ABC Radio National Breakfast

SUBJECT/S: Susan Lamb; Foreign Influence legislation; Barnaby Joyce.











SUBJECT/S: Susan Lamb; Foreign Influence legislation; Barnaby Joyce.


FRAN KELLY, HOST: Mark Dreyfus is with us in our Parliamentary studio. Mark Dreyfus, welcome.




KELLY: Susan Lamb’s account of her traumatic childhood was incredibly moving, but she still doesn’t explain why she can’t obtain her parent’s marriage certificate, does she? Has she applied to the Queensland Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages?


DREYFUS: This is about what happened before her nomination and she’s provided a more than adequate explanation. You’ve really got to ask what kind of people the Liberal government are that they are pursuing her and continuing with this in the face of that extraordinarily moving speech that she gave yesterday. What kind of people are they? It’s clear that she took all reasonable steps, and that’s so for the other two Labor MPs sitting in the House of Representatives who the government has said that they want to pursue unilaterally.


It’s time we moved on from this. The government knocked back our attempt to put this behind us last year by referring all those MPs that who anyone said there was doubt. They now want to play a party game, pursuing party advantage and I think any Australians that saw Susan Lamb’s speech would see just how wrong it is for the government to continue this pursuit.


KELLY: I don’t know if it’s fair to call it a party game, is it? The law is the law and the constitution, flawed though many people think it is in this area, at this moment, and as traumatic as Susan Lamb’s account was, there is necessarily questions to be asked about whether she did take all reasonable steps because according to the register in Queensland, if parental consent is not obtainable, the Registrar-General considers such requests on a case by case basis. So the question should be asked, did Susan Lamb make that request?


DREYFUS: That’s not what Susan Lamb was told last year.


KELLY: By who?


DREYFUS: That’s what the website of the Department of Births, Deaths and Marriages says, and, if I want to get into the detail, there’s a very real question about whether the Home Office in Britain should have even asked for that document.


Susan Lamb clearly renounced her British citizenship. She paid the fee and that should be the end of the matter and the government should accept what she’s said. It’s wrong for the government to be unilaterally pursuing Labor MPs if there’s doubt about a range of Liberal MPs. As I said, we put forward a motion at the end of last year that would have referred all those MPs of which there was any doubt and the government rejected it.


They want to pursue party advantage here. What we should be doing in this Parliament is talking about issues that matter to ordinary Australians. We should be talking about cost of living, about private health insurance, about a National Integrity Commission, about the abolition of penalty rates. These are the things that matter.


KELLY: I think everyone listening would be cheering to hear you say that, no doubt about it, but nevertheless this can of worms was opened last year. A number of Coalition MPs went to by-elections because they went to the High Court and the High Court ruled, and we will get a ruling from the High Court case of Katy Gallagher sometime soon I think.


DREYFUS: That case hasn’t actually been heard yet. We hope that it will be heard in March and some time as soon as possible after that we’ll get the judgement of the High Court.


KELLY: Not as soon as we hope, you’re right. It should put this notion of the interpretation beyond any reasonable doubt. It should clarify that. But if they don’t fine that Katy Gallagher took all reasonable steps to renounce, certainly Susan Lamb position will be untenable. She will have to go to a by-election wouldn’t she?


DREYFUS: Each case is different.


KELLY: There you have it though. Sorry to interrupt Mark Dreyfus, but if each case is different, shouldn’t we just refer Susan Lamb to the High Court and be done with it and find out?


DREYFUS: The government’s pretending that the High Court hasn’t said in a number of decisions that you have to take all reasonable steps. The government’s all over the place on this. It’s pursuing a party advantage instead of trying to put this behind us and resolving once and for all the status of anyone of whom there’s doubt.


The government seems to want to prolong it. They rejected the disclosure regime that eventually they were dragged kicking and screaming to. Then they rejected our attempt to put up to the High Court, including Susan Lamb. The government voted that down last year. It’s just the government playing games and showing what a petty lot of people they are. Instead we should be getting on with issues that matter to ordinary Australians.


