SUBJECTS: Question Time; Labor’s call for a National Integrity Commission; Peter Dutton; Unemployment figures; Newstart; Childcare; Political Donations; Media reporting of Parliament; Serena Williams cartoon debate.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN, PRESENTER: Darren Chester represents the Nationals in Gippsland, he's the Minister for Veterans' Affairs, he's in our Canberra studio. How are you going Darren?
EPSTEIN: And Tanya Plibersek is the Deputy Leader of the Labor Party, she is also Shadow Minister for Education, Shadow Minister for Women in the Australian Parliament, and I think if my geography is right, her seat of Sydney is right next door to the seat of Wentworth - we find out we're now going to have an election in the seat of Wentworth on October the 20th. Tanya Plibersek, good afternoon.
EPSTEIN: I got a bit nervous as that went into my mind. I'm glad I got that right. Can I just ask you to keep this one brief and I'm hoping it's a bipartisan question. It was really shouty at Question Time today and we had a lot of conversation around the changeover of Liberal Leader that maybe Question Time isn't the best reflection on politicians. I'll start with you Darren Chester - were you happy with the way everybody conducted themselves in Question Time?
CHESTER: Look I think Question Time across the board is a bit of theatre and it really does detract from the main game of what we do here in Canberra. I spend 10 or 12 hours a day here working on veterans' issues and important issues in my electorate and about an hour and a quarter in Question Time and I don't think Question Time really does reflect the true operation of Parliament House but it is the centre of attention, I guess, for coverage and it does become a bit of theatre, but I hope that the Australian public doesn't think we spend the rest of the day yelling at each other.
EPSTEIN: Tanya Plibersek, how did you take everyone’s behaviour today?
PLIBERSEK: I agree with Darren, it is a tiny part of the day really, but yeah I think your analysis that it was a pretty shouty day is spot on.
EPSTEIN: Let's just listen to the Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton yesterday. I don't want to litigate or try to adjudicate who's right and wrong, because none of us have that information, but the man who used to be the head of Border Force, was the first head of Border Force, Roman Quaedvlieg, is clearly on the other side of the argument now from Peter Dutton. And Mr Dutton appeared to use Parliamentary privilege yesterday to accuse Roman Quaedvlieg of grooming. I'll play you the grab, but grooming for most people has almost criminal overtones. Anyway, this is Peter Dutton yesterday.
[Peter Dutton clip]
EPSTEIN: Darren Chester, was that an appropriate label? “Someone who's groomed a girl 30 years younger than himself”?
CHESTER: Well Raf, what I think we're seeing is two particularly strong personalities here defending their reputations. Now, Minister Dutton has made it clear that there's been allegations made against him that he regards as spurious and false and the former Border Protection Chief Exec is defending his reputation as well in return, and I think it's become a bit unseemly and I understand why people would be uncomfortable with it -
EPSTEIN: Are you uncomfortable with Peter Dutton accusing Roman Quaedvlieg of grooming?
CHESTER: I'm not going to cast judgement on my colleagues, in the sense that I think it's got to the point now where I would prefer other mechanisms for this to be resolved rather than the public eye. I think it's become a bit unseemly from the public's perspective. The Minister has every right to defend himself against allegations he regards as both false and spurious, and Mr Quaedvlieg is raising claims that he probably feels justified in raising as well, but at the end of the day I'm not sure it's been well-served by being conducted in such a public way.
EPSTEIN: Tanya Plibersek, Peter Dutton is copping a lot of flak. He's allowed to defend himself, isn't he?
PLIBERSEK: I guess the difference is that Peter Dutton has used this - I think quite extreme - language with the cover of Parliamentary privilege and most people don't have the ability to say such things and not suffer any consequences. So I think it's an inappropriate use of Parliamentary privilege, I think it's inappropriate language and if Darren is keen for this to be dealt with in a quieter sort of process, then he ought to support a National Integrity Commission. Because this is exactly the sort of thing where you've got two people, both absolutely certain, one that there has been an inappropriate intervention by the Minister, and the Minister saying absolutely he's certain that it's not inappropriate, well you could actually look at that through a National Integrity Commission. We've got a Senate inquiry of course at the moment, and I think it's worth saying that Mr Quaedvlieg is not the only person who has given evidence to that Senate inquiry, but a more sober place might be a National Integrity Commission.
