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Transcript of interview with Kieran Gilbert: 28 March 2017: Sky News Agenda: China Extradition Treaty; Hanson on penalty rates

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SUBJECTS: China Extradition Treaty; Hanson on Penalty rates.

KIERAN GILBERT: With me now is Labor’s Shadow Minister for Employment Brendan O’Connor. I will ask you firstly about the China Treaty, this was signed under the Howard Government, ten years later we’re still talking about it. Trade Minister Steve Ciobo makes the point that we have arrangements with many other nations with legal systems comparable if not more dubious than Chian’s, why make China the exception?

BRENDAN O’CONNOR, SHADOW MINISTER FOR EMPLOYMENT AND WORKPLACE RELATIONS: I think it’s the case that we haven’t been as consistent as a country and I think we need to examine that and examine the provisions of the Extradition Treaty Act, but also make sure we are consistent. It took to the dying days of the Howard Government for the then Attorney-General to sign the agreement, they didn’t ratify, and we in Government didn’t ratify it.

GILBERT: So what’s Labor’s position now? Do you support the ratification?

O’CONNOR: We’re considering it. This is a very difficult decision. We’ve got a very important relationship with China -

GILBERT: Plus there are three employees from Crown sitting in prison in China, plus another professor from the University of Technology, who has been a teacher in this country since the 90s, he’s in limbo in Guangzhou at the moment. So these personal cases are at stake as well aren’t they?

O’CONNOR: When a country considers what bilateral arrangements it has in place to deal with law and order and cooperation in fighting crime we have to be very careful not to allow our policy decisions to be affected by those matters in that way. I think it’s a very dangerous precedent to suggest that somehow citizens may be treated in a particular way -

GILBERT: Sure but it’s a transactional thing, but doesn’t it go to the broader argument about the Government wanting to have the capacity to help out Australians who are stuck in a legal problem offshore?

O’CONNOR: We have a series of bilateral agreements with China to deal with fighting transnational crime - police cooperation, fighting together in dealing with transnational crime in the region. This has been a vexed issue for the country. That’s why it has been ten years sitting there without ratification -

GILBERT: But what do you think we should do? As a former Home Affairs Minister yourself, you’re well aware of the cooperation China extends, we saw the arrests in relation to $100 million of crystal methamphetamines in the last couple of days, via the support of the Chinese. What do you think should be done?

O’CONNOR: Well, can I make it very clear there are a lot of things we can do and are being done now with China to fight trans-national crime because of cooperation.

GILBERT: Well that might not continue if -

O’CONNOR: It’s in our mutual interest to cooperate right now. The idea that other arrangements would be under threat because of us not resolving this matter is unlikely, in my view. However, I think we need to have a consistent approach to extradition and it is inconsistent, historically, and we do need to examine the treaty.

One of the reasons there is a reservation about this is we are mindful of human rights considerations. We’re concerned about whether in fact we’re looking at the rule of law and whether in fact it’s in our interests and in our citizens interests and it’s consistent with our values as a country. So it’s difficult. Our relationship with China is very important but we have to think this through. We’ll be discussing this at caucus. Clearly inside the Government there’s a lot of division, the former Prime Minister attacking the Government’s position.

GILBERT: The former Prime Minister, my understanding is gave a green light to President Xi Jinping that there would be ratification, now arguing against it -

O’CONNOR: But he didn’t ratify it though.

GILBERT: Sure, but gave indication to president Xi Jinping that he would, according to my sources in the Government. I want to finish off, if I can, on the penalty rates discussion. Pauline Hanson now saying she doesn’t support the rate cut. You’d welcome that?

O’CONNOR: Well I do welcome any Senator, any cross-bencher in the Senate saying they’ll support Labor’s Bill. She hasn’t quite said that. Senator Hanson flip flops on so many policy issues it’s hard to keep up. But the real test for her will be, there’s a Bill before the Senate that’s being debated this week. If One Nation want to

support the stopping the cuts to penalty rates, Kieran, then One Nation can support Labor’s Bill and do that in the Senate. That’s the test.

It means nothing to go on social media and say you oppose penalty rates cuts. One Nation has to support the Bill in the Senate. And then of course we call upon Senator Xenophon to do the same, Senator Hinch to do the same. The Greens have already said in fact they are supporting it, of course.

GILBERT: But that’s only symbolic if it gets through the Senate, isn’t it? It won’t get through the lower house.

O’CONNOR: We’ll be testing it. I think the Government understands this is not the right decision. This is a very, very difficult decision for many, many workers in this country. The Government has to rethink its position. We won’t give up. We won’t give up fighting for workers who will be affected by penalty rate cuts.

GILBERT: Mr O’Connor thanks very much.