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Meet The Press -

View in ParlView



20th Februrary 2005


MEET THE PRESS PRESENTER PAUL BONGIORNO: Hello and welcome to Meet the Press. Amnesty International
says Mamdouh Habib's torture claims are credible and challenges the Federal Government.

Australian Government to get answers and sufficient answers.

PAUL BONGIORNO: Today, Attorney-General Philip Ruddock replies. Later, the chairman of Parliament's
high-powered Economics Committee, Bruce Baird, talks interest rates. And an exclusive Ipsos Mackay
poll on brand Labor. But first, what the nation's press is reporting this Sunday, February 20. In
Melbourne, the 'Sunday Age' leads with "Terror threat to Australian aid workers." Foreign Minister
Downer warns all those not directly involved in the relief effort should immediately leave Aceh.
The 'Sunday Mail' in Brisbane reports Liberals will not contest the safe seat of Werriwa left
vacant by Mark Latham, the decision taken at the NSW State Executive last night. The Sydney
'Sun-Herald' reports "Ruddock met Israeli spy once at baggage carousel." The Attorney's office says
Amir Laty introduced himself at Canberra Airport. And PM Howard has arrived in New Zealand for
trade and security talks with his Kiwi counterpart Helen Clark, getting a warm reception at his
hotel. Last week, the Attorney-General met with a delegation from Amnesty International. The human
rights watchdog told him of documented abuse of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay. Welcome back, Mr

ATTORNEY-GENERAL PHILIP RUDDOCK: Pleasure, good to see you, Paul.

PAUL BONGIORNO: I'd like to go to that issue in a moment, but firstly going to the Israeli spy and
your daughter, it must be a worry that an Israeli spy would target a member of your family.

PHILIP RUDDOCK: Well, I don't know that my family have been targeted. People have drawn all sorts
of inferences. Caitlin is a very vivacious young girl, but she's been in a long-standing and
committed relationship. She has numbers of acquaintances and friends as you might expect from
somebody who's a university medallist and highly talented. That's the only aspect of this matter
that disappoints me, that people have made all sorts of suggestions which I think are quite
inappropriate to draw. The fact that this gentleman has been asked to leave Australia is totally
unrelated to any linkage he may or may not have had with Caitlin.

PAUL BONGIORNO: And you're saying for the record that suggestions that she was in an intimate
relationship with this person is wrong?

PHILIP RUDDOCK: I'm simply saying that it's highly offensive and simply untrue.

PAUL BONGIORNO: A lot of people in Australia would be quite surprised that Israel is spying on us.

PHILIP RUDDOCK: Well, the only point I would make is that there is no suggestion that our
relationship is any way adversely affected. The fact that somebody leaves Australia is simply that,
somebody was here and left Australia.

PAUL BONGIORNO: OK. Coming to the Amnesty International issue, it cites evidence from the Red Cross
and the FBI which it says lends weight to claims like this from Mamdouh Habib that he was tortured
while he was in US custody.

MAMDOUH HABIB (FEB 13): They use every possible to make me crazy. They put me in isolation all the
time. I never see the sun. I never have shower like a human being. I never have soap. I never have
cup to drink.

PAUL BONGIORNO: Attorney, clearly AFP and ASIO believe this is a dangerous man who associated with
terrorists. Does Australia care if he was tortured?

PHILIP RUDDOCK: We do. And we do if any Australian is subject to torture. We don't think there is a
place for torture in relation to dealing with these matters. We've made that very clear. That is
our position. And in relation to Mr Habib, when these matters have been raised, we've taken them up
with those who had custody of him in Guantanamo Bay, the United States. The important point is that
when these further allegations were made by his lawyers back in early February, my department wrote
to his legal advisers and asked them to put a detailed statement together as to what they allege
happened to him. Look, the important point is that he has been at different points in time in
different circumstances. And we know that there are some aspects of what he's had to say that lacks
credibility and that's what Dennis Richardson and Commissioner Keelty were dealing with in the
Senate estimates last week.

PAUL BONGIORNO: Have you had a reply from the Americans yet?

