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6PR Mornings with Gareth Parker



Subjects: Covid-19 app, China, Royal Commission report

GARETH PARKER: Two Point eight million Australians have download the app. Now, in many respects that's quite remarkable that that many people have done so in just a couple of days. However, the rate of increase of people downloading the app is tailing off. You get that big bang all at once and my sense is that people who were really motivated to do this have already done it and it will be harder to shift public opinion and actually not so much about opinion, but actually action to get people to do it if it hasn't happened already. Now you heard the Prime Minister there say that the app is the ticket to easing restrictions. It's a pretty interesting framing isn't it? The Attorney-General is Christian Porter. Christian Good morning.

CHRISTIAN PORTER: Morning Gareth, how are you?

GARETH PARKER: I'm okay. So look, I mean I don't know if you project this sort of thing but is the Government satisfied with where the app download numbers are at?

CHRISTIAN PORTER: Well it is a very solid start, so I think that there were some very basic estimates of where we might be in five days which was around about a million downloads and we got there within about five hours so yeah, look, it's a good start. I appreciate what you say that, that there is still a critical mass that we've got to reach and that's going to require ongoing information campaigns and convincing people that it's in the entire country's best interest to download the app but you'd have to say that 2.8 million downloads in a short period of time, like if we'd gotten significantly less than that people would be calling it something other than a success, but it's a success so far, but it's still the early stages.

GARETH PARKER: Yeah, so I mean, we've heard about the 40 per cent number do you know roughly how many downloads that means?

CHRISTIAN PORTER: I don't have the exact figure in millions but you know 25 million Australians – the maths isn’t too hard to do. So it is significantly more than what we've got at the moment, but I appreciate what you say. I think that there would be a group of people who are used to the technology, who are motivated to download who probably downloaded early, but I suspect that the one thing that can be very powerful here is the word of mouth between individuals and having 2.8 million Australians who are your neighbours, your friends, your work mates, confident to download the app, they see the communal benefit in it being downloaded, they see how it's connected to the reality of us being potentially able to get back to business as usual and our lives quicker than would otherwise be the case. I think that you know there's a strength in numbers and the early numbers are very, very good. So you've got a lot of listeners out there. I don't think there's any more private and secure information that can possibly be volunteered to either a government agency or the commercial sector than this information. It is very limited, it's used for a very limited but very important purpose, it's safe, it's secure. You know the coding has been reverse-engineered by people who are good at these things, it's been put across the spotlight. I think this is the most safe and secure voluntary providing of information that anyone can give and it serves this unbelievably important purpose which is to help us get back to business as usual quicker.

GARETH PARKER: Do you think that privacy argument is over?

CHRISTIAN PORTER: Well, I do, I do think that there is no more private, more secure information and what we have done is make it an offence for the information used for any other purpose than the purpose that Greg Hunt has set out, which is to allow for the quicker ability to work out where someone has been diagnosed with COVID-19, who they’ve been in proximity-contact with for a period of time that puts that person they've been in contact with at risk of contracting the disease. That's all it's being used for. Any other use is unlawful and you know in normal circumstances when you consent or volunteer information to a private or public sector entity, it is possible for that information potentially to be the subject of a warrant or to be provided to law enforcement agencies. Not with this information, not with this information. That is strictly prohibited by a biosecurity direction of Greg Hunt by agreement with the states and by legislation. So it's very safe, it's very secure, it serves a very important purpose, and everyone in WA wants to get their lives back and get their businesses back on track and get our economy roaring back to life and this is a very very important part of achieving that. And, as a country we've achieved better health results than virtually every other country on Earth and trying to continue those health results, whilst also re-animating our economy means that we as a Government have to try things and this is definitely worth a very strong try. I think it will succeed and I think the early numbers are extremely encouraging.

GARETH PARKER: Can we talk about China? The Chinese Ambassador's remarks in that interview with the Australian Financial Review about boycotting Australian beef and wine and education and tourism were remarkable enough and I said yesterday on the program that Marise Payne was absolutely correct to describe it as economic coercion. And I think that ordinary Australians will be pretty surprised that China who tell us that they are a valued partner, and then going out and threatening us with what - the Foreign Minister absolutely is correct to call economic coercion. But this continues to escalate because the embassy has now basically broken one of the rules of diplomatic engagement - that is that they've detailed private conversations without the consent of the other side. Where's all this going?

