SUBJECT/S: Reports of Australian teenager fighting with IS; Mr Chan and Mr Sukumaran; Liberal superannuation split; First home buyers



KIERAN GILBERT: This is AM Agenda. With me now, Labor frontbencher Michelle Rowland and the Liberal Party’s Zed Seselja. Michelle Rowland, first to you. This report, the claim from IS propaganda that the eighteen year old from Melbourne, Jake Bilardi has been involved in suicide attacks in the Anbar province in Iraq. This is a disturbing development. 

MICHELLE ROWLAND, SHADOW MINISTER FOR CITIZENSHIP AND MULTICULTURALISM, SHADOW ASSISTANT MINISTER FOR COMMUNICATIONS: It certainly is disturbing, Kieran, and I know we’re waiting for confirmation of some of those details but it highlights the importance of the Parliament as a whole to do everything we can, not only to enforce the additional measures that we’ve put in place in relation to counter terrorism measures, but also trying to prevent these sorts of incidents occurring. We also need to look at the issue of young people, such susceptible young people as this getting access to this kind of propaganda. We can never stop young people being exposed to certain things, we can never stop them for example being exposed to some incidents like shoplifting or theft or other issues happening in our community. You can’t shield them entirely from it. But I think in this case we need to look at what is driving these young people to take this path. I think we need to look at issues of inclusion, is it issues with not having sufficient pathways in life, is it issues of not feeling that they have a future here. I know these are very deep questions to be asking but I think they’re the right ones to ask because, quite frankly, it’s a tragic situation and every time we hear it it becomes even more tragic. 

GILBERT: It is, and I guess Senator Seselja coming from a suburban, non-Muslim family, for this spiral to happen, the conversion, the radicalisation and then to end up in Syria as a suicide bomber. It’s extraordinary. 

ZED SESELJA: Yeah, look, it’s very confronting isn’t it Kieran, and I guess we have always had young people who are disaffected for one reason or another, this is not a new phenomenon. We do need to do all we can as parents and as a community to try and stop that as much as we can, but a difference now is that we’ve got this death cult which actively recruits people who are disaffected, who may be on the edge of society for various reasons and recruits them into violence and death and destruction. That’s the real different challenge that we’re dealing with now and so whilst we absolutely need to deal with things like de-radicalisation and parents need to be having conversations with their children, we should also be doing everything we can to stop some of these people from getting out of the country. There’s a range of measures that have put in place and we need to redouble our efforts because I think that this is very disturbing when we see a young Australian recruited to this death cult going over and allegedly strapping a vest to themselves and killing other innocent people and killing themselves at the same time.


GILBERT: It’s a very different issue what I turn to now but a sign of Muslim leadership in Australia, the Grand Mufti in Australia making a visit to Jakarta, Michelle Rowland, to make a plea for clemency for the two Australians on death row. Now with Archbishop of Sydney Anthony Fisher, recently he did so, now he’s taking that plea personally to Jakarta.

ROWLAND: I think faith leaders are united in the efforts on this one Kieran, and I commend the efforts that are being made in this regard and look, I commend the efforts of our Parliament as a whole which has been united on this issue and while there is life there is still hope, and I remain hopeful and I think that these types of initiatives that’s currently underway can only be a positive thing. We are all hoping for the same outcome, Kieran, and we are all I think praying and doing what we can as well, as Parliamentarians, and as community leaders and I commend those efforts.

GILBERT: I guess while politically in Indonesia this is a fraught situation for the Indonesian President, politically, in terms of the bilateral relationship it would do nothing but strengthen it if he were to grant clemency for these two individuals.

SESELJA: Well  certainly it wouldn’t hurt it, would it. And obviously that is what we would like to see. We would like to see clemency in this case and I think across the Parliament that’s what we’ve called for and I think this is a welcome development. I think it’s good to see the Grand Mufti doing this, I think it’s good that we see leaders like Bishop Anthony Fisher doing what he has done and I think we can only welcome it. We can only hope and pray that it does something, it seems to have a little bit left in it and we’re hoping that we get the right outcome.

GILBERT: Well let’s hope so, absolutely. Now moving on to Malcolm Turnbull’s comments yesterday about the superannuation debate. He said it was a very bad idea to propose super to be used for access for first home buyers. That was floated by Joe Hockey, this was split in the Cabinet, should we read any more into it or was it just a difference of opinion, on it has to be said though, a pretty important topic of super.

