Sky News Political Panel Tom Connell and James Paterson


SUBJECT/S: Religious discrimination; Indigenous recognition; Four year terms; Superannuation  

TOM CONNELL: Welcome back to the program, let’s go to our political panel we’ve got Liberal Senator James Paterson in our Melbourne studio and Assistant Labor Minister Matt Keogh joining us from Perth. Thanks both for your time. Let’s talk religious freedoms, Matt Keogh I might start with you, some push within religious groups on protections like the religious discrimination act – what are your thoughts on that?

MATT KEOGH: Well we’re looking to see what the government is going to propose. We know that it’s out consulting with its own backbench which is very appropriate. We want to work with the government to make sure there’s considered progress on this matter. We know that there are concerns in the community about this but the government needs to get its own house in order first and we’ve seen the Attorney General out talking to the back bench about that and once the disunity in the Government is somewhat resolved I guess they’ll be prepared to engage with us on that, perhaps James has a bit more insight? 

CONNELL: James feel free to tell us what happened in there but first of all your thoughts on this push from religious groups on a religious discrimination type act. 

SENATOR JAMES PATERSON: Well the call that I saw in the media today Tom was to replicate the anti-vilification provisions in the racial discrimination act commonly known as 18C in any religious discrimination act. Now putting together whatever our views are on 18C and mine are well on the public record, I think there’s no reason why you would treat race and religion differently in discrimination law. Maintaining free speech about religious matters is crucially important if you are to maintain religious freedom because religious freedom is a freedom to have faith, it’s the freedom to not have faith and it’s the freedom to change your faith and you’re only able to do that is you’ve got the freedom to live in a society where there’s complete freedom about faith. I think any attempt to restrict that would be very unwise both from the perspective of freedom of faith and religious liberty. 

CONNELL: So what’s the case for treating race and religion differently in that regard?

PATERSON: Well race is clearly an innate characteristic that no one can change. You are born the way you are. Religion is something people can and do change through their lives and it’s something you can have more of a debate about than I think most people would think you could have on matters of race. 

CONNELL: For many people though they’re born into a religion, there’s never any thought of doing anything else. Isn’t there a similarity there? 

PATERSON: Some people are Tom... That’s certainly true but in a free society it’s up them to examine their beliefs to change them if they wish or if they choose to hold on to their beliefs and it’s vitally important that religious beliefs and practices in a free society can be subject to criticism for debate where appropriate and when appropriate. 

CONNELL: And so to clarify, in a perfect world you wouldn’t seek to water down the racial discrimination act?

PATERSON: Tom you know me, I’m a strong advocate for freedom of speech. In the past 18C has been interpreted by the courts in a way that has limited free speech and I think that’s a damaging thing in a free society. 

CONNELL: Matt Keogh do you agree that it’s fair enough to treat race and religion differently? 

KEOGH:  Well I think you have to look at the principles behind anti-discrimination law generally and I think the point is we don’t want to see discrimination at all. The principles are the same we don’t want discrimination on any particular grounds – whether its sexuality, race or religion or gender and I think for those reasons they’re the sorts of protections people are talking about. But the critical issue is how the government is putting this into law. There’s clearly some disagreement across the backbench within the government about how they are going to do that. We want to engage with government but we have to see what they’re going to propose first. Those protections are important. Freedom of speech is also very important but we’ve made a decision in society for a long time that those freedoms are appropriately within bounds so you don’t infringe on other rights by using your freedom of speech.  

CONNELL: Do you agree though that race is innate vs religion? The point made by James Paterson?

KEOGH: Well I think that’s true, religion you can change, but also you need to accept it’s a very important part of what makes a person and what they believe. Yes they can change religion but most people don’t. As you pointed out a lot of people are brought up in a particular religious tradition. Religion and culture are very strongly connected and that also has a connection to their country background, their cultural background so those protections do need to be strong. But we also need to make sure with things like freedom of speech and I know James is a passionate advocate for an unbridled protection of freedom of speech but we need to make sure that freedom doesn’t impinge on other freedoms and that’s why legislation in the realms of freedoms is important, so those boundaries are clear.  

CONNELL: James, what about sexuality? Is that innate? 

PATERSON: Gee Tom, I think most people are probably born the way they are. 

CONNELL: So it is innate or not?

PATERSON: I think most people would say they’ve felt the way they have their whole life and they can’t change it, it’s just who they are. 

CONNELL: Right so that’s on the same level as race, different to religion?

PATERSON: It’s similar, I think that’s true for someone’s identity, the way the present to the world, the way they’re attracted to is set and not something they can change. 

CONNELL: Alright, let’s talk about four year fixed terms. The states are all doing it, why not the Commonwealth Matt Keogh and what would Labor do, you wanted this within your policy, what do you do now you’re in opposition?  

