SKY NEWS AGENDA
MONDAY, 17 JULY 2017
Subjects: Counter terror laws and encryption, Donald Trump, Clean Energy Target, Israel and Palestine, poker machine reform.
TOM CONNELL: Joining me now for more on this is the Shadow Assistant Treasurer, Andrew Leigh. Thanks for your time today.
ANDREW LEIGH, SHADOW ASSISTANT TREASURER: Pleasure, Tom. Great to be with you.
CONNELL: Your thoughts on this, first of all – for people who have read a lot on the Lindt Café siege, in particular that review of it, it seems to make sense, this ability to have the military, the best people sometimes with the best equipment, the best training in these situations.
LEIGH: Tom, we certainly welcome the review of the Defence Act and the prospect of improving the way in which the ADF work with local law enforcement personnel is important. We need to see the detail, but Labor is in principle supportive of improvements in those relationships.
CONNELL: Labor said a similar thing on this encryption element last week. The Government wants to be able to, you know, Facebook, Apple, it might be WhatsApp, whatever, that they want to be able to access information where there might be a suspicion of terror activity. So far tech companies are resisting this – this is a problem for both sides of politics, isn’t it?
LEIGH: Tom, that’s one where I think the detail is far less clear. We’ll be waiting to see precisely what the Government’s proposing. Tech companies have voluntarily handed over hundreds of thousands of pieces of information to law enforcement authorities over the years and making sure that that cooperation continues is very important.
CONNELL: This is about changing who has this key though, right? At the moment, it’s not just an option – they say this is our privacy level, we respect that so there’s no way to decrypt it. Changing that would be a change of mindset for tech companies.
LEIGH: And people have certainly raised concerns about the potential for backdoors to be used by nefarious agents, indeed some of the recent problems seem to have occurred through those backdoors being leaked to the bad guys. I think it’s important that the Government gets the detail right on this and also that it doesn’t go bull-at-a-gate into battle with companies which are already providing some reasonable level of voluntary compliance.
CONNELL: Now you’ve just been in the US. What have you made of Donald Trump and how things are going for him?
LEIGH: Well, as a watcher of politics Tom, you’d know it’s the greatest show on Earth. It is interesting for an Australian to see the level of frustration in middle America. Anyone who’s read books like Hillbilly Elegy or Strangers in Their Own Land will recognise that sense of malaise among the American middle class. We are now seeing a rise in mortality among lower educated white Americans, wages terribly stagnant, an opioid crisis costing 30,000 lives a year – so you can begin to understand some of those sort of drivers of the populist explosion of recent years.
CONNELL: What about the comments from Julie Bishop to do with Donald Trump?
LEIGH: Well, I think Foreign Minister Bishop can defend her own comments there. I certainly think though that it’s important that Australia always maintains our values. One of the things that always strikes me in politics, Tom, is that you should never sacrifice your own values simply because somebody more powerful than you makes a comment. You’ve got to be true to your values and in Australia’s case, egalitarianism, mateship, decent treatment of people regardless of their race or gender-
CONNELL: Decent treatment of women, then? Was it a good call? She didn’t exactly grandstand on it with that line she gave yesterday?
LEIGH: Look, I certainly think that Mr Trump’s treatment of women has, over the years, left much to be desired.
CONNELL: I want to move onto the clean energy target. We’re talking about now the states pushing for this to happen, but at the same time, some of those states are putting a block on gas exploration, a moratorium on it. Does this need to be looked at, maybe at a federal level, some sort of enquiry so we can really ascertain this is safe, it’s fine for farming or it’s not? So we actually have a federal approach to it.
LEIGH: Tom, I think there’s some federal role there, but fundamentally when you talk about land management, that’s going to be a state issue. The big picture here is that total worldwide investment in renewables has already outpaced investment in coal and gas. In the United States, two out of five coal stations are slated for closure. The United Kingdom says its last one will close in 2023. As the advanced country with the highest per person emissions, we need to get on with reducing our emissions. We can’t simply say to the world ‘look, we’ve got this great asset called the Great Barrier Reef, can you please stop climate change for the sake of saving the reef – and by the way Australia won’t take any serious action’.
CONNELL: Sure, but all along the way, we’re always talking about gas as this path to get to lower emissions, because it was so much lower than coal. Now we’re not using it basically because it’s so expensive, in part because of contracts signed by Labor in 2012 – federal and state level then – these huge gas export contracts locked in. Now we’ve got two Labor states with a moratorium on exploration. Do we need to look at it at a federal level?
