Transcript - ABC Afternoon Briefing [27 May 2020]

May 27, 2020

SUBJECT/S: Hong Kong; State Borders; Industrial Relations Reform
PATRICIA KARVELAS, HOST: Tim Wilson let's start with you because you of course took a photo that became kind of infamous if you're you know you're on social media in Hong Kong showing solidarity with protesters. What's your response to this unfolding situation in Hong Kong this afternoon?

TIM WILSON: Well I wouldn't call my photo infamous.


WILSON: But that's fine I'm very proud of the photo and for standing up with the people of Hong Kong against an authoritarian regime and the denial of liberties as is occurring. So of course I'm deeply disturbed as many people are around the world looking at what's occurring in Hong Kong. The national security legislation to me is quite clearly designed to broaden the scope of influence of Beijing over Hong Kong, to threaten the very system of relationship of one country two systems that that's supposed to operate in Hong Kong, and we know the language of the law is very loose and used and will I suspect sadly be used as a justification to suppress dissent and difference of opinion and the freedoms that the people of Hong Kong have been raised with, come to expect, and should continue to expect, as by the way I think so should the people of China.

KARVELAS: Anne Aly these images of course I mean this is a you know I think quite disturbing developments. Tim Wilson talking about you know being proud of showing solidarity with people in Hong Kong. What do you make of that unfolding situation that's emerging on the streets this afternoon?

ANNE ALY: I'm on a unity ticket with Tim on this Patricia. I share his concerns for the well-being and the freedom of the people of Hong Kong. I mean this is in line with some of the world's most repressive regimes where people can be imprisoned indefinitely for criticizing the government or for criticizing the ruling parties. So I certainly she Tim's concerns and I share your assessment of the situation that it is particularly disturbing, it's very disturbing and I think that Australia should speak with quite a strong voice about the situation in Hong Kong and use everything that we can to to stand up and stand in solidarity with the people there.

KARVELAS: Yeah Tim Wilson Australia has of course previously made statements officially the foreign minister about sort of Hong Kong in the past. What do you think the Australian Government should be doing or, on a bipartisan level actually because both of you seem to be saying similar things. How should we be dealing with this issue? Obviously we're in - it looks like we're in the freezer with China as it is - should we be being quite active in this space?

WILSON: Well I think we've already made very clear statements both when protests were occurring this year but also more recent events in the past 72 hours. Our foreign minister and our government was one of the governments that stood up and spoke out. Frankly what we need to be doing is working with other countries and encouraging other countries to stand up and speak out as well of course you know we can't confront the Chinese Communist Party and its intentions over Hong Kong in isolation we need other freedom loving countries to stand up and speak out. But of course should the situation arise where some dissidents fear for their lives they're of course entitled to be able to apply for our refugee program. And that operates already under existing law.

KARVELAS: Yeah it's interesting you raise the refugee program do you think that that is something that Australia should ultimately if it escalates and and obviously I say the scenes are disturbing we don't know what will happen in coming days or months. Should that be something that Australia pursues, actually not just saying we've got an open door but actually you know sort of making it quite clear that we want to stand in solidarity with these people and we'll stand up to help them?

WILSON: Well every time this has been discussed and I've had people, dissidents, and people talking to me about it from Hong Kong.  But at this point. And up until this point the people who may be covered by it also want to stay and defend their homeland and the freedoms that they grew up with. But of course I think that the reality is we we sadly may face a scenario where we have to accept people from Hong Kong who may be the target on may face legitimate fears of persecution from their own government. I hope it doesn't end up there. But of course we have to consider all these options open.

KARVELAS: Yeah Anne Aly I think Tim's point is right. I think a lot of these people do want to stand up and stay there and make their case. But should Australia be an open place looking to help people who are dissidents who don't feel like they can stay?

ALY: Now our refugee program should always be responsive to global trends and what's going on in the world. I mean you know we've recently had huge displacement numbers of displaced people from various parts of the Middle East, from Syria and Iraq, and we were responsive in that regard. So our refugee intake should continue to be responsive to what's happening globally. I agree with Tim I think that you know in speaking out against this there's a place for Australia to have that kind of bilateral discussion around human rights with China. But it'd be much more effective when we go in collectively with a number of other countries and raise concerns.

