Wednesday, 28 March 2018

 Radio National Drive - 28 March 2018

Transcript

E&OE

Subjects: Tax cuts; Indigenous incarceration; espionage

PATRICIA KARVELAS:

Welcome back to RN Drive.

CHRISTIAN PORTER:

Thank you, Patricia.

PATRICIA KARVELAS:

Crossbencher Tim Storer is not convinced, as we know. If you can't get this passed, how many more times will you try in this term of government?

CHRISTIAN PORTER:

Well, we will be very, very persistent, because we think it's the right thing to do for the nation, and of course, for your listeners, we of course were successful in moving business tax cuts for small businesses with a turnover of $0 to $50 million, and that is like 3.2 million businesses with 6.5 million employees. Last year, we created 327,000 new jobs, and we are absolutely committed, because we consider this as the best way to grow the economy, to put upward pressure on wages, and of course to ensure that there's jobs for us, for our kids.

This is the right thing to do and we'll keep going back again and again. But it's also a very dynamic place the Senate, as would not have escaped your notice.  And we were very, very close to what would have been the passage of the second raft of the business tax cuts, and I would be very confident that we could be successful, but we just have to try again. And it wasn't actually put to a vote, of course, so we'll just keep negotiating.

PATRICIA KARVELAS:

A leaked copy of a report from the Business Council of Australia shows that big businesses can't guarantee to pass on a tax cut in more jobs and higher wages. Now, that's the fundamental challenge for you here, isn't it? That you've had difficulty selling and convincing the public of this policy, and now this leaked BCA report shows that there is reluctance among businesses to do this as well. It makes your case very difficult to make.

CHRISTIAN PORTER:

Well, calling it a leaked report I think is being a bit generous to the document. It certainly was leaked, there's no dispute about that, but it was a draft survey. Look, I prefer to put faith in what are the sound economic commentators. I mean, for instance, Warwick McKibbin, who was a former Reserve Bank board member, he has calculated that the uplift, the economic growth for the business tax cuts in their entirety is around about $160 billion over ten years.

I mean, that is the type of competitive edge our economy needs, and this is absolutely the way to further job growth and put upward pressure on wages, and anyone who subscribes to orthodox economics subscribes to that view.

PATRICIA KARVELAS:

Big business, including the banks, aren't very popular at the moment. If this doesn't pass the Senate, you are forced to take this, then, to another election. The Prime Minister committed that he would take it to the election in Question Time. How are you going to convince people to do this, given you just haven't been able to get any traction with this so far?

CHRISTIAN PORTER:

Well, I think the answer, Patricia, is you do that globally, and what we have said to people is that a range of policies are going to allow us to grow the economy, grow business, and that the ultimate result of that is the provision of employment for our families, for our children when they leave study or when they leave university or when they learn a trade. And we have created in excess of 420,000 jobs; 327,000 last year; just over 80 per cent of them fulltime employed positions.

That's some of the best jobs growth on record in Australia ever, and it doesn't happen by accident. I mean, it happens because of a congruence of policies that we have worked hard to put in place and which are all moving towards the direction - that being that we increase employment. And ultimately, that will put upward pressure on wages. So the ultimate answer to your question is you do it globally by pointing to the results of the types of policies that we have advanced. I mean, does anyone out there really think that the way to increase employment, which business provides, and increase and put upward pressure on wages, is to ensure that business have less money? I mean, that's just absurd.

PATRICIA KARVELAS:

Just on another issue, a report into Indigenous incarceration rates commissioned by the Government was handed down today. It found that courts, police and prisons were contributing to the over incarceration of Indigenous Australians. 35 recommendations have been made. Will the Government support these recommendations?

CHRISTIAN PORTER:

Well, I mean obviously, those recommendations will be considered closely and carefully and that will take a little time. It seems to me that many of the recommendations are very sound. I'd also note that a lot of the recommendations go directly to matters that are in the sphere of governance for state and territory governments, because of the fact that many of these issues relate directly to corrective services system.

But what I would say generally is that this is an intensely complicated area. For your listeners, 63 per cent of Indigenous people incarcerated last year were incarcerated, so were in prison, for violent offences and offences that caused harm against the person. So, this isn't just about justice systems or corrective service systems. Clearly, it is about all of the base causal factors that contribute to offending and quite often violent offending. It's about employment, it's about drug and alcohol use, it's about levels of health and welfare, and ultimately, we have a range of policies already in place that are improving many of those causal factors, and we would expect that over time that they will produce a result in diminishing imprisonment.

One of the most practical things that I think that we have done in recent times, which is incredibly beneficial to Indigenous people, is that our procurement policies have seen government procurement contracts to Indigenous businesses grow from $6.2 million in 2013 to about $1 billion. So from virtually nothing to $1 billion, and the welfare effect that that has in Indigenous communities by generating employment, which breaks cycles of both dependency but also offending, in many respects, is going to make incredibly big differences over time.

PATRICIA KARVELAS:

Sure. There are some good stories, but this report calls for the government at all levels to set targets to reduce the incarceration of Indigenous Australians. Should the Federal Government introduce a justice target as part of the Close the Gap strategy refresh later this year?

