Interview on ABC Radio Adelaide Breakfast with David Bevan and Ali Clarke  
By-elections; My Health Record; the ABC; Strathmore Pool




David Bevan:                In our studio are Amanda Rishworth, Labor MP for Kingston – which is in Adelaide’s southern suburbs. She joins us now. Good morning.        


Amanda Rishworth:     Good morning.


David Bevan:                Cory Bernardi, leader of the Australian Conservatives. Good morning to you.


Cory Bernardi:             Good morning, David.


David Bevan:                And on the phone line because I think he’s campaigning – is it Longman, today, in Queensland, Simon Birmingham, Liberal senator and federal Minister for Education?


Simon Birmingham:     I may have been in Longman the last couple of days but just back in Adelaide, David. Good morning everybody.


David Bevan:                You’ve just got back. You could have made it into our studio; you know you’re always welcome.


Simon Birmingham:     Well, I haven’t made it out of the airport yet, so literally just back into Adelaide.


David Bevan:                And we like the sound of your phone today…


Ali Clarke:                    Yes.


David Bevan:                You’ve obviously paid your bill, excellent. Okay. You’ve been up campaigning in Longman. Back here in Adelaide, we have the Mayo by-election, just how dirty has this election campaign got, Simon Birmingham? We see in The Australian today, the family life of Rebekha Sharkie has been dragged into this campaign; she’s obviously had a strained relationship with her former husband. We’ve spoken to Rebekha Sharkie about this, this morning; she really just doesn’t want to go into the detail. I think she’s pretty upset that it’s appeared in The Aus. This sort of stuff, should it be in a federal by-election campaign?


Simon Birmingham:     Well, it’s not part of the Liberal Party’s campaign, that’s for sure, David. All we have done during the campaign is highlight very clearly that Rebekha Sharkie has voted 58 per cent of the time or 176 occasions with Bill Shorten and the Labor Party. That she’s done so against small business tax relief, hundreds of small businesses across Mayo; that she’s done so against, stronger border protection measures; that she’s done so against…


David Bevan:                But- yeah, okay. But we’re asking you about just personal stuff here. And you’re saying that the Liberal Party had nothing to do with this getting out into the media?


Simon Birmingham:     First I knew of it was when I read the newspaper this morning. This is not part of the Liberal Party campaign; it was not featured in Liberal Party campaign material. It seems to be a story largely based on quotes from Rebekha Sharkie, herself, I would note…


Ali Clarke:                    Well, Simon Birmingham, you’re not actually in the studio but anybody watching this on Facebook Live – the radio with pictures – would have seen Cory Bernardi reacting to this. Cory?


Cory Bernardi:             Well, I just think it’s very unedifying for politics. And the reason is, we want people with life experience and some things in life go well and some things don’t. And this sort of smear, it just puts people off from going into politics. And Rebekha Sharkie, whether you like what she does or how she votes or not, brings a mix of experience which is outside of the – what do I say? – the typical career path, where you go to university, you get a job in a political staffers’ office; you stack branches and on you move. It’s just- I just don’t think it helps politics at all.


Ali Clarke:                    Amanda?


Amanda Rishworth:     Well, I guess, I’m- one of the rare occasions I agree with Cory. But I do think things going back 10-years that have nothing to do with someone’s sort of role as a politician, is probably stretching it a bit. But I do think there is – with this story appearing – a hint of desperation in the Mayo by-election for the Liberal Party. I think Malcolm Turnbull, despite the fact that there hasn’t been as big a focus on Mayo, is under enormous pressure with his performance in Mayo. We’re looking at the Liberal Party being rejected in a seat which they’ve had for many, many years. In fact, I read it was 34 years.


Cory Bernardi:             But having said that – may I just say this? – Simon is absolutely right to highlight Rebekha Sharkie’s voting record. That is entirely within the bounds of what is going on. That’s her conduct as a public official. But what’s gone before that, in this circumstance I just think is not necessarily..


David Bevan:                Okay. We won’t dwell on this much more. But just to explain it to our listeners who might not have seen The Australian, Rebekha Sharkie separated from her husband about 10-years ago, apparently- well, the allegation is that during the 2016 election, the former husband offered to give some material to the Liberals, and the Australian Federal Police were called in. That’s the gist of the article here…


Simon Birmingham:     And I think in fairness, David, it’s important to highlight Rebekha is quoted extensively through that article and it appears to have been put together basically because a journalist has contacted her about the allegations, not any suggestion that the Liberal Party has had anything to do with it.


