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6PR Mornings with Gareth Parker



Subjects: Covid-19 app, IR reform and Virgin

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

CHRISTIAN PORTER: Yes, good morning Gareth and to your listeners.

GARETH PARKER: Thank you for your time and lots to discuss as ever in these coronavirus times. Can I start with the app, the tracking and tracing app that the Prime Minister would like us to download? There are emerging privacy concerns about this and this will sort of be part of your role as Attorney-General, what, what can you tell the public to reassure them that this is just about trying to deal with a health crisis?

CHRISTIAN PORTER: Well, the first thing I'd say is that’s precisely what it's about and only what it's about. But the second thing is that there's an independent privacy impact assessment done and that'll have recommendations. They'll all be accepted. In terms of the type of information that any of your listeners might consent to being provided commercially or to government, there will be no information in the system more safe and more private and more narrowly used for the specific health purpose than this information. And why? Because we are only interested in having the information available for the present purposes of checking once someone has been diagnosed as positive with a doctor who it is that they may have been in contact with in circumstances where that could have transmitted the disease. For the safety of that person, for the safety of the people that are in contact with. So obviously, we want high, consented, voluntary take-up of the app. So we are going to have protections for the privacy and security information like nothing that there has ever been. It'll be the most private and secure information that any one of your listeners would ever upload and used only for the purposes that I've just described.

GARETH PARKER: Do you think people are going to be reassured? It seems to me that getting to the 40 per cent download threshold is going to be an enormous ask. I mean I think in Singapore they only got the 15 or 17 per cent.

CHRISTIAN PORTER: Different situations. I think one of the incentives for all of us to upload the app when it's available, is that the more people that upload it, then the greater tool and abilities that we have to start slowly easing the restrictions that have changed everyone's lives. So, in Australia we've been very very successful in slowing the spread of the disease and flattening the curve by restrictions which everyone is finding difficult and none of us want to see go on for longer than they have to, but we all recognise that precisely those restrictions, of course, the, the great health outcome that we've been able to achieve thus far. So, the app, and the ability to have the fastest, safest, most private way of being able to check the contacts that people have had once they've been diagnosed positive by a medical practitioner means that we're going to be able to loosen those restrictions faster than we otherwise would have been able to do. So you know, some trade off here and I think that people will probably upload the app if we can convince them that it's safe and we will be able to do that I think because the privacy and safety protocols around it - I would describe as a triple lock - like we're doing everything to ensure that the information is safe, safely held, only to be used for the purposes for which we will clearly stipulate in which people will consent on. But it's a trade-off.

GARETH PARKER: It's voluntary but isn't there a sort of an implied, I don't want to overcook it, but an implied threat in there that says “well listen if you don't download the app, Australian people, then we're not going to release the restrictions as quickly as you'd like”?

CHRISTIAN PORTER: But it's not a threat, it's just a statement of fact that the more people that we have using the app and the more effective it is, then, the greater the tool that we have at our disposal to help prevent the spread of the disease and therefore, the greater our ability to relax other restrictions that are also designed to prevent the spread of the disease. Like it's just, that's just a fact and, you know, we would encourage people to download it because it is going to be safe, it is going to be secure, and it serves a really important purpose. I mean, ultimately, it doesn't do anything other than is done manually. So at the moment, if you test positive with a medical professional, they will ask you who it is that you have had contact in proximity for for around about 15 minutes because that places that person at risk of having contracted the disease. Now, what the app does is store that information by virtue of a Bluetooth handshake on your phone - on your phone and the medical professional can have access to that information, which is just a quicker, faster, and ultimately we think, more accurate way of doing it than sitting down with the question and answer session which is what we're doing, you know, literally with the hundreds of people that have tested positive so far.

GARETH PARKER: Which is working and has been a heroic effort so far, but it's, it's painstaking.

CHRISTIAN PORTER: It is painstaking, and it's time consuming and it takes a lot of time and also, you know, like people’s memories over a period of several days or longer, they're always imperfect. I mean, you know, sometimes during this period of isolation it's hard to remember what day of the week, let alone, you know, what you've exactly been doing or you might have spent 15 minutes with five days ago, so...

GARETH PARKER: The focus is very much on the economy with the impact of various parts of the economy shutting down on unemployment, most primarily but also growth and everything else. Philip Lowe the Reserve Bank Governor made some pretty stark comments about that yesterday. He’s encouraging further economic reforms to speed up the economy on the other side of it. Company tax cuts, industrial relations changes, will they be contemplated?

