TRANSCRIPT - DOORSTOP - SYDNEY - Sunday, 1 March 2020

01 March 2020

SUBJECTS: Coronavirus; AUSTRAC; Senate Estimates and the Morrison Government’s allergy to scrutiny; Iran travel ban; surplus; stimulus measures; proposed ASIO powers; Peter Dutton’s failure to understand the rising threat of right-wing extremism; Josh Frydenberg.

KRISTINA KENEALLY, DEPUTY LABOR LEADER IN THE SENATE AND SHADOW MINISTER FOR HOME AFFAIRS: Well, first and foremost, I want to say that Labor supports and wants to work constructively with the Government's actions to keep Australians safe from the threat to the coronavirus. We will always rely upon the advice of Chief Medical Officer Brendan Murphy and I commend him for the work that he has done to advise all Australians about the progression of the coronavirus and steps that we as a country and individuals can take to keep ourselves safe. Now, of course, Australians should be mindful that the actions taken to date have been responsible and have been to the benefit of the Australian community and Australians should feel confident to go about their daily lives. To go to shopping centres and restaurants, particularly your local Chinese restaurant, to go to the NRL grand final coming up in – or the NRL season that is coming up in a few weeks’ time, and also of course, last night I was at the Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras with the entire Labor leadership team. There were hundreds of thousands of people there; it was a great celebration. It was fantastic to see Sydneysiders and Australians and tourists coming out as part of that celebration. It's an indication that community spirit here Australia remains very strong.
I also want to comment on some concerning reports in News Corp papers today regarding AUSTRAC and I'm mindful that there are matters before the courts, I'll be limited in what I will say. But AUSTRAC is on the frontline when it comes to tackling some of the most serious crime – terrorism, money laundering and the vile crime of child sexual exploitation and abuse. There are serious questions about AUSTRAC's protocols and processes when it becomes aware of suspected child abuse. These are serious matters that Labor will pursue and inquire about at the upcoming Senate Estimates this week. And I am concerned that it seems to demonstrate that the Minister, Peter Dutton, is not across all aspects of his portfolio in matters as serious as these. 
Now Estimates is this week and this Government, with its allergy to transparency and accountability has demonstrated both in the Parliament and in Estimates and in public, at media conferences and the like, it's unwilling to give straight answers to questions. Dodging questions, taking them on notice, seeking to bury reports such as the Philip Gaetjens report into the sports rorts scandal. This is the approach of this Government and Prime Minister Scott Morrison who doesn't have a plan for economic growth, who doesn't have a plan to arrest stagnant wages, who doesn't have a plan to tackle climate change, who doesn't have a plan for the future of our energy sector. Australians are rightly disappointed in Scott Morrison; he's not showing leadership. He's an ad man with a marketing strategy; he's not a Prime Minister with a plan. I'm happy to take questions.
JOURNALIST: Just on coronavirus, that Government has imposed a travel ban on Iran but given there are more cases in places like South Korea and Italy, what do you make of that? Should there be travel bans on those places as well? Why has Iran been singled out? 
KENEALLY: We'll always rely upon the advice of the Chief Medical Officer Brendan Murphy and what he has made clear is that both the death rate and capacity of the health system in Iran does raise significant enough concerns to impose a travel ban. When it comes to other parts of the world, the Chief Medical Officer's advice is clear that we cannot shut down Australia from the rest of the world and that there are appropriate measures in place at our borders to screen passengers as needed. 
JOURNALIST: Are you satisfied with the measures in place at Australia's borders? Do you think the Government should be doing more to slow the spread of coronavirus?
KENEALLY: I'm quite confident in the work of our public servants, particularly the Chief Medical Officer Brendan Murphy who has shown leadership and transparency; a willingness to stand up in front of the Australian people and to make clear the steps the Government, though our public service agencies, are taking to ensure that Australia is protected as best as possible from this global health emergency. Australia, through Mr Murphy's leadership, has been at the forefront of this now-emerging pandemic. When it comes to those measures and when it comes to Australia's preparedness for a pandemic, we will continue to seek the assurance of the Government that they are prepared for a pandemic should it arise here but we do agree with Mr Murphy and others when they assure Australians that they should continue to go about their daily lives.
JOURNALIST: The Government's considering a targeted stimulus package for industries affected by the coronavirus outbreak. Do you think that will be enough? Do we need broader stimulus measures?
