Press Conference - Canberra, ACT

12 Sep 2019
Canberra, ACT
Prime Minister

PRIME MINISTER: Good morning everyone. It’s great to have Senator Henderson here with me today on what is an historic day for Australia. This really is a day for Australians to celebrate. 50 per cent of the Senate is now represented by female Senators and if you go back to the days of Dame Dorothy Tagney, the first female Senator from the Labor Party to go into the Senate, to here today in 2019 to have half that representation being from female Senators is a truly great day for women all around Australia but for all men around Australia too. So I want to congratulate Senator Henderson on her return to the Parliament and for the contribution she is going to make. But I particularly want to recognise her, not only the all 38 women that are in the Senate but all of the women who went before those women in the Senate today who blazed the trail, who ensured that their voices were heard and that more female voices were heard. We still have a journey to go on this in the House of Representatives and the Liberal Party still has a journey to go as well on this issue. But I'm pleased that since becoming Prime Minister of the 28 members of Parliament that have joined our ranks here in Canberra, half of those have been women. That seven members of my Cabinet are women, the highest number ever in any Australian Cabinet. We still have a long way to go. We understand that. I intend to continue as I have started as Prime Minister. But today is a day not for any one side of politics, although we do celebrate the fact that the 38th Senator to be a woman has come from the Liberal Party but that is only because of the broader achievements that have been put in place by all political parties in this country. I commend all of the political parties for the work they have done in this area and we all still have work to do and we intend to get on and do it. But with that, I will ask Senator Henderson to make a few remarks and then I am happy to take questions.

SENATOR THE HON. SARAH HENDERSON: Prime Minister, good morning everyone, it is wonderful to be back. I am very proud that as I entered the Senate this morning, of course it is also a moment of history. We now have 50/50 women and men in the Australian Senate and of course, being a Liberal Senator for Victoria I'm exceptionally proud. I am looking forward very much to being back in the team and working very hard for the people of Victoria, including the people of Corangamite but particularly for regional Victoria. I have got a very strong focus on regional Victorians and I'm really looking forward to working very hard. It is also a special moment because my mum was a member of parliament and I think we're the only first mother and daughter both to be members of Parliament. My mother was in the Victorian state parliament. So making history in a couple of ways, a great day today. I am extremely proud so thank you very much. 

PRIME MINISTER: Thank you, Sarah. Happy to take questions.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, just on Senate representation, there is a push on from within the Nationals to push that the states have two senators represent six regions in each State. Are you open to that idea?

PRIME MINISTER: This is something that happens in state parliaments around the country and I think there are merits that are attached that. But the political parties themselves, I think, endeavour and this is one of the reasons why I'm very keen to see, as we have in this case with Senator Henderson, someone coming from regional parts of Victoria. I would very much like to see that happen in New South Wales when they are given the opportunity to select a new Senator to come here when the formalities are concluded and we are in a position to do that. So I think these things have merit but they obviously have constitutional implications as well. What I want to see is I want to see more women in Parliament and I want to see more people from regional Australia in the Senate.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, on female members, Gladys Liu, if I could ask, what is your view on the allegations surrounding her and the calls from Labor and Centre Alliance for her to be investigated by ASIO?

PRIME MINISTER: Gladys Liu has made a very clear statement. Let's be clear. Gladys gave a clumsy interview. She is a new member of Parliament. If that were the grounds for which people weren't sitting in the Parliament, it would be a pretty empty place and none of you would have had a good story in your lives. There are clumsy interviews that are given from time to time. On this occasion, one was given by a new member of Parliament. But let me tell you about Gladys Liu. Gladys Liu, yes, is a Chinese-born Australian. Born in Hong Kong. Gladys has overcome incredible challenges to be a member of this place. She's overcome disability. She's overcome domestic violence. She's overcome the challenges that people from many different backgrounds in our ethnic communities face in this country to actually come through the ranks of our own Party and to represent our Party here and represent the people of Chisholm in this Parliament. She is someone who has run a small business. She is someone who came here to get an education and has created a life here for her and her family. Now, she is a part of her community and as anyone in this building knows, particularly in communities of Chinese-Australians, there are many, many different organisations and those organisations confer membership of lots of different people, oftentimes without their knowledge. But these organisations are part of the community. Indeed, her Labor candidate at that very same election was a member of at least two of the organisations that Gladys has been a member of. Let me tell you what Gladys Liu hasn't done. What Gladys Liu hasn’t done is she hasn't had someone pay for her legal expenses, which we understand was up to about $40,000 in the case that Labor wants to create an equivalency over. She didn't take travel expenses personally. She didn't stand at a lectern like this in Sydney with a crest on the front of it with a person who actually paid for those expenses and advocate for a change in her Party's policy on the sensitive issue of the South China Sea. She didn't do any of these things. You know what Gladys Liu did? She is part of a community. She is a great Australian. What I am very concerned about - very concerned about - given what I have just outlined to you about her background is there is 1.2 million Australians of Chinese heritage in this country. This has a very grubby undertone in terms of the smear that is being placed on Gladys Liu and I think people should reflect very carefully in the way they have sought to attack Gladys over this matter and the broader smear that I think is implied in that over more than a million over Australians.

JOURNALIST: Thanks Prime Minister. A couple of things from that. Firstly, she has made that statement publicly but she hasn't made it to the Parliament. Why is she not required to do that or why are you not requiring her to do that? Secondly, do you advise your members not to have any association with these Chinese groups now? And are you saying this is racist?