David Bevan:                Okay. And as far as you’re concerned, the Liberal Party…


Simon Birmingham:     We have not.


David Bevan:               …you haven’t been trawling through her personal life?


Simon Birmingham:     Absolutely not.


Ali Clarke:                    Simon Birmingham, where- out of which bucket of money does the cash come for everybody to go around and campaign at all of these- for these by-elections, who pays for all the federal ministers? Because we’ve seen plenty of them come into town here.


Simon Birmingham:     Well, Ali, as federal ministers and ministers representing the entire country, we travel extensively. Yesterday, yes, I spent some time in Longman but I also spent time meeting with the Queensland Education Minister while I was in Queensland, with other key education stakeholders. You ultimately make sure that you maximise your time as effectively and efficiently as possible on the ground, meeting with people. Last night at a Catholic school parents’ forum, which also had Bill Shorten and Tanya Plibersek there, so I think people fully expect that we would get out and engage…


Ali Clarke:                    And we had Peter Dutton here yesterday in Mayo. We’ve a list a mile long here in Mayo. So, you’re saying that it comes out of the federal bucket of money to pay for you to jettison into a election seat- by-election seat?


Simon Birmingham:     It’s the same type of travel-use that all of us would undertake; Amanda, Cory, etc to get out and engage with the community as long as you’re doing it within the rules and entitlements of ensuring that it is genuine parliamentary work, genuine ministerial work in my case. And that’s exactly what it is.


David Bevan:               You’re using ministerial funds to campaign in a by-election.


Simon Birmingham:     Well, David, I use, indeed, the resources to get out there as a minister, undertake my duties – which include engaging with parents, teachers, state ministers…


David Bevan:                And it just happened to be in Longman and for Peter Dutton, it just happened to be in Mayo, and for the Prime Minister, it just happened to be in Mayo, and for Mr Laundy, it just happened to be in Mayo. Geez, there’s a lot happening in Mayo.


Simon Birmingham:     And David, you would be the first to criticise and comment if the Prime Minister never came to Mayo during the by-election. I could imagine how negative your commentary would be.


Ali Clarke:                    That’s probably true, that’s probably true.


Cory Bernardi:             I’m going to agree with Simon here. Every electorate would welcome ministers going to visit them, and whether they’re there to campaign specifically or they’re just going to talk and hear about the issues that are going on, I think…


David Bevan:               But hang on, let’s just be quite clear – is this coming out of the bucket of money that is ministerial or is it coming out of the bucket of money that is your own personal allowances as politicians to move around?


Cory Bernardi:             It would be a ministerial representation. I can tell you now that the people of Mayo would like the fact that Peter Dutton was there yesterday so they can talk to him about the immigration issue…


Ali Clarke:                    Not everyone but…


Cory Bernardi:             …Yeah, the immigration issues that are going on, and their concerns. I mean, they would complain if they don’t get ministerial representation visits, whether a by-election’s on or not is beside the point. I just think travelling is part of being a politician, talking to people right around the country is part of it as well. And this is sort of penny-ante stuff to be quibbling about.


David Bevan:                My Health. Are you three in it or are you out?


Amanda Rishworth:     Well, I signed up a while ago, voluntarily. I have to say no one’s ever- no doctor’s ever uploaded anything on it. So, it’s completely empty. But…


Ali Clarke:                    Sound like something you might need to go and see a doctor for…


Amanda Rishworth:     But look, I’m not sure – look, I will admit that I have thought twice now about some of the reports coming out. Certainly some concerns around the reports that Medicare numbers have been sold on the dark web and the robo-debt fiasco, the Census debacle, some of those things have made me a little concerned. And so, I probably need to do a bit more research.


Ali Clarke:                    Cory Bernardi?


Cory Bernardi:             I’m out, I’m out. I’m concerned that privacy is almost dead but I’ll cling to the last little bit of it that I can.


Ali Clarke:                    Simon Birmingham?


Simon Birmingham:     If I turn up in an emergency ward, I want the doctors to know whether I have any allergies or any issues. And My Health is going to provide that type of security and safety of comfort of service. Now, if people have privacy concerns, they can opt out now before the system starts, if they change their mind later they can cancel their records and opt out later. But if you want to make sure that your health information is available instantly in an emergency clinic or if you go to a different doctor then My Health is a way to do that. We have very strong safeguards to make sure that people incorrectly cannot access it.

