Tuesday, 12 June 2018

6PR with Gareth Parker



Subjects: Foreign Interference Bill; Tax Reform; Redress

GARETH PARKER: Christian Porter's the Attorney-General. Would you ever fly in a windowless plane, Christian?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: I haven't really thought about that.

GARETH PARKER: No, nor would I until about seven minutes ago.

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: I did land on the deck of an aircraft carrier in a Grumman with the United States Naval Aviators once, and it wasn't much in the way of windows, but yeah.

GARETH PARKER: That would have been quite an experience.

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Oh, it was fantastic. It was the USS Carl Vinson, I think it was. But yeah, they're awesome pieces of kit, those aircraft carriers.


ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Yeah, more Goose than Maverick, I’d have to confess, but there you go.

GARETH PARKER: We look forward to the sequel. Lots to talk about today. Can we start with this foreign interference bill which we've talked about a little bit. It sounds as though, reading the tea leaves, that the Liberal Party and the Labor Party have agreed a deal on this, and the National Security Committee that Andrew Hastie chairs – the intelligence committee – is due to table a report this afternoon that's going to usher through the passage of these laws. Is that about the state of play?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Yeah, look, it's a fair summary. When you say that a deal has been struck – I mean, the nature of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security is probably the most important parliamentary committee that there is – is that it is a deal-making committee.

I mean, it's about assessing legislation to improve it and this is legislation that's obviously about drawing really delicate balances between equally important and competing principles and issues. So there've been 10 tranches that have gone through this committee to date and they have resulted in 290 amendments, so some of them substantial, many of them technical and of a drafting nature.

I know that the committee, which is chaired by Andrew Hastie and the deputy chair is a Labor member of Parliament, Anthony Byrne – who are both fine individuals – have been working very hard. And that is about discussion, dialogue, debate, compromise – It's the best parts of the parliamentary system.

I understand they're going to table their report later on today, and it'll be a huge step forward in terms of our ability to get this legislation moved through Parliament, I would expect in the next sitting week that we have scheduled, and I would offer to all of your listeners that this is a really important step forward in securing Australia and our economic and domestic, democratic system against foreign interference, against espionage. All of which have become unfortunately regular and heightened features of modern Australian political life.

GARETH PARKER: Well, it's a very hot topic, particularly China. And I've got to say, the piece on the editorial pages – on the opinion pages – of The West Australian this morning I found pretty interesting. It's by Lei Kezhong who's China's Consul-General in Perth, and I want to just read you this paragraph in particular and get your reaction to it.


GARETH PARKER: Since the second half of last year - the Consul writes - some Australian media have repeatedly fabricated news stories about so-called Chinese influence and infiltration in Australia. And some Australian politicians - I presume including the fellow we just talked about, Andrew Hastie - have also made irresponsible remarks which are not conducive to the mutual political trust between the two countries, putting our bilateral relations in jeopardy. What do you make of that?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Well there was also an interesting paragraph in that same op-ed, I think we talked about the same one where the Consul-General to WA, Chinese Consul-General, says: China adheres to the principle of non-interference and other country's internal affairs, which is welcome news.

But we live in a robust democracy. I would probably argue one of the most, if not the most, robust on earth. Our media is stringent, investigative, they chase every rabbit down every hole. The fact is that our media are not in any way controlled by the government and they will make statements from time to time about events and issues and occurrences – those statements that are made by free and open press in Australia might be loved or not loved by governments of any particular country overseas. But the reality is that that type of free inquiry, free speech and freedom of political communication is just an inherent and immutable part of our system. And you know, the media reporting on these issues is not anything to be unexpected. It is totally to be expected. And it's a healthy, critical part of our democratic system.

GARETH PARKER: The idea that Australian media are repeatedly fabricating news stories about Chinese influence and infiltration, given that you're about to bring forward a bill that deals exactly with this, surely he is having a lend?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Well, it's a simple thing to say that the media are fabricating a story, but which particular story is it that is said to be fabricated? And you have to test any proposition that's put in the media. And the fact is that we have such a robust open system of free political communication and free media and free press, but all stories are checked in the court of public opinion. Media stories are checked by other media – the level of scrutiny is just enormous. And I'm just…

GARETH PARKER: Okay, but more pertinently...

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: … I'm perplexed about what is said to be the fabrication in all this.

GARETH PARKER: So more pertinently, as the Attorney-General, as with all the information that comes across your desk, is it the case that the Chinese are trying to influence and infiltrate Australia and its institutions?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Well, our bill is not designed, nor is it meant, to be applicable to any particular place or country. But what has been stated by people as senior and sober and serious as Duncan Lewis, the Director-General of ASIO, in a number of parliamentary committees which were assessing the landscape in this area, is that Australia faces an unprecedented era of espionage and foreign interference.

Worse than it was in a proportional sense during the Cold War, and it is an absolute and fundamental requirement of government to prepare the nation against that and for that. And part of what we are doing with this bill is completely redefining the offences that exist, to be able to prosecute things and occurrences such as espionage – such as sabotage.

I mean, there's – do people sort of realise which is critical to this bill that prior to the passage of this bill, and we think it'll be passed soon, there was no criminal offence for the theft of trade secrets. And the way that modern espionage works is unfortunately that is often the case that you can do as much damage to the national and governmental and democratic interests of a country by stealing a trade secret – which might not be uniquely held by a government but might be held by trade and commerce.<

So rewriting these laws isn't about any single country other than Australia. It's about protecting our democratic system and our national interests from anyone who might want to interfere in our affairs to our detriment.

GARETH PARKER: Alright. Is the government's tax plan - it's tax cut plan for personal income taxes - anti-woman?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: I mean, look, the only distinguishing feature of any tax system is your income. Like that determines how much tax you get paid. Not your gender, not your race, not your religion. I mean pulling out the…

GARETH PARKER: Chris Bowen says all the tax cuts go to men.

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Well, it is just a ridiculous bottom of the barrel argument. The reality is that the amount of tax that you pay is a proportionate calculation on your income. What we as a government want to ensure is that whether you are a man or a woman, or whatever your race or religion. If you're an Australian taxpayer, we want you to pay a less tax and we want to ensure that there's a flat rate of tax between all income earners between $40,000 and $200,000 – irrespective of your personal circumstances, the colour of your skin, your gender, where you live, and we think that's as fair as a system can get.

I mean, pulling out a gender card on this, it really is beyond comprehension.

GARETH PARKER: Okay. You're meeting your state attorney-general counterparts and territory attorney-general counterparts in Perth tomorrow. Presume you'll be talking – among the things you'll be taking about is the redress scheme. How long do you think until WA signs on?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Look, I think that whilst the negotiations are being conducted by the new Minister for Social Services, Dan Tehan, I understand that they're going well – I won't get in the middle of them, for want of doing any damage to them – but I understand that they're going well and I would expect that WA, whilst it'll be the last state to come on board, will come on board.

We've obviously had, now, enormous buy-in from large churches and charities - the Anglican church, the Catholic church. So we are really now achieving something which many people said was unachievable, which is near universal coverage of all of the people across Australia, irrespective of where they live or where the harm occurred to them at what institution – universal coverage in terms of the redress scheme. So it's advancing very, very positively.

The other thing I'd note is that we've also put out, and if you go online you'll see that there are ways in which you can offer suggestions and consultation and views to the government about how the apology might be structured, which is happening later this year. So that's just another way that victims can play a role in the process about healing and closure for this very difficult episode.

GARETH PARKER: Alright. I'd urge them to do that. Thanks, Christian.

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Thank you very much. Cheers, Gareth.

GARETH PARKER: Christian Porter, the Attorney-General.