Doorstop interview with John Alexander
JOHN ALEXANDER: Welcome to Eastwood, the multicultural capital of Bennelong, and I'm here with the Foreign Minister Julie Bishop.
JULIE BISHOP: Thank you. I'm here in Bennelong with John Alexander as there is a by-election on 16 December. John Alexander has been a powerful and positive member of Bennelong since 2010. He's been re-elected twice since then and he's a proud Australian who has stood up for his electorate and been a very strong advocate for the people of Bennelong in the Parliament and on many, many occasions John Alexander has raised with me issues that are of concern to the people of Bennelong. As a proud Australian he has represented our nation on the international sporting stage, one of our great tennis champions. Due to the High Court decision, John had concerns about his eligibility to sit in the Parliament, as have a number of Members and Senators. So John has done the right thing and he's stood aside and now the people of Bennelong will have the opportunity to re-elect him as their member. … We have a plan to resolve this citizenship issue and it will be concluded by the end of the year.
On another issue today, in relation to the postal survey, I'm delighted to see such as significant turnout for the postal survey. This vindicates the Coalition's decision to ask the Australian people to have a say on the issue of same sex marriage. The Australian people have spoken and now it's up to the Parliament to reflect the will of the people and I expect legislation to be concluded before the end of this year.
JOURNALIST: Some of the feedback Ms Bishop is they feel that John Alexander was dudded – do you agree with that sentiment?
JULIE BISHOP: In that –
JOURNALIST: In the fact that he had to resign as a result of this citizenship debacle?
JULIE BISHOP: John Alexander has done the right thing. Nobody doubts that he is a proud Australian, he's been a powerful advocate for this electorate. As a result of the High Court decision on dual citizenship, John had questions about his eligibility because his father was born in Britain, as he would of course be able to tell you, but he's done the right thing to clear it up. He's been honest and it's taken courage to say I will stand aside until this matter is clarified. …
JOURNALIST: How accurate is it to describe this by-election as a popularity poll on Malcolm Turnbull's leadership and how will that impact on JA's chance on winning back the seat?
JULIE BISHOP: Well I'll let JA answer that as well because he has been such a strong and passionate advocate for the people of Bennelong and I believe that the people of Bennelong deserve to have that kind of representation. …
JOURNALIST: But the Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, on his leadership, how accurate is it to describe this poll as a poll on his leadership?
JULIE BISHOP: This is a by-election to choose a representative for the people of Bennelong and I believe that they will hopefully see John Alexander as their most powerful voice in the Parliament. JA why don't you say something about that?
JOHN ALEXANDER: Yes, look I've represented this electorate for some seven years. I was involved in business here long before then and developing the Next Generation Club which Kristina is a member of, and Ryde, Ryde Aquatics Centre which is the home for water polo during the 2000 Olympics. We have very significant issues here in that we have had the highest increase in house prices in anywhere in the country 74 per cent in three years and that's why I sought to have an inquiry into home ownership and we went through that inquiry. We've also looked at strategic de-centralisation because of the extraordinary amount coming out here – you've seen the extraordinary amount of development and the major issues in this region has been concerns over development that leads to congestion and so the concept that we've never had a plan of settlement, we've ended up with this imbalance that we should now embark on a rebalancing of our settlement. It's something that I have fought long and hard for, I chaired the inquiry into that and we had very clear findings. Just recently we asked for expressions of interest into high speed rail and other rail connectivity to facilitate this rebalancing of our settlement, so that's in process. This is work underway, I think it's very important and it was addressing the very concerns of Bennelong.
JOURNALIST: Your opponent just described you as a good tennis player, a nice bloke, a bit sloppy with your paperwork but mostly part of a lousy government under the appalling failure of leadership of Malcolm Turnbull. How do you respond to that?
