Standing up for Canberra

Transcript: Interview with Philip Clark

SUBJECTS: Terrorism, Foreign investment, Laura Tingle’s Quarterly Essay 

PHILIP CLARK: Peter Hendy is the Assistant Minister for Productivity and the Member for Eden-Monaro. He’s with us this morning in our Tardis in Parliament House. Good morning, Peter. Have we got Peter? We haven’t got Peter. Okay. We do have Gai Brodtmann though; she’s the Member for Canberra. I know that because she’s live in the studio in front of me! Good morning Gai.

GAI BRODTMANN, FEDERAL MEMBER FOR CANBERRA: I’m here in the flesh. Morning Philip.

CLARK: What about that poor little boy?

BRODTMANN: That sweet little boy.

CLARK: That poor little kid.

BRODTMANN: He had the hiccups obviously from nerves. But as you say, he battled through. How sweet.

CLARK: Parliament is back on this week. What’s up for you?

BRODTMANN: Well I’ll be doing a number of speeches on some of the events I’ve been to over the last few weeks. I’m also looking forward to the opportunity to thank my staff and to thank my fantastic team of volunteers who have worked with us over the last 12 months. It’s an interesting time – we’ve got a bit of legislation up as you know – but it’s a collegiate time where we get together, we have drinks with the Prime Minister, dinner with the Speaker, there are Christmas carols in the Marble Foyer and a number of Canberra schools are singing those carols. So it’s a time of good spirit.

CLARK: It is a time of good spirit against a background of course of great fear and turmoil. There’s a national poll published today in the News Limited papers which says that most Australians believe a Paris style attack in Australia is likely. The National Security Committee of Cabinet I know is meeting this morning. The Prime Minister is back from an overseas trip meeting foreign leaders where all of this of course has been discussed constantly. And those images from Paris are indelible for all of us and there have been a variety of views expressed as to how we should respond to this. Through increased crack downs on extremism to better monitoring of our immigration program to better policing of groups who espouse this kind of nonsense in our own community to suggestions that what’s not needed is more crackdowns but more love in the world, if you know what I mean. What’s your own thinking about it?

BRODTMANN: We need to defeat ISIS because it is an absolute scourge on the entire world. But I think it is important at this time to focus on what unites us and not what divides us. We’ve seen the response worldwide to what happened in Paris and that outpouring of support in so many different ways. The outpouring of support for the Malian community after what we saw there, for the Lebanese community. So it’s very important that we unite together, that we support one another and that we stare down this hate because it’s the only way that we’re going to defeat it. If we start dividing then they win.

CLARK: Peter Hendy is the Assistant Minister for Productivity and the Member for Eden-Monaro. He joins us this morning. Morning Peter.


CLARK: You’re with Gai Brodtmann.

HENDY: Hi Gai.


HENDY: Hello.

CLARK: We were just talking about the recent terror attacks and the poll this morning Peter, indicating that Australians too are highly fearing a Paris style attack here in Australia and what the response would be. Clearly we police this as much as we can, is that going to be enough?

HENDY: Well as the Prime Minister has previously said in the last week, we’ve got some of the best security agencies in the world. I think what the public are reflecting is the exact point about the security alerts which is that the high security alert actually indicates that it’s likely there will be, unfortunately, some sort of attack. The head of ASIO was pointing out last week in an interview that in the last 12 months there have been three attacks in Australia unfortunately. Three with very adverse results, as you know, deaths. And then they’ve been able to disrupt six other events. So it’s not a good situation. He said, and this is the thing, which I think Gai might have also been alluding to, is that over the last 15 years, two thirds of the events that have occurred in this sphere have occurred in the last twelve months. So the issue is significant and it is one that requires the whole community to be focused on.

CLARK: What about the argument that some say – look this is all happening at the source and therefore we ought to disengage with it, what’s Australia doing over there in the first place. We better protect our own community here by getting out of it…

HENDY: It is an argument that is put by people who are genuine and it is one that is not supported by the Government and I don’t think the Opposition parties support it either. The view is that we need to deal particularly with IS over in the Middle East and there are a number of ways to do this. And the view is, from the Defence and security experts, that we need to go to the source to try and destroy this organisation.

CLARK: But we’re not going to be able to. I mean, the US President himself, Barack Obama, says the US has no strategy for it. They don’t know what to do. He says they could go and occupy Raqqa with 50 thousand marines. What would happen then? In other words, they don’t know how to destroy ISIS either. I mean, little old Australia has got no idea. Do we, Gai?

HENDY: Well we’re in a Coalition –

CLARK: Hang on, Gai Brodtmann?

HENDY: Oh sorry.

