Monday, 12 March 2018

ABC Radio Perth Breakfast




PAULA KRUGER:That's John Quigley speaking on Breakfast last Friday. His federal counterpart, Christian Porter, joins us now. Good morning, Attorney-General.


PAULA KRUGER: Does John Quigley have the right to be frustrated with the Commonwealth Government?

CHRISTIAN PORTER: Look, honestly, does anyone really believe this? This issue has been consulted extensively for twelve months. The idea that John Quigley expects victims of child sex abuse in institutions to believe that the reason that they haven't signed on is because, after twelve months, they wrote a letter and they're still waiting for the response to that letter, on issues such as whether or not individuals who have had terms of imprisonment will be able to access…. I mean, the reality is that all the information has been free-flowing.

What we've had with New South Wales and Victoria was a fantastically constructive, collegiate process. They have enough information to join. When they ask questions, they receive responses. The idea that somehow this is a lack of information is just, it just doesn't pass the pub test. I mean, people just don't believe this, and neither should they.

PAULA KRUGER: I mean, John Quigley says that he wanted a response to the six concerns raised in that letter. Is it reasonable that he had to wait more than two months to get a response to that?

CHRISTIAN PORTER: Well, why weren't these questions asked eight months ago? This legislation has been out for a very long time …

PAULA KRUGER: But it was asked two months ago, so is it reasonable that he get a response within that timeframe?

CHRISTIAN PORTER: Well, he's written that letter to the new minister, so I just don't know when the response was received, but the reality is that all of the information that is required to make a decision is out there and has been out there for a very long time, which is why New South Wales, South Australia, Victoria, the ACT, the Northern Territory have all indicated that they're joining the scheme.

And the idea that WA's in some kind of special case and that John Quigley's in some kind of special case…and look, I remember the meeting that John Quigley's referring to. That is a colossal misrepresentation of what went on there. We discussed all matters until discussion was exhausted. We invited all parties to seek further information and many of them did after those meetings, and where they did, they received whatever further information they required.

This idea that there's not enough information to join this scheme is just knocked on the head by the fact that the two largest jurisdictions in Australia have joined the scheme. The legislation has been out there for some very long period of time. Now, what this is, is feet-dragging and letter-writing and delay because the Government here can't make a decision whether or not to join or not join.

It took them way too long to make a call about joining or not joining the NDIS, and that was not in the best interests for participants in that scheme. It looks like the same tactic's been used here, and that is not in the best interest of participants in the redress scheme, and child sexual abuse victims. It's just not good enough.

PETER BELL: Christian Porter, in the event that it's not foot-dragging, let's say they're legitimate concerns, will there be a dialogue between the Minister's office and John Quigley about some of the concerns raised in his 21 December letter?

CHRISTIAN PORTER: Yeah, absolutely, but why wasn't this process commenced months and months ago? I mean, the reality is that we just have consulted uphill and down dale on this process. We've done that with the churches, we've done that with the charities, we've done that with all of the other states. And I'd just say again, if the information availability and flow has been good enough for New South Wales and Victoria to be able to make this decision and properly make this decision, it's just impossible for me to see how it is that that information flow, information availability, isn't good enough for WA.

And you know, I sat in that meeting with John Quigley, and the idea that somehow or other there was indication there that there was a fundamental lack of information just does not bear at all with my recollection of the meeting.

PETER BELL: Can I ask you, Attorney-General, federal Attorney-General …

CHRISTIAN PORTER: …I might just say, the idea that John Quigley was slapped down in that meeting - give me a break. I mean, John Quigley being slapped down? I mean, come on. That's just a manufactured….

PETER BELL: Under the National Redress Scheme, will the Commonwealth contribute to financial compensation of child migrants abused in WA? This was one of the concerns raised in the letter.

CHRISTIAN PORTER: Well, where the conditions to show the responsibility are met, the answer to that I think is yes, but there are a range of conditions that have to be met, and the basis of the scheme is that it is, as the Royal Commission recommended, a scheme that is based on the organisation  - whether that's the state, the Commonwealth, the church or the charity, being responsible for the payment of redress for whom it was responsible.

And that is to avoid a situation of moral hazard, which can only allow these circumstances to arise again where some other layer of government pays for the responsibility of another layer of government or a church or a charity. Now, this has always been made very, very clear. So the idea now that WA are dragging their feet because of this issue just does not bear out with the fact that the information and the structure around that have been very clear from the very beginning. So where, based on all of the now well-known assessment processes, measures and standards, the Commonwealth is responsible for a victim, the Commonwealth pays. Where the state was responsible, the state pays. Where the Catholic Church, the Catholic Church pays, and this has been known for a very, very long time.

PETER BELL: Christian Porter, how much money is the Federal Government contributing to the National Redress Scheme?

CHRISTIAN PORTER: Well, we've put in $33 million to establish it, which means that not only do we pay, in effect, for our share of the administrations, but for a great deal of the share of administration costs for other jurisdictions and the participating institutions.

We have then made an actuarial assessment about what our liabilities under the scheme are. So in circumstances where, for instance, in Defence or a migration setting, the Commonwealth Government would be deemed to be responsible and therefore liable to pay, we've made assessment in our budget for that.

