- Parliamentary Business
- Senators & Members
- News & Events
- About Parliament
- Visit Parliament
Transcript of doorstop interview of the Leader of the Opposition: Opposition's Leader's Courtyard, Parliament House, Canberra: Government's extreme Industrial Relations legislation; Anti-terrorism laws and terrorist threat.
LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION THE HON KIM C BEAZLEY MP
TRANSCRIPT OF DOORSTOP, OPPOSITION LEADER’S COURTYARD, PARLIAMENT HOUSE, CANBERRA, 2 NOVEMBER 2005
E & O E - PROOF ONLY
Subjects: Government’s extreme Industrial Relations legislation; Anti-terrorism laws and terrorist threat
BEAZLEY: With the extreme laws that John Howard’s Minister has introduced into Parliament today, he will, in time, push many Australian families over the financial edge. The Bill that he has brought in is every bit as bad as the
ACTU and we have warned for some considerable period of time now - and with additional elements to it.
Let me just cite a few. The fairness has been removed from the Industrial Relations Act, even though a so-called Fair Pay Commission has been put in place, fairness out and a Fair Pay Commission put in, without a reference to make deliberations based on fairness.
We find, too, that oppressive behaviour in relation to the application of an AWA to an individual employee does not include the position of an employer saying to that employee, you either sign the contract or you’re gone.
It is amply evident that the award conditions can be bargained away, or sent away, at the stroke of a pen; that all awards, in the end, can be collapsed to the five allowable matters.
An extraordinary right of ministerial intervention has been introduced. Basically, a Minister is capable of intervening in any form of settlement put in place in relation to this Act and put in place new terms and conditions merely on the basis of regulation. To then attempt to introduce something that a Minister has excluded or is excluded by this Act, produces penalties of massive fines and six months jail. To reveal the fact that a person is in receipt of an AWA - an offence that can produce a jail term.
Now, this is taking ordinary human discourse on our wages and conditions and criminalising it. It’s as simple as that. This is a major threat to Australian freedoms as well as being a major threat to Australian living standards. It is time that all elements of the offences against people’s freedoms, as well as the offences against their living standards, were properly considered in relation to these Industrial Bills.
This is a very bad moment in Australian history, a very bad moment for Australian living standards.
Now, the Caucus, a few moments ago, considered another piece of legislation and that was a piece of legislation that is related to terrorist offences.
The Prime Minister did hold a discussion with me about the sets of circumstances which have triggered the Government’s intentions in this regard. I’m also aware of the fact that the Premiers have cleared off on the matters that inform the Prime Minister about the decision he has taken to introduce this legislation.
A few moments ago the Caucus passed a resolution saying that because of the urgent character of the issue raised by the Prime Minister that the Bill would have passage. I want to point out that the Bill, even though it contains material that is in the foreshadowed counter-terrorist Act, it is not a controversial part of that legislation, has not raised any issues that have been of concern to the Labor Party or, as far as I can see, of concern to anybody else and there is no retrospectivity contained within it.
So, in those circumstances where essentially the changes are small and non-controversial but obviously useful to the agencies in regard to their ongoing activities, we see no problem with it.
However, if it does have the degree of the urgency that the Prime Minister says it has, our Senators, I’ve made our Senators ready to pass this Bill today. If it has extensive urgency, as indicated by the Prime Minister, it ought to be capable of being passed today and we stand ready to ensure that it goes through today.
That’s up to them.
BEAZLEY: That’s for the Prime Minister to make a judgement. But I would say that it was a reasonable thing for me to conclude that our Senators should be available for passage today, so they are available for passage today.
JOURNALIST: Mr Beazley, are you aware of a specific operation underway that has triggered the need for this legislation to be raced through?
BEAZLEY: I have been briefed on all operational matters, all intelligence matters related to the circumstances which have caused the Government to put this in place, and I’ve been assured that I have full information in that regard and the information that has been given to me is extensive.
JOURNALIST: Without going into the detail of it, how concerned are you about what the (inaudible)?
BEAZLEY: I always take issues related to national security very seriously. I’ve been pointing this out for some considerable period of time. It’s led me to have a number of disagreements with the Government about the things that it ought to be doing. I have always taken seriously the situation in which we, as a community, may well find ourselves under threat. There’s no doubt in my mind that our recent commitment, for example, to the conflict in Iraq has augmented the level of concern that we ought to have in this community and therefore an additional reason, along with all the other reasons, as to why we need to take national security concerns very seriously indeed. So, when I get a piece of advice from the Government based up with their agency information then I’m always prepared to recommend that we should respond.