EPSTEIN: I just want to hear what the Prime Minister was on radio this morning saying about those claims about Peter Dutton. He does seem to think that most of the claims about his Home Affairs Minister have been disproven. I'm not sure that's right, but this is Scott Morrison today in a press conference.
[Scott Morrison clip]
EPSTEIN: Darren Chester, I just wanted to ask you as a Minister in the Prime Minister's government, my impression is that the claims around Peter Dutton haven't been disproven. The debate is around whether or not his interventions were appropriate, surely. Most of what has been reported is just fact - this intervention, that intervention, whether or not they had a connection with Peter Dutton. The questions are around appropriateness, aren't they?
CHESTER: No, the reference to the false allegations relates to some claims made earlier in the piece by Mr Quaedvlieg, as I understand it, around dates and individuals involved -
EPSTEIN: One aspect of one claim.
CHESTER: - which were proven to be inaccurate. Now, in terms of the broader issue, from a political perspective I can understand why the Labor Party wants to keep this going, they don't like Peter Dutton, that's not a newsflash to anyone listening to your program and it diverts attention from Peter Dutton's success as a Minister in terms of border protection issues, and it diverts attention from Labor's own border protection failures. So from a political point of view, I can understand why Labor would want to keep this ticking along for as long as they possibly can. But I think more broadly, the idea that a Minister would exercise Ministerial discretion in that portfolio is not particularly foreign. I would write, I would think, to that Minister two to three times a month on issues on behalf of my constituents, raising their claims, whether it's related to a passport or a visa issue, it's a very common practice for members of Parliament and in fact, many Labor members of Parliament have written to the Home Affairs Minister seeking visa consideration on behalf of constituents, it's a very common -
PLIBERSEK: And as I have, Raf, I have written to the Minister before. Not just this Minister, but many before him. I don't think I've ever had a turnaround to a request that's come on the same day.
CHESTER: I have, Tanya, on passport issues when people have been in situations when they've needed urgent assistance.
EPSTEIN: Can I ask Darren have you had a 24-hour turnover on a tourist visa?
PLIBERSEK: Australians needing-
CHESTER: I'm not sure actually on a tourism visa, but certainly on visa issues where people have been in situations where there was a level of urgency around it. So I have had quick turnaround -
PLIBERSEK: And against the advice of the Department? Because there's a fear that someone might work inappropriately. I mean, this is pretty extraordinary. The email from the guy that Peter Dutton says he doesn't know, that he used to work with, that's starts `Dear Peter, long time between calls’ -
CHESTER: 20 years, 20 years.
PLIBERSEK: - arrived just after 4pm and that same day, the issue was resolved. I think that's extraordinary. When you've got, for example, an Australian soldier who's been campaigning for his Afghani interpreter to be able to come to Australia and that takes years. I think it is a very quick turnaround. And look Raf, these questions are absolutely legitimate questions to ask in a Westminster democracy. Have ministerial powers been used appropriately? The fact that Peter Dutton is so thin skinned about it, the fact that he lost his cool yesterday in the way that he did, I don't think is a very good reflection on him. And just incidentally, it's not just these immigration matters that he's facing at the moment - there is his perceived conflict of interest because he owns childcare centres and he's getting funding from the Commonwealth, does that make him ineligible to be in the Parliament altogether? And the jobs that he's asked for his mates to get in Australian Border Force. I mean, he's facing a range of problems at the moment.
EPSTEIN: Look I don't want to litigate all of the claims against him, I do want to get onto how we deal with female representation and the treatment of women inside the Liberal Party as well. I just want to give people in Melbourne some breaking news, forgive me Tanya and Darren who are in Canberra.
Marcus has called from St Kilda. What do you want to say Marcus?
CALLER: Well both sides in the Federal Parliament use the monthly unemployment figures as the basis for their decision making, but those figures are extremely inaccurate and it causes many problems.
EPSTEIN: You mean their one hour of work means you've got some employment?
CALLER: Yes. And there's that and not looking for work because there's nothing to look for, too. But when Tanya was in government, she voted to not increase the value of the dole, to offload sole parents when their child turned 8 and to tighten up on the DSP. All at the time she knew that the figures were 15 per cent unemployment and another 8 per cent underemployed. So her decisions were very cruel.