CHRISTIAN PORTER: Well, my take on it- and I think that Marise Payne as our Foreign Minister has been exceptional in the temperate nature of her response to all of these issues. But that I think evidences the fact that the Australian response is rational, reasonable, I think it calculates what has to be done in all the circumstances, which is to have a thorough-going review into the origins and early transmission and administration around COVID-19 in Wuhan because that's where it started. Now, the idea that you would not do that in the circumstances where a virus started in circumstances that are very, very unclear and effectively grounded the world economy and brought the Australian economy to its knees, the idea that you wouldn't do that is just irrational. I mean, this is the only rational response to the circumstances that we're in. I think that the Chinese Ambassador's response was largely emotional and generally speaking those type of emotional responses are relatively short-lived. So whether this escalates or not will be a matter to wait, watch and see. But my observation is that…

GARETH PARKER: ..Chinese diplomats aren't renowned for freelancing emotionally.

CHRISTIAN PORTER: Well, I'm not entirely sure about that. There's been some other responses in some other countries and responses differ from diplomat to diplomat. And, you know every human being gets emotional from time to time. But I would describe that an emotional response to what is, I think, just an inarguably reasonable proposition that a virus which has killed enormous numbers of people, brought the world economy to a grinding halt, brought the Australian economy to its knees - from which position we have to recover - should be the subject of a forthright investigation so that we can understand the origins, the early transmission, the way in which the disease was administered, well or not well in its early stages. And that's a matter of global concern. The idea that you wouldn't have an investigation like that is irrational, illogical, unreasonable and the response suggesting that that style of investigation is not warranted and necessary, to me is an emotional response. So, you know, we stand by the need for an investigation of the origins of the virus. It's as simple as that.

GARETH PARKER: I noted with interest yesterday that the Ambassador didn't talk about refusing to buy Australia's iron ore or energy - is that because they've got no other realistic alternatives of supply? And given that, should we stand our ground on this, we shouldn't cave into these sorts of economic threats? I notice that the West Australian Premier, Mark McGowan, still very reluctant to criticise China on these questions because he says he's focused on the jobs of 300,000 West Australians. Well, no one wants West Australians to lose their jobs, but we're not without leverage here.

CHRISTIAN PORTER: Well, no one wants West Australians to lose their jobs. And the thing is that West Australians, many of them, we hope temporarily, have lost their jobs, because a virus spread very rapidly out of China in circumstances where its early manifestation causes and management are totally unclear. Many, many thousands, millions of people around the world have lost their jobs, many have lost their lives and understanding the origins of a health issue that has affected the entire world is incredibly important. I mean, the H7N9 bird flu virus was transferred from chickens to humans in a wet market in China in February 2013 and that virus is still in some parts of the world killing people. So, the idea that we would just be wilfully blind to a process that is needed to get information that can help us combat the disease to prevent further occurrences of a similar nature is just irrational. And I don't think there'd be any independent international observer who would take the stance that, in any way, the calling for that type of investigation is political or politically motivated - it just must be rational. And on the point of trade, the reason why we trade so heavily with, and that's both to and from China, but particularly to China, is that we are a trusted, reliable trading partner who provides the highest qualities of goods and services to what was, until this event, a rapidly growing economy. And those services and those goods are critical, not just to China but many nations around the world, as you say, they are energy, they are iron ore which is completely vital for the construction industry in China and other places, 70 per cent of our food is exported. So, there is going to be a very, very healthy future for Australian goods and services being traded out of China to the employment and financial benefits of Australians. And we should be confident in that fact, given we are a fantastic trading partner who produces both raw materials and sophisticated manufacturing goods and services that the rest of the world wants and needs.

GARETH PARKER: Just before I let you go - an issue that we have discussed in previous weeks. I read reports yesterday that the Victorian Attorney-General has written to you saying that, as far as the Victorians are concerned, there is no obstacle to now releasing the redacted Royal Commission sections around Cardinal George Pell - will you now do that?

CHRISTIAN PORTER: Yep. So, that letter's been received. Process is - and I apologise if this sounds bureaucratic - but this is the process, I receive it, I read it, it goes to the department, they satisfy themselves, I get final legal advice, and yep, and then documents can be published.

GARETH PARKER: And so, that'll take a few weeks?

CHRISTIAN PORTER: I would suggest inside a couple of weeks, yeah, it won't take very long from here.

GARETH PARKER: Alright. We'll await it. Thank you very much, appreciate your time.

CHRISTIAN PORTER: Thanks, Gareth. Cheers.

GARETH PARKER: Christian Porter, the Attorney-General.