Frydenberg defends funding for Victoria


Frydenberg defends funding for Victoria

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg says the government’s support to Victoria has been the highest on a per capita basis than anywhere across the nation, amid calls for more federal funds.

This comes as the Victorian government extends the lockdown for another seven days after recording six new cases.

“Our support for Victoria has been there. This is a very difficult time for Victorian business and families with the extension of the lockdown,” Mr Frydenberg said.

“We have already delivered around three times what the state has delivered into that state.”

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Former NRL player Ethan Lowe backs rule crackdown as NRL defends number of sin bins from Magic Round


Ethan Lowe needed to look no further than the abrupt end to his own NRL career for proof the league’s crackdown on foul play had to come.

Lowe was forced into a medical retirement last year after rupturing a disc in his neck and suffering spinal cord damage as a result of a crusher tackle.

The injury came at the worst possible time for Lowe, who had only made his Queensland State of Origin debut the previous year when he starred in the decider.

“It’s definitely made it hard,” Lowe told AAP.

“Realistically I was hoping to play another three or four years. I was only 29 at the time of the injury.

Lowe now works for South Sydney and still has ongoing issues from the damage, which he classes as manageable.

But he’s happy to admit he still shudders when he sees a crusher tackle, knowing the damage it did to him.

And beyond that, it acts as proof the NRL’s controversial crackdown is needed.

“Definitely [the crackdown is right], when you can see the end effects of it,” Lowe said.

“As a footy player before the injury I wasn’t thinking you would end up with a spinal cord injury from it. That’s not something that goes through your head.

“And now I’ve been able to see the consequences first hand, it’s definitely positive they are cracking down as hard as they are.

“It’s one of those things, sometimes it just ends up in an awkward situation which is not what you want.

“There are times when it is unavoidable and unfortunately people get suspended for stuff that is out of their control.

The NRL has comes out swinging in defence of the rules crackdown, with both NRL Commission chairman Peter V’landys and head of football Graham Annesley speaking out in defence of the number of sin bins.

There were 24 judiciary charges over the course of Magic Round, but Annesley stressed on Monday that number was not the result of the crackdown, and that they would have been charged in any week.

“People have said that Magic Round was wrecked because of what the referees did,” he said.

“Magic Round was impacted because of what the players did.

“Referees responded to that.

“If these incidents don’t happen, no-one is complaining about the referees taking action because there’s no action to take. It’s disappointing.”

“It’s unfortunate that it happened on Magic Round, it’s unfortunate that it happened on the weekend where the Commission said we’re going to take a much tougher view of this stuff on the field, but off the field nothing changed.

V’landys also hit out, telling Fox Sports that it was his duty to address concussion and the ongoing impact head injuries had on player welfare.

“We have an obligation to our players and their welfare. We want our players to leave the game with all their faculties,” V’landys said.

“My job is to make sure of the players’ safety, and if we don’t do something about concussion we’re going to have a long-term problem.

“We need to address it and we need to address it now. Not tomorrow, not next week, but right now.

“This is for the future of the game. Any administrator in a contact sport who doesn’t address concussion, they are doing the wrong thing.”

AAP/ABC

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Josh Frydenberg defends wages policy despite workers facing real pay cut | Wages growth


Josh Frydenberg has conceded inflation will outstrip wage growth this year – meaning workers face a real pay cut – but defended the government’s decision not to do more to boost wages.

The treasurer told ABC’s Insiders on Sunday the Coalition had “stayed true to our consistent position” when it “noted” – but did not accept – the aged care royal commission’s call to increase workers’ wages in the sector.

Frydenberg said the Coalition is “not seeking to cut spending after the next election”, suggesting that fiscal repair will be achieved through economic growth and not cuts to services.

Given the pace of the jobs recovery and generosity of the budget, Labor is now targeting wage stagnation as a possible weakness for the Coalition leading into the next election.

Tuesday’s budget forecasts wage growth of 1.5% in 2021-22, below inflation which is forecast to grow by 1.75%.

Frydenberg told Insiders that “inflation is above wages this year”, but argued inflation was high in contrast to 2020 when it was artificially lowered by temporary free childcare, lower rents and petrol prices.

