23 November 2015
Transcript - #2015055, 2015

Interview with Ray Hadley, 2GB

SUBJECTS: National Security; the Treasurer’s decision to prevent sale of S. Kidman & Co. Limited; foreign investment; TransGrid.

RAY HADLEY:

The Treasurer, Scott Morrison, joins me, as you know, every Monday. He is in our Canberra studio at the start of the final fortnight of Parliament for the year. Treasurer, good morning.

TREASURER:

G'day Ray.

HADLEY:

Do you think, in general terms, I read at the top of the show, you may not have heard it, a statement made by the now Prime Minister when he was Communications Minister back in July that national security, we shouldn't be over the top about it in relation to IS, warning against turning the counter terrorism debate into a caricature. Do you think the rules may have changed for Mr Turnbull and everyone else as of what happened in Paris?

TREASURER:

Well, I think the Prime Minister has always had a very honest and very direct view about the risk that is presented and has supported every decision that the Government has taken before he was Prime Minister and now as Prime Minister continues that approach. What happened in Paris was despicable and in the other parts of the world as well, in other places. What is important is how the Government actually responds to that and what you need in response to these incidents is, I think, a very deliberate, a very sober approach, which is very measured in ensuring that we are doing the things that need to be done. What you don't want in these situations is hot headed responses, what you want is a very deliberate and very calm, but very direct response and that is what we are doing, that is why we have invested so much in our intelligence agencies which is frankly our most important protection against those sorts of things happening here in this country. What happened in Paris was just horrendous but I wouldn't describe it as sophisticated. What I would describe it as is coordinated but I wouldn't describe it as sophisticated and that is certainly the advice we have.

HADLEY:

But highly successful given 130 people perished.

TREASURER:

True, the sorts of firearms that were used in those attacks were ones that were readily available and Australia obviously has a very different situation. This is why, Ray, it is so important that we have the best of all possible networks of advice and intelligence which is what is happening in Australia. The primary reason for us doing everything we are doing is to keep Australians safe and the measure we will put over every decision, every decision, whether it is in the Middle East or here at home is what is going to make Australians most safe and I know that is foremost in the Prime Minister's mind.

HADLEY:

The bottom line is, according to this poll in The Australian today from Newspoll, Australians don't feel safe and that is my experience, not just domestically. I spoke with friends over the course of the weekend who planned travel internationally over Christmas and into the new year particularly some members of the family are saying, “I don't want to go, I want to stay home”. Then there are 76 per cent of Australians polled they think a large scale terror attack will occur here as well. So, people are genuinely scared.

TREASURER:

I understand that.

HADLEY:

Domestically and internationally.

TREASURER:

That's why our terror level warning is where it is and I think that accords to where the public mood is. Equally, I know, that Australians don't want to be intimidated out of living their lives every day. They don't want to be intimidated about enjoying their time with family particularly in the month ahead as we go into Christmas. I think Australians will want to get out and about in their lives. They will want to be assured that the Government is doing everything we possibly can - and we are - to ensure that Australians are protected, particularly here at home but elsewhere and that is what is focussing our attention and we are very deliberate about it. What you won't get from us is a hot headed response; what you will get from us is a calm but very deliberate, and very strong response which protects Australians interests and protects Australians.

HADLEY:

In relation to this and where we find ourselves, it is particularly troubling but one of the things I spoke about at the top of the show and I would like a comment from you, we had these rallies yesterday, Reclaim Australia, and some of the people associated with that - I am not suggesting all of them - are just lunatics, absolute lunatics. Then we had the arrest of people, pro-Muslim, clashing with the Reclaim Australia. But I don't understand anyone who purports to Reclaim Australia who needs to cover their face with a bandanna like they are about to rob a bank. I would appeal to those people representing Reclaim Australia - show us who you are. Why are you embarrassed?

TREASURER:

Look, what Daesh wants, what the Terrorists want, is to create conflict and disruption in countries like Australia. What they want to do is they want to set Australians against each other…

HADLEY:

Well, it is working.

TREASURER:

That is their objective.

HADLEY:

It happened yesterday.