We're not putting that figure out there, but that has been budgeted for and made provision for, and that's the process that each of the other states have to go through, and that's what New South Wales and Victoria have sensibly done over the course of the last twelve months. They've made their own assessment inside their treasuries about what the extent of their exposure and liability will be, able to put that money aside in their budget, and that's what enables them to join the scheme, and I can only conclude that that rational, fair process - fair for victims, I might add - has not been gone through in WA, which I find very surprising.

PAULA KRUGER: Christian Porter, speaking of those victims, how much of the federal funds are likely to go to individual victims?


CHRISTIAN PORTER: I'm not quite sure what you're asking there. So, the maximum amount is $150,000 which, I think, …


CHRISTIAN PORTER: Based on all of our calculations, the average payment will be in excess of $70,000. The Commonwealth victims are a relatively small share of the total , in terms of the total but we, of course, have done all of our calculations.  Most of the Commonwealth victims occurred in migration, so the Department of Immigration will have an exposure.  In defence settings, the Department of Defence will have an exposure whereas, of course, states’ exposure is different, and the churches and charities exposure is different again.

But each jurisdiction is going to be responsible for determining under what are now the very clear rules about how we align responsibility with each of the organisations and jurisdictions that are joining, as to what their exposure will be. But I've got to say, the idea that there's any lack of clarity around those rules to determine responsibility, the legislation has been in the Parliament for many, many months. It was discussed in detailed drafts before that. All of the concepts have been dealt with in all of these consultation meetings. So, the idea that a letter is flicked off in December, and that's a reason for not being able to join the scheme, I just find absurd.

PETER BELL: Is there anything that the Federal Government can do to get over this, what I'll call an impasse at the moment, Christian Porter?

CHRISTIAN PORTER: Well, I mean, we'll provide any information that anyone points to having not reasonably been provided before. But I've got to say that information has been freely available for many, many months. And these issues of responsibility have been well known as to how they've been determined.

Now, the idea that a state might take a different view or not quite like what has been the agreed principles of responsibility, is very different than there not being enough information.

It's very different from making a conscious decision not to join than to fall back to this kind of holding pattern to say that the reason that you're not joining is a lack of information. I dispute that that can possibly be the case. And again, if the two biggest jurisdictions in Australia have found the ample information that has been publicly available for a very long period of time sufficient for them to join, what really is WA's excuse? And ultimately this is about the victims, right? The victims here are the people that need all the jurisdictions to join. So, they're not letting the Commonwealth down in WA, and John Quigley's not letting down the Commonwealth Attorney-General or the Commonwealth Minister for Social Services, he's letting down the victims who are expecting WA to do the right thing.

PAULA KRUGER: Christian Porter, at the moment the victims of this are seeing a state attorney-general and a federal attorney-general appear to have a public spat over this issue, and I'm sure they'd like to see it resolved. For your part, could you commit to a quick response to the letter that John Quigley sent in December last year?

CHRISTIAN PORTER: Yeah, well, look, I mean, I'll look as to where that letter is at with the Minister for Social Services, now Dan Tehan.

But let me say that well before 21 December, there was ample information available whether or not to join this scheme, and that was the information which was precisely the same information that was available to New South Wales and Victoria, and which has allowed them to make this very right proper decision, and a decision in the best interest of victims.

PAULA KRUGER: Okay, but what's the next step? Because for New South Wales and Victoria, there'll be action by 1 July, what's the next step to assure that the same thing can happen in WA?


PAULA KRUGER: …what will you be doing, I guess, is what I'm asking so that both of you are talking about this.

CHRISTIAN PORTER: We'll be doing what we've been doing from day one, is that where there is actual real information that any party, whether it's a state or a territory or a church or a charity, wants that they say the absence of which is preventing them from joining, we'll provide it. But I've got to say there isn't really any of that information remaining out there. I mean, the basic fundamentals of this scheme, how it works, how it will operate, who's responsible for what, are well known – and it's now March; the scheme is starting on 1 July. I mean, everyone knows how it works.

PETER BELL: Thanks for joining us, Christian Porter. We'll have to leave it there. Thank you very much for your time.

That's Christian Porter, Federal Attorney-General. And New South Wales and Victoria have signed on. South Australia has given in-principle support. There's still a bit to be played out it would seem, Paula Kruger.

PAULA KRUGER: Yes. And it does appear to be, I mean, you can sort of see it from both sides, there does appear to be- it's a very complicated thing and there's a lot to work through. But one of the reasons for the urgency of this is that the victims are getting older, and they won't be with us for much longer. So, this needs to be sorted out.

PETER BELL: And, of course, when people get frustrated with the political process of this, sometimes you sort of overlook the impact that this is having on people's lives and has had on people's lives. So, we need it to be expedited as much as possible. And part of that, surely is a response to some of the concerns in the letter. If it's freely available and it's quick, it might be a pain for them to go back over that letter and respond to the six areas, of course, but I think if that could happen then can move on and can hopefully move towards an outcome.