Thursday, 07 February 2019

 6PR - Mornings with Gareth Parker



Subjects: Election, Financial Services Royal Commission, offshore processing

GARETH PARKER: Christian Porter is the Attorney-General. He re-joins me in 2019, for the first time he's here in the studio as well. It's going to be a very big year of course, federal election not far away and his team is pushing it right uphill. Christian, good morning.

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Morning, Gareth. Well, it's going to be a competitive election as they all are, mate. I don't think I'd say that we're pushing it uphill.

GARETH PARKER:I would say you'll be pushing it uphill.​

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: It's going to be hard work, there's no question about it.

GARETH PARKER: Yep. We'll come back to the election because there's some real issues that voters really care about. The Banking Royal Commission has come out. I think that Kenneth Hayne, it was open to him to break up the banks if he wanted to, or recommend that. He's decided not to. He's made other recommendations that are particularly going to affect the mortgage broking industry, and there's stuff for superannuation and others too. Bill Shorten wants you all to go back to Canberra to pass laws to implement the recommendations as a matter of priority. Is that something the Government will do?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: I just think that's political nonsense and that's just point scoring. There are 76 recommendations, we've effectively accepted all of them. There are some issues that require consultation and management around the mortgage broker issue, which you've mentioned, which is not uncomplicated and there's 16,000 mortgage brokers in Australia and what Kenneth Hayne recommended effectively was that the consumers pay their fees rather than the banks. That's an issue that needs to be sort of handled carefully in terms of the way in which you reform there. And we've said that we'd put in place a best-interest duty and ban trailing commissions and volume-based bonuses for new loans for mortgage brokers. But there's 16,000 people who make their living out of mortgage broking, and they're one group that has to be consulted with. So the idea that this going to happen in days or weeks …

GARETH PARKER: And they're hot under the collar about it as well.

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Yeah and you'd understand why. And additionally, the consumer here would end up effectively footing the bill and the banks would be relieved of paying mortgage brokers. So that's something that needs some care in the handling of. But in effect, we've accepted all 76 recommendations. We've done a lot around mortgage brokers, and I've mentioned three of the additional things that we're doing. But the idea that you can do this in days or weeks is just ludicrous and it has to be done carefully and thoughtfully. But that's just politics.

GARETH PARKER: Was Hayne tough enough?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: My view is that, having taken the last couple of days to read through the report in full, that he is right in his conclusions. I think that his recommendations are sound and sober. You'll always have arguments as to whether or not there were other things that could or could not have been recommended. But one of the things that he did note, Ken Hayne, was that - I think in his words - he was operating on a major artery of the Australian economy and that's not something that you want to leave on the table for too long. So my view is that there’s some very, very strong recommendations in the 76. But in addition, government's not limited nearly to those recommendations. I mean, we as a Government have done additional things and are intending to do additional things. But I guess you'd be alluding to the fact that there wasn't an ultimate recommendation for a mandatory breakup of the wealth management banking arms of banks.

GARETH PARKER: Yeah. Which is where the cultural problems really started. It was the boiler room sales from the life insurance industry infecting the sort of formerly sober and staid banking industry, and then all of the sudden your bank manager became salesman.

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Well, it's actually hard after reading the report to work out where the cultural problem started. But what we do know is that they infected every single part of the banking industry. But yeah, that was an issue that you raised. My observation about his recommendations and the way in which we will institute them is the key to the recommendations is ensuring that ASIC and APRA - as the regulators - take the absolute strongest position and litigate and prosecute banks where they offend against laws of the Commonwealth that exist and that will soon exist.