And up to two years imprisonment in terms of penalties for anybody who might incorrectly or improperly access data or information.


Amanda Rishworth:     I mean, one of the things Labor has been saying, though, is that there has been many more people wanting to opt out than probably anticipated. And we think the Government should extend the opt out period for people so that they can consider this properly and make sure that they can opt out if they need to.


Ali Clarke:                    So, is that a possibility, Simon Birmingham, maybe extending this period?


Simon Birmingham:     Well the opt-out period runs right through until 15 October, so in fact the opt-out period only starts on 16 July. It hasn’t- has barely been underway for a week and runs right through until 15 October, so I think it’s a bit premature for Labor to be making those calls. And importantly, that’s only opting out before the new system starts. Then, at any stage, people can choose to cancel a record and opt out of the system if they want. So there’s no need to …


Ali Clarke:                    But you know with the internet, where does that information go?


Cory Bernardi:             And this is one of the questions is, there is no guaranteed security. We see the most- we see hacking in our defence systems; we’ve seen health records in Singapore being hacked; we’ve seen all sorts of compromise of data integrity across a range of government services, that’s what worries me.


David Bevan:                So out of the three of you, Birmingham, you’re in; Bernardi, you’re out; and Rishworth, you’re worried?


Amanda Rishworth:     I’m in already. I signed up some time ago …


David Bevan:                Yeah but you’re worried about being in?


Amanda Rishworth:     Look, I’m thinking about it. I’m concerned.


David Bevan:                Are you think of opting out?


Amanda Rishworth:     Look, it has crossed my mind. At this point I do see the benefits, I do see the benefits. But I do want assurances from the Government. We’ve seen a lot of IT bungles under this government, and I’d like some assurances to make sure that the data is secure.


Cory Bernardi:             But let’s also think about this: I don’t have any allergies. I’m allergic maybe to vegetarian food, that’s probably it, right.


Amanda Rishworth:     We can’t go to dinner then.


Cory Bernardi:             But if you do have allergies, and you do have issues that need to be dealt with in a hospitalisation situation and you’re not able to tell people, maybe there’s a benefit for it.


Ali Clarke:                    And on that ground-breaking news that Amanda Rishworth won’t go out for dinner with Cory Bernardi, it is 14 minutes to nine.


Amanda Rishworth:     Not unless he eats vegetarian.


Amanda Rishworth:     They’re two of the people on our Super Wednesday panel, also Simon Birmingham, the Liberal Senator and Minister for Education is with us as well.


David Bevan:                News Limited and I think Fairfax and other people want the ABC and SBS to curb its presence online, in fact there’s a piece in The Australian today. The charters of the ABC and SBS should be rewritten to create a level playing field for online news, News Corp Australia says. Cory Bernardi?


Cory Bernardi:             I think News Corp have basically adopted the policy position that I’ve being putting forward for several years now. The ABC is the largest media outlet in terms of reach and broadcast capacity. I think it’s far too big and we can trim it down to a couple of TV stations, a couple of radio stations, with a national reach and national presence in the interest of the country.


Ali Clarke:                    Why is it in the interest of the country to trim down…


Cory Bernardi:             Well I think the ABC has a critical role in particularly market failure circumstances but in the end you get a billion dollars a year which provides content – some of which is unnecessary and outside the original charter of the ABC. Now when it comes to the online presence, we’ve got- they’re the newspapers of the 21st century. The ABC has an extensive online presence which is cannibalising the ability for the existing media outlets to actually make money and survive. And I think a multimedia market is important and I think we have to reward good journalism and that means they’ve got to make a profit.


David Bevan:                Simon Birmingham?


Simon Birmingham:     Well look, this inquiry will of course form its own opinions based on the submissions and I assume the ABC will make a submission just as News Corporation and Fairfax have made submissions and all of that evidence will be weighed and some of the concerns that have been raised…


David Bevan:                Yeah, we know that, we wondered what you thought.


Simon Birmingham:     Yeah, some of the concerns that have been raised identified issues such as whether or not the ABC should be paying taxpayers’ money to corporations like Google to get a more prominent position when people enter questions into a search engine. Now they’re reasonable questions to be asked. Ultimately the assessment of that is something that the review will take a close look at and come up with a considered opinion as to whether that does impinge upon reasonable competition principles in the way the Australian media market operates.