CHRISTIAN PORTER:

Well, I think that's worth thinking about, but of course, the reality is that there are a range of targets inside the Closing the Gap framework which all clearly go to the causal factors that end up being translated into high rates of imprisonment. So in many respects, going back to that list of things like health and welfare and employment, the targets that already exist go directly to this and other issues, but I think all of the recommendations will be considered in full and carefully, and also we will take a very strong role in cooperating and leading with the states and territories, particularly because so many of these recommendations go directly to corrective services systems and justice systems, which are largely the responsibility of and run by the states.

PATRICIA KARVELAS:

One of the simpler changes that the report recommends is an end to jail time for Indigenous people who have unpaid fines, and we know that this unpaid fine issue is a huge one among Indigenous Australians. How quickly can this be done?

CHRISTIAN PORTER:

Well, ultimately, that is an issue for states, because, generally speaking, in fact, almost exclusively, fines are levied for state-based criminal offences. In my jurisdiction in Western Australia, the Labor Government in 2007 brought in a range of reforms to ensure that Indigenous people were fined less often and for shorter periods of time, and I think that the effects of that need to be looked at very carefully.

One of the other issues is that you have to ensure that fines are meaningful. So you need to find ways to ensure that they're being paid and that people enter into time to pay arrangements when they have a fine, because one of the unintended consequences that you don't want to see is courts and judges and magistrates losing faith in fines as an alternative disposition in sentencing to imprisonment.

So, it is not, unfortunately, a simple area, but I don't think there'd be much disagreement that we would all like to see fewer people spend less time incarcerated to pay off fines. And the approach to amend that situation, improve it, is going to be multifaceted. It won't simply be one thing. There's no silver bullet there.

PATRICIA KARVELAS:

And the report also calls for a national justice reinvestment body led by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders to divert money from the criminal justice system into community-led solutions. Is that something you're prepared to look at?

CHRISTIAN PORTER:

Well, I don't know why quite the recommendation would be for a national body. Justice reinvestment, as a policy, basically has at its foundation the concept that you take money from a corrective services or criminal justice system budget that exists over four years and reinvest it in the present year in rehabilitative programs. Now, both the Commonwealth and all of the states and territories, I think, would be on a complete unity ticket that they already support, encourage and invest very heavily in rehabilitation programs, projects and policies.

The wisdom or (un) wisdom of taking money from the forward estimates that is designated to corrective services budget or criminal justice budgets and investing it today in rehabilitative programs, I think is something that needs to be looked at very, very cautiously. But in any event, the recommendation of a national body doesn't make enormous preliminary sense insofar as whether a justice reinvestment policy of reinvesting future money now into programs of the type I've described, whether you could do that is a decision that is almost exclusively a decision for state and territory governments. But again, we'll look very closely at that recommendation and measure it against what can be practically done.

PATRICIA KARVELAS:

Just on foreign interference laws: today leading Chinese academics in Australia have signed an open letter accusing China of actively restricting free speech in Australia. What do you make of that?

CHRISTIAN PORTER:

Look, I haven't read that letter, I must confess, so I'm not quite sure that I'd be willing to comment on a letter that I haven't read by academics that I know nothing about.

PATRICIA KARVELAS:

You have made comments today in The Australian newspaper that I've read where you've expressed concern around unprecedented levels of spying in Australia. What are you referring to?

CHRISTIAN PORTER:

Well, we've had an example, obviously, in the last 24 hours where two persons have been expelled, and we as a Government have made it very clear they're not being expelled because they are

diplomats. The process is diplomatic. They are being expelled because they are considered to have undertaken actions that are inconsistent with their status as diplomats. They're being expelled because they've been identified by our intelligence officers as undertaking intelligence activities on behalf of the Russian Government, and if you want a case in point that I think supports the proposition that's been put by the Director-General of ASIO and others that we are living in an unprecedented age of espionage - then you need look no further than the last 24 hours.

PATRICIA KARVELAS:

And on that, you may have seen the pictures, you certainly know about the story. This very, very uncomfortable meeting between Julie Bishop and the Russian ambassador before private talks. There were cameras all over that meeting and a very stilted, uncomfortable interaction. Is that the right way to treat the issue and the ambassador?

CHRISTIAN PORTER:

Well, my view is that Julie Bishop has handled this situation as she always does; with great skill. My concern as the Attorney-General is legislating a framework that means that we can deal with what is a clear and evident problem in a way that benefits Australia's long term national interests and national security.

And the point that I would make is that there's a very significant difference between expelling two people because they were undeclared intelligence officers and being able to ultimately prosecute an individual for conducting espionage on Australian soil. Obviously, you can't prosecute people with diplomatic status, but anyone who engages in behaviour that we would rightfully define as espionage and doesn't have the cover of diplomacy, at the moment, the fact is that the offence requires you to show an intention on the part of that person to prejudice Australia's interests, which is a near on impossible thing to prove beyond reasonable doubt, given the types of people that we are dealing with. But they exist. They work very hard and surreptitiously, contrary to our country's national interests and our security interests. And our Espionage and Foreign Interference Bill, which is before the committee at the moment, is designed to modernise   offences so that we are actually able to take action in circumstances where we identify the offending.

PATRICIA KARVELAS:

Christian Porter, many thanks for your time.

CHRISTIAN PORTER:

Thank you. Cheers, Patricia.

PATRICIA KARVELAS:

That's the Attorney-General Christian Porter.

ENDS