VAN ONSELEN: Yeah that‘s true. We’ll we’re going to move on now to domestic politics. Not quite on the same scale, obviously. But let me ask you about something, Tony Smith. Some tweets that are coming in from one of our viewers, Tom, from Western Australia. I know he’s a Young Liberal, so I know he’s sympathetic to your side of the Parliament, it has to be said. But he’s made a few comments about how it’s funny that the Feds are happy to fund chaplains but go ahead and cut seniors concessions, and he’s made the point that doing so will be a real problem in his home state of WE. A lot of criticism, even from your own right flank, for the bizarre, or I think as he calls it, twisted priorities, between trying to pump hundreds millions of dollars into a chaplaincy programme, at the same time as pulling money out of seniors concessions. Your reaction?
SMITH: We’ll my reaction is being a Liberal Party, we get all sorts of views, and Tom’s entitled to his view. I disagree with that. It’s a policy that has been in place for a number of years, it enjoys bipartisan support. I know Sam, or Sam’s party, I know he supports it as well. It came in during the Howard government,. It wasn’t dreamt up by the bureaucracy or some minister, I’ve got to say,, it was driven by the backbench. People like Greg Hunt and Andrew Laming at the time, pushed this very hard, about pastoral care in schools. And I’d say out there on the ground, when you’re talking to school principals and school communities, it’s very very well received programme, it really has been. Even from principals who weren’t supporters until they saw the benefits of it. So it’s been there for a number of years and it does have bipartisan support. It doesn’t have tripartisan support; I know The Greens don’t support it.
VAN ONSELEN: But Senator Dastyari, from your perspective, I mean I think a lot of people—and I’ve seen the reaction on Twitter to the school chaplaincy programme—the people who defend it really are talking about the pastoral care side of it…
DASTYARI: Yeah they are.
VAN ONSELEN: …but it’s the link to the religion, the specific elements of religion that go with it, that make some people uncomfortable. What’s your reaction?
DASTYARI: Yeah look, it’s certainly something that I think a lot of people are worried about, and they kind of have a right to be worried about it as well. I think the argument that says that if you’re looking at pastoral care, you should give greater flexibility to schools, greater flexibility to P&Cs and other organisations, to play a role, determining what’s best for their school. Look, that’s certainly a debate worth having. But you saw the High Court ruling today. The Labor Party’s made its position very clear on this. You know, that is actually quite worrying because the issue the Labor Party has with this policy as implemented by this government hasn’t been whether or not its legality or whether or not, you know, it’s High Court-proof; it’s been about well is there a better way doing it with greater flexibility, greater choice. And that’s a political debate that, you know, we should have. This idea of what happened today, about the High Court ruling, and you know, it’s going to take a few days for the dust to settle as people work out what the ramifications are. And the ramifications can be quite significant.
VAN ONSELEN: I want to get to the paid parental leave scheme before we run out of time. Let me start with you, Tony Smith. With the new senators taking their seats in just a few weeks’ time, it’s more likely, I think, in that sort of parliamentary structure it would seem, that the Prime Minister will get his way on the paid parental leave scheme. A lot of dissent though, on your side of the Parliament; your own senators, Coalition senators, talking about crossing the floor. What’s your reaction to that? It’s often been spruiked as a right the conservatives have, compared in a different way, you know, to what Labor does.
SMITH: That’s true. In the Liberal Party we are more flexible than the Labor Party when it comes to crossing the floor. I’ve got to say it’s never encouraged. But the point I’d make, Peter, is that this has been settled policy for the last two elections. And I’m a supporter of the policy. I mean it seeks to enshrine a principle that when you’re on paid parental leave, you get paid your wage. And I think the thing that Labor is conveniently airbrushing away from their history at the moment is that they invented this principle. In fact, Gough Whitlam had it in his 1972 policy speech and went on to legislate just that principle, but of course, as we know, just for public servants. So if you’re an accountant working in the Finance Department here in Canberra, you get paid parental leave on your full wage. But if you’re in a suburban business you don’t. In fact if you work in the small business department, you get paid parental leave at you wage - just as you do with sick leave and holiday leave. But if actually work in a real small business you don’t. And that principle was started by Labor. It’s something that Tony Abbott’s trying to enshrine as a fairness measure. But of course Labor wants to have a deliberately discriminatory policy on this, and they shouldn’t be allowed to get away with it.