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6PR Mornings with Gareth Parker


Subjects: AFL and Borders, High Court, Energy Policy, JobSeeker

GARETH PARKER: If you are on JobSeeker, I would like to know what impact the doubling of JobSeeker has had to your life; 922-11-882. We're going to debate it after 10 o'clock. Should it remain a permanent feature of our welfare system? I'm going to ask my next guest about that as well, though not right away. He's the Attorney General and Industrial Relations Minister Christian Porter. Christian, good morning.

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Gareth, how are you?

GARETH PARKER: Good. Thanks. We'll come back to that issue. AFL Grand Final in Perth. Yes or no?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Definitely. Should have happened years ago. I'd love to see it in Perth. I- look, I'm no AFL expert and I'm sort of a bit perplexed why when COVID struck and the season was disrupted, why they didn't go to an NFL style regional competition like conferences, where you could have had western and one or two central conferences and then an eastern conference in Queensland. You could have played two or three, or three or four teams off against each other and then you could have finals later in the year. I mean it would be very different from a normal season but it's a different set of circumstances. But they went down a different route. But yeah, I think that it would be a marvellous thing to have a grand final in Perth and the stadium's just magnificent. Why wouldn't you?

GARETH PARKER: Victorians would have loved your model because then they could just call it the VFL and let the rest of the non-Victorian teams worry about themselves.

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Well you would have had- I mean presumably you could have had South Australian and West Australian sides playing on the west coast, [indistinct] South Australia, West Australia. You could've had two conferences in Victoria and you could have had one or two in Queensland. Like I think it would've worked okay and it certainly wouldn't have been- no one wants to go back to the VFL days; that'll be shameful. But I think you've got to be pretty- you've got to improvise pretty hard and adapt pretty quickly to the circumstances. But they've gone down a slightly different route and it's not easy for the AFL, it's not easy for anyone trying to organise anything that looks like business as usual. But we've got to grind our way back there; apply the organisational skills to it and do things differently.

GARETH PARKER: And one of the big impediments, of course, to business as usual is the hard border. It perhaps looks a better bet for Mark McGowan this week given what's happening in Victoria than it looked last week. But here's what the Premier said over the weekend about the Federal Government and your intervention in Clive Palmer's High Court case.


MARK MCGOWAN: We're just trying to save people's lives and Mr Palmer and Mr Porter should understand that. I think they're being a bit selfish with this action.

[End of excerpt]

GARETH PARKER: You being selfish?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Well it's not the Commonwealth Government's action. I mean this is private citizens arguing that the border closure in the present circumstances is unconstitutional and that is their right. And Mark McGowan can't take that right away from any citizen and I know that he believes what he's doing is in the best interests of Western Australians. But the interests are not merely health interests and there are many West Australians whose businesses will go under because of the hard border closure. And trying to strike that right balance is a very, very difficult policy question and I have great empathy for Premier McGowan having to make those calls. But no call, no matter how much you think it's the best balance, and people will potentially disagree on what is the best balance and that's a policy question. But no call is above a citizen's right to argue the unconstitutionality of the Government's call. So calling someone selfish for arguing a constitutional right is something that I strongly disagree with.

GARETH PARKER: But it's not just a private business dispute though, is it now? Given that you've intervened and you've expressed a view that the border should open.

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Well I mean it would be absurd if in a question of law as important as this, brought by private citizens, the Commonwealth Government didn't intervene. Like, had we not intervened, people would've said that that's just ridiculous and they'd be absolutely right. So once you intervene, you put a view, which we will, which is your best view about what the actual status, constitutional status, of the policy in question is - here it's the hard border. And I think we would have to say that in the present circumstances, there's a very strong argument that it's unconstitutional. Now, that's just a statement of a view about the legal constitutionality of the situation. It's not, you know, putting it on anyone that they shouldn't challenge because someone's view prevails because they hold it very, very strongly that it's the right view. I think that- that starts to look very, very undemocratic in some ways because the Constitution is the ultimate- the ultimate document that makes sure that governments behave inside their powers and inside the law and no government, no individual no matter how strongly they take the view that what they're doing is the best balance, is above the Constitution.

GARETH PARKER: So we're a nation of laws, pandemic or no pandemic?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Absolutely. I mean of, course, we are. And some countries around the Earth will have different systems of government and governance and respond differently to pandemics and crisis. But ours is a system of checks and balances and ultimately, the most important of those checks and balances are set out in the Constitution and the right to free movement across borders and to free trade across borders is one of the foundational rights of every single Australian citizen. And the fact that individual citizens, whether they're tourism operators in Queensland or Clive Palmer or whoever else, they have a right to argue a case in the Constitution. And calling people selfish for arguing that case, I think misunderstands the obligations that every level of government has to work inside the system. Even if they believe what they're doing is completely right, they have to work inside the system.

