6 February 2019




ALI CLARKE: Let’s start with the story of this footballer, refugee Hakeem Alaraibi. Now he’s a soccer player who’s locked up in a Thai jail and has been there since November; desperate to not be extradited to Bahrain where he originally came from in fear of being tortured there.

What has essentially happened is, he was the subject of an Interpol Red Notice. Now, the Red Notice should be cancelled when they come from the country where a refugee comes from. But what happened was he checked with Australian authorities and said “hey, am I free to go to Thailand on my honeymoon?”. The person he spoke to said yes, but then it looks like Australian authorities controversially then informed their Thai counterparts that he was coming and he was detained.

So, given all that Simon Birmingham, should the Government be doing more to help bring this man back to Australia?

SENATOR SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Ali we are doing everything we can to make sure that he is not extradited to Bahrain and he is free to return to Australia. The Prime Minister, the Foreign Minister, have all been in contact with the relevant Thai authorities to appeal on his behalf.

We welcome the confirmation from Thailand’s office of the Attorney-General that Thailand’s Extradition Act allows for executive discretion in such circumstances and this has also been confirmed, we understand, by the Prosecutor in the context of yesterday’s hearings. With that in mind we would again reiterate our pleas to the Thai Government to absolutely exercise that executive discretion and allow him to freely return to Australia.

CLARKE: Has anybody there got to the bottom of how it was Australian authorities that tipped off the Thai authorities, even though this Interpol Red Notice was subsequently cancelled and shouldn’t have been an issue?

BIRMINGHAM: There are obviously issues to work through, so far as the interplay there. Clearly the Australian Federal Police and our authorities have automatic process that work alongside Interpol in relation to identification of people where there are notices that exist.

Now, clearly we want to make sure that Australian residents, citizens are protected as much as they possibly can be but our absolute priority, first and foremost right now, is to ensure this man is not extradited to Bahrain. That his rights are respected and that he is released and freed to return to his family in Australia.

DAVID BEVAN: Shadow Foreign Affairs Minister Penny Wong, have the Australian authorities, perhaps just through incompetence, effectively set this guy up? Because he was asking “is it okay to go to Thailand?” They said yes, he went, and then we tipped them off.

PENNY WONG, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION IN THE SENATE: I think there are a number of issues which will need to be considered after this has been resolved. The issuing of notices and the appropriateness of the automatic process is something the Government will need to consider.

Our focus now, and my focus, rather than blaming anybody, has been to support the calls from the Government, the community, the football community, for his release. So we’ve been focusing on that and it is certainly the basis on which I have been dealing with Marise Payne. I have written to the Thai Ambassador and I do want to say it has been heartwarming the extent to which Hakeem has been supported by the broader Australian community and particularly the football community.

So, that is a very good thing and, I hope, a real indication to Thailand that this is a case that does matter greatly to Australians and I have confidence they have heard that and I hope and trust that they can exercise discretion in the way that Marise Payne and Simon, just now, has referred to.

BEVAN: Back home, Rebekha Sharkie, your Centre Alliance colleague Rex Patrick has called for a ban on cotton exports. Do you agree with that?

REBEKHA SHARKIE: What we want to see is the Royal Commission’s recommendations implemented, and what we are trying to do…

BEVAN: The Royal Commission didn’t ask for a ban on cotton exports.

SHARKIE: No, but what he has said is there has been maladministration, that 70 gigalitres was returned to the northern irrigators based on politics, not on science, and that our own state Water Minister has really sold South Australia down the river.

BEVAN: But, Rebekha Sharkie, I didn’t ask you to give us a summary of what is in the Royal Commission, I ask you, do you support Rex Patrick’s call for a ban on cotton exports?

SHARKIE: Well, if we don’t get some outcome with respect to this Royal Commission, a Royal Commission we had to have, because the Federal Government wouldn’t support the call in the national parliament for a Royal Commission. We’re saying let’s look at what is in the national interest. Now, is it in the national interest that 20 percent of the whole of the Murray-Darling Basin goes to the growth of cotton, that is, sent off and exported overseas for processing? We’re just saying enough’s enough…

BEVAN: I’m asking you what are you saying? Are you saying we should ban the export of cotton?

