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Discussion about the Liberal Party's statement, 'The Things That Matter', security of parliamentarians and privacy legislation

PETER THOMPSON: Now, to Canberra where Alexander Downer and his Deputy, Peter Costello, are knuckling down to the task of selling The Things That Matter. The job at hand now is to come up with costing estimates that will satisfy the financial nit-pickers in the Government and the media. Well, joining me from Canberra is our political correspondent, Pru Goward. Good morning, again, Pru. How critical will it be for Mr Downer to establish some credible costings for his statement?

PRU GOWARD: Well, I would have thought not very critical at all. I mean, he set out, as he says, to put down a statement of directions. He has gone to some lengths to insist that this is not detailed and that if you want the detail on the policies, wait till the election campaign. And if he is now bluffed into doing what the Government wants, which is to try and produce detailed costings now, I think they're in a lot of hot water. But, you know, there are shrewdies in the Government who, of course, will push this. It was interesting to see Peter Costello, his young Deputy on the 7.30 report last night, saying a lot of these proposals have been costed, various proposals have been costed by independent finance houses in relation to all sorts of things. Now, that's an absolute invitation to a journalist and to the Government to say: Well, show us your costings?

PETER THOMPSON: What are they?

PRU GOWARD: What are they? And I would have thought it would be very difficult for the Opposition to cost its proposals. They are vague, there are a range of ways they could go on many of them, and I don't think they're anywhere near being able to give anything detailed. But comments like that invite it and I think will ensure that the Opposition is kept on the front page instead of the Government which, after all, is the Opposition's aim, to keep the Government on the front page. So, it frankly shouldn't be critical, but if Mr Downer and Mr Costello get led along this path, it will become critical and it will be, I think, quite difficult for them to survive it.

PETER THOMPSON: Yes, I heard Peter Costello saying last night that we just have to be more efficient, more competitive about the way we spent public money. That's not been used for the first time, that line.

PRU GOWARD: No, my dear. That has been around for at least 11 years, and I think if you look at the Federal Government, they have moved an enormous way along that road. I mean, you take the Department of Defence - they tender out a lot of their contracts that were once automatically carried out by personnel within the Defence Department - no tender, no pack-drill. They are now all tendered out and sometimes Defence win them, sometimes they don't. I think it goes one-third to Defence and two-thirds to outside sources. And they've produced incredible efficiency savings.

So I think a lot of those things are already being done, and as for removing duplication, well, that's got whiskers on it. The Federal Government's really moved very .. again, a long way along getting rid of duplication between Federal and State authorities. So I think they do have ultimately a costings problem because obviously, if you're going to produce the heaven that they've described in The Things That Matter, you're going to have to cut somewhere, and the only thing I could think of last night was cutting defence. You know, maybe we could sell the navy to pay for this. But it's a long way away from that and they, actually, politically, shouldn't be getting into it.

PETER THOMPSON: Now, Laurie Oakes has an interesting article today in the Bulletin. He's been lacerating Alexander Downer, and yet he writes quite a complimentary article about The Things That Matter, and says: Well, it's bland, but what else can you expect from a document that had to get the approval of everyone from free-thinking Liberal moderates to the homophobes, the monarchists and the faction known as the God Squad.

PRU GOWARD: It was for the party. It was definitely for the party, and it is quite a unifying document in that sense. I mean, it is quite explicit on Mabo; it reiterates their line on Mabo, and it might have saved him a bit of angst if he had that line ready a month or so ago. But I don't think you can argue with such honourable intentions. It's going to be .. I mean, the point in government is not intentions, it's what you trade, what you give up, how you achieve nirvana.

PETER THOMPSON: I think Laurie's summary statement's good: The Liberal Party will no longer allow its leader the freedom to handle major issues sensibly and sensitively. On Mabo, the Federal leader can't buck the West Australian Liberal branch; Queen's men like John Howard and Tony Abbott lock the leader into opposing even sensible debate on a republic; a pre-emptive strike by Liberal homophobes makes it almost impossible for the leader to take a sensible and enlightened stand on Tasmania's repressive and indefensible laws on sexual behaviour, and so on. Downer somehow must break out of the straitjacket imposed by the hardliners, and that's a more difficult task than producing a couple of glossy brochures containing 100 pages of good intentions.

PRU GOWARD: Oh, yes.

PETER THOMPSON: Neat comment.

PRU GOWARD: I think that it's a one-day-wonder in that sense because, as we said a couple of days ago, the problem for Mr Downer is in the issues as they arise. I mean, for example, the Government's going to introduce its privacy legislation as soon as Parliament resumes in the last week in September, and then the whole issue of States' rights versus individual rights comes up again, and it's not clear from this document how the Liberal Party have resolved that.

PETER THOMPSON: Pru, let's move on to the murder of John Newman. Has anything concrete been suggested in Canberra about the broader issues of security which this creates?

