Joint Doorstop Interview – Punchbowl Community Centre



6 MARCH 2013


Subjects: Community safety; Federal gang violence and unexplained wealth laws; Prime Minister’s visit to western Sydney; Council of Australian Governments; 457 temporary work visas; Labor Party reform

PM: I am delighted to be here.

I am joined by the Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus, the Minister for Home Affairs Jason Clare, Tony Burke who is here in his capacity as local member for where we are standing right now in the electorate of Watson and Daryl Melham, my old friend, the Member for Banks.

We have just had the opportunity to meet with local community members and to talk about community safety.

I would have to say it has been an incredible meeting; a really remarkable meeting.

People have come to the table from all different walks of life here locally and different experiences – a GP, a high school principal, people who have served on community safety committees, a woman who has lived here since the end of the Second World War.

They were able to share perspectives and experiences about community safety in this community.

And the message loud and clear was a lot of good things have been happening, indeed in this local community, community members feel like they have done a lot to address community safety, addressing some challenges that were particularly pressing a few years ago.

But they do also recognise that there is a continuing problem with gang violence, with shootings and with the fear that that causes.

Indeed overnight, just a few kilometres from here in Padstow, there was a shooting in a suburban street.

The message to us has been a very clear one, that the community wants to keep working on community safety, that they want to address circumstances for their young people to make sure people get a great education in the context of community safety.

We even talked about our school funding reform agenda.

They want to make sure kids get a great education.

They want to see them get a job opportunity.

They want to support them in choosing the best possible paths in life, not getting outside society’s mainstream and becoming subject to the enticements of joining a gang.

They also want to see politicians working together to make a difference for community safety.

On Sunday, the Minister for Home Affairs Jason Clare and I announced a new approach to get police working together; federal police and state police working together in strike teams to address gang violence and to crack down on gangs.

Today, I am here to announce a plan to get politicians working together so that we can make a difference to gang organisation around the country.

Particularly I will at the next meeting of the Council of Australian Governments ask state premiers to refer to the Federal Government the power to make laws about gangs and to make laws to attack unexplained wealth.

We as a Federal Government, without this referral, would lack the power make to do so, but with the referral, we would be able to make national laws about gangs.

That would enable courts to proscribe gangs, to issue control orders on people who are members of gangs, to stop them continuing to fraternise with other gang members, to stop them going to the clubhouses where gangs get together.

National laws are needed because obviously gangs work nationally and any one state, even doing its best, can only address the activities within that state boundary.

And so if a gang member goes over a state border, if they send a weapon border, if they send wealth over a state border, then a state government and state police can’t chase that down.

I will be asking my premiers – the colleagues around the COAG table to refer these powers to make sure that politicians are working together to crack down on gangs.

I will also be asking for referrals for unexplained wealth laws.

We want to make sure that criminals do not profit from their criminal activity.

At the moment there are some difficulties with tracking wealth that is generated from criminal activity and even in the meeting here today, some frustration was expressed that there is unexplained wealth and that people aren’t able to deal with it.

These laws would put a spotlight on unexplained wealth.

They would require individuals to bear the onus of describing where their wealth and assets came from, rather than police having to prove that those assets came from the proceeds of crime.

That simply means that if it comes to the attention of police that a gang member has a very expensive motor vehicle, has a very expensive property, has a lot of money in the bank and they can’t explain that that was got legitimately, then it can be seized because it is wealth that has been gained from criminal activity.

These are the changes that we want to make which would make a practical difference for community safety by cracking down on the most serious end of organised crime and gang operations.

I will turn now to the Attorney-General for some comments.

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Thanks very much Prime Minister.

As you have heard, we are going to be asking the states to refer powers in relation to the unexplained wealth laws and work with us on both a national scheme for national criminal organisation laws and a national scheme for unexplained wealth laws.

Gangs operate across state, territory and national borders and gangs don’t respect state, territory and national borders and that is why it is important that we get national laws to deal with gangs, national laws to deal with criminal organisations.

It will enable police to take action in court to get orders as the Prime Minister has explained, that prevent criminal organisations from getting their organisation started, that prevent criminal organisations from continuing.

