Anika Wells MP on ABC Weekend Breakfast


SUBJECTS: National integrity commission, Rise of independent candidates
JOHANNA NICHOLSON, HOST: It has been a chaotic week in Parliament, with Prime Minister Scott Morrison downplaying deepening divisions in his ranks. 
FAUZIAH IBRAHIM, HOST: With just four sitting days left for the year, key pieces of legislation face an uncertain future, including the Religious Freedom Bill and the National Integrity Commission Bill. Let’s bring in our politician panel for Saturday now. We are joined by Liberal MP Dr Katie Allen and Labor MP Anika Wells. Thank you to both of you for taking the time to speak with us again on Weekend Breakfast. Katie Allen, if I can start with you, we saw the Integrity Commission Bill basically being put to rest. Independent MP Helen Haines said on the defeat of her motion to try to get the bill debated she said, “We were prevented by an undemocratic technicality. The Prime Minister and the government are standing in the way now of not only the will of the people but the will of the parliament as well”. Explain to us, after three years or so, why it is that the Coalition government is reluctant to even debate this bill.
KATIE ALLEN, MEMBER FOR HIGGINS: I contest that completely. We are about presenting our bill. We are the government, we have been elected by the majority of Australians to deliver our bills, and as a person who’s on the inside of the tent I have been working very closely with the Attorney General, Michaelia Cash, who has an abundance of excess energy and has been incredibly busy with the Religious Discrimination Bill, with work on the Commonwealth Integrity Commission and a whole slew of legislative agendas that she has to deliver. And she and we are determined to deliver the CIC or Commonwealth Integrity Commission in this term of parliament. I have been working in good faith on that very issue. So we are the government, we will lead with the bill that we believe the Australian people need. 
NICHOLSON: Anika Wells, what do you make of that? Do you have hope in that determination from the government?
ANIKA WELLS, MEMBER FOR LILLEY: Absolutely none whatsoever Fauziah. The government hasn’t even introduced their bill to the parliament, so how on earth are we all meant to debate and consider how to improve this magical bill when they won't even introduce it to the parliament? Helen Haines said it well, and she invited them to debate it yesterday. Bridget Archer, Liberal MP from Tasmania, seconded that motion. That is how sick of it moderate Liberals are, because it has been more than 1000 days since Scott Morrison promised us all a National Integrity Commission. I am sure Katie is the same. I do mobile offices most weeks. Every single time I do one someone comes to talk to me about the National Integrity Commission. And my question is Bridget Archer moved across the floor, which is a big deal, crossed the floor to move a motion to debate the National Integrity Commission. This is what Scott Morrison says is his own policy, so what is the problem? And why was she hauled into his own office to be reprimanded for that when people like Senator Gerard Rennick, George Christensen, Senator Matt Canavan, have crossed the floor on anti-vax mandate bills in support of Senator Pauline Hanson and have receive no consequences whatsoever? I think there’s a lot of questions.
IBRAHIM: There does seem to be a lot of questions Katie Allen. I will give you the floor so you can answer those questions.
ALLEN: Look in our party we have a very independent-thinking approach and the process is to pick up the phone to the Attorney General and meet with her and talk about your concerns. Now I have actually met Helen Haines about her bill and I don't like her bill, so I would never cross the floor for a bill like that because I don't think it is the right bill. It is not going to get the balance right. And Australians tell me they want a Commonwealth Integrity Commission, I want the Commonwealth Integrity Commission and I have been working very closely with the Attorney General to deliver one this term. I believe one will delivered. So there is no doubt that we are a party of independent thinkers and people have the right to cross the floor, unlike in the Labor Party, and people reserve that right for all sorts of reasons. But I have been working very closely with the Religious Discrimination Act, which actually has been our focus this week and there has been a large amount of concessions made. For instance, I have worked very hard to make sure that we had the conscientious objection clause removed from the Religious Discrimination Bill. We have been successful with that. We have been able to remove the Folau clause. We have been able to make sure the statement of belief is very tight and we have also now referred it to the Human Rights Commission after further assessment. So there has been a lot of success working inside the tent closely with the Ministers. That is what democracy is. That is what I am elected by the people of Higgins to deliver on and that is what I have delivered on. 
