Nov 4, 2015

Transcript of radio interview – 2GB Ben Fordham with Christopher Pyne

Subjects: Bill Shorten visit to Pacific; enrol to vote proposal; national anthem in schools

BEN FORDHAM: These two are fully charged and ready to fire. Anthony Albanese, good afternoon.

ANTHONY ALBANESE: G’day. It’s pretty ugly, the weather out there mate.

FORDHAM: Geez, that’s a nice positive way of starting things.

ALBANESE: I’m just saying.

FORDHAM: Just proving that you’re in Sydney, are you? Alright now, Christopher Pyne, what about you?

CHRISTOPHER PYNE: Well, I’m actually in Canberra, we had Cabinet today. So I’m in Canberra, I’m on my way to Sydney for the industry ministers council meeting tomorrow.

FORDHAM: That’s sounds exciting.

PYNE: Yes, indeed.

ALBANESE: You could broadcast that live, Ben.

FORDHAM: Sounds fantastic. Now, what time was the Cabinet meeting and have there been any leaks out of it yet?


ALBANESE: He just leaked the fact that it was meeting.

PYNE: We meet every week.

FORDHAM: It does leak.

PYNE: Cabinet is as tight as a drum.

FORDHAM: Were Bill Shorten’s dance moves discussed in Cabinet today? I’ve put a video up on; the Opposition Leader Bill Shorten dancing with locals in Kiribati in the Pacific Islands. It’s gone viral. Now look, I want to ask Anthony Albanese for his honest assessment of his boss’s dance moves.

ALBANESE: All of us over the age of 25 get a bit ordinary when it comes to dancing. What Bill was doing was showing respect for his hosts. I remember a great photo of Paul Keating with the full Papua New Guinea head dress.

FORDHAM: He was carried in, wasn’t he?

ALBANESE: It was fantastic. Carried in like an emperor. When you visit foreign countries, Julie Bishop wore of course a head dress when she was in Iran recently, there are things that you do when you pay respect to people’s customs. Malcolm Turnbull did a nose kiss; I’m not sure what the formal term is, in New Zealand. The Maori nose kiss.

PYNE: I think Anthony’s being very generous. I think as a dancer Bill Shorten makes a good politician.

FORDHAM: So hang on, you’re saying Bill Shorten is a good politician?

PYNE: He should be better off as a politician than he is as a dancer. I think your listeners know exactly what I’m saying.

FORDHAM: Well it’s up on 2GB, people can see for themselves. Christopher, I don’t think you’ve even been filmed dancing before. I know you correctly selected the winner of The Bachelorette recently so you’ve got that score that’s fallen your way.

PYNE: When it comes to popular culture I’m right in front.

FORDHAM: Yeah… you have avoided any dance moves I think on camera but anyway we’ll see how long that goes for. Now, onto some serious business. A New South Wales MP has proposed an idea to get all young Australians voting in elections.

Currently 25% of Australians aged between 18 and 24 are no registered to vote. So a quarter of them are not, that’s around quarter of a million people. Alex Greenwich, who’s the independent MP for Sydney, we’re going to talk to him after 5pm, he says young people should not be allowed to get their drivers licence or proof of age card unless they’re enrolled to vote.

Let me go to you first of all, Anthony Albanese. I know Bill Shorten was talking in the last week of lowering the voting age. What do you think of this idea from Alex Greenwich?

ALBANESE: It’s certainly an interesting one. He’s essentially putting forward a proposal to make sure that people comply with the law. Of course, being on the roll is compulsory. It’s an obligation that we have in Australia. I do support compulsory voting.

Whether this is a good idea or not, I think it’s an idea from left field. Certainly when I was at school, one of the things that occurred, I don’t know if it still occurs, that was a long time ago of course, people came in and made sure you were on the roll, once you were within a distance of being 18 and I think that probably is a preferable way.

FORDHAM: Alright, let me switch it, flip it to you Christopher if I can for a moment. What do you make of the idea of saying to young people, look, you can’t get your driver’s license or proof of age card unless you’re enrolled to vote.

PYNE: Look, getting your driver’s license is voluntary. Enrolling to vote and voting is compulsory, so I think leaving something that’s compulsory to something that is voluntary is a daft idea. Sounds like Big Brother.

One is state, the drivers licence, the other is federal and state and so linking things that are entitlements under state law to things that are compulsory under federal law? I don’t think Alex has really thought this through very deeply. It sounds like Big Brother to me and I’m not enthusiastic about it at all.

FORDHAM: We do go out of our way to try and force people to do something that many of them don’t really have an interest in. I mean, it should be voluntary anyway, shouldn’t it Christopher?

PYNE: No, I’ve always been in favour of compulsory voting for a couple of reasons. If you look at the UK and how much they spend to get the vote out, it’s about a third of all the costs of at election time, which is about thirty million pounds, to get the vote out, and I also think that every Australian who votes because they’re part of the system, they have a say in who the government is.