And the unexplained wealth laws. Again, criminal operate across state, territory and national borders, they exploit inconsistencies between state, territory and national laws and we want to make sure that there are no gaps in our laws that deal with unexplained wealth.

We want to make sure that there are powers for police to take people who have unexplained wealth.

This is targeted at high level criminals, so that they can be taken to court and explain to court and have to justify in court where their wealth came from and be exposed to having that wealth confiscated if indeed they cannot come up with a reasonable explanation.

We heard from community representatives that we have just been meeting with that they don’t want to see state, territory and Commonwealth governments fighting.

They want to see state, territory and Commonwealth governments working together on this shared problem, working together to bring in national laws on criminal organisations and national laws for unexplained wealth.

Thanks very much.

MINISTER CLARE: Our state and federal police do a good job working together but we have to make sure that state politicians and federal politicians work together, Labor and Liberal politicians work together to give the police the powers they need to tackle gangs.

It is a national challenge because criminal move from state to state and if one state clamps down on gangs then what we’ve seen in the past is that criminals will move from one state to another.

That is why we need national laws so there is no safe haven, no place to hide, one set of laws for the country to tackle gangs and to seize their assets.

Asset seizure laws or what we call unexplained wealth laws are particularly important.

We all know the story of someone driving around in a flash car that doesn’t have a job, doesn’t pay any income tax.

National unexplained wealth laws mean that if you can’t explain where the income comes from to buy the flash car or to buy the big house, then those assets can be seized off you.

State police and federal police already have asset seizure powers; this would create comprehensive or national unexplained wealth laws to seize even more assets.

The federal police last year seized assets worth about $100 million.

That is triple what they were seizing five years ago but police tell me the more powers we’ve got here, the more successful we can be.

I have been talking to police in western Sydney over the last few weeks and their constant message to me is money is power in the criminal underworld.

It is all about money, selling drugs to make money and if you can seize their assets, seize the cash, seize the car, seize the jet ski, seize the house then it really makes a difference and can shift the balance of power on the street.

Last year, at the request of the Prime Minister, I put to the state attorneys-general that we should create national anti-gang laws and national unexplained wealth laws.

They rejected that offer and I think it is a mistake. I have been saying since, think we need to prosecute the case for this again.

The best way to do that is to take it to a meeting of the Prime Minister and the premiers – take it to the top of the table and get the leaders of our country to sort this out.

The police want these powers. The Police Federation of Australia has called for these powers. Both the Labor and Liberal Party have agreed that we need these powers.

A Joint Parliamentary Committee last year agreed on a bipartisan basis that we need to have these powers.

It is our obligation now to work together to make sure we get these powers to police.

That will mean more criminals in jail and more assets seized.

PM: Thank you, we’re happy to take some questions.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, have you talked to any of the premiers about this or any of the ministers and why should they say yes when the AGs didn’t last year?

PM: I think we need this dealt with right at the top with all due respect to our attorney-general colleagues.

I think this needs to be dealt with by the nation’s leaders and that is why I am intending to take it to the Council of Australian Governments meeting.

I did refer to it in my telephone conversation with Premier O’Farrell over the weekend but I do want to work genuinely, in the spirit of cooperation with premiers to get this done.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, can I ask about the unexplained wealth, do federal unexplained wealth laws exist and if so has the Government (inaudible)?

PM: I will turn to the Attorney-General on this.

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: There are already Commonwealth unexplained wealth laws but they have got a very severe constitutional limitation.

That is that they can only deal with wealth gained by committing Commonwealth offences and what we are keen to do is close down the gaps that exist.

Not all states and territories have unexplained wealth laws either. There are clear inconsistencies and clear gaps.

The purpose of having a seamless national scheme is to close those gaps.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, regarding the 457 visa issue, the Mines and Mineral Council has today described the Government’s approach to this and your public comments in recent days as pathetic and bordering on xenophobic. Are you xenophobic?

PM: We are dealing with a simple issue here and a very important issue.

