Martyn Iles interviews Senator Zed Seselja

G'day I'm Martyn Iles and I'm coming to you a 
little differently once again in this election   season. I'm speaking to another person 
who's going to be on your ticket if   you live in the ACT when it comes to voting 
day on the 21st of May this year, and it is   Senator Zed Seselja, the Minister for 
International Development and the Pacific.   Zed thank you for doing this. Thanks very 
much for having me on Martyn. Zed you are   somebody who I think would be maybe in the top 
three to five contenders for most exotic name   in the Parliament. You're known as Zed but you're 
how do you pronounce your actual first name?   Well it depends if it's Croatian or English but 
uh zdenko or zdenko in Croatia okay, so z d e n k.

It means sort of uh a well or a spring okay yeah 
so oh nice yeah a well of wisdom or something like   that you could fill in the blanks who knows 
there'd be all sorts of different views on   that button look I'm going to give you a quick 
career summary um and i've got some notes here   this is the quickest career summary you're ever 
going to have had uh you were the child of and   i think i can say this poor migrants relatively 
yeah certainly pretty modest income yeah yeah so   your dad took up photography and was there that's 
right single income six kids six kids yeah then   you went on and worked at woolies then you're 
a cleaner then you studied law and arts then   you became a legal assistant at the australian 
fisheries management authority you went through   a couple of stages to become senior lawyer at the 
department of transport and regional services you   were then a member of the act legislative assembly 
which for viewers who aren't in the act it's the   territory government down here in canberra and 
that was in 2004 had a bunch of shadow portfolios   but i think were most well known for being the 
opposition leader and that was 2007 to 2013   came within an inch an inch so close so so so 
close to taking territory government in 2013 and   for in this political environment for a liberal 
opposition to get to that point is a big deal   you know here in the act so you did that didn't 
get there but then quickly became senator for   the act went up to the federal parliament 
then you had a number of assistant minister   portfolios social services multicultural affairs 
science jobs and innovation treasury and finance   finance charities and electoral matters and now 
you are the minister for international development   and the pacific somewhere in there you found 
time to have five children get married to roz   uh that's quite a a picture of success and 
achievement what's your reflection on it   well it's um it's interesting when you sort of 
summarize it like that it's it's it's rare that   you sort of think think back to sort of you know 
being a cleaner in um right to my old school it   was mckillip catholic uh high school um but look 
it's it's been a really exciting journey i guess   and you know i've enjoyed all of the different 
aspects at various times i've found struggles and   challenges in all of them at various times the 
family journey has been the most important but   the career journey obviously has been something 
that i take very seriously and i see as a bit   of a vocation going into politics so very much if 
i think about it you know it was you know ros and   i very much making those decisions together those 
big life decisions such as i mean the big moment   really is when you decide to go into politics the 
first time and then changes your life it does it   does and then putting your hand up to be leader 
and those sort of things are big big moments so   yeah there's a lot there um i i guess at some 
point i'll be able to reflect back on that and and   think about things you know hopefully that i've 
achieved in that time things where i've fallen   short and there's many of those as well and and 
and hopefully reflect on you know i guess that i   did my best and trying to try to make a difference 
for the city first and then for the nation and you   are now minister for international development of 
the pacific so you've got a portfolio that affects   the whole nation and indeed some overseas nations 
as well yeah um now i think as with a lot of   things in politics people hear that title and go 
oh yeah but inwardly they're kind of blanking out   what is the role exactly so it's the two the 
two roles sort of come together so international   development is effectively our aid and so that 
that's all around the world that's not just in   the pacific so that's our four and a half billion 
dollar or so annual aid spend oh i see because   there was a change not that long ago there was a 
big discussion about the fact that aid was going   into development work rather than simply more of a 
donation style aid system yeah i mean the language   is development assistance so the technical 
language is oda overseas development assistance   that's that's how we measure what we do but then 
what we do in the pacific is a pretty large chunk   of that overall aid spend so nearly half it's 1.85 
billion this year in the pacific but there's a lot   more we do in the pacific as well and you know 
it's really interesting um the engagement in the   pacific is huge the aid spend is part of that 
the security cooperation those sort of things   but even within the aid and the and the contact 
i mean we've got great people to people links   the sport and the faith side of things are huge 
okay um it's a really interesting thing that when   i'll meet with pacific leaders and sometimes 
on the phone and sometimes in person obviously   more on the phone uh in the time i've been in 
the role but certainly there's been enough in   person we'll often have a prayer together and I've 
done that I've done that with you they're very   religious nations aren't they they are the pacific 
nations very faithful yeah and i appreciate um   they appreciate you doing that um for me obviously 
it's you know it's a genuine thing I'm a Christian   it was interesting i met with a number of pacific 
leaders in Brisbane a couple of weeks ago and   we're talking about a number of these topical 
issues such as the Solomon Islands and things   and i met with the uh tongan prime minister for 
the first time tongue prime minister and the   foreign minister and I led off with a prayer when 
we met and we had a really good chat and talked   about all sorts of issues but at the end of it he 
uh we were you know we were hanging hanging around   and having a bit of a light-hearted chat and he 
said you know he said it was nice that that that   it was someone else who led the prayer rather than 
