TUESDAY, 7 NOVEMBER 2017
PATRICIA KARVELAS: Liberal MP, John Alexander, is investigating his possible UK citizenship. He says he still believes he is solely an Australian citizen. If he fails to produce the evidence he could be referred to the High Court and face a by-election in his seat of Bennelong. Tomorrow the Prime Minister will meet with the Opposition Leader Bill Shorten to come up with a bipartisan plan for all MPs to declare their citizenship to Parliament. Mark Butler is the Shadow Minister for Climate Change and Energy, he is also the National President of the ALP. Mark Butler, welcome.
MARK BUTLER MP, SHADOW CLIMATE CHANGE AND ENERGY MINISTER, MEMBER FOR PORT ADELAIDE: Hi Patricia.
KARVELAS: John Alexander is still looking into his dual citizenship. He says his Father renounced his British citizenship but obviously providing the evidence is key. You say his case should be referred to the High Court now, you as in Labor, why should it be referred now before he can ascertain the details?
BUTLER: I find it extraordinary that, three months after Barnaby Joyce started this whole process, John Alexander has only just caught up with the fact that he might actually have to look into his circumstances. The Liberal Party still seem to be using the language of ‘I believe’ or ‘I feel’, but the High Court reaffirmed that a person's state of mind, or how they feel, or what they believe simply isn’t relevant here. The simple fact of the matter is that John Alexander must provide evidence that his Father renounced his citizenship before John Alexander was born or a referral has to be made. These circumstances appear on the face appear to be exactly the same as was faced by Fiona Nash and Malcolm Roberts.
KARVELAS: Why do this before he has received the information from the UK Home Office? They could say he is not a UK citizen and it would waste the High Court’s time, wouldn’t it?
BUTLER: He has got to get on with it really. This has been going on for weeks and weeks now. You will remember that we were on TV together on Sunday night and Paul Fletcher had said that he had only received a call from the Liberal Party Office late last week to check on his citizenship details because they were doing a ring around. The fact that the Liberal Party was only doing a ring around late last week - and I can only assume this is how it came to John Alexander’s attention, or to the Party’s attention that he had an issue - just beggars belief. This is a really serious issue that goes to the heart of the legitimacy of this Government and this Parliament.
KARVELAS: Penny Wong says that the Government wants to drag this out to next year but is this really the case? Why would they want to drag this out this is clearly a big headache for the Government, they wanted to start the New Year with some runs on the board with new policies, clearly with no uncertainty around their MPs. Why would they want to drag it out?
BUTLER: I think people understand why Malcolm Turnbull would want to cynically drag this out, because he doesn’t want to lose numbers on the floor of the Parliament over the course of the last two sitting weeks of the House of Representatives. Now that is just a cynical attempt to abuse processes of the Parliament. As I said, people have known about this for weeks and weeks and weeks now. The High Court has handed down its decision that reaffirms its earlier pronouncements about the effect of this provision. There is no reason why people shouldn’t be in a position, all MPs and Senators, to present their circumstances to the Parliament very expeditiously.
KARVELAS: Can you say hand on heart that there won’t be any ALP MPs caught up in this?
BUTLER: What we have said all along is we are very confident that our processes are absolutely robust. We have nothing to fear from this process; of people going forward to the Parliament, either to the House of Representatives or to the Senate and presenting their circumstances.
KARVELAS: So you are 100 per cent sure that not one Labor MP will be dragged in?
BUTLER: We are as sure as we possibly can be, going back to the vetting process of candidates who first put themselves forward for pre-selection. As I have said as the National President, as Bill Shorten, Penny Wong and many others have said, we have nothing to fear from this process. Nothing to fear from our MPs and Senators going forth to their chamber and presenting the objective circumstances, not what they believe or what they feel, but the objective circumstances that reflect the High Court judgment.
KARVELAS: If you are just tuning in Mark Butler is my guest. He is an ALP frontbencher, the ALP President, and our number if you want to text in on on how to resolve all of this 0418 226 576. You want the process to be quicker, so this 21 days that the Prime Minister has proposed you are not happy about. What is a better alternative, what kind of timeframe?
BUTLER: That will be tossed around by Bill Shorten and Malcolm Turnbull at their meeting tomorrow morning. But the idea of 21 days just seems to me ridiculous. What we say about John Alexander is really these circumstances are not new. The fact that he has a Father who is British is not new. It should have been dealt with in the first tranche of referrals to the High Court as frankly should have Stephen Parry. This Government has a record of playing fast and loose with this issue. They seem to be doing so with one objective in mind and that is the cynical objective to get through this year, the sitting weeks that remain in this year, without having trouble on the floor of Parliament. That frankly is just not the point here. The point that we have to deal with is something that goes to the heart of the legitimacy of this Government and this Parliament. And we need to do it as soon as possible.