I want to see Australian workers put first full stop. That’s it.

The purpose of the 457 visa program is if our nation does not have skilled people who can fill a particular job, then for a short period of time, you fill that with a temporary foreign worker.

That program is not and should not be used as a substitute for Australians getting work or Australians getting the appropriate training and skills so they can get a job.

So, I will always put Australian jobs first.

Clearly, there are some continuing areas of concern in this program and the Minister for Immigration has outlined some of those in recent days.

And so we cracked down on this program when we came into government.

We have continued to try and drive rigour in the program and we will continue to act as necessary to make sure that Australian jobs are put first.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, Pauline Hanson says those comments are a vindication of what she was saying 15 years ago. What is your response to that?

PM: That is a matter for her.

JOURNALIST: She’s also said that it’s validation of the view that you’re moving to the far right on this issue. How do you respond to that?

PM: I believe in putting Australian jobs first. Others can use whatever label they choose to for that.

I believe in putting Australian jobs first.

I don’t believe the Australian training system should let Australians down.

INTERRUPTION: You’re full of it! You’re full of it!

PM: Thanks. I don’t think the Australian training system should let Australians down.

I don’t think it is satisfactory, for example, that in the health care system, because we didn’t train Australians at the right time, under the Howard Government, that we are now so reliant on 457 visa holders.

Australians could have trained to be those nurses. Australians could have trained to be those doctors.

The Howard Government and Minister Tony Abbott, when he was health minister, took a different approach and they basically limited training opportunities for Australians and so we’re reliant on foreign workers now.

I believe Australian workers should come first. They should have access to the skills and capacities they need to get a job for the future.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, do you think that the 457 visas in substantial numbers may actually drive down Australian wages or is that a bit over the top?

PM: I think it is a concern when there are employers who have said that they want someone who is a program manager and they have identified that as an area of skills shortage and then on inquiry it becomes transparent that what they are really looking for is a security guard. Australians could perform that work.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, what makes you think that you can actually get the premiers and leaders to agree to these laws that you want when Jason Clare failed on this last year?

PM: The reason that we escalate things to the Council of Australian Governments is so that leaders can meet and leaders can get thing done; even things that have proved to be difficult at other levels of Commonwealth-state discussions.

So very routinely the Council of Australian Governments deals with and solves issues that have become bogged down in ministerial councils.

I want to make sure that we are working together to make a real difference here.

This is about bringing the full force of national laws onto gangs and their operations and it is about bringing the full force of national laws onto unexplained wealth and seizing assets criminals shouldn’t have because they have got them through criminal activity.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, you’ve just said that it is a concern that 457s might push down wages in some areas.

Do you have any information to support that? Is there any data that you can give us?

PM: I think it stands to reason that if 457s are being – employers are coming forward trying to get people for jobs that Australians could fill – it stands to reason that that is a concerning thing and Australians jobs should be put first.

There are wage and salary conditions on 457 visas and so there should be.

But I do not believe we should tolerate any difficulties with a short-term temporary migration program for Australians.

Australians should always come first with their jobs.

JOURNALIST: You are saying there is a concern about wages-

PM: No, I answered a question over here about issues in the program and I pointed to an issue where, and Minister O’Connor has dealt with this in recent days, I pointed to an issue where on inquiry it became apparent people were looking for security guards not for a higher level skill which was what, on the surface, it looked like.

That does concern me. I am not putting it more broadly than that. I answered a question over here in that way.

But we will support Australian jobs first. Now, this is a debate in our nation.

The Leader of the Opposition has clearly said he would expand the 457 visa program so it became a mainstay of the Australian immigration program.

Well I don’t agree with that. I will never agree with that and we will put Australians and their jobs first.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, the people inside, the community representatives, said that crime rates are falling. Are the national laws really necessary?

PM: Well, I think it would be good for Tony, who is the local member here, to really outline what was said in the meeting about the history of this place. It is very interesting history.

MINISTER BURKE: Thanks very much. For those of you who don’t know the area well, over the last 10 years some incredible ground has been made.