NICHOLSON: But Dr Katie Allen you say that you don't like that bill from Helen Haines. Isn't that the point? That there is a will for the national integrity commission, but there are differences in opinion on what it might look like so it actually needs to be debated.
ALLEN: Yes, so the first process is the government of the day, that happens to be us, and that is why I encourage women in particular who are interested in having independent views come join our party. Because we are the party of independent views. Come and join our party because those voices inside the tent debate them and then we deliver it to the floor for it to be debated by the opposition and the crossbench. That is what has happened with the Religious Discrimination Bill, which was presented to parliament last week. It is now going through the processes that allows the rest of parliament, the rest of Australia, to debate where we got to from our internal processes. That is what actually happens. So with the Commonwealth Integrity Commission, the Attorney General has been speaking very broadly. I think she has had more than 47 roundtables and consultations. I know, I have met with her many times about this Bill. I know my colleague, my good friend Celia Hannan the Member for Curtin, is very strong on this issue. So there are many of us working quietly and very diligently to get the Bill right so that when it comes to presentation on the floor and it is being debated by the Opposition and the crossbench it has a strong, sound basis in what the government of the day is going to deliver for the people of Australia. That is what we have been elected at the ballot box to do. We have been delivering on COVID, some of the best outcomes for the world, for Australia in the world. We are delivering on tax cuts, we have a plan for the future and it is about who you trust to deliver on these things. We are a government that has been delivering more than 500 pieces of legislation to the floor of the parliament. It is a very busy term. 
IBRAHIM: It certainly does seem. I just want to circle back now to the National Integrity Commission Bill. Anika Wells, the Prime Minister pointed out the fact that the current model would damage reputations of politicians, he gave the example of course of the former New South Wales Premier Gladys Berejiklian. Is this something that Labor is also concerned about?
WELLS: I am not sure that is the hill I would die on if I was Prime Minister. I was shocked when he said that in Question Time a few days ago. We have galloped a long way from where we started. I can't go on without picking up the point- this is about democracy. This is actually about the tenets of our democracy and it should not be... Katie just said then “Well I contribute by picking up the phone to MichaeliaCash”. It cannot be the case that a few chosen people with access to the Attorney General's mobile draft up what is an incredibly important piece of legislation that all Australians want. 151 electorates elected a Member of Parliament in 2019. 151 electorates sent that Member of Parliament to debate bills in the parliament and just shy of 50 per cent of those parliamentarians do not get to debate the bill because Scott Morrison has not even introduced it into the House. So I think we just absolutely cannot go past that central point. It is not being debated in the House. Scott Morrison has not introduced it to the House. How can we all improve it and contribute what our own constituents want to see if we are not even allowed to debate it? Because that is the absolute jalopy, broke-down jalopy of a government that Scott Morrison is running at this point.

IBRAHIM: Katie Allen, is there a strong possibility - or should I rephrase my question- is there a possibility and how strong is this possibility that this Bill will become the mandate for the Coalition going into the election and you, you know the Coalition basically saying well look the Labor Party don't want a National Integrity Commission and that is why they are opposing it? Is there a possibility that is going to happen?
ALLEN: Well I can't speak for the Labor Party will or won't do, but what I would say is that I believe we will deliver a draft for the parliament to debate in this term of government. We have an election that has to be done by next May, that is still another full six months. Remember, we have had a pretty seriously busy last 18 months with COVID, and this Bill, I believe, will be delivered for debate in this term of parliament and that looks like we are on track to actually achieve that. 
NICHOLSON: This week the former leader of the Australian Democrats, Meg Lees, joined the advisory council of Climate 200 and they are supporting a number of independent candidates that are contesting seats in the next election. And she said that now she feels like we have reached a critical tipping point and neither the Coalition or Labor are making decisions advocating policies that are in Australia's best interests or those of the world beyond our shores. These independents are increasing, they are stepping up and often campaigning on platforms involving the climate and climate change, involving integrity and other such issues. I will start with you, Anika Wells, but I would like to get both of your thoughts on this. Do you think that the major parties, Liberal and Labor, the Coalition and Labor are missing an opportunity here and there is a gap in the market that these independents are stepping into?
