Transcript – ABC 774 ‘Fight Club’ with Sophie Black and Anna Burke

Wednesday 14th October 2015:

Subjects: Cabinet reshuffle, children in detention, terror laws.


We have got Bruce Billson, former Minister for Small Business and Liberal Member for Dunkley. And Anna Bourke, former Speaker and the ALP Member for Chisholm in Canberra.

Welcome to both of you.


Thanks Sophie.


It is nice to be here and we have got the new Sophie too.


Ha, ha ha. Now my first Fight Club here people so play nice. And before we dig into the issues: Bruce Billson last time you came on the program you were the Minister for Small Business. You are now on the backbench. Now, I just want to know, you obviously really loved your portfolio, how tough was that transition?


Sophie it is fair to say it is not one I was hoping for, that is probably stating the obvious and a lot of the feedback is perhaps that it was not warranted on the basis of performance but it is a tough business.

You have got to roll with the punches and we have got good work to do for the Riviera of Melbourne down in the electorate of Dunkley. We are throwing ourselves into that and staying very much focused on what I can do to support enterprising men and women in small business and family enterprises – albeit in a different position to bring about change and a different vantage point in the parliament to participate in proceedings. So quite a change and we are just getting on with it and staying classy.


Speaking of staying classy, a lot of people did comment on the, let us say, grace and the good nature with which you dealt with that decision compared to say Kevin Andrews.


I will take that as a comment Sophie.

How was that, was that a nice pivot?


Bruce I would have taken that as a compliment.


Well it was, but it is not my job to comment on my colleagues and it is an extraordinary honour to be able to be in this chamber representing a community that runs through my veins. And of course we look for other opportunities to contribute beyond being a local member of parliament and that is what 12 years as a frontbencher for the Coalition has been for me and my life and my family – so quite a change.

But the beach of Mornington was lovely over the hot few days we had a little while ago and the kids certainly loved having me splashing there with them for a change.


Anna Bourke, you could sort of relate to this in a different kind of way given that you are the former Speaker, and then you need to sort of recalibrate with your role. Does it take a bit of adjustment?


Yes you have got to adjust to it. You go from being 24/7 the phone ringing, the media adviser there, the people having 101 things to do to suddenly nothing. You move out of a gloriously large office into a small one so yes you have got to be honest about it. In my case it was a bit easier, we lost government. It was an inevitable case of what happens when one party loses, one party wins.

In Bruce’s case, with other people I have seen, when we went through these changes it is hard because it is not expected, it is not coming, it is not something you asked for, you have been working hard, you have been doing all the right things and suddenly you have got to now readjust and smile and do it well and it is not easy. So full credit to him.


Ok enough with the compliments now Bruce. Let us take our gloves off here and let us get down to the nitty gritty. Now the Government announced yesterday a fifth instalment of anti-terror laws which would, among other things, lower the age at which a control order can be applied from 16 years of age to 14.

Bruce Billson, is this overreach in the wake of the Parramatta shooting?


I would not have thought so. These discussions have been going on for some time and I think it was as early as the middle of the year where the Commonwealth was raising what other tools do we need in the tool kit to deal with the threat of terrorism, what else can we do to keep people safe.

The idea that a control order may be one tool that is available where there is an imminent threat – let us remember Sophie that under a control order arrangement there is a limit on how much questioning can be undertaken, but it has not been widely utilised. But there is a recognition of changing pressures and changing concerns and making sure that the tool kit is fit to deal with them.

So it has been coming, it has been discussed. The counter-terrorism heads and the security agencies have been working that through, not only at a federal level but also with the state and territory level. But that measure, that mechanism is being used extraordinarily sparingly and with great care and thought and that will continue to be the case.


In the case of the Parramatta shootings, the accused was not even on the radar, so a control order like this would not make any difference having this sort of power would it?


In terms of that very frightening episode you are absolutely correct, but that also recognises the fact that that is not the only circumstance our nation expects law enforcement and counter-terrorism agencies to be able to deal with threats that our citizens may be exposed to.

So there is no single solution, there is not magic intervention that will deal with a real challenge of our times and we are trying to make sure that this toolkit that, as you mentioned Sophie in your intro, this is the fifth instalment working closely with the states and territories and those security and policing agencies; it is all about keeping our community safe and getting the right balance between the freedom and liberties that we love but also recognising if there is an imminent threat and we need to be able to deal with it decisively and in a thoughtful way – and that is what is being proposed here.


Anna Bourke I will come to you but I also want some quick questions from our listeners. It is your opportunity to put questions to both Bruce Billson and Anna Bourke.

Anna Bourke, this move has been condemned by some lawyers and religious leaders. Is it not better to engage with these youths rather than risk further alienating them with a move like this?


Labor has always taken a constructive approach to national security but in this regard we do actually want to see the proposals the Government is putting forward. We cannot comment on something we have not seen, because as Bruce said, there is two sides to every story.