PHILIP RUDDOCK: We've had advice that their initial inquiry, which did not involve interviews with
all those who'd had anything to do with Mr Habib or Mr Hicks, had concluded that there was no
torture, but they wanted to undertake a far more thorough inquiry, which is still afoot at this

PAUL BONGIORNO: The perception seems to be that our Government has been softer, if you like, on the
Americans than the British Government, that we haven't been as keen to look after our citizens as
the Brits have theirs?

PHILIP RUDDOCK: In these matters it's a question of proportionality. We want people to be dealt
with fairly and justly, but we also want people, if they've been engaged in terrorist activity, to
be held accountable.

PAUL BONGIORNO: Do you rule out torture in all circumstances? I mean, one could argue if one is a
terrorist and has knowledge of an attack on thousands of innocent people, that maybe torture is the
only way that you would get that information.

PHILIP RUDDOCK: Well look, I mean, there are different arguments about these matters as to whether
or not by offering inducements and other ways of questioning people, you can obtain information. I
mean, what you saw in relation to Mr Habib were those lines, "I told them what they wanted to
hear." There are question marks over whether torture is really an appropriate way to go, and our
view is that it is not appropriate when you're detaining people to use torture.

PAUL BONGIORNO: Just, there was a report late last week that Mr Habib left the country without
telling Centrelink, so he was given social security payments that he was no longer entitled to.
Will the Government be recovering that money?

PHILIP RUDDOCK: Let me deal with the general proposition. I can't talk about Mr Habib's
circumstances. Because, one, I don't know them. And two, we believe it's important when dealing
with an agency like Centrelink that there be privacy in relation to people's personal affairs. But
there are policy positions we take very clearly. If people leave and have no entitlement to take a
pension entitlement or other form of benefit when they're abroad and they have done so, then we
seek to recover it, and Centrelink, I've seen the statements that they've made from time to time,
have made it very clear...

PAUL BONGIORNO: It's their duty to recover it.

PHILIP RUDDOCK: They have an obligation and would seek to do so.

PAUL BONGIORNO: We'll come back to your portfolio in just a moment. But going to the exclusive
Ipsos Mackay poll taken last weekend for Meet the Press, we asked what impact the election of Kim
Beazley as federal Labor leader has had on brand Labor at the State level. The poll found 55% see
no connection between the federal leadership and their State voting intentions, with 18% saying
they'd be less likely to vote for the ALP, 17% saying more likely at the State level. Now, with the
State election in WA next weekend, the picture is much the same, with a glimmer of encouragement
for Labor in Kim Beazley's home State, 18% saying they'd be more likely to vote Labor, 17% less
likely. Well, Attorney maybe no surprise there, but if Kim Beazley's leadership hasn't done much
for State Labor in WA, will the so-called Howard halo work for the Liberals, do you think?

PHILIP RUDDOCK: Look, I think in relation to these matters it's important to focus on the issues
that matter most in relation to a State election. And the interest we have, of course, is that when
we go to a conference in Canberra dealing with issues of Commonwealth and State nature, the PM is
very lonely, and I think we'd like to see somebody at least to second the motions. And if we got a
Liberal Government elected in Western Australia, I think it'd be very good for the nation.

PAUL BONGIORNO: You'd be very happy. Time for a break. When we return with the panel - the fallout
from the tragic Cornelia Rau bungle and the call for more human rights safeguards.

PAUL BONGIORNO: You're on Meet the Press with the Attorney-General, Philip Ruddock. And welcome to
the panel, Jennifer Hewett of the 'Australian Financial Review' and Steve Lewis from the
'Australian'. How Australian resident Cornelia Rau came to be held in immigration detention for 10
months is the subject of a secret inquiry, but her treatment while in detention points out a bigger
problem. Last week the Human Rights Commissioner called for a more accountable system.

HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSIONER DR SEV OZDOWSKI (FEB 13): The key problem with our detention system is
that there are no legislative guidelines how they should be run. If you look at the States, which
have got much more experience with prisons than Federal Government, all States have got
legislation. Some of the States do have inspectors which regularly inspect prisons. It needs to

JENNIFER HEWETT, THE 'AUSTRALIAN FINANCIAL REVIEW': Attorney, he's got a point, hasn't he, that
there really should be more of a legislative framework or guidelines to make sure conditions in
detention centres are not as bad as many fear?

