Thursday, 21 November 2019
SUBJECTS: Environmental approvals, Westpac, secondary boycotts
TOM CONNELL: I’m joined by Liberal MP Julian Simmonds and Labor MP Amanda Rishworth, also of course a Shadow Minister. Thanks both for your time today. Why don’t we begin with the latest push from the Prime Minister on deregulation, environmental approvals is what he’s taking aim at. He wants to stop the need for multiple applications across agencies, multiple ones interstate and federal agencies and so on. Go digital, fast-track the process, don’t change the rules. Does that all make sense on the surface Amanda Rishworth?
AMANDA RISHWORTH, SHADOW MINISTER FOR EARLY CHILDHOOD EDUCATION AND DEVELOPMENT: Well if you keep the high standards for environmental protection, then anything that makes it more effective and efficient is a good thing. But of course you actually need people to make these assessments. What we do know is the Department of Environment from the Commonwealth perspective that’s been charged with making these assessments has had significant cut to their budget. And we’ve seen delays in the assessments being made, the number of assessments and the length of time, so I’m not sure this whiz-bang new technology is going to do much good if there aren’t people at the other end actually looking through, making these assessments, making these judgements against –
CONNELL: I’m going to have to jump in, we are going to come back Amanda Rishworth, we’ve got to go get the latest from Victorian authorities on this code-red fire.
Break in interview as coverage crosses to press conference on Victorian bushfires.
CONNELL: Julian Simmonds and Amanda Rishworth still with us, Julian I might get your response briefly to the environmental approvals process. Is this the test for the government because this is what it’s been saying. It’s not about making the standards more lax in terms of the environment, any detail that indicates that would concern people, is that fair enough?
JULIAN SIMMONDS, LIBERAL MEMBER FOR RYAN: Well look yeah absolutely, these environmental assessments are going to continue to be as strong and comprehensive as they have always been. What we’re saying is that we’re going to use this deregulation agenda, which is at the heart of what we believe is the government in terms of saving taxpayer money, companies money and time, to bring forward some of these projects that cut the mustard when it comes to environmental approvals, to bring them forward and to get them creating jobs sooner for our economy.
CONNELL: Westpac in the headlines as we all know, Amanda Rishworth is it as simple as saying people need to lose their jobs over this?
RISHWORTH: Well I think it’s a very concerning development, I have been very concerned and I think in general obviously these specific elements will go through the court. But I am concerned that we continually see in the news issues around breaking the law, in terms of unethical behaviour by the banks. I think we saw a lot of that during the Royal Commission and it’s concerning to see that there aren’t processes and procedures put in place by our banks. There is an obligation and responsibility and they need to take that seriously.
CONNELL: Maybe not enough consequence? We saw a huge fine for CommBank, we might have a huge fine for Westpac, but if there’s no person held responsible does that highlight there’s a problem or are you okay with that?
RISHWORTH: In my mind that will be a matter for the board and for the shareholders. But ultimately I think that the banks need to look seriously at how they restore trust with the Australian people, because at the moment I think that trust is very low.
CONNELL: Up to the board, you’re okay with it, Julian do you agree?
SIMMONDS: Well I think ultimately it is a decision for the board but I think the message to them is they need to take a real good, hard look at their actions, at the CEO’s actions and what protection should have been in place at Westpac in order to monitor these transactions. And it simply proves the point of why it’s so important to have a tough cop on the beat in AUSTRAC, they have the government’s imprimatur and funding in order to make sure that they look at who’s doing the right thing, about monitoring these transactions so we protect some of the most vulnerable in our society.
CONNELL: I wanted to ask actually about something else Julian Simmonds regarding what the government’s looking at on the environment. This is targeting environmental groups, they say that advocate to boycott companies. So the example from the government is a small company provides food services for a mine, it might get targeted over boycotts and it goes out of business. Is it fair enough to crack down on that and how do you do that exactly?
SIMMONDS: Well we’re having this discussion at the moment about how we do go about it, but I think reasonable Australians would expect if a company is going about their lawful business and there’s people working for that company and families that rely on those jobs, that they shouldn’t be the subject of bullying and harassment and intimidation. I mean these are not normal protests in the streets that we’re talking about, these are boycotts that rely on tactics of trespass, of intimidation, of bullying and they do –
CONNELL: We’re not talking about trespass here because this is advocacy campaigns, so people having a campaign it might be on Facebook saying “don’t support this company because it’s supporting coal mining”. Now coal mining of course is perfectly legal, but they’re not talking about something where they’re going onto someone’s property, there are separate laws there are state laws for that. This is around advocacy.
SIMMONDS: But you’re talking about activists who simply because they do not like a business, a lawful business, that they think they can somehow target those jobs and drive those people out of business, businesses that have been built up over generations of families which are employing Australians quite legally. And there has to be a balance there and I think reasonable Australians would expect that these businesses if they’re operating legally aren’t subject to this kind of bullying and intimidation that we’ve previously seen.
CONNELL: What about Matt Canavan urging people to boycott Westpac over not funding a coal mine?
SIMMONDS: Westpac is going through its own issues at the moment with AUSTRAC, but this is about differentiating, this is not about asking somebody not to use a particular product or not to go into a certain business, it is about bullying and intimidatory tactics which are systematic to try and –
CONNELL: But that’s exactly what part of it is about.
SIMMONDS: To drive someone out of a business.
CONNELL: Is what Matt Canavan does okay? Is it about who does it or anyone that advocates to stop a business being used when they’re doing something legal, is that going to be the problem?
SIMMONDS: I think it’s about picking up on the tactics that some of these activists are using, which really crosses the line between saying exercise your best judgement as a consumer, and it crosses that line and it goes into how do we intimidate and bully these businesses so they basically pack up and these jobs are lost from the economy, and that’s not what we want.
CONNELL: Amanda Rishworth, one of the examples given by the government is as I said a small company and people keep calling them and they’re advised to stay on the line as long as possible to sort of grind the business to a halt. Is it fair enough to want to avoid that action?
RISHWORTH: I’m not sure how you legislate this. I think the government has preached free speech and freedom of expression, indeed it’s the same government that said people have the right to be a bigot, even if you disagree with it you have that right. So I really do think that this is probably a thought bubble from the Prime Minister, with no clear way forward about how you ensure consumers and shareholders have the right to listen to other people’s point of view and actually exercise that within their deliberations. I think we often say to consumers if you don’t like the price you’re getting from the company or the product you’re getting from the company or indeed the service, choose a different one. I find it astonishing quite frankly that the Liberal Party of free speech is actually going down this road, but I doubt we’ll see any legislation because I don’t think they’re serious about it.
CONNELL: All right that’s an interesting comment, we’ll see if it happens and no doubt debate the details when we have more time on another day.