BRODTMANN: No, you’re right Peter. Well the thing is he was adamant particularly after leaving the East Asia Summit that the US will do everything in its power to defeat ISIS -

CLARK: But they don’t know how to do it.

BRODTMANN: Well there has been criticism of the strategy, or the perceived lack thereof, of the US from their own people, from their own Congress. But I think that after the G20, after the conversations at APEC, after the conversations at the East Asia Summit, I think the international community has united. The focus of attention was the counter-terrorism issue. That was the focus of everyone’s attention. And the fact that you’ve got the US and Russia talking, you’ve got the US and France talking. I understand President Hollande is going to Russia later in the week. The fact that the world is actually uniting together to address this issue and come up with strategies is particularly important. Because in the past I think the major players have been fractured on the issue in terms of the response.

CLARK: Can we change tack and move to another issue. I was talking with Laura Tingle this morning about her quarterly essay and political amnesia and the – this is a big issue for us here in Canberra of course – the politicisation of the public service over the years by all sides of government, by all political parties. The reliance on outside consultancies and the degradation in the eyes of many of the policy making departments, leading Ken Henry to say that he doubts there is much serious policy development taking place in the public service at all. Leads to arguments that something ought to be done about it, shouldn’t it, Peter Hendy?

HENDY: Philip, I don’t agree with Ken. I think it’s a gross exaggeration. There are issues that Laura Tingle has raised in that article that I think are very valid and there are issues that we should be addressing. I myself have been a senior public servant in my past career, as well as being in the business community. I think that today in Canberra in the federal public service there is an enormous number of very good policy analysts and I think there is a lot of very good policy work being done. But I think Laura’s argument is exaggerated but nonetheless it’s always very important to ensure we don’t hollow out that policy expertise.

CLARK: Gai Brodtmann?

BRODTMANN: I agree. I think it’s important we have a conversation about this issue, about the governance of the nation and about the skills and the talent of our servants of democracy. But the fact that Ken Henry and Laura Tingle are actually in this discussion on this hollowing out of policy expertise, reminds us of why that’s happened. We saw under the Howard Government 15,000 public servants lose their jobs here, 30,000 nationally. Under the Abbott/Turnbull Government we’ve seen 8,500 public servants lose their job, I think it’s 15,000 nationally – so you can’t -

CLARK: Happened under Labor too!

BRODTMANN: And I was highly critical of it at the time, Philip. You can’t gouge the public service, particularly in those numbers. And what happened, particularly under Howard, was the replacement of public servants with consultants, particularly in the ICT area. You can’t cut those sorts of numbers out of the public service without having an impact on policy expertise. While we are actually having this conversation about policy and the need for us to retain those skills and develop those skills, because that’s also a point Ken Henry is making, we also need to look at policy implementation. I’m on the Public Accounts and Audit Committee and I really enjoy that role but I am exposed to some areas where policy hasn’t been implemented as effectively as it could. So we do need to focus on developing those skills too. And it’s a recent phenomenon that the public service is actually implementing policy.

CLARK: Alright, just finally and briefly. We’re in the midst of a debate about foreign investment. The Federal Government has knocked back a bid to buy one of Australia’s largest pastoral companies. There were concerns about the sale, the leasing of the Darwin Port to Chinese interests and now a Chinese company is the lead bidder on Transgrid, part of the NSW electricity network. Ought we be concerned about these things, Peter Hendy?

HENDY: Well I think they are all being properly assessed. I think when you get down to the detail. In the case of the Kidman cattle properties there was a Defence recommendation not to proceed and that was taken very seriously by the Treasurer, Scott Morrison, and led to the refusal of that particular bid that the proponents can now go away and look at other arrangements. Darwin, it is very clear that from statements from the Secretary of the Department of Defence that Defence were and ASIO were involved in the –

CLARK: And they said they were comfortable with it.

HENDY: And they said they were comfortable with it. Transgrid is also going through the FIRB process as I understand which includes a security assessment.

BRODTMANN: A security element, yes.

CLARK: Alright, quick response from you, Gai?

BRODTMANN: Well I think the Government has been completely inconsistent on this. They’re speaking out of both sides of their mouth on this. On the Darwin Port issue, you’ve got them basically saying that there are no national security issues or concerns and yet you’ve got the President of the United States actually saying to the Prime Minister it would have been nice if you had let us know. And I was concerned that the Prime Minister was so flippant in his response and said essentially, you should have just read the NT News. So I think that the Government has been inconsistent on this issue. We’ve got one response to the Kidman issue and another on the Darwin Port.

CLARK: Alright, Peter Hendy good to talk, appreciate your time. Enjoy the week. Gai Brodtmann, Member for Canberra, enjoy the week. Good to have you in the studio.