ABC News Breakfast

SUBJECT/S: National security; citizenship; Barry O’Sullivan







SUBJECT/S: National security; citizenship; Barry O’Sullivan


ANDREW GEOGHEGAN, HOST: We’re joined by Mark Dreyfus, Shadow Attorney-General and Shadow Minister for National Security. Mark Dreyfus, thank you for joining us.




GEOGHEGAN: Let’s start with national security. In the wake of recent terror attacks, particularly those using vehicles as weapons, today the government is releasing its review of security in public spaces. What needs to be done to try to prevent such attacks in Australia?


DREYFUS: Obviously there’s a concern here Andrew and as always, Labor will be looking carefully at the advice our security agencies have been given, to determine if there are steps that can be taken to reduce the risk of the horrible events that have been occurring in Europe, and I might add have been occurring in Israel since these kinds of running down of pedestrians. They’ve been occurring in Israel since around October 2015. If there is a way in which the risks of these sorts of events can be reduced, then we should take those steps.


GEOGHEGAN: Do you think it’s inevitable that some of our freedoms will suffer as a result?


DREYFUS: I hope not Andrew. That’s the great test always in dealing with security issues to make sure that we take the steps that are needed but at the same time don’t give up all that is marvellous about our Australian way of life. Freedom that we enjoy – the freedom of movement, it’s a very important part of our community and I would hate to think that all of a sudden we would find ourselves living in a security state. I don’t think anyone wants that.


GEOGHEGAN: Do you feel as though there are any particular measures that need to be put in place – there has been a lot of commentary about security at airports, perhaps it is lacking, it’s not up to scratch?


DREYFUS: I think that people who are responsible for security in crowded places, for many years, have been aware of the need to take particular precautions. I think particularly in Melbourne, at the football where we get very very large crowds, big concentrations of people, outside grounds as the game is about to start or as the game is finishing, people moving to the station, moving to public transport, obviously we need to think hard about protecting those kinds of situations. Concerts, another example. But those who run these kinds of events, and the police, do already think very hard about these issues.


GEOGHEGAN: Mark Dreyfus let’s turn to the issue of the dual citizenship saga that is troubling Parliament at the moment. Now given the number of MPs whose eligibility in Parliament is in question, would it not best be to have an audit of Parliamentarians?


DREYFUS: We’ve got six Senators, and a House member, Barnaby Joyce, who have been referred or are to be referred to the High Court for determination whether or not they are eligible to sit in Parliament. And you’ll notice that as yet none of those are from the Liberal Party or from the Labor Party. I can speak of course only for the Labor Party, we’re confident that none of our MPs is in any way ineligible because of these citizenship issues or any other section 44 issues. And I don’t see why we should suddenly be reversing the onus of proof. Where there is a reasonable basis for suggesting that some of these members of Parliament are not eligible, then of course it should be considered by the High Court and these have been joint referrals by the whole of the Senate and the whole of the House to send these to the High Court. But that doesn’t mean we should be raking over all 226 members of Parliament.


GEOGHEGAN: These cases could be tied up in the High Court for quite some time of course. It’s in the interests of everyone in Australia to have a properly functioning Parliament and government. Is that in jeopardy given the time that is spent on this?


DREYFUS: I think every Australian will be looking at this and thinking what a circus. And being very concerned about how Parliament can keep running. It needs to be cleared up as quickly as possible. The High Court’s got a record of dealing very quickly with urgent cases like this and I’d be hoping to have this cleared up within a couple of months. I know that doesn’t sound quick to most people but in legal terms – in terms of the work of the High Court – that would be pretty quick. And of course we’ve got a couple of other cases. We’ve got David Gillespie, the member for Lyne, going to be before the High Court. The directions hearing is on Wednesday. That’s about another part of section 44, contracting with the Commonwealth.


