National Security

Transcript | Sky News Bolt Report | 23 April 2024

April 23, 2024

Tuesday 23 April 2024
Interview on Sky News Bolt Report
Subject: ANZAC Oration, Australia’s military readiness, mis and disinformation laws, abhorrent violent content

ANDREW BOLT: James Paterson, thank you so much for your time. Look, before I get to teachers for Palestine, your speech you warn in-, a good speech, by the way, you warning in it that passed wars have seen politicians here demand conscription for the defence of the nation that you know, so grave. Forcing people to fight Australia. Big call. The next time we might have to contemplate that, will be, possibly, well could be in our lifetime James. Could actually be quite soon, you don't know. But you worry that we're not united enough for that to be even thought about. Why is that?

JAMES PATERSON: Andrew, anyone who studied Australian history will understand that conscription was one of the most divisive issues in the 20th century. On three separate occasions, we either went to public ballots about it or had enormously divisive internal debates about it. And I never want to see our country divided like that again. And I never want to see a government force people against their conscience to fight in a war that they don't want to. But if we want to avoid that in the future, given the dark clouds ahead, that demands political leadership now and some tough leadership now. We have to make voluntary service in the Australian Defence Force much more attractive so that we solve the recruitment and retention crisis currently facing the ADF. We also have to spend the money we need to now to acquire the capability we need now to hopefully deter and prevent conflict by being credible and being powerful. And unfortunately, on all of those fronts, the Albanese government is failing. They're going to wait ten years before they spend anything meaningful on defence instead of today when we need it.

BOLT: But that's also a wilder cultural issue isn't there? The lack of patriotism, the lack of love for Australia, the lack of a sense of what we're all here for. You want people to volunteer to fight for this country, but just right now, we've got more than 4000 fewer people in the armed forces than we want, than we need. And that's when the armed forces are just very small. Too small. What's the problem here?

PATERSON: Well, that's exactly right, Andrew. I think there's two issues. One is a kind of policy issue that we can solve. We have to make service in the ADF more attractive by making it more flexible and more fitting with modern life. You shouldn't have to move to the other side of the country, take your spouse out of their work, move your kids out of school in order to defend your country. That has to end, and we have to make it more flexible. And our Shadow Minister for Defence, Andrew Hastie will have more to say about that. But as you say, there's a more fundamental underlying cultural problem here which is a lost sense of self belief, a lost of sense of self-confidence. We don't teach young people that our country is worth anything, let alone worth defending. And when we advertise to go and sign up to serve in the ADF, it's all about you. It's all about self-actualisation. It's all about your personal journey and growth. It's not about serving our country or our cause, and that needs to change. We need to re-instill that sense of belief in our own country and our own goodness if we're ever going to inspire a generation to sign up and serve.

BOLT: Well, on that very point, James, here you are making your speech just at the same time that a group called teachers for Palestine says it wants to teach students about ANZAC Day in their way. They want to teach that, ANZACs, in fact, most of them are New Zealanders committed a war crime against Palestinians more than 100 years ago. That's got to be taught, they say. The ANZAC legacy must be dismantled, not glorified. The ANZACs were conscripted in in service of the colonisers. I mean, what is going on here?

PATERSON: Andrew, on the one hand, this is offensive ahistorical nonsense. It is not an accurate reflection of our history or of ANZAC day. But on the other hand, it's a deeply dangerous attempt to dismantle one of the last unifying symbols of nationhood in Australia, long after people have trashed our flag, trashed our constitution, trashed our anthem, ANZAC Day and Australia Day as well. ANZAC day is one of those things that has almost universal support, almost universally belief. Now, whether you're on the left of politics or the right, whether you came here recently or a long time ago, Australians rally around this. And I think it's particularly insidious that even that institution is now under attack, and there are people trying to undermine that. And it is storing up a whole lot of trouble for us in the future. It is going to raise a generation of people who don't believe there's anything good about our country, anything good about our history. And no nation can prosper, let alone survive, in a contested geopolitical environment without any belief in itself.