EPSTEIN: Okay, I'll put that to her but clearly your point about the way we measure employment is directed at both sides. But Tanya Plibersek, quite a few criticisms there of your time in Government.
PLIBERSEK: Yeah, I'm not sure what votes Marcus is talking about. I think that's a bit of a stretch -
EPSTEIN: We know about single parents losing some of their benefits, that happened.
PLIBERSEK: Yes, that's true, but I'm not sure what he's talking about with unemployment and so on, unemployment supports. But in any case, Newstart is inadequate and I think even John Howard has acknowledged that it is inadequate and certainly we’ll have to-
EPSTEIN: You did push single parents on to Newstart, didn't you? You took the Family Benefit away from some of them.
PLIBERSEK: Yeah I think that was a mistake. I think it is better for people to be able to work even when they've got children, when they possibly can. But doing it with a stick rather than a carrot, I don't think is appropriate. But listen, Marcus, I think the way to deal with some of those figures - if you keep changing the way you measure things, you can't get a long series of data, which is a problem. You need to be able to compare what happened this year to 10 years ago, to 20 years ago. But if you take the unemployment rate and the underemployment rate together, so people who are unemployed and people who are looking for more work, it's 1.8 million Australians at the moment. And I'd add to that the historic low wages growth as a really serious problem, not just for poverty but depressing economic activity, because if people don't have money in their pockets to spend, there's fewer jobs for their fellow Australians and there's less confidence in the economy.
EPSTEIN: Darren Chester?
CHESTER: I think if there's one area where this Government does have a proud track record, it's around the number of new jobs that have been created over the past five years. And I don't for a second say that governments actually create the jobs, but they do provide the economic conditions where businesses employ with more confidence. So when people say that the best form of welfare is a job, it's not just rhetoric, it actually is true that people can be gainfully employed and have the opportunity to go to work and have control of their own economic destiny, it's obviously good for them. I think one of our challenges on measuring unemployment though Raf, is also around displaced unemployment where, in a lot of regional areas, the unemployment rate might look quite low, but that's because a lot of the young people have left, they've moved out of those towns and gone to metropolitan areas, so it flatters the figure in some of those regional communities because the kids have already left.
EPSTEIN: The numbers aren't always accurate, are they?
CHESTER: Well no, they're not always accurate and I think it sometimes can be quite a blunt instrument in terms of working out government policy, but the principle that I would like to see pursued more in the future is even when you're on some sort of benefit, that you actually get to keep that benefit while you're looking for work and even when you get some work, to just encourage and incentivise more people into the workplace or whether they've got a disability and work a limited number of hours, there are programs for that. But allowing people to keep some more that benefit and transition in a, I guess, a more gentle way to the paid workforce, might actually encourage more participation in the workforce.
PLIBERSEK: Darren, I absolutely agree with you and that's why it's such a shame that the new childcare changes mean one in four families are worse off. And from our analysis, more than half of those families that are worse off are actually at the lower income end of the scale. Now, it's very hard if you're looking for work, particularly if it's part time, particularly if it's seasonal or casual, to be able to get childcare under the new system, to be able to book it in -
EPSTEIN: They are trying to make the childcare system fairer and open to more, aren't they? That's what they're trying to do, they say?
PLIBERSEK: How is it that one in four families are worse off and that the bulk of them are at the lower income end of the scale then Raf? I mean, if that is their intention, it's not realised with these changes. And I think the changes particularly disregard casual work and so on -
EPSTEIN: Can I just try and pause the childcare there, I want to get a 10 second response from Darren because there's quite a few people who want to ask a question. But Darren, just on the childcare briefly?
CHESTER: I agree that we need to be getting more opportunities for people to access childcare in their communities and also recognising the casual and seasonal nature of work in a lot of regional areas.
EPSTEIN: Steve is in Yea. Steve what did you want to ask?
CALLER: Can I ask sort of a broader question? I guess that both guests will accept that people are broadly disillusioned with how our system of politics works, by system of Parliament. I personally believe that both parties are in the grip of vested interests and the 24-hour media cycle, and I'm just wondering - what's your view on the need for specific structural change? I'll just mention a couple of example -
EPSTEIN: Stick to two if we can Steve, then it's easier to get a response. What are the two biggest things you'd change?
