Thursday, 01 March 2018

6PR – Mornings with Gareth Parker



Subjects: Michaelia Cash comments; Julie Bishop travel; National Plan for Elder Abuse; Drug-testing trial

GARETH PARKER: Christian Porter is the Attorney-General; he joins me on the line. Morning, Christian.

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Gareth, good to be here.

GARETH PARKER: Should your colleague Michaelia Cash have introduced to the public debate rumours about female staffers working in Bill Shorten's office?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Yeah, look, obviously like most people in the building I saw the exchange. I would say that it is a most regrettable exchange. I think clearly Michaelia regrets the exchange and she withdrew it. And I think that that withdrawal speaks for itself as to the question you've asked. It shouldn't have happened.

GARETH PARKER: It was a qualified withdrawal: ‘if anyone's offended’.

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Yeah well, I mean as you'd appreciate many withdrawals are of that formulation, but it is a withdrawal. It was a regrettable exchange. It's clearly regretted by Michaelia; she withdrew it. And you know mate there's so many things here that actually affect people's lives on a day to day basis. I sort of feel maybe like this is the time to move on from that one.

GARETH PARKER: Okay, so I mean, I will just ask one more question. These things get heated in Parliamentary debates, in estimates and so on and there was it seems at some point yesterday an attempt to defend Senator Cash's conduct by saying that well, Labor Senator Doug Cameron was needling her about staff members and she retaliated in that way. You don't seek to make that defence?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: No, look I mean I've watched it, but not more than once, Gareth. Like it's actually, there's a lot of real work going on and I've watched it but not more than once.

But I think what happens is that you see that sort of flash point that occurs and you're right, tempers get frayed and very often that comes at the end of four hours' worth of a session in estimates with the odd very quick toilet break or the like, so tempers do get frayed, people do get tired and sometimes the responses aren't what we would hope for if you were in a kind of fresher state.

Like, they are very difficult adversarial processes but as I say, it's very regrettable. She regrets it. It's withdrawn. And there's a lot of real work to do.

GARETH PARKER: Alright, and we'll ask you about some of that in a moment but I need to bring you to a story in The Australian newspaper this morning about another of your colleagues, the Deputy Leader of the Liberal Party, the Foreign Minister Julie Bishop.

Now, she claims, under the entitlements, travel expenses for her boyfriend David Panton. Those claims have tallied $32,000 since 2015. Now I guess that's fair enough if David Panton is her spouse. I don't quibble with that. But while claiming that entitlement, apparently David Panton is not listed as her spouse for the purposes of the disclosure requirements on the register of financial interest. That, to me, seems a bit strange. In fact, it doesn't seem right at all.

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Well, I guess you're asking me to go into a bunch of sort of personal relations that I just don't have much knowledge of or any particular desire to comment on, but what I would say is that Julie is utterly fastidious in observing all of the rules and I have absolutely no doubt that she's observed all of the rules in this case. But as to getting into the ins and outs of the nature of the relationship and how it should be classified, mate, I just don't think that that's something that I'm particularly interested in getting into.

GARETH PARKER: Okay, but as a matter of public perception, you claim the money to be reimbursed for travel as a partner on one hand but not then detail the disclosure requirements for a partner on another.

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Well, I understand the issue that you raise but as I say, I think Julie Bishop is utterly fastidious in her observation of all of the rules and requirements with respect to the workplace expenses and entitlements and so forth.

I mean she's just; I don't think there's ever been any suggestion that she's anything other than utterly observant of all of those rules and going beyond that, it kind of requires a bit of comment about things that I just don't have knowledge on.

GARETH PARKER: Alright, we'll get onto the substance of governing, which will be a relief to everyone.


GARETH PARKER: The National Plan for Elder Abuse. It's something that you launched a week or two ago. We did have a bit of a discussion on this program at the time as a result of the national conference. But just tell us why this is important and what the National Plan is actually about.