GARETH PARKER: They've been too close to the banks in the past, APRA and ASIC?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: They've just been massive underperformers, is what they've been. Like full stop, and we've taken great efforts to better resourced those two organisations to completely change the management and control, particularly at ASIC. So these organisations must do much, much better in the future. So you can have laws which we have and which will be improved, and there are laws in Parliament at the moment that strengthen our hand against the banks and white collar crime. And if Bill Shorten was really serious about timing on these issues, he’d pass those tomorrow. But there's no point in having stronger laws if the enforcing agencies for those laws don't exact every single power that they have at their control. So I've been working closely with ASIC, as the Treasurer has, to ensure that they're better resourced and that they're going to do the things that people expect in the past they should have done.

GARETH PARKER: I expect that Bill Shorten and his team will remind Australians every day between now and the election that you and your Government were opposed to setting up the Banking Royal Commission in the first place, and I think that they will hang that like a millstone around your neck, politically speaking. It's a pretty hard one for you to defend.

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Well, I mean there's always politics to these matters. But our job as a Government is to …

GARETH PARKER: They’ve got a pretty good point though, don't they?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Well, I don't; I personally was astonished at what Hayne uncovered in the Royal Commission. I mean, I thought that there were problems inside the banks and we did a lot of legislative work to deal with problems that we knew about before the Royal Commission. Of course, we did call it. People will argue whether or not it should have been called earlier or later. We devised terms of reference …

GARETH PARKER: You called it after the banks ask you to.

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Well, they obviously wrote but that was not determinative in whether or not we were calling the Royal Commission. I think one of the things that had a great impact on the outcome …

GARETH PARKER: Well hang on, it's sort of was because Malcolm Turnbull referenced that letter at the time when he actually announced it. So I don't want any rewriting of history.

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Well, there was much more going on than that, and of course, that's a decision of the entire Cabinet. One of the things, I think, that had a massive impact on us as a government was when it became clear that the Commonwealth Bank had breached 36,000 counts of money laundering laws. And so, I personally as Attorney-General assisted and signed off on the settlement to that matter which was $900 million worth of fines being paid by the Commonwealth Bank. So it's not as if close attention wasn't being paid to the bank, but I think the royal commission recommendations are sound, they will affect good results and they will all be adopted.

GARETH PARKER: Last question on the banks because there's plenty to get to - are any bankers going to go to jail?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Well, reading through the royal commission, I think some would be surprised if there weren't convictions out of this. But of course, that's a matter for courts and for prosecutors to bring prosecutions and for courts to make determinations on. But I think, I mean, people who have read the report, I think that they would expect, as I expect, that there would be successful prosecutions arising out of the behaviour.

GARETH PARKER: I said it was going to be my last one, but I've got one more. You've indicated already that you want the federal court to deal with these prosecutions and there's extra resources in place for that to happen; any consideration given to allowing the state courts to deal with it because criminal assets confiscation legislation could be brought into play?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Well it still could be based on a Commonwealth prosecution. So the point there is-

GARETH PARKER: Seize a few bankers assets and that sharpens them on.

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Yeah. But both the Commonwealth and the states have confiscation legislation and both of them in effect, together, cover the field. So it won't detract in any way from the ability of the Commonwealth or the states to seize assets. But the reason that we're doing that and that's something additional to what the royal commission's recommended, is it was taking in excess of two years for a white collar crime matter to go to the courts and be completed and this is too long. And that sort of justice delayed is a major problem. So we think if we bring it back into the federal jurisdiction, better resources, that we can do it quicker.

GARETH PARKER: Front page of the newspapers today say that the Home Affairs Department and ASIO - amazing how that ASIO advice leaked, astonishing - but that the advice from the security agencies is that if Kerryn Phelps' Bill on asylum seekers and medical treatment passes, then the people smuggler trade will restart. True or untrue?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: True. I mean, look, we have removed 8000 children from immigration detention. So the legacy that we inherited from the Labor's dysfunctional years of border protection was 8000 children in detention. What appears on the front page of The Australian today is exactly what we had been saying as a Government and individual Cabinet Ministers and the Prime Minister. There are three things that hold border protection policy together: turn backs where they're safe, regional processing, temporary protection visas. Labor has already said that they'll get rid of temporary protection visas. This Kerryn Phelps Bill, in effect, ends regional processing because it contracts out the decision as to whether or not someone in a regional processing centre like Nauru or Manus should come to Australia - it contracts that decision out to doctors who may well themselves have activist views about the wisdom or un-wisdom of offshore processing. So if that Bill passes, that is the end to one of the three things that makes our border protection system work. The boats will restart and the way in which you ensure there aren't children in detention is not to restart the trade. So this would be a disaster if this private member's Bill, this amendment's passed.