TREASURER:

What is important is that all Australians who are part of this debate, all Australians who take a public role in these issues, need to be very careful that they are not playing into the hands of those who want to drive Australians apart for their own interests. I have noticed over many years in public life there are extreme positions at both ends, by definition, and the extremists love conflict, they love the hatred, they love the fight but most Australians don't want that. I would say that I think the best approach is to remember the core values of our country which actually brings people together, it doesn't indulge in hatred - it does indulge though in giving people a fair go and ensuring that people will also respect the values that this country has. That is important but we cannot allow Daesh to actually spark conflict amongst Australians over these issues. I don't believe they are. Since we commenced our military involvement in the Middle East our objective was to disrupt and degrade and I think we have done a very good job together obviously as part of a coalition, which is very important, to push them back. They were on the advance and they have been pushed back. We need to be very careful I think not to inflate Daesh's position. They are a group that is in retreat and they are in retreat, or at the very least stalemate, their advance was halted by the intervention that we have taken.

HADLEY:

But hang-on, what about all the people who have got into Europe and at least one or two of them we know in other parts. I think Sweden arrested someone who had got to their country via Greece and one of the people who has been taken out in Paris got there via another means with papers which suggested they were from somewhere that they weren't.

TREASURER:

Well, I was talking about Iraq, Ray. I was talking about military operations in Iraq.

HADLEY:

Yeah, I know, but forget about that because there are a whole heap of people wo have accessed Europe now, you know, hundreds and hundreds of thousands of them and we don't know who has infiltrated Europe who are members of this cult.

TREASURER:

And that is a big challenge for Europe and that is why as a Government we have always been so strong on border protection - very strong on border protection. The actions that we have taken over the last few years and continue to this day, whether it is how we're bringing additional refugees through a proper process to this country or how we are managing our migration programme on a daily basis, the counter terrorism unit officers that we have at our airports and around the country - all of this was the response of this Government to ensure that those issues are things that have been, I think, fully addressed by this Government and remain in as strong a force as they have ever been. We are in a position here, I think, to do many things that we have done that have made Australians more safe than other parts of the world. We are not naïve to the risks, Ray. No Australian is. Of course we wouldn't be.

HADLEY:

Now, to another matter, you came on Alan Jones' programme last week to announce that you had stopped the sale of S. Kidman & Co. to Chinese government-owned operators. Then Andrew Robb the next day…

TREASURER:

Well, just hang on one tick. I made no mention of any of the bidders and to assume that the bidders were only from one country would be false. So, this was a decision that was made across the transaction as a whole. It was not…

HADLEY:

So, it can't be sold to anyone outside of this country? Is that what you are saying?

TREASURER:

Well, there were applications regarding a foreign transaction and it wasn't just from one country. So, there were many bidders in that process.

HADLEY:

What did we have Russians, or Americans, or French?

TREASURER:

I haven't gone into what they are because they have withdrawn so that is a matter of their own business but the point is that the transaction wasn't proceeding in that form and I made that pretty clear.

HADLEY:

So, it can be sold to Australians just not, what about non-Australian interests?

TREASURER:

Well, it depends on what the vendors now want to do. It was a very large tract of land and a significant proportion of it was adjacent to the Woomera Prohibited Area, which raised some pretty serious issues. So, that transaction was rejected.

HADLEY:

Ok, now to my next point. Andrew Robb was in Fairfax the next day and simply said, I'm not happy about this - calling it a political decision. Where do you sit with the Trade Minister in relation to this?

TREASURER:

Absolutely fine because you will be very surprised to learn that in that same article they didn't report his comments which he said in that discussion he had; that the Treasurer had got the balance right in the decision. So, shock horror, they went for one part of what he said and not the rest of it.

HADLEY:

So, what? He congratulated you?

TREASURER:

Andrew was fine with the decision and supports the decision. That is frankly just a beat up.

HADLEY:

Ok, now the Foreign Investment Review Board has approved a Chinese bid to buy the New South Wales electricity company TransGrid. Now, this decision to sell to the Chinese Government now comes down to the New South Wales Treasurer Gladys Berejiklian. Will she be referring to you in any way, shape or form given your decision on S. Kidman & Co?

