ABC AFTERNOON BRIEFING
SUBJECTS: Press Freedom, Tamil Family, GDP figures
PATRICIA KARVELAS, HOST: Thank you to both of you.
PETER KHALIL, MP: Thanks Patricia.
KEITH PITT, MP: Great to be with you.
KARVELAS: I’m going to start with you, Keith. The Australian police has raided the home of a Commonwealth official in Canberra as we’ve been reporting. Are you comfortable with this?
PITT: Patricia, I’m obviously aware of the media reports that the AFP have issued a warrant in Canberra. Obviously this is an act of police investigation. I don’t think there’s anything that I could add to this discussion whilst that investigation is active. But I’d expect the AFP will do what they always do – act impartially and enforce the law of the country.
KARVELAS: Peter Khalil, are you as confident that this is, this is all fine? Are you worried about – we heard a statement earlier from News Corporation about intimidation, police have been criticised about their tactics.
KHALIL: Patricia, I think in a general sense I’m concerned, as many of us are in the Labor Party, about the raids on the ABC and on Annika Smethurst – two examples, those recent examples. Because we see that as an attack on the freedom of the press and it’s very, very problematic. I mean, in a very general sense, I mean, this government has been guilty of all of these unauthorised leaks, I mean, all these government ministers leaking against each other and all the rest of it. And yet, you’re seeing these, I think, assaults on press freedom. Now, my problem with it is that, to me it seems like the political weaponisation of national security laws. And, in some respects, you know, people have a bit of a debate about which laws are being used and so on, but many of them were under the old Crimes Act in 1914. I think some of the laws being used with respect to Annika and the ABC were under that Act. And so we have a real issue with that. The Intelligence Committee of parliament has also been addressing some of these issues in the national security laws, particularly around public interest tests and defences for journalists which are now part of the new laws.
KARVELAS: So, given what we’ve seen today, Keith, and the criticism there by Peter Khalil that perhaps there’s been a weaponisation of national security laws or a politicisation, do you accept that, that perhaps laws have been, gone too far, or that there needs to be law reform?
PITT: Well that’s not certainly the words that I would use. I think this, this is always about balance. It’s a balance between national security and freedom of the press. It’s one of the fundamental points of any democratic nation and every government regardless of whether it’s a Coalition government, whether it’s a Labor government, has its first priority to ensure the safety of the nation. Now, I have complete confidence in our enforcement agencies. I absolutely do. I certainly don’t accept Peter’s views that there’s these malicious leaks from individuals. Our cabinet ministers have exactly the same confidentiality requirements as cabinet ministers under the previous Labor government. I think we’re just getting on with the job of being in government, delivering what we said we would, and particularly around the economy.
KARVELAS: Alright, I want to change the conversation to a story which has dominated political discourse and I think just community discussion too in the last week or so. Keith Pitt, a Tamil family has been given until Friday to consider a surprise development in their case after the Immigration Minister said he would not exercise his discretion to allow them to stay in Australia. Do you think the family should stay?
PITT: Well no, I don’t. My view is fairly straightforward. I mean, these cases are upsetting. They really are. They’re traumatic, they’re difficult. But most immigration cases that MPs and others deal with, and the Department of Immigration, are. My view is quite simply that the Minister is doing what they have to do. They might not like the outcome. They certainly understand the community support from somewhere like Biloela which is a few hours down the road from me and well represented by Ken O’Dowd, the local member. But what we have to ensure is that we do not reopen the back gate to this country for people who want to arrive illegally by boat. We know what the results of that are. These are tough decisions. But I’d certainly encourage the family, who appear to be very valued in the local community, to reapply through existing and legal visa approaches to this country, just like everyone else that wants to live here.
KARVELAS: You mentioned Ken O’Dowd who is the local member for Biloela. He wants the family to stay and said their possible deportation is sad. Barnaby Joyce, who used to be the Leader of the Nationals, also thinks they should stay. Why don’t you agree with those colleagues?