PHILIP RUDDOCK: There are arrangements in place. I'm going largely by recollection in terms of what
I'm about to say. But the Migration Act sets out the legislative basis upon which people are
detained. There are contractual guidelines, particularly with the outsourced contractor, that's set
out in detail, the way in which detainee issues should be managed. And then you have the role of
external agencies. You do have a proper role for the Human Rights and Equal Opportunities
Commission. They have access to go in and investigate complaints that are made. The Ombudsman has a
similar role. We also set up a detention advisory committee which has two former ministers, other
prominent people who are familiar with these sorts of issues involved. So while I think the
frameworks might vary between States in terms of the arrangements you put in place, I think if you
look at the benchmarks against which you test accountability and so on, there are proper
arrangements in place.

JENNIFER HEWETT: But doesn't the Cornelia Rau case demonstrate that there are very big cracks in
this system, that you actually need to pay attention to do something more to make sure we don't
have any repeats of this type of situation?

PHILIP RUDDOCK: Absolutely. The Government's made it clear we regret very much that we've found
ourselves in this situation. I can tell you, if I'd been minister I'd have been very unhappy and
would have wanted to do what Amanda is doing now, to have a thorough inquiry to find out how it
happened and why it is possible that somebody, even though they were feigning that they were an
illegal immigrant, that we weren't able to identify that they were an Australian in those
circumstances. Now this lady at all points, as I understand it, continued to claim that she was a
German visiting Australia, and when you don't have - and had a passport, I understand, a false
passport, or somebody else's passport - but when people don't identify themselves, it's often more
difficult to find out what you should know about them.

STEVE LEWIS, THE 'AUSTRALIAN': Attorney, will you take up the Human Rights Commissioner's call,
though, for stronger human rights safeguards? Will you consider that now?

PHILIP RUDDOCK: Well, we consider the reports that we get from the Human Rights and Equal
Opportunities Commission. And there are several that I will be tabling in the Parliament when it
resumes, and the Government responds to the recommendations that are made. So we take those
recommendations seriously when they are made. But look, the issues as to whether or not you need to
further refine the provisions in the Migration Act and to implement a regulatory regime beyond the
contractual arrangements in place are really a matter that Amanda Vanstone would need to examine as
to whether or not any change was required.

STEVE LEWIS: Attorney, are you sorry for what happened to Cornelia Rau?

PHILIP RUDDOCK: Look, we have all said that we very much regret what has happened and we're having
a full inquiry to get to the bottom of it and it's an inquiry that is being undertaken with some
sensitivity, because people's personal affairs and privacy have to be respected, but we want to get
to the bottom of it and any recommendations that flow from it will be public and people will be
able to consider whether or not further change is required.

JENNIFER HEWETT: Attorney, how sorry are you about all those other detainees who are still in the
detention centres, some of them for years at a time? Is that good enough for Australia, do you
think now? Is there any alternative?

PHILIP RUDDOCK: Again, you're asking me to talk about a former portfolio and the only point I would

PAUL BONGIORNO: As Attorney-General, you are responsible for human rights, aren't you?

PHILIP RUDDOCK: Well, I am, and the only point I would make is that the Migration Act makes it very
clear that if a person is an unlawful non-citizen in Australia there can be circumstances in which
they are held. It is until there is a grant of a visa, or until they leave Australia, and people
whose claims have been thoroughly tested and decline to cooperate in making arrangements for their
removal from Australia may continue to be detained. And those who are unable to go, such as people
who are stateless and those cases have been dealt with, they were dealt with by me and they've been
dealt with by Amanda Vanstone, can be released and have been released.

PAUL BONGIORNO: But isn't the problem that the Human Rights Commission, for example, finds that
very concept of detention is a breach of human rights and goes against the Magna Carta if you like,
thousands of years of British common law history in terms of detaining without due process?