GEOGHEGAN: We’ll come to that matter in a second, let’s just stick with the citizenship issue. As far as Labor is concerned, you are 100 per cent confident that all Labor MPs are eligible? There have been a couple of questions raised about some of the MPs.


DREYFUS: Well, the questions that have been raised have been no more than saying ‘well this person was born overseas’ or ‘this person had a foreign-born parent’. That’s not what this is about…


GEOGHEGAN: So you’re confident about all Labor MPs in Parliament.


DREYFUS: Yes. Absolutely we are confident and we have very, very rigorous processes Andrew. I’ve been involved in some elections in those processes and we’ve got a team of lawyers at every election who go through, in detail, any concerns that might be raised because of where someone was born or where their parents were born. That’s where these citizenship issues come from.


GEOGHEGAN: OK, now you do mention the Nationals’ David Gillespie, who your party referred to the High Court, as far as his business interests are concerned, another Nationals Senator Barry O’Sullivan – his business interests are now under scrutiny. Are you likely to refer him to the High Court?


DREYFUS: Well that’s a question that we will be considering. This is something that’s been brought up by the media, a Channel Ten investigation. They’ve run two stories now on Thursday and Friday last week. And it’s apparent that he’s certainly got more questions to answer about the extent of his business dealings with the Commonwealth. Which of course would make him ineligible and we’ll certainly look further into that.


GEOGHEGAN: This whole issue around section 44 has of course led to a lot of commentary about whether it’s outdated, it does need an amendment – we’ve had the former Prime Minister Bob Hawke. He wants a complete overhaul of the constitution. Do you agree this is overdue and in particular, looking at the question of section 44?


DREYFUS: I’d agree on this, Andrew, the section was written 116 years ago for a different time. Its purpose, however, was to demonstrate that there is undivided loyalty on the part of every single one of our MPs to Australia. And we know what it says, Andrew – that’s the extraordinary thing about these events involving all of these Senators and Barnaby Joyce. It’s an extraordinary – to me it looks like some level of incompetence that you know what the section says, you know you’ve got to look into your background to determine your own citizenship status, and should have done something about it.


GEOGHEGAN: Although it is a question of interpretation, it’s something the High Court is going to consider and we see of course, yesterday with Senator Nick Xenophon, and his predicament. What do you make of that?


DREYFUS: Well, had it been me, I would have looked into where my father was born and I don’t think Nick was in doubt about that. Of course it’s regrettable that this has occurred but this is something that was able to be determined pretty quickly on enquiry and that enquiry could have been made a long time back. As I say, the Parliament needs to consider, every single member of Parliament needs to consider their own status at the time that they are standing for election. And it hasn’t, it’s been possible for Labor to devise processes. I’ve been a bit shocked to see that some other parties in the Parliament don’t seem to have such processes. There are a lot of other provisions in the constitution that I can think of that would warrant change, well ahead of this one. Not least, the question of indigenous recognition which is to my mind a much more urgent constitutional change than section 44.


GEOGHEGAN: Mark Dreyfus just before you leave us, I did mention former Prime Minister Bob Hawke weighing into the issue there, he’s also mentioned that he wants to abolish the states, we’ve heard that before. It was a position taken by Gough Whitlam – is there any support in the Labor Party for that position?


DREYFUS: It’s not something that I would regard as even on the agenda. I remember Whitlam’s idea, he wanted to go to 60 regions across Australia. But anyone who is in the slightest bit familiar with the history of constitutional change and the failed referendums that we’ve had – six proposals out of 44 have succeeded. I think anyone that suggests that we could overnight remove the states, which is the central part of the federation, rests on having six states – anyone who thinks that I think is not really understanding just how difficult it is to change the constitution. As I say, let’s start with indigenous recognition, perhaps we could go after that to fix four year terms for the House of Representatives, and perhaps after that to the Republic. All of those would be a great deal easier than abolishing the states.


GEOGHEGAN: Shadow Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus thanks for joining us.


DREYFUS: Thanks very much Andrew.