KELLY: Well let’s do that now. Labor has said this week that it wouldn’t support the espionage laws the government was introducing unless there were better protections for journalists. The Attorney-General has now given ground. Journalists would now only be prosecuted if they endanger public safety or jeopardise national security. Do these changes go far enough or do you believe we’d still see journalism criminalised in this country?


DREYFUS: It’s good to see the new Attorney-General cleaning up part of the mess left behind by George Brandis, but Mr Turnbull introduced these Bills himself to the Australian Parliament on 7 December. There’s been no consultation with the community. No consultation even with key government agencies, like the Ombudsman and the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security. And what’s happened over the summer, people have managed to do the work that was required, even though very little time was provided.


A howl of outrage, not just by journalists but from charities, from business organisations, from the universities of Australia, they’ve all said that the four Bills, not just the one Bill on espionage and secrecy, but the four Bills that the government has introduced are all an overreach.


KELLY: At least on this one the government has listened and according to the Attorney-General the Prime Minister was very exercised on the rights of journalists. The government has now strengthened the defence of journalists. Is that going far enough?


DREYFUS: Of all people you’d think Malcolm Turnbull, who worked on the Spycatcher case, now more than 30 years ago, should have understood the importance of freedom of the press to our democracy. Of all people, you’d think he wouldn’t have introduced the extraordinarily over-broad laws, the harsh laws that are these Bills that he put into the Parliament last December.


KELLY: But they’ve heard the concerns and heard the criticisms and they’ve shifted. Do you accept the shift? Is it far enough?


DREYFUS: I accept the shift that they have announced, but we will need to see exactly what it is that they are going to change. I see that this morning that some lawyers have already said they don’t think the way in which the changes have been described that they go far enough. The government has at least understood that the laws should be harm based and you shouldn’t simply criminalise the receipt of a document because it was classified. You shouldn’t simply criminalise mere receipt of a document. The government seems to have understood that the defence they put in was much too narrow. But let’s see the drafting that the government produces. Let’s see also the government acknowledge that its other Bills, the donations Bill that charities have identified. The Foreign Influence Transparency Scheme Bill and the Home Affairs Bill, they are all needing attention as well and I’m hoping that the Intelligence Committee can be debating the actual proposals that the government’s now got and not the harsh and overbroad provisions that were put into the Parliament by Mr Turnbull in December.


KELLY: Mark Dreyfus, can I ask you finally about Barnaby Joyce? He’s had an affair. He’s in a relationship with a woman that worked on his staff. Labor is really trying hard not to politicise this matter, but I wonder if you’re satisfied that the personal situation with Barnaby Joyce has not affected his work as a minister or Deputy PM and this question that no public money has ever been spent pursuing this relationship. No taxpayer funded trips.


DREYFUS: We think Barnaby Joyce is one of the worst Deputy Prime Minister in Australian political history, but that’s got nothing to do with his private life. The only issue that needs to possibly be considered is use of public money or whether or not there was something improper about the obtaining of a job in another MPs office. Those are properly the subject of public examination, but private lives of politicians should stay private. That’s their personal business and none of the business of the media.


KELLY: In the US the House of Representatives has passed just this week a Bill prohibiting sexual relationships between lawmakers and their staff. The view is that Congress needs to take a stand and set standards for the rest of the country. Do you think that’s a good idea? Should the Australian Parliament follow suit?


DREYFUS: I think that people’s private lives are complicated. I think that relations between people are complicated and I think we should think long and hard before we pass a law that seeks to criminalise particular sexual relations between anyone in any part of society. I hadn’t heard of that proposal in the United States Fran.


KELLY: It’s a law just passed actually.


DREYFUS: I’d be hoping that no Australian state or federal parliament would ever go down that path because I think legislating about those matters is fraught with difficulty. I do think there should be codes of conduct. I do think people have got to behave themselves and I do think sex in the office is always going to present problems, but whether we need to legislate is quite another question.


KELLY: Mark Dreyfus, thank you very much for joining us.


DREYFUS: Thank you Fran.