CHRISTIAN PORTER: Well, I mean I listened to the Governor's comments. I mean it’s a lot…easy to say, in effect, you should do things that improve the situation without particularly specifying exactly what they are and that's the job of government and policymakers. But without committing to any particular changes in any particular areas, it's quite clear that the post COVID-19 economy is going to be a very different structural beast to the pre COVID-19 economy and we're going to have to look at what are rationally the best ways to move out of this period of shutdown and reanimate the economy as quickly as possible and to try and take advantages for our country and our economy and our construction and mining and manufacturing and retail sectors that might be presented by virtue of the fact that we have handled the health response as well as any country on earth. So there will be challenges and difficulties but there will also be opportunities and it would make sense for any government to consider how to make the most of those opportunities. I mean, you know, one of the things that has been said at the Reserve Bank Governor Board is that there will be certain things like wages growth which are going to have real pressures on it because of this terrible experience we've had with COVID-19. Now the job of government is to think about ways that we can expand and reanimate our economy taking every advantage we've got as hard and as fast as possible.

GARETH PARKER: So what specifically do you want to do with industrial relations reform then?

CHRISTIAN PORTER: Well it's too early to answer that question, but I think we've established a more cooperative approach with the ACTU, certainly not to say that we agree on everything, far from it. But I think that what we have is an opportunity to actually sit down with the leadership of the union movement in the near future and talk about the things that they think are going to produce the most jobs and the most wages growth and upward pressure on employment. And for us to nominate the things that we think will achieve that and to try and sort through where there's agreement and compromises can be reached. So, you know, so the only thing that we can safely say is that there are, you know, they're going to be changes in a whole range of areas and if we don't make the most of the potential for change, then we won't make the most of what our post economy can be.

GARETH PARKER: But that's very interesting because pre crisis, okay, so you and the union movement were at loggerheads on a number of issues, including things like the Ensuring Integrity Bill aimed at bad behaviour from union leaders. What you're describing is a new paradigm, it's sitting down with unions trying to exchange ideas, figure out common ground it's almost sounds like a new revival of the old accord process that Bob Hawke went through in the 1980s.

CHRISTIAN PORTER: Well, I think that, you know, there could potentially be similarities but, I mean, I would say in my observation in my time as a Minister and Ministers in my Government before me, we've always been endeavouring to do things that we think will grow the economy and grow the number of jobs available, put upward pressure on wages and we've got views about how that might happen. But it is helpful to seek views elsewhere about how you might do that and see what compromises and agreements can be reached. I mean, that might be a fruitful process, it might be a less fruitful process, but it's worth a process to engage in.

GARETH PARKER: So more collaboration, less adversarial?

CHRISTIAN PORTER: Well I think so, I mean I would still very much like to see better behaviour on construction workplaces. I think those issues are themselves productivity issues and they, they're not going to go away. But in answering questions about how we might enliven parts of our manufacturing sector or reanimate parts of our tourism and hospitality sector, I mean how much flexibility we can reasonably have in the system are going to be live questions because if we can have more flexibility that people can agree as a matter of consensus, puts upward pressure on the number of jobs we create an upward pressure on wages, then that's obviously worth doing. But trying to reach that agreement and consensus is never easy but at least let's ask the questions of each other.

GARETH PARKER: Ok, do you think Virgin will take to the skies without a Government equity injection?

CHRISTIAN PORTER: Well, I think that the voluntary administration system allows for one very important thing for government and for a range of other people who might be looking at the parameters of the business and that is accurate, due-diligence information flows. And I think Deloitte has been appointed as the administrators. There is clearly in my observation a future for the airline. How that might look and what equity partners might be a part of that future is going to depend on the information about the more or less viable parts of the business. And I just think that that is a good process for government and everyone else interested in the future of that airline and the Government certainly is, to get the best information to make the best decisions. So, you know nothing would be ruled in or out, but it's an information process through voluntary administration. And keep in mind that the difference between the voluntary administration for Virgin and any other normal situation is that, is the Government through JobKeeper is in effect supporting the wages of everyone inside Virgin, noting the fact of course that their demand has bottomed out. So, you know there is time here, and I think it was interesting listening to the executives at Virgin and the administrators say that there is time here to work out what is the best way for them to be a more competitive and better structured financial outfit on the other side of this.

GARETH PARKER: Christian, thank you so much for your time. Appreciate it.

CHRISTIAN PORTER: Pleasure and stay safe everyone.