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This program is live captioned by Ericsson Access Services. Hello I'm Julia Baird. Welcome to The Friday Drum. Coming up: The top education institute strikes again. But the Liberals deny their donations have influenced policy. It's an investment - a former Western Sydney councillor tells us what money buys in politics. And the autism advocate who learned to feel at the age of 50.

Thanks so much for your company here on a Friday night and joining me here on the panel, we have former NSW Premier Nathan Rees. The Australian's Margin Call columnist Glasgow Sheriff Court and in Canberra, SBS Chief Political Correspondent Catherine McGrath. On Twitter you can find fellow viewers. Liberal frontbencher Christopher Pyne angrily denied he, too, was compromised by a donation from the now infamous top education institute. Top education is the firm that paid a $1600 travel bill for Labor Senator Sam Dastyari. It turns out they have given money to the Liberals as well, donating $65,000 to the party in the lead-up to the 2013 Federal Election. The company wanted to gain access to a streamlined visa program. The then Labor Government said no, but that changed when the Coalition came on. I was concerned about the proposal and despite the fact they had been significant contributories to the Labor Party, their case, in my judgement, was not able to be sustained. The Department of Immigration was advising me and the Department of Education was advising me there was a very, very high level of risk.The only reason they would have been given streamlined visa processing is they, along with 20 or so other education businesses in Australia met the requirements that the public service decided were required to allow them to have streamlined visa processing. Nothing to do with the Liberal Party or the Labor Party for that matter, or the Government of the day. So trying to link the two is completely wrong. It's not just a question of banning foreign donations. We ought to ban union donations and while we're at it, let's ban others. Catherine McGrath, if I can start with you. Now, Christopher Pyne is correct to say this wasn't a personal donation, going directly to him. However, it is not a good look. There are a number of questions being raised about the donations to the Coalition. Now, what do you think this amounts to?Well, I think, I mean, can I say I think it is all happening on the donations front.All happening, yes. One way to put it.Let's look at it from a voters perspective. I think the question for voters is, or what voters I think would say to our political leaders, state and federal is, well, you're going to spend that money donated to you. Is it money that we want to see you spending on your travel or your promotions or policies? I think we can go back to the fundamental question. If you look at Christopher Pyne and Top Education. The question is, he's saying there is no influence F we take that at face value, that's fine. But it goes back to the other question - how are politicians spending this money, $25,000 here, $40,000 there? Modern campaigning requires so much money to be spent as Nathan can say. There's so much money spent all the time. As voters what would happen if that wasn't spent? They may travel a little less. They might have less advertising, less promotional material. Would we be the worse off? I'd like to ask that question. Would we be the worse off for that? Catherine, the first points, what is your judgement - you're saying we should take this at face value, but why should we?I'm say iffing you take it at safe value. I'm taking his answer in terms of what he said. I think there will be so many questions about this. With all of the - Governments are receiving money when, by their parties at the time. So Labor Party, when they're in government, get money. Liberal Party, you know, get money. Then it's used for their campaigning. If you look through the disclosures, there's Westpac donating to both sides, there's research institutes to both sides, Top Education. So there there's so much of this money going in. How do we unpick it? How do we say, how did that affect a decision? Did it not? I think there will be a lot of questions in Parliament. The major parties are in week
this together. Let's be frank. This week coming up there will be a lot of questions asked about this, from the crossbench, sen is raising questions about that, Andrew Wilkie -- Nick Xenophon is raising questions, Andrew Wilkie, and the Greens. The major parties don't want a lot of scrutiny. How is the average punter to unpack this thick et, that doesn't look, smell good, but is above board in terms of laws right now?I think the person on the street and the political class are living in parallel universes on this issue. It doesn't pass the sniff test that people donate money to a political party. For the standard person, they find that bizarre alone. You can probably persuade them that the head of the local PNC wants to run as an independent at a council question, you have to raise a bob for them, you can probably persuade them that's reasonable. When you get to a point where there's big corporations donating to political parties, no-one in the street thinks that is a good attempt of influence. The reality might be different, but leaders have a responsibility to nourish public confidence in the system. When political parties wonder what is less rusted on votes to the mainstream parties thshgs is one of the reasons. That loss of trust, that perception issue around the buying of influence and, look, I stood up and moved on this 7 years ago. The same vol neblts that existed then still do now and basically, both the major parties have had a unity ticket on not moving on these issues. It's undermined public