us you know it's always the pacific islanders who   do that so I think he appreciated that we were 
able to you know come together in prayer and and   it's you know i think it's bonding uh to do that 
absolutely it's a good good fit for the role i   mean you volunteered the fact that uh you're a man 
of faith you're a christian uh and you mentioned   before that your role in politics you see it as 
a vocation do you have any comment on you know   obviously I talk to a lot of christians about 
politics and there is a prevailing resistance i   don't know why really but there is a prevailing 
resistance to the idea that people of faith   should have involvement in the political space and 
take it very seriously you use the word vocation   which is you know taken very seriously what's your 
feedback on that you know is it is it right and   good for people of faith to do it without a doubt 
i mean my my view when I came to a very strong   judgment when i first went in 2004 uh was if if 
good people and then that's not of course just   people of faith there are plenty of good people 
who are not people of faith but if good people   are not in the political process as messy as 
that is and it's messy it's tough uh but if   the good people aren't there and people who 
have genuine good intentions and good values   including uh people of the Christian faith very 
importantly then well there'll be people maybe   who have different values and and different things 
driving them and i think most people who go into   politics have very good intentions but you know 
world view is important and certainly i think that   um christians should absolutely 
be in a space i think that   I'm a big believer that whilst I'm very happy 
we live in a pluralist democracy there's people   of different faiths there's people of no faith 
that's that's one of the great freedoms we have to   to worship or not um and and i respect that and i 
respect our democracy and but it i would argue and   make the argument that certainly christian values 
and what we learn particularly from the gospels   adds i think a lot to public life and 
i think i think the idea of loving   your neighbor as yourself i think the idea 
that we're crowded in the image of god   brings a certain perspective that i think is 
important and um yeah we don't ram that down   everyone anyone's throat but it certainly informs 
you know who we are and informs our world view and   i would say to christians yeah it's messy but you 
know what church politics is messy life is messy   nothing's easy nothing worth doing is easy and 
sure and i would say that christians being there   is is a positive for sure yeah it's interesting 
um even you're a minister which is just borrowed   straight out of Romans 13 which calls people 
in you know politics leaders ministers of God,   so yeah it's a secret service yeah absolutely he's 
serving the people in the government yeah you've   said that uh and I read this in a speech that a 
big motivation for you to go into politics was   your children can you explain that yeah it's sort 
of ironic because politics does take you away from   your children a little bit uh and obviously it's 
it's tough um I have a great blessing of you know   being based in canberra and compared to many of my 
federal colleagues you know not having to travel   quite as much is is a great blessing but it's 
still a great challenge of course and in my role   and Minister for the pacific of course there's 
members up in northern wa regional Tasmania   yeah it adds an extra burden for sure um but 
you know there's there's no doubt that um   you know having children does um tend to make 
you sort of just look at the world in a slightly   different way to what you did before I think and 
I did it very young um like Ros and I had Michael   just before we finished uni actually wow so it was 
actually the last day of lectures he came he was   meant to come after exams but he came six weeks 
early and uh so you know for me fundamentally   I was looking at the world in a slightly different 
way and that was i have this precious life that   I'm responsible for now what kind of a world 
do i want them growing up in and so that sort   of got me thinking about the world in a slightly 
different way I was probably always politically   motivated i was always politically aware but 
it sort of drew me to join the party and to get   involved in a different way we see that so much 
I would say that the number one consumers of the   materials we put out particularly on world view 
and about what the state of the nation and the   affairs of you know what's going on the number 
one consumers of that tend to be young parents   yeah especially young mothers uh they're just 
consuming it devouring it because something's   changed you know in the way they view the world 
i think they're you know grateful for people who   can go into the space and you know stick up for 
what is good and what is right well you want i   mean you want your kids to grow up in a good place 
and then and then by extension you want everyone's   kids to grow up in a good place right and that's 
and that's the draw of politics and public life   you're um uh you are characterised as someone 
of mostly conservative values uh and that's   other people's words uh also 
as we've said a man of faith   Canberra has probably got a reputation as a 
very very secular progressive jurisdiction um   and those of us who live here know that uh and 
I think that's led to some of your detractors   predicting your political demise on multiple 
occasions but you won in 2013 you won again 2016   2019 and for those following along uh territory 
senators go to every election not every second   like state senators so you've survived all of 
those we're coming down on 2022 uh what's the   secret how come you're surviving why are the 
predictions of your imminent demise simply   wide of the mark well look i mean it is it is 
challenging there's no doubt it's quite marginal   and so we fight very very hard to hold this 
scene I think it's important that we do   look i think i mean I do try and I'd say I'd 
make a couple of points one you're right um   in terms of i guess the characterization of the 
city and certainly in its overall voting patterns   and the like but that doesn't represent 
absolutely everyone in the city there are   still a substantial number of people in canberra 
who i guess would have you know more traditional   values depending on how you describe them but 
certainly you know people of faith or otherwise   just traditional values conservative center right 
those sort of things so may not be a majority uh   in the city but it's a substantial minority and 
of course everyone needs a voice they certainly   need a voice and sometimes they get shut down 
