ABC Lateline (1)

12 August 2017



SUBJECT/S: North Korea; Malcolm Turnbull’s $122 million marriage equality survey; Artificial intelligence, automation and the future of work

DAVID LIPSON: But first, this week the Government announced it would ask every Australian voter for their opinion about whether same-sex marriage couples should be allowed to marry. Then, with barely a word of public discussion about military options, confirmed we'd stand with America in a potential war with North Korea. Today outside the Department of Defence in Canberra, Malcolm Turnbull pledged his unwavering support to the US before attending a briefing with military and intelligence officials about the threat posed by Kim Jong-un's regime. He made clear if the United States comes under attack, Australia will invoke the ANZUS Treaty and enter the conflict. 

MALCOLM TURNBULL, PRIME MINISTER [file footage]: We stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the United States. The ANZUS Treaty means that if America is attacked, we will come to their aid. If Australia is attacked, the Americans will come to our aid. We are joined at the hip. The American alliance is the bedrock of our national security. 

LIPSON: Labor is standing with the Government on this, but not everyone is happy about Malcolm Turnbull's pledge. Greens leader, Richard Di Natale, described it as reckless. 

Malcolm Turnbull, by backing in Donald Trump, has just put a target on our back. What we've got is two dangerous, paranoid and unhinged world leaders goading each other into a conflict that puts the very survival of each and every person on the planet at risk. If there was ever a clearer reason why Australia needs to ditch the US alliance and forge an independent non-aligned foreign policy, this is it. 

LIPSON: For more on this, and the rest of the week in politics, I was joined earlier by the Minister for Industry, Innovation and Science, Senator Arthur Sinodinos, and Labor's shadow finance minister, Jim Chalmers for our late debate. Gentlemen, welcome to Lateline. 

Malcolm Turnbull has said today that if there is an attack on the United States then Australia will join the conflict. Arthur Sinodinos, what are our obligations though if the United States wants to strike first?

ARTHUR SINODINOS, MINISTER FOR INDUSTRY, INNOVATION AND SCIENCE: Well, the point the Prime Minister was making is that under the ANZUS Treaty we would consult, as we're obliged to do, and work out from there what should happen. But look, at the moment, the whole emphasis is on avoiding the need for a conflict and that would happen if the North Korean regime de-escalated the tensions on the peninsula. 

LIPSON: But the prospect of a pre-emptive strike, Australia being involved in anything along those lines, is that still on the table? 

SINODINOS: Look, I am not privy to anything like that and the point I would say is that we would not seek to do anything provocative. What we want is for the North Korean regime and China, leveraging its economic influence with the North Korean regime, to make sure that they de-escalate tensions. I think that is the important thing here. 

LIPSON: Jim Chalmers, what are your thoughts on a pre-emptive strike and Australia's potential involvement?

JIM CHALMERS, SHADOW MINISTER FOR FINANCE: It is terribly concerning, the developments on the Korean Peninsula over the last few months but we share the same view as Arthur. We have a strong belief in the US alliance, obviously, if there was an attack on the Americans, that would have implications for the alliance. The form of those implications would be up for discussion. That's what the Prime Minister was talking about today. Not necessarily a pre-emptive strike, which is what you're referring to there, but again, all of our efforts, all of our emphasis should be on responsible actions like the sanctions agreed by the UN Security Council with the support of China very recently. That's how we put maximum pressure on the North Koreans, that's how we engage in diplomacy and dialogue and discussion - involve everybody with skin in the game on the Korean Peninsula to try and get a non-violent outcome. 

LIPSON: Malcolm Turnbull stood outside the Department of Defence today, Arthur Sinodinos, to publicly broadcast that we are joined at the hip with America, they were his words. Is that message meant for North Korea? 

SINODINOS: Well, I think, well, I hope that the North Koreans have picked up that message... 

Because North Korea has been threatened with nuclear oblivion. I don't think they're going to be shaking in their boots, are they, if Australia says we're going to join the fray? 

SINODINOS: No, no, but I think all of us as like-minded nations who believe in a global rules based order, have to be sending a message to North Korea that it's behaviour is unacceptable and that China, which has special influence over North Korea, should use that influence to de-escalate the tensions on the Peninsula. 

LIPSON: Malcolm Turnbull told Donald Trump in that leaked conversation about refugees quote "you can count on me. I will be there again and again'. It is very similar rhetoric. This is an ugly question and you're not going to like it but I do have to ask it, is there any link, Arthur Sinodinos, between the PM's message today and that refugee swap deal? 

SINODINOS: No, not at all. What is important to us and I think the Australian people, all of us to understand, is we have a longstanding alliance with the United States and the whole point is to send a message to North Korea to de-escalate the tensions and do the right thing. 

