SUBJECT/S: Tony Abbott’s divisive comments on Islam; Malcolm Turnbull’s plans to increase and broaden the GST




PATRICIA KARVELAS: Michelle Rowland is the Shadow Minister for Citizenship and Multiculturalism, welcome back to RN Drive.


Is Tony Abbott simply being frank when other politicians won’t by pointing to differences between Islam and other religions?

ROWLAND: I think Tony Abbott’s comments are extraordinarily damaging. In fact they are the complete antithesis of what our law enforcement agencies, what our national security experts are saying and the complete antithesis of a multicultural Australia, and I don’t think there is any room for them in Australian society. I think Prime Minister Turnbull’s response was actually a non-response, I think that it’s insufficient to say that Mr Abbott is entitled to his opinion. He should show some leadership and call him out on what it is.

KARVELAS: But isn’t that exactly what he did? He said he’s entitled to his opinions which is really a pretty obvious fact, he is entitled to his opinions, it’s a free country. But then went on to disagree with his opinions, what more could he do?  

ROWLAND: I believe this goes to the deep divisions which are going on in the Liberal Party, within Government at the moment. I think that he should have expressly addressed some of the issues that Mr Abbott raised. I mean, the headline itself, irrespective of whether or not he chose the headline ‘Islam must reform’, this whole notion that “it’s time for Australians to stop being apologetic about the values that have made our country free”. They are words that Tony Abbott has used - who on earth is he talking about? On the issue of reaching out to non-Muslims, I think it’s important to recognise their faith is being used in some examples as a false justification for terror. That should be expressly realised. So I think Tony Abbott needs to be brought into line by Malcolm Turnbull. I don’t think it’s been done forcefully, I don’t think it’s been done in the way that Australians would expect or indeed anyone of Islamic faith in Australia would expect either.

KARVELAS: Let me put this to you, there’s a lot of advice that comes the way of the different Christian churches. I mean, the Catholic church, really there’s not a day that passes where the Catholic church is not giving advice on a range of issues on women being ordained in the church, on gay marriage, gay marriage is a huge issue in the church that is being pushed. Is that also not okay in your books?

ROWLAND: I think we’re welcome to have theological discussions -

KARVELAS: So isn’t that what Tony Abbott’s engaging in?

ROWLAND: Well the last time I looked there was a separation of church and state in Australia and the fact that Tony Abbott is pushing this issue, expressly targeting people of a particular faith I think goes to the whole notion of faith being used as a false justification for terror and failing to call that out. I think this presents an us versus them argument. It is leaving people feeling alienated and isolated which is the exact opposite of what we should be doing. The very fact that he is calling on a different religion to change -

KARVELAS: But other people who are not in the Christian religion are calling for them to change.

ROWLAND:  But other people are not the former Prime Minister of Australia.

KARVELAS: Is it because he’s the former PM, is it the comments, is it his role as the former PM, is it just that he’s criticised Islam, which bit is the problem?

ROWLAND: I think it’s a bit of the first two you mentioned. Firstly, he was the Prime Minister of Australia, he is very influential. He obviously sees himself as having an ongoing role in public life and he is obviously someone who is leading a faction within his Government who actually subscribes to these points of view. Secondly, by having someone who is so public making these comments, which is really reinforcing the us versus them approach to Islam, and really failing to recognise that religion is being used as a false justification, I think those add up to really going against everything that we should be trying to do as a society, everything we are trying to do in terms of national cohesiveness.

Michelle, is the former PM really a risk to causing community division over comments like this? I mean, he is the former PM, he’s not the current PM. Who is listening to him, what are the real risks?

ROWLAND: There are a lot of people listening to him, there are a lot of people reading what he has to say. I don’t think we should be having a theological discussion through the tabloids. If you want to have an opinion on national security matters as Member of the Australian Parliament, by all means go ahead. But I believe that by saying these things, by holding this views and being forward with them as he has done, he is reinforcing this really negative stereotype at a time when all of our agencies and all of the experts recognise that we need to come together as a nation. We need to back these things up with action. The current Prime Minister was in the Parliament a few weeks ago and both he and Bill Shorten made very valuable contributions to the debate. So why does Malcolm Turnbull say one thing in the Parliament, but then he goes outside the Parliament and says that Tony Abbott is entitled to his opinion?

KARVELAS: But is he not entitled to his opinions? Is that what you’re actually saying because I find that pretty extraordinary.

ROWLAND: No, absolutely he’s entitled to his opinion but I believe Malcolm Turnbull as the current Prime Minister should be more forthright in his criticisms of this. While we’re talking about opinions, part of this article he’s written talks about hate preaching: “Where hate preaching is not illegal it should at least be thoroughly answered point-by-point with a very robust defence of human rights and responsibilities”. Excuse me, but this is the same person who wanted to water down the protections we have against racist hate speech currently in the Racial Discrimination Act. So firstly I fail to see the point that Tony Abbott is trying to make, but secondly if he’s trying to reinforce and us versus them, then the Prime Minister of the day needs to slap this down hard.

KARVELAS: If I could just move to another topic before I let you go, you’re also the Shadow Minister for Small Business.  Today we’ve seen a leak of some of the GST options for COAG on Friday. If a GST proposal is finalised and gets the support of the business community, will Labor continue to oppose it or will Labor revisit that?

ROWLAND:  Well Labor is opposed to an increase or a broadening of the GST for extremely sound reasons. We’ve seen the evidence, the regressive impact that this will have on communities, and bear in mind in my role as Shadow Minister for Small Business, I’ve gone around speaking to small businesses and their number one concern is getting customers, getting people through the door or onto their sales line for different services. Now, we have consumer confidence which will ultimately take a dive if the GST increased. We have seen this in the past, when the GST was first introduced, so a decline in consumer confidence is bad news for small business and Labor will be opposing any increase or broadening of it.

KARVELAS: What if the proposal was to increase the Medicare levy?

ROWLAND: Well, we’ll look at all these issues on their merits, and bear in mind that although we’ve seen over the past couple of weeks the Government saying that this was an imaginary and a hypothetical 15 per cent increase to the GST, it just shows that the fact remains that all these options are on the table and I have no doubt that the Government will try and make out that they will not leave anyone worse off. We’ve already seen them leaving people worse off under the Turnbull Government.

KARVELAS: Michelle Rowland, thanks so much for coming on the program tonight.

ROWLAND: My pleasure.