GARETH PARKER: What's your reaction to the allegations and the findings of the investigators report to the Chief Justice of the High Court, that Dyson Heydon sexually harassed six associates?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Well, I mean, obviously they're incredibly concerning and very, very serious. And no one should have to suffer sexual harassment at work or in any other part of their lives, for that matter. And I think the Commonwealth Government has done a reasonable job in its own departments and agencies, improving situations and preventing this type of behaviour. So it's very, very serious. It's something the Commonwealth Government takes very seriously. But the High Court is a very unique position. Again, going back to the independence of the court from the executive government. So they manage and respond to all employment matters, as part of their independence. But that is part and parcel of their separation from the executive government and they, the court, have responded to these allegations by commissioning a report. I've not seen the report. I mean, I was told as a matter of courtesy, that this was a report that was being undertaken. So, I haven't seen the report, but obviously, the matters are very, very serious. Very, very concerning. The lawyers for the complainant said yesterday or the day before, that they'd be pursuing compensation and they used the words from the Commonwealth. They said that through discussions with lawyers for the Commonwealth, there've been indications the Commonwealth will be willing to entertain negotiations in respect of claims for compensation. I must say I am unaware what that is a reference to. Like it seems to me that may be a reference to discussions between the complainants and the lawyers for the High Court. But, this is one of those very unique circumstances where the High Court is absolutely and ultimately responsible, as part of the separation of powers doctrine, for complaints and the nature of those complaints.

GARETH PARKER: There's been no correspondence with your department about the possibility of compensation?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Well, I mean, there may have been correspondence between the plaintiffs' lawyers and people acting for the High Court. But my department is not involved. It's not a matter that the Government can get involved with in a substantive way. So, the court's made its decisions about how it's handled the situation. It put a report together. I've not seen the report, but obviously, it's all incredibly serious, incredibly concerning and where there are agencies that the Government is directly responsible for, I think we've done a reasonable job. I think the profession probably at large has got some way to go. It has come some distance since I last worked in a law firm, but I think there's probably some way to go in the profession. But from the Government's point of view this is taken enormously seriously in the agencies and departments that we control.

GARETH PARKER: Anthony Albanese has written to the Prime Minister seeking to put an end to the energy wars. Do you welcome that? Does the Government welcome that?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Look, it probably would have been helpful, if you want to have a genuinely bipartisan discussion about things like this, to sit down and tell us about the contents of your policy and your letter before we hear about it in the media. Like it's sort of- not off to a great start, to be honest-

GARETH PARKER: And that's fairly standard operating procedure though, isn't it? Your people write a letter and then they send it to the journalist first?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Well if you want to have a genuine agreement about an area that's been as contentious about this, then that standard operating procedure is a terrible way to start. Like truly terrible –

GARETH PARKER: [Interrupts] Okay. Could the Government move beyond it?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Well, I mean, the Government's got a clear path forward in this area and I sort of haven't gone across the letter in enormous detail, but there's not much detail to the letter.

GARETH PARKER: Be good for the country. If we could put this to bed, wouldn't it?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Well, I mean you've got a Government with a clear policy. We're not in the business of making policy for the Opposition. So if they have views about emissions targets, it's not for us to negotiate their policy for them. I mean, they've had multiple different views, within several months, about what emissions targets should be and our views are clear - they're locked in. So if certainty is the merit of dealing with the Opposition, like, there is certainty in government policy. The prices are coming down. We've secured an energy grid, through a new generation storage and transmission. We're supporting new energy projects, including Snowy. We're on track to beat our Kyoto era emissions reduction targets. We're on track to meet and beat our 2030 Paris targets reduction. Labor can't even tell us what their reduction targets will be. So, you'd never close off the avenues to have cooperation, but it's not a very co-operative start to that approach.

GARETH PARKER: Just before I let you go, we're going to have this debate later, but I'm interested in your view. We've obviously seen, as a result of the COVID economic emergency, the JobSeeker payment doubled. And as everyone knows, there's a lengthy debate leading up to the pre-pandemic era, about increasing JobSeeker. I think if you told the advocates making that case it would be doubled, they would have been delighted with that. We are expecting that at some point it'll be withdrawn. Will it be withdrawn, basically halved again, to where it was before? Will it stay at its current level doubled or will it be cut back to somewhere in between?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Well, I mean, I don't have a perfect answer to those questions, but what I would say and obviously, particularly with JobKeeper and JobSeeker, we're going through a review and decisions about the consequence of what that review tells us is very important. So, we'll get the data on the JobKeeper. JobSeeker, yes, there have been arguments, with respect to the old Newstart and then JobSeeker that it should be increased. I mean, Labor actually voted against a motion in the Senate to increase the base rate. What I would, sort of, caution people again is that this has been a completely abnormal set of circumstances. So, the expectation that what has been put in place in JobSeeker, during the COVID pandemic, is what will always be in place would be, I think, a misreading of the situation. Because what we did with JobKeeper and JobSeeker was a response that emerged in extraordinary circumstances, the likes of which none of us have ever seen. You really haven't seen for 100 years. So, people will make any cup of argument that increases designed for abnormal circumstances should be the norm. But, I think that those arguments would lack the merit.

GARETH PARKER: Okay. We'll continue the debate later in the program. Thank you for your time this morning.

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Thanks, Gareth. Cheers.

GARETH PARKER: Christian Porter, the Attorney General and Federal Industrial Relations Minister.