Subject: Defence industry in South Australia, Northern Territory juvenile justice system, 

MATTHEW ABRAHAM: Welcome to the studio. We welcome Kate Ellis, Shadow Minister for Vocational and Early Childhood Education, and the Member for Adelaide, re-elected. Welcome, Kate Ellis.

KATE ELLIS: Good morning, great to be with you.

MATTHEW ABRAHAM: Narrowly re-elected Nick Xenophon, Independent Senator for South Australia.

DAVID BEVAN: Just got over the line, didn’t he?

MATTHEW ABRAHAM: It was a close-run thing. Apparently your vote was down.

NICK XENOPHON: Yeah, it was. it was. I need to work harder and work better next time.

MATTHEW ABRAHAM: Have you been beating yourself up about that?

NICK XENOPHON: I have actually, I have.

DAVID BEVAN: Three Senators and one Lower House MP, and you’re beating yourself up over that.

NICK XENOPHON: Yep, that’s me.

DAVID BEVAN: Need to work harder.

MATTHEW ABRAHAM: Do you think it was down because they spent a lot of money trying to make sure it was down this time?


NICK XENOPHON: Probably. A lot of money.

MATTHEW ABRAHAM: You’d hope that advertising does pay dividends. Nick Xenophon, welcome to the studio. Simon Birmingham on the blower, on the phone. Education Minister Simon Birmingham, welcome.

SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Good morning everybody.

MATTHEW ABRAHAM: And- well, welcome to you, Simon Birmingham. Also successfully re-elected, Senator Simon Birmingham. You’re on 891 ABC Adelaide Breakfast.

DAVID BEVAN: There’s lots to talk to you about. There’s these horrendous images that have been brought to our screens via the Four Corners piece on Monday night, and by the way you can go back and look at that on iview if you want to. This is the treatment of children in Northern Territory Detention Centres. We’ve got the issue of elderly abuse here in South Australia, what can we do about that.

Before we do anything else, though, interesting story on the front page of the Fin Review yesterday about the Productivity Commission and the submarines. And it was saying, I’m paraphrasing here, but the gist of it was look, this is reversing something like 30 years of policy that we’ve adopted in this country. And that is, there should be good, hard, economic reasons for doing these things, and this is basically corporate welfare and it’s going to add a 30 per cent dividend to the cost of a submarine. Nick Xenophon, perhaps more than anyone else, you were responsible in running a hard campaign. How do you respond to the Productivity Commission? Where would you like to tell them to shove it?

NICK XENOPHON: Well, I’m not going to be inelegant like that, but what I’ll say is this: there are a number of strategic reasons why we need to build our submarines. During the Falklands War in the 1980s, the Oberon-class submarines that the Australian Navy was using could not get spare parts because the capacity- we didn’t have a sovereign, a local capacity, to make submarines and spare parts, because … And even though that was a relatively short conflict, in the scheme of things, we couldn’t service our submarines.

But will we be manufacturing the bits here in South Australia, or Australia, or will we be getting them in a box from somewhere else, from France, anyway?

NICK XENOPHON: Well the idea is that we manufacture as much as possible, and the benchmark for the Collins-class submarines was 70 per cent. But there are other issues here. This is about advanced manufacturing, it’s about the flow on effects and the multiplier effect involved in building something locally, the jobs that it creates and also the whole supply chain, and also jobs in the local community. If someone is earning a decent income building submarines they’re going to spend money in their local supermarket, their local hairdresser, butcher shop, all those sort of things. Look, but that doesn’t mean that we don’t build the submarines as efficiently as possible to maximise benefit for tax payers. And that’s something we need to be vigilant of.

MATTHEW ABRAHAM: Well, Kate Ellis, Labor MP, the Shadow Minister for Vocational and Early Childhood Education, the clear signal here is that this is pork barrelling to buy votes.

