Thursday, 14 June 2018

Radio 6PR Perth ā€“ Gareth Parker



Subjects: elder abuse; G5 contract; MPs pay

GARETH PARKER: Christian Porter is the Attorney-General. He joins me from Sydney, I think, where he's just opened a conference on elder abuse. Christian, good morning.

CHRISTIAN PORTER: Yeah good morning Gareth, Sydney it is.

GARETH PARKER: What is this conference about? Elder abuse, big issue, growing issue unfortunately.

CHRISTIAN PORTER: Unfortunately you're right and we've all sort of heard anecdotal stories no doubt about family members taking advantage of older Australians, quite often its about financial advantage, so stripping assets away and having people sign over titles and deeds to property and things of this nature.

But it's certainly on the rise and by the middle of this century about 23 per cent of all Australians will be over 65. So it's a problem that we have to face and face early. So what we've done as a Government is allocate in excess $37 million to a range of responses. But part of that is trying to actually build up the information and research base to understand how often this is happening, so its prevalence, where it is happening and in what context.

And today we launched something that will be known as EAAA, so Elder Abuse Action Australia which is a peak body underneath a whole bunch of coalface service delivery organisations so that older Australians or their families if they're concerned about something that's happened are going to have somewhere to go, someone to advocate for them, and somewhere to make a complaint.

GARETH PARKER: All right. Well I think that's a good idea and whoever runs that agency in due course I'm sure we'll have them on the program to learn more.

Can I ask you about this suggestion that Catholic priests may be asked - compelled - I don't know what the right characterisation is, but to I guess, break the seal of the sanctity of the confessional when it comes to child sex abuse. What are you seeking to achieve here?

CHRISTIAN PORTER: Well, so we announced the Commonwealth Government's response to the Royal Commission recommendations. The Royal Commission of course into Institutional Responses to Child Sex Abuse. There were 409 recommendations and about 122 were directed at the Commonwealth and we accepted 104 and are doing further work on 18. There's a lot of interest in two particular recommendations that weren't actually directed at the Commonwealth Government, it was more directed at states and territories who have systems of mandatory reporting of reasonable suspicion of child sex abuse to child protection authorities. But those two recommendations effectively said that the states and territories should have a consistent system across Australia for mandatory reporting, that the mandatory reporting should extend to information given to priests in a confessional and there shouldn't be exemptions in that respect.

So the process will be from here one that we started last Friday at the Council of Attorneys-General. All of the states will move towards harmonising their own mandatory reporting rules towards a consistent model and at the end of that process it's likely that there will need to be some amendments to Commonwealth legislation, so there's not a conflict. But the reality is, Gareth, this is a very small number, I mean of some academic and theological interest I guess but the reality is that even at a Commonwealth level the protection that has existed around the confessional in the Commonwealth in uniform evidence has never been absolute. So you could be prevented from having to give evidence about something that was said in a confession and there is a protection in the existing act that says that that's the case but that was never absolute and the protection didn't extend to circumstances where the confession would constitute criminal conduct.
So it's always a case of trying to balance religious freedoms and doctrinal freedoms of organisations with the necessity that where criminal offending is likely or there is a reasonable suspicion of it that that information gets to the authorities and ultimately what the Royal Commission was trying to ensure was that in all contexts - not just for priests - but in all context where there might be any indication or reasonable suspicion of offending that information gets to the authorities.

GARETH PARKER: Okay. Should Australian governments or Australian companies be using Huawei telecommunications equipment?

CHRISTIAN PORTER: Well Huawei s the third largest, as I understand it, producer of and marketer of mobile phones in the world. It's a huge company. A lot of Australians have Huawei phones..

GARETH PARKER: Yep, I used to have one. Don't now, used to have one.

CHRISTIAN PORTER: Apparently they're a pretty reasonable product. I've never owned one. But the question is and an issue has arisen about whether or not they would be appropriately involved in the provision of 5G networks in Australia and we just entered into a process where we assess all the people who might be tendering for that work. And one of the basis on which someone could be excluded or an organisation could be excluded on national security grounds but that process is in play at the moment and it's too early to say whether or not there be any form of exclusion.

GARETH PARKER: It sounds like there will be but meanwhile here in WA we're going to build a 4G network for Transperth and Huawei are about to get the contract. But I can't- I can't put two and two together.

CHRISTIAN PORTER: Yeah, I must say I don't know all of the details about that state-based matter but I'm sure it's something that will be looked over but with the 5G network which is obviously going to be the essential network that all Australians will move on to in due course, it's obviously a matter of some seriousness that you scope and check all of the potential parties that might play a role in that with a national security lens. I just think Australians as a matter of common sense expect their governments to do that and we do it according to a very well known and serious process and we take the best advice from our security agencies and a range of technical experts.

GARETH PARKER: All right. You're going to get a $7000 pay rise, figured out how you're going to spend it?

CHRISTIAN PORTER: I actually read that in the paper yesterday so look, I completely accept that politicians by all standards of average income are on solid incomes, very solid incomes. But that is an independent decision. I must say it's probably one that we could do without. If I had a choice in it mate, I'd rather they not make those sort of decisions in depressed wages environments, but it's a cross-Commonwealth decision as I understand it.

GARETH PARKER: What would you do instead? Would you give it back?

CHRISTIAN PORTER: Well look, I just- I think that you have to have an independent body to make these decisions. I mean the old style system where in effect politicians made decisions about politicians' wages and bureaucrats made decisions about bureaucrats' wages never really worked so you have to have these independent remuneration tribunals making decisions and I can honestly say to you I don't know how Iā€™d go about making those decisions in any great detail but it's a little bit of a strange one.

GARETH PARKER: All right. Thank you, Christian.

CHRISTIAN PORTER: Pleasure, cheers.

GARETH PARKER: Christian Porter, the Attorney-General.