ABC Hobart Radio with Leon Compton

Tasmanian Labor Leadership, Cuts to Community Legal Centres, Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, Section 18C, National Security.








Subject/s: Tasmanian Labor Leadership, Cuts to Community Legal Centres, Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, Section 18C, National Security.


LEON COMPTON: Mark Dreyfus is the Shadow Attorney-General, Shadow Minister for National Security, and Federal Labor Member for Isaacs in the South Eastern suburbs of Melbourne. Mark Dreyfus, good morning to you, interesting day in Tasmanian politics?


MARK DREYFUS, SHADOW ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Thanks very much for having me Leon,. Yes, it certainly is an interesting day. It’s always interesting when a Leader of the Opposition or any senior figure resigns and Brian has provided good service to Tasmania and we wish him well.


COMPTON:  When did you find out that the party would have a new leader during the course of your visit?


DREYFUS: Shortly before I came on air.


COMPTON: What do you make of the decision to change the leaders within say eleven months before an election?


DREYFUS: It’s a matter for the Tasmanian Party. The Party will have a say in the choice of leader as I understand the formalities here. I wish Rebecca well, if she is to become leader and it’s always a choice that’s made - what’s the best look going forward, who can best lead the party into government.


COMPTON: Do you have any inside information as to whether or not he stood down of his own volition or he was rolled by his –


DREYFUS: I wish I could help you Leon but I am here visiting Tasmania on Federal issues and this news is breaking around me and no doubt, over the course of the day I’ll be with Julie Collins and my colleague Senator Catryna Bilyk, visiting the Hobart Community Legal Centre. No doubt I’ll learn some more.


COMPTON: You’ll appreciate considering these events, we’ll talk for a shorter period than we otherwise might’ve expected.


DREYFUS: Of course.


COMPTON: What are you here to do? I mean, you talk about Community Legal Centres. What else are you here to look at Mark Dreyfus?


DREYFUS: I’m here very very directly, to talk to the Women’s Legal Service yesterday - one of the excellent Community Legal Centres working here in Hobart. And this morning I am going to the Hobart Community Legal Centre with Julie Collins and Senator Bilyk to talk to them about the effect on them of the cuts of 30 per cent that the Federal Government is inflicting on Community Legal Centres right across Australia. It’s a cut that will mean right across Australia, for the legal assistance sector, a loss of jobs, a loss of services to clients of Community Legal Centres. It’s something that is completely unjustified. We’ve called on the Federal Government to reverse this cut. It’s a cut that was first announced in 2014. We campaigned against it then. The cut that was to have come in on the first of July 2015 was put off for another two years. But that time has now arrived and we are again campaigning with Community Legal Centres to make sure that the cut doesn’t happen.


COMPTON: Compounded by the fact that these Legal Centres have been the point organisations in some cases for responses to the Centrelink robo-debt demand.


DREYFUS: Yes, you are very right to point this out, Leon. It’s at a time of rising demand. When someone’s got a problem with Centrelink and with thousands and thousands of these robo-debt letters having been sent out, many of them in error, the Community Legal Centres have been at the front-line of providing advice to the community because it is not the sort of thing very often that you will be able to get Legal Aid assistance from the Legal Aid Commissioner of Tasmania. You’re left to go to the free Community Legal Centres. They’re also at the front-line of the struggle against family violence. Very much of the work of Community Legal Centres, particularly the Women’s Legal Service, is concerned with assisting survivors – women and children survivors of family violence. This is a Federal Government that says that it wants to do something about family violence. I’ve applauded the additional funding they’ve provided generally to deal with family violence but this is not the time to be cutting the funding for Community Legal Centres, who are the front-line of legal advice to survivors.


COMPTON: On the program yesterday, we spoke with a man by the name of Francis Sullivan. He’s responsible for driving the Catholic Church – his church – and their responses to the Royal Commission into Institutional responses to child sexual abuse. This is one of the comments that he made to us in the course of that chat:


FRANCIS SULLIVAN: When victims have come to the Church, they have complained about the treatment they have received, the lack of what they believe is justice. And we’ve said the days of the Church investigating itself have got to be over. That’s why we’ve been pushing very hard along with others for a national redress scheme. And we’re hoping that the Tasmanian Government backs that in . Because people in Tasmania deserve access to a redress scheme just like people in New South Wales.