KATE ELLIS: Well, I don’t support that at all. I think that the Productivity Commission should be hesitant to take too narrow approach to the way they weigh up the costs and benefits of this. We know that the economic benefits are more widespread. We know that the Budget impact means that if we can reduce unemployment, if we can reduce our welfare bill, if we can have flow on effects in job creation, then that saves money elsewhere across Government. But also the social impacts of making sure that we have a vibrant local economy and the Defence impacts of knowing that we have Australian control of Australian Defence is incredibly important.

The submarine project hasn’t given us a vibrant local economy, frankly, has it? And we’ve had it for a long time.

KATE ELLIS: Well, we know that it plays an important role. And we know that this project will play a key role in South Australia for not just years, but for decades to come. And I for one will continue to be standing up and supporting this project and demanding that we have as many local South Australian jobs and a South Australian build as is possible in this project.

DAVID BEVAN: Simon Birmingham, as the Liberal on our panel, this debate would have been red hot within your own party. It’s a debate that’s- it’s a national debate but if ever it’s going to get hot it would be within your own party. Is it fair to say that the tide has turned on 30 years of policy direction?

SIMON BIRMINGHAM: No, I wouldn’t agree with that summation of it David, I think the Productivity Commission is drawing a bit of a long bow to equate a significant government national security and defence procurement decision like submarines with debates around free trade, tariffs and quotas and their application in the Australian economy. They are two different policy areas and different matters of consideration, matters of having higher tariffs or quotas in place, trade restrictions result in consumers, Australian businesses and individuals paying more for goods and services, they restrict the opportunity for our farmers and exporters to get into other trade markets …

[Talks over] Well, but they …

SIMON BIRMINGHAM: They are real barriers …

MATTHEW ABRAHAM: … the Productivity Commission …

SIMON BIRMINGHAM: … the Government [indistinct] …

MATTHEW ABRAHAM: … though, aren’t they arguing that we effectively have tariffed by stealth? They are- according to the Fin Review, Australian taxpayers and importers effectively shelled out $15 billion in total industry assistant to help manufacturers cope with global competition in 2014/15.

SIMON BIRMINGHAM: So, we do still have some very small levels of tariff [indistinct] a number of areas, quite small I would say and they have of course continued to come down with some different trade deals that government has struck to give better access for our exporters into other markets. But in terms of this procurement decision, this decision to build submarines in Australia, to spend Australian taxpayers money on ensuring we have the capability in our defence industry here to build our defence assets, to sustain those defence assets and all of the additional spinoffs that come from that, I think that is a very sound decision.

Christopher Pyne was very right in his comments in that Financial Review story that frankly …

MATTHEW ABRAHAM: Well, he would be because he’s back in politics because of a campaign that shamelessly …

SIMON BIRMINGHAM: … [indistinct] …

MATTHEW ABRAHAM: … the- every second poster in his electorate had Chris Pyne with a fleet of submarines that haven’t even been designed yet steaming along.

SIMON BIRMINGHAM: And what a fabulous job he did there but the point he was making there was that- in terms of his comment on the Productivity Commission story, is frankly they don’t have the facts that were at the National Security Committee of Cabinet’s disposal in terms of making that decision. The Productivity Commission don’t know what the cost differential was between the bids because the cost differences and cost between the bids remains in confidence, they don’t know what the other [indistinct] were.

DAVID BEVAN: [Talks over] But if you don’t think the argument has turned, ask Jamie Briggs. Who got elected, Pyne did, Jamie Briggs didn’t and there’s a lesson to be learnt there, isn’t there? I mean, he was a hard economics guy- and that’s not a criticism, he actually believes it and it’s sincere and he thinks it’s good policy because it creates good sustainable jobs. That’s the message.

SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Jamie campaigned hard inside the Government for the submarines to be built in South Australia as well.

MATTHEW ABRAHAM: Think he was a late convert, wasn’t he?

SIMON BIRMINGHAM: No, I don’t think so on that issue.


DAVID BEVAN: Okay, alright.

SIMON BIRMINGHAM: I mean, Jamie absolutely- as we all do, defends the merit of ensuring that Australian businesses …

MATTHEW ABRAHAM: Anyway, alright …

SIMON BIRMINGHAM: … can act as export markets and that pursue aggressively those types of trade arrangements that help our businesses. But that’s different from a government procurement decision.

