Subjects: Council of Attorneys-General meeting; Ensuring Integrity Bill
Christian Porter: Thank you Mark and thank you Vickie for hosting us here today. The Council of Attorneys-General dealing with complicated legal matters as it does has sometimes not been the speediest of Commonwealth bodies. But there have been two very, very significant developments that Mark and Vickie have noted and before I take questions from you on other matters of the day in federal politics, I just wanted to first of all congratulate Mark. It is impossible to understate the significance in the context of defamation and media law as to what's occurred today, led by Mark Speakman as New South Wales Attorney-General.
Every state and territory in the Commonwealth, whether they are Liberal Labor, a state, territory the Commonwealth have agreed to now publish defamation model reforms, which will go out for public consultation and comment. But they represent the cumulative work and the unanimous agreement of every state and territory and Commonwealth Government of every conceivable political type. That is a very, very rare thing, and I hope that they’ll be recognised in the consultation process is that these very significant reforms to the way in which defamation law should work in Australia have the agreement from both sides of politics - from the Commonwealth and every single state and territory as the logical starting point.
As Vickie also noted another very significant development we agreed today is to have the Commonwealth establish, operate and maintain a National Register of powers of attorney, and that each of the states have agreed and territories - that they will assist in populating that register. So that for the first time ever, as a very important tool to minimise and prevent elder abuse, when someone turns up at a bank registry or a teller or a land title's office purporting to have a document that they say allows them to act on behalf of an older Australian, there will be because of this development, a simple way for that person who is looking at that document to work out whether or not that document is accurate, and genuine or not.
And that is a very significant step forward. We've had many, many examples of people saying that they had a power of attorney, using that purported power to move funds or change the ownership of property to the disadvantage of an older Australian. For the first time we will now have a system that will allow anyone who's dealing with a power of attorney to go online and establish that it's a genuine article and document. That will be a big step forward in terms of minimising and preventing elder abuse which we've seen very sadly on the rise in Australia. So, Mark, thank you for all your work, Vickie for chairing the meeting today. Two very significant developments, you probably have some questions of the day on federal matters. I'm very happy to answer.
Question: *UNCLEAR* - re age of criminal responsibility.
Christian Porter: There was some conversation about that. It was the subject of a working group paper that was placed on the agenda by Western Australia. I personally am on record as saying I'm not overly enthusiastic about that reform but it's a process that is working its way through CAG and there'll be further reports on that in the New Year. But every jurisdiction has a slightly different view on that. And part of this process is getting consultation and views from stakeholder groups from expert groups from groups in criminal justice and eventually of course this is going to be a subject of public debate.
Question: What’s your concern?
Christian Porter: Well, I mean, there are a number of ways in which a reform to change the age of criminal responsibility, could be achieved. It might be to lift the age up to 14 with no exceptions - in other jurisdictions they make exceptions for very serious criminal offences. But in my personal observation, historically, there have been instances where it is appropriate to prosecute people who've been under the age of 14 for very serious offences, if it can be established that they had the requisite level of mental capacity to understand that the crime that was committed was both morally wrong and also, contrary to the law. Now, my own observation is the present system works relatively well and allows the flexibility for that to be shown and in circumstances that are appropriate for there to be criminal responsibility attaching to very serious offenses.
Question: Do you feel that Pauline Hanson has played the government over the union busting bill?
Christian Porter: Well I went through several weeks of negotiation with Pauline Hanson, Malcolm Roberts and One Nation. The last words that Malcolm Roberts said in the Senate was that it's now time for integrity in the union movement which is what hard working Australians expect. Ultimately, the vote of Malcolm Roberts and Pauline Hanson didn't reflect that stated sentiment. Some of the matters that were raised by Pauline Hanson as reasons that she didn't support the legislation were never raised with me in weeks of negotiation. Look, ultimately, at the end of the day, this legislation will come back, and One Nation will again have to decide, do you take the side of hardworking Australians who want to turn up to construction sites, whether they're apprentices or whether they're tradies and just do their job without being harassed, spat at, intimidated by thugs from the CFMEU. The ultimate decision here is do you take the side of the hardworking Australians who want to be able to turn up to work without being intimidated by the CFMEU thugs, or do you take the side of the thugs? Now very sadly at the end of the day after weeks of negotiation One Nation sided with the thugs. It's a very disappointing result but it won't stop us from trying to protect Australians who work on construction sites from thuggery, from violence, from intimidation, they deserve the protection of the law and that's what we will seek to deliver to them to trusting.
Question: *unclear* Did she abuse your trust, did she mislead you?
Christian Porter: Well I considered that the process was to be conducted in good faith but I think ultimately, that was an error in judgment.
Christian Porter: Well, I'm not going to go into each and every one of the multiple private briefings and conversations that we had but we very much had the expectation that the bill will be supported. And ultimately, the bill deserves parliamentary support. The bill sets a reasonable standard around when it would be that cumulative serious law breaking by individuals and by unions would warrant the ability for courts to disqualify union official or deregister a union, And indeed, Pauline Hanson and One Nation proposed multiple, I think 11 different amendments that were negotiated with them - all of them with which we accepted and it does raise the really interesting question: Why would you propose 11 amendments to a bill - ensure that the entirety of the week in the Senate was devoted to debating the various amendments that you One Nation put up, and then ultimately to have them all accepted and not support the bill. I mean I've actually not saying anything like it. It is exceedingly strange. But as to why it was that that process was followed by One Nation, you have to ask One Nation. And it may be that you know at the end of the day they reached some agreement with the CFMEU, but that's a question that you'll have to ask One Nation.
