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6PR Mornings with Gareth Parker



Subjects: wage underpayments; domestic violence; national security; Ben Wyatt resignation

GARETH PARKER: The Attorney-General and the Industrial Relations Minister Christian Porter joins me from Canberra. Christian, hello.

CHRISTIAN PORTER: Yes, morning Gareth.

GARETH PARKER: The underpayment scandal at Woolworths has widened. This is breaking news. They've told the ASX that the wage underpayment bill might amount to $400 million, including interest. Your reaction?

CHRISTIAN PORTER: Well, I would say that the expectation is that there's going to be, unfortunately, more of these revelations as time goes on. As I've said, over the last ten years or so it now appears the problem was endemic, large organisations didn't have their eye on the ball, they were not resourcing payroll and putting enough effort, attention, resources into getting these things right. They're now auditing and finding what are enormous errors. We're obviously taking very firm action on that but this is far from the first very sadly - it won't be the last. As you've noted, there's a very large interest component in that, and that's beyond their initial estimates through their audits. But it's just immensely disappointing.

GARETH PARKER: So you said you reckon we'll see more of them; how many more?

CHRISTIAN PORTER: Well, it's hard to know. I mean, there are a variety of estimates out there, but I mean, it is just impossible to guess at. But, you know, if you're a large business and you are not auditing to work out whether or not this endemic problem has affected your business then you absolutely need to be - because the ultimate outcome that we want is for people to be paid correctly. And if at any period of time recently people haven't been paid correctly, the first and foremost responsibility to recompense them and work out where they've been underpaid is through the businesses themselves.

So it's enormously disappointing, we're weeks away from a criminal offence being introduced on wage theft. We've put out a further paper that canvases further options, including banning directors of company who might have oversighted those sort of matters, adverse publicity orders. But, there will be a full court/press response from the government, but ultimately the responsibility lies with business and it seems to be repetitiously and endemically part of what has happened in big business over the last decade or so, and they need to sort it out.

GARETH PARKER: The horrific crime involving the family of Hannah Clarke in Brisbane last week. It was sort of unfolding when we spoke a week ago. There has clearly been a national outcry for more to be done on domestic violence. Is there anything that you will do in your portfolio as Attorney-General?

CHRISTIAN PORTER: Yes, well - I mean, we've got record funding through the Fourth National Action Plan on domestic violence and that cuts across a variety of portfolios. So, for instance, late last year there was $13.5 million of new money allocated to having better triage and identification of those matters in the family court where domestic violence is a potential feature of the cases. I am constantly looking for ways in which we can use the family court system better to identify the problems, constantly looking for ways that we can ensure that we minimise the tendency for this to occur.

I mean, there are always going to be limits inside the family court system but that is definitely one of the major contact points with this issue, and I'm constantly looking for ways in which we can try and make this set of circumstance better. And like every Australian, I'm still trying to wrap my head around just the sheer horror of what occurred and the evil that was involved in it.

GARETH PARKER: There seems to be a view among some - which I do not share - that the family court is driving men to these sorts of crimes.

CHRISTIAN PORTER: No. Look I mean - this is not to say that there aren't significant improvements and ongoing improvements and ways in which we have, to make systems better.  But- you know, the idea that there's an excuse for the behaviour of an individual who has undertaken one of the most horrifically murderous acts I think most Australians can recall, to me just doesn't bear out with common sense.

I mean, the responsibility is on the individual in this case, and I just don't buy into this stuff, that you know, there's some second round effect that people are being driven to. This man was a murderer and his actions were horrific - beyond the comprehension of most good, normal Australians who love their families and I just don't buy into that that stuff.

That's not to say that we don't need to improve systems - and we're always looking to do that and we've spent record amounts of funding - our Government; everything from issues around sheltering, to men's programs, to assisting through family court processes and there's always more that needs to be done. But this is just an act of sheer, unadulterated individual evil.