David Bevan:                As I understand it – and this isn’t an argument for ABC management to pursue, it’s not for presenters, it’s for ABC management – but as I understand where they’re coming from, they argue that look, the commercial sector is in trouble because your business model is broken and that’s not our fault because the internet has killed off classifieds et cetera and nobody wants to pay for online content. That’s not the ABC’s fault. If they are struggling they’ve got to address that issue. But Simon Birmingham, the ABC is online, isn’t it? If the pie is shrunk, we are eating a portion of that pie. Has News Limited got a point?


Simon Birmingham:     Well the ABC indeed is online and of course to continue to reach eyeballs and people across the country, it has to be online as people will increasingly shift away from traditional platforms. But I think there is a question that’s being asked there about the way in which the ABC engages online. As Cory rightly pointed out, the ABC receives at least $1 billion per annum in guaranteed taxpayer funding. Now that’s a guarantee that no other media organisation in Australia receives. So for the rest of them, yes, they have to work out how it is that they raise the revenue to pay their journalists, to print their newspapers, to have their online presence, to produce their programs, to run their television shows or radio shows. The ABC doesn’t have to go through that process. It gets a stream of guaranteed taxpayer money this year, next year, the year after that, with certainty, and questions that are asked there are should the ABC then take that taxpayer money and pay it to global corporations like Google to get a leg up or a competitive advantage possibly against others in the media market and that’s what’s being assessed.


Amanda Rishworth:     Well look, I’ll make a couple of points. I disagree with Cory that the ABC is there only to fix market failure. Quite frankly the ABC is a trusted news source and has a very strong charter about providing independent balanced news and the public love it. The evidence of surveys over and over again say the public love it. Now to say that you can’t go online or you can’t compete with what is a very- in a very already concentrated media market in Australia – that the ABC would be restricted online in some way, wouldn’t actually meet what I think the majority of voters wants and that is access to the ABC in the platforms that they use because they trust the ABC and they want to see that information accessed.


Cory Bernardi:             Let me just correct the record. I didn’t say it’s only applicable in areas where this market failure. That’s an important …


Amanda Rishworth:     Well you said one or two stations.


Cory Bernardi:             That’s in important part of it for its national distribution and reach, but in the end, as you made the point, there’s a plethora of information available on the internet and on the web and so why do we have to have a government-funded broadcaster cannibalising the survivability of some of our commercial broadcasters?


Amanda Rishworth:     Well in a time when everyone throws fake news around as a term, people want a source they can rely on and the ABC is that source.


Cory Bernardi:             Have you done a few fact checks on the ABC’s economic data? Have you watched some of their comedy things where they’re abusing people and employing the most vicious …


Amanda Rishworth:     This isn’t what I’m saying. This is what the public are saying. The taxpayers are …


Cory Bernardi:             No, well Amanda, you’ve got to talk to other members of the public.


Amanda Rishworth:     Well I talk to a lot and surveys have regularly shown that the ABC is a trusted news source. It has a charter that asks it to present a balanced, independent source of news and I think the public really like it and want it to be available online where they access the information as well as television.


Ali Clarke:                    Well speaking of the internet, we have been Facebook Liveing this entire conversation and on our Facebook Live feed – I just want to return to you Simon Birmingham before we close – as Minister for Education. Alastair Baird, who we spoke to earlier this morning about the imminent closure of the Strathmont Pool, wants to know whether or not you would have an opinion on the closure of this pool which provides a lot of swimming education to South Australian schoolchildren and people with disabilities.


Simon Birmingham:     I haven’t heard the interview. This is the first I’m aware of it. I don’t know how or by whom the Strathmont Pool is funded, supported or who’s taken a decision to close it.


Ali Clarke:                    Through IDRS…


Simon Birmingham:     But I am happy to go away and take a look at.


Ali Clarke:                    Okay, that would be great.


David Bevan:                The biggest problem for the Strathmont Pool is it’s not in Mayo right now.


Simon Birmingham:     Ah, David. Look, I’ll take a look at it. And of course it might be operated by – as many pools are – a local government organisation.


Ali Clarke:                    No, it’s state government. Look, that would be good and we’ll go from there. Thank you very much. Appreciate your time and love that phone, Simon Birmingham, and if you can stick on that one, that’d be great. Liberal senator there, Minister for Education; Amanda Rishworth Labor MP for Kingston; and also Cory Bernardi leader of the Australian Conservatives. Thank you all for being a part of our conversation. It’s six minutes to nine.