Interview with Marius Benson, ABC Radio National News Breakfast – 30 March 2012

Topics: Introduction of integrity testing laws, Customs budget, Paul Keating

BENSON: Well, as I mentioned there in the headlines, the Federal Government is planning to secretly test Commonwealth law enforcement officers for corrupt conduct.

Legislation to be introduced to Parliament would allow undercover testing of officers from the AFP and the Crime Commission, as well as Customs and Border Protection. Under the plan officers could be offered fake bribes or confronted with valuable items planted at crime scenes to tempt them.

For more the Home Affairs Minister, Jason Clare, joins us now.

Mr Clare, good morning.

JASON CLARE: Good morning, Marius.

BENSON: Now, I take it if you were introducing legislation you’re not allowed to put out these temptations at the moment.

JASON CLARE: No, it’s very limited. You’ve got this integrity testing regime happening in the states – in New South Wales, Victoria, Queensland, South Australia and WA – but we don’t have the full integrity testing system at a Commonwealth level at the moment.

Our national corruption watchdog has a lot of powers. They’ve got the powers to tap phones and search homes, as well as coerce or force law enforcement officers to give evidence against their will. But they’ve made it clear to me they think they need this additional power, and that’s why I’ll introduce legislation later in the year to do that.

BENSON: Now, there were just some corruption figures about the Customs’ force in particular recently. And the Opposition was criticising the Government for being responsible for that, in their view, because of budget cuts. Is this some sort of way of responding to that criticism?

JASON CLARE: I reject the criticisms from the Opposition. Have a look at what Customs are doing. You’ll see that we search more containers, or a greater proportion of sea containers, than most of our major trading partners; more than the US, more than the UK, more than Japan or Germany or New Zealand. Ten years ago, Marius, we were searching less than two thousand containers. We’re now searching over a hundred thousand.

The point I’m making here is that there are people that are always going to be susceptible to corruption, and there are always going to be crooks that are going to target police or target Customs’ officials or target the waterfront, just because the nature of the work and the nature of the work that goes on there.

We need to make sure that our law enforcement agents are as corruption resistant as possible. And this is an important tool to make sure that’s the case.

BENSON: The PSU, the union relevant to many of the people who would be affected by this, says it’s a fairly clumsy tool and that you might actually create a climate of fear and suspicion and undermine morale. Does the union have a point?

JASON CLARE: Well, I disagree with that. It’s been successful where it’s been applied elsewhere across the country. If it creates a climate of fear, that’s a good thing – I want people to have the fear of God in them if they’re thinking of acting corruptly. If they’re thinking of taking money off a crook to let drugs through the country, then be afraid because you might get caught.

We don’t want people – whether they’re police officers or Customs’ officers – acting in a corrupt way. It just hurts the country. And if it takes powers like these – which I do expect will be controversial because they are tough – but if it takes powers like this to make our public service as corruption resistant as possible, then I’m prepared to do it.

BENSON: Can I take you to another Labor issue this morning, because one of the pantheon of heroes – a member of that pantheon is Paul Keating, the former Prime Minister. He’s critical of current Labor saying you’ve lost the middle class. We helped to create it with our economic reforms. You’ve lost it with some dumb rhetoric about getting back to basics. Do you think Paul Keating has a point?

JASON CLARE: Well, Paul Keating is a great Labor hero. I’m fortunate enough to succeed him as the member for Blaxland. One of the great things that Paul Keating did with Bill Kelty was introduce universal superannuation. There are people that are retiring now with a bit more money in their pocket because of the things that Paul Keating did.

What we’re doing as a Government is building on the shoulders of some of the things that Paul Keating and Bob Hawke did. And one of those things is increasing superannuation so that if you’re earning fifty grand a year at the moment and you’re thirty years old, when you retire you’ll have an extra hundred thousand dollars in your pocket. This is…

BENSON: [Interrupts] But does Paul Keating…

JASON CLARE: …good Labor reform, and it’s for working class, ordinary people.

BENSON: But does Paul Keating have a point when he says Labor abandoned and ran scared from the Keating core program during the Howard years because Paul Keating was dragged out at every election as Mr seventeen per cent interest rate. You ignored him, and you’ve paid a price.

JASON CLARE: Oh look, my view on this is clear. Paul Keating, in many senses of the word, helped to build the foundations of Australia’s modern economy with the big reforms that Paul implemented – whether it’s the floating of the dollar or tariff reforms or superannuation or competition policy – that are responsible for economic growth over the course of the last two decades.

So I embrace the work that Paul did. I think what he did is responsible for the good economic conditions that we enjoy today. And we’re building on that. We’re building on that, both through the work we’re doing in superannuation, but also the work we’re doing in education.

Remember, Paul would say, when he was Prime Minister and after, that education is the keys to the kingdom. You invest in that, you build a stronger economy for the future. And this Government is investing more in education than any Government has ever done.

BENSON: Jason Clare, thank you very much.

JASON CLARE: Thank you.

BENSON: Jason Clare is the Minister for Home Affairs.

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