Community Safety

Transcript | Sky News Afternoon Agenda | 01 July 2024

July 1, 2024

Monday 01 July 2024
Interview on Sky News Afternoon Agenda
Subjects: Vandalism of Australian war memorials, Newspoll, energy policy, foreign student fee increase, social media inquiry

TOM CONNELL: All right, other news this weekend and today in Canberra has been the defacing of the war memorial. That's with pro-Palestinian graffiti. It's led to some of the opposition saying perhaps stronger penalties are needed. I spoke a short time ago, with the Shadow Home Affairs Minister, James Paterson.

JAMES PATERSON: Well in the Senate chamber just earlier, we had a 15 minute kind of apologia from Senator Steele-John for the vandalism of the war memorial that was, I think, shocked everyone in the chamber across the spectrum. Really, I mean, the war memorial is not a blank canvas for the Green's extreme politics. And they should not be defending criminal vandalism of one of the most sacred institutions in Australia. There really needs to be very serious criminal penalties for the people responsible for this. Otherwise we're going to see a lot more of it.

CONNELL: And so what should they be? What sort of increase are you talking about there?

PATERSON: Well, I offered bipartisan support to the government for extra resources to police these sacred sites to make sure that people are caught if they try and do it again.

CONNELL: Does that mean always having a cop there because, you know, I'm a Canberra resident. Police resources are stretched or is it just better CCTV? What does that mean?

PATERSON: Well, it could be a range of things. It could include regular patrols by the AFP here in Canberra who are responsible for Canberra policing. It could be private security guards. It could be better surveillance, including cameras. I'm open minded about exactly what the resourcing looks like. But we can't leave these sacred sites undefended to be defaced like this time and time again.

CONNELL: Would it remain just civil, though, big fines?

PATERSON: Well that's the other thing. I think the government really needs to seriously look at the criminal penalties for this, to make sure that they adequately reflect how appalled Australians would be if they saw this and knew this was happening.

CONNELL: So, someone could go to jail for doing this?

PATERSON: Well, I think there should be very serious penalties. I'm not settled in my mind exactly what they should be, but they should be very serious. Otherwise it's going to keep happening. And it's not just sacred sites like memorials, it's also other Commonwealth places like electorate offices. People obviously feel like they can get away with this, firebombing people's places of work, graffitiing them, vandalizing them very seriously.

CONNELL: I mean, fire bombing would be criminal, wouldn't it.

PATERSON: Of course, of course it is, very seriously criminal.

CONNELL: So graffiti though, I mean, what, something like, if you're a recidivist and you're not getting the message, that's when a jail term might be on the table?

PATERSON: Look, I'm not going to speculate about that except to say that I think we do need serious penalties, because what's happening here is taxpayers money is being diverted to do the clean up, our sacred sites are being defaced, which they shouldn't be. And people's safety is being put at risk and that's appalling. People who come to work to engage with the community are having that disrupted, and it shouldn't happen.

CONNELL: The first Newspoll out since the nuclear policy, it's the biggest drop in the primary vote for the Coalition since the election. Some concern?

PATERSON: No, I'm very relaxed about this. I think nuclear is the right policy for Australia and the national interest. And I commend Peter Dutton for having the leadership to put it forward. We're not doing this because we hope to get some boost out of the polls. We're doing it because we think it's important for our country. We think that you can't do the energy transition to net zero by 2050 responsibly if you don't have a reliable, zero emissions baseload, affordable energy like nuclear. It must be in the mix.

CONNELL: Do you feel like you're starting from behind, though? I guess in the debate on nuclear, given it's been a long held bipartisan view to not have it, are you starting as the underdog on getting this policy to have support?

PATERSON: No question. We've set ourselves a very ambitious task from opposition to effectively redesign our electricity system. And we would not have taken it on if we didn't think it was in the national interest. The easy path would have been to just play a small target, hope the government fell over and get elected on that basis. But Peter's view, and I think it's widely shared, is that we have to put forward a positive agenda to the Australian people about what we want to do differently. And one of those things is to provide them with electricity, which is reliable and affordable and sustainable, and that's not what you're going to get under Labor.

CONNELL: We're going to see more on it. But do you think people might be a bit more amenable to it if you spoke more about the fact that you'll still need a lot of renewables and a lot more large scale renewable policies with nuclear, some people seem to have the perception it's sort of either or, and maybe that's hurting you, even if the Nats probably want to say something along those lines?

PATERSON: Look, I think Peter Dutton and Ted O'Brien have been very clear from the beginning that renewables already play a big role and will continue to play a big role, even under our plan. What we're talking about is renewables plus gas, plus nuclear, with nuclear replacing the coal that's currently exiting the system. Because if we don't replace that, then what is your reliable baseload energy that's going to firm up the network when the sun is not shining, or the wind is not blowing? Even Labor's plan relies, in theory, on either carbon capture and storage with gas, which is currently commercially not proven, or green hydrogen, which is also not commercially proven.

CONNELL: Do you think that carbon capture storage, really starts to need to be questioned as to whether that can make part of the mix. Does that feel less likely, say, than five years ago even?

PATERSON: I'm very hopeful that carbon capture and storage for gas will work, because for Australia, that means the export opportunities we have from gas will continue. So we've got more interest in it than any country in the world for making it stack up, but it's just not proven yet.

CONNELL: Yeah, but given it's still not proven at that scale, does it feel like it's getting less likely?

PATERSON: Look, I think we should continue to press for carbon capture and storage with gas, because even under our plan of transitioning to low emissions, reliable nuclear technology, we see gas playing a very important transition role in the meantime before nuclear comes online. So we're not abandoning that by any stretch of the imagination.

CONNELL: Foreign student application fee quietly put out there, I think is the vernacular. So it's going from $700 to $1600. It's non-refundable. Good way to curtail student numbers, which you want to do as well as labor.

PATERSON: Well, if ever there was a case of the arsonist pretending to be a firefighter, this is it. I mean, Labor has caused a total mess on migration. They presided over 920,000 people coming to our country in two years, a historic record. And now they're claiming that they're here to fix up their own mess that they created. I mean, they even were granting hundreds of thousands of Covid era visas well after the end of the pandemic period. So it's their responsibility to fix up this mess.

CONNELL: Do you agree with this policy, though?

PATERSON: Well, we have said that we would be increasing the international student visa charge as well in Peter Dutton's budget reply. We're getting our own modelling done with the PBO, and we'll put out our own numbers in due course. We think there is a case to increase it, because we don't think the current status quo reflects the full cost to the economy and to society of international students coming here. It’ s certainly true that universities and higher education institutions benefit a lot from it, but they're capturing the private benefit of it, and it doesn't reflect, for example, the impact on the housing market.

CONNELL: Okay. Finally, big tech companies, from the evidence we heard, it looks increasingly likely in particular Meta, just has no interest in cooperating and then paying for news in any way. Should the government be willing to go as far to say, we don't want you in the country if things come to that?

PATERSON: I was flabbergasted by the evidence that Meta gave to the Joint Select Committee on social media last week. It was absolutely extraordinary that they maintain the argument that there's no harm done to young people by their services, that they are kind of completely unaware of the impact on democracy of their taking away of news. I think the government should use the powers the Parliament gave them. They gave them the power to designate a social media platform as a relevant platform for the purpose of the news media bargaining code. And that allows, you know, the government to take real steps and they haven't done so.

CONNELL: And we appreciate your time on a busy day. James Paterson.


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