LIPSON: Jim Chalmers, are you comfortable with the Prime Minister publicly broadcasting our position in this way? 

CHALMERS: To some extent it was a statement of the obvious, David. We do have a strong alliance with the Americans. Arthur and yourself have both referred to sending a message to the North Koreans. It is very important that when we send that message as a country, it is one message. That's why we in the Labor Party do what we can to be bipartisan but also, it is incumbent on the Turnbull Government to send one message too. Unfortunately we have had two very different views put by the Foreign Minister and the Prime Minister in the last 24 hours about the ANZUS Treaty, and whether or not it is automatically invoked, and we have also had a difference of opinion between Tony Abbott and Malcolm Turnbull on the desirability of missile defence. So we want to make sure that we are sending message whether that is Government and Opposition but also within the Government itself. 

LIPSON: Okay, I want to move to same-sex marriage and we are starting to see the campaign already unfold. This was the former prime minister, Tony Abbott, speaking at Parliament earlier this week. 

TONY ABBOTT, LIBERAL MP [file footage]: If you're worried about freedom of speech and freedom of religion, vote no and if you don't like political correctness, vote no, because there is the best way to stop it in its tracks. 

LIPSON: Arthur Sinodinos, is this vote about political correctness or free speech in your mind? 

SINODINOS: Well, the point I made earlier in the week about this was this is not some sort of culture war. This is a vote about a specific topic, same-sex marriage, which we had hoped to get up by way of a compulsory plebiscite, attendance ballot. We weren't able to do it because the Senate, Labor Party and others, did not allow us to do that. This is all that's about. It's not about anything else and I think the idea that we can weave all sorts of themes into this, I think will confuse the public and make them think that politicians are more interested in talking about themselves than talking about issues that are salient to them. 

LIPSON: Jim Chalmers, the Government will seek to pass urgent legislation next week to stop hateful advertising material in this postal survey as is the case in normal elections. Will Labor support that? 

They are only taking those steps, David, because we asked the Prime Minister about this in Question Time yesterday. Of course we'll be in the cart for making this as civilised and appropriate as possible. We've been saying that all along. But it is important to recognise that the Government is making this up as they go along. They're dropping $122 million on a harmful and divisive, largely, opinion poll, which is only binding if the answer is "no". It is not binding if the answer is "yes". And so some of the shambolic outcomes, as they make it up as they go along, is the inevitable consequence of doing this for all the wrong reasons, as a sop to a divided party room and also to try and delay or prevent marriage equality in this country. The Parliament could do its job on Monday. 

LIPSON: There was talk, Jim Chalmers, in Labor about a boycott. Why did you ultimately decide to get full-throatily behind this campaign, the yes campaign in particular?

CHALMERS: It is not in Labor's nature to vacate the field when important issues like discrimination or inequality are at stake. We're in the Labor Party because we want to change this country for the better and thousands of Australian couples have been held hostage for too long to prime ministerial weakness and division in the Liberal Party room. We think that this is an important change which should be made in the Parliament. In the absence of that and with this suboptimal process that the Government has set up, we will be arguing for a "yes" vote. I certainly will be proud to be voting yes and I'll be encouraging other people to do the same. 

LIPSON: Arthur Sinodinos, should the Prime Minister co-sign a letter with Bill Shorten as the Opposition Leader has offered? 

SINODINOS: I understand the Prime Minister was considering that and look, that will take its own course. The important thing here is that if we had have been able to have a compulsory attendance ballot we would have been able to avoid some of the criticisms that Jim and others have been making of the postal ballot. We are in this position because even though we made a commitment at the election, we haven't been able to discharge that commitment. So I think it is very important for people to keep that in mind but now, the point is and I encourage people, I said this during the week, to sign up, to get their registrations up-to-date, to sign up if they're not already signed up. They can have their say. When I've been out in the electorate, including during the election, church groups and others said to me that they were keen to have their say. Well, now everybody can have their say and I think it is important that we respect that process and we encourage everybody to speak respectfully during that process. 

LIPSON: Just briefly, the question of silent voters seems somewhat up in the air. This is celebrities, witness protection people, even politicians. How are they going to vote because the AEC can't legally share information about them, for example, their addresses? 

SINODINOS: Well, David, my understanding is that Mathias Cormann is investigating that matter as we speak and we'll certainly seek a solution to that because we want to make sure everybody does have their say. 

LIPSON: Okay, just stay right where you are because we are going to move to another topic, and that is artificial intelligence. All this week Lateline has been looking at the promises and pitfalls of the coming storm on artificial intelligence, automation and the like. It will change every facet of our lives. Let's just take a recap of some of the major issues that have been raised this week. 

