Subjects: Australia Day, quotas.
HOST: Albo, good morning to you. Senator Ruston, good morning to you.
ANNE RUSTON: How are you going?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Good morning.
HOST: Thanks for stepping up the plate Anne. We always love having you on when Chris is otherwise indisposed.
ALBANESE: Anne, you are much better than he is. I will talk you up.
RUSTON: Thanks Albo.
HOST: What about that? How is that for an endorsement?
RUSTON: Yes, I am sure it won’t last long.
HOST: Either a glowing endorsement or the kiss of death. We are going to start by talking about the Prime Minister’s call for a bit of a national debate about Australia Day and whether we should have an alternative day of indigenous recognition. We will start with you Anne as the relevant Government person. What’s your thoughts on this?
RUSTON: I reckon the most exciting thing about the comments from the Prime Minister yesterday without even getting into the detail of what he was saying was the fact that he actually said, you know what, as a country as a nation we are grown up enough to have debate about things. He wasn’t putting anything out there saying we had to do this or we had to do that. He was actually saying let’s have a talk about it. I mean, I thought that was an amazing start to a conversation because so many times we see conversation start and all of a sudden somebody from some particular interest group jumps on and says we can’t have that conversation because it means this or it means that. It’s time to sit down and have grown up conversations and I reckon it’s fantastic.
HOST: You tried to start a conversation about this yourself last year with that speech that you gave saying that we are going to have this sort of annual stink about whether Australia Day is perfectly fine or an insult to indigenous Australians and you came up with your own proposal didn’t you?
ALBANESE: I did. One of the things that I said in an Australia Day address that I give every year, like many Members of Parliament in their local electorates, is that I floated the idea for a conversation basically, saying that Australia Day does recognise of course the arrival of the First Fleet. That is a part of modern Australia. We can’t pretend that that didn’t happen. I think there is something a bit disingenuous about those of us who are descendants either directly or indirectly of European settlement at that time to sort of pretend that that didn’t happen by saying just, you know, abolish the day and don’t recognise it. But it is a difficult day for the indigenous Australians who were dispossessed at that time as well.
So I propose that at some stage two things are going to happen in this country. At some stage we will recognise the First Australians in our Constitution and what form that takes is obviously the subject of debate. I am a supporter of the process that has been established whereby you would have an Indigenous voice to Parliament that is not a third chamber, that Indigenous people went through an extensive consultation of and I think it is unfortunate that that has been dismissed by the Government. I would hope that Scott Morrison would be more open to that proposal but regardless it is going to require an indigenous Australians to be recognised in our Constitution. That is something that is missing. And secondly at some stage we are going to decide to have an Australian as our head of state. That I think is inevitable as well.
So I have proposed a referendum be conducted on January 26 so that it would truly be a day that recognised our past, our past that goes back at least 50,000 years; that recognises our present, who we are, the fact that the arrival of the First Fleet signalled the first migrants to Australia and most Australians are descendants of migrants, either first or second or third or many generations; and also our future, that we are a confident nation able to move forward. So I welcome the fact that the Prime Minister has raised this issue as an idea. I think it was misinterpreted by some of the media as a declaration that this must happen. But we should be prepared to discuss these issues and be mature enough to do it without trying to put people in a box.
HOST: Hey Albo, I want to stick with you and I will get Anne’s take on this in a moment. Interestingly the whole concept of quotas has been talked about recently in the context of the under-representation of women in the Liberal Party federally and a lot of the credit to Labor’s more even distribution of genders has been given to the quota system was introduced a short time ago. But now it is being reported there is a push on in the party for quotas to be extended to gays, lesbians, transgender people and indigenous Australians as well. Is there merit in broadening out this system in the Labor Party?
HOST: Simple as that?
HOST: Has it been talked about internally?
ALBANESE: Well it was debated in 2013 when you had a leadership ballot between myself and Bill at the time.
HOST: Did he promise to introduce something like this?
ALBANESE: Well that was proposed as part of his platform. It was something that I didn’t support. I think the fact that we have been able to achieve the election of people like Pat Dodson and Linda Burney and Malarndirri McCarthy without having a quota – I think there is a very different question between gender, which is essentially more than, slightly more than half of Australians are women and being conscious about that, and getting down to identity politics so that it goes through precisely who people are and that is why we don’t either in the Labor Party reserve seats for women or men. We have been able to achieve it on the basis of merit but being conscious of the need to move towards 50 per cent women’s representation and we are going to get there.