and get told that their view is not valid and   because they're not the majority in the city 
those sort of things but I think also even   reaching beyond you know that particular part 
of the constituency i think you know i work hard   for the city i mean there's a lot of things that i 
would just seek to deliver you know infrastructure   and housing and those sort of things whether 
i was in local government or in in federal   government and so i guess you do your best to try 
and deliver you fight for things there are some   people who may not agree with everything that i 
stand for but may respect the fact that i stand   for things so sure you know you get a bit of a 
mixed bag but it's it's not easy but you've got to   absolutely fight for every vote yeah sure um you 
uh you're in a slightly different position to   some in the parliament um perhaps i'll put it this 
way amongst supporters i often see people that   are following after very outspoken politicians 
uh and there are larger than life politicians   uh in the parliament who have large social media 
accounts say a lot of good things speak their mind   cross the floor on occasion you know all 
that kind of stuff and i know that there's a   prevailing mood out there that says well i wish 
all the politicians were like that politician   and that's not to criticise them at all they play 
a very valuable service but I guess what you and I   know and what those who follow policies closely 
know is that they are back benches uh and that   gives them a certain liberty or from a minor party 
yeah uh and the reason I raise it is that you're   in a slightly different position you're a minister 
in the government uh and so you don't have the   freedom to be as outspoken from the outside of 
the tent so to speak uh and to you know break rank   now but the question for me is you know does that 
mean that your influence is any less valuable in   the political process to me it's just a different 
kind yeah look i think that's a fair summation i   mean it's it's it's less visible sometimes i mean 
i certainly had a period as a backbencher and i   was outspoken on some issues and from time to time 
i did differ with my party on issues and sometimes   that gets you in a bit of trouble sure and also 
someone i've read some of the speeches and some of   that and some of those people who you you speak of 
uh you know close friends of mine and i sometimes   disagree when they speak out sometimes you know i 
might i might agree but um but it is a different   influence and you know being part of a government 
means that you know there's a bit of collective   decision-making and you know if you're not an 
independent and i i think the parliament if it   was full of independence i i think would be quite 
chaotic i really think it would i know people   can look at parliament and say you know it's 
it's tough now and it can be a bit chaotic but   at least when you have party platforms for good or 
real you you get a bit of an understanding of what   our party stands for what the labor party 
stands for what other parties stand for   independence really and if you had more and 
more of them i think they could go anyway   on any given issue there'd be a lot less certainty 
so yeah there's there's times when you maybe not   a hundred percent happy with the decision 
that's taken by the government obviously   you know and i haven't reached this point ever but 
if you were if it were such a such a level um that   you felt that uh you couldn't serve in that then 
you know you'd have to consider your conscience   and and that would mean resigning and of course 
you know we all have to consider that uh and so   you know we have to follow our consciences but 
we also it is good to be part of a team that   can deliver things as a government it doesn't stop 
you having robust debate within the team yeah you   know it's not in front of the tv cameras it's 
not out on social media but you do have robust   debate with your colleagues and an active role 
in shaping those decisions yeah very much so and   and a lot of those debates happen and you know you 
can imagine when you're in parliament there's a   lot of different groups of people who get together 
sometimes over a drink or a meal sometimes you   know in between parliamentary sittings and we're 
constantly debating these things and there is very   rarely a sort of universal view on any given issue 
there are very few issues where we all agree but   certainly you you have robust debate and i guess 
as you have that opportunity having slightly more   senior roles you know you can get the year of 
the prime minister you can get the year of the   relevant senior minister or you can influence 
your backbench colleagues as well as you're   having discussions yeah right there's a diversity 
of influence there which is important i think yeah   let me get into some of the uh issues i've got 
a quote uh here from your maiden speech and this   is on the subject of freedoms you said these 
you said among those values those values that   you you uphold are the protection of the great 
freedoms freedom of speech enterprise and religion   for me and my family this issue is personal one 
of the reasons my family left croatia was because   freedom of speech and religion in particular 
were curtailed under a harsh communist regime my   uncle is at stipaan my uncle stipaan spent several 
years in a Yugoslav prison for daring to challenge   the communist regime and assert his rights to 
speak freely and freely practice his religion so   obviously there's a story there which has deep 
implications for your politics do you have   implications for your beliefs so I want to 
ask you questions on those great freedoms as   you say but first of all I'm kind of interested 
what did the regime have against uncle stephan   well a couple of things and i he has written a 
book he passed away a couple of years ago he was   89 he lived a great life um and he has written a 
book but it's in Croatian I haven't yet read it   I need it to be translated my croatians it's 
okay but I couldn't read at that level but   I've you know i've gleaned a bit from him and 
from dad and and from others in the family   he was a seminarian so he was studying to be 
a priest at the time in the 1950s it was post   world war ii there was a communist regime of tito 
and there was part of it revolved around a very   particular cleric who was in the firing line of 
the yugoslavian regime cardinals to peanuts who   was a very famous cleric he was under house arrest 
i think at the time until he died i think in 1960   so he was sort of persecuted they made all sorts 
of claims about him which i think have largely   been debunked uh in a number of studies since 