KEOGH: Well as you point out Tom, we’re in opposition so that’s up to the Government but I think a four year fixed term at a Commonwealth level would be very helpful for the nation. I think it would provide Government with greater stability in being able to roll out an agenda and provide time for that agenda to take hold. I think it would be important also for the nation because it would provide certainty to people, particularly in business but also government, state government as well, if there was a fixed four year term for the commonwealth. If we went down that path, we’d also be able to identify a time frame to make sure there were no clashes between state elections and a Commonwealth election. The same advantages we get at state elections would apply at a commonwealth level and I think where we have seen a degree of uncertainty over a number of issues at a Commonwealth level for a few years now, having that certainty is something I think the Australian people would like to see. 

CONNELL: How does it work in timing because we’ve got Ken Wyatt today saying we’ve got three years he wants indigenous recognition referendum, could they be held at the same time? Is there a danger of confusing or mixing such long, pushed for, reform?

KEOGH: I think there is a danger when you mix in two very different issues into the same referenda time frame. That is a concern but I think when it comes to constitutional recognition of our first nation’s people is that it doesn’t need to be happening – that doesn’t need to take a full three year time frame to occur. I know he’s talking about it in three years but the point has been made, Pat Dodson made the point this morning – there’s also already been so much consultation, so much work done in the parliament, so much engagement with the community on these issues that the government could move forward much more quickly on that issue and there’s still time to separately deal with the issue of fixed four year terms for the Commonwealth Government.    

CONNELL: So maybe do that at the next election, is that what you’re saying, that you’d support it at the next election even if it’s looking bad for Labor and we’ve got four more years of Scott Morrison?

KEOGH: Obviously one of the inevitable consequences of going to a fixed four year term is that if you’re on the losing side that’s an additional year in opposition, but I think Australians would like the stability that it would provide for government for business for the Australian people and for the state governments that have to work with the commonwealth. It really does provide a compelling argument and I think fundamentally the people of Australia would like the certainty of knowing when governments are going to go to an election and that additional time is provided for an agenda to be laid out.  

CONNELL: James Paterson? You on board?

PATERSON: I understand why people support four year terms Tom but I gotta say I’m pretty sceptical. I’m particularly sceptical that it would be a good idea to go to the Australian people in a  referendum to ask them to have less of a say or more frequent say in the direction of their country in a time where there is a bit of cynicism about the political system and the political class, I think giving people a regular election, a regular say, (Connell interjects) maybe that’s attractive to some but I think there’s other Australians who jealously guard the option to boot us or boot the other side of politics out if they think we’re off track. And telling them they’ll be able to do that less often is…

CONNELL: You could try and convince voters, would it be a good idea, would it be good for the country?

PATERSON: That’s what I’m saying; I’m sceptical about the merits Tom. I think us regularly facing the people to justify our policies is a healthy thing in our democracy and I think making us justify ourselves and our plan for the nation is less often is a bad idea. 

CONNELL: I just wanted to ask the idea of superannuation increases might not be all that good for the median worker. Should this be up for debate?

PATERSON: Well as you might be aware Tom, the government has a retirement income review that was a recommendation of the productivity commission and it’s my hope it would look at issues like this. I’ve got to say I think the Grattan Institute research in this area is quite compelling, particularly in a time of relatively low wages growth. If we are requiring employers to pay more superannuation, that’s less money to pay higher wages. As the Ken Henry review into the taxation system found and many other researchers found. 

CONNELL: Mmm, so you’d be supportive of delaying this perhaps, regardless of what we get out of the inquiry? 

PATERSON: Well I’d be interested in what the inquiry comes up with but we definitely have to balance the concerns of say young workers who are desperate for any dollar they can get at this stage compared to their retirement which will be in 40 or 50 years’ time and the Grattan Institute research suggests it may not even improve their retirement income that much.

CONNELL: What did you make of the research Matt? It looked at people who were on $58,000 you’d be worse off, if you’re on a lot more you’d be better off. 

KEOGH: I think one of the things the research highlights is the continued delay of previous conservative governments on delaying the rate of increase of superannuation contributions is now causing these problems. We would already be at 12 per cent if we didn’t have the continued delays and those increases would be more easily worn when we had that higher income growth in those periods. It does feel harder when we are getting low income growth. But if we’re ever going to reach this more sustainable, retirement income system that we all crave, we need to make sure we’re increasing the rate of contribution up towards and getting to 12 per cent. I know the Grattan Institute talks about the costs to the budget of doing that and when we reach a break-even point – well that would have been earlier if we hadn’t had these continued delays in increasing the contribution and we’ll never get there if governments keep putting it off so it is important we keep striving towards this 12 per cent goal of contributions to superannuation so we do have a more sustainable system and the reality is people like a system where they have control over their funds. If there’s a lesson that came strongly from the election we just had, is that people do want to have a well-functioning superannuation system which they can rely upon and they see as their own money in retirement where they’re not purely dependant on the commonwealth government funding them through a pension system. So we need to be sure that we’re backing in that system going forward and not continually delaying as we’ve seen under successive conservative governments this move towards higher contribution amounts of superannuation. 

CONNELL: Alright well lots of people saying fix the system before you tip more money into it. We’ll see what the review finds. James Paterson, Matt Keogh, thanks for your time. 

PATERSON: Thanks Tom 

KEOGH: Great to be with you. 


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