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6PR Mornings with Gareth Parker



Subjects: WA v Clive Palmer, Vaccine hopes, China trade

GARETH PARKER: Christian Porter is the Attorney-General. Christian, good morning.

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Good morning Gareth.

GARETH PARKER: Well, and first of all, can I extend my condolences and those of everyone listening on the passing of your father Charles "Chilla" Porter, an Olympian a track and field giant, and a big figure in the Liberal Party in this State, in this country too.

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Thanks Gareth, that's very good of you and I might take one quick moment to say it's been a tough last six months and just over your radio program, the young nurses from Silver Chain who helped my sister care for my dad over last year, and they had a really difficult last couple of months, they are just amazing people. And we'll never be able to express my family's gratitude to them in a way that was going to make any sense but, you know, it was just profound our gratitude for what they did for us over the last couple of months, they're amazing people so thanks to them all and there were a lot of them over the last year, but thanks to all of you.

GARETH PARKER: And I know you said this in your statement on his passing, but your sister did a lot of heavy lifting when it came to caring for your dad in his final days?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Mate she sure did. She was just outstanding and, you know, papers, politics, parliament, they never stop and they don't stop for life events like this. And my dad kind of knew that. He appreciated that that was the nature of the work and he was proud of the work, so yeah my sister she did all the heavy lifting with these wonderful people from Silver Chain. And it's a hard thing, a really hard thing and in the last couple of weeks really difficult. And I think, actually watching it, I sort of have a different appreciation for what the State Government did with their voluntary assisted dying bill. You know, there's not a lot of dignity in old age for a lot of people and particularly cancer. So, it was pretty tough but a lot of people did an amazing job and my sister, she was great.

GARETH PARKER: Well, again, our condolences to the whole family to you and to everyone who knew him. As you say, the business of the nation doesn't wait, so we press on.

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: I was back to work at 5:30 Monday morning mate. The calls just start coming in. It's on.

GARETH PARKER: No rest for the wicked. Can I ask you about, as the nation's chief law officer, and you've spoken about your responsibilities to the Constitution in the past - in the recent past - your observations of what went down in the West Australian Parliament last week with an extraordinary piece of legislation that removed even the right for natural justice, exempted the state government's actions from the Freedom of Information Act, sought to terminate an arbitration on foot. Good idea, bad idea?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Well, look, I, I completely understand why the WA State Government considered they had to take action. I absolutely understand it and I have some knowledge of the history of these matters, so I completely get why they believe they had to take action and indeed robust action, but whether that was perfectly the right course, whether it's legally sustainable, how watertight it is, I just can't, can't say. We will look at the legislation from a Commonwealth point of view but we're not going to get in the way of the WA State Government making its best judgments about what's in the best interest of West Australians in this matter, but it is very very complicated. This matter has a very very long history and I would think that it may have a very, very long tail on into the future. I remember Colin Barnett on these issues, and people may recall that he very very strongly objected to the state agreement that I think Colin once described to me made Clive Palmer a billionaire at the stroke of a pen in 2002. And, you know, that is a very, very complicated issue how to deal with state agreements. So, I understand what State Government's trying to achieve. We're not going to get in their way. But it's way too early to give any kind of appraisal about whether or not this is the strongest and best course.

GARETH PARKER: The issue is clearly complicated by the fact that Clive Palmer is loathed in this state. Whether his $27.75 billion claim - as the Attorney General John Quigley put on the public record in the parliament yesterday by filing the confidential arbitration documents - is an ambit claim or a real claim, I guess we'll find out in due course. It feels like an ambit claim and a wild one at that to me. But what would I know. Set that aside. The precedent of terminating an arbitration that is on foot that is surely sovereign risk?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Well, some people will argue that. Others will argue that that is a risk worth absorbing for the quantum and the issue at stake for the West Australian economy and taxpayer. And again I understand why they've taken the course they have, but it's just too early to understand all of the repercussions of that course. But look, I mean, from the Commonwealth's point of view, we're not in the business of getting in sovereign state government's way when they make decisions based on all the information that they have before them as to what is in the best interests of the people of their state, in this case Western Australia. One observation I would have about this matter is that there are clearly all these linkages between what has been happening with the arbitration around the state agreement, and the High Court matter.