PRU GOWARD: Well, Justice Minister, Duncan Kerr, has already indicated that this morning he will offer Federal assistance to the New South Wales Government, but whether or not security for Federal parliamentarians is to be upgraded, well that remains to be seen. And joining us now is the Federal Attorney-General, Michael Lavarch. Thank you very much for joining us, Mr Lavarch. Well, first to the Newman assassination. Do you foresee at least a review of security measures?

MICHAEL LAVARCH: Well, I imagine that the authorities, the Australian Protective Services and the Federal Police will have a look at the arrangements concerning Federal Members of Parliament. I'm sure equivalent State authorities also will have a look at their responsibilities. So I imagine it will be looked at, but I mean, we have to look at the Newman case, find out exactly what the circumstances of the assassination were, and before we sort of jump to too many conclusions about changing overall systems of security.

PRU GOWARD: Well, it would certainly be a very expensive exercise to upgrade security for hundreds of Federal politicians.

MICHAEL LAVARCH: Well, it would be and it would also be very intrusive. I mean, last night I just went to a local Rotary Club dinner and spoke at that. I mean, I just drove up by myself and went to the local hotel and attended the meeting. I mean, I'd be very disturbed if we ever got to a situation that, you know, even a Cabinet Minister or the Prime Minister, for that matter, couldn't basically act like that, and I'd be very resistant to us ever moving away from that sort of accessibility to the public. I think that's very important. But obviously, a tragedy such as occurred in New South Wales, as well as sending a bit of shiver down your spine, it does make you stop and give a bit of thought about these basic questions of security.

PRU GOWARD: Mr Lavarch, while you're there, just let me turn to the privacy legislation that I understand you're going to introduce in the last week of September when Parliament resumes. What power are you using to introduce this, and in a way, why has it taken so long?

MICHAEL LAVARCH: Well, it hasn't particularly taken long, Pru. I mean, it's certainly taken a while since the issue first arose, and I mean, I stated at that time that we'd be very careful about it and would give very ample opportunity for the Tasmanian Government to re-examine their position before there'd be any Commonwealth action. But it went through in Cabinet about ten days ago and it will be introduced when Parliament resumes in the week commencing 19 September. So it's pretty well ready to go. I've just now got to give final approval to the explanatory memorandum and the second reading speech. The Bill itself has been drafted.

PRU GOWARD: But it's quite straightforward, is it? It's just using the external affairs powers?

MICHAEL LAVARCH: Oh, yes. All Australian human rights legislation is based on our international obligations implemented through the external affairs powers. So, to this extent, it's no different from the Sex Discrimination Act or the Disability Discrimination Act, Racial Discrimination Act for that measure. So it's exactly that same well-established power which the Commonwealth has to enact legislation in the area of human rights.

PRU GOWARD: And the one that the Liberal Party hates.

MICHAEL LAVARCH: Well, indeed. But the Liberal Party has itself enacted legislation relying on the external affairs power. I mean, it's the power given to the Commonwealth Government at federation. Understandably enough, you want the national government to be the government in Australia responsible for Australia's international relations. I mean, that's a basic responsibility of a national government. I mean, there might be a lot of gnashing of teeth and beating your chest about it now, but it's all a bit false when one looks at the history of the use of this power by the Federal Government.

PRU GOWARD: And Mr Lavarch, in the new spirit of competition, your introduced amendments to the corporation law yesterday, do they, as has been suggested, allow open slather on say the futures exchange and the Stock Exchange to launch a series of new products for the Stock Exchange without that monopoly remaining on who can sell what?

MICHAEL LAVARCH: Well, at the moment, I mean, our law does draw very real distinctions between the trading in equities, the shares on the share market, and futures, which is people making an estimation, if you like, about how a particular price of a commodity, say, will move over a period of time. There's different chapters of the corporation law which govern the regulation of both. It is true, I think, that the distinction between these two markets has somewhat become blurred over recent times by the development of new products. I mean, the Sydney's futures exchange has developed a product which allows people to buy a future on an individual share. The Stock Exchange now proposes to allow you to effectively see how the movement of a particular share goes against the overall movement of a market, the All Ordinaries Index, and this is this product which they're proposing to market now in which we're proposing also to amend the corporations law to allow them to do so.

But, I mean, I don't think it will be a break down of the distinction between futures and securities, and I wouldn't like to see that without a very careful consideration of all the issues, and I've asked the companies and Securities Advisory Committee to have a look at this whole issue of the regulation of the futures and securities market.

PRU GOWARD: Michael Lavarch, thank you for your time this morning.

MICHAEL LAVARCH: Thanks very much, Pru.

PRU GOWARD: Federal Attorney-General, Michael Lavarch.

PETER THOMPSON: Thanks, Pru Goward.