um but he was controversial my my uncle stiff   understood refused to condemn him when you know 
the the various um you know communist agitators   would come and and get him to condemn and so they 
put him in jail and you know there's probably more   to the story i suspect as a soldier he probably 
you know couldn't keep his mouth shut he probably   wanted to speak and you know I'm sure not every 
seminarian got put in jail at the time but maybe   those who were particularly forceful in there 
it's always the way isn't it it's the people   who speak up indeed and that's true in it's 
all through history um but he was there for   about six years and one of the stories my dad 
tells me it's quite inspiring is dad was quite   little uh quite young when they visited him 
in prison uh in the 1950s and he remembers   um the guards talking to my grandmother um 
and saying to her look your son could leave   with you now he could go home with you right now 
but he really needs to sort of renounce the faith   that he needs to sort of back down on what he's 
saying he refused um which you know showed great   courage i think and puts into some perspective I 
guess some of the debates we have around you know   the the freedom to speak up the courage to speak 
up i don't underestimate that speaking against   the tide or against the majority or against 
what's you know what the media are particularly   supportive of at a particular time doesn't take 
courage but you sort of compare it to that sort   of courage and i think it does put it in a little 
little bit of perspective for us and also make us   reflect on what great freedoms we have that we're 
not throwing in prison well that's right beliefs   you know we might end up with a little bit of 
harassment or something like this but it just   might not be cancelled or it might be cancelled 
exactly but it's just so light compared to what   you see i mean i before doing this job i went to 
europe and uh it was the protestant reformation   anniversary at the time and uh to see the stories 
of the courage that people took in those days   like you know you mentioned your uncle stephan he 
wouldn't renounce you know you think of someone   like luther who says i cannot recant uh whatever 
side of the tiber you're you're on it's it's it's   great courage you know and again it sort of made 
me feel like well you know what cowards are we in   this day and age that we won't even be cancelled 
for what we believe look and people shouldn't be   cancelled of course not though yeah that's fair 
enough they shouldn't be cancelled but nonetheless   you know people of people have taken great uh 
cost in the past yeah and that and and and by   you know it does remind us too that even 
small acts of courage now um maybe not   quite as significant as you know being thrown in 
prison and standing up to that but even small acts   of courage matter because they they give other 
people i think license to be courageous as well   courage is contagious yeah you've got a close 
association then through what we just discussed   uh through your history through your family with 
the dangers of authoritarianism the dangers of   loss of those freedoms those great freedoms what 
do you make then of what is the modern argument   that I just encounter all the time and you'll 
know it straight away which is that well you know   these freedoms are harmful um and you know 
they for example if people are free to speak   or free to believe and act on their faith 
you know it's all going to be unpredictable   and you're going to get rat bags in there that 
say horrible hurtful things or believe horrible   hurtful things and you're going to do harm what's 
your argument in reply to that objection I mean it   comes up constantly well i think the type of harm 
that's often talked about there in that criticism   is a very subjective harm I suppose so obviously 
you know we have rules and laws rightly about   physical harm or encouraging physical 
harm or encouraging violence and there's   very good reasons we we do that but i think parts 
of the sort of parts of the modern left i suppose   in this contest on free speech have stepped to 
another place where they will define all sorts   of even offense as being harm and that's where you 
get into very dangerous territory I think because   it's very subjective and it's very much about 
you know someone's personal experience or offense   and response to something you might 
have to say or I might have to say now   when I defend freedom of speech and I don't I 
don't um I like I tend to express myself i think   pretty respectfully i actually think that's 
a good principle I don't think we should   but where you draw the line at law is a different 
question right I think civilised discussion   is what we should all aim for I don't think we 
just throw rocks at people just for the sake of it   but civilised and of course robust discussion is 
important as well but we shouldn't therefore be   you know denying people the ability to say 
controversial things or things that are unpopular   because it might offend some people i think 
we have to be big enough to sort of allow that   discussion to take place have the discussion um 
and then also call it out you know when it's a bad   idea if it's a really hurtful dumb thing if it's 
expressed in a bad way i'm happy to call it out   but it's just a question of not banning it and 
certainly this this tendency to cancel uh people   because of one or two or three things they've said 
that might be inappropriate or wrong um you know   I don't think it's the way to go and i think 
a lot of australians are probably starting to   react to that push well you and i i guess 
believe in a greater truth don't we so   we believe that there's something worth arguing 
over uh you know if I'm offended well it's not   really the point is it there's a greater truth 
that I might be drawn closer to or that i might   have to re reassess i wonder whether a 
lot of it is identity politics where the   it's not a greater truth that the truth sort of is 
in me and you know it's all about my identity and   defending myself and you can understand why when 
people have debates about those big things like   like religion I mean debates about religion 
are very personal right you know if you're   Catholic Protestant sometimes or or you know 
different faiths or people of faith and no faith   um it's good that we have those debates it's 
good we have those discussions of course people   are very passionate about it rightly so because 
it's fundamental to who we are is what we believe   about life on earth whether there's an afterlife 
