Thursday, 31 May 2018

ABC News 24



Subjects: Court reform; national security review; national redress scheme

GREG JENNETT: The role of Attorney-General has undergone radical surgery in recent months with the creation of the Department of Home Affairs. Even so, Christian Porter's been busy in the reduced portfolio. He's shaking up the Commonwealth's law courts and possibly, in the future, the rules for intelligence agencies. So we spoke to him moments ago.

Well Christian Porter, you've announced your Family Law Court shakeup and we've had a former chief justice in Diana Bryant expressing some concern today about the appeals mechanism, in particular, shifting that over to the Federal Court. How did you satisfy yourself that judges in the Federal Court are adequately equipped to deal with these family law matters?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: First of all, I'd like to thank Diana Bryant for her comments and she obviously knows a lot about the area, and it's probably not unusual that someone who had invested so much of their effort and experience in the Family Court has some of the views that Diana has expressed. And indeed, she's expressed the view that many of the things that we're doing should be done. She did express a view about the Federal courts hearing appeals from our newly-created court.

My response to that is that the Federal Court is, other than the rarefied air of the High Court, the most seriously equipped and skilled court in Australia. It's a court of international reputation for excellence. It has a range of people who might be described as top-level generalists in the law, who've had practice in a range of areas, including family law. My belief is that they are well and truly equipped to hear the appeals from what will be the newly-created court. In fact, I can't think of a better court to hear those appeals.

GREG JENNETT: There has been criticism from people like your opponent, obviously, Mark Dreyfus, about consultation. Seems to have caught some people at least off guard. How long was the consultation and the preparation for this change?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Well, six months with my predecessor George Brandis and the heads of jurisdiction, another five months with myself and the heads of jurisdiction, and of course with these delicate matters where there's a separation of power between the courts and the Government the appropriate way to consult before announcing the principle of the changes, which we did yesterday, is with the heads of the three jurisdictions - the Federal Court, Federal Circuit Court, Family Court of Australia - we did that exhaustively. But of course, having announced the direction in-principle we'll go to drafting and consultation will continue around the precise nature of the drafting.

GREG JENNETT: People always go back go back to the question of resourcing. Entities are never merged for inefficient reasons. We will assume that there's some financial saving by merging these functions. Is there, and how much, and what happens to that saving?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: There is a calculation that we can save in due course once the reforms are fully bedded down about $3 million….

GREG JENNETT: …that's not much in the overall scheme of things.

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Well, in court funding it's actually a reasonable amount. But what we have arranged with the court is that they would be able, if that saving comes to fruition, to reinvest it in their own services. Now, they might determine to use that for matters and similarly to judicial offices, like non-judicial type appointments, things like parenting management hearings, which we've already put money into, or they may determine to reinvest that into judicial resources in due course. But if the efficiencies are realised, the point of the reform exercise is not to take money off the courts, is to allow those efficiencies to be reinvested so that we could have better and better services delivered for Australian families.

GREG JENNETT: Right, and that does go to one of the criticisms I think. Now, let's move on to the other significant announcement you made this week, which was an intelligence law review. Now, the Prime Minister once famously told us that an old law is a good law. So what is the problem with the now 30-years-old pieces of legislation that govern our agencies?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Well, some old laws are good laws and stand the test of time and others need to be adapted to rapidly changing circumstances and the core summary that I'd give for your viewers is that there are two components to the national security environment. One is that the threat environment that we're dealing with is rapidly changing and evolving and so are the technologies that are inherent in that threat environment. Over the last several years, we've introduced ten tranches of legislation to update and modify our response to that changing environment. So, with those two very substantial moving parts, the view that the Prime Minister quite properly took is that this is an appropriate time to have a top-to-tail review of both our responses to the changes and the ongoing impact of the threat environment changes.

GREG JENNETT: Right. Some of the commentary around this has been that the necessary thing, or the anticipated thing that comes from the review, is a more liberalised approach to the sharing of information, both from domestic intelligence agencies, to law enforcement, or even from overseas agencies like ASIS, and ASD almost falls into that category. Is that the way you view it?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Well, that's one of what will be a great number of issues that will no doubt arise. I mean, it's been put to me in the context of my role as Attorney-General that one issue on the coalface of this area that arises is how, whether, and in what instances and in pursuant to what proper restraints information gathered in intelligence environment should or could or be shared with say, for instance, a frontline police officer to alert him that a car and the person he's approaching is armed. That, I think, is a difficult question, but it's one that clearly arises. But those types of information sharing issues are but a small part of an overarching question about the adequacy of resourcing, of staffing, the coordination, the cooperation, the way in which we oversight these bodies to ensure their integrity, given all this change in the threat environment and or the further adaptation of the laws to that changing threat environment.

GREG JENNETT: Just to clarify because certain agencies were mentioned in your initial announcement. I didn't necessarily see Australian Signals Directorate nor ASIS. Are they included?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Yes. So they are part of the six what are known as National Intelligence Community agencies. So those six core agencies will obviously be the substantial focus, but their interaction with domestic agencies, such as AUSTRAC, such as the AFP, and then the entire Commonwealth's interaction with state agencies, particularly state police, means that it will be a very broad inquiry.

GREG JENNETT: Okay. Now just finally, the national redress scheme is coming into sharper focus now with so many institutions, including the Catholic Church, confirming they're on board, six months after you left Social Services. Do you regret or was it a calculated approach by you, calling the Catholic Church at for, quote, making excuses back in March? Was that done to get them over the line?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Well, everything I did when I was in charge of designing redress and encouraging churches, charities and state governments to join it, was I think in the best interest of the victims in having as many parties, states, charities, churches join as possible. So…

GREG JENNETT: …and you were worried back in March that they were equivocating?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: I'd formed a view that it was taking longer than was in all the circumstances. I would say I'm obviously delighted with the announcements that have been made over the last several days and the efforts of the Prime Minister and Minister Dan Tehan, in having them come across into the scheme, have been extraordinary, and where we've come from - from a recommendation, as important as it was but in its barest terms to a massive complicated inter-federational scheme that will now, it appears, cover virtually everyone who was affected by this - is I think to the great credit of the government, of the Prime Minister, of the Minister, but I'd like to congratulate all of the states, the territories, the churches and the charities, who are doing the right thing.

GREG JENNETT: And your role was not insignificant either across two portfolios. Christian Porter, thanks for your time today.

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Thank you very much.