TREASURER:

We've put all the parameters out in relation to the various bidders on TransGrid and so we are now in a position for the state government to go make their decision on each of those bidders. There is a very, very extensive set of conditions and requirements that have been put on all of the bidders in terms of independence of directors, and quorums and all of these sorts of things to ensure the appropriate protections are in place for the national interest. That has been a very long and exhaustive process and so that process has come to a completion and it is now for the state government to decide on which bidder they want to proceed with. There has been a thorough and exhaustive process on that and I am pleased with it.

HADLEY:

Ok, just one final thing back to the Syrian refugees, you would be well aware of what the American Congress are doing and the right to veto of the American President. Although, I noted on Saturday when I was on air if two-thirds of congress come back and veto his veto they can do it. Many states in the United States of America said look we are not taking any Syrian refugees at the moment until we find out what is happening. People have expressed concern, and I mentioned this to Peter Dutton on Thursday, that the first people to arrive in Australia are Syrian Muslims - one family - as opposed to the impression we got. I mean no one is prepared to say, look, it's Syrian Christians, it's all this political correctness gone mad, oh, they are oppressed groups from Syria and there may be Jewish people among them, there may be Christians, there may be others. I mean there seems to be community surprise - not outrage - but the first of the 12,000 arrived in Perth last week and they were Muslims.

TREASURER:

Well, none of the settings have changed, Ray. When this decision was made when Tony Abbott was Prime Minister there were some very clear commitments made about focussing on persecuted minorities and nothing has changed. We are following exactly the same set of conditions and parameters that were set out when Tony Abbott was the Prime Minister. That is being followed now, as it should, and that always focussed on the persecuted minorities on which the vast majority are Christians, as I said last week. You don't have a discriminatory approach to your intake but that doesn't mean you have an equal outcome on the intake either. It so happens that those minorities in that area, the ones who can never go back for generations, let alone in a few years' time happen to be Christians as well as a few other persecuted minority groups. Now, it is therefore completely unsurprising that that is what our intake, the ultimate outtake of who comes, would be predominantly in those areas. So, that is not to discriminate against any one religious group. It is just dealing with the practical situation of what is happening in that region and where, as a government, we have decided to focus on our intake. Now, I make this point also about security issues. These would be arguable the most pre-cleared group of people to come to Australia. Across the rest of the hundreds of thousands, indeed millions, of people who come to Australia every year, these would have to be, arguably, the most screened group of people you could think of.

HADLEY:

But shouldn't that be the norm?

TREASURER:

Well, you have got people who will get an electronic travel authority to travel here out of the UK, Ray, this afternoon.

HADLEY:

Yes.

TREASURER:

And they will.

HADLEY:

But they are not coming here to live - are they?

TREASURER:

Well, it all depends. They may come out first on a tourist visa…

HADLEY:

And they stay here illegally or something like that?

TREASURER:

No, no, they can be here, they can make subsequent applications once they are here but people who are coming out on permanent residency, well, yeah, they go through a clearing process…

HADLEY:

But you are saying that these people go through even more hoops and hurdles?

TREASURER:

They do.

HADLEY:

What I am saying to you, shouldn't that be the normal? Shouldn't we be saying anyone we are inviting to participate in our way of life should be going through very stringent checks and balances?

TREASURER:

Well, they do, Ray, but you target your resources to the groups which are highest risk.

HADLEY:

But the bar shouldn't be raised just for these 12,000 people. That should be the bar set all the time.

TREASURER:

You manage your resources based on your risk and that is one of the smart things that any government does and you target where most of your assessment resources go to the groups where you need to pay the most attention. Now, these groups will obviously have a very high level of review attached to it, as you would expect, and there is nothing new about that. That is what we do. That is why we have the confidence that we do have. I think in this debate around these issues, I mean I know people, and I feel, we all feel very strongly about all of this and we are just enraged at what we have seen around the world but we need to respond in a way which is smart, which is not just trying to vent our anger about these things but do things that actually make a difference and make us safer. That is what the Government is focussed on. We are a very calm government that will do things the right way to ensure that Australians end up safer. Rather than getting all whipped up about this, what we need to do is be very calm and do the things that we know will make Australians safer.

HADLEY:

Well, let's hope we are not too calm. I appreciate your time.

TREASURER:

Thanks a lot, Ray.