Matthew Abraham: David always hits the live button to Facebook as if it’s a ticking bomb on his phone. Nothing can possibly go wrong, in his spare time he has devised the census computer system.

Penny Wong: That’s working as well [indistinct].

David Bevan: I think it’s working.

Matthew Abraham: Yes, yes, yes, the Facebook link that is.

David Bevan: Yeah the Facebook, not the census.

Penny Wong: Not the census.

Matthew Abraham: Well let’s start with you, well here we go, we’ll introduce leader of the NXT team, Senator Nick Xenophon.

Nick Xenophon: Good morning.

Matthew Abraham: Is it the next, next is that what it’s called?

Nick Xenophon: Next is good.

David Bevan: How’s that name coming along?

Nick Xenophon: Yeah we’re working on it, any suggestions, helpful suggestions, Simon?

Penny Wong: Tinfoil?

Nick Xenophon: No, no, no, that’s not helpful. Penny Wong-Christopher Pyne unity ticket here we go.

Penny Wong: No, no I hadn’t actually it was Matt who was reminding me of that…

Matthew Abraham: Tinfoil Liberal.

Penny Wong: I don’t actually know what that means.

Matthew Abraham: Conspiracy theories, you put tinfoil on the hat so aliens can’t get to your brain.

Penny Wong: Ah thank you.


Matthew Abraham: Senator Simon Birmingham Minister for Education, welcome and dear (*) leader, Leader of the Opposition in the Senate, Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs, Senator Penny Wong.


Penny Wong: He does that on purpose, it’s because he actually doesn’t like me.


David Bevan: You walked in and you said that sounds very North Korean.

Matthew Abraham: Yes.

David Bevan: You said you liked it.

Matthew Abraham: Simon Birmingham, you’re off to a cracking start with the census, how can…

Simon Birmingham: It’s all going terribly well.

Matthew Abraham: Given that especially, some would say in a quite high handed way that the Minister responsible and also the ABS have had dismissed concerns about security and we have now one that may make this census almost useless, do you agree?

Simon Birmingham: Well Matthew we’ll hear more from the ABS and the Minister this morning and obviously that will give greater insight into when the online system will be back up and running and of course the other means that people will be able to lodge their census forms. Is this an administrative failure? Absolutely. Is it a big one? Yes. I think we need to acknowledge that.

Matthew Abraham: I love it when you ask a question and answer them as well.

Simon Birmingham: And as a member of the Government I want to apologise to people who were inconvenienced last night who found it difficult to complete the census form or have been unable to. I was unable to complete the census form last night, by the time I got…

Matthew Abraham: Well are you going to apologise to the people like Nick Xenophon like Sarah Hanson-Young and others who asked the ABS to delay this saying they weren’t ready for it?

Simon Birmingham: I think there are two different issues and look I didn’t listen to everything that Nick said but what I heard Nick complaining about was the idea of the storage of some of the information and questions about that and…

Matthew Abraham: About security of the data.

Simon Birmingham: And Matt there is no question being asked this morning that I’m aware of about the security of data that has already been…

Matthew Abraham: Well we don’t know… it’s been hacked four times yesterday.

Simon Birmingham: And all of these security responses came into gear which include ultimately a response that shuts down access to the site.

David Bevan: If they’re telling us the truth.

Matthew Abraham: If the ABS is telling us the truth.

Simon Birmingham: Matthew I don’t think in any way, shape or form the ABS would be seeking to mislead Australians about the status of things. Obviously it’s unacceptable where it’s at.

Matthew Abraham: Well last night at 9.45, they’re still telling people to try keep logging on when at 7.30 they took down their own system so they knew by 7.30 it wasn’t working, they were still telling the poor saps out there in census land, the people trying to do the right thing, that it was still up, keep trying.

Simon Birmingham: Well Matthew, they were encouraging people to come back later and of course they were hoping to get the system back up and running. Now later last night they posted a message indicating they weren’t going to be getting the system up and running last night and for people to hold off and await further news this morning.