what that looks like all of those things you can   never get away from that regardless of what your 
views are that is those are the big questions   of life and so it's right that we um discuss them 
it's right that we debate them it's not right that   it's robust but uh hopefully not as I always try 
and do it respectfully but I don't think we should   you know ban people because they do it slightly 
less respectfully or in a way that i don't like   sure on the Religious Discrimination 
Bill then this is the freedoms issue   that recently failed now it didn't come didn't 
get voted on in the senate so you didn't have a   direct vote on it but again these harm arguments 
were raised in relation to it spuriously because   the only statements of belief it protected 
was non-vilifying statements of belief   but what's your reflection on that how 
important was that Bill in your view   and should it come back it was important it is 
important and yes it should come back and you   know i mean the prime minister had a bit to say 
about that uh in recent times i i look i i've been   a big supporter of religious freedom publicly 
and internally in some of those discussions   and debates i think it was disappointing how it 
transpired obviously it was largely um because of   the vote of our opposition but of course there 
were a few of our number who also sided with them   and that was disappointing um the reason it's 
important is because freedom of religion is a   fundamental and bedrock right which i think has 
been downgraded a little bit versus other rights   right and we've seen that i think in some of the 
discussions about anti-discrimination law and the   like where um you know there's always going to 
be a clash of rights that's that's true and and   international law recognizes that and it it sort 
of has ways of dealing with that the way our state   and federal laws interact at the moment i don't 
think it gets the balance quite right probably   doesn't interact it just says freedom of religion 
gets second place unfortunately in some cases and   we saw that in tasmania didn't we uh with bishop 
portland sure and there's been other examples so   you know we that's why it's important because 
people should be free to speak they should be   free to uh you know when it comes to faith-based 
schools and the like they should be free to choose   those those are very important freedoms that need 
to be protected and the second we downgrade those   seriously um we are we are putting other freedoms 
at risk for sure yeah i agree it's upgrading   something that's been downgraded in the past what 
about there is a criticism out there which I think   can be addressed but for the good things that 
the bill did uh there are some people who are   concerned that it was going to appoint say 
a religious freedom commissioner within the   human rights commission what's the way around that 
because people sort of go oh that's a real concern Is there a solution there look I mean I know 
there was a lot of discussion and debate about   that internally and externally i think i think 
the the strongest argument for it is i mean you do   when it comes to other human 
rights such as the right not to be   discriminated against in certain ways we of course 
do have human rights commissioners who play a   certain role so it made sense if you were going 
down the path of basing the law in a similar way   to have that discrimination commissioner 
for it depends on who the discrimination   commissioner is indeed it always does but 
in the end the law needs to be robust enough   too so that it shouldn't just rely on whether the 
particular discrimination commissioner is you know   the person you or i would choose or otherwise 
yeah sure and for the record i don't think that   was a deal breaker at all the good things 
that Bill did were sort of outweighed it   but of course the balance might have been flipped 
when it got to the senate because a number of   amendments were added that would have taken away 
some of the protections that christian schools   sort of rely on at the moment to uh to uphold 
their ethos not in the ways that the media claim   at all it's just such a a dodgy hit job on the 
schools but in in positive ways in good ways   uh you've said a few things about christian 
schools and i'd like to unpack this i've got two   quotes here once from 2018.

You said one of the 
great things in australia is that parents have the   opportunity to choose based on their religious 
beliefs in many cases and institution which   adheres to their beliefs be they might majority 
or minority beliefs so the choice of a christian   school is what you're referring to there then you 
mentioned an issue of parents rights this is from   2017 speech he said I want to make one other point 
in relation to safe schools and i think everyone   remembers that program and parental choice when 
you ask virtually any parent faced with some of   the material around things like safe schools 
curriculum whether a parent should know about   that and have the opportunity to withdraw their 
child from from those kinds of classes you get   an overwhelming response in the affirmative as 
senator fawcett has pointed out south australian   senator in accordance with their rights under the 
international covenant on the religious and moral   instruction of their children parents should be 
able to withdraw their children from those classes   this is something worth fighting for so you raise 
that uh issue do you think that in that context   you think parental rights are under attack well 
there's certainly there's certainly in some of   the debates yes they are and they can be and 
I think they are well worth protecting and   the debate about um choice in schools faith-based 
schools the like is is probably at the heart of   that but it's not the only part of that the 
reason it's important is because when i send   my kids to the school that we've chosen um 
i mean we are the educators of our children   as parents we are the the primary educators of 
our children it is our responsibility not the   state and we are we are delegating that to others 
we are effectively when we send them to the local   state school or to the local catholic or christian 
school or islamic school you are making a decision   to hand over a bit of authority to trust others 
uh with your your child's education now you're not   you're not sort of saying that that is absolute 
you are you are taking it on trust to some degree   but of course those parental rights are 
still paramount and and so that's reflected   in international law it's reflected in part in 
australian more but that could be stronger and   certainly when we talk about whether or not 
faith-based schools should be free to teach   their religion and their beliefs that's that's 
