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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




19 October 2023


GREG JENNETT:  Let's get the Opposition's perspective now on much of what's gone on in the Parliament this week, as we usually try to in sitting periods. Liberal Frontbencher and Manager of Opposition Business Paul Fletcher joins us now. Welcome back Paul. Palestinians, are they being collectively punished in your view for the action of Hamas? Do you see anything confronting about the language being used by Ed Husic and Anne Aly?

PAUL FLETCHER: What we know is there was a vicious terrorist attack in which we now know some 1500 Israelis were killed, many of them unarmed men, women and children. We also know is that Israel has a legitimate right to self-defence and I was pleased to vote a motion in the Parliament which affirms that principle. Israel of course is  doing everything it can to warn civilians in Gaza to allow them to take steps to secure their safety. The sad fact is that the Gaza is governed by the vicious terrorist group Hamas who have a track record of using civilians including Palestinian civilians effectively as human shields. The solution to this lies in the hands of Hamas but I fear that we will not see them change their spots.

GREG JENNETT: I am sure it is more about decisions being made in the Middle East than on Australian foreign policy settings. But since you did give bipartisan support to that 16 point motion in the house, does that mean you endorse all aspects of the government's approach and language concerning this crisis?

PAUL FLETCHER: The government has been cleared and we congratulate them on been clear on lsrael's right to self defence  and on our strong support as a nation for Israel which is the only democracy in the Middle East, a country with which we have strong people to people ties and just in the last few days, my electorate in Bradfield has the second highest Jewish community in New South Wales and I attended a prayer service, several synagogues across the North Shore came together for that. A moving event and at that event and subsequently, my constituents have been telling me stories of people they know personally to them who have been killed, been abducted, this is very raw and very direct for a lot of people.

GREG JENNETT: Are they raising, those constituents you mentioned - raising concerns for their own safety, the level of protection either around places of worship or places of education? That is obviously front of mind for ASIO and for the government right now.

PAUL FLETCHER: There is concern amongst my constituents about their safety and sadly many Jewish Australians are now feeling a heightened sense of anxiety. We congratulate the government for the steps they have announced in terms of additional funding for security at places of worship and of course my constituents whether they be Muslim constituents who worship at the Islamic community centre in Hornsby or who worship at the four synagogues in my electorate. Of course the many churches, the Buddhist temple, all of them are entitled to safety and security and I want to endorse what the Prime Minister said in that clip you just ran - we are one of the world's most successful multiethnic and multicultural and multiracial nations. It has been built with great effort by millions of people over many decades and we must protect that and we must demonstrate tolerance and understanding to all, all the diverse ethnicities, races, religions.

GREG JENNETT: I think a lot of people are alive to that consideration. Peter Dutton suggested at the end of Question Time, the Prime Minister might be well advised to consider going to Washington via Tel Aviv. What are be gained by that? Does Benjamin Netanyahu have a lot in his plate right now?

PAUL FLETCHER: There are strong ties between Israel and Australia. Israel is raising very difficult challenges at the moment and it is very important that nations like Australia are expressing our clear and direct support for Israel. A visit from the Prime Minister to Israel, I think would send that message in very clear, strong terms and that is the reason why Peter Dutton has suggested it.

GREG JENNETT: Would it make a difference?

PAUL FLETCHER: I think it would be seen as a clear gesture of support. Obviously in a number of ways our nation has already indicated its support for the people of Israel, for the families of those who have been killed or wounded or abducted and for the impact it is having on his multiparty democracy but it would be a strong gesture of support.

GREG JENNETT: Alright, let's go to the Voice. All of us really got an admission of responsibility from the Prime Minister and yet you persisted with a great many questions about it all week. What exactly are you seeking? How much longer can you persist with this?

PAUL FLETCHER: We have asked questions of the Prime Minister this week because of course the policy position that he announced coming into the election and during the election and subsequently is that he is fully committed to the Uluru Statement from the Heart, so that is a  Voice, a Makarrata commission, that is a treaty making process, that's financial reparations. What we have been seeking to get clarity from the Prime Minister on is whether that remains the governments position. On Sunday, the Deputy Prime Minister Richard Marles that yes, the Albanese Labor government was fully committed to Voice, Treaty and Truth but since that time, the Prime Minister has been walking away from it and his excuse, which is a threadbare one, says Indigenous leaders have declared a week of silence so I want to wait until that is over.

GREG JENNETT: I think he also said time and consultation. What is wrong with that?

PAUL FLETCHER: Well, Australians deserve to know what the prime minister's plan is and whether he remains committed to the multiple elements of what he said was in his agenda. That is simply what we have been trying to find out, trying to get the truth on behalf of the Australian people as we have consistently done in relation to the Voice and matters of Indigenous policy. One of the issues with the Voice is that there was a lack of willingness by the Prime Minister to provide the details. We sought to get the details from Australians and again we have an using Question Time to hold the government to account. The Prime Minister doesn't particularly like being held to account is now establishing quite a track record for cancelling weeks of Parliament. Let's bare in mind next week -

GREG JENNETT: Actually, you're inviting a question from me on that . Not so much about this year but we do have next year setting calendar out. It is suggesting that he is short changing -


GREG JENNETT: By how many weeks?

PAUL FLETCHER: Well, the first version that was stable in the Senate last night was 16 weeks. They realise that was a bit indefensible  - they have increased to 17. But this is still very very light on. The average, if you take the last Coalition government, and the House of Representatives, excluding election years, which always have fewer sitting weeks and excluding 2020 effected by COVID-19, 18.6 weeks was the average number across that time. 17 weeks is pretty light on. This is a prime minister who claimed to be committed to more transparency and accountability but he seems to avoid it whenever he can.

GREG JENNETT: Alast, not for the first time, the bells are ringing in the chamber and you will have to run. I think we have most of what we want out of you before then. Thank you for joining us.