Shadow Home Affairs Minister Karen Andrews – Transcript – ABC RN Drive 11 April 2023
Subjects: The Voice
KATHRYN ROBINSON: One of his colleagues on the liberal front bench is the Shadow Home Affairs minister Karen Andrews, and she joins me now on RN Drive. Welcome back to the program.
KAREN ANDREWS: Hello, Kathryn. It’s a pleasure to be back.
KATHRYN ROBINSON: Karen. Firstly, what’s your reaction to Julian Leeser’s resignation from the front bench?
KAREN ANDREWS: Well, I’m disappointed because Julian Leeser was a very highly valued member of our shadow front bench. So I’m disappointed that he’s no longer there, but he remains a member of the Liberal party and he will continue to contribute as such. In some ways though, I’m probably not surprised that Julian came to the conclusion that he did, he has been a very strong advocate for a number of years for changes to be made, including to the Constitution in support of Indigenous Australians. So I’m not surprised that when our position was made very clear last week that we would not be supporting the amendments to the Constitution as proposed by the Prime Minister, that Julian took the position that he wanted to advocate for a yes position and to do so he needed to resign for the front bench.
KATHRYN ROBINSON: I mean, Julian Leeser has done a lot of work in this space, which I’m sure you are aware of. You say that you’re disappointed by his decision to move to the back bench, but did the party’s decision to vote no put him really in an untenable position?
KAREN ANDREWS: Well, can I just clarify that I’m not disappointed in actions that Julian has chosen to take. I’m disappointed that he’s no longer part of our front bench.
KATHRYN ROBINSON: Sure.
KAREN ANDREWS: So just wanted to make that clear. Look, Julian was an incredibly strong advocate for the position that he thought was the right position to take. But when the issues in relation to the constitutional amendments were discussed, firstly at Shadow Cabinet and then in the liberal party room, it was very clear that the overwhelming view was that we could not, and would not support the amendment as proposed by the Prime Minister that left Julian in the position. If he felt that strongly that he could not continue to advocate for that position, then he needed to resign.
KATHRYN ROBINSON: But wasn’t it the party’s decision to vote no, that really left him with no option putting him in that untenable position?
KAREN ANDREWS: Oh, look, without a doubt, if the party had come to a different view, then Julian would probably have still been on the front bench. But the reality is the overwhelming majority of people in the liberal party voted to oppose a proposed amendment. And as Julian said in his own words, to the effect that he had tried to persuade the party room, his colleagues, but he was unable to do so, and hence he took the decision that he did today.
KATHRYN ROBINSON: Yes, he did make that very clear that he was unsuccessful at convincing colleagues to support the voice. Are you going to be actively campaigning for the no campaign?
KAREN ANDREWS: What I have been very clear about is that I’m certainly not going to be out there in a shirt that says ‘no’, has that emblazoned across the front of it. I am very keen to make sure that the Australian people have the opportunity to understand the advantages and the disadvantages of what is being proposed. But I will be continuing to point out to people the concerns that I have in relation to the amendment as it is currently proposed. So I’m very strongly against the wording as it is currently proposed.
KATHRYN ROBINSON: Okay. So how much does Julian Leeser’s decision to move to the back bench affect the no campaign?
KAREN ANDREWS: Well, the no campaign is going to continue and there will be some of my parliamentary colleagues who are very actively involved in very strongly campaigning for no, there will be others that will continue to quietly go about their work and make sure that people have the opportunity to hear both sides whilst pointing out the reasons why as party we’re not supporting the current wording. So, you know, I think that’s probably where things sit at that the moment, and I think it was the right decision for the liberal party to take, and now it’s up to the individuals, individual members of that to work through how they’re going to present that position and how they’re going to speak to their own constituencies.
KATHRYN ROBINSON: What does this resignation more broadly say about the party and the potential divisions? I mean, we’ve seen Ken Wyatt end his liberal party membership and Julian Leeser move to the back bench today.