JOURNALIST: On the basis of what you’ve been told, do you think the security assessment should be upgraded?
BEAZLEY: I think that those are questions you really need to direct towards the agencies or towards the Prime Minister. It’s for him to give an indication in that regard. The briefings that we went to with the relevance of this legislative change to the ongoing activity that the agencies are engaged in so I accept, at face value if you like, what they say is necessary to be done.
JOURNALIST: Mr Beazley, the drafting error in the Bill, that is a drafting weakness (inaudible)
BEAZLEY: It’s not an error.
JOURNALIST: Well, it’s a (inaudible)
BEAZLEY: They want to make a change.
JOURNALIST: Make a change. Is this an argument for greater scrutiny of the wider Bill (inaudible) more time spent?
BEAZLEY: There are many arguments for greater scrutiny of the wider Bill and it should receive proper scrutiny by a relevant Senate committee for a lengthy period of time. Perhaps, as this seems to be the part of the Bill which is related to an emergent and existing situation, our passage of this Bill ought to give some relief to the Government, so that they can conduct a more leisurely consideration of the main Bills.
JOURNALIST: The information that the Prime Minister has released today is very general in nature. Could he, or should he, be more specific about the nature of the threat?
BEAZLEY: The Prime Minister’s had to make judgements about that and I say that the information that I’ve been given is not of a general nature - it’s of a highly specific nature - and in some very considerable detail. It’s appropriate that Opposition spokespeople get briefed in that way. But the release of that information is not a matter for us. It’s for the Prime Minister to set the parameters of what’s gets announced.
JOURNALIST: Following from Dennis’s question, though, shouldn’t the Government’s have anticipated this kind of situation before it drafted the legislation? Aren’t we talking about (inaudible) now?
BEAZLEY: It’s not a draft. The thing that has been extracted from the legislation, which is to ultimately come before the Parliament, is an amendment to existing legislation which has been passed through Parliament some considerable time ago. The words that were put in place at that point of time were not put in place in error; they were put in place of anticipation of the circumstances the intelligence agencies would confront.
That was the judgement then. It is no longer the judgement now, and it was no longer the judgement when the Government and the Premiers first started going down the road to putting this legislation in place. But because of the circumstances we now confront, they’ve said they want to extract these changes from the Bill, and I think you’ll find if you go back over all the various things people have had to say about the Bill, this has not been an area of problem.
JOURNALIST: So, it’s not a change to the wording of the new Bill, it’s just an acceleration of the (inaudible)?
BEAZLEY: It is a change of wording of the old Bills which would have been made by the new Bill but the new Bill has been there to deal with wider issues, and is there for consultation, and is there for much more consultation in our very fervent hope. But, as I said, in the new Bill, this was not an area of controversy as far as we are concerned.
JOURNALIST: Would you expect early police action after this change is made?
BEAZLEY: Only time will tell, Michelle.
JOURNALIST: Do you have any suspicions about the timing of this release, seeing that comes at the same day that the IR Bill goes into the Parliament?
BEAZLEY: Well, only time will answer your question, too. We will, as the days and weeks go by, know how worthwhile this was. We take these matters of
national security very seriously. It’s for other people to make judgements about the politics of it.
JOURNALIST: On that fact, though, Mr Beazley, are you frustrated that the cone of silence that you’re effectively invited into, frustrates your ability to justify either way this amendment?
BEAZLEY: It’s better than a pyramid. I’ve had many awful briefings standing on the steps of Parliament, in the old Parliament House and this Parliament House when I was the person who was actually responsible for intelligence information that came to me. There are only limited things that you can say about the stuff. It will embitter journalists beyond belief - and that’s a reasonable thing that you should feel embittered - but it’s also a reasonable thing that I should direct your bitterness to the Prime Minister and not me, because he’s the bloke who has to answer those questions.
JOURNALIST: Is this a rapidly emerging threat or is this, as you mentioned a minute ago, an ongoing investigation? I mean, how’s the timing worked out? Is it because something new has come up?
BEAZLEY: The Prime Minister describes it as urgent because of the circumstances that have been presented to him by the intelligence agencies and the other agencies who are briefing him on these matters. They have to make judgements about whether or not they need this Bill now. All I say is this: if it is particularly urgent then we ought to stand ready to pass it immediately. So, our Senators are available to make this passage of this legislation immediate. It’s up to them if they say it’s that urgent. We’re happy to do that.
JOURNALIST: Does the Prime Minister know that?
BEAZLEY: Well, he now knows it.
JOURNALIST: Accepting that the Prime Minister says he wants it passed urgently, on the basis of the briefings you’ve been given, do you feel it needs to be passed urgently?
