JOURNALIST: The former Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce, has told the Sydney Morning Herald he would like religious beliefs kept out of employment contracts, which could provide legal protection for views like that led to the sacking of Israel Folau. Let’s get more on this and other political issues of the week; we are joined by Liberal MP, Trent Zimmerman in the studio and also from Melbourne Labor MP Andrew Giles. Andrew Giles I might start with you. Do you think we need to strengthen laws around religious freedom in this country?
ANDREW GILES, MEMBER FOR SCULLIN: I think we need to really have a good look at discrimination law more generally and it’s clear to me and too many of my colleagues that there are real concerns in faith communities. But I’m not entirely sure that this focus on the Israel Folau case is the most helpful way of resolving these issues.
JOURNALIST: Why not?
ANDREW GILES: Look, what Barnaby Joyce seemed to say today is not consistent with what a number of faith based organisations have been saying to me in respect to their concerns. I think what we’ve got to do is to recognise that across a lot of faith based communities; there are people who feel threatened and uncertain. We feel that around a whole heap of other areas of discrimination too. My concern is to make sure that we work through laws in a systematic way, in a consultative way, to make sure people don’t feel excluded.
JOURNALIST: Trent, what about you, Barnaby Joyce wants laws to exempt religious beliefs from employment contracts that’s after that Israel Folau case, of course, what do you think about that option?
TRENT ZIMMERMAN, MEMBER FOR NORTH SYDNEY: Well, I’d say two things; firstly, what we have committed to as government is firstly, the Australian Law Reform Commission looking at some aspects of religious freedoms, particularly relating to schools. But secondly, we’ve also made clear that we want to introduce a Religious Discrimination Act because currently there is a gap in the our legal regime, we have laws that prevent discrimination based on age, sex, sexuality, disability and race. But not one that deals with discrimination based on religion.
Employment contracts is a more complex area because this is about people essentially entering into a free agreement and if you start with religious freedom, you have to look at what the consequences of that would be for other areas with regard to civil rights as being very important. So for example, in my last job before I went into parliament we had the company I worked for a policy on social media you couldn’t post controversial political comments. Does that infringe on our rights to free speech? So, you can never look at religion in isolation without considering other rights as well.
JOURNALIST: It is interesting because union bosses have also come out saying that they could support such a law, saying that should be the right of employee’s to express religious beliefs, but Darren Greenfeld who is the state secretary of NSW branch of the CFMMEU, the big union, he says I don’t think you should be sacked for putting your point of view across and Israel Folau was simply putting his point of view across. In a way does it matter whether or not the belief is religious or just a point of view?
TRENT ZIMMERMAN,: Well this is where it is very complex because obviously different companies, different workplaces have standards about what they expect of their employees, both from a perception of the company, but also because of the impact that can have on other employees. And I don’t know whether you would want to be in a workplace where you have, for example, someone proselytising that they’re going to hell because of a particular aspect of your lifestyle, I don’t know that provides a particularly inclusive workplace.
JOURNALIST: Well that issue was brought up during the election campaign, Andrew Giles; do you think this hurt Labor at the ballot box at this election - this issue of religious freedom?
GILES: Look I think, not so much the issue itself, but I think there were real concerns from faith based communities and I think that presents a deep challenge for Labor as to how we reconnect with them. So look again I actually agree with much of what Trent said about how we got to find a balance on these questions, particularly when it comes to the rights of employees, generally, to have a private life and other employees not to be impacted by them. When it comes to Labor’s performance at the election, I think our challenges Anthony Albanese has made clear is to get better at listening and less at reaching to conclusions too hurriedly.
JOURNALIST: We might move onto another topic now, the national smoking rate. It seems to have fallen dramatically across the country, but there are little pockets in Australia that it’s not falling, the national average is 16% of the population that smokes, but in some regions it’s at 40%, is this something, Trent, that the government is looking to address?
ZIMMERMAN: Well the first thing that has to be said is that this is one of the great public health success stories and I think in a quiet a bi-partisan way over the last couple of decades. When you think that smoking rates, daily smoking rates, have dropped by half in the last twenty years. That is a phenomenal outcome, but what this report has highlighted, is that there a pockets of Australia where smoking rates are still too high. We had one place in Tasmania highlighted, one in New South Wales, some in Indigenous communities, smoking rates are very high. We know also there are issues relating to people with mental health issues where smoking rates are higher as well. So I think what studies like this do, is point to the fact that to the general campaign and we’re providing $20 million towards to the next stage of the anti-tobacco campaign. In addition to that, we actually need to have a very close examination of those parts of Australia where we see smoking rates as being intractable.
JOURNALIST: Andrew when you look at the sheer cost of cigarettes, because of the taxes, the federal taxes, you know $35 bucks for a packet of cigarettes, is there a social justice argument that should be looked at. I mean people who we see from this data, that its regions that are disproportionately poor that smoke the most; therefore it’s a regressive tax?
GILES: Well this is a real concern and I think when we look at the overall picture here, obviously there is something to celebrate, we have seen a range of state government initiatives and, of course, plain packaging legislation making a huge overall difference. But now, we drill down to the data and as you say, it seems to be that in areas that a marked by socio-economic disadvantage smoking rates continue to be high and obviously the cost of smoking is very significant. Now, a price signal, I think, is an important way in which we try and reduce smoking rates, but I think we also got to try harder at understanding why it is that the message about the harm of smoking hasn’t penetrated into these communities. As with the challenge that Labor is facing more broadly, I think here for policymakers, we’ve got to try harder to listen and understand why it is that those messages aren’t getting through.
JOURNALIST: Now the message are getting through, it maybe people are perfectly well aware of exactly how bad smoking is, but for all kinds of reasons they continue to do it anyway.
