4BC Drive with Scott Emerson - 23 November 2021


SUBJECTS: Remote Parliament, Coalition Senators crossing the floor, Labor’s 2030 target, Election of new Speaker in the House of Representatives

SCOTT EMERSON, HOST:  Every week we are joined by the Labor Member for Oxley. Milton Dick is also a former ALP State Secretary here in Queensland and former Opposition Leader in the Brisbane City Council. How are you, Milton?

MILTON DICK MP, FEDERAL MEMBER FOR OXLEY:  Hi Scott Good afternoon. I'm really well today.

EMERSON:  Now you're down in Canberra at the moment?

DICK:  No remote parliament for the first time. So-

EMERSON:  How are you finding the remote Parliament? Do you get your face on the big screen in the House of Reps when you ask a question?

DICK:  I do and I'm pretty nervous because, it's the dreaded mute button we've all made when we've been on Zoom. So I'm constantly making sure that I'm not saying or looking the wrong way because the whole Parliament can see that. But I'll be speaking on a number of bills this week. And it's the first time I've done remote parliament. But I do think it's a good option, particularly as we've seen during the pandemic, having those options available. And I'll just make sure that my background and screen is all well behaved as you know, I've seen those disasters on some zoom YouTube videos and I don't want to be part of that.

EMERSON:  You haven't got the cats or the dogs coming in climbing around in the backyard?

DICK:  No, no, not at all. I'm going to be blocking the door and looking intently.

EMERSON:  Alright, just by the way, when you're coming into Parliament remotely. Can you still vote?

DICK:  No. They pandemic provisions that are in place enable MPs to debate, obviously ask questions during Question Time, and in fact the Prime Minister when he was in his quarantine for one of his overseas trips representing Australia, we were able to ask him questions. And in the Senate you've also seen some Ministers be able to take questions as well and the Senate is slightly different in their voting procedures, but in the House to vote for legislation you have to be there in person.

EMERSON:  All right, then. So does that mean that people are doing it remotely? Are they paired in terms of voting?

DICK:  Yes, so there'll be a number of MPs, particularly from Queensland and Western Australia, where we have those quarantine requirements that the Government and the Opposition come to an arrangement to make sure that our votes are still counted, so to speak, but not cast, if that makes sense. So they are cancelled out by the other side.

EMERSON:  Well, I guess I wanted to ask you about the voting rules over there in terms of COVID and people doing it remotely, because obviously we have seen some more developments on the coalition side in the Morrison Government this week in terms of well, Coalition Senators, at least, begin with voting for Pauline Hansen's Private Member's bills. So, voting against the Morrison Government, their own party in that. Now, it's happened before and I know that the Liberal Party particularly says, well, that's part of our rules of our party, you can vote against the party, that's part of the deal, but it does look messy for the Morrison Government and clearly with the threats from say, people like Gerard Rennick, not to support any Coalition bills going forward. How much of a mess is this going to be for the Morrison Government for the rest of this term at this stage?

DICK:  Well, Governments and political parties never like it when people break from the fray, but what you're seeing is more chaos inside the Government, where five members of the Government voted with One Nation yesterday, particularly to support Pauline Hansen's anti-mandate vaccination bill and as you said, Senator Gerard Rennick, who is a member of the LNP but also a member of the Government, has said that he won't support any Government legislation alongside Senator Alex Antic, another South Australian Liberal Senator, until they get their way. Now, I think this is a bit of hostage taking by these senators. I mean, they've got a job to do, they think they're representing their communities. But I've got to tell you, Scott, if you're Scott Morrison, you're just tearing your hair out because the last thing you want is Government members - and you saw George Christiansen today announced that he will be voting with his conscience in the House of Representatives. And that's where it gets a lot more difficult, because Scott Morrison only has a one seat majority in the House of Representatives. And that's when you'll see the Government relying on either Craig Kelly or the crossbench to try and pass legislation, with some pretty big pieces of leg coming up this week, including the issue around Voter ID stuff that you and I have spoken about before.

EMERSON: Or the other one, that won't be voted on this week but obviously it's coming into the house, is this Religious Discrimination Bill that the AG, well, has been pushing through? I think Scott Morrison is going to introduce it into Parliament tomorrow. Obviously there's going to be a lot of debate about that. What's Labor's stance on this bill?

