ABC 24 Capital Hill

Subjects: Christmas Island; Liberals’ trade union royal commission; AAT case against George Brandis










SUBJECT/S: Christmas Island; Liberals’ trade union royal commission; AAT case against George Brandis


GREG JENNETT: Mark Dreyfus, welcome. Let’s start – we’ve had the tragic death and some unrest on Christmas Island. Is Labor on board with the revocation of visas for criminals on character grounds, which seems to be a contributing factor to some of the tensions there?


MARK DREYFUS: Well, we’ve been waiting for a report on the tragic events that have occurred on Christmas Island and until we get a briefing, I don’t think it’s appropriate that we be commenting on actually what’s occurred. The revocation of visas – that’s something that is a discretionary matter and over time you do have to look at the way in which the Minister is exercising the discretion but it’s a system-wide question.


GREG JENNETT: Do you think too uniformly, too readily rejecting those visa applications?


MARK DREYFUS: As I say I think it’s difficult to generalise. I do think you need to look over time at how – but the cases are not simple. There are real issues raised about people who have lived for a long time in Australia for example, that’s one of the issues. That’s of course the issue that has been raised by the New Zealand Government with the Commonwealth.


GREG JENNETT: The way they’re co-locating asylum seekers and these revoked visas, in many cases criminals who’ve just served out their term. There doesn’t seem to be any great distinction within these immigration detention centres. Is there one, legally, as to the treatment of an asylum and a just-released prisoner?


MARK DREYFUS: Well, immigration detention is carried out and administered by the Commonwealth under the Migration Act. How migration detention facilities are managed is a matter for the Commonwealth Government and of course Australians are right to be concerned about how those facilities are being administered in their name, and we need to know more. It’s very much a matter for the Commonwealth – I would say, and we’ve been saying this for a very long time – end the culture of secrecy that has surrounded everything about migration detention.


GREG JENNETT: From its inception, do you think Christmas Island as a facility is, to use a word, ‘hardened’ enough for criminal or former criminal detainees as opposed to asylum seekers?


MARK DREYFUS: I think if you go back to the history of when that centre, that facility was constructed by the Howard Government you’ll see that it was built as a very, very strong facility indeed, capable of taking high-security prisoners.


GREG JENNETT: Alright, let’s move on to the Royal Commission. In the evening on Friday we learned from counsel-assisting that there’ll be no further pursuit of Bill Shorten. Is that the end of the matter? Does Labor just cop it sweet, or continue to fight this Commissioner and the Commission all the way to the end?


MARK DREYFUS: We’ve had concerns, Greg, right from the start of this Royal Commission about the terms of reference. It was apparent that it was set up by this Liberal Government as an attempt to smear and use the royal commissions power to effectively attack the political opponents of the Government. That was clear from the terms of reference and of course it wasn’t the only royal commission, they had another one as well, which hauled before it the former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd. That was the Royal Commission into Home Insulation. It was $25 million dollars of Commonwealth taxpayers’ funds which have gone absolutely nowhere and I fear that the $60 to $80 million dollars of taxpayers’ funds that are to be spent on this Trade Unions Royal Commission equally will primarily have been used to conduct a smear on the Labor movement generally.


GREG JENNETT: That sounds fairly dismissive when you match against it not so much the treatment of Bill Shorten but the flagged intentions against someone like Cesar Melham. Are you defending him?


MARK DREYFUS: I’m not defending any illegal conduct, any breach of the law in Australia and we have made that clear. Bill Shorten has made that clear, Brendan O’Connor has made that clear, all my colleagues have made that clear, right from the outset, that Labor does not in any way condone illegality. And what we said from the outset, was that the money, the tens of millions of dollars that from the outset were clear were going to be spent, would have been much better spent funding the police, the Australian Federal Police, the state police forces, a joint task force, funding the Australian Crime Commission to pursue illegality.


GREG JENNETT: But if there’s a large body of criminal work to be done after this Royal Commission against a large number of individuals, how do you dismiss that as wasted effort if it has gathered and prepared the ground for criminal action to follow?


MARK DREYFUS: What I’m saying is that you didn’t need a royal commission. It hasn’t been an appropriate use of royal commissions. I’m fearful that because of the way this Royal Commission has been conducted, and you can point to a whole range of examples including the recent ones of the Royal Commissioner being prepared to speak at a Liberal Party fundraiser or the attempt that the Commission made when we were last here in Canberra during the last sitting week to get the membership details of every single member of the Australian Labor Party in Victoria, an attempt they abandoned, or this most recent example of, quite disgracefully, and regardless of any reputational issues, releasing information from the Royal Commission at 10 past 8 on Friday.


GREG JENNETT: What do you think of that? What do you think lies behind that? What’s the best explanation you’ve been able to gather?


MARK DREYFUS: Well the fact that the Royal Commission had to give an explanation or attempt to give an explanation tells you how problematic it was. This Royal Commission seems to have paid scant regard to the damage to reputations of anyone touched by the Royal Commission and it needed to. It actually needed to conduct itself a great deal better than it has. And I’d say in respect of this most recent exercise: the purpose of proposing possible findings to a Royal Commissioner is so that people potentially affected by those findings can have an opportunity to respond.


GREG JENNETT: And that was clearly not the case with Bill Shorten?


MARK DREYFUS: Well Bill Shorten found out through a journalist and that’s disgraceful. I’m not saying the journalist was disgraceful, it’s disgraceful that he had to wait despite, and his lawyer made this clear over the weekend, saying ‘I asked the Royal Commission several times in the preceding week when was information going to be available, nothing was forthcoming’. And the first Bill Shorten finds about it is from a journalist.


GREG JENNETT: And just finally, we also saw you in action in the Administrative Appeals Tribunal. You have this other case on foot which is the pursuit of George Brandis’s diary. What do you want to find behind all of that?


MARK DREYFUS: We want to see what the Attorney-General and the former Minister for the Arts got up to in the first 8 months he was on the job. I think it’s absolutely in the public interest that senior ministers’ appointments diaries be available to the public and that it be known who they are meeting with.


GREG JENNETT: Anything in particular that’s arousing your suspicions?


MARK DREYFUS: Well, what prompted the concern in the first place was that the Attorney-General cut the funding to Aboriginal Legal Services, to Community Legal Centres and entirely to the Environment Defenders Offices without having met a single representative of any of those legal assistance centres.


GREG JENNETT: And you’re waiting for a decision on that?


MARK DREYFUS: We are waiting for a decision from the Administrative Appeals Tribunal on the processing of that request.


GREG JENNETT: Alright, Mark Dreyfus, thanks for that today.


MARK DREYFUS: Thanks very much.