JOHN ALEXANDER: Well, she would say that wouldn't she? Malcolm has been quite a magnificent leader and the allegations that he is indecisive, in my discussions with him on this issue, extraordinarily clear thinking, matter-of-fact, business-like, to the point and encouraging me and all other Members of our Government to do the right thing. And if you no longer – or now don't have sufficient belief – you must resign and I fully agreed with him and that's what I did, and it was concluded in the most cordial and friendly way in the discussions I've had with him on any number of policy initiatives that I've been working on, he's always found the time to engage with me to understand and to give me good guidance so we can move these things forward.
JOURNALIST: Did he have that business-like discussion with you and Senator Parry before the High Court ruled?
JOHN ALEXANDER: I don't know his discussions with Senator Parry. It wasn't until after the High Court that we started to understand what the laws were now, how they might impact on me. You don't stand down or resign lightly. I had to examine every possibility. It's very difficult when your father was born in 1907 and came here as a three year old and what the laws were pertaining to citizenship then. We know that as he had lived here for more than five years by 1948, he was an Australian citizen. He'd never held a British citizenship. I played for Australia until recently –
JULIE BISHOP: Magnificently.
JOHN ALEXANDER: I had my good and bad days – it's nearly 40 years since I won the Davis Cup just down the road at White City but you know, you represent your country. There was no question that I was Australian and solely Australian, I was accused of being too Australian on any number of occasions but no one, probably the Australian tennis players are the proudest to represent their country because of our great heritage and I was one of them.
JOURNALIST: Mr Alexander, the political reality for you is that your Government is trailing 55-45 in the last Newspoll. That is an incredibly difficult mountain to climb in a by-election where swing is against the sitting member are pretty par for the course. Do you concede that it's going to be a fairly tough fight?
JOHN ALEXANDER: Yes. And the point I would make is, in anyone week when there is a particular issue that impacts on the polling of that week, when you have an election everything is taken into consideration and on balance when the performance of this Government is taken into account I am very confident that the people of Bennelong will make a very informed decision, and continue with sound management and not risk a Labor government.
JOURNALIST: And politics is local – what are the three biggest issues you face in this electorate?
JOHN ALEXANDER: Housing prices are a huge thing. Congestion is an enormous issue, it's only really in the last six or eight months that energy prices have become an enormous issue, and when you talk to people it's so easy to understand the need to have certain supply of power, but it must be affordable. And yes, we'll rely on technology to reduce omissions but you've got to keep the lights on and it's got to be affordable as the foundation of people really do understand that and support that decision.
JULIE BISHOP: And the Coalition Government is the only side of politics with a plan to deliver affordable and reliable energy for the people of Bennelong and indeed across the country. So we are the party of affordable and reliable energy. Labor is the party of ideology and higher power prices.
JOURNALIST: Minister, overseas tanks are rolling in the Zimbabwe capital. Looks a lot like a coup from here. What's the advice you've received?
JULIE BISHOP: We are deeply concerned by the reports coming out of Harare. We are in contact with our High Commission there. We are monitoring the situation very closely. Zimbabwe has had a very volatile history over many years. I recall being an electoral observer in Zimbabwe for the Commonwealth in the year 2000 and the year 2002 and it's deeply distressing to hear that the political situation in Zimbabwe is again as volatile as it appears.
JOURNALIST: Any changes to travel advice and what's happening to the High Commission staff?
JULIE BISHOP: We take advice from our security and intelligence agencies on travel advice and we will most certainly make changes if they are required. We're in contact with our High Commission in Harare to ensure that everybody is safe. In the meantime if any Australians have concerns about loved ones or family in Zimbabwe then they should seek to contact the DFAT hotline.
JOURNALIST: Were you surprised to see Ms Keneally here campaigning at the same time as you today?
JULIE BISHOP: I'm concerned to see John Alexander returned as the Member for Bennelong, that's my interest. …
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This transcript has been redacted in accordance with Digital Transformation Agency guidelines.
For a full transcript please visit juliebishop.com.au.