MATTHEW ABRAHAM: The, if we can move on to- it’s almost difficult to look at this photo of this …

DAVID BEVAN: It’s appalling.

MATTHEW ABRAHAM: … child- young man, Dylan, in- with this- I think they’re bags to stop them spitting over his head, that’s what they call them, isn’t it, spit bags and restrained in a chair …

DAVID BEVAN: Looks like something out of Abu Ghraib, doesn’t it?

MATTHEW ABRAHAM: It does. Is this, though, the harsh reality of controlling uncontrollable youth in detention centre?


NICK XENOPHON: No, unambiguously no. I mean, there must be a better way of dealing with this and for starters make sure that there is- proper education facilities for those kids, get to the root cause of it. You know, bad behaviour obviously must be dealt with but not in this way, not in this way.

DAVID BEVAN: Could you bel- could either of you and I’ll ask Simon Birmingham in a moment, could you believe what you were seeing?

KATE ELLIS: No, I’m still totally sickened by those images, by those images and the thought that we would, in Australia, treat anyone like that, let alone the fact that this is children we’re talking about. These are Australian children and, overwhelmingly, they are Indigenous Australian children from some of the most disadvantaged parts of the country and communities and there are no excuses. There is no justification.

DAVID BEVAN: And that there would be people in authority who must have known what was going on, there’s a chain of command in any department. This is Correctional Services or Child Detention up in the Northern Territory and nobody said this has got to stop.

NICK XENOPHON: And I think the Prime Minister made the right call to- not to prevaricate, just to say let’s get on with it, let’s have a royal commission. I understand that the Shadow Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus has been consulted on those terms so hopefully this is something that will be bipartisan, non-partisan and let’s get on with it and find out what happened.

MATTHEW ABRAHAM: Simon Birmingham, there are calls to extend this now that this- that it’s almost inconceivable to believe this just happens in one place with some bad eggs.

SIMON BIRMINGHAM: The Attorney-General made clear on 7.30 last night that he would expect the terms of reference to cover the Northern Territory juvenile justice system, that it’s not just about this one centre. Now, it’s important equally that we don’t create a terms of reference that ends up seeing a royal commission that drags on for a prolonged period of time, that doesn’t get to that nub of the problem as quickly as possible. But we all hope to see frankly that there should be criminal prosecutions out of this, there should be people whose reputations are destroyed out of this because of the way in which abhorrent practices have been allowed to occur and apparently have been completely overlooked in terms of the way in which the- in terms of the way in which authorities have responded to evidence and reports that were already available to them and yet they continued to just simply seemingly ignore that evidence.

MATTHEW ABRAHAM: The Minister who’s lost his portfolio still retains portfolios, is that correct?

SIMON BIRMINGHAM: The Territory Minister, yes I gather so?

MATTHEW ABRAHAM: Is that appropriate? I mean, if you can’t run this, if you can let something like this go on under your watch, would you be disqualified from being a minister at all?

SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well, frankly, I probably would have thought so but, you know, they are of course matters of the Northern Territory Government.

NICK XENOPHON: He’s still the Territory’s Attorney-General.

KATE ELLIS: Well- and I believe he’s the Minister for Children and Families and maybe even Disability Services. It is completely unthinkable and the Territory Government and their handling of this has been shameful. I certainly hope that through this royal commission, we don’t just have a look at this one centre but we have a look at the systemic issues which have allowed this to happen and we actually come up with some concrete solutions because the last thing that these children or any children in the future need is another inquiry which sits on the shelf and gathers dust.

DAVID BEVAN: Are both Labor and the Conservatives up in the Territory treading carefully on this one because this has been going on for some time, does it go beyond one party in office? It goes back- both lots have been running the sow while this sort of thing’s going on.

KATE ELLIS: I think the honest answer to that is we don’t know yet. We need to have a look at what’s happened here but I did see the Territory Labor Leader Michael Gunner yesterday said, we will accept responsibility if we haven’t been standing up and advocating strongly enough to get to the bottom of this and I think what’s really important is that we see that ultimately this has to be about change and it has to be about responsibility and not about finger pointing.

