SUBJECTS: Israel Folau, Tax Cuts, May election campaign

PATRICIA KARVELAS, HOST: My first guest today is the Shadow Assistant Treasurer Stephen Jones. Stephen Jones, welcome. 


KARVELAS:  Before we get to taxation, which is huge. And your position is, I think, key. Let's talk about the other big story today, which we'll be talking soon with Gillian Triggs about to and that's Israel Folau and his case that he wants to obviously take through the courts. What are your views on this and his right to free speech or to express this view which many people see his contentious. 

JONES: Yeah look I've got to say Patricia I feel intensely uncomfortable with the whole way this affair has unfolded. If, like most of us on the centre-left of politics, you believe in multiculturalism. Well, this is what multiculturalism looks like. It looks like people of different cultures, different faiths, different backgrounds coming to our country, expressing different views, even if they fundamentally disagree with the views that I hold. I was the guy who stood in that Parliament over there a few years ago and moved the first private member's bill on marriage equality that ever got voted on. I fundamentally disagree with what Israel Folau has been saying but I'm very uncomfortable with the way that this debate has been handled. I think much better than attempting to remove Israel Folau and people who agree with him from the public domain by silencing them, I think it would be much better, if we found a way to have a civil debate between the people who agree with Israel and the people who agree with me and are deeply offended by a lot of the things that he's had to say about same-sex couples and people who are same sex identified. 

KARVELAS: Okay, a lot of the argument is around the fact that this is contract law, that he was under contract by Rugby Australia not to do this, that it was in breach of his contract. Are you unconvinced by that? 

JONES: Look, I think the Australian Rugby Union had a few decisions and a few choices about the way they conducted this affair and I think mistakes have been made all the way along including by Israel Folau, I've gotta say, including by him. I fundamentally disagree with what he's got to say, but I don't agree with attempts to shut people down who are saying things that other people might find offensive. I think the things that he's saying are offensive and I think potentially quite harming to people but I think we actually do more harm if we try and push those views underground or try and somehow remove the capacity for people to express their religious views. I don't think that's helpful at all. 

KARVELAS: You described it as this is the way multiculturalism looks now, some people would think that's a pretty controversial statement. You're saying that if we let people of different cultures come to this country to be Australians we need to be prepared to perhaps embrace or listen to their points of view which are, some people would say this is homophobic. 

JONES: Wind the windows down and go and spend some time, you come from a multicultural background Patricia. 

KARVELAS: I do, I do.

JONES: I'm sure you understand the things that I'm saying. I grew up in a multicultural Community. I was the minority skip in the playground. I understand exactly the way people feel in these communities. Sometimes I agreed, sometimes I disagreed. This is what multiculturalism looks like and if we think it's just about having a wide variety of interesting food to eat and interesting dances and costumes, well, actually it's a bit more than that. It's about people's cultures and faiths and all of that interacting with ours, we've got to be willing to embrace all of this and find a way to have a civil mature honest debate and I'd love to see the Israel folau and those who agree with him being sat in a room with the sort of people who are harmed by the comments that he is making because I'm sure they couldn't fail to be moved by the experience of those same-sex attracted young people who were affected by the things that he's saying. I think that would be a much better way to deal with the sorts of issues that are being ventilated by this debate. 

KARVELAS: Well, this is your intervention here. You want to put this on the record that you think you're coming from the left side of politics, you're a Labor frontbencher. So it is significant you're saying this. Is this a broader statement you're making to your side of politics to think differently about the way you approach these issues.

JONES: I think we have to think, we have to think differently about these issues. We can't say on the one hand we support multiculturalism and all that comes with it and then be offended when the expression of that multiculturalism disagrees with some of our deeply held views. I mean, I'm a proud Labor lefty. I believe that the marriage equality laws were long overdue and all that goes with that. But I also believe that multiculturalism is Australia, and we should be able to embrace a diversity of views including a diversity of religious views and religion itself doesn't exist in some hermetically sealed jar. I think it is important for the religions themselves and the religious leaders themselves to be exposed to these broader political debates in a respectful way. Shutting them down and shutting them out of the public domain is not the way to go. 

KARVELAS: The Australian Christian Lobby fundraising campaign for Israel Folau has raised more money in less than I think 24 hours essentially than in the entire period it was on the GoFundMe appeal. So was their shutting it down also an issue. Did that create a sense of momentum around him? 

JONES: Well, I think this is a perfect example of what I'm talking about when people perhaps of good intent try to shut down a debate it is a bit like squeezing a balloon: the air pops out in some other direction, perhaps unintended, and that's exactly what's happened here people have attempted to perhaps for good intention close down the capacity for this gentleman to raise funds for his cause. It's only led to a wellspring of people saying well, actually I agree with him and I'm going to throw money his way. I just think it's not a productive way whether we're attempting to remove somebody's capacity to raise money or attempting to remove somebody's platform. I don't think it works. It doesn't work in so many other areas of public life. Why do we think it's going to work in this area? 

KARVELAS: And obviously many of the communities that Labor people represent some of these very ethnically diverse and also I suppose diverse in terms of Faith communities. Is this also a repositioning for those communities that I know people like Chris Bowen said after the election felt like Labor was not on their side. 

