Thursday, 25 October 2018

 6PR – Mornings with Gareth Parker

Transcript

E&OE

Subjects: Superannuation, religious freedoms, climate change.

GARETH PARKER:

The Attorney-General is Christian Porter. He joins us on Thursdays.

Christian, good morning.

ATTORNEY-GENERAL:

Gareth, how are you?

GARETH PARKER:

I'm well. I appreciate your time. You've got plenty going on in your portfolio. This one has big implications basically for everyone who is in a de facto relationship, the rules around assets and in particular superannuation are about to change.

ATTORNEY-GENERAL:

Yep, so in actual fact it was an issue that I came across when I was State AG. For your listeners, to cut a long story short, the Commonwealth has for a long time wanted WA to hand over all of its powers with respect to family law for de facto couples. WA has declined to do that and one area that that has caused problems in, is with respect to superannuation for de factor couples. And the Commonwealth previously wouldn't accept a partial referral, because they wanted a full referral, but we've now accepted a partial referral.

What does that mean for people in WA? Well previously if superannuation was the largest asset, which very often was a larger asset for the man than for the woman in the relationship, it couldn't be split. And that often created problems for the woman in the relationship because she wouldn't get what she would be lawfully entitled to and also it often created problems for the man because he'd end up having to keep all the super;  the court would take that into account and give all the other liquid assets to the wife and so the man would be left with no liquid assets. So it's caused a lot of problems in WA for a long time. But you know, I've been fortunate enough to be in a position where I could talk to the Prime Minister and obviously through Cabinet on this, and we've accepted a partial referral.

So de facto couples will now have their superannuation able to be split in a final determination of the assets in a property settlement.

GARETH PARKER:

So under the previous law, it wasn't the case that superannuation was irrelevant to the calculations that a judge or the parties might come to themselves, it's just that there was no provision to adjust balances, is that right?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL:

Yeah, they just couldn't physically split those funds. So for instance, I mean a classic example of what would happen is that a de facto couple who had been together for many years might have had a little bit of equity in their house like $150,000. There might have $50,000 in the woman's superannuation and maybe a larger amount of $500,000 in the man's superannuation. So the court would take into account that they couldn't split the man's superannuation and give all of the equity in the house to the woman. The two problems with that was that the woman might have been entitled to 50 per cent but ends up with only 30 per cent because physically the superannuation couldn't be split and the man ends up with an asset which isn't liquid which you can't realise until a certain… ‘til the preservation age. So it wasn't working for anyone and thousands of couples were going through this basically because of a bit of a disagreement between the state and the Commonwealth about referral of powers in this area, and Scott Morrison has been very helpful. He just realised when it was explained to him that all this was doing was disadvantaging thousands of couples in WA. So it's been fixed.

GARETH PARKER:

Okay, so do you think it will make the system fairer?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL:

Oh absolutely. I mean, it just means that people will get what they're lawfully entitled to. I mean the problem was that in WA a matter was being finally settled on a basis where in any other place in Australia the woman might have gotten 45 per cent of the assets and the man 55 per cent, but that exact same case in WA was ending up with the woman with 30 per cent of the assets because you couldn't split the super, just unfair.

GARETH PARKER:

On a matter that we discussed a few weeks ago. This was this review into religious freedoms that Philip Ruddock was doing and we went through the reporting of it and it was- the original reports by Fairfax were a bit backwards but the upshot was is that there was considerable concern from parliamentarians and the community about religious schools' ability to discriminate against students who might be gay. You and the Opposition were both saying that well we want to fix this up and there was a promise about bringing in legislation urgently. Where is that issue up to?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL:

Yeah, so I've been negotiating with Labor on that and we've provided two drafts of a bill which would be the potential outcome here. We need a little bit more time to finalise those negotiations. The Prime Minister's view is that we should bring something into Parliament that both sides of politics can agree on so that when it's introduced we can move it through quickly and not have the sort of circumstances arise where these things can get twisted or misreported or misrepresented which causes a range of angst for people in the community who might be affected.

But your summary of it is about right.  The Sex Discrimination Act is set up in a way that defines a range of attributes like sexual orientation and gender identity then says that generally speaking people can't be discriminated against on those bases. But in 2013 Labor introduced amendments to allow an exemption for religious schools to discriminate against students on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. And what we're trying to do is find the best way to remove that but of course also allow some reasonable ability for schools and religious schools to keep order and rules in their schools. So that's the sort of debate that we're having with Labor at the moment. It's going well. It's very constructive.

