SUBJECTS: Rising of the terror threat level against police, Manus Island, changes to GST
LAURA JAYES: Hello and welcome to Lunchtime Agenda. Joining me now is my panel today to discuss this topic first. And joining me from Canberra is the Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Defence, Gai Brodtmann, and from Perth the Parliamentary Secretary for the Prime Minister Christian Porter. Now Christian Porter, first to you, looking at what we’ve seen in this development today do you think that perhaps the terror laws that the government is looking at, at the moment federally – could there be more specific penalties for terror threats against police? Is that something the government should perhaps consider?
CHRISTIAN PORTER, PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY TO THE PRIME MINISTER: Well I’ll just first of all say I’m not privy to all of the background that has led to this particular decision. But I must say it appears, given what we know internationally and the threat level at home imminently sensible, the government has gone through a fairly thorough going process of reviewing the terror laws as they relate to terrorism, terrorist offences, things like metadata on the horizon. All of the stones that need to be unturned in my observation are being unturned and looked into. I’m comfortable that the response legislatively at the moment is the right one.
JAYES: Gai Brodtmann is that your view as well even with this latest development today – do you think the government has it right in terms of what they’re trying to do to update anti-terror laws?
GAI BRODTMANN, SHADOW PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY FOR DEFENCE: Look Labor supports any measure that will ensure the safety of all Australians and we have faith in the authorities, whether it is the police as we’ve seen today, the Defence force or emergency services to make the appropriate assessments then implement the appropriate security settings to ensure that safety.
JAYES: Now Christian Porter you mentioned the metadata laws. This is the third tranche of terror legislation which is yet to pass the parliament. I put it to you, look at the Paris attacks, it was reported that those actual headlines of those emails that were shared between terrorists were actually things like ‘consolidate your debt’. They were designed to look like junk mail. Given that it’s been described to us that metadata only looks at the outside of an envelope, not the content of an email, would our metadata laws actually be effective if that case was in Australia?
PORTER: Well Laura it’s a fair question, anyone who has been involved in law enforcement, and I have a background as a crown prosecutor, knows that people who traffic heroin don’t use the word heroin in emails, they use the words ‘stuff’ or ‘gear’, and very similar nefarious rules apply to terrorists. But what the metadata reforms that this government seeks to do will give law enforcement agencies – these changes don’t solve every problem – but what they seek to do is give access, potential access under warrant, to things that will now be required to be stored, that weren’t previously stored. Now that’s a very significant development, it doesn’t cure every problem and the problem that you’ve just described is a problem that doesn’t just exist with respect to all forms of criminal conduct everywhere. People who engage in criminal conduct work best to hide it.
JAYES: But you would perhaps suggest there’s a real case as we’ve seen over the last couple of months, does the government need to go further? Look at legislation that needs to go further and actually look at the content of emails? That actually has a provision in there to do it, under warrant, if that’s necessary?
PORTER: Well I think what we’re dealing with is the initial problem first and that is the storage of the data. I’m very comfortable that that’s the right process here. Keeping in mind of course that what occur during many of these instances is intelligence agencies at a federal level or indeed at a state level which gives rise to a view that there’s a reasonable need to look at emails. Now the purpose of the metadata legislation is to ensure that at least the emails are stored. It may be that their content can be accessed under very strict rules about warrants and about reasonable cause to have access to it. That doesn’t change and that ability already exists. This is about preserving the evidence or the information or the intelligence that might be there. But it’s very often the case Laura, I’ll just put this to you, that the initial intelligence that gives rise to the need to look at these types of things, doesn’t come from the emails or the correspondent themselves.
JAYES: Gai Brodtmann do you have any concerns in this area? Does the metadata legislation go too far, not far enough in light of the attacks we saw in Paris?
BRODTMANN: Well as I mentioned before, Labor’s concern is ultimately to ensure the safety of all Australians. But in terms of combating terrorist threats, we have to ensure that we give the authorities the ability to be able to address those and deal with those terrorist threats. But at the same time we are very conscious of that fact that we have to get the balance right. We have to ensure that we give the authorities the appropriate mechanisms and tools to deal with these threats and combat these threats. But we also have to ensure that we get the balance right in terms of preserving those fundamental principles regarding access to information and freedom of speech.
JAYES: The situation in Manus Island has been in our headlines for a number of days now but today it is reported that the standoff has come to an end without any incidences of any serious injury or violence. This was the Prime Minister’s reaction today, followed by Anthony Albanese.
“It was a well organised and well-coordinated protest. Indeed in some part of the Manus centre it amounted to a blockade. That challenge, that blockade has now been broken thanks to good work by Transfield and their incident response team, backed up of course by the royal PNG constabulary”
Tony Abbott, January 20 2015
“What’s important is that people are treated with dignity and respect. All human beings, all human beings – with due respect you’re not going to get me to re-write Labor’s immigration policy, that’s a matter for the immigration spokesperson. As an Australian and as a parliamentarian, I firmly believe that all people deserve to be treated with respect”
Anthony Albanese, January 20 2015
JAYES: Christian Porter we heard earlier today the Immigration Minister Peter Dutton accusing outside advocates of encouraging those within the detention centre on Manus Island. Is that a fair criticism, do you think?
