Wednesday, 19 September 2018

ABC - 7:30 with Leigh Sales



Subjects: Food safety, women in the Liberal Party

LEIGH SALES: And I was joined earlier by the Attorney-General, Christian Porter. Attorney-General, thank you for your time.

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Leigh, good to be here.

LEIGH SALES: The Government says it wants to calm community anxiety, its encouraged people to keep buying and eating strawberries, and yet you've held press conferences today with yourself, the Prime Minister, the Home Affairs Minister, and the Head of the Australian Federal Police. Isn't elevating it to that status counterproductive to your message about business as usual?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Well, we took a view over the last 24 hours in assessing the law that exists on our books that there was just something that needed to be done to draw a line under the behaviour that's occurring. And frankly, what was concerning us was the fact that we've now seen over 100 incidents. And what looks like a fairly isolated incident in Queensland has spread across Australia, including what look to be copycat-type of offences. So it was, I think, incumbent on us to look at the existing state of the law and see whether or not it was, in all the circumstances, adequate. And we just saw ways in which we could strengthen the legal response, make the offences stronger, and deliver four new offences to deal with the behaviour where the behaviour is stupid and reckless. So..

LEIGH SALES: But that's different to my question, which was, were you elevating it by giving it the Prime Ministerial treatment?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Well, I mean, I think this hornets' nest is, unfortunately, already stirred, Leigh. This is unfortunately an unprecedented occurrence of sabotage and contamination of Australia's food. Now we say that people should respond in the best and fairest and calmest way, and the best thing that we can all do is still buy the produce and still use the produce, exacting a sufficient level of care when we do so. But we want to support, and I've got many of them in my electorate, we want to support all these farmers. But it doesn't mean that we shouldn't acknowledge that there are things that we need to do and say, to provide a very strong deterrence message for people out there who seem to be inclined to do this terrible, stupid, criminal and reckless thing that is really hurting people on the ground.

LEIGH SALES: You mentioned deterrence; why do you think that 15 years would be a deterrent when the current penalty of 10 years has not been?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Well, it's usually the case that stronger penalties do provide a greater deterrence effect, but that's not the only thing we're doing. There are four offences on the Commonwealth books that deal with the contamination of food and as you've noted, we're increasing the penalty for those four offences. But they presently rely on a standard of demonstrating beyond reasonable doubt the intention of the person contaminating the food to cause loss or create alarm or cause fear. And we're creating four entirely new offences, where the mental standard will be recklessness. So someone who contaminates food and is reckless to the outcome - they may not have a specific intention to cause loss or alarm or fear or damage to a business, but they're reckless toward that outcome, they will very shortly be staring down the barrel of a very serious offence, which would carry a maximum of 10 years' imprisonment. And that has to be, and should be, a very significant deterrent to the terrible behaviour that we're seeing.

LEIGH SALES: On another matter, do you believe that the Liberal Party has a problem with sexism? Some of your own female MPs think so.

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Well, I don't. I mean, I can only, talk about the behaviour that I see and experience and the standards that we try and hold ourselves to. My honest and earnest answer to you is I haven't seen the sort of things that some people have said, either through hearsay or second-hand, caused them concern. I just haven't seen that sort of behaviour.

LEIGH SALES:You say you don't think there's a problem with sexism, but doesn't it give you pause to see so many Liberal women sticking their necks out on this issue, including senior women in your team like Julie Bishop and Kelly O'Dwyer?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Well I think what it gives me personally, pause for, Leigh, is just to look at personal standards and those in your office and, you know, I think that in politics we could all be, frankly, a little bit gentler and kinder with each other, whether we're being gentler or kinder with members of the opposite sex or the opposite party, frankly. So, you know to that extent, I've sort of had a little bit of cause for reflection about that general issue, but I sort of haven't experienced it in a way through a gender lens.

LEIGH SALES: And have you sat down with any of your female colleagues to ask what their experience is?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Well, not specifically with respect to the last several weeks. But, you know, the thing is that...

LEIGH SALES: …what about just generally about women in politics? Do you ever talk about those issues with your female colleagues?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Yeah, of course. I mean, you know, I've got a daughter; I'm married to a lovely person who's a lawyer and has been involved in male-dominated professions for a long time. So it's something that's constantly on your mind, and it's something that I talk to my staff about and that from time to time, of course, is a subject matter of conversation with your colleagues. But this is about every individual, I think, holding themselves to high standards and, as I say, I think that there probably is room in politics to be a bit kinder to each other.

LEIGH SALES: Let me ask you a question that women in politics are always asked: you have a young family; how do you juggle your job as Attorney-General with your parental responsibilities?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Well, it's not easy, and I think it's significantly harder, in many respects for women who are holding high parliamentary office. And probably that's one of the reasons why the sort of life span of modern politicians is shorter than it used to be because it's quite difficult.

LEIGH SALES: But just you personally - how do you actually handle that juggle?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL:Well, you know, not always perfectly well. It's a bit of a red-hot mess to be honest, Leigh. But I'm no different from any other parent. People always seem to you know fill their nappies at the wrong time, and you're getting in and out of cars and on and off planes and it's not easy. And when you've got a family where both parents work, that increases the level of difficulty and you just seem to get by day to day, and week to week. But I don't think that makes me or any of my parliamentary colleagues much different from a lot of modern families with fly-in, fly-out work and dual-income families. Life's changing and it's not always easy. And at least, I guess, having had that experience, it makes you understanding and empathetic for the hundreds of thousands of people in my electorate and other electorates who've got the same sort of issues and problems.

LEIGH SALES: I'm not, you know, trying to seem judgemental or anything, but just that it is a question that I know women get asked a lot; do you think that your wife carries more of the home load that enables you to do your, you know, very significant job?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: There's no doubt about that. But yet my wife, whilst she's on maternity leave at the moment, she works as a law lecturer and works very hard, and trying to find balance for both of us is always difficult and I think it is, for so many families in my electorate. And I've got a big fly-in fly-out workforce in my electorate and quite often you've got dual incomes, and then dad - or often mum - is flying up north to the mines. You know what, it's hard and it's messy, but it's joyful.

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


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