4 October 2017




ALI CLARKE: We just heard the Prime Minister on AM talking about the government wanting to get their hands on information on driver’s licenses. They say it’s the motherlode that it needs to build a powerful law enforcement tool. Penny Wong, should states hand over our driver’s licenses to government?

SENATOR PENNY WONG, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION IN THE SENATE: Well all I’ve seen on this announcement is the reports in the papers and I think the Prime Minister, Mr Turnbull, was on radio this morning.

I’m a member of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security, it’s a committee which has looked at pretty much every piece of anti-terrorist related legislation, national security legislation over the last few years. And consistent with Labor’s bipartisan approach, we’ve taken a very collective approach to looking at these sorts of proposals. I assume that the government will go through the same process.

Labor is always prepared to look at what laws are needed to ensure that we keep Australians safe and we will consider these laws that the Prime Minister is flagging, very carefully, including what safeguards are required.

DAVID BEVAN: So is that a qualified yes?

WONG: It’s we will approach this with the usual bipartisanship we always do, but I would like to actually see what’s proposed first. I think that’s not unreasonable David.

BEVAN: I’m not suggesting that it’s unreasonable, just trying to work out whether there’s a ‘yes’ in there with qualifications, but there’s not even that, it’s a ‘no’ I need to see this before I give any answer to it.

WONG: No, you’re putting words into my mouth, please don’t. Let’s have a nice conversation…

BEVAN: No I’m just trying to work out whether you’re positive or neutral.

WONG: We are always willing to support legislation which we believe is necessary to ensure Australians are safe. And that has consistently over many years been the approach the Labor Party has taken, and I’m explaining to you the process that usually occurs.

Legal proposals such as this usually go to this Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security – we consider all of the laws that the government has put forward. Most of them have been amended by the government on recommendation of the committee after public inquiry, and I assume that the government will go through the same process. And we would approach it in the same spirit of bipartisanship that we’ve approached every other national security proposal.

BEVAN: Really not looking for a fight Penny Wong, just want to know whether you approached it with a positive attitude, whether on the face of it it seemed like a good idea, or whether you’re neutral and “I just see need to see what’s being put before me before I can give any response”, that’s it.

WONG: Well I think I’ve answered…

BEVAN: Yeah I think we have, let’s move on. Cory Bernardi, do you think this is a good idea?

CORY BERNARDI, SENATOR FOR SOUTH AUSTRALIA: David, I’m a bit with Penny, I don’t know. There are three parts to this that I think are important. Firstly, I’m concerned about the privacy and diminishing levels of privacy both through government and also under surveillance taking place online, so I’d want to consider it through that prism. A second aspect is our national security, I don’t want to compromise that so you’ve got to see is this going to have a meaningful and beneficial impact. And thirdly, it’s the cost that’s going to be attached to it, and if we’re going to start gathering data on particular people, I’d like to see that actually happen more in the welfare space as well because I think there’s a lot of people that are ripping us off on welfare and it might be an opportunity to tie in a coordinated approach to identifying individuals who are accessing the welfare system.

BEVAN: Well we’ve been in touch with the Premier’s office because this is the State’s information, it’s their data, and a spokesperson for Premier Jay Weatherill says “yes they are supportive”. The question was: “Is the South Australian Government agreeable to handing over the State’s driver’s licence photo database to the Federal Government and the answer was “yes, supportive”. But this will be nutted out tomorrow when the leaders meet for their anti-terrorism summit.

Simon Birmingham, Senator for South Australia, you’d think it’s a great idea because your boss wants it?

SIMON BIRMINGHAM, MINISTER FOR EDUCATION: Well I think as my boss, the Prime Minister, outlined on AM this morning, the Federal Government already has photos and facial recognition technology that’s applicable through passports to around half of all Australians.

Obviously, the effectiveness of that in terms of our national security agencies generally, law enforcement overall, could be enhanced by having access to a broader reach of the population, which driver’s licence data would provide, and clearly this is something that requires State and Commonwealth cooperation. And I’m pleased to hear that the South Australian Government will be going to Canberra with a cooperative attitude in relation to this.

CLARKE: What about Cory Bernardi’s idea of extending this from, not just as a safety and security measure, to using this information to look at social security platforms?

BIRMINGHAM: Well I’m not sure, initially, how facial recognition arrangements would necessarily help with welfare compliance.