BOLT: I think that's absolutely right. I was wondering, in fact, if the Prime Minister is wasting a few days walking up and down the Kokoda track, but perhaps, Paying his tribute to soldiers who fought and died there is exactly the right thing he should be doing, I don't know. It seems to me that's probably the case, but something else, James, the Albanese government's war against Elon Musk, you know, abusing him so personally is a narcissistic billionaire. The abuse is incredible. Demanding they are, the footage of the bishop being stabbed be banned from Twitter so that no one in the world can possibly see it. This seems way out of proportion, doesn't it? A real threat to free speech.

PATERSON: Andrew, freedom of speech as you know, is a cornerstone of the philosophy of the Liberal Party. And we will never walk away from that. It's why we came out so strongly against the Albanese government's misinformation and disinformation bill. And even though they're going to revise it, if it looks anything in any way, shape and form like the first bill, I know we will oppose it too. Of course you couldn't broadcast on your program right now abhorrent violent content, and it is reasonable for a government to insist that the laws that apply to a television station apply to a social media network so that young people aren't served horrific and troubling images. But, it should never seep into political censorship. We are not the global free speech censors. We don't have the right to dictate to other countries what they view in their jurisdictions. That's a matter for them. If they want to have this content freely available to their citizens, that's for them to decide. It's not up to the Australian government to dictate to the world what they can see and read and hear.

BOLT: Yeah but, it's a different context. I mean, televisions are put on in people's living rooms. Family viewing hears the news. We do not want to offend people. Shock the kids. Traumatise people, but just boom, there it is. Where's as with social media you go looking for it, right? There's a different context there. And in this case, this particular video, awful and violent though it is, did not lead to the death of the bishop. He's out, within a week, where as I can find on the ABC's website the shooting of an Aboriginal guy that attacked two police with scissors. The Kumanjayi Walker case. That's on the ABC website. Someone actually died in that, that's okay. That's also inflammatory. What's the difference?

PATERSON: Well, I might add to that, Andrew, if you want to see absolutely horrific footage out of Gaza right now, it's freely available on almost every social media platform, including TikTok and Twitter and Meta and others. And I'm really worried about the impact that has on young people. It's one of the reasons why the Coalition has pushed very strongly for age verification for young people, so they cannot have a social media account until they're old enough to have it. And there's growing global evidence about the harms of that. Jonathan Haidt, the psychologist from the United States, has a new book out, and he says it is harmful for young people under the age of 16 to be on social media at all, let alone if they are accessing horrific content. And I do note for the record, that neither the eSafety commissioner nor the Albanese government has been aggressively pursuing the horrific vision and footage out of Gaza on social media in the same way that they've been pursuing this. And it's up to them to explain what the difference between those things are.

BOLT: Well, I don't think they should be pursuing that. This is the whole thing. There's a new mood for censorship, where even the non-fatal stabbing of the bishop is being censored, in my opinion, to ease community tension between two groups that tension is in consequence in part of government policies, immigration and all that kind of stuff. This is not the way our multicultural society should be policed. And I wonder whether the Liberals have gone soft on free speech, that you, in a panic, didn't want to be seen as siding with the foreign billionaire Elon Musk and have let the government wedge you on that and you've gone along your party's going along with this ban.

PATERSON: Well, we've approached this in a very considered way over a number of years, Andrew, particularly following the Christchurch massacre. I think everyone would agree the live broadcasts of a massacre of innocent people by a terrorist should not be allowed to be made accessible to children. That is obviously harmful. And I think that's a even fair question, a reasonable question to ask, we can agree to disagree, whether the radicalising effect of content like that, should a government have the right to control within their own jurisdiction. Now, I don't want to take on the role of censor of the world. But when we do have a problem of people being radicalised online, and when we have ISIS beheading videos being freely accessible to children in schools I think that's a problem for our country and I don't think it's a healthy thing.

BOLT: Yeah, but Twitter and all those, social media giants do censor propaganda videos like that. We're not talking here about a propaganda video. We're not talking about look at this and sign up to ISIS or whatever. We're talking about straight coverage of what actually happened. And this is stuff you can see on social media outlets if you choose to. It's not thrusting people's faces in their living room. I think the coalition needs to have another look at this, myself. But James Paterson, you have been a warrior for free speech, I know you're not going to start challenging the leadership on this show, but I would plead for a reconsideration of this. Thank you so much indeed for your time.

PATERSON: Thanks, Andrew.


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