KAREN ANDREWS: Well, you know, there are obviously different points of view on any number of issues across parties, and we see some of those played out in all parties, not just the coalition. So I think what’s important to understand is that the liberal party is certainly a party where you can have differences. You’ll have to take various actions as a result of that, but you still are welcome to remain in the party. Now, in Ken Wyatt’s case, he has chosen not to continue to be a member of the liberal party. He’s also no longer a member of Parliament. So he is free to do that with Julian Leeser, he took the decision that he couldn’t support the position that the party had taken in relation to constitutional amendments, and he chose to step down from the front bench so that he continued to advocate for what he thought was the right way forward.
KATHRYN ROBINSON: Pauline Hanson has just called for the resignation of Simon Birmingham on Twitter. She said, and I’ll quote this to you, shadow cabinet members who have stated their support for the voice, like Simon Birmingham should also resign today as leader of the opposition in the Senate, Senator Birmingham will not provide the leadership, the coalition must have to effectively oppose the voice. What is your response to that comment from Pauline Hanson?
KAREN ANDREWS: Look, I think that the position that we have within our own party, particularly in relation to the front bench is that if you cannot support the position, you cannot, as a cohesive unit go out and support that, then you need to resign. Now, Simon Birmingham and others have been out there and they have been very clear on what the opposition’s position is.
KATHRYN ROBINSON: So should Senator Birmingham resign?
KAREN ANDREWS: As long as Senator Birmingham and others are able to continue to prosecute the decision that has been made by the coalition, the liberal party, in this case, there is no reason for anyone to resign.
KATHRYN ROBINSON: Okay, so between this, what’s happened today and the loss of at Aston is Peter Dutton’s leadership under threat? Now?
KAREN ANDREWS: I don’t believe that it is. I think that Peter is very strongly supported within the party, I’m not aware of any moves at all in particular that would lead to a challenge to his leadership. So my answer to that is very clearly no, Peter is very well supported and he will continue on as leader unopposed.
KATHRYN ROBINSON: Okay. So if the referendum result returns a yes vote, what does that mean for his leadership?
KAREN ANDREWS: I don’t think that his leadership is dependent on the outcome of a referendum at this point in time, there is no reason to suggest that Peter Dutton will not be the leader at the time we go to the next election. I’m very confident that he will be.
KATHRYN ROBINSON: Okay if you’ve just tuned into RN Drive. Welcome, thanks for your company. I’m joined by Shadow Home Affairs minister Karen Andrews, who’s speaking about her colleague Julian Leeser’s decision to leave the liberal front bench over its position on the Voice to Parliament, if I can, just for a moment, Karen, play you a comment made by Julian today.
KATHRYN ROBINSON: Do you agree with that comment?
KAREN ANDREWS: Yes, I do. Yes, I do. My biggest concern is that so far what we have seen from the government is a lack of response. So some pretty legitimate questions that have been asked by the coalition, and I am very strongly of the view that if people are being required to vote on something as important as a change to our Constitution, which is the most important legal document in Australia, then they should be given the opportunity to understand the issues. And, many of the questions that people are asking of MPs have been pushed put to the labor government, and we have not had a sensible, reasonable response. What we tend to get is a lot of criticism for even daring to ask that question now. I don’t think that is a reasonable way to treat parliamentary colleagues, and I don’t think that that is a yet reasonable way to treat the Australian public.
KATHRYN ROBINSON: If I can just ask one final question and, and briefly, if I may, over the next six weeks, Julian Leeser will seek to change the wording of the proposed constitutional change to omit the ability of the voice to advise executive government, in a nutshell, if he’s successful. Karen, would you consider changing your mind on how you will vote?
KAREN ANDREWS: Well, I think that there will be a lot of consideration given to any changes. I’ve made it very clear that I oppose the words as they currently are. Are there another set of words that I would think are reasonable? Quite possibly, but I have a very minimalist approach to changes to the Constitution. So I would be looking at the minimum change and then look at what legislative changes could subsequently be made.
KATHRYN ROBINSON: Shadow Home Affairs Minister Karen Andrews, thanks so much.