SESELJA: Well an important topic and of course when the government doesn’t have a policy to do this, and let’s be clear, Joe Hockey has said let’s have a conversation about this. Well that’s what is occurring, so Malcolm Turnbull is going to express his view, others will express their views. There are others who have a different view. I think that it is a conversation that’s worth having. Maybe at the end of that conversation there will be no changes in terms of accessing or maybe there will as we see in other countries like Singapore. I don’t see any major drama with the fact that Malcolm Turnbull has expressed a particular view. One of the views I think he expressed in that interview was around land supply and what states and territories are doing it and that’s absolutely right. When it comes to housing affordability that’s a really big part of it. But could we look to tap into some of it? I think it’s a reasonable conversation, the government certainly hasn’t formed a judgement on it yet. 

GILBERT: That’s the right thing to do isn’t it, have a sensible debate, Michelle Rowland, to put forward ideas and discuss them? Even well before it’s looking like government policy, that’s the mature way to go about things. 

ROWLAND: All open to sensible debates here, Kieran, but let’s remember two things. Firstly, we’ve just had a release of the Intergenerational Report which shows that retirement incomes into the future, particularly coming from the pension side, the old age pension supplied by the government, is going to come under increasing pressure. And if you take into account the other pillars that we have of our retirement incomes policy, savings which have traditionally not been high enough to support retirement incomes and then you have superannuation as the other one. Now the whole purpose of superannuation was to guard against precisely what the Intergenerational Report had at its core and that is we need to be able to enable people to provide for themselves in retirement and reliance on the age pension will decline over time. On this debate I take the side of it being a bad idea and I’m not surprised it’s being panned from within the Liberal Party by former Liberal operatives, and Paul Keating himself I think summarised it very well, but I’m also happy to have the debate about housing and housing affordability. Representing an area which is one of the fastest growing in Australia I can tell you the release of new housing, that of itself creates its own issues. We need a sustainable and a very holistic cities policy. Having a background in local government I can see how we need to make sure that those services go in first. So whilst I welcome debate, it needs to be an overall one. 

GILBERT: And having been in Sydney recently, the traffic is not Canberra standard by any stretch of the imagination. You feel the sense that parts of that city are bulging at the seams, if not breaking at the seams.

SESELJA: And that’s why I think it’s important that we see the kinds of infrastructure investment that Mike Baird wants to deliver if he’s re-elected in New South Wales. That’s a really important State issue and I think Mike Baird is on the right track. You need the infrastructure if you’re going to grow, but just saying we’re not going to grow hasn’t worked. Bob Carr tried that. Just quickly in response to Michelle, Michelle I hear what you’re saying with super and I don’t have a fixed view but the alternative when we look at it is one of the real indicators in poverty for older Australians is if they own their own home or they don’t. And what we may face in the future if we don’t get it right is a generation who are going into retirement not owning their own home. And if you don’t own your own home and are going onto the age pension that is one of the leading indicators of when you will be struggling. Those who own their own home and have that kind of security are often in a much better place.

GILBERT: And I guess Michelle Rowland, just finally, further to what Senator Seselja is saying; once people get some momentum and get that ownership isn’t that also a positive step that might see them see their prospects even brighter financially if they get that foot in?

ROWLAND: Look, two things there Kieran. Firstly the great Australian dream is to own one’s own home, but increasingly I see young people resigned to this view that they may never own. That they’ll either be renting, we see people staying home for longer well into their 20s and even further than that. It was always a good thing to have assets and an asset like a home is probably the most expensive thing most of us will ever own. You have to question how you will fund that, now the whole purpose of superannuation was designed so we guard against precisely what the Senator is talking about. We don’t have people retiring in poverty and I think we need to look at some of those areas of people who are most vulnerable to retiring in poverty. A lot of them are women who have worked their whole life, either full time and in many cases part time on lower incomes. We need to make sure that we have a superannuation system that is strengthened for them. Things like the low income superannuation contribution. That was directly helping those types of people to avoid poverty in retirement. So I think when you look at this, looking at it purely from the perspective of home ownership is the wrong way to go. You need to look at it through the whole prism of it being a national retirement incomes policy. There are three pillars and superannuation needs to be maintained as a very important one.

GILBERT: Senator Seselja, last thing I want to ask you about is this suggestion by the Communications Minister yesterday that the difficult reform can’t be dropped. The government, even though it’s going through a tough patch, has got to pursue important reform regardless?

SESELJA: Well, he’s right. And I know that everyone in the Government is committed to that. Now there are two aspects to that. One is to actually understand the challenge that is facing our nation, the Intergenerational Report sets that out. But when it comes to fixing the Budget we’re not going to shirk that. At the same time I think what we’ve seen in recent times is a recognition that there are some reforms that at the moment are simply too difficult to get through so you have to, in politics, politics is the art of the possible so what the Government is committed to is serious reforms to fix the mess we inherited but we can’t do everything. We will choose our battles.

GILBERT: Senator Seselja, and Michelle Rowland, appreciate your time this morning. Quick break on AM Agenda. Back in just a moment.