Topics: Religious Discrimination Bill, behaviour at Parliament House, the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (Quad) meeting
NEIL BREEN: Every Wednesday I speak to Home Affairs Minister and MP for McPherson on the Gold Coast Karen Andrews and boy, oh, boy, is there some stuff happening in Canberra. She joins me on the line. Good morning, Minister.
KAREN ANDREWS: Good morning, Neil. How are you?
NEIL BREEN: I’m well, thanks. Now, every politician in Canberra will be asked this question today so I’m going to open this interview with: Are you going to the Grace Tame and Brittany Higgins speech at the National Press Club today?
KAREN ANDREWS: No, I’m not, and the reason I’m not going is I very rarely go to a National Press Club event when Parliament is sitting, and today I’ve got legislation that we’ve got to deal with tomorrow and next week, so I’m very focused on that. So I don’t have the time to put aside to go to the National Press Club today. I will be able to see parts of it from my office anyway whilst I’m still working here, but I will be at Parliament House.
NEIL BREEN: Will many be going? Like, obviously, the Senate is different from the House of Representatives and there’s bills and all sorts of things happening. Will many members of the Coalition be attending today?
KAREN ANDREWS: My understanding is there’s a couple of Coalition members and Senators who will be attending today, and if they can manage their time to be able to be there, good on them. No issues at all with that. And clearly, some of them have been able to do that, so that’s a positive thing.
NEIL BREEN: Do you think that there will be a pile-on of people who don’t go? I can see today developing into a bit of a witch‑hunt over who went and who didn’t go and particularly you’re in an acute position, unfortunately, Karen Andrews because you’re a female. People are going to look at you as a female and go, “Well, why weren’t you there supporting Grace Tame and Brittany Higgins because you’re a female?”
KAREN ANDREWS: Well, I’m here to support all of the population, but as a woman, I do support women very strongly, and I’m on the record of giving my views very publicly about what I thought of the behaviours in Parliament House. I also said that behaviours at workplaces need to be improved as well. I don’t think my attendance or nonattendance at a Press Club event does anything to diminish what my views and what my actions have been.
NEIL BREEN: And I think we support you. I don’t think – I know we support you here at 4BC Breakfast about your call for a booze ban in Parliament House. How’s that been going?
KAREN ANDREWS: Well, I think that certainly things have changed in Parliament House over the last 12 months, and that’s a good thing. So, I visibly see less signs of alcohol around the place. That’s a positive. Look, I would prefer that there was no alcohol here, without a doubt. I mean, it’s a workplace. It shouldn’t be here. Simple as that. Could you imagine if that was happening out on the shop floor? I mean, it just would not be allowed. We’re a workplace. People shouldn’t be drinking. I have very strong views on that; not widely supported necessarily in the place in which I work, but they’re still my views and I’m still happy to say it.
NEIL BREEN: Well, you couldn’t find alcohol here at 4BC. You’d have to search far and wide and I worked at News Corp for many years and in the late ‘90s Rupert Murdoch banned alcohol at News Corp premises worldwide – worldwide. And everyone just accepted it and got on with life and moved on. Can I move on now to the Religious Discrimination Bill? There was a marathon Coalition Party Room meeting last night. We’ve got to a position whereby the bill will prevent students from being expelled from religious schools for being gay, but the same protection is not offered to transgender students. Is it fair to say that’s the position you’ve got to in the Coalition Party Room?
KAREN ANDREWS: Well, the issues are much broader than that and I think you’ve got to go back to the fundamental reasons as to why this bill has been introduced into the house, and, that is simply because as a Government we support religious freedoms. And we made it very clear that we would be introducing and planning to pass legislation in relation to religious freedoms. So, we are saying that Australians have the right to practise religion if that’s what they choose to do. If they choose not to, then that’s okay as well. No‑one should be discriminated against because of their religious views. Now, as part of that argument people have looked at what happens at faith-based schools. There have been rights and responsibilities associated with faith-based schools for many years in terms of them being able to recruit staff members with particular religious views or to choose not to recruit staff who have particular views. The issue that has been raised has been in relation to what will happen at same-sex schools, in particular for those students who are transitioning. So, for example, a girl at an all-girls school who is starting to or has transitioned to male, boy – what will happen at that school? Now, I think that we’ve also got to look at common sense in this: the child, the parent and the school and what is in the best interests of the child. Now, we’ve seen this play out in many schools over the years, and the reality is that most, if not all schools are very focused on the best interests of the child.
NEIL BREEN: So, what’s the best interests – that the female who transitions to male leaves the school?
KAREN ANDREWS: Look, I think the whole process has to be managed, Neil, and none of this has an easy solution to it. But as a Government, we’re prepared to take the difficult decision to introduce legislation into Parliament that deals with religious discrimination. Now, Michaelia Cash, who I think has done a outstanding job as the Attorney General in bringing it all together, getting legislation into Parliament to deal with religious discrimination, has also said that she will use the expertise of the Australian law reform council to deal with outstanding matters, and I think that’s probably a very positive way forward. Look, the reality is that we can miss out on making advances and progressing a number of issues if we wait until we get the absolutely perfect legislation. Now, in the House, there’s debate happening. It started last night. It will continue today. A lot of views will be aired and it will be put to a vote. A lot of it is being commentated on in the media and I think that that’s probably a good thing along as it goes to the broad issues that are being canvassed in the Religious Discrimination Act and it doesn’t just focus on one issue.
NEIL BREEN: I understand that, but the reason the focus on the one issue for the very reasons you expressed over the last two minutes in which you didn’t express an opinion or tell us what would happen: would a female transitioning to being a male be able to be expelled from All Hallows’ School here in Brisbane?
KAREN ANDREWS: Under the act that we are – the bill that we are putting into Parliament and is being debated now, then the school would have that level of discretion. Whether the school would choose that is another point. –
NEIL BREEN: Do you support that yourself, Karen Andrews?
KAREN ANDREWS: I think it’s problematic, without a doubt. And I’m not going to walk away from that –
NEIL BREEN: You think it’s problematic that they could be expelled or you think it’s problematic that you are going to have it in the legislation?
KAREN ANDREWS: I think it’s a problematic situation and I think it goes back to the school to be able to manage that in the best interests of the child. But let me be clear: I’m supporting that legislation. I think it is good legislation. I think it is strong legislation. I think it should be passed. That’s the view of a committee – two committees, in fact – that have looked at that legislation. I think it’s incumbent on the schools to make sure that they are managing situations in the best interests of the child. So, I think the legislation should be passed. I will be voting for it.
NEIL BREEN: On a separate note, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken – this is happening without anyone really noticing while we’re worried about all these things in Canberra. He arrives in Australia today. There will be these Quad meetings in Melbourne. That’s the US, Australia, Japan and India. These are pretty significant meetings.
KAREN ANDREWS: Yes, they absolutely are and I’m delighted that US Secretary of State Antony Blinken will be here today. These discussions are very important. The Quad is very important to us. So, that’s Australia, the US, India and Japan. It is very important that we work closely with like-minded countries. Our liberal democratic values are important to us. We know that there are significant concerns facing the world, but we also know that there are significant issues in the region in which we are located. The Pacific region is very important to us, so it is particularly important that we are meeting today with Antony Blinken but also with India and Japan.
NEIL BREEN: Home Affairs Minister, Karen Andrews. Well, it will be rough and tumble in Canberra today. Enjoy.
KAREN ANDREWS: Look, it’s certainly a big week.