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Arthur Sinodinos, you're the minister responsible. What is the Government doing to prepare for this? 

SINODINOS: Well, the Government's starting point is that Australia has to be in the forefront of this revolution, in artificial intelligence, augmented intelligence, machine learning because we have a capacity in Australia, we punch above our weight when it comes to knowledge creation. We can really benefit from what is going to happen but we recognise as a government, we have also got to be proactive. So, for example, in the public sector we are doing what we can to make sure that we can promote more open data because access to data is going to be crucial to mining the opportunities that come from the new industries that will be created. And make no mistake, new industries will be created, new job opportunities will be created. The challenge will be, and the challenge we're looking at now is how we equip the workforce for the challenges of the future. We have a Skilling Australia Fund in the budget, which was announced by the Treasurer, that's part of our armoury, with apprentices and others to get them into the right space in not only the trades, but in other occupations but importantly, we are looking at how our existing training programs can be adapted to be more active programs, like we're doing in the automotive sector. 

LIPSON: Jim Chalmers, you've just written a book on this. What are we getting right and what are we getting wrong?

CHALMERS: It's been great to see the ABC pay some attention to this this week David because I think is arguably the defining challenge of our time, certainly the defining anxiety that people have about the future of work. I think that there is an extraordinary upside to technological change. It has the capacity to grow our economy and overcome so many of the obstacles to a good life in a thriving society but we need to care about how those opportunities are distributed as well. And the book that I have written with Mike Quigley which comes out next month, is really about how we advance the fair go in the new machine age and it starts with the premise that with these bursts of new technology, we don't want to see bursts of new inequality. We want to see bursts of new thinking about where humans fit in a workplace increasingly dominated by machines. 

Arthur raised some of those important issues. Retraining, of course, is a very important issue, and the management of data is an important issue. But we need to think beyond that as well. Whether or not our social security system is appropriate for the machine age, whether or not our industrial relations system is appropriate. Right across the board, our schools, all of these things are crucial because we should never kid ourselves that we can see these extraordinary changes in technology, extraordinary changes in the workplace and not have them accompanied by some fresh thinking about what governments can do. 

LIPSON: So, Jim, specifically, I mean, what sort of things are we talking about? For example, you know, further into the future, are you a fan of a universal basic income? Are you accepting that we are going to have many people underemployed, certainly in the transition period? Is that something we need to accept? 

CHALMERS: Underemployment is a really big concern, David, and we are already seeing the leading edge of that. Underemployment is at record highs at the moment and it is accompanied by record low wage growth and the labour share of national income - what workers get for the prosperity that they help create - is also at historic lows. So we're seeing the leading edge of that problem. I don't think a universal basic income is the solution. I think one of the best things about our social security system in Australia is that it is well targeted and I don't support giving money to people who don't need it because taxpayers’ money is precious but a lot of good people have pitched up that universal basic income and they have done that because they have, understandably, concern about the future and where people fit. They're worried that somebody who graduates from grade 12 at the moment will probably have something like 17 different jobs on average after they graduate and what that means is there is a lot of transitions between work. We need to make sure that people are retrained for those changing opportunities but we also need to make sure that they have the income to support themselves and their families. 

LIPSON: One of the suggestions made this week in our programming that was that not only could journalists be redundant some time in the future as a result of artificial intelligence but also politicians as well, that machines might actually be able to make decisions better than you guys, Arthur Sinodinos? 

SINODINOS: Well, look, I would contest this, at least in relation to journalists... 

LIPSON: And does that apply to politicians as well, do you think? 

SINODINOS: Look, I think when politicians are doing their job properly, they're reflecting and understanding their community and they're making decisions and taking leadership positions and that requires judgement and ultimately, that's something that, I think, comes within. It doesn't come from a machine. 

Jim, are you worried about your long-term future? 

CHALMERS: Hopefully both you and Arthur and I are still around in a few years' time, David, but I think really the issue is that we are having this big conversation about which jobs disappear and which jobs will be created - it is an important conversation - but I think as that report that was released as part of your stories this week on the ABC from AlphaBeta and Andrew Charlton which basically said that, yes, some jobs will be created, some will be destroyed but all jobs will change and what we need to think about is making sure that people have the capacity to work with machines in their workplace so that people can be beneficiaries, not victims, of this big change we're seeing. 

LIPSON: Well, we're out of time, gentlemen, but long may we be employed. 

Thank you very much for joining us. Have a great weekend. 

SINODINOS: Thanks, Jim. Thanks, David. 

CHALMERS: Thank you guys.