DICK:  Well, we've discussed this quite significantly within our party room. There's been a lot of work done, led by our Shadow Attorney General Mark Dreyfus. Anthony Albanese has made it clear that he supports religious freedom in Australia, as do I. I've met with a number of faith leaders in my own community. I do think it's appropriate that we have protections for people to worship and to follow their own religion but obviously, not at the expense of any discrimination. But we'll take a constructive view. We haven't seen the legislation as yet. And we'll be looking at that closely. The point I'll make Scott is, I think Scott Morrison has left this way too late. He saw the party room once again divided, his party room divided, this morning in the Senate. Some members want to send it off to a Senate committee, which will obviously drag this out. Anthony Albanese made the offer to Scott Morrison that we should sit down together and knock this out as a bipartisan approach. I think that's the best way to bring faith community leaders together. But that has been rejected, sadly, I think was a big mistake, misstep by Scott Morrison. So we'll wait and see what's in there. We'll go through our normal processes. But anything we can do to protect and strengthen religious freedom in this country is something that I would want to support. But then again, the devil is sometimes in the detail and we want to have a good look at exactly what the Government is proposing. But from reading reports out of the party room for the Government today, I think they'll find another bumpy landing for that, as well with a number of MPs and Senators already raising concerns. So we'll allow them to go through their processes, but we'll be doing our homework on that bill as well.

EMERSON:  And you do make the point, that look, obviously if there's these threats from Gerard Rennick and people like George Christiansen in the lower house as well, the numbers are going to make it very difficult on a whole series of bills going forward. So it will be fascinating to watch over the next well couple of weeks, or sittings of Parliament, then obviously next year in lead up to the federal election. Now, Milton Dick I asked you previously about this, about what Labor's announcement will be regarding its 2030 emission reduction target. Now, when I spoke to you last time it was all about, well, let's see what comes out of Glasgow. Well Glasgow and COP26, it's come and it's gone. But all I'm hearing is silence from the Labor Party at the moment. When are we going to hear an announcement from Labor on this?

DICK:  Yeah, we've already announced, Scott, over the weekend and our Shadow Minister Chris Bowen and Anthony Albanese have also already advised that we'll be announcing our policy in the next couple of weeks, to make sure that there is a full suite of policies on the table before the next election. I think it is prudent that we've taken our time to analyse what the Government's doing. And when we've gone through what Scott Morrison has put on the table and you go through all the gloss and all the spin - there really isn't much more than a pamphlet and just a vague idea of how to deal with climate change. I can give your listeners a guarantee that Labor will have a fully costed plan. We'll make sure that the Australian community knows exactly what our plans are to take action on climate, but also to make sure that there are the economic benefits, and good economic policy equals good climate policy in my books. If we get cleaner and cheaper energy in the system, there'd be more jobs, more investment and more opportunities for people, particularly in the regions.

EMERSON:  So I guess we'll wait and see what Labor does announce, again at the moment we're talking about hypotheticals. Let's see what Labor does announce when they do announce. And then just finally, Milton Dick, today we've got a new speaker in the House of Reps. Replacing Tony Smith is Andrew Wallace, a Queenslander from Fisher, the seat on the Sunshine Coast. What do you think about Andrew Wallace?

DICK:  We were elected together in the class of 2016. I've actually become mates with Andrew, I sent him a text today wishing him all the best. It's a huge job being the Speaker of the Parliament of Australia and I do wish him and his family well, we've travelled together overseas on some parliamentary ADF programs. So we've visited war zones together in Afghanistan and Iraq. So I'm hopeful that he will follow in Tony Smith's tradition of being a fair and, I think, one of the best speakers that our country has seen, and certainly I've been on the public record supporting Tony Smith, because I think he was an outstanding speaker, but it's a rough and tumble game on the floor of Parliament. He's going to have his work cut out for him. We'll be holding Scott Morrison to account and the Government to account not only for this week, but also that next week, and if we go back, we'll be all guns blazing, making sure that the people of Australia see that the Opposition is holding the Government to account, and I think Mr. Wallace will have his work cut out for him.

EMERSON:  All right, then. Milton. Good to speak, catch you again next week.

DICK:  See you then.