After growth of 1.5%, wages are set to grow by 2.25%, 2.5% and 2.75%, which will be “above inflation” in the remaining years of the forward estimates, he said.

“But the key to driving increased real wages is actually to get a tighter labour market.

“That’s why you’ve seen in these budget papers that the unemployment rate comes below 5% by the end of next year.”

The Morrison government made a purely factual submission to the Fair Work Commission’s annual minimum wage review and will also stay neutral in a landmark work value case brought by the Health Services Union to boost pay in aged care.

Asked about this failure to call for a minimum wage rise, Frydenberg replied the Coalition had “always been consistent with respect to leaving it to the FWC to make those decisions”.

Submissions advocating a pay rise are not binding and therefore do not impinge on the commission’s independence.

Frydenberg implied the government submission provided tacit support for a wage rise because it “pointed out the strengthening of the Australian economy”.

The submission also warned of “uncertainties” in the economic outlook and urged the commission “to take a cautious approach” taking into account the importance of creating jobs and “ensuring the viability” of small businesses.

The submission was interpreted by Australian unions as a bid to suppress minimum wage rises.

In the aged care work value case – in which 200,000 aged care workers are seeking a pay rise of 25%, or $5 per hour – the government has said it will only “provide information and data to the FWC as required”.

Frydenberg noted the case asking for a “significant boost” to pay in the aged care sector and said the government would “let that work its way through”.

Asked why it had not followed the royal commission recommendation to do more, Frydenberg noted it had “also recommended we should put a tax on all Australians” to pay for improvements in aged care.

Frydenberg said the government had accepted the “vast bulk” of recommendations, provided $17.7bn for aged care in the budget and 33,000 new training places to boost staffing in the sector.

In its interim report and again in the final report, the aged care royal commission found the sector suffers from severe difficulties in recruiting and retaining staff.

“Workloads are heavy,” the interim report said. “Pay and conditions are poor, signalling that working in aged care is not a valued occupation.”

Anthony Albanese told reporters in Narangba that Frydenberg had “no plan” to deal with low wages and “no answers as to what cuts will be made after the next election”.

“Unless you deal with the issue of aged care workers’ pay then you won’t be able to attract the workforce that’s needed,” the Labor leader said.

Earlier, Frydenberg said the Coalition is “always striving to balance the books” but would not say when and how it would attempt to return to surplus. “We are not seeking to cut spending after the next election,” he said.

Frydenberg defended the fact the budget projects a decade of deficits by noting the net debt to GDP ratio “comes down each and every year”, due to growth of the economy outstripping growth in debt.

“The deficits have come down by two-thirds over [four years] and when you look at other countries with a AAA credit rating … our fiscal consolidation over the next six years is happening faster than those other countries.”

Frydenberg noted that half of new spending in the 2021-22 budget is temporary, including the $7.8bn one-year extension of the low and middle income tax offset.

Frydenberg defended the third stage of income tax cuts, which will benefit middle and high income earners by flattening tax brackets, so that income between $45,000 and $200,000 is taxed at the rate of 30%.

He said these tax cuts are “already legislated” and will create a “stronger and fairer” tax system.

Frydenberg argued without the third stage, someone earning $90,000 will be $1,120 worse off. He refused to acknowledge that low to middle income earners will be up to $1,080 worse off per year when the temporary offset expires, citing comparisons to the 2017-18 year to obscure the pending tax hike.

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Greg Hunt defends Qantas’s pre-flight COVID tests in India amid calls for it to be reviewed


Health Minister Greg Hunt has rejected concerns about the COVID-19 tests being used by Qantas in India to screen passengers trying to return to Australia. 

The ABC revealed a lab that tested passengers before the weekend’s flight had its accreditation suspended in April, sparking other Australians trying to get home from India to call on the company to reconsider its testing protocols.

Almost half of the passengers bound for Australia on the first repatriation flight from New Delhi to Darwin on Friday were barred from travelling, either because they tested positive for the virus or were close contact of someone who did. 

At least 10 people who initially tested positive returned a negative test within days

“[Qantas has] identified a large number of positive cases that would otherwise have come to Australia,” Mr Hunt said. 

“Our understanding is the Qantas process is strong and rigorous.” 