You’ve spoken before about a National Redress Scheme. Why is it significant that the Tasmanian Government gets on board? Why can’t the Feds handle this?


DREYFUS: The recommendation of the Royal Commission in the final report of the Royal Commission on a national redress scheme which they handed down in September of 2015, so early ahead of their final reporting date which is the end of 2017. Their recommendation was that a national scheme be established, led by the Federal Government, but with the State Governments, the Territory Governments, and large institutions like the Catholic Church participating. Unfortunately, the Coalition Government in Canberra took more than a year to even respond to that recommendation of the Royal Commission and have done virtually nothing since they have responded, saying there would be some form of national scheme but it would be ‘opt in’. And that ‘opt in’ feature the Coalition Government has decided to adopt means that we are waiting, and Francis Sullivan is saying to the Tasmanian Government ‘please opt in’. My call is to the Federal Government to do a great deal more to make sure that the states and territories come into this national scheme, to make sure that there is a framework in which the Catholic church and other large institutions can participate. The Coalition Government needs to do a great deal more.


COMPTON: On ABC local radio around Tasmania, news this morning Brian Green has stood down as Leader of the Parliamentary Labor Party. Rebecca White has been elected in his stead overnight. We’re waiting to talk to one or both of them this morning. My guest Mark Dreyfus, Shadow Attorney- General and Shadow Minister for National Security is in town talking amongst other places, with Community Legal Centres. Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act, while things George Brandis might want people to be able to say, and to say with protection under the law might be hurtful, and offensive, and damaging, isn’t it a better society if people are able to say that and others are free to respond?


DREYFUS: We’ve drawn a line for now more than 20 years against racist hate speech. And I think there are some important lines here. This is a line that says ‘we want to respect the dignity of every Australian’. And that means that people of all ethnic, racial and national origins should be free to walk down the street to attend public places without racist abuse being hurled at them. That’s what this piece of legislation draws a line against. It’s not about free speech, as has been suggested from the people on the right of Australian politics. They have completely failed to make the case over now six years of campaigning ever since their darling Andrew Bolt was found to have contravened this section and it’s time to stop. We need this provision just as much now as when it was introduced in 1995 and it’s long past time we stopped having what is ultimately an empty debate that seems only to interest right-wing sections of the Liberal Party and people like the Institute of Public Affairs.


COMPTON: I notice that you are the Shadow Minister for National Security. Lot of talk about Russian hacking going on in the US at the moment. Are the Russians hacking us?


DREYFUS: We have to be concerned about all activities in Australia of any foreign powers, espionage activities by foreign powers. If I were to know anything about foreign espionage in Australia, I wouldn’t be telling you on air, Leon.


COMPTON: They talk about it publicly in the US at the moment. And if it was happening, why shouldn’t you say it was an issue?


DREYFUS: But what they’re actually talking about is a Congressional Inquiry which is absolutely necessary into whether or not there was Russian espionage activity, Russian hacking, that somehow may have influenced the election for President – the most important public office in the United States. I think if we thought that there was any evidence that Russian espionage agents had tried to influence an Australian election, we’d be holding at the very least a parliamentary inquiry – that’s what’s occurring in the United States at the moment. They’re right to do so and let’s see what that brings.


COMPTON: Good to talk to you, thanks for coming in.


DREYFUS: Thanks very much, Leon.


COMPTON: Mark Dreyfus  Shadow Attorney-General on ABC local radio around Tasmania. Mark, while we’ve got you there, Bill Shorten here yesterday, and we had Brendan O’Connor in the studio where you are yesterday morning. What ‘s going on? Is there a particular focus on Tasmania at the moment from the Labor shadow ministry?


DREYFUS: There’s always a focus on Tasmania, Leon. And there’s a focus on every part of Australia. We are a national party and I see it as a very important part of my job. Bill Shorten, Brendan O’Connor, and all our front-benchers do too. To travel. To go and talk to people because there’s no substitute for talking to people. In my case, it’s about talking to Community Legal Centres.


COMPTON: Good to talk to you this morning. Thanks for coming in.


DREYFUS: Thank you Leon.