CALLER: Okay. I'd like to see the Press Gallery out of Parliament House and I'd like to see political donations banned.
EPSTEIN: So you mean the Press Gallery physically not reporting from Parliament House?
CALLER: Exactly. I mean, it's unusual. How many countries have that?
EPSTEIN: Okay. Good, I haven't heard that one before. Tanya Plibersek, I'll start with you - getting rid of political donations and getting rid of the Press Gallery, get the journalists out of Parliament.
PLIBERSEK: Look I wouldn't get rid of political donations because that means more public funding to run campaigns, but what I would do is very much tighten the disclosure laws. I think we should have much closer to real-time disclosure and we should lower the threshold so that people are reporting more of the donations they get, in more detail, much sooner close to the time they get them. I also think we ought to have, as I said earlier, an Integrity Commission, so that people can be reassured. I don't think the Press Gallery being here is a problem. I mean, the Press Gallery give us as a hard a time as they give the Government. I think it's probably not a bad thing to have that degree of scrutiny.
EPSTEIN: I assume you're both going to the Press Gallery's Mid-Winter Ball tonight?
PLIBERSEK: I am, I don't know if Darren is.
EPSTEIN: Darren, are you going to that?
CHESTER: I am going, actually, Raf, yes.
EPSTEIN: I want to ask this in all seriousness because very much the feedback I get, both off-air and on the air, is that they don't really hear a difference. There's me talking and there's you talking. I think there is a significant group of people who hate you and me equally. And I think actually that's a fundamental problem for democracy.
CHESTER: Look on the bright side, Raf. As a hobby I used to umpire football, prior to that I was a newspaper journalist, and now I'm a politician. So I'm a three-time loser.
PLIBERSEK: His next job's parking inspector.
CHESTER: I could take up a job in the tax office next. Look, just in terms of your caller though Raf, I would make the point that our system is set up to be a participatory representative democracy. Now that sounds really waffle-y, but participatory means at grassroots we need people to participate in the selection of candidates, to get the best possible candidates going forward, and then it's more representative of the community. So I think our challenge is not to say it's broken and give up. Our challenge is some things are broken, how do we make it better? Let's get more people involved. But you know, we've basically sacked four Prime Ministers in ten years, two in the Labor Party and two in the Liberal Party. So I can understand why the Australian people are saying, you know, you guys better start focusing on us and stop talking about yourselves so much.
PLIBERSEK: I agree with that, but I also agree with Darren's point that if you, whoever you are, listening, think politics is not good enough, the best solution to that is to get involved. And it can be in a political party, or it can be on an issue, campaign on the thing that matters to you, that keeps you awake at night, that you feel passionate about. And I also think, Raf, there is a responsibility from the media. I think as Australians we're very quick to say a pox on both their houses, everybody's self-interested, blah blah blah. Actually, compared with the rest of the world, we have a relatively corruption-resistant culture here. We've got a pretty good record of catching people who behave badly. I think that sort of catastrophist approach to what's happening in political life - I don't think that's good for us, I don't think it's good for democracy.
EPSTEIN: Great, I love a bit of glass half full.  28 minutes past 5, Tanya Plibersek and Darren Chester are in Canberra, but I wanted to ask you both actually - I haven't told them I'm going to ask you about this so if you've got a limited answer that is ok. I'll start with you Darren Chester. Mark Knight's cartoon of Serena Williams has kind-of ricocheted around the world and the newspaper's doubled down by republishing it on its front page.
PLIBERSEK: I wonder why they did that, what do you reckon?
EPSTEIN: Darren Chester, what did you make of the cartoon and did the newspaper respond in an appropriate way, in your mind?
CHESTER: Look I've known Mark Knight for a few years now. I don't think he's got a racist bone in his body. The cartoonist stock in trade is to exaggerate a person's features, so there's some exaggeration of Serena William's features, some exaggeration of a tantrum. But she had a big dummy spit and the caption behind the scenes “can you just let her win?” was reflecting that she acted in quite a childish way. So I don't think there's anything racist about it. I've seen Mark do funnier cartoons, absolutely, but there's no malice in that. As I said, Mark is someone I've seen draw people in some hilarious ways and I'm sure the people that are the butt of his jokes haven't enjoyed the way they've been drawn, but it wasn't race-related and I know from Mark's coverage of other issues and his support for Indigenous footballers, his beloved Sydney Swans, he's someone who follows closely Indigenous players he's very strongly supportive of, he's a guy who's got no claim to answer. He's just doing his job and we've got to lighten up a bit.
