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6PR Mornings with Gareth Parker


Subjects: National accounts, China trade, Facebook, borders

GARETH PARKER: National accounts just released in the last few minutes, the largest quarterly GDP fall on record. The Attorney-General is Christian Porter. Christian, good morning.

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Yeah, morning Gareth. How are you?

GARETH PARKER: We were expecting a recession; were we expecting a recession of this magnitude?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Well there are a lot of people doing it very, very tough out there. So I would suggest this comes as no surprise to them, it's certainly not a surprise to us. But you're right. That's the largest fall in quarterly GDP since records commenced in 1959 and we're looking at an economic downturn the likes of which Australia hasn't seen since the 1930's. And of course that was brought on by what we all considered to be the absolutely necessary health and public health responses to COVID-19. So it's what we expected. It indicates the scale of the task that we've all got ahead of ourselves. Federal government, state governments, men and women who have lost their jobs, businesses that are trying to grow their way back. That is a very sobering set of figures.

GARETH PARKER: Does it change the strategy from here?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: No. I mean, we as a federal government have always viewed that we have to balance the health responses and the economic responses. You've got to protect people's health and save lives. And you have to save jobs and livelihoods and leave the structure of an economy that can work out and have a path and a clear path out of what is obviously a very major economic downturn. And we've always been trying to find that middle ground and that balance, but what we have to do is continually set ourselves goals to get ourselves back to growth, back to prosperity, back to jobs and businesses flourishing. But what we can't be doing is thinking that the goals on the public health side are the only goals that we have in front of us.

GARETH PARKER: On the continuing fractiousness, I guess, in the relationship between Australia and China, now China is saying that West Australian grain is a biosecurity risk, that it has harmful pests in it. I mean, is this to be taken seriously?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Well look, I don't have each and every fact, but CBH are a fantastic West Australian company. You know the grain that is produced in our state and in my electorate is quite simply the best in the world. I would think that whatever claims are now being made will turn out to be false, completely false. But that is now a process and the claims have been made. And as you point out, this is part of a complicated relationship. And when China, as they have a right to do, make claims of this type, we have to go through a process to disprove them, but I'm sure that they will be disproved.

GARETH PARKER: Okay. When does it end, though? I mean, does this just continue to be a cascading series of tit for tat revelations and tit for tat claims?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Well our process as a government and as ministers is to take each claim and deal with it. It's obviously not lost on people that all of these sit inside a wider context and a relationship which has its complications. But we did see with the speech at the National Press Club today- this week I think it was - from the deputy ambassador to Australia, that there is also acknowledgement on the part of the Chinese that the relationship is mutually beneficial. It's layered, it is complicated, and obviously it's ongoing. So the task for both sides of this relationship is to navigate the difficulties as they arise.

GARETH PARKER: Facebook say that if the government presses ahead with a regime that would require them and Google to sit down with Australian media companies to negotiate a fee for the use of the stories that journalists in this country produce, that they will ban news from their platform. What do you make of that?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Well look, I mean, just we're not playing poker here. We're not in an environment where we're ever going to be persuaded by heavy handed predictions or bluffs. I mean, we're just not doing that. I mean, we're trying to create a framework, a policy that is in the best interests of Australians, and those sort of statements I think are terribly unhelpful, but particularly unhelpful for the organisations that make them. I mean, they're not going to persuade a policy outcome here by making those sort of claims and statements. And I think that it would be extremely unlikely that you would get carried through on that type of statement. But in any event, we're not going to be persuaded by those types of heavy handed responses to what is a fair minded, reasonable public policy process, where we say that it's in the best interests of our country and its citizens to have a healthy news media sector and that the competition and the playing field has to be levelled in that sector.

GARETH PARKER: Is the message that we don't respond to threats of bullying?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Well I mean, it was certainly a bullish statement and it was very heavy handed. And it just is totally unpersuasive to the government. Like, I just- it is totally unpersuasive.

GARETH PARKER: Okay. Mark McGowan wants the airlines or perhaps the other states to check that passengers getting on planes are in possession of approval to come into Western Australia. Is that proposal workable or sensible?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Well, I think- I understand why it's being made, and I think manifests and the airlines - commercial access to that information and how it could be treated - I think is a very fair question that needs a little bit of thought and investigation. So I think that is a completely fair- minded concept and it just needs a little bit of work. But look, I mean there have been some statements from Michelle Roberts about the AFP, which I think have been really rather unfair. I mean, the AFP has attended, on my data, 892 flights and processed 51,000 passengers since March 24 for WA. West Australian Police have attended 327 flights and processed 13,338 passengers. So look, the AFP, as well as offers around the ADF, are doing a very strong amount of work in protecting West Australians and working cooperatively with the West Australian Government. But there's always got to be a basis in law for the actions of the AFP or Border Force, and that's a slightly different issue to the issue of the commercial information about manifests and passengers that the airlines would have. So I think that it is a much better line of inquiry around that commercial information.

GARETH PARKER: But this is the point, isn't it? We don't have systems to manage the flow of people across state borders because we've not needed them. They're not actually something we do.

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: I mean, the AFP have said very clearly, they don't have any basis in law to be checking passengers as they get on a flight in another city - Sydney or Melbourne or wherever - as to whether or not they're meeting a requirement under the WA law, because there's just no lawful basis for them to do that. The AFP investigate and operate under federal laws. So you have to devise these systems in a way that recognises that we are a federation, that there are rules and lawful bases for doing things and they just can't be pushed out the window. But again, I think that the question around manifests and information that's held by the airlines about who is on a flight and getting on a flight, there's a reasonable argument to suggest that that could be more widely shared and utilised, obviously subject to a range of privacy considerations that have to be thought through, and I think they're being thought through at the moment.

GARETH PARKER: Christian, thank you for your time.

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Okay. Cheers, Gareth.

GARETH PARKER: Attorney-General, Industrial Relations Minister Christian Porter.