the voice being entrenched in the constitution, we do support regional and local bodies. So there is much work to be done and much good work that can and will be done to continue to improve the position of Aboriginal Australians and to build on the progress that has been made. While there is much more that needs to be done, there has been good progress made. Warren Mundine made the point at an event I was at with him recently that there are now several hundred Aboriginal doctors in Australia and that when he was growing up as an Aboriginal boy, that was something that didn't exist and now there are a significant number of doctors who are Aboriginal and many other people in professional managerial roles as well. So there's much more to do but it's also important to recognise that progress has been made and regardless of the result of the referendum, the job of work to continue to improve outcomes for Aboriginal Australians will continue and that will continue to have I think strong support all across the parliament.

JOHN STANLEY: Alright, I'm going to leave it there, I appreciate that but I did want to flag one other thing because I'm trying to run some interviews late in the week, probably Friday nights, which are essentially termed why would you want to do that, rugby league referees, people who go and do something and I've looked at your background, you're a Fulbright scholar, you had a business career, you wrote plays I see, you got yourself into politics. So one day can we have a chat about why, given all that you had going there, all these different things you've done, why did you want to go and become a politician? I'd love to do that. Can we?

PAUL FLETCHER: Yeah, likewise John, I'd love to have that conversation, I will look forward to doing that.

JOHN STANLEY: And I'm right about the plays aren't you, you wrote a couple of plays?

PAUL FLETCHER: Yeah, look I did, when I was at uni with a few mates, both of them, well one of them lost a lot of money, the other made a small amount of money -

JOHN STANLEY: Let's have a chat, because I'm always intrigued as to why people, particularly because we're talking about people with life experience, we need them in politics, you've got a lot. But then there's the question of why you decided to do it, so I'd love to have that conversation down the track, so let's do it soon.

PAUL FLETCHER: I will look forward to that conversation John and thanks for your time tonight.