David Bevan: If people walk away from the census now they say… look I put a lot of effort into it last night, it didn’t work, that was it, I’ll see you in five years time, will those people be prosecuted?

Simon Birmingham: Well David I hope people don’t do that now obviously people at this stage of the game clearly will not be prosecuted for not completing the census but I hope that this morning we will get clear answers when the ABS has got across the situation, they can give everybody reassurance about the conclusion of this census and we can get it concluded and Australians I hope will still appreciate the importance of the census and its worth to public policymakers around the nation.

David Bevan: Okay so if you couldn’t get through last night, you’re obviously not going to be prosecuted but you’ve still got until what is it, the middle of September to get it in and you are required to get it in and if you don’t you will be prosecuted. Is that the Government’s position?

Simon Birmingham: Well David that is the legal position as it is, the Government’s been clear though all along, all along, that people will be given every chance, every assistance, to lodge their census forms, that it is only those who are actually resisting lodging of the census for reasons known unto themselves but…

Matthew Abraham: That’s you Nick Xenophon: he’s talking about.

Nick Xenophon: Yes it is.

Simon Birmingham: Well and I think that is unhelpful, terribly unhelpful to have had leaders of our nation, of whom Nick is one, arguing against people completing information on the census. Names and addresses have been collected on the census since 1911, it’s not new.

Nick Xenophon: Yeah from 2 April 1911, but this time unlike any other census, that information will be stored for much longer, for four years, and it will also be linked in a way that there are concerns by no less than former Chief Statistician Bill McLennan who raised serious concerns about this expanded role of the census. It’s no longer a snapshot of the country, goes way beyond that and I just think that I have issues with that. I’m not suggesting anyone else follows what I’m doing because it’s a very hefty fine, I’m not looking forward to being prosecuted but I also think there are some questions here in relation to the load testing of the census, I’m just looking at the budget papers, almost half a million dollars was spent testing the system, load testing it, ensuring it would be free of these attacks. In January when I asked the Minister for Finance Matthias Cormann about how many cyber security attacks have there been on government agencies, he refused to answer. I think there are some reasonable questions to ask here.

Matthew Abraham: Senator Penny Wong.

Penny Wong: Well first I think the Government has mishandled this from the start. I think that the relevant minister has not dealt with the concerns which have been raised, the census is very important for governments, it’s very important to ensure that the right services are given to the Australian people, it’s very important for long term planning and you know, you can’t manage what you don’t measure but legitimate and perhaps not legitimate concerns are being raised, it’s the responsibility of government to deal with all of them and I think that the concerning thing has been the way in which the Government has failed to clearly outline to people what they are doing, what the change in data retention meant, what protections have been put in place and to confront some of the concerns that the community have; I’ve had people contacting my office saying I’m really worried about this because they haven’t had that clear explanation.

The second issue is of course the reasons for what happened last night which obviously is you know, a real disaster in terms of the census. I’m looking, we’ll look to Mr McCormack standing up and fronting up and explaining to Australians what’s happened. We need I mean government responsibility is to protect information that’s having been in government that is something that you have to do and he has to explain what occurred last night because I think it’s pretty obvious that it was a failure.

Matthew Abraham: But the census has bipartisan support.

Penny Wong: Yes it does.

Matthew Abraham: Are you stoking the unreasonable fires of concern I order to make a political point?

Penny Wong: No I’m not actually, I thought that was a pretty measured answer, I think that we have been… we have continued to say people should fill out their census form and explain and advocated for that but I think it… as a minister I mean I’ve been in your studio many times and on the phone and you know, you have to respond to concerns that people have about policies even if some of them are not founded in fact, they’re founded in fear but that’s what you do as a minister and I think what I’ve observed over these last days is the Government has failed to do that and their argument seems to have gone you know, from well this is just tinfoil to having a go at people about fines, why didn’t they explain to Australians what was happening and why? And I agree with Matt I think it’s been a very poor start for the Government, we’ve had a royal commissioner, commissioner appointed had to resign within a few days because there wasn’t adequate consultation, we’re seeing Cabinet leaks, and now this, it’s been a pretty incompetent start to the year.