confidence the in the system. People think the Top Education Foundation bought a favour, think they that other donations resulted in policy shifts here in NSW, so on and so forth. And it won't be coined up until there is a fundamental review of the donations regime. My personal view is that donations should be from individuals, capped and moved to the maximum extent possible, recognising the constitutional challenges to public funding of election campaigns.No corporations, no foreign donations.Just beggars belief.No union donations?If we get rid of corporate donations, I eep happy to get rid of union donations. Could we get bipartisan agreelt on that? I think public confidence in the system is being undermined to such an extent this will happen inevitably at some point T question is, who gets ahead of it? Who owns it, who pushes it and can point back and say we're moved on this. Catherine mentioned the cost of running elections F you're running an election campaign in a federal seat that is marginal, you're spending probably in excess of $300. That's a lot of money, imagine what it means to the democracy if someone who wants to put their hand up and run, for $100,000 and not in the major party. I think there is a real impact in equality and it's being adversely affected by disclosure and donation regimes, that are entirely out of kilter with what the person on the street thinks.What do you think, how do you read the culture here? I mean Nathan said he brought this up 7 years ago. Today we've been having a discussion about Sam Dastyari, Doug Cameron throws back at Barnaby Joyce and says he's been Gina Rinehart's lap dog and questions about Corey Bernardi and Christopher Pyne - what do you any the cultural problem is and how do we address the gap between public expectation and political behaviour?Well, I don't think you can ever, I don't think you can probably ever close that gap between public expectation and the actual behaviour. I think, Nathan, when you said the person on the street is appalled at the thought, just think it stinks that someone is donating to a, a corporate to a party, they think they're doing that, they instinctively think that is for something in return. I think the person on the street surprised, most people, that anyone would go into politics. People on the street have a lot of contempt for the political system. Sometimes the wisdom of the street I think is, isn't perfect on this stuff. You'd remember, like, as a politician, a lot of your colleagues and probably yourself, it's not fun raising money like this. If you're running in a marginal seat...It's the worst part of the job.I never heard anyone say, I've got to nick off because I have a fundraiser I love to do. It's awful. If you're running in a marginal seat, I think one of the big problems with the fact that you need $300,000 to run in a marginal seat is it means you will only get a certain kind of person who is able to do that. Maybe you need a threshold, but it does scare away a lot of people getting involved. You're taking us back to the exact point I want to discuss next - where and how does the practice of donating to political party begin? Our reporter Jayne Margetts has been speaking to John Hugha former Liberal councillor from Western Sydney who has close ties to the Chinese business community. He says although he himself has not accepted a donation, it's not unusual for politicians at the grass-roots level to do so. He says the notion that nothing is expected in return is false. I would believe large sum of amounts of money, it's an investment. Otherwise why should I give it to a political party?What therefore is expected in return?The... One kind of return is direct benefit. Make them feel important is kind of return. Having opportunities to take photos and the senior politician, to know their name by heart. It's kind of, you know, showing you you're an important person. Then the influence of favours, like getting a contract, or whatsoever.But it's more than making friends, which is the way that some people are describing it? Ah... For... Especially for large amounts of money, yes. I think it's more than making friends. But for a few hundred dollars, a few thousand dollars, I would say it's very likely just to make friends, or entry point. They may have a price chart in their mind, you know, if you talk to, talk for ten minutes, is one expectation, and talk for half an hour, another expectation, and if you want them to stay longer, you've got to donate more. I want to bring in a director of Swinburne's University's Asia-Pacific Social Investment and Philanthropy project, John Fitzgerald. Professor Fitzgerald, welcome to The Drum.Delighted to be here.I'm quoting you, you said Beijing spotted a weakness in our national leadership and decided to drive a wedge down the middle by offering cash for comment. Can you explain to us what evidence you have for this suggestion?Well, evidence has come to light recently in relation to Sam Dastyari's case, but I've been on is serving for some time across our middle management and senior leadership in media in business, it now emerges in some Governments, some Government agencies, stories are emerging, where organisations have basically compromised their principles in return for commercial agreement. The evidence since it's so extensive across so many different fields, I'm able to draw the con chugs, that this is a concerted effort from Beijing, directed from Beijing. To influence the bow haf your of different institutions and policy outcomes broadly in Australia. You're looking at the political and ab Democratic sector?I'm looking across. I haven't done a great deal of research, I see what's being said in the Chinese language press. The impression I get - I see reports of various new deals done. For