If you drew a two kilometre circle around here, you have basically got, 10 years ago, drive by shootings, the shooting up of the Lakemba police station, the bashing of Edward Lee to death and the gang rape at Greenacre.

There was a really bad run around here with some horrific outcomes.

At that time, the community dealt with it at every level.

Work was done with policing; a whole lot of people who should have been put in jail were put in jail.

But also, some incredible work started to be done at a community level, finding ways of taking young people at risk out of what was going to be a terrible path.

And that is why, when you have a meeting about community safety, one of the people we have got here is a high school principal.

That is why we have got people running community centres here today.

Now what we have seen in very recent times is a beginning again of some patterns and some stories and some reports and some shootings that we haven’t seen for a while.

And when you get that, you need to do two things.

One, the community work on taking people out of that pathway needs to be advanced and needs to be continued to be pursued.

It is incredibly important. It changes peoples’ lives.

Secondly, gangs can offer as they move from one area of the country or the world to another, they can offer immediate incentives that take people who are on the right track off the right track.

To be able to have new laws that deal with those gangs make sure that the incredible community work that has been done in this part of Sydney, doesn’t get derailed by people with a whole lot of cash in a bag.

JOURNALIST: Can I just the Prime Minister or Attorney-General if these laws will apply to union officials who have large amounts of unexplained wealth?

PM: These laws apply to any Australian who has got large amounts of unexplained wealth.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, there has been some criticism this week that you have gone to a number of stage managed events and haven’t actually gone out and done those mall walks that we saw Joe Hockey do yesterday.

Are you worried about criticism on camera or anything like that?

PM: I have just been in a meeting with members of this community talking about issues that are very serious and something that as the local member here, Minister Burke, has just outlined, are things community members have worked on for a long period of time.

So, I have just been in a local community meeting, I will continue to be available in various ways over the coming few days.

And I see a large number of community members have joined us to even see what is being discussed right now.

JOURNALIST: It is a controlled environment though and the question is do you feel safe to walk down the streets-

PM: People are at liberty to say whatever they want to say and people took that opportunity.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, are you aware of the case of Fawad Ahmed the Pakistani refugee who’s a pretty good spin bowler and he’s trying to get citizenship so he can play in the Australian Ashes team?

PM: I am aware. These are matters dealt with through proper processes and by the Minister for Immigration.

JOURNALIST: Will there be any special treatment for him?

PM: We deal with every application on its merits.

JOURNALIST: (Inaudible)

PM: We’ve got to, number one, get the referrals. We don’t have the constitutional power to act without the referrals.

If we succeed in getting those referrals at the Council of Australian Governments meeting, then we would get the legislation into the parliament as soon as possible thereafter – as soon as we possibly could, absolutely.

JOURNALIST: On the mining tax, Fortescue Metals are taking their case to the High Court today (inaudible)?

PM: Yes we are.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, this morning the former Roads and Transport Minister here in NSW, David Borger, said he didn’t think the Labor Party had done enough to reform itself and there is still too many cardboard cut-outs as MPs.

PM: I took the biggest set of reforms to Labor National Conference that have been taken in Labor’s recent history, indeed taken since the time that Simon Crean was leader of the Labor Party.

So we did adopt a fairly major reform process.

Of course, as a political party we always need to be reforming how we work and we will continue to work our way through political party reforms, but a very major tranche of reforms was adopted.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, this has been a listening tour as you called it. How would you gauge the success of it so far and do you think the people of western Sydney have listened to you and will that translate into votes?

PM: I actually don’t think I ever used those words. I said that I had been out to western Sydney many times in the past.

I am here in western Sydney again for a number of days.

In the past I have come out here, sometimes for an individual meeting and so I have been here a few hours, sometimes I have been here across the course of a day, from morning until evening.

I have got the opportunity to spend a few days here. I am taking it. I took the opportunity into the same thing in south-east and central Queensland last year.

It is part of what we routinely do – governing, talking to people, listening to community members, taking the opportunity to explain what the Government is doing and also taking the opportunity to explain new policies which will make a difference here but also a difference around the nation.

Okay, thank you very much.