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6PR Mornings with Gareth Parker


Subjects: US election, Commonwealth Integrity Commission, interest rates

GARETH PARKER: The Attorney-General, the Industrial Relations Minister, is Christian Porter. Christian, good morning.


GARETH PARKER: Does Australia have a stake in this election? Does it matter the outcome?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Well, it's not an outcome we can control…

GARETH PARKER: I understand that.

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: …But, yeah, different administrations bring different emphasis. And if there is a change in administration, the Australian Government and our Foreign Affairs Department and our ambassadors and our consuls will be working absolutely overtime with the sort of incumbent administration if there's a change of administration. This is what always happens. But, you know, it's been a very, very enduring relationship, our most important with the United States. And the relationship has endured and strengthened and grown. And always, I think the trajectory of it has been improvement and solidification, no matter what the administration is. So- but it matters for the world, not just for Australia.

GARETH PARKER: Okay. I mean, I wouldn't expect you to express a preference, but if there is a change in administration, what tangibly will that mean in a policy sense? I mean, China is obviously the thing that listeners’ minds are going to and I agree with them. It's a bit hard to know how we're affected, but we're obviously seeing a very muscular China again in the way that they're dealing with us economically again just in the last 24 hours.

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Well, I think this is, as the Americans would say, full of known unknowns. I mean, obviously, there'll be different emphasis, if there is a new administration, on a whole range of foreign issues, but particularly China. Our job as a government is to anticipate what those emphasis might be, and obviously, we watch and learn very closely over the first weeks and months of a new administration. But you can't predict perfectly what those changes of emphasis will be. So, it is a wait and see approach for the Government, just as it always is.

GARETH PARKER: Okay. The Integrity Commission that we've been talking about for weeks and weeks, you released the draft legislation earlier this week. Why shouldn't politicians be the subject of public hearings?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: So, there's two divisions. One half of it, if you like, we'll look into and investigate corruption and integrity issues into law enforcement agencies at a Commonwealth level, of which there are many. The other half of that will look at the public sector. So that is all the full-time employees under the Public Sector Management Act, of which there are about 150,000 and will include people in universities, contractors in many instances. And yes, politicians are a part of that. On that side of the body, the determination has been that it is an investigative body that it will be able to conduct hearings, but they'll be private hearings, which is obviously in the nature of an investigation. But people can be compelled and there’ll be enormously strong powers with respect to both those private hearings but also the investigative capacity. But we take a view, as the matter of principle, that it's up to courts to hold public hearings that make determinations of guilt and innocence; and that having public hearings that result in a determination in a report is a system which, at a state level, has gone wrong so many times, and so well documented to have gone wrong so many times that it represents an approach which isn't properly consistent with the rule of law and providing protections to civil servants, public servants, politicians, whoever it might be, providing protections that we all enjoy, presumption of innocence, right to a fair hearing, full disclosure of adverse evidence that might be alleged against you. So, this is a question of principle, but I think it's a very sound one.

GARETH PARKER: But doesn't the prospect of a public hearing and sunlight being a very strong disinfectant actually deter bad behaviour, deter corruption? If you take that away, don't you encourage the proliferation of corruption in the knowledge that you won't ever be called before such a hearing?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Well, that assumes a proliferation of corruption, which I don’t think is evidenced at a Commonwealth level, but also, it just…

GARETH PARKER: That land deal in Badgerys Creek is looking a bit weird.

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Well, that's being investigated by the AFP, as it properly should do. And under the model that we're proposing, if the AFP or indeed the auditor considered that that was a matter for a specialist agency of the type that we're creating, it would be referred there. But I think the other problem with that analysis is it just leaves totally unanswered or completely ignored the fact that there just have been instance after instance, repeated in all states, in all of these bodies, where there have been terrible injustices done by public hearings that result in reports that make findings of corruption against individuals. But I recall very, very well the early efforts of the CCC here in WA. I might say, very well oversighted by Malcolm McCusker. No one will remember the public servant, Mr Allen, but his career was completely ruined by public hearing and a finding that was adverse to him based on that public hearing. The parliamentary inspector in WA, Malcolm McCusker, reviewed that process. He said that relevant witnesses weren’t interviewed, that witnesses were interviewed that gave evidence that didn't support the adverse findings. He described that process as completely inadequate and flawed. And these examples come up again and again and again. And I think that it's wise to be cautious when you empower a body to look over hundreds of thousands of people and give it more serious investigative powers than a royal commission has, that you actually require that body to put a brief of evidence together, to send it to the DPP and have the public hearing in a court. You always get the public hearing if you have the evidence which is capable of being sustained in a proceeding.

GARETH PARKER: The big four banks haven't exactly been forthcoming in immediately passing on a very well telegraphed rate cut from the Reserve Bank. That decision obviously made yesterday. The Commonwealth Bank are interesting. I mean, they're offering new fixed interest rates that are below 2 per cent, but they're not- well, they're silent on whether they're going to do anything about variable interest rates. Are the banks behaving properly here?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Well, I think that the decision of the Reserve Bank to cut the cash rate down to 10 basis points is, in my observation, the right decision, and it's clearly complementary of what the Government's trying to do. And in my observation, what it recognises is both the seriousness of the situation we're in, but also that we're on a trajectory out of it, which has to be sustained. So, it's a very complementary, I think, decision from the Reserve Bank to the Government's policy. We've had 446,000 jobs coming back over the last four months. 60 per cent of those jobs have gone to women, 40 per cent to young people. So, if you look at the 1.3 million who lost their jobs, that were stood down during the height of COVID, we've had about 60 per cent now back at work. So, the trajectory is right, but we've got to maintain that trajectory very strongly. That's about the Government's fiscal policy, the massive amounts that we've been applying through JobKeeper and JobSeeker and infrastructure spend to get the economy working out.

GARETH PARKER: Right. But it's going to be of limited value if the banks don't pass it onto their variable mortgage customers.

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Well, and this is, I think, a fair point, that the point of this is to reduce the cost of borrowing. And that is obviously something that is desirable in these circumstances for households and for small businesses because it encourages them on that trajectory of growth out of this. So, obviously, we would want to see as much of this handed on as is reasonably possible, because the purpose of the decision of the Reserve Bank is to complement the Government's budgetary policy, which is all designed towards job growth, confidence growth and getting our way out of the situation that COVID forced on us.

GARETH PARKER: Christian, thank you for your time this morning.

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Thanks Gareth. Cheers.

GARETH PARKER: The Attorney-General, Industrial Relations Minister, Christian Porter.