a that's an extension of parental rights because   you know there's a lot of choice here right 
there is a lot of choice you can you can choose   even amongst christian schools we have great 
choices you know you if you are you know a   bible believing fairly conservative christian 
there's a number of schools you can choose   and then even in christian schools there are 
schools that are christian schools but perhaps   would would teach things fairly differently and 
take a fairly different approach and so parents   parents can look at that spectrum and say 
well what is right for my child and what   what most uh reflects my beliefs and so 
that i think is such a fundamental thing and   the debate about schools is very much an extension 
of the debate about parental rights yeah um and so   what about this argument then that people say 
well if a faith-based school wants to teach   a particular view a faith-based view then they 
shouldn't get state funding um that's something   that's come in uh recently as if you know they're 
they're outliers and they shouldn't be allowed to   exist that doesn't seem to be your view no it's 
not and and I'm a big believer in in government   funding for um non-government schools for 
faith-based schools for other independent schools   some are not faith-based but that that's that 
extension of parental choice because what i   would say is um you know taxpayers uh whether 
they send their kids to a government school or   non-government school they're paying their taxes 
uh and then some are choosing for various reasons   to make an additional contribution on on top of 
their taxes for their child's education now that's   that's true that's a choice they're making not 
everyone can do that either financially or wants   to do that but if you do do it for whatever reason 
including as a result of your faith I think the   government should come in behind you and that's a 
that's a debate that really you know goes back to   the 1950s and 60s when we first had these debates 
around catholic system it was actually down the   road from here in goldman where we had the golden 
strike which started this debate and the menzies   government first started funding these catholic 
schools and then other other schools in the uk   I think they have versions of religious 
schools that are completely government funded   where you can actually we can actually have a no 
fee Catholic or Anglican school i understand so   that's a very different model as a bit of a hybrid 
model but certainly the government i think should   support that choice and there's a diversity thing 
here as well isn't there people who say that don't   realize that well taxpayers are people who send 
their kids to non-government schools christian   schools catholic schools government schools you 
know they're all taxpayers yeah so a taxpayer's   funding you know should cover them all indeed and 
if you look at the demographics of most of your   low and mid fee um christian catholic schools 
Islamic schools they will you will see that they   are they this is not a wealthy set generally this 
is true this is ordinary families in the suburbs   you know paying a few thousand dollars sometimes 
with great um trouble to do that I remember my   my family putting six of us through Catholic 
schools I know they found that pretty hard   uh but they they would make the sacrifice very 
committed to seeing us get that type of education   uh i want to just dwell on this for a second 
longer just to point out something you said at   the start that the parents are the educator of 
the child and i like the way you put it you're   basically entrusting some of that to somebody 
else for a time uh you know it's not unlimited   it's a certain amount of trust and there needs 
to be information passing between the two and   it needs to be within boundaries uh is there 
do you think a genuine uh shift away from that   view particularly among some sort of let's say 
more over the left side of of of the spectrum   to actually resent the fact that parents ought 
to be the primary educator of the child yeah i   think so i mean and at the far left certainly 
um you would say they would see the state   is the educator of the child now that's not i'm 
not going to assign that to all of my political   opponents by any stretch but certainly parts of 
the far left that and around the world you do   see that you do see this debate and if you look at 
authoritarian regimes um you know where my family   came from absolutely it was the state that parents 
had no rights uh in those circumstances and you   know you wouldn't want to you wouldn't want to 
sort of go to school and be speaking out of turn   about you know what your parents might be saying 
about the school all those sort of things but   certainly i think there is part of the left and 
i think it is the far left that would see that   i once had a debate and i forget the name of the 
individual she was an israeli politician i was   on q a uh and we had this whole okay and i have 
that in common indeed i've been a few times but   she was effectively making the argument not only 
on education but she was basically saying that   families are the problem for children and the 
state really should take on this role so there   is that view that exists it's terrible isn't it 
yeah let's move on to life um i just want to make   a couple of observations here uh for people um 
and that is that you've stood fairly firm on on   life issues i've got some information about your 
record here uh you've spoken against euthanasia in   the senate uh you voted against congratulating new 
south wales on legislating abortion to birth uh   you voted yes to a motion supporting counselling 
for women who were considering abortions   um you voted yes to a motion stating that gender 
selection abortion shouldn't be medicare funded   um you i know are um a financial contributor to 
a pregnancy support center why is that something   that's sort of close to your heart that you've 
decided to invest in i think it goes to our   humanity doesn't it um you know so yeah carina 
house is the organization a great organisation   here in canberra and what that is is a really 
practical response from people who believe in   the sanctity of life saying um you know we will 
make we will make it as as as easier choice or   as accessible a choice i probably should say uh 
for women who are doing it tough having tough   pregnancies and so there is that genuine choice 
which sometimes i think is is denied to people but   you know it goes to the fundamentals around our 
humanity you know i mean i as a christian i do   believe we're created in the image of god uh 