A Qantas plane on a tarmac behind a wired fence.
Australians not allowed to board the most recent repatriation flight are urging Qantas to change its testing protocols.(

ABC News: Tiffany Parker

)

Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese accused the government of shifting the blame to Qantas.

“Scott Morrison needs to take responsibility for something, but in this case he’s handed off to Qantas,” he said.

“He’s handed over quarantine responsibility to the states, he also, with regard to people stranded in India, he’s now blaming Qantas.

“Because of a false test, they’re still stranded in India.”

Rollout picking up pace

Mr Hunt also revealed Australia’s troubled vaccine rollout was beginning to pick up pace, with the latest data showing another million doses had been administered in the last 17 days, down from nearly seven weeks for the first million. 

A sign on a fence saying COVID–19 vaccination clinic with an arrow to the left
Health authorities say the time it is taking to administer a million doses is reducing.(

ABC News: Eugene Boisvert

)

More than three million doses have now been handed out, according to Commodore Eric Young from the Vaccine Operations Centre.

Commodore Young said a new record was set last week for the number of people vaccinated, with 436,000 doses administered. 

“That included a record day last Thursday of 83,495 doses administered in a single day,” he said. 

Commodore Young said 76 per cent of vaccine supply sent to state and territory governments had been used.

The vaccine rollout has been plagued by supply issues and the change in advice for people under 50 to receive Pfizer instead of AstraZeneca as the preferred vaccine.

As well as praising the progress of the rollout, Mr Hunt also suggested states and territories might decide to allow free movement for people who are vaccinated — a move that could provide a strong incentive for those unsure about receiving a jab. 

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Israeli PM Netanyahu defends Gaza press building bombing



Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu says destroying a high-rise block in Gaza on Saturday was justified.

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QBE chairman defends climate stance after protest vote


QBE Group chairman Mike Wilkins has vowed the insurer will work with oil and gas producers towards reducing carbon emissions rather than cutting them off, after copping a 21.4 per cent protest vote over its policy on exposure to the sector.

As investors put more focus on climate risks, a resolution calling on QBE to set targets for cutting its exposure to the oil and gas sector was rejected by most investors on Wednesday, but still gained more support than a similar push last year.

QBE Group chairman Mike Wilkins.Credit:Louise Kennerley

The resolution, promoted by activist group Market Forces and fund manager Australian Ethical, followed a move earlier this year by QBE to tighten its policy on oil and gas businesses from 2030.

After facing repeated questions over climate change at the meeting, Mr Wilkins played down the 21.4 per cent vote in favour as reflecting investors’ economy-wide concerns, rather than those relating to QBE specifically.

He supported this by saying only 3.6 per cent of shareholders had backed the first part of the resolution to require a change in the company’s constitution. This change would have been needed to set the exposure targets.

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Mr Wilkins said climate change risks were “material,” and he left open the possibility of refinements to its policies, but rejected calls for a tougher stance on oil and gas clients.

“The important thing is, we think that the sensible thing to do is work with our customers as we approach the target dates that we’ve set,” Mr Wilkins said.

“Because what we don’t want to do is throw the baby out with the bathwater, and in a number of cases some of our customers are at the forefront of the transition to greener forms of energy. We want to actually help them with that, rather than just cut them off.”

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Stuart Robert defends spending scandals after Christine Holgate said she was bullied out of Australia Post



Senior cabinet minister Stuart Robert has been forced to defend his own past gift and expense scandals while reflecting on the treatment of Christine Holgate.

Senior federal government minister Stuart Robert has been forced to defend his own luxury watch and excessive spending scandals while justifying the treatment of former Australia Post boss Christine Holgate.

Ms Holgate was forced out of the job after giving Cartier watches to four senior executives as a reward for securing a lucrative contract.

She has accused the prime minister of bullying and public humiliation after he tore into the purchases during Question Time and pressured her to stand aside.

Scott Morrison has refused to apologise.

Mr Robert said the former postal boss should have waited for the outcome of an independent review, which later cleared her of any wrongdoing, before resigning from the role.

“We should always wait for independent investigations. We shouldn’t jump the gun. We should always wait to see what they say and we should act on them,” he told the ABC on Friday.


0:00

Mr Robert is no stranger to scandals over luxury watches.

