2CC CANBERRA DRIVE WITH LEON DELANEY
THURSDAY, 21 SEPTEMBER 2023
LEON DELANEY: There are plenty of older people that really pay no attention to politics at all, and yet they still have the right to vote. So why should it be different for 16 and 17-year-olds, especially when they're entitled to be in the workplace, and would be required to pay taxes, and as Johnathan Davis said to me last week, it's a good old conservative principle, no taxation without representation. Well, why not? I think, you know, if you're going to make the move, I'm quite okay with that.
Now, not everybody will agree, and that's why we have debate about the matter, and I presume the motion today, as far as I know, failed, so the age limit for voting is not going to change here in the ACT. But if it ever did, I think I'm okay with that. I think I'm okay with that. 12 past five, on 2CC, it's Canberra Live.
Our Federal Member for Fenner, Andrew Leigh, what do you think about that?
ASSISTANT MINISTER FOR EMPLOYMENT, CHARITIES, COMPETITION, AND TREASURY ANDREW LEIGH: Leon, we've been concerned about the interaction with compulsory voting. Compulsory voting is one of the touchstones of Australian democracy. That notion that everyone participates in the democracy, that ours is a 100 per cent democracy, not a 50 per cent democracy as you see in other places.
So the challenge with extending the voting age down to 16 and 17‑year‑olds has always been this question of compulsion. Some people say that it should be voluntary, and that risks undermining compulsory voting. Others say it should be compulsory, and that risks seeing a whole slew of 16 and 17‑year‑olds fined for not casting a valid vote.
So this is the thing ‑
DELANEY: Well, Johnathan had an answer to that as well. Anybody who's a first‑time voter would be exempted from being fined; they'd just be given a simple warning.
LEIGH: I've heard that argument from the Greens, and that does undermine compulsory voting. It sets up two different standards, so as a first‑time voter, you're not part of the universal system. Right now, we expect you, when you turn eighteen, to be a full participant in the Australian democracy, and this Greens proposal takes away from that.
DELANEY: Okay. But people who are 16 and 17 might be working, they might be paying taxes. Don't they deserve a say?
LEIGH: They certainly deserve to be engaged. I'd love to hear more from 16 and 17‑year‑olds. I get a slew of correspondence from my grey‑haired constituents, which I love, I'd appreciate getting more engagement from those who are at school. I always make a point of writing back, engaging with young people who want to get in touch.
The question is where you could draw the line for when compulsory voting kicks in, but this two‑tier system that the Greens have, Labor's pretty uncomfortable with that because of our strong support, our passionate support, for the Australian democracy, for everybody being treated the same way, and for universalism to be at the heart of the democracy.
DELANEY: Okay. The reason we're chatting today is because the Government has announced a multi‑agency taskforce to take a look at some of the challenges associated with artificial intelligence.
Now there are some quite significant challenges looming on the horizon. What do you see those challenges as being and what will this taskforce do?
LEIGH: Well, artificial intelligence has huge potential to turbocharge productivity and improve the work of government. It creates the potential, for example, for tailored learning, from someone who might be switching off education, to get just the right sort of lessons at just their level and keep them engaged where they otherwise would have dropped out. It's got the potential to provide health services to people in regional and remote towns who wouldn't otherwise be able to get them.
Anyone who's logged on to ChatGPT will have seen that, while it's not performing at the level of the very best workers in most workplaces, it certainly appears to be able to do the job that the office intern would do, and having a free intern available to help you out really does give you an opportunity to think, for example, ‘how could I use this to check my counter‑arguments’.
It's got potential within government. We're bringing together this multi‑agency team to make sure that we're protecting consumer privacy, that we have no repeat of the Robodebt scandal, as we look to make government more efficient.
DELANEY: Artificial intelligence, I imagine, does promise a great many possibilities and would make an outstanding tool in so many ways. But the real challenge is, what happens if artificial intelligence is given too much autonomy. Does your taskforce look at that?
