Transcript – ABC 774 Fight Club

Subjects: Foreign Fighters legislation, fuel indexation, Nova Peris

Presenter: There’s a lot going on around the fuel price, the reintroduction of indexation, and I want to get to that in a moment. But I want to do a bit of National Security Legislation first.

The ABC broke the news today that the man who is the catalyst for those counter terrorism raids in Sydney, what was it, 800 officers? Muhammad Ali Baryalei, it was his phone call to Australia that got the Australian security services worried. The ABC now believes he has been killed while fighting in the Middle East.

The Foreign Minister Julie Bishop was asked about this a few hours ago and this is what she said.

Minister Bishop: “The Australian Government will of course pursue the details of this matter, the allegations that he has been killed, but we will also be unrelenting in finding the details of where he has been, who his contacts are and who he has called.

Presenter: Bruce Billson I will start with you as part of the Coalition. What’s your response simply to someone like that, if the report is correct? It seems to be pretty solid. What do you think?

Minister Billson: I think it underlines why the Foreign Fighters Bill and changes to take account of contemporary challenges and threats are so important. It’s hard to imagine how someone engaged in combat activity in these areas can come back to live a normal, peaceable life.

We’ve seen the evidence that those that have previously embarked on direct involvement in conflicts of this kind, have a high propensity to come back and add to the radicalisation of others and that’s not good for people who just want to go peaceably about their life and be comfortable and secure that they can enjoy the freedoms that we offer in this country. So that’s the connection, that’s why there are new challenges….

Presenter: Do you think we should be targeting them while they are over there?

Minister Billson: I don’t think there’s a deliberate targeting in a combat sense, but if people are there making phone calls back to Australia and they’re engaged in the kind of activities that we’ve seen splashed right across our televisions, and discussed regularly, they’re putting themselves in a situation of being part of something that is a global threat that we need to take seriously and we need to act decisively to deal with.

Presenter: Mark Dreyfus the Labor Party supported the Foreign Fighters Bill; it went through the Senate today. What is your response to the news that he may have been killed?

Mark Dreyfus: We did support the Foreign Fighters Bill after a number of improvements were made to it following on from the Committee process, which recommend some 36 changes to the legislation which the Government did agree too. They were worked on very hard by our Labor members of the Intelligence Committee and some of them were very significant changes.

But as for the death that’s been reported, if its correct Mr Baryalei will be, as I understand it, the 16th Australian to die fighting in Iraq or Syria with one of these terrorist groups.

It’s a demonstration of the reason why our Government, when we were in Government and the present Government, have been doing whatever is available to stop Australians going to participate in this conflict. That’s why we were cancelling passports. That’s why the current Government is also cancelling passports in an endeavour to stop people going to join.

I do agree with the comments that Bruce Billson has made about the risk that is posed to national security by people who do go and then return, because of course they are trained to come back battle hardened.

Presenter: The world is changing dramatically. The intelligence agencies have piles more money than what they did in the past. John Faulkner, the Labor Senator, wants there to be a lot more oversight. I’d like to ask you both about two of his ideas.

One, the Committee who actually oversees our intelligence agencies, they don’t get access to the classified annual reports from those agencies. They also can’t initiate their own inquiries.

It seems pretty self-evident that if they are doing more, more oversight would be good. Bruce Billson if I can start with you. I don’ think you’ve sat on this committee, but I’m just interested in the idea of more oversight, access to the annual reviews and the ability to actually look into things of their own volition. Do you support more oversight?

Minister Billson: The Parliamentary Joint Committee on intelligence services does an outstanding job. It’s got terrific people on it and I would be guided by their recommendations, as the Parliament has been guided by those recommendations today. There’s lots of politicking going on in Canberra…

Presenter: Not on this issue…

Minister Billson: That’s exactly the point I’m making and thank you for reinforcing it. But it isn’t on this issue. It’s too important, there’s a very measured, sober approach to it, and the bipartisanship is actually a uni-partisanship where everyone is trying to find the best calibrations for these difficult policy issues.

The Joint Standing Committee’s got some recommendations on how to improve that kind of important oversight that’s commensurate with the tools being made available.

