PVO Newsday > Mitch Fifield, Liberal Senator for Victoria

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10-August-2016

SkyNews Melbourne
2.30PM
26 July 2016

Text Box: Subject: Don Dale Correction Facility, Childrens eSafety, the Senate.

E & OE

PETER VAN ONSELEN:

Let’s talk to another minister, a Cabinet Minister in the Coalition Government. I’m talking about the Communications Minister, Senator Mitch Fifield, who joins us live from Melbourne. Thanks very much for your company. 

MITCH FIFIELD:

Good afternoon Peter.

PETER VAN ONSELEN:

Would it pique your interest if you had all this untoward reports of what had gone on in the build of the NBN or possible concerns in the media about inappropriate ‘x’, ‘y’ or ‘z’. Would that pique your interest given your responsibilities as Minister? I’m assuming so?

MITCH FIFIELD:

Well yes Peter, I think those ministers who have a duty of care over vulnerable parts of the community, have a particular responsibility. And I speak as someone who has been the Minister for Disabilities and the Minister for Aged Care. And regardless of the setting. Whether it be an aged care facility, or someone receiving care in their home. Whether it be someone with a disability receiving support, or someone who is in the juvenile justice context. We need to make sure that people who are particularly vulnerable, whether it be for circumstances beyond their control or otherwise, that they do receive support, that they do receive care, that they do receive dignity and respect. And where any minister, or anyone in government, or anyone in a responsible organisation, has brought to their attention something which is not appropriate, that doesn’t meet the standards;  then you’ve got to make sure that there is a full and thorough investigation.

PETER VAN ONSELEN:

But given what had been reported previously to last night, I mean by government reports, not just in the media, and also just generally the issues up in the Northern Territory around youth in detention – indigenous youth in detention. Shouldn’t it have piqued the interest of the Indigenous Affairs Minister long before now? 

MITCH FIFIELD:

Well, look I can’t speak to the particular circumstances which will be the subject of the Royal Commission. The Prime Minister has acted very quickly. He’s shown strong leadership in announcing a Royal Commission will be established. This is an area that is fundamentally and essentially within the jurisdiction of the Northern Territory. But, the Commonwealth Government does have the opportunity to help shine a light on what has happened here, by virtue of a federally established Royal Commission. So that will establish the facts. 

PETER VAN ONSELEN:

You’ve done some good work in your own portfolio; I saw a media release earlier today about being the year of achievement for Children’s eSafety, and the role there. Unfortunate timing, obviously, I mean genuinely good work in that space, but today’s news is all about children in the Northern Territory, in detention, some unbelievable loss of, loss of you know of appropriate  oversight and management and treatment.

MITCH FIFIELD:

Well you’re right, there is some good news in relation to the Children’s eSafety Commissioner, which was established by Malcolm Turnbull when he was Communications Minister and Paul Fletcher, when he was the Assistant Minister in that area. 12 months of operation, they’ve helped to raise the awareness, through face-to-face seminars, with 100,000 plus schoolkids about how to be safe online. They’ve investigated more than 7,000 instances of inappropriate material online. And they’ve also investigated a few hundred cases of cyber-bullying. So it’s good that we do have a cop-on-the-beat, who can help educate kids about the dangers that are online. But they can also bring to justice, some of those who are involved in inappropriate behaviour.

PETER VAN ONSELEN:

Can I just ask you a broader question, about the issue of transparency? Because I know that this is going to be a big issue in the coming weeks and months, particularly now that there is a Royal Commission that will be going ahead into what has transpired up there in the Northern Territory. There are some people, including myself, who are already talking about this being an example that highlights why transparency right across detention facilities - onshore and offshore - need to be perhaps elevated as a concern. Do you share that concern?

MITCH FIFIELD:

I think in those facilities, that the Australian Government controls, there are great efforts put in place to make sure that people receive the support that they need. Whether that be medical, whether that be in the form of other social supports. I think a great deal of effort is put in place by the Commonwealth in that regard. But look, of course when it comes to the issue of any level of government having a duty of care, it’s important there’s appropriate scrutiny. And we have some good mechanisms at the Commonwealth level, particularly the Senate Estimates process. I think there’s been no shortage of inquiry into this matters.

