Mon, 18 Sep 2023 - 14:45
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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






RICHARD GLOVER: And with us also is Paul Fletcher, the Federal Liberal MP for Bradfield, Shadow Minister for Science and the Arts and the Shadow Minister for Government Services and the Digital Economy. Paul, good afternoon. And Paul is here on the phone line. Richard has to pick that up. Paul, good afternoon.

PAUL FLETCHER: Good to be with you, Richard.

RICHARD GLOVER: Showing my usual lack of competence of digital matters. Luckily, I don't have your job. Now, a month ago before the referendum, and from the no side, there are accusations thatthe yes side is demonising those who disagree with them. And from the yes side arguments that the naysayers are divided and have no united plan for what happens should they win the day. Warren Mundine, for instance, says a no vote should lead to a treaty, a proposition rejected by Jacinta Price. Which side is winning the argument in your view? And how would you like to see the debate deepen? Kerryn Phelps?


RICHARD GLOVER: We listened to Kerryn Phelps, David Borger and Paul Fletcher are also here. Paul, what do you make of the last week or fortnight of the debate on both sides?

PAUL FLETCHER: Well, I think that Australians are wanting to understand the choice they've got to make. Certainly, when I speak to my constituents, and I've been out and about in my electorate quite a bit in recent weeks, there's overwhelming goodwill towards Aboriginal Australians and a recognition that there is a systematic disadvantage and that's clear in the Closing the Gap figures as Kerryn touched on. There's overwhelming support for constitutional recognition. That's very clear, that people very strongly support the idea of our first Australians being recognised in the Constitution. But what I detect amongst many constituents I speak to, not all by any means, but amongst many, is that they're wanting to understand the details of how this will work and how in practical terms it will be effective to address disadvantage. And there is something of a sense of frustration that they're not getting the details that they want to receive. So I certainly sense among my constituents a very genuine effort to understand the issues here and people are thinking very conscientiously about the vote they've got to cast. But that would be my sense of how certainly in my own electorate people are thinking about the issues.

RICHARD GLOVER: Isn't the lack of detail in a funny sort of way an advantage in that it does mean that future governments can change it a little. They can say, oh look, there's been a huge growth in the Torres Strait Island population, we'll increase their representation by one seat, something like that. Whilst if you absolutely locked it in stone and said this is what you're voting for, it's going to be 27 people, they're going to be sitting here, they're going to have a bureaucracy of 100 people, whatever it is. Once you set all that in stone, that makes it a bit immovable. Isn't there an advantage in saying Parliament will decide this and Parliament will revisit it and be free to revisit it forever?

PAUL FLETCHER: It's certainly the case that there are some things that are better dealt with through legislation than through constitutional provisions. I think what people are wanting to see, though, is a sense of what's the overall policy design here and how is this as a mechanism in practical terms going to work to achieve better outcomes for Indigenous Australians when it comes to percentage of people who finish school or unemployment rates or life expectancies or all those other things where we all desperately want to see improvements. And where I notice the conversation going with a lot of my constituents is asking the question, well, how would this mechanism work? How would it deliver those practical outcomes? And they're sensing that they're not getting those answers. So I accept the proposition that you're not going to put all of that detail into the constitution. But you could certainly be, the government could certainly be explaining to the Australian people, here is what is going to be done. And they've made instead a conscious choice not to do that. Now it'll be a choice for the Australian people as to whether they find that a persuasive way forward or not.

RICHARD GLOVER: I mean, the question of how could it make a difference? That's no difference to saying, how does the Farmers Federation make a difference? The Farmers Federation alongside about 5,000 other advisory bodies. I know they're not in the constitution, but there's about a million advisory bodies representing the mining industry, representing big retailers, representing workers called the ACTU. There's a million organisations and they make representations to government. There's no sort of mystery as to how these things work. You argue a case and then government either ignores you or says, oh, actually, there's something in that.

PAUL FLETCHER: Well, of course, the existence of all kinds of bodies that advocate for particular outcomes to government is a highly desirable feature of our democratic system. But when you're talking about a body that has a formal status within the constitution, that is where I think, certainly the people who I'm had the chance to speak to, I detect a strong interest in understanding, okay, what is the case for this mechanism? And why should this body be in the constitution when all of the other bodies that you've rightly talked about are not? But again, I emphasise, what I'm seeing is a very conscientious engagement with the question which is before Australians, and people thinking through in a very genuine and open hearted way, are we persuaded that this particular mechanism will advance the cause or will it not?

RICHARD GLOVER: I guess one of the things is, we haven't talked about this, is maybe people got to say out loud, part of the argument for yes, whether you accept it or not, is that Indigenous people do have a special place. You know, they are slightly different from the Australian Retailers Association, marvellous though they are, because they had stewardship of this country for 65,000 years and because they had it taken away from them, leading to the sort of outcomes that you listed Paul.

PAUL FLETCHER: And again, I think that there is very strong acceptance of that proposition, which is why there is such widespread support for the notion of constitutional recognition. What I detect that people are wanting to understand though is, what is the link between recognising our first peoples in the Constitution and then the particular mechanism which is, as part of that, also proposed to be entrenched in the Constitution? What will that, what are the details of what that mechanism will be and how it will work? So as I say, that's what I'm detecting as a thought process of certainly many of my constituents.

RICHARD GLOVER: Is it really going, in truth, is it really going to make a difference to someone's vote, whether we end up with, I think Tom Cama talked about, I think it was 26 people being on this, on this, on The Voice, maybe, maybe parliament in the end will decide it should be 40 people, or even 60 people. Is someone's vote really depending on that sort of nuance?