GARETH PARKER: Your colleague and friend Michael Keenan is leaving Government at the next election; Minister of course, he was on Breakfast with Baz and Millsy this morning talking about Medicare refunds. Does his decision mean that the Liberal Party loses his seat of Stirling?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: No, I don't think so. And it’s obviously a matter for the Liberal Party and the pre-selection processes to take their course and there’re a number of people mentioned that'd all be great candidates and lovely to have a female candidate in that seat. But look. Michael's just, he's been there for 15 years. He's 45 years old, he's spent a third of his life in Federal Parliament and I think just like many other people on both sides politics, after the Christmas season leading up to an election, people make decisions about their career. But Stirling is eminently winnable and we will win it. I mean, I'm on a 3.6 per cent margin and I believe that I can win a seat of Pearce for the Liberal Party and for the Government. So I think a good candidate is going to win Stirling.

GARETH PARKER: What will he do next? I presume he'll land in the corporate sector leveraging his contacts in government into a highly paid corporate job.

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Well I think like all of us Gareth, in politics, like you've got mortgages to pay and the job stops and you've got to find another job. So I wish him all the best in finding another job. He's a smart bloke, as you say, he's a friend of mine and I'll miss him from politics. But I think that there'll be any number of people who'd use his skills and I mean he’s a Masters degree holder in history I think from Cambridge

GARETH PARKER: So maybe teaching’s in his future.

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Absolutely. Well I'm sure that he could impart some wisdom and knowledge on the next generation of Australians for sure, but he may be looking at other matters as well.

GARETH PARKER: I've asked you this question, I've lost count how many times, so I'm not going to ask you the same question but I'm going to put a different twist on it and it's about Julie Bishop's seat of Curtin.

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Never gets boring.

GARETH PARKER: Well I wonder about that. Will you rule out ever being the member for Curtin?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Look, I've said that I am committed to Pearce, I'm running up to Pearce in the next election. People have asked me if I'd moved to Curtin, look..

GARETH PARKER: And you've said - to remind people - you've always said you're not going to run in Curtin at the next election. But what I'm asking this time is something slightly different; do you rule out ever being the Member for Curtin?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Well I haven't thought a day past the next election. So some people who leave politics look for other jobs outside or inside politics, or near to politics or far away from politics. I have not given a day's thought to after the election because my commitment is to win the seat. So what I'm planning to do is to win the seat for the Government, have the Government returned and the reason I want to do that is I want to see us continue to create jobs. I want to see us hold the border security protection together. I think a Shorten government would be a disaster. I don't want to see all the people in my electorate who own homes have the value of their home decrease by 10 per cent overnight because of a property tax on them. So I am about winning my seat, I'm committed to that.

GARETH PARKER: Are you a Kenny G fan?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Mate, I understand he's coming on.

GARETH PARKER: Right after this.

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Is that right? Yeah. Fifth biggest seller of records in the world.

GARETH PARKER: That's my understanding. 75 million.

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: More than Simon and Garfunkel.

GARETH PARKER: 75 million records.

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Yeah. I must admit that on a Friday night if I go home and have a beer at home, I'm not cracking on the Kenny G, but I'm sure he's a great bloke.

GARETH PARKER: He won't take it personally. I'm going to talk to him next. Thanks for that. Christian Porter the Attorney-General and Kenny G the sax master after this.