Several years ago, he was forced to return an expensive Rolex timepiece given to him by a Chinese billionaire.

Mr Robert denied there were double standards at play, despite keeping his job while Ms Holgate did not.

The minister claimed the distinction lay in him believing the Rolex was not real.

“We thought they were glittery fakes,” he said.

“We got them valued, we found they were real, we then returned them voluntarily.”

Mr Robert was also forced to repay $38,000 to the government for excessive home internet bills.

The amount he charged taxpayers was almost double the cost of the Cartier watches bought by Australia Post.

The minister argued he was not to blame because the finance department set up the connection.

“I was the one that voluntarily repaid it based on something that was set up for me, so again, the circumstances are fundamentally different,” Mr Robert said.

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Marshall Govt defends vaccine rollout as data shows SA lags nation


The Marshall Government says South Australia will “scale up” its coronavirus vaccination rollout in coming weeks, as data released overnight showed it had administered just 57 per cent of its available doses – the lowest rate in the nation.

The Opposition seized on the figures – released by the federal government late yesterday – to declare SA’s utilisation rate “the worst in the country” – 17 per cent lower than Victoria and Queensland.

But Health Minister Stephen Wade argued the speed of South Australia’s rollout “remains closely aligned with our share of the national population”.

As of yesterday, the state had administered 37,656 doses of the 561,734 given in state and territory clinics around the country – around 6.7 per cent, which Wade said corresponded “to our share of the national population, which is 6.9 per cent”.

“This is a far better indicator of how our vaccine rollout is tracking,” he insisted.

SA had also accounted for 740 of the 3,166 doses administered in state and territory clinics in the 24 hours to Sunday, April 11.

Federal data released yesterday

“It should be noted that the amount of vaccines SA has administered in the past 24 hours is well above our proportion of the national population, as we administered more doses than any other state other than Victoria,” Wade said in a statement.

“Opening more clinics across the state where they are needed, as well as establishing a vaccination hub at the Adelaide Showgrounds, will help us to further scale up our rollout in the coming weeks.”

However, SA’s rollout figure equates to 2.13 for every 100 people in the state, the second lowest per capita figure in the country – behind only NSW, which has suspended its vaccination program.

Labor’s health spokesman Chris Picton said there was “an issue with vaccine supply” in parts of Australia, “but not here in SA where we’ve got over 30,000 doses sitting in the fridge not being used”.

“The federal government’s figures show we’ve got the worst utilisation rate in the country – we can’t allow that to continue,” he said.

“This is not something that’s happened overnight – we’ve consistently had the second-lowest per capita vaccination rate.”

The data shows a further 616,568 doses have been administered via the Commonwealth, from which SA has given another 12,449 in aged and disability care facilities and 39,657 in primary care.

The latter is largely administered by GPs, with Australian Medical Association SA president Dr Chris Moy saying the rollout is “not as simple as just putting the vaccine into people’s arms”.

“Nevertheless, we still could all do better – that’s in every sector,” he told InDaily.

“It still needs to be improved – it certainly has not been helped by a combination of needing a change in direction, and the negativity of the media to some degree.”

He said the media and public “have got to support the changes” to the rollout, with AstraZeneca last week declared unsuitable for recipients under 50, arguing “the fact is we’re extremely lucky to have safe and effective vaccines, and that’s been lost at the moment”.

He said the delay in state utilisation rates could be due to the lag between first and second doses, “but having said that, we could still do better”.

“There’s been frustrations with delays in deliveries, and frustrations with the change in provision, but I don’t think anybody has any idea how frickin’ big this is – it’s the biggest thing we’ve ever done,” he said.

“This is huge – last week when there was a pivot there was frustration, I think GPs got a lot of phone calls… but it’s no different to what’s been happening right through the pandemic, where we’re dealing with rapid changes [and] all of us have to roll with the punches, because we just need to – this is too big to fail.”

Moy said “our main job at the moment is to get that AstraZeneca out to over-50s as fast as we can, because they’re the biggest risk population”.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison yesterday abandoned his Government’s previous rollout target after Australian medical authorities recommended people under 50 get the Pfizer vaccine instead of AstraZeneca because of rare blood clotting concerns.

