Linda Burney on ABC RN Drive with Patricia Karvelas, Wednesday, 18 September 2019
SUBJECTS: Family law inquiry; John Setka; Robodebt; Biloela family
PATRICIA KARVELAS: Linda Burney is the Shadow Minister for Families and Social Services. Linda Burney welcome.
LINDA BURNEY, SHADOW MINISTER FOR FAMILIES AND SOCIAL SERVICES, MEMBER FOR BARTON: Thanks Patricia.
KARVELAS: Is it just Senator Hanson’s role in this inquiry that you object to? Would you support the inquiry if she wasn’t involved?
BURNEY: No, it’s not just Senator Hanson’s role in the inquiry. There was absolutely no consultation with the Labor Party on the terms of reference. I’ve just read them. They’re enormously long. And there was – a bipartisan committee is between the two major parties, and the last time I looked, One Nation was not one of the major parties. I think the other thing is that some of the comments that have been made by Senator Hanson on air today are probably comments that – certainly there’s been a massive response from women’s organisations. I’ve got in front of me, 17 organisations that have contacted myself or Julie Collins or other offices, just saying that they won’t participate. They believe the inquiry is unnecessary. And finally, the government had in front of it two really significant pieces of work as you know. The Australian Law Reform Commission did a report into this very topic, with 60 recommendations. And the standing committee on social policy and legal affairs went around Australia talking to women about domestic violence. And the government has done nothing with either of those reports.
KARVELAS: As an elected member of parliament though – you talked about the mainstream parties – isn’t Pauline Hanson entitled as any other MP to serve as a deputy chair of this inquiry?
BURNEY: Bipartisanship on particular issues as you know is really important. And one of those elements of bipartisanship is family and domestic violence. And the other thing of course is that this is an inquiry into how the family court is operating. And Rosie Batty actually is the person who’s led the charge saying it’s a broken system and that’s where the focus needs to be. Going to your question in relation to Pauline Hanson, of course inquiries are important and of course people should be able to participate, but a bipartisan inquiry is between Labor and the Government.
KARVELAS: Is there any evidence that false allegations of domestic violence and sexual abuse are a problem in the family court as Pauline Hanson suggests?
BURNEY: I know Pauline has been talking about this issue since she was here in the parliament previously. And you can always find instances where there is what you describe what’s taking place. But to characterise women as lying about abuse and lying about sexual abuse of their children in these kinds of legal proceedings is a little bit beyond – well beyond the pale as far as I’m concerned. And the issue of family break up violence is traumatic enough without an additional inquiry where women’s groups are clearly saying from right across the country – and I’ve got them here in front of me – that they will not participate.
KARVELAS: You’re saying that there’s evidence now that women will not participate in this inquiry because of the way that it’s been established?
BURNEY: Yes, the Women’s Legal Service of New South Wales is deeply concerned by the announcement. The Women’s Legal Services of Queensland are questioning how the inquiry will be impartial. Women’s safety NSW says there’s no need for another inquiry and I think that’s the really pertinent thing that Labor is also saying. What about the two inquiries that are sitting in front of the government at the moment?
KARVELAS: So you think – just to clarify – that there is absolutely no case full stop for an inquiry?
BURNEY: I think that there is two very substantial pieces of information and recommendations in relation to this particular issue and the broader issue of family and domestic violence sitting in front of the government, sitting in front of parliament, and the government has done absolutely nothing about them,. And they have been there for over six months.
KARVELAS: Labor is backing a class action against the legality of the government’s Robodebt system. The current minister argues that this is a system that actually Labor created. That’s right isn’t it? Robodebt is actually something happened when Labor was the government.
BURNEY: Labor is very forthright as you know Patricia saying that we believe in mutual obligation and that’s very important. And the Robodebt as it’s being characterised now is very different to the system that Labor had in place. We also had made sure that the debts were real. The issue with this, and it’s been an ongoing thing for a number of years now – the issue is that the debts that are being generated is based on the wrong algorithm. There are no human oversight of the debts and most of the debts that have been sent and have got to the appeals in the tribunal and have been paid out by the government. It’s never been tested. Now of course the other thing is that the minister himself said that one in five debts is incorrect and that’s just not good enough. And the class action is about whether or not the government has received financial benefit from their mistake basically.
KARVELAS: The problems with Robodebt were well documented before the federal election but you didn’t campaign on it. You didn’t say you were going to get rid of Robodebt. Why didn’t you make this call earlier?
BURNEY: Well there wasn’t a specific – and you know, I had responsibility for the disability insurance scheme prior to the last election – there is now a specific minister and of course, Bill Shorten is the shadow minister involved. And I don’t think it’s actually true to say that we didn’t campaign on it. You’re right in saying that we didn’t call for its abolishment. We certainly made enormous in roads into getting the government to change some of their systems. They seem to have ramped this up again. And there are debt notices going out left, right and centre that are inaccurate.
KARVELAS: I want to change the topic if I can, because John Setka spoke to RN Breakfast this morning. He said –
BURNEY: Yes, I heard the interview.
KARVELAS: There you go. I’m glad you did because many people claim they don’t hear the interviews and then you have to brief them. But Linda Burney, we’re on safe ground. He said he doesn’t believe an expletive-filled tirade against the crossbench warning them against passing the Ensuring Integrity Bill was intimidating. Do you think it was intimidating?
BURNEY: Well, I did hear what was a very long interview between John Setka and Hamish MacDonald this morning, and a lot of it’s certainly focused on the language being used. The basic issue in terms of Labor is that we don’t believe that someone who’s been convicted of harassment of women – and that would include of course language – be part of the Labor Party. And there is no place for anyone in the Labor Party that has breached family court orders, and in both cases Mr Setka has done that.
KARVELAS: He says that his family has moved on, that they were just text messages. What did you make of his explanation of that?
BURNEY: Well, like I said I did hear that.
KARVELAS: Did you find it alarming?
BURNEY: You can’t erase what’s happened in the past. He has an absolute right of course to make statements that he did. But what I’m basically saying Patricia is what the Labor Party believes is that there’s no place in the Labor Party with the attitude and the actions that John Setka has displayed.
KARVELAS: But on the justification – I do want to get your view on this – for this just being just text messages which sounded to me like he was, you know, basically suggesting it was not very serious even though he accepts that he shouldn’t have sent them. Do you think that’s a poor justification –
BURNEY: Well, I think you have to look at what actually clearly took place. I mean, he was – he faced a conviction in relation to that harassment. And we didn’t learn until much later on that the harassment was actually text messages to his then and present wife. He can say that they’ve moved on. I’m very pleased that they’re receiving counselling and getting their family together but you can’t deny the fact that it actually happened. And he was convicted of that harassment.
KARVELAS: Linda Burney, just finally, the Federal Court has again has delayed its decision on whether to hear an application for protection for one of the daughters of the Tamil family from Biloela. It’s due to rule tomorrow. Are you worried about the impact these delays are having on the family?
BURNEY: Look, obviously it must be incredibly difficult for the family. I heard on ABC radio yesterday morning, I think it was, one of the friends of the family had spoken to them and she said they’re really stressed and worried. I can’t imagine the sort of anguish that they’re going through. And Labor’s position has been very consistent on this and I’ve just seen Kristina Keneally actually in the corridor and that is that the Minister has used on thousands of occasions – or certainly many many many occasions – his discretionary power. And Labor is saying that he should use it in the case for this particular family, particularly for in what you’ve reflected that the children were both born in Australia.
KARVELAS: Thank you so much for joining us.