Transcript: Sky News 25/11/2019

1.20pm | December 20, 2019


SUBJECTS: Foreign interference, political donation, aged care. 


GREG JENNETT, HOST: We are joined in our studio by Labor's Senator Jenny McAllister and the Nationals’ Keith Pitt. Welcome to both of you. Jenny, I might start with you. Foreign interference, as we just observed, has touched both major political parties. In the past, we've examined questions about campaign finance going to a fully public funded model. Is that an answer, do you think, to put a fire wall between the parties and any vulnerability that they might have from donations and other forms of interference?


SENATOR JENNY MCALLISTER, SENATOR FOR NEW SOUTH WALES: I think that the area of political donations is incredibly important. Not just in terms of foreign interference but more generally in terms of the integrity of the electoral system. We've had a very long standing view that disclosure is the answer to this. At present, you can donate more than $13,000 without having to disclose it. Our view is that that threshold is way too high. If you’re donating something in the order of $1,000 it should be in the public domain. People should be able to see who is funding Australia's political parties.


HOST: But if someone's doing something completely subversive as would be suggested by the Ni ne reporting. They're suggesting a million dollars surreptitiously offered to a now deceased would be candidate. That's not going to be captured by that sort of regime, the reporting regime that you are talking about.


MCALLISTER: If we’re talking about cases of illegality that's likely to be a problem under any regime that you establish and what's needed there are strong powers for investigative agencies and intelligence agencies to really get a line of sight on that and to stop it. And that's why the Labor Party was supportive last year of measures to strengthen both the number of offences in relation to foreign interference, but also the investigative powers that allow our intelligence agencies and our investigative agencies to actually gain visibility on these things and stop them.


HOST: Alright, do you think that's working Keith Pitt, when you hear the sort of reports that Nine broadcast last night. The sort of controls that Jenny's just outlined there wouldn't appear to have captured some of the nefarious actors that were touched on by that report?


KEITH PITT MP, FEDERAL MEMBER FOR HINKLER: Well, firstly the allegations made overnight are very disturbing and very concerning and I think that every Australian has a right to be concerned about what has been alleged but they should also be certain that Australia's forces, whether it is ASIO, whether it is other security agencies, are doing everything they can to ensure that that type of foreign interference can't happen. But on the particular matter, the challenge we have at a political level is that it's not one size fits all. If we look at what's happening in Queensland right now under the Labor Premier, Anastasia Palaszczuk. She's just announced a cap on funding for the state election coming up with a start date of 2020. Now what that cap means is that individuals can only put forward a limited amount of money in a term but also it doesn't apply to third parties, i.e. unions. So we've got to ensure that changes if they are made are not just one sided in political operations.


HOST: But just ending in some ways the arms race, the political funding arms race which makes parties desperate and you could extend the argument to say willing to accept donations from people. You know, Sam Dastyari was involved in this clearly in NSW Labor. Is that a point of vulnerability and susceptibility for our democracy? If so, what should happen about it?


PITT: If there was an easy solution, it would have been done already. I think one of the real challenges though, is you can't run campaigns without money. That is just a fundamental and I think we do need to get the balance right. I think in 2013 both major parties were very close to making arrangements which I think would have worked and I think we should probably look to re-establish that type of approach. But in the defence of all political individuals, whether they are Members or Senators, I don't know anyone that goes out there to intentionally do what's being suggested and most of them do act in the interests of the people they represent.


HOST: So, you don't like that cap system as you see it in Queensland, but a cap system in general if it were set appropriately, would you find that acceptable federally?


PITT: Well, I think it’s something to be considered. What I don't find acceptable is there's 26 Unions in Queensland that can donate the cap to a particular seat. Whereas, the opposition political party at the moment, which is the Liberal National Party, is capped to the amount unless they find other third parties that can contribute. So I just think that's wrong. I think that is just political opportunism at its base level.


HOST: You're an active member of parliamentary committees and have been - some of them sensitive - Jenny McAllister, over the years. Are you comfortable with the role played by Andrew Hastie? He happens to head the Intelligence Committee right now and he's front running the prosecution of some of these arguments in last night's report. Is that ok in your view to lead that debate publicly?


MCALLISTER: Andrew, I think, has been clear as far as I can see, to distinguish the occasions when he is speaking on behalf of the committee and when he is speaking as a Member of Parliament. I think it's appropriate that all of us take an interest in this question of foreign interference. It's a very important one. Not just for us but all around the globe. I'm happy with parliamentarians who want to put a view as long as the way that we approach it is thoughtful and constructive.


HOST: Should in retrospect, the Parliament generally, and the members of that committee specifically, have been a bit more discursive, a bit more open about some of their concerns? So if these things don't come as such a shock to the nation as they appear to have done last night?


MCALLISTER: I think if you look back at the successive statements from the Director General of Security, first, Duncan Lewis, and now Mr Burgess, there's been a very consistent warning from the intelligence community about increasing levels of foreign interference and Mr Lewis gave a speech last week where he talked about the specific challenges presented by China. All of that suggests a need for everyone involved in the political system to take this seriously and to arm themselves with the necessary information to participate properly in the debate. We've called for briefings for all Parliamentarians, from DFAT, from the agencies - to them to shape the form of those briefings…


HOST: …but it hasn't actually been agreed to has it?


MCALLISTER: It has not been agreed to and the question is why not? Because the starting point for any sensible discussion is a well briefed parliament and I don't think we could say that's where we are now.


HOST: Yep. Well the head of DFAT has certainly acknowledged that these sort of tensions with Beijing are likely to dominate for many years to come. We're just going to have to manage them. Keith Pitt, let's go to aged care. It's only very recently been unveiled by the Prime Minister and his ministerial team a response to the Interim Reports of the Royal Commission. So it's worth 500+ million dollars, but is that the end of the story? The Royal Commission reports about this time next year, what do you think we're looking at when we get to that point?


PITT: Well, at the moment, I think this is the interim response. An additional 10,000 package is as my understanding, some $537 million of additional funding into aged care support, but obviously we will have to wait for the Royal Commission to hand down its recommendations to see what other actions have to be taken. And this is just such an important part of what we do as a government. We need to ensure that our seniors are treated with the dignity and respect that they deserve. They are the individuals who have built our nation. We are simply the caretakers of it right now.


HOST: So Jenny, interim - is that the key word here? I mean, is anyone pretending that this will be enough particularly by the time we jump forward to final report November next year?


MCALLISTER: This is a really disappointing response. We know there are 120,000 Australians, that's the Government's own figures, waiting for an aged care package at the level that they've been assessed and approved for and the Government today has announced funding for 10,000 spots…


HOST: …but many of them accumulated over years, right? Successive governments, I would suggest, they didn't just materialise recently?


MCALLISTER: The Government's been provided very clear advice in the interim report about the scale of the problem and they've chosen today to release a package that addresses a fraction of the main problem. Not good enough.


HOST: Alright, well look I know both of you have to get to respective Question Times in your chambers, so Jenny McAllister and Keith Pitt, we'll thank you and say farewell.