Doorstop – Parliament House Mural Hall
Subjects: Sexual Crimes Against Children; Brett Cattle;
ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Thanks everyone. Good to go?
Look, it has taken three years. The first version of this bill was introduced in, I think, September 2017. Three years, but I think parents of children all around Australia will be able to sleep a little bit safer tonight because, for the first time, we have an appropriate sentencing regime for the worst child sex offenders. This is a growing problem, very, very sadly. The view that the Government has taken for some time is that the penalties that were being handed down were not sufficient enough to drive deterrents into the system. Now we've got those deterrents in the form of this bill. It was enormously disappointing, the amount of time and energy, three years and multiple attempts, to finally get Labor to support this bill. The energy and effort that took over three years, it should have happened over three months. So that is very, very disappointing, but the Coalition Government is firmly on the side of parents with this bill. This bill makes children safer, whether they're online, in whatever context, they are safer, because for the first time, at a Commonwealth level, there is an appropriate sentencing regime for these offenders, who are the worst of the worst.
QUESTION: Attorney-General, there isn't (unclear) evidence showing that mandatory sentencing actually has any effect on people committing these crimes. What's your response to that?
CHRISTIAN PORTER: I just think that is nonsense. As a state Attorney-General, we were faced with a wave of assaults on police officers. As state Attorney-General I introduced, for the first time, minimum mandatory penalties for assaults on police officers. People put that view to me time and time again. As soon as those minimum mandatory penalties were introduced, there was a massive decrease in the assaults on police officers. The deterrence effect of strong sentencing is well known. It's exhibited regularly. There are examples of it. And the overarching point as well is that the community have expectation that punishment should reflect the seriousness of the offence, and there are no more serious offences than the type of things that this legislation deals with.
QUESTION: Attorney-General, the Carly Ryan Foundation called out the bad behaviour of politicians today in a letter to all MPs. They said to stop having a battle of the wills, name-calling and bullying-type behaviour over this legislation. How do you respond to that?
CHRISTIAN PORTER: Well, I think that the Foundation and the Government are trying to protect the same people, which is children. And I would have always preferred that there be less combat over this bill. And it took three years of sticking to our guns on this bill for it to become law and ultimately the beneficiaries of that are parents and children. So, we were never going to give up the fight. I wish it weren't such a fight, there was no reason that it should have been such a fight. I mean the idea that Labor opposed it for three years because they were, as they say, opposed to mandatory sentencing in principle, when they supported it in the Labor Party in Victoria, they supported it at a federal level with people smuggling - it just made no sense. I would've preferred it was easier, like everyone would've, but ultimately the beneficiaries are parents and children who will be better protected.
QUESTION: When was the last attempt to get them to vote for it?
CHRISTIAN PORTER: Well, there's been a number of attempts, so before the last election, after the election.
QUESTION: Do you know roughly when?
CHRISTIAN PORTER: I can't give you the exact time, no.
QUESTION: I'm just wondering why it came up this week because I don't think it was on the legislation list for this week.
CHRISTIAN PORTER: I think it might've been, actually.
QUESTION: Are you concerned that Gordon Legal has indicated they might add misfeasance in public office to their robodebt claim? And is that a consideration in your decision to appeal the Brett Cattle decision?
CHRISTIAN PORTER: Well, there hasn't been any decision with respect to Brett Cattle. And with respect to the robodebt litigation, it probably won't surprise you to hear me say that we don't go into the detail of litigation while it's on foot, particularly not when it's in mediation as that is at the moment. But there's been no decision one way or the other with respect to the Brett Cattle decision.
QUESTION: Will you set up a Commonwealth Integrity Commission in this term of Parliament?
CHRISTIAN PORTER: Well, we've given a commitment to a Commonwealth integrity commission. The drafting was very well advanced, but the reality is that when the COVID-19 pandemic hit the Government and hit the country, the usual agenda got put on hold. So it is now, David, only that - now that I'm going and revisiting that legislative agenda - so the first time I've looked at that legislation since this pandemic hit was actually last week.
QUESTION: On the Cattle decision, how concerned are you that the Nationals are going to be voting with One Nation in the Senate today, calling on the Government not to appeal the decision?
CHRISTIAN PORTER: Well, people will have views about the decision. As the legal adviser to Government, I take a very cautious approach. And what I want to understand is what are the potential implications of that decision for a range of industries, including the live animal export industry? Now, Section 7 of the Export Control Act is probably one of the broadest powers that ministers have in government. In my observation this decision very much changes the standard by which a minister's decision could be made invalid. Now, one of the potential consequences of that could be that decisions of ministers under Section 7 of the Export Control Act - which actually facilitates exports, okay, which allow exports to go overseas: sheep, beef, and other exports - could be the subject of litigation by animal rights activists using this decision. So, I want to understand that implication better, and I want to communicate that implication to all the Members of Parliament, keeping in mind that there was a motion on the floor of the House Representatives just now, where Labor sided with the Government against the independent Andrew Wilkie, which sought to place further restrictions on the export of sheep. So, we are a government that fully supports live export. The decision of Senator Joe Ludwig was a terrible decision, but I want to make sure that this most recent judgement of a court can't be weaponised against the very people that we're trying to protect.