PITT: Because fundamentally I agree with the position that’s been taken by the Minister. We know the results of an open back gate to this country. We don’t want to encourage people smugglers. We don’t want to have a single poster that demonstrates that their model works. We have to ensure what happened under the previous government never occurs again. I mean, I have spoken to those defence personnel on ships who had to do the very difficult work of recovery of people who had lost their life at sea. I never want to see that again, and I think we need to do everything that we can to ensure that it doesn’t occur. Now, Ken is the local member. You know, it is his job to represent his community’s interests, and obviously he’s put forward his view. But this is a really tough issue. I mean it’s challenging, it’s very traumatic, it’s upsetting. I mean, we’ve taken a number of calls in my office as well. But the reality is very straightforward. These individuals and my advice is they’ve been told every step of the way they didn’t meet the requirements to be refugees. They would be returned, and that’s what’s occurring.
KARVELAS: So Peter, Labor has taken a different position under the leadership of Anthony Albanese. Labor wants these people to be allowed to stay, for ministerial discretion to be used. So, what do you make of the argument just used there that essentially it’ll open the back door, that it’ll be seen as a, you know, as an opportunity for others to perhaps restart this trade?
KHALIL: Well Patricia I’ve heard this argument and the flaw in the assertion that Keith is making and the government is making that this will open the flood gates or the back door, it belies the reality that the government ministers, Coleman and Dutton before him, have used ministerial discretion on multiple occasions, many, many times, and it hasn’t opened the floodgates. In fact, they’ve been happy to intervene on behalf of some mate’s au pairs, and we haven’t seen a flood of au pairs come into the country. The fact is that discretion is being used again and again and again. And the reality is, by the government’s own argument that the reason that you’re seeing, you know, the boat situation slowdown is because of the turn back policy, other operations, the countries of origin and so on. So, they’re arguing against themselves in a certain case, in a certain sense. So, I have for a long time called for the Minister to exercise his discretion with respect to this family, cause you can do so on compassionate grounds, and in exceptional circumstances. And they should do so in this case.
KARVELAS: Ok, so you want an intervention. Keith, you certainly say you don’t. So do you think the family, if they are sent back – and of course we’re waiting until Friday for the legal process still – but do you think the family should be given, put basically at the front of the queue to get an ordinary visa, that’s not a refugee visa?
PITT: Well I think they’d have the same opportunities as everyone else who wants to have a better life in Australia.
KARVELAS: But do you think they should be given, no but my question is specific. Because it’s should they be given preference given they have built up these relationships, they’ve worked, they’re so loved by this community, doesn’t that give them the right to be at the front of the queue?
PITT: Patricia, I think we need to deploy our laws, apply our laws locally and fairly and as per the legislation otherwise all is lost. I mean, as I said earlier, we have any number of cases in my local electorate with different circumstances which I’d like ministerial intervention on, which individuals would love to be able to have that opportunity to live in Australia. But the laws are applied fairly and equally. So, I think that where opportunity avails itself for these individuals to reapply and come through the system like everyone else that applies to come to Australia, then they should absolutely take up that opportunity at the first chance that they get, to be frank.
KARVELAS: Peter, frontbenchers Joel Fitzgibbon and Kristina Keneally say the Prime Minister’s approach to this issue is not very Christian. Do you think it’s appropriate to raise the Prime Minister’s faith in this way?
KHALIL: I think the decision has to be made in exercising the law. Keith talks about applying the law fairly. Well they’ve applied the law in the past, they’ve used ministerial discretion, and they do so on the basis of the compassionate grounds that may be before them, exceptional circumstances, and it has been done in the case of the au pairs for example, many other cases with respect to asylum seekers and refugees. The point that you’re making Patricia about bringing in religion and someone’s religious background. Of course one’s faith, one’s background, one’s ethnicity, one’s gender all inform that person’s values and for political leaders, they are informed and influenced by those factors. My view is however sometimes they have to actually weigh up the different factors that influence them, but they need to make a decision that’s based on the law before them, because they are representing not just their constituency but the national interest. And sometimes their faith informs them in those decisions. Sometimes it’s something they’ve got to do against their particular values. So, they need to do it on the basis of the national interest. In this case, the argument has been made, as everyone has been talking about, the massive community support, the value of that family to Biloela, the power that the Minister has to use discretion on compassionate grounds and in exceptional circumstances, is there, it is the law and Keith says they could apply it fairly well. They’ve used it before and they can use it in this case.