Mark Dreyfus: Can I push you though on the principle of more oversight. Are you happy with it or do we need more?

Minister Billson: Well you’ve kind of caught me on the hop to be perfectly frank. I’ve not heard of any previous reservations about the scope for inquiries and others.

There’s a capacity for the Parliamentary Joint Committee to take the annual reports that they have and then use that as a platform to embark on further inquiries. They have very strict security around in-camera consultations.

That machinery is there, I haven’t been advised of an idea that it needed to go further but the system’s got good cross parliament support, great access, takes its job very seriously and its work is highly valued.

Presenter: Mark Dreyfus, is Bruce Billson onto something?

Mark Dreyfus: It’s something that I have been talking about too because certainly Labor thinks that if there are additional powers given to intelligence agencies, with those additional powers should come additional oversight.

In fact, that very proposition is expressed in the report of the Intelligence Committee which has now been accepted by the Government. The Intelligence Committee said there needs to be an extension of the oversight of the counter terrorism activities that the Australian Federal Police has and that should be done by the Intelligence Committee that required a legislative change.

It wasn’t part of the Bill that the Government put forward but happily, because of the recommendations of the Intelligence Committee, it’s been incorporated in an amendment today and that’s now passed the Senate.

So, henceforth, there will be an extension of oversight of those counter terrorism activities of the Federal Police, but more generally it’s something that I’ve spoken about before, it’s certainly something that John Faulkner spoke about last week in publishing the paper that he did.

He had a number of ideas that are very much worth considering and in fact the problem Raf that you were talking about was not so much the lack of access to annual reports, it’s that our Intelligence Committee doesn’t have access to operational information.

I’m not talking there about the current operations or the names of people involved, but rather general information about the operational activities of the agencies.

That’s something that I do think overtime other parliamentary scrutiny bodies in other countries, notably the UK and the United States do have that level of oversight and I think it’s something we need to keep under review.

You talk about operational access, I still find it remarkable that we have no idea what our soldiers did in Afghanistan including our special forces, how many people they arrested on the basis of what information, how many people they killed. I find it remarkable that we don’t have access to that information.

It’s a Defence force question Raf rather than intelligence.

Presenter: I understand but we don’t know about classified information. I think there is a general atmosphere of not releasing anything that is classified.

I just want to ask one more question on national security before we get onto the fuel price. There’s a clause the Government wanted to introduce, I don’t think it was allowed, just a broad clause that our overseas spy agency ASIS should work alongside the ADF.

It seems like a really broad clause. I just want to know Mark Dreyfus, is that likely to get Labor’s support? Do you know yet?

Mark Dreyfus: There were three new measures that the Government said they wanted to actually add to the Foreign Fighters Bill which is in the Parliament now and has passed the Senate.

Labor objected saying that you can’t simply bring forward significant new measures which have not been publicly exposed at all and seek to add them to a bill that’s in the parliament and has received the scrutiny of the Intelligence Committee and the public.

So what the Government’s done, agreeing to meet that Labor objection, is to meet those three new significant measures in a Bill that’s just been introduced to the Parliament. The second reading speech explains a little bit about what measures are there.

Clearly, that’s going to be the subject of close examination by Labor and close examination by the Intelligence Committee and I hope members of the public because it does raise some questions, some of which have been touched on in the media today about the sharing of information between ASIS and the defence forces.

Presenter: It is a tax increase in fuel? By introducing the indexation?

Minister Billson: It was part of the Budget that we handed down in May.

I think you and all of your listeners know there’s quite an extensive budget repair task that needs to be undertaken to end the sea of debt and deficit that was left to us.

But there is also a need to continue investing in what we need and what our nation needs to build its productive capacity for the future.

So in that respect the indexation of fuel, something the Hawke Labor Government had originally introduced, something that was frozen during the Howard Government, and when the budget position enabled it, has been reactivated with those funds going towards the largest infrastructure program and for key commuter projects like the East West Link.

Mark Dreyfus: I think Denis Napthine hates it, that’s bad news for the Premier if you link the East West project that he’s spruiking with a rise in petrol prices. Well there is work to be done.