KARVELAS: Let's talk about borders with borders inside our country I mean the world's changed so much. I can't believe I'm talking about borders like we do now but Anne Aly we'll start with you because it has changed. This is our normal now. We're having this debate around when all the borders will reopen. You're in W.A. where there are strong border closures of course and that could continue. Is there really a sort of public health case for that? Because we've been told quite clearly that the that the medical advice. Paul Kelly said it to me directly the medical advice is that you don't need to close domestic borders.

ALY: Well I think we know we've recently had the case of a ship that's come in an export ship come in. And there have been cases there and I think that that in itself is a good example of why we need to maintain our border closures for now until it is safe to do so. We had yesterday two cases in New South Wales and New South Wales schools. Two children one in year five and one in year seven I believe who came down with the virus and they've had to close two schools in New South Wales. So until we are absolutely sure that there is no risk of a second wave of this I am inclined to take the lead and listen to the lead of our premier Mark McGowan who has done a stellar job so far and I think that you know his decision to keep the W.A. border closed for now is the right decision.

KARVELAS: Tim. Pauline Hanson has given the Queensland Premier one day to open the border or she'll file a case in the High Court. I think she's trying to raise money I don't know where that sort of raising of the money is last at it wasn't very high this morning it may have gone up. Do you have sympathy for her push to reopen the border? Because I spoke yesterday to Matt Canavan you know on your side of politics and national but either way on on the government side and he said he has sort of sympathy for states rights and we have to be careful about eroding states rights. How do you see it?

WILSON: Well I don't think States rights is the argument we should be invoking in the end. We sit as part of the Commonwealth. I agree with the health advice that says there's no case for these measures. We can't live in an environment that's perfectly free of risk. But if the health advice says that it's unjustified we know the health risks are very low whereas the economic and I don't just mean because the dollars and cents I'm talking about the livelihoods of the tourism sector and the like and all those people who are dependent on is very real and particularly for Queensland. Now ultimately this is a decision for the people of Queensland and and their Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk. But I struggle to see based on the health advice how these measures can continue to be justified and frankly I think it would be a welcome thing to I think would be a welcome thing to have it tested in the High Court because it'll be interesting to see and I think the High Court would love the opportunity to decide whether States can close their borders particularly when the health advice and health evidence says it's no longer justified because of the negative impact it's having but also a question whether it's consistent with our Constitution.

KARVELAS: So you think it's worth actually testing this in the High Court you think it would be a useful case. What do you hope to find out why do you think there's a sort of grey on this?

WILSON: Well it comes down to assessing whether it's proportionate or not but I mean I think these areas of law are contested as far as I'm aware there's no case related to you know pandemics and the closure of borders quite like this in the past. So it's an interesting area of law to explore if Ms Hansen wants to take it and pay for the costs then I look forward to seeing what the outcome is.

KARVELAS: Anne Aly is it worth testing in the courts or the High Court?

ALY: Well I just think it's pretty extraordinary that we're in a time when Pauline Hanson is arguing for borders to be open. I mean who would have thought who would have thunk it. Look I don't necessarily agree that it's worth testing in the High Court I think it's a lot of a lot of effort for something that I think if we just follow the health advice and do as we'd been doing as a nation in coming together and everyone doing their part we'll get through this. I just don't think it's the right time for these kinds of testing laws to be honest.

KARVELAS: Let's just talk about industrial relations reform. The union movement has been open to sitting on the table being included in these five key areas of reform. The Prime Minister has demanded that everyone put their ideological weapons down. Tim Wilson have you put your weapons down?

WILSON: Well our focus has always been on what we need to do to get more people in work. So if it's an ideological objective to want to have more Australians employed so they can stand on their own two feet. So they support them and their families buy homes and earn a livelihood. Then I'm not sure that anybody would want us to stop pursuing those objectives. They're critical for the country and what we know is that around the world lots of countries pretty much all countries are going to be looking how are they are going to recover from this crisis. And that means we're can have a competitive environment internationally where people want to attract investment to grow jobs so industrial relations and what we need to do and that is a critical part of that discussion. So is tax so is energy investments to make sure Australia is the place you want to do business so we can create the jobs to employ Australians so they can earn a livelihood.

