Subjects: Live Export Decision; Citizenship; John Setka
LAURA JAYES: Let's go live to Perth. The Attorney-General Christian Porter joins us.
Minister, thanks so much for your time.
What's the point in increasing these fines and threatening jail time when the ones that exist aren't really enforced at the moment anyway?
ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Well look, I might just start with a bit of disclosure. Obviously, I'm coming to you from WA and 90 per cent of this trade or thereabouts emanates from Western Australia. So, the overwhelming majority of the thousands of jobs that are produced by the trade are in WA, and my electorate produces many of the sheep and has many of the jobs that are related to this trade. So just a bit of disclosure and context there.
I think what the Minister, David Littleproud, today has done, obviously with the full support of his Cabinet, is completely correct, and I would describe it this way: he has done everything he can possibly do to improve the regulation, the welfare and the conditions, just short of banning this trade. And as I say, in my electorate we have people who are involved in the trade. I have the heads of the organisations who represent the farmers involved in the trade. They acknowledge that this is a really, really tough response.
Now, to your question centrally, is this going to actually improve the conditions for these animals on these vessels, which all of us want. I mean, the footage is terrible to witness, and it's not something that any of us should accept. I think the best answer, based on the evidence and science in the McCarthy review is yes it will very much improve the conditions. Changing very substantially the stocking densities; having independent inspectors on the vessels with them, which cost, as I understand it, will be borne by the industry itself; changing the trigger for the mandatory reporting. All of these things are very significant, short of banning it. So yes, I think it will be a very significant improvement.
LAURA JAYES: Well, as you say, it's as tough as you can go without banning it altogether.
As a Perth-based minister, as you've pointed out, you will have intimate knowledge of how these Perth-based operators actually work. Do you think they're so tough that you could see the bad operators weeded out, like Emanuel, like LSS?
ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Well, I think it will represent significant change in the industry, and one of the responses that has come from the industry itself is that they have to digest these changes, because they are so tough. They will clearly impact on the industry. I am in an electorate where jobs depend on this industry, but we all know the industry has to change. It absolutely has to change, and that's what David's done.
And I think that the McCarthy report, all of the recommendations are accepted by the Government, save for one, where we've required further evidence-based testing around the heat stress model, which McCarthy himself says needs further work. But we put an independent person out there to tell us what we need to do to change the industry, and we've accept all but one recommendation, and that requires further work. The industry knows that they've got to change. That is going to be difficult, but it has to happen and it's the right thing to do.
LAURA JAYES: If these new measures, as you say, that are so tough it goes just one step short of banning the trade; if they prove ineffective, will you move to ban it?
ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Well, that's obviously a hypothetical. I don't expect that these measures would be ineffective, but it's …
LAURA JAYES: Well, it's not really, Christian Porter, because we've seen example after example where it's been promised to the public time and time again that they'll clean up their act. They haven't, so is this a last chance?
ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Well, my answer to you on that is that the industry knows that they have to change. David Littleproud, as the Minister, knows that his department has got to absolutely pull its socks up on this. We all know that the industry has to change, and if it doesn't change then there won't be a bright future and solid economic future for it.
So, everyone knows that, but what level of chance we're at now, if it's not last chance, it's pretty close to.
LAURA JAYES: Okay, but the Prime Minister said he would show leadership on this. Okay, so if it's not the last chance, okay, we'll take that as you would see this as a last chance for the industry, because the Farmers' Federation today wasn't giving any guarantees…
ATTORNEY-GENERAL: If this isn't the last chance, it's very close to it.
I mean, the reality is everyone knows the industry has to change. The Minister has absolutely taken the recommendations, accepted all but one of them. This is the toughest response of any government in respect to the regulation of this trade. I believe it will work. I believe that you will get very significant improvements, and in fact, the changes are so tough, they are going to put the economic viability of some of the participants in this industry under a big question mark, but if that's what you have to do to clean the industry up, then that's where we're at.
LAURA JAYES: So, do you think that we'll see some of these operators leave the industry altogether and choose to transition out of it anyway?
ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Well, I'm not subject, obviously, to all of their finances and their books, but you can only look at the responses from many in the industry today where they say they need to digest these responses. The responses are so broad and so tough that they will obviously create very significant financial impact for many in the industry, but the reality is that that absolutely has to happen.
And what we have done, and what the Minister has done, and the Cabinet have done is everything up to and before banning an industry totally, which is the wrong response by the way because that puts an industry in a position where they have no chance of improving themselves and running a commercially viable trade. And as David Littleproud says, if anyone were to ban this industry, no one should go home at night thinking that there won't be sheep on vessels going to the Middle East where the demand exists, it's just that those sheep will be on vessels coming from countries with far inferior standards and regulation and practices than those that exist in Australia.
We are far from perfect, we need to improve very significantly. But the reality is that we have the strictest and most stringent standards of any country in the world when it comes to animal welfare and the live export trade. And if it's not us doing it, it will be some other country whose standards are far inferior. And I don't think that that is in accord with our international responsibility to try and provide the best response to a trade that we know exists and will continue to exist.
LAURA JAYES: Okay. Let me move on to another issue today. A cross party committee has just recommended changing Section 44 of the Constitution, is this just going to be confined to the dust bin of history or are you going to act on this report?
ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Well, it's a long report and I've had a quick flick through it this morning. Look, there's some things in the report that are absolutely worth considering, and the Government will consider everything in the report carefully. Many of the matters raised and issues raised by the report around smoothing and quickening administrative procedures to assist people in renunciation processes and with advice through the Electoral Commission, that all seems eminently sensible.