KARVELAS: I want to move on to the national accounts figures today. Australia’s economic growth has slowed to a decade low. The Treasurer is trying to be up-beat but Keith Pitt, does this in your view mean that some things should be brought forward, perhaps more stimulus in the infrastructure space? Is that something that you would support?
PITT: Well I think, firstly, this is good news.
KARVELAS: Well, hang on a minute. It’s the slowest in 10 years. It’s the slowest growth in 10 years. They’re the facts.
PITT: True, but it’s also 28 years of consecutive growth. And I think that is better than any other country in the world apart from a handful. So I think we should absolutely give credit where it’s due to the Australian people, the Australian businesses and the Australian economy. I mean, the real risk here is that we continue to have individuals who are out there wanting to talk down our economy, and want to talk Australia into a recession. Business is about confidence. I was in business for 15 years. Your decisions are based on, you know, what your opportunities are, what the risk is, what available credit and cash that you have, and how the country is travelling. And we are going very, very well compared to others around the world. We’ve also obviously got the changes in terms of taxation to come into the system in the next quarter of reporting. We know that there’s $100 billion on the table for infrastructure and projects. There’s growth and opportunity, and I think we should continue to talk up the Australian economy.
KARVELAS: Would you like to see an increase in the Newstart rate, Keith Pitt? Do you think it needs to be looked at?
PITT: No. No, I don’t. I think there’s a whole lot of factors out there that affect what people can survive and manage on, in terms of Newstart, depending on where you live, what opportunities there are, whether you’re in a capital city or a region, whether you use public transport, whether you have access to a vehicle.
KARVELAS: Could you live on Newstart?
PITT: Well, clearly my circumstances are entirely different. You know, I have assets, I have a very good job. I’ve got a background with a very strong education and a trade. I’m fairly confident I would find something to do. So I don’t think that’s a reasonable comparison.
KARVELAS: Well it’s not about comparison. You’re saying you have access to never having to be on Newstart, and I suppose our viewers will think he’s lucky. Not everyone gets to be that lucky. So, could you live on Newstart if you were in those circumstances?
PITT: Well firstly Patricia can I say I didn’t start out lucky. It’s the result of a lot of hard work and some risk and education and putting myself through training and a whole pile of other things. I’m the same as everyone else mate, I’m common as dirt. But the reality is my circumstances now are completely different. I obviously couldn’t pay the mortgages that I have on Newstart. I couldn’t support the fact I’ve got three children and one at university and two at high school. So I, it’s just a completely unfair comparison. I think the best thing we can do for people is to provide them opportunity to get off of Newstart, and particularly for apprenticeships. I think we’ve got a real opportunity now to deliver more apprentices throughout Australia which provides more tradespeople and provides more people with higher qualifications and it means they earn more.
KARVELAS: Alright, I’ll give the final word to Peter Khalil on the national accounts. I’m hearing from your sounds you’re not as positive about the outlook?
KHALIL: Well I mean the economy is doing relatively well despite the poor economic management of this government.
KARVELAS: But you concede it’s doing well?
Pitt: There you go.
KHALIL: I’m saying the slowest growth and the weakest economy since the GFC. Now this government has got no economic policy. It’s like a desert. They’ve got a great political tactical strategy but that’s about it. So how about some ideas. What about raising Newstart? And the comparison is unfair – it’s not about comparing it to Keith. It’s about whether the average person can actually live on Newstart – it’s too low. What about bringing forward infrastructure investment? What about bringing forward part two of the tax cuts? I mean, they’re not doing any of this. You know what they are relying on Patricia, they’re relying on the very short rope of monetary policy, which is about to run out by the way. I mean, they keep leaning on the RBA to keep cutting interest rates because they have no fiscal plan, at all. They’re sitting on their hands, hoping that the RBA keeps cutting interest rates and somehow miraculously they’re going to get out of trouble and preserve their surplus. And by the way, the surplus being built upon dodgy numbers and algorithms of robo-debt that basically steals from the most vulnerable people in the country who don’t even owe the debt. And that’s what’s obscene about this government’s economic plans, because they actually target the most vulnerable in society to keep their surplus.
KARVELAS: I want to thank you both for coming in. Very different perspectives that you have and I suppose that’s entirely unsurprising. Thank you so much for joining us.