BEAZLEY: I accept the things that are said to me by the intelligence agencies. They are reliable people, they’re good people, and they can be relied on to soundly advise Oppositions as well as Governments. There is nothing in
what they’ve said to us, that would indicate that the legislation is not appropriately before us at this time.
JOURNALIST: Mr Beazley, on the wider Bill, the Premiers, particularly NSW Premier, Morris Iemma, is saying he’s reached some further agreement in relation to preventative detention, into a review on the merits of the this points of
law. Does that satisfy you? Do you think a greater judicial review is still required?
BEAZLEY: I do think the Premiers are making very good progress on that with the Government. They have been heavily focused on proper judicial supervision of both control orders and detention orders. And I think they’re beginning to achieve good outcomes. We will only know that when we have a chance to see how far it’s gone, when we have a chance to see the legislation. There are, of course, areas of the Bill with which we have concern, that are not appropriately before the States. For example, the States have got nothing to do with the sedition elements of it. That’s purely Commonwealth and I don’t think the State Premiers have made any comment as far as that is concerned. But that is something that we’ve got to focus on along with all the rest of these things. So, we will, in order to get the balance right in our approach to this legislation, we’ll be focusing on all of it.
JOURNALIST: Mr Beazley, is there a chance today’s announcement could rattle the cage of the potential terrorists and hamper any subsequent investigation?
BEAZLEY: Only time will tell, as I’ve said to other people who’ve asked questions similar to that. But were that to be the case, then the offer that we have made to pass this legislation today would be relevant.
JOURNALIST: Should the Australian public be worried about what your briefing was about?
BEAZLEY: I’m not going to characterise what I was briefed on today. But can I just say more generally that I have said for some considerable time, and so have we in the Opposition, that the threat of a terrorist attack in Australia is real, we don’t dismiss it, and we think, in the national interest, Australians ought to be properly protected, and you’ve had a whole range of suggestions about how that might be done. So, we don’t take lightly anything that is said to us. We don’t take lightly the general threat and we don’t take likely to things that we’ve been specifically advised of in the last 24 hours.
JOURNALIST: (inaudible) in Caucus this morning?
BEAZLEY: A little bit. I think basically that Caucus members are thoroughly aware that this is not one of the controversial areas of the Bill. They don’t have a problem with it.
JOURNALIST: Mr Beazley, you said that you characterised the briefing as containing specific information. Do you mean detailed or specific, as in geographic sites?
BEAZLEY: Specific and detailed, as I said. That’s all I’m going to say about it.
JOURNALIST: Was there any cynicism expressed in Caucus about the timing?
BEAZLEY: You’ll have to ask your usual Caucus sources on that front.
JOURNALIST: You said it’s a call for the Prime Minister of the day about how specific they are with information. Just put yourself in a place where you’re the Prime Minister of the day, how specific would you be?
BEAZLEY: Of course, while I’ve received a briefing on the materials that are immediately to hand, I’m not a line officer as far as these things are concerned, and I don’t live with the issues that are contained in this on a day-to-day basis. Probably only somebody who is in line, could make an appropriate level of judgement about that. I know the facts of the situation. I don’t necessarily know the dynamic. It’s only a person who’s a line officer or a line Minister would know the dynamic of it. Therefore, I don’t think the Opposition Leader could make a call like that. It would have to be the Prime Minister or the Attorney-General or somebody who’s appropriate.
JOURNALIST: The question of duress and the threat that workers face, what do you think you can actually do about it to remove that threat (inaudible)?
BEAZLEY: We’re going to fight every aspect of this Bill right down to the next election. This is one phase. This Bill will come into place in its full unfairness very slowly. It will accumulate over time but it will be very evident in its unfairness by the time the next election is called. We will be drawing attention to duress placed on workers. But they’ve arranged themselves a couple of nice Catch 22’s here. You are not permitted to discuss whether or not you’ve got an AWA, or nobody else is permitted to discuss the fact that you’ve got an AWA. So, presumably if you’ve got an AWA that includes a level of duress which is no longer said to be illegal, to wit an employer says to you, sign that - you’re sacked - then there are plenty of Catch 22’s to prevent that fact from being exposed.
This is a massive breach of freedom, a massive breach of freedom that is set in place. These breaches of freedom are set in place for one purpose only - and that’s to collapse the living standards of Australians. And they will succeed. If
there’s any sort of economic softening or downturn over the next couple of years, they will succeed massively. We will go into the next election accepting absolutely none of this, none of it, and we’ll go into the next election with propositions on how we will make the system fair and balanced and give people a chance of earning a decent living.