GILES: Well it may well be the case, but I don’t think we can assume that’s the case.
JOURNALIST: Trent, what about raising the age where people can legally buy cigarettes, that is something people have floated, would you consider that?
ZIMMERMAN: Look it’s not something I have turned my mind to be perfectly honest. We do set 18 as the age at which most people deem to be able to make responsible decisions. So you would have to look at actually whether that will be an effective way of deterring people. But you also have to look at those parts of the community where there is an ongoing problem, as to whether its younger people, or whether its older people that have been smoking all their life and whether that is the most effective thing that we can do.
JOURNALIST: Let’s turn our attention to the Coalition and Labor leadership and cabinets. Trent, you were here a day after the election, you were appropriately jubilant for the government I do recall…
ZIMMERMAN: It’s been a good two weeks and congratulations Andrew on your appointment to the shadow ministry.
GILES: Thanks Trent, I hoped it wouldn’t have ‘Shadow’ in the title!
JOURNALIST: …Trent, in the two weeks since then, have your thoughts settled about the focus and what the main priorities are for the government coming out of the gate need to be?
ZIMMERMAN: Well the first thing to say is obviously that the new government was just sworn in this week and I think that the there was some very important and exciting signals as part of that new ministry. And obviously top of that list Australia having its first indigenous cabinet minister and first Indigenous minister for Indigenous affairs – well overdue. But look I think the government made pretty clear that our priority is getting on with the business of governing well and that’s not always the big thought bubble every day of the week, it’s actually about doing our job very well. But we’ve also highlighted what we think our priorities are and the first of those is the tax cuts that we’ve promised and intend to legislate. But also areas like our focus on making sure we’re tackling congestion in cities. We want to lock in legislation those increases to schools and hospital funding that we announced in the budget, through the budget bills. So there is a lot of work to do.
JOURNALIST: Andrew, you mentioned earlier that Labor was reflecting after the election result, it’s forming now its new team. Has there been sufficient change in that team do you think and sufficient change in direction after that election result?
GILES: Look, I think it’s too early to talk about sufficient change in direction; our job across the Labor team is to really take stock on how we let Labor supporters and people who depend on Labor governments down. In terms of the new team, I’m really pleased with the way Anthony Albanese has gone about the task of bringing us together. I’m really pleased to have an opportunity to be a part of that team. But I think we’ve got to be really clear and say we’ve got to look hard at things we did and work out what we did wrong.
JOURNALIST: Andrew, when you think about the different constituencies who Labor relies on to get elected. There is something of a rift between the inner city ‘latte-sipping chardonnay-sipping’ insert whatever other cliché you want to cohort, who care deeply about things like climate change and then suburban workers, which one is Labor the party of?
GILES: Both, and people in the regions too. Again, I’ve talked about not rushing to conclusions. I represent a working class suburban seat that had a swing to Labor. There hasn’t been a consistent pattern of change in support to the extent that this has been suggested. But I think our big challenge and Anthony Albanese has made this really clear, and that is to talk more about the things that unite us, not about the things that separate Australians. And that’s going to my focus over the coming weeks, to try and find ways to talk about what it means to be Australian, what it can mean to be Australian that is genuinely inclusive, and which engenders a sense of hope right across the communities, whether they’re ‘latté-sippers’ in inner Melbourne or people out in regional Queensland who clearly didn’t hear our message or perhaps didn’t receive the right message from Labor over the campaign.
JOURNALIST: Trent, is Andrew right, is the Coalition over-playing the election result a bit and going off on this huge victory which when really it was more of a message of perhaps business as usual, they didn’t want much change at all and is the Coalition learning any lessons from the election result?
ZIMMERMAN: Well I think it was an election outcome that defied all expectations. And I think it did send a signal about the style of government that Australians wanted and what they wanted was a government that was going to support them, meet their aspirations and they rejected the alternative which was effectively to punish those with aspirations, if I can put it that way. So I think that was a very important signal about where Australians want to see the country taken forward. But, of course there are lessons for us as well and that there are some that we’ll obviously discuss internally in the weeks ahead. I think it’s very important that were a government that focusses on issues which are important to Australians, be it, making sure that we are maintaining that economic growth and supporting people with aspiration. But also doing things like making sure we are tackling climate change and meeting our election commitments to meet the Paris agreement targets.
JOURNALIST: We’ve been asking people this morning another interesting question which we might get your views on as well. There is an airline boss’ meeting in Korea and so we thought it might be a good opportunity to ask you what your pet peeves are when travelling in the air. Andrew Giles we might start with you, any pet peeves?
GILES: Look I don’t have many; I’m a flight attendants son so I feel very comfortable on a plane. But my pet peeve is some of my fellow passengers, as an economy flier, who are over generous in their hand luggage allocations!
JOURNALIST: A lot of people are complaining about that and I feel really bad because I’m always the guy with the large carry-on. I don’t want to check it! Who wants to wait at the baggage carousel! Trent, airline pet peeve?
ZIMMERMAN: Well I agree about the hand luggage and those people that seem to take everything bar the kitchen sink. But look I have to say as a tall person, one of the things I get frustrated by, are seats that don’t accommodate someone that is over six foot tall and that head rest that simply won’t move and sticks awkwardly at the back of your shoulders
JOURNALIST: You know there are seats that do accommodate such people, but they’re called business class!
ZIMMERMAN: Indeed, a lot more expensive!
JOURNALIST: Liberal MP Trent Zimmerman and also from Melbourne Labor MP Andrew Giles, thanks so much for your time this morning.
ZIMMERMAN: Thanks for having us.
GILES: Great to be with you.