We want to protect our way of life. We do not want to actually give it up by actually having to put in place draconian laws that actually give away some of our rights and freedoms so we have actually got to walk that fine line that a) protects our community but also protects our civil liberties.

So I have looked at a lot of the comments from religious leader, from eminent lawyers and I think we would need to see the legislation, what actually is in place and proposed before we could agree to it – because when we are talking about 14 year-olds it is a different story. And yes we have had a tragic incident, but that was one incident and I do not think we can say every 14 year-old would cope under a protection order. I am not sure that every 16 year-old would cope either.

There has to be safeguards and we have to ensure that we are not actually letting the terrorists win by giving away our freedoms and I think we would need to be very careful. And also, that we are not actually forcing people into radicalisation because we are the ones saying look we are terrified of you, we are frightened of you, the community is scared of you. We have got to say no, no Australia has been a great place because we have embraced multiculturalism, because we have not tolerated but celebrated diversity of all cultures and religions. Let us continue that but be mindful that we are living in a world where these terrible things to occur.


Sophie could I just help a little bit too. There are two issues here.

One is the control order and that is the discussion that you started off with and that is about saying to people that may be in a place that could lead to very significant concerns putting some bumper rails around their behaviour. In some cases, even having location detection technology as part of their day to day life, that is a control order.

A preventative detention requirement though is where someone is detained because there is an imminent fear or an imminent threat and there are some limitations about what sort of questioning can be undertaken and whether the evidence that has accumulated during preventative detention can be used for further prosecutions.

The third part though is the laws themselves have been changed where there is now a reasonable suspicion rather than the level of proof being a reasonable belief that is needed to activate laws. So where there is a chance to have someone prosecuted then that is always preferred because then you can go through the collection of evidence.

So just to make that clear to your listeners, there are three sorts of avenues. Preventative detention, that gets people out of what is believed to be an imminent threat. There is a control order which is there are risks there that need to be managed. And then there is the prosecution where an offence is believed to have been committed and there are different safeguards around that as well just to make that clear.


But what about engagement? Much has been said about the Prime Minister’s shift in rhetoric compared to former Prime Minister Tony Abbott. He has softened his language, he has reached out to various members of the Muslim community and they have responded in kind, but how much money are we sinking into engagement? What is the Government doing practically to reach out to these young people?


We have got a senior ministerial official with Connie Fierravanti-Wells doing pretty much nothing else but that in partnership with Philip Ruddock.

Yesterday in this Parliament there was an interfaith coming together that was very important and I personally met the Grand Mufti out the front of the building and talked with some Islamic leaders about how this is a shared concern and a shared responsibility and we have all got a role to play and a lot of that conversation was around engagement so that young people see purpose and meaning in their lives, are not attracted to radicalisation and where faith is an important part of their lives of whatever religion that it is an honourable translation of the scripture and of those religious beliefs.

So there is a multipronged approach and engagement has to be a part of that and that is also where a lot of effort has been put in.


Sophie Black filling in for Raf Epstein and you are listening to Fight Club with Anna Bourke and Bruce Billson. Call in with your questions.

No I want to talk a little bit about children in detention. Doctors from the Royal Children’s Hospital this week said they would refuse to return any children in detention who were in their care as it went against the Hippocratic Oath that they had taken. Now that is a pretty strong message from some very well respected members of the community.

Anna Bourke, surely this is a no-brainer? Why can’t we see children out of detention as of tomorrow?


Yes it is a bit of a no-brainer and again we have seen the Government saying it is a situation where they have reduced the numbers, and yes they have. What they have not talked about is the length of time these children have actually been in detention which is the greater concern. Yes there were large numbers under Labor but they were not there for the length of time these children have been in this situation.

We still have 114 women and 93 children held on Nauru. The majority have been moved off and that is a great effort by the Government but they can move these children now. They say it is about security risks around the parents, an adverse security risk around a parent. Well they can deal with that in other ways. They can actually take these children off Nauru with their families and put them into community detention and supervise their parents.

They should not be holding to ransom these children because of adverse security risks of one or other of their parents. And as we have seen over time with these supposed security risks, nobody really knows, because the individual concerned is not actually advised what the risk is. So it is this catch-22 and the people in the middle are 93, very distressed, very disturbed children whose mental health and well-being will now forever be damaged.

It will not matter if they come out tomorrow, the sights and scenes they have seen the in last two plus years will have damaged them for life. I do not think that is the sort of society we want to live in and I think the staff at the Royal Children Hospital have done exactly the right thing and they have had numerous children who have had to come from Nauru because of medical conditions and from abuse,

What sort of country are we that we are allowing children to be abused and housed in conditions in Nauru that are not appropriate? They are still living in tents. They are not living in solid dwellings. We need to be doing better and it is really not good enough for the Minister as he said again in Question Time today that we would like to think we have got these problems. There is ways of dealing with this and there is ways of dealing with it now.