LEIGH: Tom, we’ve said there should be a national interest test that ensures that new gas exploration serves the Australian people. The Coalition attacked us for that at the time and I hope they would now rethink their position, that they’d come around to recognising that new gas exploration needs to serve the needs of the Australian people.
CONNELL: But what we really need to ascertain is the safety issue – this whole thing started when there were concerns about fracking. There was the movie Gasland that got a lot of traction in the US. We need to say our industry is safe or it’s better than that or is there concern? Do we need something there, more definitive at the moment?
LEIGH: The rules need to be right around extraction, but those rules will vary on a local level because people have different local concerns. What’s important to me is ensuring that the gas market serves the interests of Australian consumers, but more than that, that our climate polices are fit for purpose. The Coalition under Malcolm Turnbull has simply failed to implement a market-based approach of dealing with climate change. We’ve got China now with a national emissions trading market, and yet Australia isn’t willing to move on using market-based mechanisms, as the Malcolm Turnbull of old would have urged.
CONNELL: A lot of talk about Liberal infighting, but there’s a bit of tension on your side to do with Palestine at the moment, this push from Bob Carr in particular to recognise the Palestinian state without any qualification. What do you make of this?
LEIGH: Labor’s got a long standing commitment to a two-state solution, to a secure Israel existing within internationally recognised borders and towards the people of the West Bank and Gaza having their own state. That’s a commitment I would have hoped the Coalition shared as well, although in recent years they’ve taken some frankly unusual positions on Israel.
CONNELL: This would be a change of your position though. What do you make of it?
LEIGH: Well, we’ll see what flows out of state conferences. The last thing I would ever want to do is predict what the wonderful, engaged members of the Australian Labor Party will come up with at state conferences, particularly when it’s a state that’s not my own.
CONNELL: A live debate though. Is it a good time to have it, when the Liberal side’s fighting? You might be having your own stoush soon?
LEIGH: Labor’s always been the party of ideas – that means we’re the party of debates when it comes to our state conferences, Tom. We hold them in public, unlike the Greens, and we have a heavily democratic process, unlike the Liberals. I’m very proud of our state conferences and our national conference and they’ll have these important debates as we’re having here.
CONNELL: Do you have your own opinion on it?
LEIGH: Look, I’ll share my opinions if those issues come up in the conferences in which I’m involved. But Labor’s position on the support for a two state solution is rock solid.
CONNELL: And just your thoughts on one other element. Fairfield Council last week was talking out about pokies. They want a cap on poker machines in their area – I think it was something like $8.2 billion of turnover just in that one council, one of the poorer areas of Sydney. We know this is how poker machines are generally distributed. Do you have some sympathy for their situation, as states control where poker machines are?
LEIGH: I think pokies in Australia has been one of the challenges in a country where we’ve seen a lot of rising inequality. I do a podcast called The Good Life and had Tim Costello on recently, speaking about how he got involved in social justice campaigns through his work of seeing people lose their life savings and their families as a result of pokie addiction. So I think as a nation we can do better on that score.
CONNELL: Is it the sort of thing Labor would be willing to have another attempt at, after the last time in office?
LEIGH: I think when you’re talking about specific measures that councils are pursuing that I should leave that to those individual councillors. It’s enough for me in this instance to note my concern as somebody who’s worried about inequality that I’m worried too about the growth of pokies and what that does to the most vulnerable.
CONNELL: And in your capacity, is that something you’re worried about – you’re a federal MP, what would you like to see happen? What’s possible to see happen, do you think, that you could help happen if Labor did get government?
LEIGH: We need to do a better job of managing pokie addiction, we need to make sure that people don’t get addicted in the first place. That requires a whole suite of measures across the board. Addiction’s never straight-
CONNELL: Some limits? Maximum bets, these sorts of things?
LEIGH: Addiction’s never straightforward, Tom. You’ve got to work from the evidence base up, you’ve got to avoid the ideological battles and you’ve got to make sure you’re hearing the voices of the most vulnerable rather than simply listening to powerful lobby groups.
CONNELL: They are powerful lobby groups, so we’ll see where it all goes. Thank you, Andrew Leigh, for your time today.
LEIGH: Thank you, Tom.