Interview questions drafted by Joshua Evans, Mark Han, and Miguel Galsim, Written by Miguel Galsim
Zed Seselja is the Liberal Party’s senatorial candidate for the federal elections, and served as a senator for the ACT since 2013, previously holding a position in the ACT Legislative Assembly since 2004. He has served as a senior lawyer in the public service, and acts as an ambassador for multiple community-based organisations such as Focus ACT and the Royal Lifesaving Society. Like Christina Hobbs of the Greens, he is an alumnus of the ANU, graduating with a double degree in Law and Arts.
Through email, Seselja was able to answer Woroni’s questions on climate change, negative gearing, higher education policy, and asylum seekers in the run-up to this year’s federal elections.
On the topic of climate change, he claimed that the Coalition is “taking action” on climate change and believed the government was on track to “meet and exceed our 2020 emissions target of 5% below 2000 levels,” a goal that he claimed was the same as Labor’s. Seselja also stated that Australia’s reductions would be the biggest among the world’s major economies, and hoped that by 2030, 23.5% of Australia’s electricity would be based on renewables.
“We’re reducing emissions, and we’re doing it without driving up the cost of electricity with a Carbon Tax. On the other hand, Labor has a target that they can’t afford and have no plan to actually reach,” he said.
Regarding negative gearing, he argued that Labor’s planned restriction of the practice would drive up rental prices, which could particularly affect students living off-campus. He stated that most people who negatively gear hold middle incomes, and thus restricting negative gearing would result in large numbers of middle-class families with small investments driving up rental prices for their properties in order to cover their losses.
He also noted that home prices would drop under the Labor scheme, which would not be a “strategy for economic growth and enhanced prosperity for the Australian community.” He also promised to release more ACT land for new housing.
On tertiary education costs, Seselja claimed that taxpayer contributions to higher education funding have “grown dramatically” over the years, with the funding of universities “[growing] at twice the rate of the economy.”
Seselja said that the Coalition plans to spend $49.4 billion in higher education and research over the next four years, and linked university accessibility to the difficulty in managing its costs. He stated that the Government is still deliberating on how these issues could be addressed without fee-deregulation, and that no reforms would be implemented until January 2018 at the latest.
He also asserted the Government’s commitment to research given its National Innovation and Science Agenda, which would see $1.9 billion granted under the Agenda in 2017.
Regarding the critical issue of Indigenous engagement in tertiary education, the senator stated that the Coalition would give universities more space to design their scholarships and support systems for Indigenous students. By delegating these responsibilities to universities, Indigenous enrolment, progression, and completion of tertiary education would supposedly increase. $253.1 million has been allocated to this project.
On the Government’s proposed PaTH program which subsidises businesses in the hiring of young interns, in addition to granting these interns an extra $200 on top of their fortnightly allowances, Seselja rejected criticisms of the plan as exploitative of young workers.
“Young people can find it tough to get work. In particular, young people who haven’t had the opportunity to study or get qualifications find it even harder. This is a programme that is specifically targeted at disadvantaged people who need work but can’t get the experience they need to get a job.”
“Social service organisations have been calling out for a program like this for some time,” he said.
When asked about international and domestic criticism of Australia’s refugee policy – particularly from Human Rights Commissioner Gillian Triggs – Seselja did not deviate from the Coalition position.
“I support our immigration policies because there is nothing humane about policies that give people smugglers an incentive to take advantage of vulnerable people so they risk their lives at sea. Nor is it humane to give priority to people who have the resources to pay tens of thousands of dollars to people smugglers at the expense of the millions of people in refugee camps around the world who don’t have those resources.”
He criticised the 1200 deaths at sea and nearly 2000 children held in detention under Labor. He continued, “No one wants to see people in detention, but under the Coalition, we’ve seen no deaths at sea and the number of children in detention is essentially down to zero and that’s due to our strong policies.”
These comments mirrored those made by Peter Dutton in April this year, although at least 50 children remain on Nauru, and 70 children released from mainland detention in that month were still set to return to the island nation.
He also said that “Australia provides health care to people being processed offshore… Many refugees live in the community; many of them work and some have even started businesses.”
Yet, this statement runs contrary to refugee statements and UNHCR criticisms, among other human rights bodies, who have argued that systemic human rights abuses occur in offshore detention, and human services are lacking. He also did not address the restricted media access to these sites, nor did he mention the crackdown measures on health care professionals divulging details on abuses.
He concluded by stating that the Government was ready to offer asylum to 12,000 Syrian refugees and would increase the annual intake. Seselja argued that the best way to accept refugees was via an “orderly process that stops deaths at sea and gives genuine asylum seekers an equal chance at resettlement in Australia regardless of their resources or location.”
Joshua Evans is a member of the Labor Party, Mark Han is a former member of the Liberal Party