Bruce Billson I have a text that I want you put to you from Roy. If the doctors won’t discharge the children of people seeking refugee status, does this mean that effectively the hospital becomes a detention centre?

Logistically how does this actually work?


Well Roy has asked a very good question and of course I understand and respect the concern of doctors. You can argue we are actually trying to achieve the same thing. That is not place people in harm – not have the drownings reactivated, have people properly respected and cared for, that are seeking to have their claim for refugee status processed and a placement that finds them free from persecution.

I’m not sure about the details on how the hospital manages the young people, the children, that they feel are unable to be discharged. I assume they have capacity to do so. Obviously their wellbeing is closely monitored by immigration officials. There has been some work done, commenced by the previous government and continued by this government in terms of improving health and education services both physical and emotional, wellbeing services wherever the children are. In terms of community detention, part of that involves access to health services.

The nitty gritty of that I can’t shed a lot of light on. Roy’s point is a good one. They are essentially under the care of the department of immigration and while the health services they are receiving are provided and the doctors are making a call on what they feel their convictions and principles are about their responsibilities.


Lots of different views coming in via text. Someone says they are not our citizens we have no responsibility to them. Another text – children cannot be pawns for the parents to get unauthorized entry to Australia. Isabella says, Refugees: I am a Labor voter- do they have to agree to everything the Coalition says, no off-shore detention please.

Anna Burke I want to put this to you. On Monday Labor floated a private members bill to mandate the reporting of child abuse in detention centres. Why now?


Well I think the situation has got to such a state that we need these instances brought to the appropriate authority. We have now got several reports, the Moss Review, Gillian Triggs’ report, they haven’t been acted on and there hasn’t been change. So to ensure there is action, these children who are effectively under Australia’s care and we have a responsibility to them and we can’t shy away from it.


Bruce Billson, how does this sit with current laws which would prosecute potential whistle blowers?


I’m not sure it sits in an incompatible way. I think everyone involved in the care of children in circumstances I don’t think anyone would wish they were in, but circumstances being what they are, we need to deal with in a careful and compassionate way.

And that is why the range of support services provided are being constantly monitored. Your earlier question about children in dentition, yes there is one twentieth the number that was there in detention just five years ago.

So there is a very strong conviction through the government and the Ministers leading that to make sure that the most appropriate care arrangements can be put in place for children.

One of your text message contributors is right though. In some cases the parents aren’t keen on having the children away from them. There is a sense that that is having an impact on the assessment or options available. In a number of cases the families themselves, one of the parents has a security concern; the decision is made as a family to keep the family together.

There is a range of different influences at play there. I haven’t seen any evidence that people aren’t doing all they can to make sure these circumstances, that no one wished our nation would be contending with, they are being dealt with in the best possible way we can, understanding the history that brought to us to where we are.

That work is continuing, the care services are there. The children are coming out, detention centres are being closed and thankfully nobody is drowning at sea. Because the people smuggling traders has started and children aren’t being viewed as some sort of bargaining chip by people smugglers market an improved prospect for a favourable outcome if children are in the mix. Now that is a horrendous circumstance, profiting from hardship and distress and using children in an extraordinarily dishonourable way. We are trying to deal with them with care and compassion, realising there is a set of circumstances that no one would wish we are in.


Paul from Pascovale with a question for Anna Burke.


Hello Soph, hello Bruce and hello Anna. Look Anna I nearly dropped when walking in the great Aussie sunshine on my way home this afternoon. Because you said that these control orders are somehow going to deny me freedom. My question to you is how? I am an ordinary, law abiding Joe Citizen and if someone transgresses against the law I’d expect them to be punished. So how am I losing freedom by this re-jigging of the control orders?


Because in these cases we do not know if they have transgressed the law or not. It is on the presumption that they might be. Which in some cases we need to do to prevent terrorist attacks. So what I said is a very fine line to walk. Do we say as a nation that we will let people be held for increasing lengths of time without any charges being laid against them. That is the difficulty and the complex nature of this case.

What I am talking about is that terror is out there to make us fearful. To give up the liberties and the freedoms that we hold near and dear, I don’t want to give those up and let the terrorists win. But at the same time I understand we need to have laws in place to prevent these acts happening. It is not easy, it is not simple, but all of this needs to be looked at very carefully. It needs to be considered and not to have knee jerk reaction after knee jerk reaction after every incident that occurs.

So I think on occasion I think yes, we have given up some of our freedoms little by little because we are living in a complex world we cannot fully control or understand; and I am fearful of that, I am fearful of things like data retention creeping ever so rapidly, that everything we hold is being held by someone else without us completely understanding. I think on occasion we need to stand back and asses these things carefully.


Anna Burke and Bruce Billson I am afraid we are out of time, thank you so much for your time.


Thank you Sophie I hope you have enjoyed your time on the show.