Matthew Abraham: This is the Super Wednesday panel, you’re listening there to Labor Senator Penny Wong; she’s the Leader of the Opposition in the Senate, Liberal Minister Simon Birmingham and Senator Nick Xenophon, leader of the NXT team.

David Bevan: Simon Birmingham, do you agree with Kim Beazley that Donald Trump is a threat to our security?

Simon Birmingham: Kim Beazley is a very respected figure in foreign circles, he’s very knowledgeable and informed and I think obviously he sounds warnings that people would around the world listen to and consider. The Government has been clear all along of course that the decisions for the presidency of the United States is a matter for the American people and obviously we will seek to work with whomever is elected.

Matthew Abraham: But what if they elect a total nutbag?

Simon Birmingham: Well we will have to work as will the world with whomever the American people elect and we will have to trust that the safeguards built into the US Constitution in terms of the operation of the Congress and as distinct from the role of the President all work effectively and of course we will work with whomever the President is in the administration built around that person.

Matthew Abraham: You’re sort of saying really if he is elected president you’ll need the system of American politics to protect Australia’s interest?

Simon Birmingham: Not necessarily Matthew…

Matthew Abraham: It seemed to be what you’re saying.

Simon Birmingham: Well, their system like ours is not built entirely around one individual. Their system has distinct differences from ours but it is not just about who the president is. There are other significant players in the formation of the cabinet and then of course the operation in a very separate way of their congress. We have strong ties with the US that have seen presidents, congressional figures all come and go over the years and I’m confident that will continue in the future.

David Bevan: Penny Wong, Shadow Foreign Affairs Ministers. Do you fear a Donald Trump presidency?

Penny Wong: Well first on Kim’s remarks. I mean Kim’s raised concerns about some of Mr Trump’s foreign policy and international security positions. He’s no orphan there; I mean those have been raised also by members of Mr Trump’s own party.

David Bevan: We know he’s done that. Do you share those concerns, do you fear a Trump presidency?

Penny Wong: What I would say is as I’ve already said, we’re not going to provide a running commentary on Mr Trump or Ms Clinton. That is they are candidates in an election in the United States. We’re not voting in that election. Whatever, I think self-evidently we have particular views on foreign policy, on trade and so forth…

Matthew Abraham: I got the impression Bill Shorten your leader thought he was a moron.

Penny Wong: Hang on, that, you know, I think you’re on the public record when people can judge, you know, what our view on certain issues would be compared to particular views of Mr Trump, but I’m not going to get involved in a running commentary. I know many Australians…

Matthew Abraham: So he’s not a moron?

Penny Wong: Many Australians do have concerns about some of the things Mr Trump has said. I think that’s true.

Matthew Abraham: Okay.

Penny Wong: But whatever- whatever our personal concerns, the US alliance is a very important and key part of our foreign policy architecture and we would work- if we were in government or in opposition we would work with both parties of government and the US to ensure that alliance is strong, robust and reflects Australia’s national interest.

Nick Xenophon: Kim Beazley’s a very wise and measured man respected by all sides of politics and I don’t think he said what he said lightly. The elephant in the room is this. If Donald Trump is elected president of the US and depending on some of the foreign policy initiatives he will carry out that he’s threatened, then I think that may force a re-think of the US/Australian alliance. I hope not.

Matthew Abraham: But isn’t he a fellow traveller with you. (a) he’s a populist, (b) he’s afraid of foreign investment. He doesn’t like trade agreements. Don’t you recognise in Donald Trump a little bit of Nick Xenophon?