HOST: Why do you think Bill Shorten moved away from that commitment? It has been five years since that was discussed.
ALBANESE: I don’t know why that is the case. One of the ways that we achieve in New South Wales for example is that where there is a woman standing against a man in a pre-selection, the vote for a woman counts for 1.2. Now what that has meant culturally is that frankly powerbrokers that exist in both political parties have a sit back and they go: “We should support, where all other things are equal, we will support the woman rather than a man, because they have a better chance of winning the pre-selection”. That is one of things that has encouraged that change.
HOST: What do you think Anne? And to put it more on to the Liberal side of things I saw, I think it was The Guardian, ran a poll this week showing that two thirds or more than two third of Liberal supporters also support gender-based quotas or targets. What do you think of that?
RUSTON: Well, look I don’t support quotas. I have never supported quotas because it just plays into this whole identity politics thing and what I agree with Albo absolutely entirely is that we shouldn’t be disappearing off down this track of diminishing the individual for the sake of the collective which is just bad Socialist policy as far as I can see. We do also need to accept the fact that, you know, it is the thin edge of the wedge when you start putting quotas on women and then you start putting quotas on other groups within our community. But I do absolutely agree that we do need to be putting things in place to encourage more women, creating more pathways for women in the Liberal Party. We don’t have enough women in the Liberal Party at every level. So I accept the general public would like to see greater gender balance in our political system. But by turning around and putting quotas in place or your 1.2 values of votes, I actually think as a female is actually quite diminishing to me. I like to think that I got where I got not because I was a female, not because I was, you know, straight, not because I wasn’t indigenous or was indigenous. I like to think I got there because the people who voted for me believed that I was capable of representing them in the Parliament better than anybody else who put their hand up at that particular vote.
HOST: I totally agree with that sentiment but equally it looks to me when you have only got one in five of your MPs on the conservative side at the moment being women, doesn’t it show the problem is that if you haven’t got any mechanism there to stop it from operating like a boys’ club, it will default to the boys’ club position, because you can’t tell me that men are, by a factor of five to one, better equipped at being politicians than people of your feminine persuasion Anne.
RUSTON: No, not at all and the big problem is not that that is the case but the fact that we aren’t getting enough women prepared to put their hand up in the first place and say they would actually like to be considered for roles. I’m sure that if we have more women wanting to put their hands up then you’d see more women in the Parliament. I think our fundamental problem is that women perhaps look at parliamentary life, particularly the Federal Parliament where you spend so much time away from home, and are choosing not to put their hands up. What we need to do is to work out what are the things that we should be putting in place so they will say: “Hang on a minute, actually I would like to put my hand up to be considered’’. I think as soon as they start putting their hands up you will see this change.
I am not shying away from the fact that we have got a fundamental issue that we need to address. In the past we have had much greater representation of women in the Parliament. I mean, at one stage we had much, much greater representation in Cabinet. So I think we do have an issue and an issue that needs to be addressed. All I am saying is that I don’t believe that quotas, the blunt tool that they are, are necessarily going to achieve the outcome that we want because we want the best women in the Parliament, not just women for womens’ sake.
HOST: Anne Ruston and Anthony Albanese …
ALBANESE: With respect, can I make just two very quick points?
ALBANESE: One is there’s a whole bunch of blokes on the other side of the Parliament who are absolute numpties.
RUSTON: You’ve got a few too Albo.
ALBANESE: The idea that it’s about quality and merit is a nonsense when you look at some of the blokes who have made their way into the Parliament. A couple of them struggle to ask a question let alone answer one. And secondly, what Anne’s comments, with respect, ignore, is that the power structures within both parties are there from the top down as well as from the bottom up. So when we speak about not enough women putting their hand up, people are encouraged to put their hand up. You look at the people who were the Dutton plotters. They were all blokes. All these people – Michael Sukkar and all these nobodies – sitting round saying that someone should be knocked off, Malcolm Turnbull should be knocked off as Prime Minister – they were all blokes. That is something they had in common. Because they are the powerbrokers and that is why you need some structural change in the Liberal party to drive it from the bottom up but also from the top down.
HOST: The debate on quotas rages on. Albo, thank you for that. Anne, thanks for stepping up. Great to have you on the program as well.
Leader of the Australian Labor Party, MP for Grayndler, Rabbitohs Life Member. Authorised by Anthony Albanese, ALP, Canberra.