PORTER: Well I’m sure that Mr Dutton isn’t saying those things as the Minister without good reason to say them. And if I make a comment about this more generally – we heard Anthony Albanese saying that we need to be treating people with respect and dignity. Outcomes in this area of immigration are very important, and under the previous government you had in excess of 1100 men, women and children drown at sea as a direct causal result of a suite of policies they had in place for 6 years. No one could fairly characterise that as an outcome which affords dignity or humanity or respect to the individuals who lost their lives. The outcomes that we’ve brought about are an absolute quantum shift in result to the previous government. And ultimately on occasions that will come at a price, but the price is modest. And the price is having to maintain good order and facilities at Manus. There’s no suggestion here that good order hasn’t been maintained, although people are obviously testing that good order.
JAYES: Gai Brodtmann you response to that – do you accept that the very nature of detention centres mean that the government can’t guarantee that tempers don’t fray from time to time?
BRODTMANN: Well I just want to go back to Anthony Albanese’s comments and echo his words about the need for dignity and respect. But Christian makes the point about the fact that good order has been represented here at Manus, well we’ve seen some very troubling images over the last few days. And what is most concerning is the lack of transparency about what is actually happening at Manus. The government, after the tragic death of Reza Berati, conducted a review, an inquiry into what actually happened there and I understand that there are a number of lesson learnt from that process. What are those lessons? What lessons were learnt? And why weren’t those lessons applied to the current situation, the situation we’ve just seen over the last few days. That is the question. We want greater transparency around what is happening on Manus Island, and we also want to know what lessons have been learnt from the tragic death of Reza Berati.
JAYES: Okay I’ve only got a couple of questions left in the program, but Christian I do want to go to you on the GST. Over the Christmas break we heard from backbenchers, the likes of Dan Tehan, who called for a broadening of the base of the GST. Are you one of those within the coalition that believes the government should be having an active debate about this and looking at taking a policy to the next election?
PORTER: Well I’m not sure there was anything that Dan Tehan said in his article – fair and good article that is was – or indeed Andrew Robb in his follow up comments, that were extraordinary. And whatever was said was said in the context that government policy from the Prime Minister is absolutely clear that there will be no changes to the GST in this government’s term. Look, that having been said we have a full root and branch review going on in the tax white paper process of the tax system. And the reason we’re doing that is that there are some fundamental inefficacies which are really holding Australia back in terms of international competiveness. We have 115-odd taxes that collect less than 10 percent of the tax take. So I’m not sure there’s anything particularly extraordinary in that article. When you look at what Mr Bowen from Labor said recently, he said that any sensible opposition would say that both revenue and spending measures need to be on the table for serious consideration –
JAYES: Okay I’ll just go to Gai Brodtmann on that. Those words from Chris Bowen, and also if I could get you to address this idea of lowering the threshold for online goods purchased for below a thousand dollars. This is something Labor has supported in the past, why wouldn’t it support it now?
BRODTMANN: Well I just want to go back to Christian’s comments and the fact that he said the Prime Minister was not going to be following up on these suggestions by Dan Tehan, Dean Smith and Andrew Robb and other backbenchers on the fact that there should be changes to the GST. I mean over the last three weeks, even after the Prime Minister promised before the election that there would be no changes to the GST, we’ve had rather forceful discussion, very public discussion, very public workshopping, on this notion of GST. Not just in terms of whether it should be applied to fresh foods –
JAYES: If I could get you to address the online issue when it comes to the GST though -
BRODTMANN: Sorry, what was the question?
JAYES: If I could get you to address the online issue of applying GST to goods bought online. Would you support that?
BRODTMANN: Having come from a small business background, I had my own small business before entering parliament and I know it was an issue that was discussed when we were in government - we actually got Treasury and I think Tax to do some modelling on what it would look like in terms of how to apply it and the cost of implementing it. At that stage when we were looking at it the modelling looked as though it was going to cost more to capture the GST, than it would raise. And so at that stage it wasn’t deemed efficient and economical to do so.
JAYES: Christian Porter just one final quick question to you, just a few final seconds left on the program, with the carve up of the GST WA has always argued that it’s divvying out more to the other states than they perhaps deserve. But now a reduction in resources would mean that that’s not quite true, is it?
PORTER: Well it means that some other State will be giving out more in the very near future. Likely Queensland, possibly the Northern Territory will find its share changing. The share volatility in terms of the returns from the GST per dollar to any state is highly volatile and volatile in the short term. And I guess going back to Dan Tehan’s article – when I say there’s nothing extraordinary about it I don’t see his statement being much different to that one that I just read from Chris Bowen. But what is remarkable about his article is the figure he cited, I think $22 billion dollars from the broadening of the GST. Now whether the GST was increased across or up and down with the case of online purchases there is obviously the potential there, which no doubt the tax white paper will look into to get rid of a whole lot of taxes.
JAYES: Christian Porter, Gai Brodtmann thanks for joining me on the program.