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6PR Mornings with Gareth Parker



Subjects: Folau, social media, ensuring integrity, Israel

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

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Morning Gareth. How are you?

GARETH PARKER: Final sitting day for the year - school you're about to break up.

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Yep. School breaks up the work doesn’t stop – a lot of homework to do.

GARETH PARKER: Can I start with Israel Folau, which is a case that's obviously been very relevant to the religious freedom bill that you've been consulting widely on. What do you make of the settlement between Folau and Rugby Australia announced yesterday?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Well, look, I don't know exactly what the settlement was because it was confidential but it would certainly appear that he’s been paid a sum in settlement of his dismissal from Rugby Australia. Look I think the whole thing's massively unfortunate and poorly managed by Rugby Australia I mean, it should never have gotten to this point, it should never have gotten to this point.

The Government's view about it is that it's an experience that has happened in the real world and it happens for people of lower profile than Israel Folau. In their workplaces, there is a tendency for these large corporate organisations now to kind of get into people's private lives and what they say and do when they're not at work. I think most Australians probably suspect that's gone a bit too far. The religious discrimination bill that we're bringing in says that if someone's simply providing a statement of their religious belief - that a workplace rule that says that they can't do that is not going to be valid because it will be discriminatory unless it's absolutely necessary to protect the finances of the business in question which I think, that's that's pretty reasonable, like in the Rugby Australia scenario, Israel Folau could have argued that what they did was discriminatory. Rugby Australia would have had to have argued that it was absolutely necessary and that if they didn't have their rule that they were going to suffer undue financial hardship.

So we think that's a pretty reasonable sort of a balanced approach but the actual facts of that matter I think was badly handled.

GARETH PARKER: Yeah, so I mean could, could you speculate, I know it's tricky, but could you speculate on which side the line this case might’ve fallen on? I mean do you think Rugby Australia could have proved that Israel Folau’s Instagram post cost it serious money?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: I look I doubt it. I mean it would be very hard for them to show that if they did suffer some form of loss over the last year that that was because of Israel Folau rather than their handling of the Israel Folau matter. I mean it's going to be difficult for them to show, but what I can say…

GARETH PARKER: …or the fact that the Wallabies aren’t very good.

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Well I'm exactly I mean, there's going to be multiple sort of causal events that could show a loss for Rugby Australia, but the point is that if you're going to actually tell people what they can and can't say about their religion in their spare time, you have a good reason for doing that, because otherwise you are infringing people's rights in effect to free speech. So the reason would have to be that if you don't do it you're going to suffer a financial loss - well ok that's fine but you know to be able to show that - so I don't know whether they could have I think it would have been very difficult for them.

But you know the things that Israel Folau said, were very, sort of, clumsy, not things that not a view that I share. But there’s been case law around the world that basically said that people, even in a clumsy way reciting or paraphrasing scripture, aren’t necessarily being discriminatory and in any event, if that's their religion, and they want to paraphrase their scripture and beliefs in that why they shouldn't be punished for what it.

GARETH PARKER: Would it have helped the Government or would it have helped the rest of us had this actually proceeded to trial so that the law could be clarified or not?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Well, this action was brought under industrial law so under the Fair Work Act I think. I mean the Fair Work Act has a clause that says that you can't in effect sack someone because of their religion. And that's what Israel Folau was relying on so it's similar to what the Government's intending to do through its Religious Discrimination Bill, not exactly the same.

But I think it was sensible that the thing settled. It would have been more sensible had the issue never risen in the first place. There must have been a way that they could have managed this with, with their player, and had a better result than having to get into litigation and having to settle the litigation for what we’re all guessing is not inconsequential amount of money.

GARETH PARKER: It was reported earlier this week that Facebook and Google, and their lobbyists have been putting the hard press on around the corridors of Parliament House trying to convince MPs that they're actually good responsible corporate citizens and that there shouldn't be some sort of, well multiple levels of crackdown from the Australian Government. Have they been lobbying you?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: No, they’ve not been in my office, but you know, Gareth, we're interested in what's best for the Australian people and for people who use these products and want to use them responsibly and we think that the offer to the services has to be responsible.

So after the New Zealand attacks in the mosque, tragic as they were, we brought in legislation which is essentially a world first that says that if you're a digital platform and you carry abhorrent violent material on your platform, beyond a reasonable point in time and don't take it down, then you are committing a criminal offence.

Now, we were told at the time that was the ruin of the internet and it was the worst thing in the world from the point of view of the Googles and the Facebooks of the world but honestly I just think most Australians think that there are just real world laws that should apply to the online world as well.

GARETH PARKER: Okay. Did the Government do a deal with Jacqui Lambie or not over Medivac?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Absolutely not. So, I mean, …

GARETH PARKER: So what happened then, she obviously got some sort of security briefing, which she found persuasive, but she …

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Yeah, she was briefed on what is the standing policy of the Government. Now, obviously I would say that she found that to be a rational and reasonable response and in all the circumstances voted for the repeal of the Medivac laws. The reason why these are bad was and they were introduced by Labor and supported by the Greens this time last year; the reason they were bad laws, is that where people need medical attention, we can transfer them now under the existing laws but the Minister has the ultimate discretion and he can take into account someone's character, whether or not they've been charged or are reasonably suspected having committed an offence, and if that person we think is problematic - could cause damage and harm to the community in Australia - the Minister exercises his discretion.

And ultimately the Medivac laws that Labor introduced last year, minimised that discretion so thoroughly as to make them bad laws and we needed to repeal it and we did, and I think Jacqui Lambie agreed with that, it’s a good result…

GARETH PARKER: Should we expect some sort of, you know, new infrastructure package for Tasmania in the New Year?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: No there's nothing like that.

GARETH PARKER: Nothing like that?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Absolutely not.

GARETH PARKER: Okay, your union, ensuring integrity bill that's been reintroduced today, is that just symbolic because you're not going to get to it before Parliament finishes for the year I presume?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Well won't get up to the Senate until next year but it's definitely not symbolic. I mean this is a problem that's not going away. And so the bill’s not going to go away, but particularly in the construction sector, the CFMMEU behave deplorably they break laws to, you know, the scale of three to four a week. I mean these are people…

GARETH PARKER: We went we went through that we went through that in some detail last week…

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: It’s deplorable behaviour and you just can’t sit back and do nothing.

GARETH PARKER: Will you do what Pauline Hanson wants you to do and get tougher on white collar crime and some of her other conditions some or other issues she's interested in?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Well obviously I've you know had the discussions with Pauline and others but it was the Prime Minister as Treasurer who brought in the banking executive responsibility regime and the laws for bankers who breach their regulatory responsibilities include jail, they're very very tough and in fact it’s not a court who might decide a breach of those regulations. It is actually the regulator itself. So in a sense they’re the toughest laws that there are available. But the idea that you can't be tough on both executives in banking and officials in unions is just wrong. You've got to have strong laws and strong responses to law breaking in all of those sectors and at the moment, the laws that are meant to keep CFMMEU officials on construction sites inside reasonable behaviour aren’t working, they're just not working.

GARETH PARKER: Okay, long year?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Yeah long year but obviously, hope all your listeners have a great Christmas and been pretty warm back in Perth…

GARETH PARKER: I think we'll talk to you again before Christmas but I do understand that you're going to Israel next week.

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Yeah that's right so few matters, security related meetings. There's also a very important case called Malka Leifer who we’re trying to extradite back from Israel for child sex offences to stand trial in Australia so you have a few days in, in Israel, good time to be there, I guess. But, and then back home and back to work.