It’s an important reason to make sure that we invest in infrastructure and the reality is we need to fund it. That’s what’s happening and there are projects right across our country.

It’s crucial; the support there is strong for that project. Even Labor thought the project was a good idea at different stages including Bill Shorten.

We do need to recognise the tough budget position and we do need to fund important infrastructure.

Presenter: Tax increase? Yes or no?

Minister Billson: Indexation restoration yes.

Presenter: Is it a tax increase or not?

Minister Billson: Well over time it will see the indexation applied which will maintain the real value. Word games if you like, the fact is it’s the reintroduction of indexation.

Something was there under Hawke Labor, it was suspended when the budget could enable it and it’s something that’s been reactivated to maintain the real value of the tax revenue which has come from fuel purchasing.

Presenter: Tony Abbott promised no new or increased taxes before the election. He’s got no mandate in the Parliament for this increase and he’s ambushed the Australian people.

It’s extraordinary to hear Bruce saying in effect black is white. Tony Abbott does it every day in Question Time trying to tell Australians black is white. This is a lie. He told Australians there wouldn’t be new or increased taxes and he is now increasing the tax.

We’ve said very directly, Tony Abbott should stop hurting Australians who can least afford it. Australians cannot afford more taxes from this Prime Minister and they certainly can’t afford more of his lies.

Presenter: That tax was shrinking over time. If you don’t index something and the price of petrol rises, that’s in effect actually a tax that’s getting smaller and smaller.

Mark Dreyfus: The problem is that Tony Abbott said there won’t be any new or increased taxes before the election and what he has done is put on a tax increase here and it’s an ambush. What’s worse is that he is bypassing parliament to bring in this unfair petrol tax. I think the public reaction…

Minister Billson: Hang on; the tax takes down by $5.7 billion. So the way in which this measure’s been implemented has been road tested and used by Labor with its pre-packaged, pre-mixed drinks.

I think you are getting a bit rich and a bit shrill. What’s happened here is that we’ve got a tax reduction across the whole of Government. We’ve got a restoration of an indexation measure Labor introduced and we’ve got resources flowing to crucial infrastructure projects whilst we deal with the repair of the budget damage that Labor inflicted.

Now these are difficult challenges. None of them are easy, none of them are straightforward but we are getting on with that important task of fixing the budget, not leaving the next generation with a mountain of debt, compromising their opportunities for the future, building the infrastructure that our city in particular needs and restoring the real value of the taxes paid as part of the fuel transaction.

Mark Dreyfus: I think Australian’s understand only too clearly the unfairness of this budget and how Tony Abbott told repeated lies before the election, right up to election eve. No cuts to health, no cuts to education, no cuts to the ABC and no new taxes or increased taxes.

Now all of those statements made repeatedly before the election have proved to be a lie. I think Australians have made a judgement based on this unfair budget and the Prime Minister ought to start actually telling the truth about these matters.

Presenter: Can I ask Mark Dreyfus. Just one moment Bruce Billson because I will note the Coalition criticised the alcopops tax and the tobacco tax that opposed them in opposition and kept them in Government.

Mark Dreyfus if you win the next election will you freeze the indexation on fuel tax?

Mark Dreyfus: We’ll be looking at the entire budgetary situation as it stands when we come to office. It’s not appropriate to say when we are not the Government what would your budgetary and fiscal decisions be.

I will offer you one – we wouldn’t be proceeding with the $22 billion rolled gold paid parental leave scheme that Tony Abbott’s got that is increasingly completely devoid of any support, even in his own party.

In fact Senator Ian MacDonald, a Liberal Senator suggested recently that it would be a good measure that the Government could take, just drop that rolled gold paid parental leave scheme that is paying $50,000 to millionaires to have children.

Presenter: Okay I’m going to throw text messages at you collectively. I’ll give Bruce Billson the first chance to respond.

I’m going to throw a few at him so he can respond to whichever he likes. Text one: What about the climate bid you are going to leave future generations Bruce? That’s from Buzz.

Text two: where is the proof in the writing of Labor’s debt and who is owed what?