MATTHEW ABRAHAM: Yes, it’s John Elferink, is that correct, former NT Corrections Minister retains his other portfolios including health, children and families and mental health.

DAVID BEVAN: Moving on to another issue, the elderly care and again this time on ABC TV 7.30 program, we saw an elderly man in advanced stage of dementia being treated appalling by his carer, so much so that this man’s daughter suspected something was going on and plants a secret camera in there and records it. She has then- she was obviously very brave because the- her legal status when she was doing this wasn’t clear and she’s asked for some clarification. What needs to be done? What is the appropriate response from our political masters? Kate Ellis?

KATE ELLIS: Well, first of all, I’d also like to talk about the courage of that daughter. I can only imagine what it’s like to have a frail, elderly parent who obviously you love and would do anything for, to feel that there’s something not right, to raise the issue with authorities, to not get action. Her courage in keep- in persisting and putting in those cameras means that we need to make sure that we look at this more broadly and ensure that it can’t happen. 

In terms of what is the easy answer, I think it’s got to be multifaceted. There’s a lot of talk about surveillance and whether more cameras would play in a role in that, and that’s something that should be considered, but we also need to look at the fact that we need to make sure we have a workforce strategy. We have an ageing population. We will have more and more people in care in the future, and we need to make sure that we’re getting the right people in the right jobs. We need to make sure we’ve got checks and balances, and we need to make sure there are processes so that when people raise concerns, they’re not just ignored or forced to take action all on their own.

MATTHEW ABRAHAM: Nick Xenophon. We’ll go to Simon Birmingham in a moment.

Very quickly, I met with Adair Donaldson, the lawyer for the family, yesterday in Sydney. We spoke to the media about it. It’s- I’ve known Adair for some time through his work on Defence abuse. I want there to be a Senate inquiry into this, but I’m also concerned about the cuts that have been announced by the Government that appear to have bipartisan support to complex here- complex healthcare cases in the aged care sector. But there’s people like Reverend Peter Sandeman from Anglicare are saying this is not sustainable, so we need to look at that, whether it’s going to make matters worse. 

But there’s also a broader issue in terms of both the corrections issue and this issue. We need to protect whistleblowers in this country in a way that is comprehensive, because if a whistleblower comes forward, they often lose their job, they destroy their careers. We need to revisit that, and I’ll be putting up some legislation that I think will be- will provide a lot more protection for whistleblowers in this country. 

DAVID BEVAN: Finally, Senator Simon Birmingham.

SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well there obviously are issues that- as you addressed with John Rau on the program earlier this morning need to be addressed in terms of the protections for individuals if they want to have surveillance in their rooms, that we need to make sure that that is balanced against the right to privacy that individuals of course have. And they are matters that I would expect will be discussed between Aged Care Ministers and Attorneys-General where required. I’ve been in touch already with the office of our Federal Aged Care Minister and sought to get a clearer understanding myself of the differences in legislative responsibilities as to of course our roles federally in terms of some of the complaints handling procedures during the state responsibility for regulation of those types of surveillance devices. Clearly we need some changes to give better opportunities and protections to individuals in those abhorrent circumstances.


MATTHEW ABRAHAM: Simon Birmingham, thank you. Senator and Liberal Education Minister from South Australia. Nick Xenophon, Independent Senator for South Australia, thank you, and Kate Ellis, thank you, Shadow Minister for Vocational and Early Childhood Education. Your boy has spray painted the- no, he hasn’t, it’s all sort of- done finger painting out there. Kate Ellis, thank you for coming in.

DAVID BEVAN: [Talks over] Art. It’s art.

MATTHEW ABRAHAM: [Laughs] That’s right, it’s art.

KATE ELLIS: And can I just also quickly thank the people of Adelaide? This is my first return to the program since the election, and I’m very grateful for the continued support.

MATTHEW ABRAHAM: Kate Ellis, thank you for coming in.