PETER VAN ONSELEN:

Alright I want to ask you about something else with your Manager of Government Business hat on. The Senate is going to be a difficult place for the government. There’s obviously going to be a large number of crossbenchers to get your legislative agenda through. You’re going to have to have a lot of deal-making and be very agile - dare I put it that way, Minister. To do that, one of the things you’ve had to do, I’ve seen the Prime Minister had these conversations with Pauline Hanson, which she says was much more welcoming, in comparison to some of his comments pre the election, where he said she was not welcome in the Federal Parliament. How are you going to manage the ‘herding of cats’ - if I could put it that way - which is dealing with all these different crossbenchers to get legislation through?

MITCH FIFIELD:

Peter, I think one of the odd things that often happens in politics is that Members of Parliament will leave the usual rules of human engagement at the door, when it comes to the Federal Parliament. But, relations with your parliamentary colleagues, relations with crossbenchers should be the same as those in business, or family, or friends. And that is, you can’t start dealing with someone where you want them to be. You can’t start dealing with someone where you think they should be. You’ve got to start dealing with them where they are, and work back from that point. And if you take that approach you can get some good outcomes. Ultimately, it’s about respect. It’s about recognising where a crossbencher’s starting point is, and working with them from there.

PETER VAN ONSELEN:

But none the less how important is getting that legislation through the Senate going to be, verses for example how the Government will be able to get on with business around things like infrastructure development without needing legislation? It strikes me as an important manoeuvre for the government to be able to have a successful doing rather than talking second term is going to be to be very agile there and use as many leavers of government that don’t require legislation as possible, because the Senate will be hard no matter how well you do there.

MITCH FIFIELD:

Look you’re right. There are things that can be done without legislation. There are things that require legislation. But I believe that this will be a workable Senate. I think that there will be goodwill on the part of crossbenchers. And we shouldn’t forget that in the last Senate, where again we didn’t have the numbers in our own right, we did achieve some good outcomes. Let’s not forget we did succeed in repealing the Carbon Tax. We did succeed in repealing the Mineral Resources Rent Tax. We did succeed in reforming a number of aspects of social services policy. So you can achieve good outcomes, when you have a Senate that you don’t have a majority in. And let’s not forget again, that the Howard Government only had the majority in the Senate for a relatively brief period of time. So what we’re talking about really is situation normal. Business as usual in the Australian Senate.

PETER VAN ONSELEN:

You rattled off a whole bunch of achievements then in that last parliament but they were all achievements before you changed Prime Minister though were there any legislative achievements in the subsequent eight months?

MITCH FIFIELD:

Yes, you know Christian Porter had some success in the Senate, under the Prime Ministership of Malcolm Turnbull. We shouldn’t forget that we also succeeded in reforming the Senate voting system in the Senate, towards the end of the last Parliament. 

PETER VAN ONSELEN:

Was that really a good thing I mean the senate voting system change did bring in it looks like as many as three One Nation Senators, nine crossbenchers seemingly, a lot of people would actually say that that backfired, particularly having it in conjunction with a double dissolution election?

MITCH FIFIELD:

Well I think there’s a misapprehension that we went to a double dissolution with the intention of changing the configuration of the Senate. The purpose of going to the double dissolution election was to give ourselves the constitutional option of having a joint sitting of both Houses of Parliament, to try and resolve the deadlock in relation to Registered Organisations and the Australian Building & Construction Commission Bill. -

PETER VAN ONSELEN:

But that’s not going to happen either?

MITCH FIFIELD:

Well look by nature, perhaps, as Manager of Government Business, I am a legislative optimist. So we will work with the crossbenchers. We want to succeed with both ABCC and Registered Organisations. But the reason why we changed the voting system for the Senate, was to ensure that when people walk into a ballot box and cast their vote, that the outcome in the Senate, was actually one they intended. We wanted to see an end to these complex preferencing arrangements, which were registered, which were not really visible to the public. So we now have a system where people can vote in the Senate, in confidence that their ballot will actually reflect the outcome that they intended.  

PETER VAN ONSELEN:

Senator Mitch Fifield, I always appreciate your time thanks very much for joining us on the program.

MITCH FIFIELD:

Thanks Peter. Cheers.

[ends]