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6PR Mornings with Gareth Parker



Subjects: Border closures, China trade, IR reform

GARETH PARKER: On the line the Attorney-General, Christian Porter. Good morning.

CHRISTIAN PORTER: Yeah, morning Gareth.

GARETH PARKER: Is border closures constitutional or unconstitutional in your judgement?

CHRISTIAN PORTER: Well, someone famously said that everything's constitutional until it's challenged, and then you need to be …

GARETH PARKER: Till it's not?

CHRISTIAN PORTER: … Well, you need to be very careful about the border closures, and they served a very important purpose for a considerable period of time, and that may well still be the case now. But these are state government decisions and they obviously need to consider the health impact - like what is it that it is creating or achieving in terms of slowing the spread of the virus. That has to be weighed against the economic impact, that has to be considered in context of the constitutional issues, and they're real issues. But state governments will be getting their own advice and making their own decisions. I think ultimately, the big question here though is the practical question about the economy. You know, we're going to have many, many months of low passenger movements internationally, and that could go on for some considerable period of time. So, if you want Australian tourism, retail, hospitality sector to thrive, you're going to have to pivot on to a domestic market, and that will mean West Australians going to Cairns who might have otherwise gone to Bali, and it will mean people from the East Coast going to Margaret River who otherwise might have gone to New Zealand, or wherever. And I think we need to keep in mind that there's a massive economic cost for keeping the borders closed. But state governments will make these decisions, they'll balance the competing criteria - not easy calls to make.

GARETH PARKER: Not easy calls to make, but would your Government like to see premiers like McGowan and Palaszczuk be more ambitious?

CHRISTIAN PORTER: Look, ultimately, it's their call. But I think you'd see that the Federal Government's position, on a whole range of issues, is to be forward leaning and develop workarounds to get our economy moving again - whether that's in the health and safety on construction sites, whether that's in trying to engage domestic markets, whether that's trying to make sure that demands that previously was being poured into overseas supply now can be pivoted back into domestic supply of products. I mean, there are both massive challenges in front of us, there are some pretty real opportunities that we can grasp here. And I think that there'll be a naturally competitive degree of federalism here, because if domestic tourism is going to be fuelled by the domestic market then some states might be looking to get the leap on other states in terms of locking that market in. So, this will be water I think that finds its own level. They're not easy decisions to make, it's not a criticism of state governments, but, you know, literally every day state governments would have to be weighing up the decisions which would be particular to them - and they'll be different from state to state. But tough calls, but there are opportunities and costs in every call that you make at this point in time.

GARETH PARKER: Do you think that further Australian industries are going to suffer what barley growers have suffered in the last few days?

CHRISTIAN PORTER: Well, I think that there are some radical oversimplifications that are being placed around this whole issue. We're obviously pleased about the vote that occurred last evening, and I think the vote in favour of-

GARETH PARKER: You're talking about the World Health Assembly vote?

CHRISTIAN PORTER: That's right, yeah. The vote in favour of an independent inquiry into the sources and spread of COVID- 19. What's notable about it is it was essentially a unanimous vote including, ultimately, China. So, I think that we made the right decision to seek to have that vote made, and- in advocating for the inquiry. I mean, as the Prime Minister said: that's unremarkable. I think that people drawing too direct a links between a dispute over barley that really has been ongoing for 18 months, and other matters-

GARETH PARKER: But even your colleague, Simon Birmingham, on this program yesterday acknowledged that the timing was related.

CHRISTIAN PORTER: Well, I mean, there can often be relations in timing, but not process. I mean, I think what we've got to avoid is placing some sort of Hollywood scripting over situations that are infinitely more complicated that- than can be explained in direct lines of analysis in one sentence. I mean, I think that there are some really unhelpful comments being made - and Tim Pallas' comments effectively suggesting that we should not have made a determination in our national best interest, and suggesting that that was something that we should never have even contemplated, is a monstrously unhelpful and inaccurate suggestion and piece of commentary. But what we've done is, I think, sensible, unremarkable, we manage every single one of these disputes on its merits, just as we've always done. And, you know, there have been disputes about abattoirs and labelling, those things have been happening over the last decade with some regularity. What we have to do is look at them, every single one, on its merits in turn. And we think that the actions that have been taken, with respect to Australian barley growers, is totally unmeritorious, and we'll argue that case.

GARETH PARKER: You're talking about Tim Pallas, the Victorian Treasurer, as being unhelpful because he says that Australia - I'm paraphrasing, I don't want to misquote him if I do, so it's inadvertent, I apologise, I don't have the quotes in front of me - but effectively saying that, Australia shouldn't have spoken out because it's damaged our trade interests. On the other side of the debate someone like your Liberal colleague Andrew Hastie has been very strident about our relationship with China. Peter Tinley, the Minister for Asian Engagement in this state, said that he was being unhelpful on the other side. Do you agree with Peter Tinley?

CHRISTIAN PORTER: Well I don't- I just- I'm not quite sure what particular comment about Andrew- from Andrew Hastie that Peter Tinley might be referring to but it's always, I think, reasonable to be as measured as you possibly can be in public comments around these issues - but everyone will make their own comments, that's one of the great and wonderful features of an Australian democracy. I don't think Tim Pallas' comments were well-informed or particularly helpful. The comment that I would make is the comment that the prime minister made - that seeking an inquiry was totally unremarkable - like, what else would you do?


CHRISTIAN PORTER: And it's a position, right, that has been agreed with virtually by every nation on earth - including China.


CHRISTIAN PORTER: And you know, I think that's just the basic minimum response to the situation that we've experienced worldwide and in Australia.

GARETH PARKER: In your Industrial Relations portfolio the prime minister's set to address the National Press Club next week about IR matters. and you and I have spoken before about the sort of the working relationship you've had with the ACTU through this crisis. And we talked about the possibility of sort of almost of a new accords process, of these sort of big picture agreements between government employers and unions. What prospect of that going forward do you think?

CHRISTIAN PORTER: Well I think we've got a bit of space. There's now some room for genuine negotiations around issues but that question is going to vary from issue to issue. And maybe if I use this example - one of the issues that has basically been on the deck since the time of the last election, and was even positively commented on by Bill Shorten when he was trying to be prime minister, was the issue about having term of life industrial agreements enterprise agreements over Greenfields projects. So, particularly for a state like WA having term of life in enterprise agreements around the massive mining and construction projects that we have here, can make those projects go faster, potentially less costly - that can drive further investment. So this could be a major economic issue that can assist the entire country by giving a particular benefit to industries that are located predominantly in WA. Now, that is something that kind of was left hanging and I think there's room now to have a genuine discussion about an issue like that. Because for 30 years of uninterrupted economic growth, industrial relations kind of degenerated in a way to this, this batting and bowling, attack and defence around what was a pretty remarkable run of prosperity. And now we're a different game, we're in the game of rebuilding that prosperity as quick and as hard as we possibly can - which means the landscape's changed, which means there's more room to negotiate because the single greatest challenge we've got is job growth and business growth. So if there are things that we can talk about with the union movement and range of stakeholders, then we've now got a space over the next six months to talk about those things. And one that I think is particularly pertinent to WA is Life of Enterprise Agreements on these big projects.

GARETH PARKER: Never let a crisis go to waste, as they say. Christian, thank you for your time.

CHRISTIAN PORTER: Okay. Cheers, Gareth.

GARETH PARKER: Fourteen to ten. Attorney-General, Christian Porter.