We don't have a strong appetite as Mathias Cormann, the Minister for electoral affairs, in charge of Electoral Affairs, has noted today, to change the Constitution or suggest such a change. There's a lovely little passage from a great constitutional lawyer in it, who says: look, the problem here was a not a problem of principle or philosophy, the problem was that individual members of Parliament didn't do the basic things they needed to do to ascertain their citizenship status, and then if they found they're a dual citizen, renounce. You don't need to cure that problem with a constitutional change.
LAURA JAYES: Sure, I'll get to that in a moment. But first, you say there's no appetite to go to a referendum to change the Constitution. What does that mean, not now ‘cause the dance-card's too full when it comes to possible referendums, or you wouldn't even consider doing this?
ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Well, that's a description that I give that encompasses both our assessment of what Australians think by and large about this circumstance, I don't think Australians think that we need to change our document which has operated successfully for nearly 120 years because some individuals in Parliament didn't take basic steps to ascertain citizenship status and renounce. So, it's a reflection of what I consider and what the Government considers to be the general attitude of the Australian people…
LAURA JAYES: I'll take that as a no, Christian Porter.
ATTORNEY-GENERAL: …But you only change the- yeah, you only change the Constitution if there's a massive problem to fix.
And I just think it's unconvincing to suggest that you need to change the Constitution to fix a problem that can be solved and fixed by individual parliamentarians doing now what everyone knows you have to do; work out are you a dual citizen, and if so renounce before you nominate.
LAURA JAYES: Okay. But that's the easy case, what about the cases where there are, in the case of Hollie Hughes, which was really complex, she didn't win at the last election, she didn't get a Senate spot, we're talking about office of profit under the Crown now, but there are technicalities here. If you run for Parliament and you're not successful or you run for pre-selection and
you're not successful, should you give up any job in the public service? I mean, that's pretty grim. Also, what have you got against the Brits? Brits can vote in the Australian election if they're dual citizens, what's wrong with having a dual British citizen as running for Parliament?
ATTORNEY-GENERAL: I actually recall voting in a mayoral election in London when I was over there…
LAURA JAYES: Well, there you go.
ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Yep. Different countries have different systems.
But the point is that the Constitution is a document designed, and it has worked very well, to ensure our governance is well known, smooth, clear, it's worked very well, and you don't change it for one or two people or even a handful of people. It's a document that works for all Australians. And I just think, whilst there are tough components to the dual citizenship rules in the Constitution, they're not insurmountable, they're not so difficult that people can't abide by them, and you don't change the Constitution to benefit a few parliamentarians.
LAURA JAYES: Okay. Let me talk to you about Anne Aly, she produced a document last week from the Egyptian embassy, are you satisfied? Is that case closed?
ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Well, I mean, our position as a Government has been that when embassies or departments that are in charge of citizenship in a foreign nation produce a document stating that a set of affairs is as they say, that that's authoritative.
So, there are some curious parts to that I guess. But looks like the renunciation by ministerial council which is what's required under Egyptian law must have happened inside 48-hours, which makes them probably the most efficient bureaucracy on Earth.
But there is a letter from the Egyptian embassy that says that the renunciation was effected. I think the secondary question is that Anne Aly has produced the document that the registry, the parliamentary registry requires, which shows through the embassy that the renunciation process came to a final completion. There are other members of Parliament who evidenced the commencement of the renunciation process but never evidenced the completion of the renunciation process. And the Parliamentary Register, which if not abided by would put you in breach of Parliamentary privilege, requires that you show the finality, the end, the completion of the renunciation process. So, I think that Members who haven't done that need to…
LAURA JAYES: Okay. Well, you're sounding very much like a lawyer at the moment, Christian Porter. So, what does that actually mean…
ATTORNEY-GENERAL: I can't help that, Laura.
LAURA JAYES: Is there still a question mark over Anne Aly, and others?
ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Well, I mean, Anne Aly has provided a document from the Egyptian embassy which appears on its face to demonstrate that she completed renunciation process…
LAURA JAYES: And that's good enough for you?
ATTORNEY-GENERAL: … but there are other members of, well, I mean, that is authoritative from an embassy who is in charge of this process or at least who can testify with authority to it that the renunciation process was completed. But there are other Members of the Labor Party who on the registry, which asks you to evidence the completion of the process, evidenced that they started the process but have not done which is required which is to evidence that the process was completed. Let's forget the Constitution for a moment, this is a registry required by the Parliament, which the Labor Party pushed for which says that you need to show evidence that the renunciation process was complete and there are members of the Labor Party who just haven't abided yet by the Registry.
LAURA JAYES: Let me ask you one final question. It's about John Setka, he's told Sky News that he needs to break the law if it's to protect the workers that he represents. He's also criticised the Government and so has Sally McManus today talking about trumped up charges against unions all borne out of the Royal Commission in an attempt to smear them.
ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Well, I mean, John Setka's got a rap-sheet which would make seasoned law breakers blush. I mean, the idea that he describes charges against him as trumped up, and yes, recent charges weren't pursued because there was insufficient evidence as occurs from time to time in our civil and criminal court system but underneath that is dozens of charges that have been levied successfully and for which he has been found guilty.
The idea now that he says, as Sally McManus does, that those laws can and should be broken by unions is nothing short of outrageous. And let me say to you there are no Australians who are above the law; not Members of Parliament with respect to the law as set down by the Constitution, not members of unions with respect to industrial laws and civil laws that pertain to the appropriate way to behave on work places and in industrial places. This notion that comes from Setka that somehow he, if he, in his own mind thinks, that this is a good law to break, should be allowed to break the law with impunity is nothing short of an outrage.
Bill Shorten should be on your show and every other TV show in Australia denouncing that type of comment. There is no one in Australia who is above the law, not a Member of Parliament, not a member of a union, not the average Australian on the bus, no one.
LAURA JAYES: Christian Porter, thanks for your time today.
ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Thank you, cheers Laura.