QUESTION: What do you make of the South Australian Government's decision to re-open its border to some states and where does that leave the WA Premier's argument that a staged re-opening is unconstitutional.
CHRISTIAN PORTER: Those arguments are arguments of the WA Premier and WA Government. There've now been relevant notices filed with the High Court which indicated that the Commonwealth Government will be intervening in the cases that argue that the border closures are not lawful, or are unconstitutional and we'll be intervening. Our argument is that they are no longer lawful or constitutional – the border closures. Those are decisions for the states and I think that those decisions are going to be tested very soon in the courts but those are questions that have to go to state premiers.
QUESTION: Just on the integrity commission again. So when I asked about whether it could be set up in this term of Parliament you didn't say yes - so obviously that's still to be decided. Can you make any commitment on when a bill might go to Parliament or when you might take another step on getting it done?
CHRISTIAN PORTER: Well, I'm revisiting the bill now, and yes your question was whether or not guarantees could be given that an integrity commission of the type that we'd envisaged in our legislation could be set up. That obviously depends on the level of agreement that you can get through Parliament and particularly the Senate. And as you'd know there are a variety of views as to how best to structure these things. I think one of the things that I've learned over the last several months during COVID is I'd like to go out and test some of those views particularly amongst the key cross benchers – Centre Alliance would be absolutely pivotal to this. But you have to have support to be able to establish the integrity commission. Now we've been very upfront as to what model we prefer. Now again, I'm happy to acknowledge that some people prefer that model, some people don't. So my next step is going to be to talk to some of the cross benchers who's ultimately support we would rely on to make the thing real.
QUESTION: Attorney General (unclear) footage was obtained (unclear) Federal MP's office…?
CHRISTIAN PORTER: Look, I'm not an investigator. I watch the TV like everyone else. So I don't know who got what when; how it was gotten; who gave it to who; I presume someone does know, but I don't know.
QUESTION: Are you concerned about that (unclear) ….
CHRISTIAN PORTER: Look if I were the Leader of a Party and that happened potentially in the office of a member of the party that I was the Leader of, then I would expect to be able to get some level of understanding as to what happened, but I think again you're asking the wrong person because…
QUESTION: Could it be illegal though?
CHRISTIAN PORTER: That is a hypothetical based on a hypothetical. I don't know any of the facts of the matter. And you know, maybe Anthony Albanese does or maybe other people do but I don't and I can't possibly give you legal advice on matters without knowing any of the facts.
QUESTION: Just in terms of saying that the borders were unconstitutional - have you told that to the premiers - that you believe their border closures, as they stand, are unconstitutional?
CHRISTIAN PORTER: So I think at the last National Cabinet, may have been last Friday, that the Prime Minister was very clear with the state premiers in a very respectful way that we would be intervening - that our intervention would be along the lines of an argument that the current border closures are unconstitutional. We were quite upfront with that. I mean we are model litigants. When we go in, we provide the court, particularly in this case the High Court with what is our view – the Commonwealth's view about the present, constitutional status of the border closures. Our view is that they're not constitutional. We'll be putting that view in the court.
QUESTION: And why aren't they the constitutional?
CHRISTIAN PORTER: Well, that's more of - a sort of 45 minute lecture in law…
QUESTION: Can you sum it up?
CHRISTIAN PORTER: Well, we're one nation – there are significant portions of the constitution that guarantee freedom of what is called interstate intercourse which is the human movement across state boundaries, but also the freedom of interstate trade. I think that when you look at the plaintiffs in these matters, they argue that their rights under those sections of the constitutions have been abridged and I think that there's some strength to that argument.
QUESTION: Do you think South Australia should be open to all states at once?
CHRISTIAN PORTER: That's a matter for them. You know they've got difficult decision to make but I think that there are real questions over the constitutionality of the border closures as they presently exist.
QUESTION: Just back on mandatory sentencing….(unclear). Have you lost faith in judges' in Australia to appropriately sentence now?
CHRISTIAN PORTER: No, look judges themselves have in a number of decisions said that mandatory sentencing is a perfectly reasonable and acceptable and often-used legal principle. That has been a statement in many, many
CHRISTIAN PORTER: Well, not at all. But what we say is; that in this particular area of sentencing at this particular time and in the context of larger and larger amounts of this offending becoming known - that the best thing that the Parliament can do and that the Government can do is send the clearest possible message to offenders that if you engage in this abhorrent behaviour, you will ultimately face very serious and mandatory jail terms. And we've made the decision that the best way to do that is through minimum mandatories for the most serious offences and minimum mandatories for other people who commit other offences on a second occasion.
QUESTION: How is the status quo of almost 40 per cent of offenders not getting any jail time allowed to exist in the first place?
CHRISTIAN PORTER: Well, again, that is a matter of years of sentencing practice that have existed and we are trying to improve on that sentencing practice through a legislative mechanism.
Okay. Well good. Thanks everyone.