SUBJECT/S: Parliamentary inquiry into press freedom, tax policy
MARK DREYFUS QC MP
SHADOW MINISTER FOR CONSTITUTIONAL REFORM
MEMBER FOR ISAACS
ABC RADIO MELBOURNE MORNINGS
WEDNESDAY, 3 JULY 2019
SUBJECT/S: Parliamentary inquiry into press freedom, tax policy
ALI MOORE, HOST: Mark Dreyfus is the Shadow Attorney-General and the Shadow Minister for Constitutional Reform and the Member for Isaacs of course. Mark Dreyfus, thank you for joining us.
MARK DREYFUS, SHADOW ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Good to be with you.
MOORE: You’ve come up with a plan pretty much at exactly the same time as the government’s come up with a plan. Do we need two inquiries? I could ask whether we need any inquiries, but do we need two?
DREYFUS: We’re a little bit ahead of the government and it’s disappointing that the government’s gone after we’ve suggested a Joint Select Committee which would involve the crossbench and would have the presumption of open proceedings. It’s a bit disappointing that the government’s come forward with a much more limited proposal to put the inquiry into the Intelligence and Security Committee with much, much more limited terms of reference.
MOORE: So who sits on the Intelligence and Security Committee?
DREYFUS: Six members of the House of Representatives, five Senators and it’s a six – five government opposition split. There are no crossbenchers on the Intelligence Committee and that’s unfortunate, but primarily it’s a committee that’s controlled by the government. We’ve suggested a Joint Select Committee involving both houses of parliament which would have crossbenchers, would have broader terms of reference and most significantly doesn’t just look at the issue of the public’s right to know and press freedom through a prism of national security. This is a much broader issue Ali than just national security. It’s about secretiveness in government. It’s about proper transparency. It’s about accountability. It’s about whether our hospitals are being properly administered, whether our schools are being properly administered. All those other issues which involve government that aren’t just national security.
MOORE: So what happens now? As I understand it the Attorney-General Christian Porter will be writing to Anthony Albanese today looking for support for the government’s plan for the Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security. Will you support that inquiry while running your Joint Select Committee in tandem? What happens next?
DREYFUS: Well that’s not up to us as to whether there’s an inquiry in the Intelligence Committee. The government can refer a matter to the Intelligence Committee which is a statutory committee at any time. The setting up of a Joint Select Committee into the public’s right to know and press freedom would require a vote in the Parliament and that will require the support of the government. We’re hoping to have the support of the government for a much broader inquiry with all the proceedings in the Joint Select Committee. It might end up that we have two inquiries. I don’t think that would be a bad thing but you’re right Ali that of course an inquiry isn’t an answer, action from the government is the answer and we’ve had practically nothing said by the government and certainly no action by the government since these raids were conducted on the 4th and 5th of June. The government could have ruled out prosecuting journalists. They haven’t done that. That’s in relation to the current raids. The government could have announced law reform straight away in response to the demands of the media organisations that there be reform. It hasn’t done that either. Obviously the government prefers to kick this down the road with an inquiry.
MOORE: So why don’t you introduce some legislation?
DREYFUS: Because we’re the opposition, Ali.
MOORE: But that doesn’t, I suppose, stop you though from making a point though does it?
DREYFUS: Just to be clear, people keep pretending that the Labor Party has somehow got power in the House of Representatives. We can’t even bring on a bill, Ali because we don’t have the numbers in the House of Representatives and I thought that would have been clear to probably everybody by now that Labor lost the election. The result of that is that we can come up with as many good ideas as we like, we’ve got plenty. But we can’t implement them because we can’t bring on a Private Members Bill in the House of Representatives. It’s for the government to bring forward legislation. That’s why the media organisations rightly have called on the government to take action. We join in the call because Labor supports freedom of the press. The government should be taking action. Clearly Mr Morrison is hoping that the whole matter will die down and just go away. I’m hoping for the reverse.
MOORE: So what would you support right now? You’ve made the point that this is bigger than just national security, you clearly would like to see an inquiry into that bigger picture but before that inquiry what would you support right now in terms of changes?
DREYFUS: I think that the government should be introducing legislation which reforms the whistleblower protection scheme that I introduced as Attorney-General in 2013. When I did so, I said this scheme’s going to continue to need to be looked at and will need continuing reform. It’s now been six years, the government should be introducing reforms to the whistleblower protection scheme. I want to see legislation brought forward that alters the way in which raids can be conducted on journalists and media organisations. I think we do need to look at a regime, or contestable warrants. I want to see legislation brought forward that alters the balance that was struck when we passed new secrecy laws in June last year so there’s some suggestions to start off with. The government however wants this to die down. It doesn’t want to talk about it which is why Mr Morrison has said virtually nothing on this subject. He’s paid lip service only to supporting press freedom. If he really supported press freedom he’d be introducing reforming legislation. If he really supported press freedom he would be ruling out prosecutions of journalists which neither he nor his Attorney-General Mr Porter have done.
MOORE: Mark Dreyfus of course, key in Parliament at the moment are the tax cuts. The government’s tax package went through the House with your support last night. Are you still pursuing reforms or attempts to get changes in the Senate?
DREYFUS: Absolutely we’ve said very clearly, and Anthony Albanese could not have been clearer that we will be pursuing our amendments in the Senate which will be economically responsible which the government isn’t being. The government’s got a package here which delivers some tax cuts now, that’s which will be economically helpful and Labor’s always supported that – that’s stage one. And stage two doesn’t kick in until…[interrupted]
MOORE: We went through this yesterday with one of your other Shadow Ministers, but nothing’s changed? If you can’t get your reforms up you’ll knock it on the head, or is there a chance that you’ll give it a go?
DREYFUS: We are going to continue to consider our position. It depends on how the debate goes in the Senate, it depends on whether we can get our amendments up in the Senate, but we are pursuing the amendments that we tried in the House yesterday, we are going to pursue them in the Senate when the Senate deals with this on Thursday.
MOORE: Thank you very much for talking to us Mark Dreyfus, and we’ll watch with interest how the various inquiries, if indeed we do end up with two, into press freedom proceed. Thank you for your time.
DREYFUS: Thanks for having me Ali.