example a report in the Chinese press, not reported here until I brought it to public attention with someone from UTS, indicated 60 media organisations entered into a deal overseen by the propaganda... It included Fairfax, Sky and Bob Carr's institute at UTS. I'm suggesting merely that, define 67 different organisations in a room at once, signing commercial deals, overseen by the Propaganda Bureau would suggest it's more than a case by case matter from a Chinese point of view. From China's end, this is a broad, strategic intervention in Australia, seeking soft power advantage.Where does the line between soft power and direct intervention lie with this? Where is a line being crossed?Right. Well, I... If I could just put that slightly differently. The councillor Hugh was talking about questions of friendship, this relates to questions of trust. This situation here, it's not just to do with political donations, it's across the range of our institutional arrangements with China, engagements with China, the application in Australia of a low trust, low public trust environment in chie China to a high public trust environment in Australia. In a low public trust environment, the court is not independented, contracts can't be enforced, no free media, and in such a framework, public trust is low, so people build private trust through networks and what's called "friendship" is the establishment of a relationship with what we call in Australia a mate. Mateship is developed over time through gifts and exchanges in return for loyalty. Now, that may or may not deliver a particular benefit, but the critical thing is you've established a trust network and drawing on that trust network, you can seek to influence outcomes. A trust network based on loyalty is very different from a public trust system based on institutions. And what we're seeing here unfortunately is these, a sort of cultural misunderstanding, coming together and clashing. In Australia, and in the west, we have a long tradition of recognising that private trust networks can subvert public trust. We know in in relation to religious organisations, there's been concern about Masonic orders, people can get paranoid about what they're up to. The idea that one group of people through trusted relationship with somehow influencing public institutions can be very, very seriously damaging to public terrorists, I don't think China appreciates that. Nathan Rees, what did you witness of this? We've heard from John Hugh and now to John Fitzgerald. What did you see of this kind of behaviour that's being described directly as an investment?Look, there is no question that corporations, when they make a donation, have an expectation of access, and the ability to talk to decision makers. The reason you want to talk is because you want to... You want to have favour...You want to put your case because you don't feel you will get a hearing otherwise, I think to go to John's point about pair now ya, I think that the reality of decision making being corrupted is very, very small percentage of what goes on. The perception is the issue. And look, the clever ministers, if there is a decision to be made and there's been a donation from a proponent, that goes to the bottom of the pile, or is done at arm's length, that's what the clever decision makers do, so there can be no question around the spegryty of the decision. But all of this evaporates if you say, you know what, we're not going to do this any more. A sense.But John is talking about a deliberate strategic decision made ten years ago, you were in payment at the time. Did you witness this?Look, there's very enthuse yas tick supporters of both political parties from across the ethnographic spectrum. The Chinese are one group and there are others. What about payments for appearing at events? That's news to me. Certainly, if I was paid to go to Chinese functions I never saw any of it. Party office... Again, there's a disconnect here between party officers of both sides of mainstream politics in Australia. They might say they want donation reform. They don't. It makes it easier for them if they can raise a good bob and when that money is being spent in electronic media, well, you know, there's a heap of media organisations that don't want to see too much of it upset, because they ultimately get the money.What's your reporting shown on this Will? You were unpacking things happening at NSW, as Sam Dastyari was there. Well, one of the billionaires that Sam got in trouble with, the guy behind Yoohoo group, he on the Tuesday before Sam resigned on the Wednesday, he was having in Nathan's old place of work, NSW Parliament, he was lawn.ingching a new association of Australians and Chinese. Nothing sinister about that, but it shows his cultivation of influence. He said as much on the record in an interesting piece in the Finn Review that he sees politics as a game and he enjoys the peck -- spectator sport of Australian politics and going for both sides. Interesting comments to read, but I'm not saying you know, anything sinister is happening on Tuesday, but it's just, he's playing by the current rules and enjoys being involved.But John, can I ask you again about, going ba k to, you're talking about the deliberate creation or fostering of a culture. But it doesn't appear to have had any, very many broader tangible policy outcomes, is that correct? Is that not then disappointing and defeating the purpose?Well, it is disappointing. One of the things reading the Chinese press, particularly in recent weeks, is the sense of palpable disappointment, Australian leaders and middle managers haven't delivered the outcomes they wanted. There's one notorious editorial in Global Times that indicated that Australia, having signed the free trade agreement, should really have