They can’t just say well look, don’t blame me; I had nothing to do with it. It means the whole of the Australian community has a buy in to the election outcome whether you voted Liberal or Labor, or for one of the independent parties. So I’ve never been in favour of voluntary voting.


ALBANESE: Unity ticket on that one.

FORDHAM: Your boss Bill Shorten recooked the old idea of, oh, you know; let’s allow the 16 or 17 year olds to vote. We’ve heard that argument so many times. Was it out of sheer desperation or a lack of the spotlight that Bill Shorten brought up the voting age to vote again?

ALBANESE: Not at all. He was floating an idea. He hasn’t said he’s committed to it.

FORDHAM: Thought bubble!

ALBANESE: The fact that we’re discussing it now shows it was effective.

PYNE: It’s an old chestnut [inaudible]

FORDHAM: That’s what I should have said when I was a young bloke, if I was chatting up a girl and she made it clear she wasn’t interested, that’s what I should have said; oh, I wasn’t actually asking you out, I was just floating the idea.

ALBANESE: How did that work out for you, Ben?

FORDHAM: I wouldn’t be so brazen to even try that as an excuse, but anyway we’ll put that one in the waste paper basket. Mr Pyne, your replacement in the education portfolio, Simon Birmingham made a comment on Q&A on Monday night.

I couldn’t believe it, he was discussing students walking out of their national anthem in a Melbourne school and I think we discussed it all together. Mate, instead of calling out the behaviour as just about everyone has done, he condoned it.

He said “if there’s a legitimate reason in terms of somebody’s faith, whether it’s Islamic, or Jewish, or Christian or anything else, that for a few days or for a few weeks of the year it’s not appropriate for them to join in singing or other types of activities, then we should respect that”.

It sounds to me like he’s making excuses here and waving a white flag.

PYNE: Well, I think what he’s really saying is that it’s a free country and freedom of speech is something that we value, and no one can be forced to sing the national anthem if they don’t want to.

That’s a bit different to whether the national anthem is an offensive song to religious minorities. Twenty years ago or more we changed the words of the national anthem to take out all the gender specific references, and all the religious and colonial references and I thought that was…

FORDHAM: Sure, but what he’s saying here is into the future, if there are these kind of things that happen again into the future, if people feel, look, I don’t want to be here in this assembly for the national anthem because I have an objection to it, he’s saying fair enough, we all need to be a bit more understanding.

PYNE: What he’s saying, how I’ve interpreted what Simon is saying, and he’s a very good friend of mine, and he’s a good fellow, is that it’s a free country. And it is.

FORDHAM: So therefore, if you don’t want to sit there during the national anthem you don’t have to.

PYNE: Well, you can’t be made to. You can’t be made to sing the national anthem. But there’s nothing in my view that’s offensive about the national anthem.

FORDHAM: No, but when you’re at the school having a school assembly, all students are expected to be at the school assembly. You’re saying it’s fine that some students say, I’m bailing the moment the anthem’s played, I’m outta here, I’m not going to sit here as I’m required to do with every other student because I’ve got an objection to the nation anthem, and because the Education Minister thinks it’s okay, yes, no dramas, you can just leave?

PYNE: No. What I’m saying is that no one can be forced to attend a school assembly. No one can be forced to attend the national parliament. No one can be forced to sing the national anthem. That’s a freedom of speech issue. But the national anthem has been altered so that it’s not offensive to anyone and therefore it shouldn’t be a problem.

FORDHAM: Anthony, let me ask you about it. What’s your take on all of this? I would have thought that there’s one rule for everyone. If everyone’s expected to be at the school assembly, sure, if you don’t want to sing it, that’s up to you I suppose, but I think it’s bizarre that we’ve got the federal education minister excusing people and saying look, we need to be a bit more understanding here if people choose to walk out during the national anthem.

ALBANESE: The national anthem is something that unites us. It speaks about those who’ve come across the sea. One of the things about a school assembly is that unlike what Christopher said, it’s not actually voluntary, these things are compulsory and people should participate in it.

Of course, you can’t make someone sing but the idea that people will walk out, I think is really unfortunate because it does draw a divide for something that should be uniting. We’re a multicultural country. That means we respect people’s origins. But it also means that we have loyalty to Australia.

FORDHAM: Is Simon Birmingham soft, Christopher?

PYNE: The principal who made that decision got a real pasting.

FORDHAM: I know, but then you’ve got the education minister on the ABC defending it on Monday night. Is Simon Birmingham soft, is he?

PYNE: No, look I’m not going to start using that language about my Cabinet colleague. It was a freedom of speech issue. I think that’s fair enough. But I certainly love to sing the national anthem.

FORDHAM: I’m sure you do. Would you like to sing it right now, Christopher, to finish the segment?

PYNE: I’ve got a bit of a frog in my throat.

ALBANESE: Think of the listeners, Ben!

FORDHAM: I’ll talk to you both next week. Good on you gents. Anthony Albanese and Christopher Pyne.