In a video message posted to Facebook, he conceded not all Australians will get their first dose by the end of the year, even though the Government has doubled its order of the Pfizer vaccine – but said targets were not practical as COVID “writes its own rules”.

“You don’t get to set the agenda,” he said.

“You have to be able to respond quickly to when things change and we’ve had to deal with a lot of changes.

“Rather than set targets that can get knocked about by every to and fro of international supply chains and other disruptions that can occur, we are just getting on with it.”

Launching the first of a series of daily vaccination data updates to be published online, he said Australia’s rate of 1.2 million to date was comparable to other major countries.

Meanwhile, Australia’s medicine regulator has today identified a second case of rare blood clots believed to be linked to the AstraZeneca vaccine.

The Therapeutic Goods Administration released a safety alert announcing the possible link. The blood clots affected a woman aged in her 40s who was vaccinated in Western Australia.

“The person remains in hospital receiving treatment and is in a stable condition,” the regulator said.

It is the second Australian report of a case of rare blood clots after a 44-year-old Melbourne man developed the condition following his AstraZeneca vaccination last month.

Expert advisers to the TGA have concluded the latest incident is similar to blood clotting cases seen in Europe and the United Kingdom.

There have been about 700,000 doses of AstraZeneca vaccines administered in Australia, so the two cases equate to a frequency of one in every 350,000 people.

The United Kingdom has found the overall risk of these rare blood clots was approximately one in 250,000 people who received the vaccine.

Also today, Australia recorded its first COVID-19 death for 2021 after a man in his 80s died in a Brisbane hospital.

Queensland Health minister Yvette D’Ath said the Australian man succumbed to the disease overnight after returning from the Philippines.

It’s the first COVID death since a NSW man in his 70s died in late December from respiratory complications after being infected with COVID-19 in March 2020.

-with AAP

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COVID-19: Former AstraZeneca board member defends firm over its handling of vaccine rollout



Professor Dame Nancy Rothwell said she expects those inside the company are feeling they have “had a bit of a hard time”.

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Federal government accused of failing the nation over AstraZeneca vaccine on Q+A as Martin Iles defends Israel Folau



The Australian government has been accused on Q+A of “failing at the first hurdle” when it comes to the nation’s vaccine rollout and problems with the AstraZeneca vaccine.

The show aired on Thursday night following Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s press conference where he and his team announced the AstraZeneca vaccine, which has a possible link to rare blood clots in a very small number of recipients, would no longer be given to Australians under the age of 50.

Instead, they will be given the Pfizer vaccine, meaning Australia’s already behind-schedule vaccine rollout threatened to slow further.

On Q+A, multiple panellists criticised Mr Morrison for “backing the wrong horse” and not taking a wider approach to acquiring more different vaccines such as those from Moderna and Johnson & Johnson.

“Australians really set the global standard in looking after one another, locking down in a way that reduced our COVID numbers, and our reward for that was meant to be that we would be able to get back on track and for us to maybe get the jump-start on other countries,” said federal Labor MP Anika Wells, from Queensland.

“It comes down to, I think, the Prime Minister’s judgement about the vaccines that he chose, the numbers of those doses and why.

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“When the UK, the US, chose other pathways like Moderna or Johnson & Johnson.”

Asked by host Hamish Macdonald if she was saying the Australian government had “backed the wrong horse”, she responded in the affirmative.

“We’ve been saying since last year, we need more horses in the race. We need five or six different vaccines.”

Liberal MP Trent Zimmerman refuted the claim Australia did not have enough vaccine options and said the government had invested in five.

But Indigenous lawyer Teela Reid also said the government had failed and accused them of being incompetent before also saying they had really failed First Nations people.

“I think the country needs options available to be vaccinated,” Ms Reid said.

“It has been absolutely the people who have come together and kept us safe, locked down and done the right thing — and I just think that, you know, for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, the majority of us are under 50.

“I think that it’s just been completely reckless and unacceptable in a developed country that we are here now and we’re still waiting for the option to be vaccinated.”

While Ms Reid and Ms Wells took the Prime Minister to task over the rollout, other panellists, journalist Antoinette Lattouf and Managing Director of the Australian Christian Lobby (ACL) Martyn Iles, felt the slow rollout was a blessing in disguise when it came to not too many Australians receiving the AstraZeneca vaccine.