GARETH PARKER: The boss of ASIO, Mike Burgess, says there's more spies running around Australia at the moment than at the height of the Cold War when the KGB was in full flight. What can the Government do about it?

CHRISTIAN PORTER: Well the Government is doing things about it, and I mean, I think that Mike Burgess' speech was a landmark speech - it was very impressive. I think it summarised as best you can without going into granular detail - which of course is prevented from doing - the problems that we face. But of course, we've had more national security legislation than any other modern government. We've completely rewritten the laws that apply to espionage and foreign interference. We have enormous resources dedicated to the task.

I think one of the things that Mike Burgess, the Director-General of ASIO, noted was that whereas previously ASIO's focus had been near-exclusively on detecting and disrupting, that we will move into a new phase of highlighting through criminal breach and prosecution of the people that are involved in these sorts of behaviours, and that is actually a very significant shift for the way in which the federal intelligence and domestic intelligence agencies have operated. But my very strong sense is that's an important path forward because of the fact that we need to further highlight what is completely unacceptable behaviour in Australia. And as Mike Burgess noted, it is behaviour which is more endemic and more serious than it was at the height of the Cold War.

GARETH PARKER: Have you spoken to Ben Wyatt in the last 24 hours?

CHRISTIAN PORTER: I had an exchange by text with Ben, a couple of exchanges actually, yesterday. Yeah.

GARETH PARKER: You're old friends, people may or may not know that. Are you surprised by his decision?

CHRISTIAN PORTER: No, I'm not. I didn't have any forward-warning of it but I speak with Ben fairly regularly.  We've had similar experiences in some respects. He's a great friend and a very old friend, an immensely talented individual. Obviously from the other side of the political fence but I think that he has made a very significance and significantly positive contribution to Western Australia. I think in a lot of ways it's really sad that the State Parliament loses the service of someone like Ben Wyatt.

But having said that, I completely understand why this would be a decision that he would take. It goes - I don't need to say I support the decision because it's his decision and it's completely understandable to any normal person - and I just wish him all the best, thank him for everything he's done for his state. And whilst I wouldn't necessarily agree on every particular matter with Ben, everything that he's done he's done because he felt it was in the best interests of a state that he loves and he's worked incredibly hard for that state's best interests and he's a great bloke.

GARETH PARKER: I described him yesterday as a generational talent, which is what I believe. I think there's very few people like Ben Wyatt in public life. But we need more Ben Wyatt's - not fewer of them - I think and I don't really care which party you belong to.

CHRISTIAN PORTER: You know what marked out Ben for me, and I've known him for a long time, but my dealings with him as a friend have always been similar to my dealings with him in politics. And that's whether it's things like negotiating around trying to land a solution for the GST which bedevilled WA for so long is that he approaches problems with the best interests of people in the state that he's trying to serve at heart, and rationally, and reasonably, and calmly. And it's not driven by emotion, and it's not pejorative. And so I found for instance when Mathias and myself and others were dealing with Ben throughout the GST process that we could trust each other, that we could align our interests, we could see pathways through. We could work with each other on timing, and it kind of was a shared common interest for the state, where you could trust people and deal with them rationally irrespective of the fact that they're on the other side of the fence.

And there’s so much emotion and drama in politics, getting people in it who have a clear line of sight as to what they want to achieve, what they think is in the state's best interest, and then are willing to negotiate, compromise, be reasonable, and rational on how you might get there - maybe that's a little bit of a dying breed, but let's hope that the seat gets filled with someone who's like Ben.

GARETH PARKER: Yeah. What do you think he'll do?

CHRISTIAN PORTER: I don't know and I haven't spoken to him about it, but he could do a lot of different things. He's a great lawyer. He's obviously got a deep understanding of the state's finances. I hope that for Ben that what he manages to do immediately is get some great time with his family, and wrap his arms around them all, and enjoy them and for them to enjoy him.

GARETH PARKER: Christian, that you for your time this morning. I appreciate it.

CHRISTIAN PORTER: Okay. Cheers, mate.