Monday, 26 November 2018

ABC – 7:30 with Leigh Sales



Subjects: Federal ICAC, Anti-corruption bodies, Liberal Party

LEIGH SALES: A short time ago, the Attorney-General Christian Porter joined me from Parliament House.

Attorney-General, can we start with a very basic question; details of how it would work aside, does the Government support the establishment of a national anti-corruption body?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Well, that particular label or term has become very intimately associated with the private members' bill that was put before the Parliament on the crossbench...

LEIGH SALES: No, but I'm actually not asking about that. I just want to - before we proceed into the detail - I just want to know broadly, does the Government support the idea of having a body like this or not?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: We've got 13 bodies at the moment. Central to them is the Commissioner for Law Enforcement Integrity. What we've committed to is a process that's going to reform the way in which those bodies operate. One of the various models that we're looking at, is the creation of new bodies or the extension of the jurisdiction and operation of existing bodies. So, I'm not about to guess that, at the end of that process,  although, that process is well advanced. But what we are committed to is real change to the way in which our present integrity arrangements work.

LEIGH SALES: Why do you think that change is needed?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Well, I think that over time, you have to constantly reassess the environment you're working in. Having 13 agencies in this multi-agency approach where each of them look at corruption integrity in different parts of the public service, I think can be argued appropriately to create overlap; duplication; a level of confusion. So, the present arrangements are not working poorly, but there is clearly room to have them work better.

LEIGH SALES: So, is it possible then that you could be looking at some level of consolidation where you do end up with some sort of powerful overarching national anti-corruption body?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Well, the three options are the private members' bill option - which is a brand new model transplanted above everything else based on New South Wales. You could look at enlarging and growing the jurisdiction, resourcing and funding of an existing agency or you could merger agencies to try and diminish overlap and duplication - and they're the three basic models and we've been considering each…

LEIGH SALES: And have you got a preference yet?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Well, I don't want to foreshadow that preference, but we've been considering each of those very, very carefully. But what I think I can safely say is after seeing the bill that looked at the third of those models from the private members' perspective today, we would not support that type of model.

LEIGH SALES: Is it possible to take that private members' bill and amend it so that it is workable or do you think you'd have to go from scratch with something else?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: This is not meant as a criticism of Cathy McGowan or other private members - it's a very difficult thing to draft a bill like that from opposition - but, my answer would be no. The fundamental problem with that…

LEIGH SALES: No, it can't be amended, you're saying?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: No, it can't be amended to make it workable. The fundamental problem with it is it takes such an astonishingly low level definition of corruption, and then applies it retrospectively. But across the hundreds of thousands of civil servants at a federal level - including journalists - you basically transform minor errors of judgement - which might be dealt with under codes of conduct or minor disciplinary matters - into potential findings of corrupt conduct. Now, that's not fair. It's not appropriate. It doesn't actually do what you want any change to do, which is allow you to better combat, detect, and prevent serious instances of corruption where they do arise.

LEIGH SALES: If we can turn to the election result in Victoria on the weekend; what do you think is the message for the Liberal Party?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: I think that the message for the Liberal Party is to message better. I mean, I think that as a government, federally, we have done some very, very good work. I mean the economic fundamentals for Australia are really, remarkably good. We have very, very low unemployment, we've moved 150,000 people from welfare into work; 100,000 more young people have got jobs. The economic fundamentals are very good and I think that we have to sell our achievements much better than we have done in recent times.

LEIGH SALES: So what you're really saying to voters there though is: our policies are fine, we're doing a great job, you guys just don't understand it?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: No, I'm not. I mean, clearly, a range of events have diminished our ability to sell the good work of this Government which has been fundamentally economic, no one would deny that fact, and we have to move quickly and substantially past that.

LEIGH SALES: Your colleague, Scott Ryan, said today of the Liberal Party's future, I guess: I want to cast the net wide in the Menzies and Howard traditions to give people the reason to be Liberals, not come up with litmus tests and say - if you don't hold this particular view on a social issue or if you don't hold this particular view on climate change or renewable energy - that somehow you're not a real Liberal. What do you think of that?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Well, my view is that families in the Australian suburbs need to understand how the Government is helping them. And so...

LEIGH SALES: No, no, just can I - sorry, can I just get you to address the question? He is making the point that the way the Liberal Party is being defined by some people in the Liberal Party, it makes Australians feel excluded.

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: All these internal definitions, people are interested in outcomes. Are their kids more likely to get a job? Under our Government, the answer to that is yes. Are they more likely to see their house values increase steadily over time? Under our Government, the answer is yes. Under the other people who want to get rid of negative gearing and tax properties, the answer is your house price will go down 10 per cent. So we need to communicate that outcomes are better, economically and for suburban families under a Liberal Government, which they invariably are and not get caught up in all of this wrangling around alternative issues about philosophy and ideology and organisation. People want to know about outcomes and we have delivered really good outcomes, it's just communicating those outcomes, I think, that has been an issue.

LEIGH SALES: You're basically suggesting that you've got all the policy settings right, that it's just a communications issue. Do you not agree with some of your colleagues, for example, that the party's performance on women, that its performance on climate change are off-putting to a segment of people who would normally vote for the Liberal Party?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Well I mean, I again think we need to communicate the essence of what we've achieved in those areas better. I mean we are meeting our previous targets. We are going to meet our promised targets and we are doing that in a sensible way, which is not going to cause massive increases in electricity prices. Now that is a very good outcome, but it is an outcome that needs to be sold. I mean we are spending more, in fact record amounts more on childcare, on Medicare, on health, on schools, but somehow or other, that is not quite translating in the messaging and I think that we just need to be crisper and clearer and not get in our own way.

LEIGH SALES: Christian Porter, thanks very much for joining us.