PHILIP RUDDOCK: Well, let me just say that there is due process and the lawfulness of anybody's
detention can be tested. Due process is available. And people who have complaints about the way in
which they are held have the opportunity to go to appropriate agencies and to make complaints in
which those matters are required to be investigated. And all countries have a range of detention
measures in place to deal with the very issue that we've had to deal with. I've seen the detention
facilities right through Europe, in North America, in Africa. It is not novel to have immigration
detention. What I think people need to recognise is that policy in this area is difficult because
if people seek to get a migration outcome simply by turning up, you have to be able to handle that
situation, otherwise you might as well have no borders at all.

JENNIFER HEWETT: Attorney, there's another issue that's very much with us still and that's
terrorism. You'll be addressing a conference tomorrow. Does it concern you that so much of
Australia's critical infrastructure is in private hands - airports, ports - and the profit motive
in some cases will be in conflict with national security interests?

PHILIP RUDDOCK: Well, let me just say, it doesn't concern me that it's in private hands. I believe
very strongly in the system that we have, but it is important to recognise - and we've identified
something like 2,000 vital assets, and much of it is in private sector hands - that needs to be
protected and could be targeted. We've set out guidelines for dealing with critical infrastructure
and ensuring...

PAUL BONGIORNO: We're just about out of time. Do you believe Australian business is prepared to
pull its weight?

PHILIP RUDDOCK: I believe that business have responsibilities as good managers to manage all risks,
and the risk of terrorism is real and they have to take that into account in their planning.

PAUL BONGIORNO: We're right out of time. Thank you very much for joining us today, Attorney-General
Philip Ruddock. After the break - the chairman of the Parliamentary Economics Committee, Bruce
Baird. In the cartoon of the week, John Kudelka in the 'Australian' has this take on Mamdouh
Habib's paid TV appearance last week. The Defence Minister says, "Three years of torture and
$200,000 later and they still can't get a straight answer out of him." The PM says, "Not bad for an

PAUL BONGIORNO: You're on Meet the Press and welcome to the chairman of Parliament's Economics
Committee, Bruce Baird. On Friday, Mr Baird's committee interrogated Reserve Bank Governor Ian
Macfarlane, who seemed to crush any hope of interest rates remaining the same in the short-term.

RESERVE BANK GOVERNOR IAN MACFARLANE (FEB 18): At this phase of the cycle, it's more likely the
interest rates will go up than that they will go the other way.

STEVE LEWIS: Well, Mr Baird, the question that home owners want answered, how much do you think
interest rates will go up by and when do you think they will go up?

ECONOMICS COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN BRUCE BAIRD: Well, the Governor didn't indicate definitely whether
they were going up but he certainly gave strong hints. I asked him pointedly whether the market had
it right, they all seemed to be sure the rates were going up and he talked about the pressure on
the economy and how the inflation was starting to increase, so from my point of view I thought it
was likely that it was going to happen, probably small incremental gains. Maybe he's just talking
about it to see whether that dampens it down and looks at the inflation figures. But I think we've
got them coming.

STEVE LEWIS: You say small incremental, do you think, what 0.5%, 1%? What's your best guess?

BRUCE BAIRD: The market thinks 0.25% and in two stages. But bear in mind, we're fortunate we've had
low interest rates for as long. That's a lot to do with the management of the economy by the

STEVE LEWIS: Sure. We also have record levels of household debt. Can this Government sustain
increases in interest rates over this electoral cycle?

BRUCE BAIRD: I believe so. They are historically low. I mean, if you compare what the interest
rates were under Labor, we have been very fortunate they've been kept as low as they have, and
obviously the fact that the Government continues to bring in surplus budgets means you haven't had
the pressure on the economy that existed before. So small incremental gains, I think we can manage.
But it's also about keeping the economy stable, so with the wage pressure that exists particularly
in the construction and mining sector, if that starts to flow across the economy, we do have
inflationary pressures. So a small adjustment I think is going to be helpful to everybody in terms
of a strong economy.

JENNIFER HEWETT: There's also a big demand amongst quite a few backbenchers for substantial tax
cuts in this term of office. How likely do you think that is?