PAUL FLETCHER:What I think people are a bit suspicious of is that the government seems very reluctant to say how the body will be structured, how people will be chosen, will they be elected, will they be appointed? And indeed, what's the breadth of issues on which it will have the capacity to make representations? Will that be determined by the Minister? So Linda Burney has said in Parliament, these are the areas of priority she would want it to focus on. But there are others saying, well, no, it'll be a matter for The Voice itself to determine what it makes representations on. And then what will be the consequences, for example, if it's found that a decision is made by parliamentarian, by Minister or indeed by a public servant, given that it extends to executive government, where there has not been adequate consultation with The Voice. So I think these are some of the questions of detail that people are interested in knowing the answers to. And they're, I think, a little frustrated, or certainly some of the people I speak to are a little frustrated that the government hasn't been very clear or forthcoming with answers to those questions.

RICHARD GLOVER:  Listening to Paul Fletcher, the Federal Liberal MP for Bradfield. With us also is Dr. Kerryn Phelps and David Borger from Business Western Sydney. Have you been hearing the debate over the last week or fortnight, David? And how do you hope it will go from here on in?


RICHARD GLOVER: David Borger, Kerryn Phelps and Paul Fletcher are here. Only two in five Australians are eating enough vegetables, a report by the CSIRO has found, saying that alcohol, takeaway food, confectionary increasingly dominate our diets. Some say it's up to individuals to do better. But should we also look at public policies? I mean, people in other countries, the UK, for instance, have introduced things like sugar taxes. Is that the nanny state, Kerryn Phelps, or is that just the way forward?


RICHARD GLOVER:  Ain't life tough? Paul Fletcher, do we need a bit of legislation? You know, in some countries they have introduced quite a moderate sugar tax. One example is Mexico. And the consumption of sugary Coca Cola, I haven't got the figures in front of me, but has dropped markedly. It's had a big impact on obesity rates.

PAUL FLETCHER: Always the kid who refused to eat broccoli and parsnips and Brussels sprouts in particular, I loathed and continue to loathe to this day. Now I know a lot of people love them, but I loathe them. So I approached this issue with a somewhat conflicted position. Look, there's no doubt that we have a public health challenge when it comes to, you know, obesity and linkage through to issues like type 2 diabetes, and these are significant problems. Look, I'm not attracted to the idea of a tax in the economist jargon. It would be regressive, that's to say it would hit hardest those on low incomes. And David makes the point, which I tend to agree with it, where people didn't change their behaviour, they just end up paying more. But I do think this needs to be an area of focus. I'd like to see more of a pull rather than push factors or carrot rather than stick to mixed metaphors. You know, clever public education campaigns. If you look at Slip Slop Slap as a public education campaign and how effective that was in changing behaviours to address the very real risk of skin cancer that's pretty, you know, Australia's one of the most exposed countries there, that's been pretty effective. So it's not easy to do because you've got to work out what the substantive messages are and then crystallise that down to something that's easily communicated. But I certainly think we need more effort in that area.

RICHARD GLOVER:  Part of the problem is this, you know, I remember Tony Abbott was a great one for saying, look, just pull your socks up, you know, it's up to the individual to do better. The problem with that theory, it seems to me is that that suggests that, you know, millions of individuals in the Western world all at the same time have just happened to have the same failure of will at the same time. There must be something about the commercial and physical environment in which we're living, the food marketing environment that we're all living in that has at least helped produce this obesity epidemic in so many countries at the same time.

PAUL FLETCHER: Well, clearly, there's a range of factors that come together and the relative abundance that we have in our society compared to what's been the case for, you know, almost all of human history, the fact that we have transport readily available, so we don't need to walk anywhere, all of these factors come together. And so, yes, we do need a policy response here. So I'm certainly not disagreeing with that proposition at all. I've just, I don't like the idea of using tax as the tool to do it. But I think some clever work on communicating to people in an easily understood way, here are the simple steps you can take, I think could do a lot of good.

RICHARD GLOVER:  We'll have a public campaign led by David Borger's daughters advocating, advocating, vegetarian food. David Borger from Business Western Sydney, Dr. Kerryn Phelps, former independent MP for Wentworth and Paul Fletcher, the Federal Liberal MP for Bradfield, he's also Shadow Minister for Science, the Arts, Government Services and the Digital Economy. Just finally, Clover Moore says Australia's pets deserve more rights, in particular the right to travel on public transport, including trains from which they are currently banned. She says this is the situation in Europe and even down south of the border in Victoria, and they seem to cope. So should we change the rules here? And how would the pets that you know personally cope with the extra responsibility of train travel? Kerryn Phelps.


RICHARD GLOVER:  Paul Fletcher, I don't know if you know some pets, but how would they cope with this responsibility? Do you think Clover's onto something?

PAUL FLETCHER: I disagree with Clover on this. I understand her argument about the rights of pets, but I think I'm more concerned about the rights of humans here. And I can just see this could go bad quite quickly. So I'm going to have to disagree with Clover and say that if it were up to me, of course, it's not because it's a state issue, but if it were up to me, I would not be supporting this.

RICHARD GLOVER:  What about the Germans, for instance, where every department store has a hunderbar in front of it with water for the dog. They're allowed to travel anywhere. They sit in restaurants. It's marvellous.

PAUL FLETCHER: Well, we're a world of great diversity and different countries take different approaches to these pressing issues.