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6PR Mornings with Gareth Parker



Subjects: JobKeeper, Brett Cattle Company decision, mandatory sentences for Commonwealth child sex offenders.

GARETH PARKER: The Industrial Relations Minister and the Attorney General is Christian Porter. Christian, Good morning.

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Morning Gareth. My heart goes out to your last caller, I hope she gets back to work and there are just so many Australians in that situation. We’ve just got to rev this economy up again and get the employers employing and employees back in their job.

GARETH PARKER: Right and this is the challenge isn't it because JobKeeper and Job Seeker were in many ways unusual policies for a government of your persuasion to pursue but they were necessary. We've discussed on several occasions why they're a good idea. Withdrawing them is the difficult challenge and the way you withdraw them and the rate at which you withdraw them and the way that you try and get things back to some sort of normality.

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Of course, and there's got to be a degree of calibration to the job market. And now, every single thing we do in federal government is designed to create and drive and grow employment. That is just the absolute central core of everything that we're doing and things that we were doing prior to COVID are much less important, and go down the priority list because, for instance in my portfolio, every effort, energy that we expend is about trying to get that employment market generating jobs again.

GARETH PARKER: What feedback are you getting about the extent to which for some people JobSeeker or JobKeeper are a deterrent to going back to work? Have you had any of that feedback?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: I, look, I get that feedback anecdotally like you do. I think it is a very small minority, and I just remind everyone out there that all the rules concerning the consequences for employees failing to show up for their work, or indeed their rights when dismissed unfairly, none of that has been modified by any of the changes that were made to the industrial relations legislation - the Fair Work Act - around JobKeeper. So, you know, at the edges you might have difficulties with people who perhaps aren't inclined to take the extra shifts because they're on a base rate of 1500 and that was just one of the things that was accepted as a downside of having a scheme that has rolled out effectively because it was done simply at a flat rate. But people still are required to show up and do their jobs. And I think ultimately it is a very, very small minority and most Australians just you know they want the jobs back and they want their usual incomes back and their lives back, and these are - JobKeeper and JobSeeker - they're support mechanisms. They're not meant as your last caller said to sustain an Australian lifestyle in perpetuity. They could never do that and the taxpayer just can't ever manage to bear that burden. So, I think it's a minority, I really do.

GARETH PARKER: Okay, the dust is beginning to clear a little on the economic damage and this is good news. It may not be as bad as was feared even a month ago?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: It is early days and I think that that growth figure we had from the last quarter, when you compare it to other countries around the world, yes it was obviously negative, and yes the Treasurer has noted that we are going to inevitably go into a recession because obviously the quarter we're in at the moment is going to have negative growth and there's your technical definition of a recession. We've done compared to other countries on Earth, much, much better in the health response and in preserving the fundamental architecture of our economy. But I don't think any of us are under any illusions that this is a very complicated interwoven economic system, and gearing it up to the sort of levels of employment and prosperity that we enjoyed before all this hit is going to be a monstrously large challenge and it's going to go on for months and years and in some sectors longer than that. So I think we're in a good position and our platform for re-growing the economy is much better than virtually every other country on Earth, but there's zero room for complacency. This task is absolutely herculean.

GARETH PARKER: Couple of other issues. Will you as Attorney-General seek to appeal the federal court decision that effectively found the former Labor government's decision to ban the live cattle trade to Indonesia was unlawful?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Well I don't have all the answers to that question yet - and a lot of people jump out in the media and say or think that they've got all the answers. But the decision in what's known as the Brett Cattle Company case that was handed down last Tuesday - and no decision on the future of that litigation has to be made until 28 days after the next hearing which is set it down for 29 June - so there’s a considerable period of time to consider this. Now obviously the Labor Minister's decision was absolutely terrible, knee-jerk, panicked. The effect on the live export industry was that it caused enormous and unwarranted damage to the industry and individuals, particularly in WA. But I've got a responsibility to ask questions about some of the legal principles that have been made by this quite unique decision. One of the questions I'm asking is whether or not lowering the bar, the test for invalidity for a Minister's decision under the relevant section of the Export Control Act, could that actually be weaponised by animal activists against decisions which support the live animal export industry? Because it's very rare, thankfully, that you get terrible decisions like Senator Joe Ludwig’s decision when Labor was in government to use that section just to completely prohibited an export. More often that section of the Export Control Act is used to support exports overseas with some or other conditions or requirements. And if you have a legal precedent that lowers the bar for reversing those ministerial decisions, one of the questions I'm asking legally and I want to be satisfied of the answer is whether or not this decision in the short, medium and long term could actually weaponise...

GARETH PARKER: ...right.

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: weaponised against the live animal export industry...


ATTORNEY-GENERAL: ...and that’s one of many questions that need to be answered...

GARETH PARKER: a consequence of potentially answering that question that a hardworking business that’s already been punished might see the justice delayed or even denied?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: No, I think that there are ways in which we can support and assist the industry...

GARETH PARKER: mean an ex gratia payment? Would that be something you consider?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Well I mean there's a whole range of options and as I say we’re not, we're not at the point yet where decisions have been made about those. But there's a particular point of law here which may, if left to stand, actually hurt the live export industry and regional communities and other parts of the economy that are beneficiaries of Ministerial decision making. But of course this decision from the former Labor government was a rolled-gold shocker and there's every intention inside Government to make sure that right is done by the people who suffered.

GARETH PARKER: Ok, on another issue the Senate will debate a Bill in your portfolio we expect this week that would impose mandatory minimum penalties and a new maximum life penalty for the most serious sexual crimes against children. Labor is instinctively opposed to mandatory sentencing. Is this a debate that you're expecting to play out this week?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: It's likely to play out later this week and Labor say that that are opposed as a matter of principle to mandatory sentencing but of course they supported and enacted mandatory sentencing for people smuggling when their border control was lost. So, their in-principle opposition isn't actually an in principle opposition. But it might surprise your listeners, as it certainly surprised senior members of the government, that 39 per cent of convicted Commonwealth sex offenders last financial year did not spend a single day in prison. Not a day. So, this bill tries to reform the full lifecycle of the justice system that applies to child sex offenders. Yes, there are minimum mandatory sentences with safeguards, particularly for people who are under 18. There's also presumptions against bail for serious and repeat offenders. There’s increased maximum penalties. There's presumptions in favour of sentences being served cumulatively, which is to say on top of each other. So this is a very broad reform around all of the points in the sentencing and justice process, which would see stronger penalties handed out to child sex offenders for Commonwealth offences. And, you know, I just think that, as we've seen in the last week, you've seen the culmination of an investigation where nine men across Australia were arrested. That involved an alleged child abuse network that filmed and photographed and shared online images against children as young as four. And the idea that we are presiding over a system where only 39 per cent of convicted Commonwealth child sex offenders, where 39 per cent don't spend a single day in prison means you got to reform the system. That's what we're attempting to do this week.

GARETH PARKER: I don’t think many people would disagree with that attempt.

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: No, I sense very strong public support. But we need the crossbench and/or Labor to see a bit of reason on this and, you know, compromise come together and protect children by ensuring that the penalties fit the crime.

GARETH PARKER: Christian thank you for your time.

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Thanks very much.