that means something that means that every life   is precious and so we need to we need to take 
account of that on a different track um covert   uh this is something that really is exercising 
a lot of people for good reasons and i i don't   i don't laugh for that uh yeah i just laugh 
because it's uh it's vexed um but what i wanted to   ask you was and i appreciate this probably hasn't 
affected the act as severely as it has affected   other states i think here in canberra we've been 
a little bit uh a little bit more circumspect   about some of the rules and the restrictions 
and that kind of thing but do you think that   there has been uh any overreach uh tending into an 
authoritarian kind of impulse at times on some of   this covert stuff i'm thinking particularly 
like vaccine passports maxine mandates   and you know victorian style lockdown that kind 
of stuff yeah what's your view on that yeah look   i think there has been overreach um i think i 
think clearly some of the the way some of those   state borders were administered particularly 
beyond the early stages i think and and the way   the lack of compassion that was shown in in some 
really tough circumstances i remember uh canberra   uh later going up to queensland queensland that 
was just awful awful couldn't even see her father   that's right i mean there should have been 
compassion shown and likewise with some of   these mandates i mean i was in brisbane a little 
while ago and i was a little confronted having to   show that i've been vaccinated to go into a pub i 
haven't experienced that in canberra i'm glad we   haven't experienced that in canberra it's a whole 
different mood isn't it it's a good thing yeah it   is and i think the the decision was taken and i 
agree with it and i don't agree with everything   that this government has done but the decision 
was and the judgment was made that people would   largely get vaccinated without that type of 
coercion and that was that proved to be true and i   think it's it's proved true in other parts of the 
world parts of australia as well that most people   will choose the vaccine some will remain 
hesitant and won't take up that opportunity   but so the arguments that did exist early which 
i may or may not have agreed with and certainly   i think on some of the real mandatory stuff and 
particularly i mean we're seeing it in wa i think   still within with much of the workforce so yeah 
i do have concerns about that type of approach i   think i think we are better offering the vaccine 
as we have making it widely available people can   protect themselves and their families most people 
absolutely are choosing that i've certainly   done that but you know i don't think we want to 
particularly an ongoing way be ostracizing people   uh because uh of vaccine hesitancy you end 
up with a almost a divided society don't you   yeah yeah indeed and i disagree with someone but 
there's no way to deal with it as i say and here i   don't agree with everything this is government's 
done but i think not going down that path for   pubs and clubs and and even most uh workplaces i 
think has has been the right call and so i support   that one thing where i didn't agree with them 
was some of the lockdowns i think some of the   way that was applied i think was unjust and unfair 
particularly a lot of small businesses and we saw   i think at an extreme level in victoria with 
you know the extent of those lockdowns and the   length of those lockdowns, I don't think there 
was a justification for that.

Longest lockdown   in the world. Yeah. Why was the Government, 
the federal government, a little bit reluctant   and I think this is right. So Victoria obviously 
went as far as they did, WA went as far as they did.  Some would argue the whole nation went too far but 
let's just take the outliers as obvious examples.   Why was the government a bit reluctant to call 
that out? Well, I think there were times where   we did and you know I think I certainly think 
in Victoria uh we saw that I remember speaking   about I remember calling out Queensland uh when 
they were not allowing people from the ACT to   travel okay so you did I did okay that's worth it 
I said that that was um because they lumped   they said the act was was a risk and i said well 
the ACT is not a greater risk than anywhere else   in fact it was less of a risk and so I made that 
argument I certainly argued around Victoria and   other colleagues did as well so I know Josh 
Frydenberg and others did so look you could   argue the toss about whether that went far enough 
and I know there's been a lot of debate   about that but certainly I think we spoke up at 
various times.

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Is it fair to say that it would   have been a really big call and probably very 
difficult for the federal government to overrule   the state government decisions on some of this? 
Well I think constitutionally it would have been   near enough to impossible okay yeah fair enough um 
on one issue that's local I imagine if people are   watching to this point they're probably going to 
be Canberrans who are going to have you on their   ballot hello to those who are not from Canberra 
as well that's right they can follow along   just here for the good times, there's an issue here 
locally which you've been outspoken on um i moved   to Canberra in 2014 and I remember thinking wow 
the property market here is pretty competitive.   That couldn't be less true today and 
there's not been long 2014 – 2022. It's insane   right now, insane. And even more so I 
think than other parts of the country yeah um   what's the solution well you should have 
bought i think would I back in 2014.   two years ago I nearly did and it just was 
the worst decision I ever had um but look   it's a serious issue for people but anyway indeed 
but it is a serious issue and look the solution is   is multi-faceted but clearly, land supply is a big 
part of that so we've got this crazy situation   here and there's a little bit of engineering 
social engineering going on there where   the ACT government are sort of forcing people 
into apartments whether they want them or not   now if people want to live in an apartment 
great and there's I think there's a great   place for them i'm all for a partner it's actually 
an affordability thing now indeed i think they're   given very little choice at the moment because 
land is so scarce so you know they release a   hundred blocks and seven thousand people put their 
name down for those blocks so that shows you the   mismatch so we've actually announced some policies 
to release some commonwealth land um you know   that's very important in the north of the city 
old CSIRO land.