JONES: Well, I think if people, I can only reflect on, I can't speak for other MPs but I can't speak from what I've got Macedonians. I've got Croatians. I've got Turks. I've got Lebanese. I've got people from just about every other country on Earth in my electorate. I've got good relationships with the church leaders, with the ethnic leaders within those and we have frank discussions and I say to them I'm willing to support you on your tough issues, but that doesn't mean you're going to agree with me on everything and when I take up the issue that might be in favour of their particular ethnic community, that means I'm rubbing somebody else up the same way, in the same way that if I take up an issue around same-sex marriage, you might not agree with it, but it shows the character of a leader is willing to stand up for something that they believe in and I've always found that the leaders of those communities respect that honest straight-talking. What they don't respect if somebody has tried to a deny their identity and tries to deny their beliefs. 

KARVELAS: There have been some people saying even his wife should face consequences. She's of course a netballer. What do you make of that. 

JONES: Not helpful, frankly not helpful and I think what that does is gain the more supporters than it does supporters on the other side of the argument much better and instead of trying to find legal remedies to this instead of trying to de-platform as I think the language being used much better to find a way to have a civil debate between the opposing sides within this dialog. 

KARVELAS: All right, let's move to another topic: Tax. Why are you opposing stage 3 and are you genuinely prepared to repeal even what's already legislated. 

JONES: what we're saying Patricia is we're going to support stage 1 and 2 and we're willing to move Heaven and Earth to bring those forward because we think the economy needs it. We're not convinced on stage 3. Okay, we're not convinced. If the government can convince them: Go your hardest, but we think. 

KARVELAS: Can you be convinced? 

JONES: Well, if they're able to show the distributional impacts for example where the money is going. 

KARVELAS: So is it about equity or the economy? 

JONES: It's about both of those things. It's about are we getting the biggest bang for the economic back 90 billion dollars is the cost of stage 3, the additional stage 3 tax cuts. For context three times what we spend on Medicare. For context about nine times what we spend on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme. Is that the best spend of 90 billion dollars. 

KARVELAS: The government doesn't want to split the bill. They made it Crystal Clear. They took it to the election. So when that vote happens in the house and you have to do something with your hand or where you stand are you genuinely prepared to vote against this bill. 

JONES: We have said that we're willing to negotiate with a Government about rounds one and two. 

KARVELAS: But they won't negotiate. So it's like saying something that's not going to happen. 

JONES: I don't agree. People always adopt that position at the beginning of a discussion and sometimes have a very different view at the end of the legislative process. 

KARVELAS: Do you think would be wise for Labor to really vote against this tax bill if it comes in one big chunk, I mean Joel Fitzgibbon says it wouldn't be wise. What's your view? 

JONES: I think it would be very unwise for Labor to do the damage to the budget that we think is potentially going to be done in an economy which frankly is going off the rails, that Scott Morrison has not given any answers to, that he's not got a solution to. We think it is really risky for us to be passing that third tranche of tax cuts. Much better: Let's get in a room. Let's discuss this and the invitation's out for the Government to do that. 

KARVELAS: ACOSS I spoke to yesterday on my radio program. They're the Australian Council of Social Services for those who don't know, and they say you should stand firm and oppose stage 3. They say only five percent of Australians are on $200,000 a year. So what's your view on that? Are $200,000 income earning Australians the top end of town. 

JONES: Look Anthony had something to say about this a couple of days ago, Anthony Albanese, and I agree with him: No. There's plenty of people in my electorate.

KARVELAS: But are in the top five percent though. Aren't they?

JONES: There's plenty of people in my electorate who this year will be earning $200,000 a year and probably next year won't because they work in a shift work environment or they work in a high bonus environment. They work in the coal mines or in certain parts of the steelworks. Plenty of people earning good coin now, but their earnings are pretty unpredictable over the long term. So no, I don't think they're the top end of town.

KARVELAS: Did you feel kind of like this was the wrong language during the campaign? 

JONES: Yeah look I think every MP and every Shadow Minister adopted the policies and the language to suit the places where you know, they thought it was going to resonate. I never felt comfortable, I've got to say, with using some of that language if somebody's combing through some of my transcripts now to go gotcha on me, they probably will find a gotcha moment on that but I've got to say there are times when I've just felt like it didn't land properly and I think it's right that we revisit both the language and some of the policy. 

KARVELAS: Just finally on something else Joel Fitzgibbon said there should be more room for dissent among Labor MPs. There is a view among many that you're kind of in a bit of a straitjacket throughout the campaign, didn't help people. They weren't able to say what they wanted to say. Do you agree with that sentiment? 

JONES: Look I do and I think there's going to be more moments, more opportunities for people to be having different views, which better reflect either their own values or their own ... 

KARVELAS: Is the Israel Folau intervention today an example of that? 

JONES: Well I don't know Patricia. I guess we'll find out over the coming days, but I think there should be opportunities for people, always should be opportunities for people to speak their mind but that shouldn't corrode the overhaul all-unity which is the hallmark of Labor. We learnt our mistakes in the 41st Parliament. We don't want to go back there. But that doesn't mean they shouldn't be robust debate and different voices. 

KARVELAS: Stephen Jones. Thanks for coming in.

JONES: Great to be with you. 

KARVELAS: Lovely to be face-to-face. 

JONES: Good on you.