Question: So have they given any form of reason as to why they changed their mind?
Christian Porter: You've seen the media release that was put out by Pauline Hanson - it said that there were concerns about the fact that administrators would be brought in to look after an organisation that had become dysfunctional. I had weeks of negotiation with One Nation, the issue of administrators being brought into dysfunctional organisations was never raised. Not once. So whether or not that's something that occurred as an explanation after the event, I can't say. But ultimately, we as a government negotiated in good faith with Centre Alliance with One Nation - One Nation supported all of the government's amendments. The government supported all of One Nations amendments. It does raise the very interesting question, why bother to go through that process, which is hours - days of Senate time - and then not support the bill at the 11th hour.
And ultimately this bill will come back into the parliament, I will bring it back in the form that it ended up in, in the Senate to my party room next week, and we will pursue it again. Because, hardworking Australians whether they are contractors or subcontractors or tradies, they have a right of law to decide whether they want to join a union or whether they don't want to join a union. And if they don't want to join the CFMEU they shouldn't be harassed menaced, spat on, we should not have union officials who have assaulted individuals who have assaulted police and are still able to hold the office of a union official. No Australian I think considers that that is appropriate and to protect Australians who work on work sites in construction is very necessary legislation.
Question: Has this damaged your view and trust of One Nation?
Christian Porter: Well I mean look you go through negotiating processes and over the last 10 years if there's one lesson to be learned about serious reform that needs to pass through the Senate, when you don't control the numbers in the Senate and there's a crossbench that require negotiation with you negotiate and very often it takes two or three attempts and legislation was brought back two or three times before it ultimately succeeds, and we won't be giving up on this legislation, because we have chosen the side of the hardworking Australians who just want to turn up to work on construction sites and South Australia and Victoria and Queensland and go about their business without being menaced and harassed and spat on and called dogs and scabs by members of a union who are trying to bully them into joining. It's totally unacceptable, its gone on for far too long, $16 million worth of court fines 2160 offences - instances of breaking workplace laws - workplace laws are being broken by the CFMEU to the tune of two or three times, a week. The courts have been crying out for something to be done - this legislation ensures appropriate reasonable standards and we'll be bringing it back.
Christian Porter: Well, it's not a question of trust. What we want to do is secure support for the bill, and the bill, I think, has enormous merit to it because it protects Australians on workplaces around Australia. In Queensland, where Pauline Hanson is from, the Queensland public sector union has told its members who are safety and health inspectors, not to turn up to CFMEU-controlled work sites, because they're too afraid to. The CFMEU’s bullying and intimidation has meant the public sector, health and safety inspectors aren't turning up to work sites, and that is totally untenable surely.
So, this is very, very necessary, very important legislation, it's not going away. It's going to come back and that will offer an opportunity for Pauline Hanson, Malcolm Roberts and Jacqui Lambie to reassess their position, keeping in mind, of course, that Jacqui Lambie on multiple occasions said this - if John Setka is still in charge of the Victorian division of the CFMEU, she would support the legislation. Well I’ll tell you what – John Setka is still in charge of the Victorian division of the CFMEU and John Setka is a prime example of an individual who does not deserve to have the privileges and public status and rights that an official of a registered organisation has. He is the type of person who is not fit to hold the office of a union official. That seemed to be Jacqui Lambie’s view for months. In fact, she was the subject of intimidation by John Setka himself, which is why she said she would vote for the bill. And ultimately, she didn't vote for the bill and she wasn't good to her public statements, but it's One Nation, it's Jacqui Lambie who have got questions to answer…..(unclear).
Christian Porter: Look Jacqui Lambie’s amendments were totally unworkable, they were dropped into the Senate right at the last minute which says to me they weren’t a serious effort to secure changes to the legislation. I will bring the bill back to the party room in a form that reflects all the government amendments which One Nation agreed to and reflects all of the One Nation amendments which the government agreed to. A bill in that form will come back to the party room, and that'll be the bill that is brought back into parliament into the House of Representatives. But ultimately, if Jacqui Lambie or Pauline Hanson want to offer further practical suggestions we’ll do what we did during this recent process which is listen to them and talk to them and reach agreements. And one thing that the government will always be is good to its agreements.
Question: Just on defamation was there any progress made in regard to social media and individuals uploading information to social media?
Christian Porter: So, the, the changes - proposed changes to the draft model laws that Mark Speakman as New South Wales Attorney General will release in the coming days, the public consultation, deal with every issue, other than the status of digital platforms. So all of the other issues have been agreed and will be the subject of the material that will be put public soon. The issue of digital platforms is the one thing that will be moved on to a second round of consultation and reform. That is because there are obvious complexities around that. But that reform again isn't going away, but that is the one thing that has been deferred. The 18 other matters are being dealt with in the model reforms that will be released in the next couple of days.