PRIME MINISTER: I will let others draw their conclusions but what I do know is that… and firstly, let me deal with your first point. I would be happy to table Gladys's statement that she has made publicly in the Parliament, I have no problem with that. But what we aren’t going to get into is this accusation by Labor and seeking to exploit this issue. Gladys is a Chinese-born Australian. Does that make her in cahoots with the Chinese Government? Of course no. It is a ridiculous suggestion and I think it is an insult to every single Chinese-Australian in this country. You know, it wouldn't be the first time - wouldn't be the first time - the Labor Party has made comments like this in my home state of New South Wales. We all remember the last New South Wales state election. What did they say? "Asians will take your jobs". So the Labor Party have to take a good, hard look at themselves as to why they are pursuing this matter. They might want to dress it up as national security but I think 1.2 million Australians of Chinese heritage get the point and I don't think they would be too impressed by it.

JOURNALIST: A couple of questions on this. Firstly, have you inquired with Gladys Liu as to the nature of her work with the Chinese Consulate down in Melbourne? And secondly, what advice, if any, have you received from security agencies about Gladys Liu's background or the people with whom she associated?

PRIME MINISTER: Let me deal with the second question first, because this is a very important question. It's a point - and I'm not suggesting anything by your question that this is any sort of alliance or alignment in your reasoning for asking them. The Labor Party has been saying that these are questions the Government has to answer today. Anyone who sits around the National Security Committee of Cabinet table and anyone who takes the management of our national security issues, and how we deal with security agencies, seriously and to ensure that that is never compromised, to ensure that it is always carefully attended to, always knows that you are never in a position to be able to offer commentary on enquiries of that nature. That would be to undermine absolutely the nature of the relationship between agencies and the Government. Anyone who would suggest that responding to a question like that in that way provides any inference in any way, shape or form, would know that that could not be done. And what's worse, and I'm not suggesting you are doing this at all, but I think there is a concern, given what we saw in the Parliament yesterday, when Labor deliberately sought to ask questions, it would appear, as the Speaker inferred, with a view to them not being able to be actually raised under the Standing Orders simply to smear. Labor knows that that is the responsible answer to that question. So why do they raise it? They seek to smear an Australian of Chinese heritage simply for the fact that she did a clumsy interview. Now, if that were the case, the entire Labor frontbench would have to resign. She gave a clumsy interview. Fair enough. She is in her first term. She has been here for a few weeks and I think she should be extended some comfort and support. I know full well what Gladys Liu had to overcome to get here. I remember sitting in the Chamber and listening to her maiden speech. It was a story of great Australian success and you know, Australians of Chinese heritage, regardless I think of their political persuasion, celebrated the fact that we had the first Chinese-born Australian woman in our Parliament. And I think Labor should think carefully, think very carefully, at the way they're tressing up a political attack on Gladys Liu and I think they should reconsider the line that they've taken. 

JOURNALIST: What of my first question about the work with the Chinese Consulate?

PRIME MINISTER: There is no matter before me that would give me concern.

JOURNALIST: On the broader issue, rather than speaking of the smoke and mirrors that we’re trying to around the advice or otherwise from security agencies, do you think it is worth considering, given the concern of foreign interference in Australia, ensuring that all MPs undergo security clearances so that we... the Australian people can be confident that everyone who is sitting in Parliament has passed those security checks?

PRIME MINISTER: Honestly I think that is not a practical suggestion given the broad range of candidates that you have at any election. There are foreign interference laws in this place. We know because we introduced them and the standards are very clear and the agencies undertake their work as is appropriate and deal with the Government on those matters as they consider is appropriate.

JOURNALIST: Three Australians detained in Iran, are you concerned by the timing of this given the action that Australia has taken in the Strait of Hormuz?

PRIME MINISTER: I refer to the comments made by the Foreign Minister. These are always very sensitive cases. They are never issues that are addressed well by offering public commentary on them, and I note that in at least one of these cases that is a view that has been expressed by family members. We will continue to pursue these matters in the interests of the Australians at the centre of these cases and we will do that carefully and we will do that in close consultation through our officials who have been part of this process now for some time. I will respect the wishes of the family and I will act in the best interests of those citizens.

JOURNALIST: You mentioned earlier some local Chinese community groups of which Ms Liu seems to have been a member. What concerns do you have about the China Overseas Exchange Association? It is not a local Chinese community group but an organ of the Communist Party of China?

PRIME MINISTER: Well look, we will always look at these issues carefully in terms of the impacts on Australia's interests and take whatever action we need to to ensure Australia's interests are not jeopardised.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, will you be speaking to your Iranian counterpart in relation to this?

PRIME MINISTER: It is the same answer as I just gave. Engaging in public commentary about process on consular cases is never in the interests of those who are caught up in these issues. So I will respect their family's views and respect their interests and I am going to limit my commentary to the matters I have already said.

JOURNALIST: Just on a general point, your Government is so concerned about foreign interference that it would pass foreign interference laws. Being involved in the reporting on this for the last four years a lot of that involves China and we have been accused of racism from start to the finish of that. Clearly there is a concern the Government has. How do you propose we report about this if it doesn't involve some people who are members of the Chinese-Australian community?

PRIME MINISTER: What I think the problem here is, is Gladys Liu has given a clumsy interview. That is all that's happened here. There is no credible suggestion of any inappropriate behaviour in relation to Gladys Liu. What we're left with is just a grubby smear by the Labor Party who is in one of their most desperate hours, unable to explain their position on anything and so they have gone after a Chinese-Australian woman, the first so elected in this Parliament. They should be celebrating her election, not attacking it. Thank you.