As a Government we have, on a number of fronts, managed to successfully and better use technology, and particularly different data sources, to be able to identify areas of potential welfare fraud, saving the taxpayer many, many hundreds of millions of dollars as a result. And, we will continue to explore all new avenues where we could possibly clamp down in relation to welfare problems.

BEVAN: What are you suggesting, Cory Bernardi? That somebody on welfare, if they are picked up on a security camera at a Guns ‘n’ Roses concert they might be asked “Well, where did you get the money from for that?”

BERNARDI: Well no, let’s break this down. I know that there is any number instances where Medicare Cards, for example, are used by multiple individuals. That has been reported to me by the medical profession and anecdotally people involved in associated fields.
So what is the problem with having – if you have a driver’s license in a national database – what’s the problem with having a Medicare Card that is linked into that system as well? This is about saving tens of billions of dollars, I suspect, from wilful and deliberate fraud. And I wonder whether, if we are going to go down the path of having a national recognition – facial recognition – database for all Australians, we should tie it into accessing services as well.

CLARKE: At the very start of this conversation, the very first thing you said, Cory Bernardi, was that you were concerned about losing our privacy and our increasing loss of privacy.

BERNARDI: That’s true Ally, and this is where the delicate balance is. We face this all the time in areas of national security, in areas of accessibility to government benefits and individual’s concerns. And that is where the line is drawn. I’m sure people have different ideas about where that should be.

But I think we need to have a serious conversation about what is going on in this country in certain areas, not just security, but also from accessing the very generous benefit package that is slowly sending the country broke.

BEVAN: The Prime Minister has signalled he is prepared to revisit the issue of guns following the Las Vegas shooting. Cory Bernardi, do you see any merit in that?

BERNARDI: It depends on what he is proposing. I actually haven’t seen any compelling case to revisit out gun laws. I think they are pretty tough. They are strict – some would argue too strict in some circumstances. But, I don’t want to see more people carrying guns in this country. I don’t think it is necessary.

And yet, if people do have a legitimate use for it, like farmers or hunters, which is a sport that some people enjoy, then I think they should be able to have access to it under strict conditions.

BEVAN: So, for you, if there was a package that would be put to the Senate and you had to vote on it, would you be saying we can do some horse-trading here? Maybe there are some areas of gun laws that could be relaxed, while others could be strengthened?

BERNARDI: Yes, I’m absolutely open to these sorts of things and I have met with a lot of people who are professional shooters, for example, that say that they have had difficulties in accessing certain things. I know farmers who have upgraded from one air rifle or slug gun to another and it is a three or four month waiting period just to upgrade.

Those sorts of things are necessary to me. But if your question is ‘do I want to see people carrying guns in this country, do I want people to have access to automatic weapons?’ the answer is absolutely no. I haven’t seen a compelling case for that at all.

CLARKE: Penny Wong, Labor Senator for South Australia and also Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs, what is your take on this?

WONG: Can I say – and I know all of us share in this – it was such a tragedy in America and the stories that are coming out, I think, are reminders of why it was that Australia went down the path we did under John Howard and Kim Beazley where we had a bipartisan approach to restricting gun laws.

I think we would certainly be open to the Prime Minister’s suggestions. I can’t recall the last time we actually reviewed the gun laws but they have been in place for some time. If he thinks there is some merit in having a look at whether they are still fit for purpose, I think there is merit in that.

But it is a reminder, isn’t it? That that was a very important bi-partisan step that was taken over a decade ago. We had a dreadful, tragic set of events in Port Arthur and we haven’t had another event like Port Arthur since in Australia. And that’s a very good thing.

BEVAN: Penny Wong, the big response to the postal survey on same sex marriage, that being seen as a vindication, of an endorsement of the government’s decision to have that survey, do you agree?

WONG: No I don’t at all. What I think it is an endorsement of is Australians’ willingness to participate and get out and have their say.

I’ve been very touched, as well as very saddened, by this whole process. I’ve been touched by the number of people who have been prepared to stand up – not just members of the LGBTIQ community, not just gay and lesbian Australians – but our friends and allies, parents, friends, mothers who have come out in support of their kids. That’s been very heartwarming, but it’s also been very sad. There’s been a lot of pretty awful things said, and a lot of things said, perhaps politely, but still basically suggesting that we are different.

I would have preferred not to have had this survey. It’s not binding and it is costing us a lot of money, but this is the fight we are in and what I would say to anyone listening who is a Yes supporter is that we have still got seven million votes out there that haven’t come in. We’ve had a good turnout so far but we do need to keep going until the end to try to ensure the best result possible for the country.