KENEALLY: Let's be clear that the idea of a budget surplus is a test that Scott Morrison and Josh Frydenberg set for themselves. It will be up to them to see if they achieve it. It would be humiliating for them if they do not and let's also bear in mind that the budget was in very bad shape before the bushfires and before the coronavirus challenge arose to our economy. That is, we already had economic circumstances that were affecting the budget. We already had Australians experiencing poor economic circumstances such as the lack of a pay rise, such as underemployment. Australians know that their bills are going up and their wages aren't, families are worried and, quite frankly, when it comes to both encouraging growth within the economy and looking after Australia's best interests, there are things that the Government could have been doing all along, such as raising Newstart. That would be a significant way to inject growth in the economy, to inject a surplus into the economy. Our view is that the Government should be taking steps to assist Australians, whether or not they meet a budget surplus is a test they set for themselves and it will be humiliating for them if they fail to meet that.
JOURNALIST: The Government is also reportedly considering new powers for ASIO to allow the agency to apprehend and question foreign spies without a warrant. Are these powers needed?
KENEALLY: When it comes to the questioning and detention powers, this is a matter that has been before the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security and, in fact, the committee has been asking the Government to bring forward reforms now for a number of years. Just last year, Labor moved amendments in Parliament asking that the Government bring forward these reforms more quickly. Now, when it comes to the powers that are in the papers today we will await the legislation and we would expect, as Mr Dutton appears to have confirmed this morning, that those new powers in that legislation will go through a Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security process. When it comes to keeping Australians safe from the threats that Mr Burgess, the Director General of ASIO, outlined in this first Annual Threat Assessment – that is terrorism, foreign interference and espionage – we will always seek to work first and foremost in a bipartisan manner with the Government to ensure Australia's national security. Any other questions? May I make two other points? Thank you.
Reflecting upon Mr Dutton's interview this morning on Insiders, and particularly the questions about right-wing extremism, what was clear is that Mr Dutton does not quite understand how it is that right-wing extremism is spread online or indeed why people are being attracted to it. Now the Director General of ASIO Mike Burgess has made clear to the Australian people, in his first Annual Threat Assessment, that when it comes to terrorism Australia faces two forms of threats- Islamic fundamentalism and right-wing extremism. Now when it comes to right-wing extremism, Mr Dutton was asked this morning, why do people, why are people attracted to this and what can be done about it? Mr Dutton said, first of all, that this is something that has been spread on the dark web. Well quite frankly, it is something that is being spread on social media platforms. It is something that is being spread quite publicly and openly. Right-wing extremist organisations and groups use specific symbols or language to send signals to one another about what they are really talking about. That's where we need to get in and disrupt these organisations. That's where we need to get in and disrupt this radicalisation- where it's happening often out in the open, on social media platforms, we need to disrupt and divert at that point. The second thing is Mr Dutton seems to be unable to explain why it is that people are attracted to right-wing extremism as an ideology. Now the experts that I speak to, including from Exit Australia, point out that right-wing extremists cells use patriotism and populism, anti-elitism and quite nakedly xenophobia at times to appeal to people's prejudices and to seek to divert them to darker and more extreme places. The fact of the matter is, if we are going to curb right-wing extremism in Australia we have to first and foremost understand it. We have to understand why people are attracted to it, it's motivating factors and we have to understand how they are recruited and targeted. I am concerned that the Minister seems to lack a basic understanding of that this morning. This is an issue that Ed Husic and Anne Any and I and Andrew Giles and others, Michelle Rowland, in our Labor team have been working on for some time and something we will have more to say about in coming months.
I also want to just touch upon the call by the Hindu Council of Australia for the Treasurer Josh Frydenberg to apologise for what the Hindu Council calls ""brazen, racist, and Hindu-phobic"" antics in the Parliament last week. And the Hindu Council of Australia also makes clear that they are extremely concerned about the fact that the Prime Minister and others in the Government were laughing along with Mr Frydenberg mocking the Hindu religion on the floor of the Parliament last week. Now I don't think that Josh Frydenberg is a racist person. No, I don't think he's a bad person. I think he just exhibited bad judgment and from time to time all of us do. What I would encourage for Mr Frydenberg today is to read and reflect upon the call of the Hindu Council of Australia to consider his actions and, quite quickly, just fix this. He is, I think, a fundamentally good person and I would expect Josh Frydenberg to do the right thing. Thank you.