SHARKIE: We want to have a conversation in the Parliament about what we grow in Australia. Is it in the national interest that we grow cotton?

BEVAN: He doesn’t want to talk about it, he wants to ban it.

SHARKIE: We’re going to put a bill forward to the Parliament. That’s an opportunity for discussion, an opportunity to actually unravel what happens with all the floodplain water. Now, the bill might not be supported by both the major parties at this point.

BEVAN: I’m asking if you support it. Can you just say “yes, I will vote for an export ban on cotton”?

SHARKIE: I will be introducing the bill in the House of Representatives at the same time as Rex will be introducing it in the Upper House. But more importantly David we need to have a conversation about what is in the national interest. We are deeply concerned that South Australia is being sold down the river. We’re going to spend $13 billion on the Murray-Darling Basin Plan and that we will get to the end of this and South Australia will be in no better position.

BEVAN: Simon Birmingham, do you think an export ban on cotton is a good idea?

BIRMINGHAM: Absolutely not. I’m terribly confused at the end of your questioning of Rebekha there who wouldn’t say that she supports Rex’s call for a ban, but just told us that she will introduce Rex’s ban into the House of Representatives. It would be very peculiar to introduce a bill that you didn’t actually support.

Look, what we have to see is the Basin Plan implemented in full. That means returning thousands of billions of litres of water to the river system. Now, much of that has already been allocated in terms of licences held by the Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder. There’s still a task to be done to finish the job. I want to see – Penny Wong and I have been around this debate since the millennium drought. We’ve seen the Water Act passed; we’ve seen the Basin Act come into place. I want to see all and every drop delivered. I’ll be looking closely to make sure that the deals that have been struck do see South Australia realise the share of water that we expect to flow down the river.

But no, you don’t go about it by banning a particular crop for farmers to grow. You go about it by ensuring that water licences are issued according to the environmental needs, and that they are monitored effectively and that farmers are then free within those licences to grow the highest value crop whatever it may be.

It’s also important to remember that with crops like cotton and rice, often water is not allocated to them in certain years. That’s the case across large parts of the Murray-Darling Basin at present because of the drought in the Darling, whereas of course in other crops – with permanent planting like grapevines, and almonds and elsewhere – you need water each and every year to water those plants or they die.

BEVAN: Penny Wong is a former Water Minister. Penny Wong, do you support a ban on exporting cotton?

WONG: Oh look, it’s not what crop they put into the ground, it’s how much water they’re given. So an export ban is not going to get the outcome we want for the river. It might be good for trying to get a headline and to get you to ask questions about it, but ultimately it’s how much water people are given and I think what we have seen is a really damning report from the Royal Commissioner here that parties of government need to consider very closely and we need to get the plan back on track.

Now I know Simon has tried to do something about this, unfortunately the Coalition had for many years a minister in Barnaby Joyce who undermined the implementation of the Plan. I mean the bloke said the additional 450 gigalitres of water for South Australia didn’t have “a hope in Hades” of being delivered. He is of course the person who said that South Australians should move to where the water is. Now, we’ve seen the consequences of that, and leaving aside all of those political issues, I think the fish kill we saw over recent weeks just reminds us about the immediate cost of this. We have to deal with this and we have to make sure we don’t have a situation where the first act of the Marshall Government, when it comes to water policy, is to capitulate to the eastern states, which has been an extraordinary act by Mr Speirs.

CLARKE: Penny Wong, when you were Water Minister you went on the record saying you wouldn’t force Cubbie Station to sell its water to the federal government. Part of the Royal Commission findings was to look at increasing the buybacks. Have you changed your mind?

WONG: Well no, I actually bought a lot of water for the river during that period and was very unpopular with a lot of irrigators upstream for doing so – nearly 1,000 gigalitres of water I bought for the environment as Water Minister on behalf of Australians and…

BEVAN: Do you think we should be cranking up the desal plant so that we don’t have to draw so much?

WONG: I hadn’t actually finished Ali’s question, so if I can go back to that?

BEVAN: We’re going to run out of time if… can we be quick with questions?