supported China's position on the South China Sea. That's a connection apparently being made in China that wasn't being made here. When we were sold the benefits of the free trade agreement, which, by the way I support fully, we weren't told it was a quid pro quo for shifting our foreign and security or defence policy in any other area. So there is a expectation. It goes to can commercial arrangements, profit sharing arrangements, to trade, to agreements. The thing is you enter into a beneficial commercial relationship, that could be in the form of a gift, in the form of a commercial agreement, then in effect you're forming a bond of friendship and something will flow from that. If it doesn't, yo u're in trouble. So reading it, reading the Chinese press again, I'm deeply concerned the expectation created by what in China is now called, you know, a basic, a venal Australian public culture - taking money and not delivering - is leading to a sense that perhaps Australia will then only respond to force. This is seen here specifically in a number of newspapers. The more far way out ones.Catherine, before we move on, I expect we will see further heat on this subject next week. Bill Shorten vowing to pursue the matter?Yes, but remember he's defending Sam Dastyari and whether or not Sam Dastyari had offered a different view on the South China Sea to what was Labor policy. Getting back to all of this, I think this is another question - what, to what extent are international forces wanting to, be it China, be it Israel, be it, you know, the UK, be it whatever, be it the US. In what, to what extept are they wanting to influence foreign policy. At the moment we see the foreign policy hasn't changed but the South China Sea is in incredibly emerging important strategic decision and Australia at the moment is sitting in the middle. But are influences like the unit that Bob Carr is overseeing at the UTS, is that putting forward a different case and will that have a really long-term debate over the next 24 months? Exactly right. John Fitzgerald thank you for talking through the issues. Stay with us now. You are watching The Drum.

Normally we like to throw this segment over to the panel, but we will hijack Drum Roll this week to bring you a special interview with autism advocate John Elder Robison. He was diagnosed with Asperger's at aged 40 and a decade later started a radical treatment. This came at a huge cost. He's in Australia nor the Brisbane Writers Festival. His new book is called Switched On a memoir of brain change, emotional awakening and the emerging science of neuro-stimulation. John Elder Robison, welcome to The Drum. Thanks for having me with you.A pleasure to have you on. I think it's such a fascinating book. Can you explain to us, firgs t of all, what was it like to be diagnosed with Asperger's at the age of 40? Was it a confusing experience? What did that mean?It was a shock. To be told that I could be the poster boy for this Asperger condition given I had never heard of it before the diagnosis, but I always knew that I was different and before learning that I have this Asperger's form of autism, I was told I was retarted, stupid, lazy, sociopathic. So an official diagnosis was not only liberating, it was informative and it was the first non-judge mental explanation I'd ever received to explain why I had failed to connect with people socially. And I know it's controversial to seek therapy for Asperger's to, to say it's something that needs a cure, it's not who you are, tell us why you decided to seek therapy? Well, first of all, I would say that one really big misconception is that people with Asperger's and autism are broken or defective. We are not failed versions of normal people. We are part of the continuum of humanity and we're kind of complete as we are. But having said that, many of us are significantly not able to engage relationships and for someone to enter into a therapy to help them do that isn't trying to cure autism, it's trying to be the best you can be. When you go to counselling for your marriage or whatever, you're not trying to get rid of your marriage, but trying to make it the best it can be. It's like that.Tell us what happened and whether it did make you the best you can be?I took part in an experimental study at Harvard Medical School in America. Interestingly, very similar work is being done right here in Melbourne by a doctor at Monash. What they did is they fired high powered magnetic energy into the forepart of my brain and it caused changes which helped my brain to rewire itself. And that produced lasting change. And yes, it was beneficial to me connecting with other people but it was a very, very hard thing, being exposed to the raw stream of emotion of the world suddenly at my age. What was hard about it?Well, before it happened I had this fantasy, if you will, that there must be all these messages of love and kindness and sweetness and if only I could pick them up, I'd be happy. And in fact when I was able to see emotions in other people, what I saw was angst and jealousy, and fear, and worry, and it wasn't just emotion directed at me, it was the emotion of the world, all around me, and frankly devastating because I had not had any protection depens t that. It was thrust upon me in -- against that, it was thrust upon me at middle age.The dangers of empathy?Paem thi is a hard thing. Autistic people often have stronger, deeper feelings than people who aren't autistic, but we don't necessarily pick up on the cues from other people and that's what makes it hard socially. I might... Not respond as you expect me to. You might think I'm... John Elder Robison, sorry to talk over you, that is it for tonight. Thanks to our panel. See you on Monday.

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