KARVELAS: If we talk about cynicism we could say that Labor has a motive here too, you could slide into Government pretty quickly if there were a few by-elections and if you believe the national polls, we know Newspoll is often very accurate. So you have a motive to don’t you?
BUTLER: What we want to do is clear this issue up once and for all so we can get back to debating issues that matter to ordinary Australians. We are very confident about our ability to hold this Government to account, not over the eligibility of their MPs and their Senators, but over their policies on health, on education, on energy. That is what we want to debate and that is what is going to determine the result of the next election whether it is held in the next month or whether it is held when it is due early in 2019.
KARVELAS: If there are a few by-elections that need to be held, is it your view that there should be a general election?
BUTLER: There will come a point, if we get there, where the legitimacy of this Government has passed the point of no return - or the question mark over the legitimacy of this Government and this Prime Minister has passed the point of no return. Now we are not there yet, there is still a way to go.
KARVELAS: What is the benchmark in your mind?
BUTLER: I don’t think there is a scientific benchmark. As I said, there is a clear pattern of this Prime Minister playing fast and loose with this issue going back to when Barnaby Joyce first presented his circumstances to the Parliament because the media was about to break the story. This already I think has severely damaged the legitimacy of this Prime Minister.
KARVELAS: Okay so if you look at the sort of timeframe of declarations to the Parliament. I know you say Bill Shorten will discuss it with the Prime Minister tomorrow and of course it is going to happen. What would be a more reasonable timeframe? 21 days, I don’t know, maybe I’m not very good at my paperwork but you know I’ve dealt with the Greek embassy, I am a dual citizen, 21 sounds kind of short, it does take a bit of time to deal with foreign embassies. What sort of timeframe do you think you can do it in?
BUTLER: This didn’t pop up yesterday Patricia. This has been around for months and frankly, all MPs and Senators, when they were running for an election whenever that was - at the very least 18 months ago and for some of us many more year ago - they should have been dealing with this paperwork already. But at the very least, we knew about this issue in August when Barnaby Joyce first stood up in Parliament and presented his circumstances - it wasn’t just a couple of Greens Senators, that this had become an issue within the Government. The idea that MPs haven’t been going back over their paperwork over the past three months I think beggars belief. It just doesn’t pass the pub test. There is no reason why, once the House of Representatives gets back to sitting in the last week of November, why this couldn’t be dealt with very, very quickly.
KARVELAS: Okay so this would be dealt with but then you have to give a timeframe from when the motion passes. Would you think a week is reasonable?
BUTLER: I don’t want to preempt the discussions the Bill and the Prime Minister will have tomorrow. But the idea that it will be kicked off effectively into next year surely doesn't pass the pub test. I think people are very concerned in the community about the legitimacy of this Government and this Parliament. One way or another it has got to be resolved this year.
KARVELAS: So you’re happy for it to be discussed while Parliament is still sitting this year?
BUTLER: Absolutely, there is no practical reason why that can’t happen.
KARVELAS: Okay so that means they will have a very short window or timeframe because you want all of them to declare by the time Parliament rises?
BUTLER: That’s right. There is no reason why this should not be dealt with before Parliament rises.
KARVELAS: Just on another very big issue - well actually I might just sneakily ask you about Bennelong if there is a by-election do you have a candidate ready to go?
BUTLER: We would be able to fight by-elections at short notice. I think we’ve shown that over a long period of time. We always move quickly to fight by-elections in any area of Australia they arise like we have right now in New England.
KARVELAS: Just on Manus, the PNG Supreme Court has not backed an application to restore the power, the food, the water in the Manus centre. What would your advice be to these detainees, these asylum seekers, should they go to the new facility?
BUTLER: Unfortunately I don’t have a clear line of sight about the services that are available in that facility. I think that is one of the things that is deeply concerning to Australians, as we watch the unfolding chaos in Manus Island. The Australian Government has a clear responsibility to ensure essential services of health, security, welfare and such like are available to people whether they are in the existing centre or in new centres. Peter Dutton just isn't able to give confidence to the Australian community that that is being looked after. Instead, we hear the Prime Minister again today always blaming someone else for issues like this, saying this is all the fault of refugee activists or Greens Senators. Peter Dutton and Malcolm Turnbull have a responsibility to convince not only primarily those men who are in that centre now but also the Australian public that is spending significant money on this, that those services are going to be provided to those people wherever they end up.
KARVELAS: So do you think the services should be put back on because the court says they are off, it doesn't look like this is a sustainable situation?
BUTLER: I gather there are practical difficulties with that according to the PNG Government and I am a long way from there and we don’t have much transparency being provided by the Minister and the Prime Minister. So it is difficult for me to judge that. All I go back to is this Government has a responsibility to assure those detainees, but also the Australian public, that those essential services are being looked after. I don’t think people have that confidence in the Government.
KARVELAS: Mark Butler many thanks for joining us.
BUTLER: Thanks Patricia.