WONG: What I was going to say is the problem with forced acquisition at the time is it can lead to higher prices and that taxpayers don’t get value for their money. So we bought on the open market and what Federal Labor has said is if we can’t reach the environmental outcome through the means that are currently there then the cap on water buybacks should be lifted.

BEVAN: Alright, now what about the desal plant. Do you think we should be cranking that up so we that we don’t have to draw so much water out of the river?

WONG: Oh look, I haven’t looked at that issue in years, David. You’d have to look at what the relative price of water is. I think the issue is we’ve got to fix the Basin up.

BEVAN: Alright. Back to you Simon Birmingham. The Labor Party have said we’ve now got a Royal Commission into banking, we know what it’s recommended. We need to get the Parliament sitting for more than just five days before the election so that something can be done. Now what’s wrong with that idea?

BIRMINGHAM: The House of Reps is sitting for several weeks and there is legislation before the Parliament already. Some of that is legislation that the Labor Party is refusing to commit to support. So let’s get on and support the reforms that the government is already acting on, which are either consistent with or go further than what has been recommended by the Hayne Royal Commission.

BEVAN: Sorry, you say it’s sitting for several weeks – how many days?

BIRMINGHAM: The House of Reps?

BEVAN: Yeah.

BIRMINGHAM: I’d have to do the maths, David, but it’s more than what you said.

BEVAN: Sorry, Penny Wong, you think it’s how many days?

WONG: Ten sitting days between December and August. And the reality is Simon knows they have to have an election by May, so we’re talking even fewer days than that. So, I mean obviously the Government just doesn’t want the Parliament to sit.

BEVAN: Simon Birmingham, doesn’t it make good policy sense – I mean putting aside the politics – to resolve some of these issues as quickly as possible, so that the financial sector, the economy has certainty rather than letting this string out until the middle of the year.

BIRMINGHAM: Well we can’t avoid the fact there’s an election which necessitates that there is a time that the Parliament…

BEVAN: But you can bring the Parliament back, you can extend the sittings before that election.

BIRMINGHAM: But also David, we’ve only just received this report. We can act on the legislation that is currently drafted and before the Parliament. But on that legislation, the Labor Party will not either support or give a straight answer. And indeed even when it comes to Justice Hayne’s recommendations, we’ve given detailed responses where Justice Hayne has provided detail in his recommendations. Labor said they support aspects of it in-principle – well what does that mean? How are we meant to proceed with these things with only a vague commitment from the Opposition.

And of course there is the technical task of drafting all of the legislative reforms, going through the proper consultation to get them right. It can’t just be done overnight, but we can absolutely act on the legislation that is already drafted, that is already before the Parliament, and it’d be nice to hear if the Labor Party is willing to support all of that legislation.

WONG: Well, where is it? Look, far be it from me to actually agree with David Bevan on something, but I’m going to. That is that we can recall the Parliament to deal particularly with some of the issues where there is a clear imperative of getting action quickly.

One of the things that Justice Hayne, the Royal Commissioner, recommended was ending grandfathered commissions. So this is where you have commissions that people are getting which are no longer able to be received by financial advisers in respect of products, but they were grandfathered. The Government’s allowing that to continue for a couple of years. We could deal with that now.

Bill Shorten wrote to Scott Morrison yesterday saying – look, let’s return the Parliament in March. We can sit for a couple of weeks – both Houses – and we get the recommendations which can be acted upon legislated. There’s been no argument that makes any sense to the Australian people put by anyone in the government as to why they can’t do that.

CLARKE: Look, unfortunately we do have to leave it there. And on a happy note, Penny Wong and David Bevan agreeing from the sounds of that (laughs).

WONG: I know, the first time in about 15 years, mate.

BEVAN: Penny Wong, I will call the newsroom.

WONG: (Laughs). And happy Chinese New Year to everybody – gong xǐ fā cái.

CLARKE: Thank you very much Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs, Penny Wong, there. Centre Alliance MP for Mayo, Rebekha Sharkie, and Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment, Simon Birmingham.

Authorised by Noah Carroll, ALP, Canberra.