WELLS: Labor wants to act for the climate emergency and Labor wants a National Integrity Commission with teeth. Unfortunately Labor is in Opposition. But you're taking me back down memory lane Jo because my very first media engagement once I got elected was with Helen Haines, the new member for Indi, and it was about how our two campaigns bucked the trend of the Liberal whitewash across the country. And what we both had in common was that campaign style, the grassroots campaign style. I did 307 campaign events during my campaign and I’ve done 62 mobile offices this term. And I think what I notice about the way that the independents are running their campaigns is that commitment to grassroots campaigning, to listening to people, to representing their views. I think there is a huge amount in common on the progressive side of politics and those independents are choosing to run against Liberal MPs because they are not confident a Liberal government delivers those things. And I think the record after nearly 10 years is pretty clear.
NICHOLSON: Doctor Katie Allen, these independents are often targeting those Liberal seats. Do you feel like that is a threat?
ALLEN: I run a very grassroots campaign, I did 387 events in a 10-week period in my leadup to my last campaign. And before that, campaigned in Prahran for 18 months. I am from Higgins, I am of Higgins, I am for Higgins. I’ve run a very grassroots campaign, so based on Anika, I will hopefully be brought back into parliament on a strong support based on that. But what I would say is that it is absolutely clear to me we need more women to put their hand up not to be on the crossbench but to be inside government. And you know it is a tough place to be in a party with different views, but that is a tough place to be in the democracy that we have as Australia. It is many voices coming to a common objective to lead Australia, and we have delivered amazing outcomes for Australia with regards to one of the best health COVID responses in the world. And I’d like to feel some significant responsibly for that outcome, but we have also delivered a strong economy. And that strong economy has allowed us to have a plan for the 2050 target, it has allowed us to cut taxes, it has allowed us to get behind an incredible JobKeeperprogram but also for the first time in 30 years to raise the JobSeeker rate. So there’s been some amazing outcomes. Record amounts of investments in aged care and mental health, things that I am incredibly passionate about. So I’ve run a grassroots campaign, I back in this government, but I want more women who have the keys to the Treasury, who have the ministerial portfolios that help lead this country to a better future. If you are a woman out there, an independent thinker, join the Liberal Party.
IBRAHIM: Well, among the independents that are running, we’ve got Zali Steggall, we’ve got Zoe Daniel, Allegra Spender, we’ve got Helen Haines. These are very strong women who are putting their hat into the ring here. They are determined independent candidates here. I do wonder, Katie Allen, how much of a liability is the Prime Minister to the hopes of Liberal candidates to being re-elected. Is being connected to him in some way, being close to him in some way, could that in some way tarnish your reputation or integrity? 
ALLEN: Well, the question is: What do you respect? Do you respect actions that are in the best interests of our nation? I certainly do and I believe the Prime Minister who has delivered more than 500 pieces of legislation, some incredible outcomes, whether it's action on climate, whether it's a strong economy or whether it’s an amazing historical AUKUS deal, those things are the things that I back in each and every day. And I believe that our Prime Minister is able to find the balance in what is a very contested space. Democracy is a tough place to be and with social media, we are under scrutiny every second of the day and it is very, very much in the public domain. So everything we do is scrutinised and it’s very easy for everyone to have a very clear opinion of what is happening in parliament, as it should be. That's what our democracy is. I'm not frightened of that. I engage in the debate and do that in a very willing way and I have to say this has been a tough two and a half years, but if you look at the record of delivery and the way that we've managed to get the balance right on every single piece of legislation I believe we've delivered on, it is pretty incredible. I think it’s amazing.
NICHOLSON: Anika, what do you make of that - action speaking louder than words? 
WELLS: Well, if you go on that basis, women are voting with their feet aren’t they? And they’re running against Liberal MPs to see the end of this Scott Morrison government.
NICHOLSON: Alright. On that note we’ll have to leave it there. Anika Wells and Dr Katie Allen, it’s great to have you on the program this morning. Thanks very much. 
ALLEN: Thanks
WELLS: Have a good morning.