BRUCE BAIRD: Well, as you may have noticed, Governor Macfarlane did talk about, had a whole long
laundry list of the issues that he thought we should address in terms of the next phase of economic
growth, and taxation reform was clearly on the agenda and industrial relations reform. Now, it's
clear that the Government has signalled, the PM and the Treasurer have signalled, that that's very
much on the agenda for the Government. They are looking at it. We've got the ginger group that's
operating. I went to one of their meetings the other day and everyone's fired up. Hugh Morgan is
encouraging them to look at what we can do in terms of tax cuts, and, of course, the industrial
relations reform, both the Treasurer and the PM have been very strong on that.

JENNIFER HEWETT: Mr Macfarlane also talked about negative gearing and how much money had been
channelled into housing. Do you think there's a case to be made that we should do less of that, and
negative gearing should end?

BRUCE BAIRD: I don't believe so. It's worked well in terms of the extent of rental properties we
have. Australians are wedded to the house and bricks and mortar. I think he was saying, look, there
has been a strong growth in housing, in housing prices and perhaps it's time to look at investment
in some of the infrastructure areas in terms of mining, in terms of construction. 1.7%, he pointed
out, of the growth rate of 3.5% for the last 12 months was, in fact, related to housing. So, he
said part of the bottlenecks that we have in our economy are because of lack of new investment in
those areas. So I think he's trying to widen it out. He also indicated that in his view the stock
market wasn't overheated. In contrast, he said that he's been trying to talk down the housing
market for some time. Even in today's paper it talks about the drops that we can expect in some
areas of the housing market.

STEVE LEWIS: Mr Baird, From July 1 the Government takes control of the Senate, does that mean then
that the Coalition backbench, this so-called 'ginger group' if you like, will have greater leverage
to obtain reform in areas like taxation? Do you think that it will strengthen the hand, if you
like, of backbenchers?

BRUCE BAIRD: We always like to think we have some say in the running of the Government, but, you
know, the Cabinet is also committed in terms of the key aspects of reform. So it's not as if you've
got one group saying let's do this and the Treasurer and the PM saying, "Let's not go down that
route." I mean, we're working together on it. Obviously the fact that we will have control of the
Senate means that some of the delaying tactics of the Labor Party and the Greens are removed and we
have got the heady proposition of what can happen in terms of making sure the economy is on a
strong footing as we go into the next phase. And I think Governor Macfarlane was encouraging us to
say these are the things you have to look at.

JENNIFER HEWETT: Obviously Mr Howard is a strong position at the moment, do you see yourself being
with him right through into the next term of office as well?

BRUCE BAIRD: Well, he's certainly at the top of his game and the ratings show that. I mean, the
pollings are very strong for him and also the Government. The fact we had the Latham implosion
helped us in terms of the polling, but he seems very much at home with the job, on top of the game.
We also have a Treasurer who's performing well. We're fortunate that we've got a lot of talented
frontbenchers who are at the top of their game.

PAUL BONGIORNO: Is it your perception that Peter Costello would stay on as Treasurer if John Howard
stays on as PM?

BRUCE BAIRD: You'd have to ask him that.

PAUL BONGIORNO: I'm just interested in what you think.

BRUCE BAIRD: Well, he's been in that role for a long time. The fact we've got such a strong economy
is no doubt due in no small measure to his performance.

STEVE LEWIS: Mr Baird, You are a well-known supporter of Mr Costello. Surely you would be
anticipating a smooth handover from the PM to the Treasurer during this term?

BRUCE BAIRD: I'm a strong supporter of Mr Costello and Mr Howard and all of the frontbench and Mr
Ruddock who just appeared on the program. I thought he did well. But at some stage I'm sure there
will be a smooth transition.

STEVE LEWIS: Will it be this term?

BRUCE BAIRD: That you'd have to ask them.

PAUL BONGIORNO: And on that happy note we run out of time. Thank you for joining us Bruce Baird.
And thanks to the panel, Jennifer Hewett and Steve Lewis. Until next week, it's goodbye from Meet
the Press.