Nick Xenophon: That’s really rough. And he’s also- he’s also anti Islam. He wants to build a wall against migration. I’m pro-migration, I’m multiculturalism…

Matthew Abraham: [Over talks] No but I’m just saying a little bit. He’s got a few elements…

Nick Xenophon: Oh you know, he might love dogs and I like dogs, therefore…

Matthew Abraham: No but he doesn’t like free trade, nor do you?

Nick Xenophon: Yeah and it’s quite reckless for you to suggest that his views on international disputes on foreign policy because he has a concern about one issue, because we may share a similar concern about manufacturing jobs in our respected nations, that somehow you lump me in with his ideas that I think are quite reckless and as Kim Beazley said could well endanger world security.

David Bevan: Nick Xenophon do you believe that one in four South Australian children are victims of neglect or abuse?

Nick Xenophon: I don’t think we can ignore the former Justice Nyland’s report. The Royal Commission is something that needs to be urgently addressed and I would have thought the State Parliament could have come back earlier to address those issues. I think that the key here will be how do we deal with the very serious issues raised by Margaret Nyland and deal with them comprehensively.

Matthew Abraham: She hasn’t coined(*) the one in four figure, that’s Jay Weatherill and it’s done to I think impress on people how serious and dysfunctional things are in South Australia. It appears to be drawn from a study that’s been done between 1999 and 2005 and it’s not clear- and we will clarify this, whether it’s one in four children every year or over ten years and what groups that one in four is drawn from. And that’d be disproportional waiting for social economic disadvantage and for the indigenous population for instance. Simon Birmingham, you’re education minister, effectively this is saying one in four children who go to school in South Australia are reporting each year to Families SA for child protection. Do you have any stats on that?

Simon Birmingham: I would be very surprised if that were the case Matt. I don’t know what statistic that the Premier has put out there is. I do know that of course the latest Royal Commission report is part of a decade of inactivity and tragedy across the South Australian child protection system and it comes on top of the Layton review, it comes on top of the Mulligan royal commission, it comes on top of- of course the coronial inquest into Chloe Valentine, and sadly what we see in Commissioner Nyland’s report are a number of areas where she has highlighted inaction in relation to previous reports and findings and recommendations. And I guess that is the ultimate tragedy when a government is told there’s a problem, it’s warned of the problem, is recommended of the actions that should be taken and then still doesn’t do so, that is really when you see appalling misbehaving and mismanagement by the government of the day.

Matthew Abraham: Penny Wong?

Penny Wong: Well, I don’t know what the misbehaviour is. I mean I think that was a very partisan attack Simon and that has continued the partisan attacks that Mr Marshall has engaged in. This report is awful and while the details is awful and child protection is an area where we know that there have been consistent failings not just in South Australia. There’ve been failings in different jurisdictions in Australia and we all have to do better and I think the Premier has been very up front and honest about acknowledging that. It isn’t correct the political point to say that nothing’s been acted on in previous reports. I mean for example previous reports recommended the Children’s Commissioner, I understand that’s been failed to pass the State Parliament because of some partisan different views about what was the best model. I’m not entering in that debate but I’m just saying that…

Matthew Abraham: You wouldn’t accept this level of failure from a Turnbull or an Abbott government.

Penny Wong: I don’t think anybody whatever their political side would accept what we read in the Nyland report. Of course. But the question is what do you do about that and the question is how do you in a system which demonstrably is failing worked to improve it. I don’t think…

Matthew Abraham: Maybe you find new people to run the system, Maybe Jay Weatherill is not the man to do it.

Penny Wong: Well, I don’t agree with that. I mean I think, you know I know Jay and I think he’s demonstrated honesty about the scale of this problem and if Steven Marshall thinks he can wave a magic wand and fix this then he should explain to people how because all I’ve heard from him so far is political attacks. I think the Government does need to do what it’s doing which is to be up front and honest about the scale of the problem and to put the resources in and try to fix these issues.

Matthew Abraham: Thank you Senator Penny Wong, Senator Simon Birmingham, Senator Nick Xenophon. Three senators, three very influential people. We thank you for coming in for Super Wednesday.