EPSTEIN: Tanya Plibersek?
PLIBERSEK: I think satire, and cartooning in particular, are a really important of the media, public commentary, good discussion about complex issues and I completely accept that it was not the cartoonists’ intention to be racist or sexist, but I think it's worth also listening to what people overseas are saying - African Americans predominantly, African American women are saying - after generations of sexism and racism, this depiction hurts us for these reasons. And that is, I suppose, one of the strengths of cartooning, it does give the space for a conversation. So I don't think, just as it's not fair to judge the cartoonist or his motivation just superficially, I think it is important to listen carefully to the objections and try and understand the objections. I remember when Hey Hey it's Saturday did that blackface performance a few years ago, probably the people who did that weren't racist, they probably didn't mean any harm, they probably just thought it was a good joke -
EPSTEIN: That's the point though, isn't it, that you're picking up on and repeating tropes within a culture that have been used to oppress people. Just because you don't know it's racist, doesn't mean that it's not.
PLIBERSEK: That's exactly what I'm saying. It's important to listen to the criticism. And honestly, if you inadvertently hurt someone because you haven't experienced that sexism or racism yourself, you're not attuned to it - maybe it's just worth saying look I'm sorry, that's not what I meant.
EPSTEIN: Darren Chester, anything to add?
CHESTER: Look I agree with Tanya's reference to the Hey Hey it's Saturday blackface issue, because I think that did point out to people that they were being sort of latently racist with no intention whatsoever, but I just think fundamentally, cartoonists, satire, exaggerate people's features, exaggerate their behaviour. I mean, only a few days earlier he was taking the mickey out of Nick Kyrgios for his petulant behaviour. I mean, he's drawn Barnaby Joyce as a sheep, he's had Joe Hockey as Shrek, he's had Tony Abbott in a Hannibal Lecter mask last week -
EPSTEIN: But Darren, that is entertaining, he would be sensitive to drawing a Jewish man as fat and with a big nose, wouldn't he? Because he understands the connotations that has around the Nazi era.
CHESTER: But I don't think for a second Raf, that the depiction of Serena was a racial stereotyping by any stretch. I mean, she is a magnificent athlete, he exaggerated her extraordinary physique and he exaggerated her behaviour with a tantrum of breaking her racquet and the caption in the background was please let her win which is something you'd say to a kid to try and make the other kid stop crying. So it was taking the mickey out really a bit of a poor performance. Serena wouldn't have been proud of her effort that day, she's an extraordinary athlete, she's been a great champion. And from the dealings I've had with Mark Knight and I've followed his cartoons over the years, that was no attempt at any racism, there's no race aspect to it. It’s been unfortunately blown up
PLIBERSEK: No, but the people who have looked at that cartoon in the United States, they don't know him. They don't know that he's a decent person, they don't understand his motivation. They're reading it coming out of their experience of racism and sexism -  
CHESTER: Coming from a US lens.
PLIBERSEK: So you've got to accept their perspective -
CHESTER: Sorry Tanya, I'm not really suggesting that the debate's unfair, I'm just trying to justify maybe we have a harsher edge to our cartoons.
EPSTEIN: What about making Naomi Osaka white? I mean, she's got a Haitian dad and a Japanese mum, she's not white. I mean, it's odd isn't it?
CHESTER: Didn't he depict her with blonde hair?
EPSTEIN: Well she's got blonde hair, she dyes her hair, but she's not white. She's depicted as white in the cartoon, I just think it's a bit weird.
PLIBERSEK: I didn't even notice that I have to say, Raf, I haven't looked at it closely enough.
EPSTEIN: I didn't expect you to get into serious discussion of cartooning. Enjoy the Mid-winter Ball organised by the Press Gallery, it is there for charity. Behave, be nice to the journalists and thank you for your time.
PLIBERSEK: Goodnight, see you.
CHESTER: Thanks Raf. Have a great evening.