NATALIE BARR, HOST: Politicians are returning to Canberra this morning for the last sitting fortnight of the year, and it's shaping up to be a fiery finish. The Coalition is hoping to deliver on a major election commitment, the religious discrimination bill, but its plans to introduce the new laws could be derailed by a revolt from the backbench over vaccine mandates. Two Liberal Senators are threatening to withhold their votes, demanding the federal government ban all vaccine discrimination. For their take, we're joined by Deputy Prime Minister, Barnaby Joyce, and Labor MP, Joel Fitzgibbon. Morning to both. Barnaby, the government needs the support of these two backbenchers, doesn't it? How are you going to navigate this?
BARNABY JOYCE, DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: Well, I think, I don't know, why put at risk the religious freedom bill. That's going to be the big thing that we're debating this week. Why, this is something that's also, to be quite frank, from the conservative side of politics. And I think there'll be a lot of people around a lot of churches and a lot of schools who would be pretty upset if you decide that you're going to not support something that actually helps, something they've been wanting us to do, that we took to the last election, said we'd do. And we've got to make sure we get it done. This is something that's been hard fought for and the religious freedoms bill, it's one of the fundamental rights of our nation is to have a faith and be able to stand behind it as long as it doesn't hurt somebody and profess your faith. And this, we're trying to bring that into law. And we've heard that people are not going to be supporting it, doesn't make sense to me.
BARR: So, what are you going to do?
JOYCE: Well, it's not what we do, you're a master of your own ship, you row your own boat, if people decide that, you know, they're politicians, they're not, they don't come here in chains and irons, they can do what they want. It's a free nation. But you know, you're supposed to apply to what you believe is their better judgment and talk to their constituents who, especially the constituents that want this religious freedoms bill through.
BARR: Joel, will you support this legislation, the religious freedom bill?
JOEL FITZGIBBON, MEMBER FOR HUNTER: Well, we haven't even seen the legislation, Nat. That's the big problem here. But the key point is that we should not have been having this really important debate in the shadow of an election campaign. The Prime Minister promised this legislation at the last election, and here we are five minutes to midnight, and to another election and we are having this very difficult debate. That's the most unfortunate part about it. And of course, now he's been hijacked by members, some members of his own party, who are trying to conflate or mix up two issues, the other being of course, vaccination mandates. So, it's disappointing, this is really important. We need to ensure that people of faith and faith-based institutions don't feel threatened by an excessively progressive agenda. But at the same time, I'll fight with everyone determined to ensure people aren't discriminated against, for example, on the basis of their sexuality. So, it's a very fine and difficult balance. It's one we need to get right and it's a debate we should have been having at least two years ago.
BARR: Okay. Look, a few issues going around. The Prime Minister has been accused of sympathising with right wing extremists after saying he understood why protesters who staged that mock execution of Dan Andrews were so angry. Have a listen.
DAN ANDREWS, PREMIER OF VICTORIA: When the Prime Minister stops double speaking to extremists, his relationship with me will be a lot better.
BARR: Barnaby, is he cuddling up to these protesters?
JOYCE: No, Nat. And look, there's not a person in this building, not any, not one, I hope, exists that says that threatening a person's life, building gallows, doing all that kind of total garbage is something that is just, we don't want it, okay. So, no one is suggesting for one second, we do that. That is outrageous. But just because there's a crazy person in the Carlton crowd at the football game who throws a rock, doesn't mean that every person in the Carlton crowd is crazy. We've got to understand the frustrations that are behind this. And you can't say, oh well, therefore you're a sympathiser because you acknowledge that there are also people in those protests, who are not outrageous who are mums and dads, who are law abiding citizens who also want to be heard. You can't say every person in that crowd is somehow, you know, a madman or a mad woman or a bad person, they're not. And when you say that that also is kind of insulting because there are a lot of people that have just had it, they’re frustrated. And I have to say a lot of these laws that they're protesting against are state laws. They're not federal laws, they're state laws and it's the state politicians who've got to go to and talk to people. And the police have got to be there to arrest the crazy ones.
BARR: Look, exactly and we agree with freedom of expression, but I guess people are getting at this this week, in August 2020, Morrison said I would expect the COVID jab to be as mandatory as you can possibly make it. Now he's got this line, I want governments to butt out of everyone's lives. Obviously, there's an election coming. And it feels like he's changing his whole stance on vaccination. He's giving people who are unvaccinated, we've been trying for a year to get everyone vaccinated, and now he's sucking up to them. What do you say of that?
JOYCE: Well, I'm understandably mocked because one of my posts from some time ago saying you want the government out of your face. So, I think that's generally the view of the Australian people. By reason, the Australian people been so good and so many… we're over 85 per cent of now people vaccinated, which means we can start opening up the borders a lot more. That's great. But we're not mandating vaccines. We're not going to be chasing people down the road at a federal level. And I don't even know whether we could even if we wanted to. A lot of these laws that people are upset about are state laws, and states have got to answer for them. In Queensland you can go... we don't care if you go to a restaurant or not. That's a state, we don't have any power, that's state legislation. Whether you go to the football, state legislation, whether you go to a museum, state legislation, whether you go into someone's shop, state legislation. It's not federal legislation.
BARR: We know that. I mean, it's in the language. It's in the messaging that's getting out...
JOYCE: ... Okay, let's make this really clear. We don't believe in mandating the Australian population or compulsory mandates. We don't, right. We want people to, bit like any other, lots of procedures, you can say it's an incredibly good idea if you do it. We want you to do it, but we're not mandating it and the Australian people have been incredibly good. Because the vast, vast majority have done it.
BARR: Yep. Okay, look, we've run out of time, Gents, thank you very much. We'll talk to you next week.