Subjects: Asbestos Importation Review; Members of the Senate; terrorism.
Minister good morning.
Good morning Ray.
Front page of The Australian, you know, I don't know how much you can do about it, but I've had mates in the building trade whinge to me for a long, long time about Chinese products being brought to the country – lowest possible quote and it's being played out in Perth at the moment with asbestos laden material – The Australian reports Border Force officials unable to fully investigate or stop the imports because of constraints.
Is this something we can do something about? I mean it must be escalated beyond your officials, Border Force officials; surely we can't have materials coming from Vietnam or China that puts the safety and health of people at risk in Australia?
Well Ray, obviously we don't want those materials here. Now, there's a lot of rebuilding going on within the Australian Border Force because, as you know, when boats were coming in huge numbers there were a lot of people and resources diverted to that task and Labor took out about $700 million from Customs. We have put that money back in and put the 700 staff that they took out back in – so there's a lot of work that takes place.
But just to put it into perspective; we get about 2.4 million containers a year coming across the border. Now, in a country like Canada or China there's obviously still very different rules than what applies in Australia in relation to use of asbestos in building materials, so we can't inspect every container. They obviously have a pretty sophisticated intelligence network to look at containers. They're worried about drugs, about gun parts and obviously building materials as well.
There is some work that we do on the borders but there's a lot of work that obviously the states and territories do around building regulation. Hopefully it is an Australian wide effort that we can try and tackle this but we need to be realistic about the amount of cargo that comes across our borders and deal with it as best we can.
Minister, with all due respect to you, this is why it is more widespread than just your border protection.
I'm told by my mates in the building trade that what happens – say in relation to this $1.2 billion Perth Children's Hospital where 21 containers sourced from a Chinese company have been halted by your officers because the building materials were found to contain white asbestos. What happens - they take the lowest possible quote, you know the contractor who has been given a contract by the West Australian Government I assume, and that quote will come from a Chinese company – usurping Australian producers of the same product – and the reason they're doing it cheaper is because it is an inferior product that may or may not contain asbestos.
I mean that's where the problem lies. It's not about stopping it getting in here. It's about putting regulations in place where it must meet Australian standards.
Look Ray, I think that's right. There's a lot of work that can be done and I think there's a whole discussion actually that we need to have as a country about the costs of building, particularly commercial products, and you look at buildings, hospitals, roads, where you've got heavy CFMEU involvement – they talk about a 40 per cent additional cost in building a block of units because of CFMEU involvement – and obviously that has some behaviours, including driving builders to use this product which is completely unacceptable.
So, there's a lot of work that building authorities at a state level need to do but the suggestion that Border Force can check every sheet of fibro that comes in a container across the border is just ridiculous and we need to work with authorities.
If we are made aware or we have suspicions or investigations are underway and we find that there is a potential for a particular company bringing in product that's inferior, then that's where Border Force will act.
But we need to recognise that there are many other aspects within the building industry around the country that Australian Border Force has no influence over whatsoever. There's so much that we can do. But I honestly think that there is a very important period in our history, in terms of the costs. We're watching in Brisbane at the moment two huge building companies that have closed, that have gone out of business, left subbies and people with unfinished products, unpaid bills and we need to recognise that a lot of these builders are doing it tough at the moment.
There are a number of reasons that they're cutting corners; one is that they are being driven into the ground by the CFMEU and these other thugs that are walking around on building sites, including bikies employed by the CFMEU. So we need to deal with all of that – it's a big issue.
Well that's maybe the ABCC legislation needs to get support. You've got Bob Day back in the Senate now, surprisingly, with I think 2.34 per cent of the primary vote. He was written-off by everyone but he snuck in the blindside, he's one of the Senators coming back from South Australia and you'll need the help of people like Bob Day and I guess Pauline Hanson and others to get this legislation through the Senate.
Well that's right. I think Bob Day is a welcome return to the Senate to be honest. I've worked well with Bob and he's a good, decent and honourable person. So I think he will vote for the Building and Construction Commission because, as I say, if you are a young couple or an investor that goes to buy a unit in an apartment block in Sydney or Brisbane or Melbourne, you're talking about paying a 30 or 40 per cent premium because of the CFMEU involvement.
Now, the Building and Construction Commission was an important part of the Prime Minister's election pitch and it's important because we want to restore law and order to building sites, and if we can do that, we'll see a reduction in those building costs and that's good for the economy, it's good for investors, it is good for home affordability and I think Bob Day will support it – I hope that Nick Xenophon supports it as well – again a decent bloke and I hope that he can support it and I think Pauline Hanson will support it as well.
Bob Katter who I have got a lot of time for gets some donations from the CFMEU I think and Bob's a bit shaky on this stuff so we'll wait and see what he does – hopefully he supports it in the Lower House as well.
News Ltd are reporting today via Simon Benson that we are equal or rather ranked equal third among western nations as intended targets for Islamic State terror attacks. The most recent US Homeland Security report shows the number of known terrorist plots…targeted or within this country, was equal with the UK and only behind the US and France. Now that is a great concern.
Obviously our agencies, our police forces – federally and state wise – and other forces do a great job. We've got a lot of people incarcerated but there's a story today about one trying to get out through, you know, being given parole. I think one of the reasons that we have been protected to a certain extent is the good work of police and hopefully that will continue.
I agree with that Ray. I had some good briefings from ASIO and some of the other agencies earlier this week and you know the threat is still there. I mean the AFP and ASIO and other agencies have foiled nine terrorist attacks and there are plenty more in the making and we need to make sure that we recognise that threat. We've put a lot of extra money into the agencies.
I think what the Prime Minister's proposing around working with the states to stopping some of these terrorists getting out of the jails, even once their jail term has expired, is a great initiative. It will work the same way as what some of the states, including Queensland do with serious sexual offenders, and if we can stop them from getting out because we think they're going to offend against children and against women, then we should be stopping terrorists from getting out as well because if they remain radicalised – as we know they are, we know that they are absolutely determined to kill Australians – then we should be doing whatever we can, whatever is within our power, legally, to stopping them from getting out and causing those attacks.
Okay. We'll leave it there this week and I'll talk to you next Thursday.
Thanks Ray. All the best mate.