Is that likely to put   significant supply into the system? Well we're 
talking at least 2,000 blocks which is actually   more than the act has been delivering in the last 
few years I understand for standalone housing why   is that uh is the ACT government so reluctant well 
there's various arguments one would be that they   they own a lot of the land and territory uniquely 
they own a lot of this land it's territory land   because of the uniqueness of our national capital 
and leasehold system so um they do keep the prices   up and that's good for their bottom line it's 
not great for those buying and even former labor   chief minister john stanhope has actually been 
very critical of them for that approach and um   you know in the end it does force a lot of people 
over the border, it forces them further out or it   forces them into housing that's just not suitable 
and long-term rentals when people want to buy and   I think the great Australian dream of a family 
home in the suburbs you know I think that's   worth fighting for you know I experienced 
it growing up I've experienced it with my kids   i've been very blessed to do that um i wouldn't 
want to see mike it's a pro family thing isn't it   I wonder whether there's some ideological stuff 
going on a bit as well but people ought to live   in apartments because it's greener or something 
like this whether it is or not I don't know but   I look at my siblings with kids and they have 
land and they have and I realise it's actually   a pro family thing it really matters I mean try 
raising you know three kids in an apartment i mean   look some people will choose that but very 
few families would actually choose that   if they've got genuine choices if they've got 
genuine opportunity for something different   okay this one's uh open to you in the sense 
that you're in the parliament now let's say that   that Zed could have one thing raised on the agenda 
uh something brought forward a policy reform a   change anything at all with no none of the usual 
limitations that stop these things happening what   what's an area for you maybe an underappreciated 
area yeah well one that's underappreciated and   I've had a long-term passion for is is adoption 
and permanency and you know in Australia we used   to have a situation where adoption occurred on a 
reasonably regular basis now there were some bad   practices that happened many years ago and partly 
the reaction to that has been to really make it   near enough to impossible to adopt uh kids and 
what that means so that's a bureaucratic thing now   is it not just abortions and things like that no 
this is about this is about um because what we end   up with is kids in in out of home care long term 
yeah in foster care and often uncertain foster   care often multiple foster care we're talking six, 
eight, ten placements is not uncommon dreadful must   have an awful impact on the kid yeah absolutely 
I mean we when I was part of an inquiry we looked   at it there were at the time it hasn't changed 

I think it's gotten worse since it was about   it was about 50,000 kids in out of home care in 
Australia and about 30,000 of those had been in in   out of home care for more than two years and about 
20 000 for more than five years so when you're   getting to those circumstances they're in long 
term out of home care we need to find a permanent   home for them and new south wales has actually 
embarked on a bit of a reform i did a little bit   of work with the states and territories when i had 
this portfolio for a short period of time but it's   a lot more work to be done um because there are 
there are couples crying out who can't have kids   and would love to look after children and to 
adopt uh but the various laws and bureaucratic   processes make that am I right that in some states 
is down to kind of like single digits of children   being adopted like five yeah yeah basically you've 
seen i i i recall some states where it was one or   two in some years um in new south wales we see 
it in the hundreds and that is by far the most   now that's still a difference that's still a lot 
less but if we compare it to the uk and and the us   even on a population basis on a per capita basis 
they do multiple times multiple times what we do   and they do make they do give that opportunity to 
and what is the key reform that would enable that   the key is that you start early with permanency 
planning when a child so you have to go a sort   of parallel route and that's what they do in new 
south wales where when a child is taken into care   yes there is a desire to reunite them with their 
biological parents if that's possible if you know   if there's short-term reasons why parents can't 
look after them of course I don't want to see I   don't want to see that that bond broken if it 
doesn't have to be but you do the permanency   planning and that way if a conclusion is 
drawn that the parents simply are not capable of   at any time being able to look after those kids 
you have to make a judgment you can't let it   stretch out for years and in new south wales it's 
sort of in in that sort of 12 to 18 month time   frame and then decisions are made for pregnancy 
just bite the bullet and do it yeah absolutely.   Zed, for people who do live in Canberra, 
why would they vote for you and not   an independent? The reason I raise that is because 
independents and minor parties are more popular   than they've ever been right now and there 
are contexts in which I'm fine with that just   personally uh but we're in the ict it's a bit of a 
different beast we have a different senate ticket   why would they vote for you and not go for some 
of those miners well a couple of reasons I mean  I think I would point to the record which I could 
go into detail on but I won't now but today but in   terms of um most of most of the alternatives 
in those minor parties are very much of the   Green left I would say so that would be one very 
strong reason and even the one or two who aren't   I would say um a vote for them in a system where 
you've got two senators where the Labor senate   seat is basically locked up you have a situation 
where you're either going to have a Liberal   senator or you're going to have someone from the 
Green left they are the really the owner that's   the real choice right indeed it's labor and green 
or labor and liberal indeed and unfortunately I   guess voting for maybe a you know a real a 
conservative-ish minor party or independent   really just makes it more likely that a Green 
or a Green left independent comes through and   gets the seed yeah i think that's fair enough in 
the act context you told me not to call you this   but I actually want to because it sounds 

Senator, the Honorable Zed Seselja   thanks so much for doing this. Thanks 
very much for having me on Martyn, cheers..

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