CLARKE: Cory Bernardi, are you proud of what has been said and done during this debate into same sex marriage?

BERNARDI: Overwhelmingly I think it has been carried on in very good spirit. There’s been aberrations on both sides. I mean some clown is putting out a Facebook page offering people money to throw a brick at my head. That’s not very healthy and I know it works on both sides but overwhelmingly we’ve had, what, 57 per cent of people return a survey ballot. I think if we’re going to try to take the temperature of the Australian people this is one way to do it. I haven’t had too many problems with what has gone on so far.

BEVAN: Simon Birmingham, taking the temperature of the country, are we running a fever?

BIRMINGHAM: I think it is really very positive to see the scale of the engagement to date. Think about it in local terms, here in South Australia we run postal ballots for local government elections and I think they get somewhere between a 20 and 30 per cent response. This is now tracking towards 60 per cent with a number of weeks to go, so we will see a result that it is potentially three times greater than local government in terms of participation. So, it shows the strong level of interest, the strong level or participation.

I think many people have welcomed the opportunity to have their say and of course these millions of Australians have done so as a result of conversations over the kitchen table, polite engagement and discussions in the vast, vast 99 per cent of cases where they have exercised their will. We will see the result. Everybody knows my position and, like Penny, I would still encourage – particularly those who want to see change – and if you haven’t sent it back yet, please make sure you do so. And, of course, I urge all Australians to participate.

BEVAN: Senator Penny Wong, for some people the stumbling block simply is their Bible. They believe The Bible and it contains clear condemnation of homosexuality. You’re a churchgoer …

WONG: Not a very good one.

BEVAN: Alright, not a very good churchgoer, but how wow do you reconcile your faith with The Bible’s condemnation of homosexuality? Because for many people that is the stumbling block, that is what they cannot do this.

WONG: It’s a pretty deeply, personal question but I guess I have got two answers. The first is I think the primary teaching of Christianity it to love one another as I have loved you.

And the second point I would make is there is a distinction between religious belief and the civil society and the separation of church and state is something I actually fundamentally believe in. It protects the freedoms of all. It actually was a principle to protect freedom of religion to ensure that the state didn’t intervene, but it works both ways.

What we are talking about is civil marriage. We are talking about marriage that the state, as a secular state, recognises. We’re not talking about marriages in churches or in mosques or in synagogues, we’re talking about the marriages that most Australians choose to engage in, which is a secular, civil ceremony.

What I would say is you are entitled to your faith, your particular version of what you think your faith requires of you, but I say that ought not be imposed on the rest of society.

BEVAN: But can you see that for some people, if they support this, they would consider themselves picking and choosing which bit of the text they are going to believe in? And once they do that, for them, personally, the whole thing starts to crumble. Can you see the dilemma they’re in?

WONG: I understand that but there are two points; there are many things that The Bible says and we don’t enact all of those things as law. But more importantly, whatever your view about what The Bible means, we’re talking about civil society. We’re talking about the secular state. We’re talking about the elections of governments and parliaments, state and federal, which are not about religion but about people exercising their rights as a citizen in a secular society.

People have their faith and are entitled to that and I respect that, but what I say and I think most Australians say is that people’s particular faith belief ought not be imposed on everyone, including the millions who don’t share that particular view.

CLARKE: Cory Bernardi, Leader of the Australian Conservatives, before we do let you go, there’s a school in the south-east that’s contacted us. They’re actually doing, as they have done every year, another Do It In A Dress type fundraiser. Craigburn Primary School topped over $300,000 once you got involved in not enjoying their fund raiser.

BEVAN: Can you be outraged about their fundraiser?

BERNARDI: You’re conflating several things. Let’s go back, firstly, they turned a casual clothes day into something that it otherwise wasn’t. People can raise money for whatever cause they like, that’s fine. I just don’t agree that it’s right for teachers and male students to be encouraged to wear a dress. I’m entitled to that view. And the money that was raised was done because it was a way of giving me a bloody nose or a political black eye. Good luck to them. If people want to spend their money doing that I’m not going to complain about it. I just don’t think it is right for schools to encourage their male teachers to wear dresses.

CLARKE: But you’re still pleased that you helped them raise over $300,000 right?

BERNARDI: It’s terrific. There is nothing wrong with charity and it’s good work, so, I’m always happy about that and I’ll endorse whatever good cause will be helpful.

CLARKE: Cory Bernardi, Leader of the Australian Conservatives, I’ll hook you up with that other little primary school.