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Right, well it is a critical area and only getting more important. By the middle of this century, about a quarter of all Australians will be over 65. That, we know, will definitely happen. What we know is in other countries they've gone into quite detailed data analysis and building an evidence base to give them an idea about the prevalence of elder abuse, and that might be like financial abuse, where people suffer from duress or intimidation or just plain fraud to deal with their assets in a way that is not in their best interests as older Australians. It can be physical abuse. We've seen this terrible set of circumstances arise in a mental health facility for elderly people in South Australia; a report's come out in recent days.

We, all of us, would have heard stories about these types of things happening inside our immediate and extended families and in some countries, they've done research that suggests that up to 12 per cent of the over-65 population become the victims of elder abuse in either financial or a physical setting.

But in Australia, we actually don't even yet have the evidence base that tells us about the prevalence of it. Is it occurring mostly in financial settings or physical settings? How often does it occur? And what Malcolm Turnbull did at the last election was set aside $15 million to build that evidence base and that will be with us very shortly and we've now committed to using that evidence base to work with all of the states and territories through the Council of Attorney-General to have consistent best practice responses to the types of issues that this evidence will clearly show us exist and are becoming more prevalent.

GARETH PARKER: We've heard some horror stories over the journey on this program and others like it in other media cases and it's just such a tragic situation when families are sort of pulled apart by what effectively amounts, I think, to greed, maybe there some desperation in some of the cases, but it is just not on to pick off vulnerable people, especially in a family situation.

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: No, and the psychology of it is often, yes, of course there is greed there, but people often convince themselves that they're simply getting an earlier access to something that they're entitled to by way of inheritance anyway. Now that is a very wrong way in which to view these matters, but clearly there's a psychology in play here which adds to the prevalence of it.

But it can be as simple as fixing a range of inconsistencies between the states. And there's going to be many things that we'll look at, but one example that was raised with me is that half of the states have central registries for enduring power of attorneys and half of them don't.

So if you're a financial planner or even a counter-front officer in a bank, and if someone presents with their elderly father and an enduring power of attorney and starts to want to access a bank account, and you think that there's something not quite right about that situation or something about the enduring power of attorney that doesn't ring true, in some states you can check it, and in some states you can't.

And the Bankers Association have said that one of the difficulties is when they see the early stages of concern for financial abuse of an elder, there's no single place that they can go to. So these are the issues that we are making a really focused effort to address, and what I found interesting in this is as a society, we've been very fast - quite properly - to address abuse against children, domestic violence, but our largest and probably most vulnerable minority is going to be older Australians, which we will all become in due course, and as we live longer and mental frailties become a larger part of ageing, this is going to get worse unless we take this considered effort to fix the problems

GARETH PARKER: And I agree with all of that. On another matter, the Government has this week made some announcements about the drug testing trial for welfare recipients in Mandurah. Are you confident that that will change behaviour?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: I think that this is worth trying. I am confident that it will change behaviour and part of my confidence is having worked in and around the drug courts in WA and they've been a very successful model and the model there is that you divert people with a compulsory mechanism into treatment, which is what we're trying to do with the drug trials. And of course we've said that one of them would be around Mandurah. We've got to get the legislation through Parliament. We weren't successful on the first attempt but we are definitely going to have another go and we'll keep bringing it back until we get the support.

But I do think that there's room to move with the Senate. The Nick Xenophon Team members have changed quite significantly and I think that there's a strong possibility that we might have more success on a second attempt. But you know what, Gareth? Drugs and alcohol are a major barrier to employment. All of the evidence shows that drug taking amongst people who are unemployed is far in excess of those in the employed population. We know it's a major barrier to employment. We can keep going on doing things the way we have, which is paying welfare in a way that gets directed, in some instances, into the hands of drug dealers or we can try something new as a trial, measure it; if it's not effective, well, so be it. But this at least deserves legislation to allow us to trial it and test it and see if it improves the situation.

GARETH PARKER: Alright, thanks for your time this morning, Christian.

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Thank you, Gareth. Cheers.