Ms Lattouf said this was a good problem to have while Mr Iles said the pivot in the vaccine strategy was not a massive problem before calling on people to leave people who have vaccine hesitancy alone.

“We don’t need to manufacture a crisis over the vaccine when we just don’t have one, ” Mr Iles said.

“It’s turning out that there’s some benefits of watching the rest of the world go just a little bit ahead of us.

“There are people in the community who have vaccine hesitancy and feel as though they, in good conscience, can’t take the vaccine.

“I actually want to go in to bat for them, I think we can respect someone’s conscience and achieve public health outcomes possibly at the same time.

“Everyone who wants it should get it [but] there’ll be some people who don’t want it, I reckon leave them alone, because the protection of conscience matters.”

‘Melanin count doesn’t change my access to truth’

Issues of gender bias in the halls of Parliament have been front and centre of late and one issue that has been raised is quotas.

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Most of the Q+A panel was for the possible introduction of them except for Mr Iles, who drew scorn for, as he put it, being “the stereotypical white guy”.

“Quotas say a couple of things,” Mr Iles said.

“Some of them might be good, but some of them I’m concerned about.

“One of the things it says is that a parliament that is majority man or majority women, or majority one race or another cannot govern in the common interest, cannot govern for the common good, cannot actually seek after what is right and true.

“The melanin count in my skin doesn’t change my access to truth, it doesn’t change my ability to do good.”

It was then that Ms Lattouf immediately called him out.

“But it changes your lived experience,” she said.

“It changes your lens, it changes where you are in terms of privilege.

“It doesn’t mean that you can’t have empathy, it doesn’t mean that you’re not clever and good at your job but you don’t have skin in the game when it comes to women’s issues, when it comes to Indigenous issues.

Regardless of quotas, Ms Reid said they were not the major issue and said other issues should first be examined.

“If you look at the experience of some women at the top, take for example Julia Gillard, that was a horrendous experience to witness as a young woman, but also I can’t even imagine what she’s experienced, and that’s looking at a white woman,” she said.

“I wouldn’t even want to know what a black woman experiences in those contexts.”

Iles defends ACL support of Folau

Mr Iles, who has long been a staunch supporter of former rugby league and union star Israel Folau, featured prominently throughout the show.

In 2019, Mr Iles stood side-by-side with Folau and even helped launch a fund to support the then-rugby star in his legal battle with Rugby Australia after fundraising site GoFundMe pulled down his page asking for financial help for the fight.

Rugby Australia said they had sacked Folau for breaching their social media code of conduct for religious posts he made which also preached homophobic views, before the sides eventually settled.

This week, the Australian Christian Lobby spent a large sum of money on an advertisement in The Daily Telegraph to pressure the NRL into allowing Folau to return to rugby league.

Mr Iles was asked to defend that use of money and his relationship with Folau and the ongoing support he is receiving from the ACL.

Mr Iles began by saying Folau had been misrepresented in the media.

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“The media have repeatedly said that Israel condemned homosexuals to hell, that is not the overall point of the post that he made.

“What he said was that sinners are destined for judgement, and yes, Christians understand that as hell … but then he turned to the other side of the coin and he said, ‘and forgiveness awaits to all who repent and put their trust in the Lord Jesus Christ’.

“He said all of that in his post. Either you believe both sides of that coin — in which case, you are free, you have condemnation and salvation, you have judgement and release, you have repentance, you have faith — or you believe neither side.

Mr Iles rejected a comment by Ms Latouff that Folau had spread hate, saying that was not his motive.

But Mr Zimmerman, who in 2015 became Australia’s first openly gay MP, said that was in his view not the case with Folau.

“I’m not a religious person, but I was brought up in a religious family in the Uniting Church. It may not have been about hate, but it was certainly about love.

Mr Iles then went on to take aim at Rugby Australia and accused them of lying during the 2019 battle with Folau.

“He did not break a contract or a clause, if he did, it would have been relied upon by the tribunal that disciplined him.

“It wasn’t relied on because it didn’t exist.

“That’s a lie that was put out, I believe, by Rugby Australia to try and ruin his reputation.”

Watch the full episode of Q+A on iview.

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