Text three: Raf can’t you get anyone else from Labor to come onto your program? Mark Dreyfus is tiresome. That’s from Leonie.

Text four: Raf stop the Liberal ‘BS’, a lie is a lie is a lie. Text five: Bill says Raf arresting the decline of attacks is not increasing a tax. Bruce Billson you can respond to them as you wish.

Minister Billson: Climate – that’s why we’ve got the direct action plan that actually puts resources into actual (inaudible).

It’s a work in progress and that’s why we keep turning up every day, trying to do what’s best for the nation. On the debt issue, that’s the debt trajectory that’s left if Labor’s budget settings weren’t adjusted. That would see the sea of record deficits continue.

Back when you and I were lads Raf, down at Frankston Beach, a great place to holiday, in the 70s there were seven people in the workforce for every one retiree. There’s around five now and there’s under three in the workforce by mid-century.

We need to have everything about our economy going well and saddling the debt for those that are generating the wealth and opportunity for the future is simply unwise.

Finally saying the restoration of indexation is the restoration of indexation couldn’t be a clearer statement of facts. I think that was the bulk of your texts.

Presenter: Yeah okay Mark Dreyfus do you want to respond to some of his points.

Mark Dreyfus: I think…

Minister Billson: He was nodding I think.

Mark Dreyfus: Not at all. Bruce should stop with this nonsense about the debt and deficit disaster. We’re over them repeating that Liberal lie.

The Liberals doubled the deficit in their mid-year economic fiscal outlook, there is no crisis and increasingly Australians are realising that there is no crisis.

There’s a structural issue that we were grappling with, that this Government’s grappling with and what they have done is to make some appallingly bad and unfair choices in the Budget which people are onto.

That’s what we’ve been fighting for in Canberra. We don’t want the burden of cuts that the Government is making to fall on the people who can least afford it.

Australians understand the choices that the Government has made and we are calling on them to make some different choices. We will see what they do, in what will be a mini Budget.

They probably will leave it until after Parliament rises, which is in the first week of December. We’ll see.

Presenter: Bruce I want to get in one more question if I can.

Minister Billson: I thought you were going to ask about small business Raf. I get excited about that prospect.

Presenter: I’m sure you do. I just want to read out one more text. There is a text saying Mark Dreyfus for PM and that he is such an eloquent speaker.

Can I ask you both this – the story about Nova Peris, the Labor Senator from the Northern Territory.

There are two aspects to the question. Does she have any questions to answer about misuse of public money?

The incident happened before she was in Parliament but she used public money.

Secondly, the inclusion of very salacious email content. I have no idea if they are true or not. Good journalism or bad journalism? I’ll start with your Bruce Billson.

Minister Billson: I don’t know much about the story, it sounds like a very private matter and if there are issues relating to the use of public funds then that needs to be accounted for.

I’m sad to say Raf, I’ve had my head down working on issues to support small business today and haven’t been tracking salacious aspects of stories of this kind.

Presenter: Mark Dreyfus?
Mark Dreyfus: Nova Peris has made a sensational and fantastic contribution to the Australian Parliament, particularly on Indigenous issues and Northern issues since she joined the Parliament at the last election.

The matters which have been published in the Northern Territory News today and I think another newspaper, the Advertiser in Adelaide – I’m not going to comment on those.

They appear to be from a long time before Nova entered the Parliament and are of a deeply personal nature.

I’d say more generally, it’s the sort of thing that raises the concern that I asked the Australian Law Reform Commission to look at when I gave them a lecture in relation to a tort of personal privacy or invasions of privacy.

I do think it’s something, in terms of the development of the law of Australia that we should be looking at.

When you’ve got someone’s personal matters or private lives which have been the subject of apparently emails which were obtained, certainly not by any, apparently, lawful means now made the subject of a story, that’s got to be a concern.

Presenter: I didn’t have time to get into the Professor involved with the Curriculum Review and the similarities.

Minister Billson: I thought we were going to get onto small business Raf.

Presenter: Sorry Bruce. I know your portfolio and I thank you for stepping in today. Thank you Bruce and Mark.