LEIGH: Yes, absolutely. And that was, of course, that was the problem with the Robodebt system. They took the human out of Human Services and meant that people were getting false letters of demand and causing the huge mental anguish that we saw flowing from that, and the illegality of asking people for money that they didn't really owe the government.
So we need to make sure that there is human oversight in these systems, that any time we're looking at using AI, that all of the principles that underlie it are strongly defended, that we're maintaining the notion of user privacy, which is fundamental to trust in government.
DELANEY: There are the issues associated with AI; there's currently moves overseas to take legal action against ChatGPT, I think it is, or OpenAI, or one of those, in relation to the use of published material for the training of those artificial intelligences, but of course there are authors who own the copyright to those published materials, and they're concerned that these materials have been used without their permission and without any compensation. There's a whole can of worms here, isn't there?
LEIGH: There's a lot of tussling over the training data, Leon. I gave a talk at the McKell Institute in Sydney yesterday about competition and artificial intelligence, and one of the challenges that I talked about there is access to training data.
So Reddit has been increasing the charges for its data, the platform formally known as Twitter has cut off access for its training data. There's a challenge for these AI models to get access to enough updated data, and that training data is one reason that I think we need to watch, to ensure that this doesn't become a monopoly system. Much as internet search had a diversity of providers quarter of a century ago and now essentially just has a monopoly.
DELANEY: Now, the Prime Minister today has also announced an independent inquiry into the Australian Government response to the pandemic. The Opposition has already leapt to their feet and started pointing figures, saying they don't want this to be a witch hunt against the former Morrison Government, and they're concerned that the inquiry won't be looking into the actions of the State Governments, primarily Labor‑led State Governments. They've basically accused the government of running a protection racket for the Labor Premiers. Does this inquiry have sufficient scope, do you think?
LEIGH: Well, Leon, we've had some 20 inquiries looking at different aspects of COVID, and that's why we've decided that this inquiry will be a one‑year inquiry that will draw lessons out of those other inquiries, but will be a more targeted, focused effort.
Back at the time of the pandemic, you had three Liberal Premiers and three Labor Premiers across the States, and so this needn't be turned into a partisan issue, and it's a bit disappointing to see the Opposition just jump to their knee‑jerk ‘no‑alition’ approach to everything.
There is an opportunity to draw learnings out of this. We do have the simple fact that if we go back about two years ago, Australia was running last in the OECD for our vaccine roll‑out, and we need to learn the lessons of that.
DELANEY: Well, I don't think there's any argument that lessons need to be learned. I guess the question is will this inquiry be equipped to learn the right lessons? I don't think there's any doubt that the three experts on the panel are very well‑qualified in their fields. I have no doubt about that. I guess it comes back more to terms of reference and the powers of the inquiry. Why not go to the extent of having a Royal Commission?
LEIGH: Well, a Royal Commission takes a long time, and we've seen that with the Royal Commission into Veterans Suicide, or into Institutional Responses to Child Sex Abuse. They're more complicated affairs. In this case, given the volume of existing inquiries that have taken place, we thought that the best approach was this one‑year targeted inquiry.
And Leon, as you say, we've got outstanding panel members running it, Robyn Kruk, former Head of Departments, including Health in New South Wales, Catherine Bennett, an epidemiologist, Angela Jackson, an economist. And so those three people will do a great job putting together this inquiry, and I'm confident that there will be useful lessons that flow out of it for Australia facing the inevitable next pandemic some time down the track.
DELANEY: What if they come back to you and say, "Look, we need more powers to get to the truth here"?
LEIGH: Oh, we'd cross that bridge when we came to it. But I think right now the work, the way in which it's been set up is right for the circumstances in which we find ourselves. So we had, for example, a report that was done by e61 looking into the pandemic, we've had work headed by Peter Shergold, which has looked at the pandemic response. This won't be the first inquiry that explores the pandemic response. But it is important that the Commonwealth takes this approach, goes back, looks carefully through the lessons in a non‑partisan way, and assesses how we can do better next time.
DELANEY: Andrew, thanks very much for your time today.
LEIGH: Always a pleasure, Leon, thank you.