GARETH PARKER:

There was going to be a bill brought in as a matter of urgency; you wanted it done by the end of the year. Is that still on track?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL:

Oh very much so. I mean we were hoping to bring in a bill in these two weeks but it's just as it has developed, these aren't uncomplicated matters and just need a little bit more time with Labor to finalise a form of amending provisions that we can all agree on. And once that's …

GARETH PARKER:

So you're still negotiating with them?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL:

Yeah, still negotiating and once that's agreed these things will move through parliament very quickly.

GARETH PARKER:

Okay. Spoke to your colleague Senator Dean Smith yesterday on the program and he made the observation that if the Liberal Party doesn't get serious about climate change it risks losing a generation of young voters. Do you agree with him?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL:

Not overly I must say. I mean I think that there's a lot of communication issues that my side of politics has with young people and we can do much better there but this is probably a great case in point because, like, we beat our first Kyoto target by 128 million tonnes. We're on track to beat our 2020 Kyoto target by almost 300 million tonnes. We meet all of our international commitments. We're one of the very few countries who do. We're on track to meet our 2013 Paris target. I mean the story that we've got to tell here is, I think, a really positive one and the way that we're able to meet our Paris target is in a sensible way that also at the same time doesn't overly damage our domestic economy. So the combination of emissions reductions funds, safeguard mechanisms, the renewable energy target, Clean Energy Finance Corporation, great projects like Snowy 2.0; these things are meaning that we are able to meet our targets.

GARETH PARKER:

Right but all that said …

ATTORNEY-GENERAL:

I think it's a great story ……

GARETH PARKER:

All that said, a number of people in your party say: get out of Paris; get out of Kyoto altogether; just abandon it; it's not important; it's irrelevant; it causes electricity prices to go up; mums and dads in the suburbs don't care about it; mums and dads in the country don't care about it; get rid of it; do nothing on climate change policy.

ATTORNEY-GENERAL:

Well there's some divergence of views in all parties but our party's position is to stand by the Paris targets and to achieve them and every indication is that we will achieve them absolutely and in a way that doesn't cause damage to our domestic economy. So the concept that somehow our performance in this area would be an unattractive political selling point to young Australians, I just- I don't respectfully agree with Dean on that because I think our performance in this area has been very, very good.

GARETH PARKER:

Okay, so he seemed to draw an analogy with the same sex marriage issue which he obviously was at the forefront of trying to get changed. Some in your party didn't want it changed, that's another area where there's divergence. Nothing wrong with divergence in a broad church but does the Liberal Party generally have an image problem with young people? It seems as though you're suggesting that, well I think you said we have difficulties communicating with young people.

ATTORNEY-GENERAL:

Well I think we need to communicate better with young people and I think same sex marriage is another example. I mean proportionately higher amounts of young Australians voted in favour of same sex marriage in the plebiscite and the story that we have to tell is notwithstanding a variety of equally fair-minded views in our party, just as there are in other parties I might add, but definitely yes, they exist in our party. It was our government who made it happen in what ultimately was a very sensible, orderly process.

The view that I always took was that something which was as significant a social change as this was always best achieved by first having some mechanism whether it was a referendum or a plebiscite whereby you could actually get a really clear picture of public sentiment and that is exactly what happened. So people have talked about this - many governments for a long period of time – and it was actually our government who made it happen. And I think that's something that we can be very proud of and we did it in a very orderly, civil way. And remember all the talk before the plebiscite, the world was going to end and it was going to be terribly destructive and it was going to be full of hate and it was a fantastic example of Australian civil society working well. And we structured it. So I think we've got to sell those sort of messages.

GARETH PARKER:

So you legalised gay marriage, you're going to meet your Paris targets: young people get on board.

ATTORNEY-GENERAL:

Well you know, there's always choices out there but we have to explain where we are performing well and on issues that mean something to the young people. That's the responsibility of every member of parliament.

GARETH PARKER:

Okay, appreciate your time this morning.

ATTORNEY-GENERAL:

Pleasure mate, cheers.

GARETH PARKER:

Christian Porter, the Attorney-General.