JIM MIDDLETON: Minister Concetta Fierravanti-Wells. Good afternoon Senator, good to have you with us. Thanks very much for your time this Saturday afternoon.
Now I’ll get to the convention in a moment. But you’re just back from Kiribati, also from Vanuatu. In Kiribati, in particular, where you able to give the Government there any assurances that Australia would continue to meet its Paris Climate Change commitments - because of course Kiribati is extremely worried as a very low lying Pacific nation about the consequences of any rise in the level of the oceans.
CONCETTA FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: Well Jim, good to be here with you.
Look, of course the Turnbull Government remains committed to the Paris Agreement. As we know the Paris Agreement was committed to under an Abbott Government, and our renewable energy target was committed again, under an Abbott Government. Of course, the Turnbull Government is continuing with those commitments.
In particular, of course, in the Pacific our climate programs are very much going to assisting our Pacific Island Neighbours to adapt and to build resilience and to mitigate against climate events. Certainly Kiribati is one of those countries where we are seeing climate events. Interestingly, during my time there I had the opportunity to be briefed by people who are doing real time reporting on tidal information. It’s very interesting to see that according to real data, that the changes to levels are actually very very miniscule. It’s encouraging to see that. But it was very good to visit Kiribati and to see for myself some of the work that we are doing, not just on the climate front, but in other areas.
Most especially of course on labour mobility, because we have a very good Pilot scheme that we’re running at the moment with Kiribati, Nauru and Tuvalu as part of our Northern Australia Pilot where we are bringing workers from the Pacific Pilot, for 250 workers for up to three years and expanding that to tourism, aged care, and generally those areas. We’ve got people on Hamilton Island and Hayman Island going up there, and I had the opportunity to meet some of those young people that are going to join and work on those islands.
JIM MIDDLETON: Does Australia accept that it has a particular responsibility for the people of Kiribati, because if the level of the oceans does rise as the experts predict, Kiribati could produce some of the first climate change refugees.
CONCETTA FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: Well Jim, I always put this in terms of having the biggest house in the street. Australia is part of the Pacific family, and this is certainly very very clear particularly in relation to our involvement on a whole range of different fronts. Whether it be on a regional security basis - and of course we have just had the end of the Regional Assistance Mission to the Solomon Islands. Whether it’s on climate issues, whether it’s on health and education, Australia is strongly committed to a safe, a prosperous, and a secure region.
Let’s not forget that after the security of Australia, according to our Defence White Paper, the security of our region is second only to the security of Australia. Our assistance to our Pacific, Indo-Pacific region, is very important. Australia’s aid, international overseas development, is about $4 billion and about 90% of that is actually spent in our region. Everything that we do, irrespective of what that area is, is targeted towards a safer, a more prosperous and a more secure region.
JIM MIDDLETON: Let’s go to the Liberal Party Convention, Minister, you were there today when Malcolm Turnbull spoke. Tony Abbott had something to say as well - in fact he suggested that support for anything other than the Warringah motion, as it’s known, the motion that was emerged from branches within his electorate, which only requires that people be members of the Liberal Party for two years, all of them, anyone in those circumstances would be able to vote in pre-selections. He said that support for any other motion, but that - and there are a number of them - would be support for ‘fake’ democracy as he put it.
Were you convinced by the former Prime Minister?
CONCETTA FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: Well, Jim, I’ve been part of a push for greater democratic processes in the New South Wales Division for many years. This is a grassroots process, a grassroots movement that started many many years ago. Some of us have been advocating for one member one vote since the late 1990’s.
So, when you do dissect the various motions that are up on offer, it is clear that the Warringah motion is the only one that allows members of our party, grassroots members, to vote in Lower House and Upper House pre-selections at both State and Federal level. So, when you do look at the other motions, the other motions do not afford that degree of latitude to our party members. There are also other provisions of the Warringah motion, which actually make it the most democratic of the motions on offer. And for that reason, having spent a lot of time canvassing support for plebiscites across the New South Wales Division, I am really hopeful that the Warringah motion will be successful because it does represent the most democratic of all the other motions. None of the other motions afford grassroots members the opportunity to pre-select candidates in both Lower and Upper House at both State and Federal level.