GARETH PARKER: You mean, the High Court border matter you mean?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Yeah, and I can say to you hand on heart that those linkages were substantially and in all their material importance completely unknown to us. Like the quantum of the, the, the arbitration that you just mentioned, which was made public, by the State Attorney General recently, the fact that there'd been offers to withdraw from the High Court matter by the plaintiff based on other actions being taken or not taken in the arbitration. We were completely unaware of these things, and I just have to say I just don't get why we wouldn't have been openly informed on a party to party basis confidentially about these things…

GARETH PARKER: By the West Australian government you mean?


GARETH PARKER: Do you think it would have been helpful in you deciding your course of action if the State had have said to you ‘hey by the way, Clive's already made an offer to withdraw this action before he, you know shift the venue of his arbitration, and by the way he's trying to sue us or trying to take us for $27 billion'?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: You know I can say to you in a non-legal phraseology, it would have been a nice thing to know.

GARETH PARKER: Right. Would it have changed your course of action?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: That is very very hard to say, well and truly after the event. But I think it was relevant to a whole range of things. Now, it might not have changed the sort of strengths and weaknesses of some of the underlying constitutional points and they are what they are, but these are things that I'm just surprised that we didn't know about.

GARETH PARKER: Is it improper for Mr Palmer to offer to try, I mean, the High Court doesn't take on every case, it takes on limited cases with constitutional importance, is it improper for Mr Palmer to offer to trade a case active before the High Court off for a seemingly unrelated commercial outcome, an arbitration?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Again, it's a complicated question with a complicated answer that I'm just sort of not able to give because we've only found out about this very very recently. But again it would have been something that I would have thought would have been very material to the progress of the High Court matter, but we didn't know about it. And I don't know why we didn't know about it. But, you know, it's pretty, it's pretty unusual Gareth, I will say that much. It's pretty unusual

GARETH PARKER: On to other matters. How confident is the Federal Government that a vaccine will in fact be developed for COVID-19?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: I think that these are best directed to the Health Minister. But I think that the view that he has put and the medical advice that's coming to us is that it is essentially the entire resources of the world's medical and research elite are devoted to this task. And there is some confidence that a vaccine of one or other type, or one of other efficacy is actually going to be developed. So, I think there is a view that that is an achievable outcome. And of course, Greg Hunt and our Government are working very hard to make sure that we are part of the benefit of that eventuality should it arise. But I think there is some confidence that that code can be cracked, if you like.

GARETH PARKER: The Chinese bringing an anti-dumping dispute against Australian winemakers seems on its face to be preposterous? Does this claim have any merit? Is this geopolitics by other means?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Well, I mean, we don't think it has merit. I mean, the information I've got is that the prices that are charged for Australian wine in China are higher than they are essentially anywhere else in the world; premium product in a premium market. Dumping is of course where you put large volumes of a product under its usual sale price. So, we just think that the fact of this matter don't even get close to bearing out the claim. And you know, there are international mechanisms where you take these disputes on. You argue your case. We believe our case on this is absolutely watertight, so we will argue that. But you know, as we have said on your radio show a number of times, this is a relationship with its strength, with its touchy points to it at times…

GARETH PARKER: … [Interrupts] What are its strengths at the moment?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Well I mean, its strength are still that there is an enormous reliance in China on products that we produce more efficiently and with greater continuity of supply than anywhere else in the world.

GARETH PARKER: That's a transactional economic relationship. But I don't think you could say that China and Australia are acting like friends and partners at the moment.

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Well- so, there's always difficulties to these relationships, and China is no different and they sometimes go through difficult phases. But that sort of trade underpinning to a relationship should never be underestimated, and that's a decades old relationship. And I think that the strength of the relationship can actually weather a range of these issues that arise. But that has to be done delicately, both in public discourse and in using the appropriate mechanisms to argue the case. So, where there is an anti-dumping case brought against the product of ours and we believe it lacks merit, we argue that in the appropriate legal form very, very vigorously. And I think in this case that will be a very successful argument.

GARETH PARKER: All right. Christian, thank you, as always for your time. I appreciate it.

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Cheers, Gareth. Thank you.