KARVELAS: Anne Aly Labor's been saying it's not extraordinary or it should send shivers down the spines of workers whereas it seems the union movement is being a little more open to being part of this. Why is Labor, well, taking more of a negative spin on this?

ALY: I don't think Labor's taking a negative spin at all.

KARVELAS: Well just you know just yesterday I'll tell you well being really specific. Then let me be really specific. Richard Marles told me it should send a shiver down the spine of workers. So I don't know. Sounds a little negative.

ALY: Let's look at the history then Patricia. We've got a history here of a government that spent seven years attacking unions. We've got a history here of a government that wanted to introduce a union busting bill in Parliament. This is the party that brought us WorkChoices. So you know I think there is cause for a certain caution in the way that this is approached. And you know great, we're welcoming of course the workers and workers rights being there on the table and bringing workers voices to the table. Everyone's absolutely right, it shouldn't be extraordinary. It's only extraordinary because of the track record of this government and their approach to unions in the past.

KARVELAS: So I mean you know I get it. I understand that you're saying it shouldn't be but if it is do you give them credit for perhaps abandoning ideology? I mean we'll have to see obviously there has to be proof in what people come up with. But at least the attempt. Yes but but there was an attempt obviously for a ceasefire.

ALY: You know I watched the Prime Minister's speech yesterday with bated breath. Right. Only to have him announce with great fanfare that the big plan is for Christian Porter to chair five working groups. It's not a plan. Where is the plan? Where is this abandoning of ideology? I think we've just got to pause for a minute and let this play out before we make any kind of determination. Is it good that workers voices are being brought to the table? Yes they are. But let's not forget the history and the context that has led to this as well. So you know I just everyone talking about the plan the plan. We've got plans and we got reports and we've got reviews about IR and about training and about job creation. The time for posturing and the time for further talk is over and done with. Let's get into actually doing something and getting some action and seeing some outcomes here.

KARVELAS: Tim Wilson I'll end with you a critique there from Anne Aly later saying essentially there was no plan there was a plan for a plan that's kind of right isn't it? There's five working groups there's brainstorming at this stage.

WILSON: No I don't agree with that at all. What we have is a clear pathway to bring parties to the table to have a discussion about the root causes of problems that will create barriers to employ more Australians. What we then want to do is get clarity on those problems and then how we can work together to resolve them.  Modern leadership isn't about taking control and ownership for yourself. It's about bringing people together and collaborating towards a better future. That's the proposal that Scott Morrison outlined yesterday in his approach in the National Press Club. It's the one he's tasked Christian Porter to go on and implement. And the only people who are condemning who don't want to be a part of this discussion and so far have attacked it have been the Labor Party. You just heard it there and you heard it from Richard Marles in your interview with him yesterday. I mean I would have thought that if you see a government coming together working with all sectors of the economy.  Small business, big business, workers, the trade unions, that it would be a welcome opportunity to be able to improve the employment opportunities for millions of Australians who are currently unemployed and frankly don't need the tired games of Richard Marles and Anne Aly.

KARVELAS: Look just a little question for you Tim Wilson. The unemployment benefit was doubled. Job Seeker is what it's called now. It's meant to bounce back to its old Newstart rate. Would you like to say it at a higher rate?

WILSON: Well I think we have to consider the consequences of every decision we make very clearly because one of the things we don't want is to have a welfare system that acts as a disincentive for people getting jobs. I said right at the start the approach of the government around industrial relations is how do we get Australians into jobs to support themselves to earn a livelihood to support their families to buy a house. And to be able to support and help others. And that's got to be a focus and of course these issues are all going to be discussed as part of achieving that objective.

KARVELAS: But what's your personal view do you think that that rate of Newstart is too low?

WILSON: Well I think we're gonna have a review against all of these measures. We can have against JobKeeper we can have against JobSeeker to assess these things because you can set a number but number is merely arbitrary.

KARVELAS: Look I'm not asking you for a final number but do you think it should be higher than that low amount?

WILSON: No no no. Well I think what has to be done is clearly marked against what will encourage people to seek out employment, to secure employment, so that they can stand on their own two feet and have a job. That's the objective.

KARVELAS: Thanks to both of you.