JIM MIDDLETON: So, you say you’re hopeful that the Warringah resolution will get up. Is it your impression, given your reading of the numbers at this special convention - more than 1,000 people - that it will be successful tomorrow?
CONCETTA FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: Well, I’m hopeful that it will be successful tomorrow. It’s not just the people who are present, we also have members in country seats who will be participating in the vote.
This is, if I can say Jim, this is a grassroots movement. It does cut across the broad church that is the Liberal Party in New South Wales. I know that there are people right across the spectrum, both from the conservative and from the left of the Liberal Party, that will be supporting this motion. It is common sense.
It really… New South Wales needs to fall into line with the other states around Australia, and the time has come. We have to allow our grassroots members the opportunity to choose their candidates.
Jim, I have no difficulty with every member of the New South Wales Division being a pre-selector at my next Senate pre-selection. That is democracy. That is real democracy. If we ask, and ask our party membership to stand on polling booth, to do all sorts of things, it is vitally important that we afford them the opportunity to have a say.
We are as a party advocating, for example, a plebiscite vote on marriage and the definition of marriage. So, it’s only fair that that be extended to one of our key States, the New South Wales Division.
JIM MIDDLETON: You’re not worried, are you, that having such simple provisions could leave the situation open to even more branch stacking that has been the case in the past, because there are no preconditions, no activity test, there’s no requirement, for example under the Warringah motion that people actually doorknock on behalf of candidates, that they turn up and hand out how-to-vote cards. You could have a situation where there’s even more branch stacking then there is currently.
CONCETTA FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: Well at the moment as the motions stand, the Warringah motion is the only motion that affords our members the opportunity to vote in Upper House and Lower House. So, when you do the analysis of the motions, I don’t buy what the other motions are actually trying to sell us - and that is, the plebiscite you get when you don’t get a plebiscite. It’s pretty clear from an analysis of those motions which one is actually going to afford our grassroots members a full say.
Now, as somebody who has been in this Division for a long time and somebody who has sat for quite a number of pre-selections, Jim, so I’ve seen them over the years and have quite a bit of experience in this space. I have to say that when you present yourself to a pre-selection panel, you have to have done the work. You have to have been known in the party, and most especially, if I go to the New South Wales Division, the membership - the full membership of the New South Wales Division - and ask them to pre-select me at the next Senate pre-selection, they will base their assessment of me on the work that I’ve done, on my involvement in the Party over a long long period of time since the early 1990’s.
So, I hear what people say about an activities test, but the reality is no one gets pre-selected unless you’ve actually been involved, people do know you, and from my own experience, do know that ordinary grassroots members take the involvement of prospective candidates and full involvement in activities of the Liberal Party very very seriously, and so I don’t buy that you have to go and tick all these boxes. I think people - anybody who is serious about standing for pre-selection would do that anyway, and would have to demonstrate to his or her pre-selectors that they have been an active and full participant in the Liberal Party to seek to gain the trust of the grassroots of the Liberal Party.
JIM MIDDLETON: My final question, as we know now the Prime Minister and Tony Abbott had a discussion during the week. They talked about what might, or might not, happen at this convention this weekend. Is it your impression, do you think it is correct on the part of Mr Abbott to assume that the Prime Minister would support the Warringah motion. The Prime Minister was pretty careful in his speech, and you were there, not to endorse any particular detail as far as plebiscites were concerned, beyond arguing and advocating that plebiscites ought to be introduced.
CONCETTA FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: Well when you say that you want plebiscites, and can I say it wasn’t just Prime Minister Turnbull advocating for plebiscites, I have to say that Premier Berejiklian was also very very clear in her advocating for the grassroots members to have a say in plebiscites in election of candidates. When you do make that statement, as I said, there’s really only one motion that ticks all those boxes. That is the Warringah motion is the only motion on offer that actually affords members the opportunity to vote for candidates at both the State and Federal level in both the Lower House and in the Upper Houses.
JIM MIDDLETON: Appreciate you time this Saturday afternoon, thank you very much.
CONCETTA FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: Thank you, thanks very much Jim.
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