Transcript: Jenny McAllister On Estimates, Digital Transformation Agency, APS, George Brandis And 18c

11.00am | February 28, 2017




SUBJECT/S: Estimates, Digital Transformation Agency, APS, George Brandis, 18c

JENNY MCALLISTER: Welcome to day two of estimates, and I want to make few remarks about what we learned yesterday.  For a start, people will remember the Government’s Digital Transformation Organisation, which was rolled over into a Digital Transformation Agency after the last election. This is one of Malcolm Turnbull’s pet projects, a vanity project perhaps. What we learned yesterday was that despite the rolling series of tech debacles that have beset this Government, this Agency has played almost no role in addressing these problems. They played no role in dealing with the ATO disaster, which saw the site down for number of days. They played no role in responding to the ABS census debacle. And only in late January, after so many problems had been uncovered, did they become involved in the Centrelink robo-debt disaster. This is a damning indictment on Malcolm Turnbull’s pet project. It’s been distracted by conflict and difficulties with its internal personnel. Meanwhile, tech disasters continue to unfold under the government. 

We also learned that the Australian Public Service Commissioner, the Government’s own head of the public service, has no idea why the public service in so many agencies is unable to land an enterprise bargain. However, what he does have is great new idea to improve morale in the public service and that is to run a competition to develop a new slogan. You can’t make this stuff up. The APSC is busy crafting a new slogan for improve morale while thousands of public servants are unable to secure decent pay and conditions after bargaining processes that has stretched on for years.

Finally, however we are no closer to learning what it takes to get fired under this government. Today we will see Senator Brandis once again front a Senate Committee to explain his role in the Bell saga. Yesterday Labor and a range of the crossbench Senators called on Senator Brandis to provide a full and frank account of what has gone on in relation to his personal involvement in the saga. It seems that his account, that he first personally became involved in March, has been contradicted directly by the Western Australia Attorney-General. Senator Brandis has a habit in our parliament, in our chamber of using slippery words, of using obfuscation, of using semantics to make very careful statements about what he knew about this. But that’s not what is required now. What’s required is a honest accounting of what has happened, and we expect Senator Brandis to do no less at 9’oclock this morning.

JOURNALIST:  In the context of the Human Right commission report coming down today, how much appetite is there in Labor Party for a change in the Racial Discrimination Act?

MCALLISTER:  We look forward to the report’s release. We don’t know yet what is in the report, I don’t know what is in the report.  I can say this though; our starting point will be a desire to increase protections against race hate speech. We are not interested in weakened protection against race hate, our goal is to support multicultural communities and maintain Australia as a harmony multicultural society.

JOURNALIST: So does that mean actually toughening the law?

MCALLISTER:  We are interested in the report’s recommendations, and we have to wait and see what is in the report before we make a response.

JOURNALIST: But would you personally advocate for making the law more restrictive in terms of what can be said?

MCALLISTER: My view is that there are many tools for dealing with racial discrimination and race hate. 18C and 18D as they work presently, have provided a very strong framework for dealing with race hate. And also a constructive framework, one that’s based on dialogue between participants, one that’s focused on constructive resolution rather than formal legal processes. I think that’s served us well over the long term. I’m yet to see any compelling argument for that to be changed to weaken those protections.

JOURNALIST: Do you think it’s true that there has been some cases filed under that law that could described as vexatious or time-wasting? I’d draw your attention to the case in a Queensland University with the use of a computer lab that was quite contentious. Do you think it’s true that the commission ought to be given more powers to dismiss cases that it doesn’t think have legs?

MCALLISTER:  I’m interested in what the Commission has to say about this. I think it is within the Commission’s remit to develop and implement processes to properly implement the law. The truth is, over the long term, this law has served us well. It has provided a framework for protection against hateful speech and that framework is something we’re determined to defend. Thank you