ABC Radio National Breakfast

SUBJECTS: Peter Dutton; bullying in the Liberal party; Wentworth by-election


SUBJECTS: Peter Dutton; bullying in the Liberal party; Wentworth by-election
FRAN KELLY, HOST: Mark Dreyfus is the Shadow-Attorney General. Mark Dreyfus welcome to breakfast.
MARK DREYFUS, SHADOW ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Morning Fran, thanks for having me.
KELLY: Malcolm Turnbull’s doing you a big favour here, all Labor needes to do is stand back and watch as the Coalition does its best to raise this issue again?
DREYFUS: Well it’s clear that there’s tremendous rancour still within the government. Tremendous division still within the government. But what needs to happen is Scott Morrison needs to apply the same standard to Mr Dutton that was applied to Mr Joyce when he was Deputy Prime Minister, a more senior minister than Mr Dutton at the time. There, the government had advice that Mr Joyce was eligible, you might recall Malcolm Turnbull standing in the Parliament saying the High Court will so hold. But notwithstanding that, the government referred Mr Joyce to the High Court and of course we know the outcome. Despite the advice the government had received from the Solicitor-General, the High Court said Mr Joyce was not eligible.
KELLY: Isn’t that exactly the same position Labor took when Bill Shorten said he had rolled gold legal advice that no Labor people were in trouble and of course they were. Several of them.
DREYFUS: The position there was that Katy Gallagher referred herself to the High Court of Australia and as soon as the law was changed which is what happened in that Gallagher decision of the High Court earlier this year - our three members whose positions were affected by the re-statement of the law by the High Court, they resigned. And what should happen here is respect for the constitution Fran. What should happen here is not game playing, not Mr Morrison running scared from the fact that he’s relying on Mr Dutton’s vote. He’s probably taking instructions from Mr Dutton - he’s relying on Mr Dutton’s vote to support his illegitimate government. One vote government, one vote majority. He needs to do what Julie Bishop says. That is, get clarity, get certainty, remove the risk that is hanging over a very senior minister in the government. It’s a risk that goes not just to his eligibility to sit in the Parliament, it’s a risk that goes to his eligibility to be a minister. And the validity of all of the decisions that he has made and will make as a minister. It’s extraordinary that Mr Morrison is being so weak that he is ignoring the advice of the Solicitor-General. That the matter is not certain, that the matter is one of risk. That’s what the Solicitor-General’s advice says, however it is misrepresented by Mr Dutton.
KELLY: Sure but the Solicitor-General’s advice also said that he found Peter Dutton was not incapable of sitting. So yes, while he admitted there were questions, on the balance of his assessment he thought he was not incapable of sitting.
DREYFUS: I would invite every single person listening to go online and read the Solicitor-General’s advice which the government after the last time we voted in the Parliament made available to the Australian public. And what that advice says in the clearest terms is that the Solicitor-General was not provided with enough factual information, that the matter is one in which there is risk, that the High Court would find that Mr Dutton is ineligible. One where the law is not clear, because the High Court has never had to rule on a situation like Mr Dutton’s, where you’ve got someone who has got an interest in two childcare centres that have received millions of dollars from the Commonwealth and have got a direct agreement with the Commonwealth about the employment of a disability worker. It’s an extraordinary thing that Mr Dutton is pretending, quite falsely, that the matter is beyond doubt. That’s just wrong. The Solicitor-General did not say that. And worse for the Prime Minister of Australia to be suggesting that this is - I think his words were “lawyers picnic” or people were “over the lawyers picnic” that shows the level of respect that this weak Prime Minister has for our constitution.
KELLY: Well hang on let’s talk about ‘level of respect’, the Attorney-General Christian Porter had a lot of fun at your expense yesterday. Labor had your own legal advice suggesting there was a question mark over Peter Dutton and you held it for 126 days and you brought it out when political expediency was going to maximise that.
DREYFUS: What a ridiculous distraction. The Attorney-General should be ashamed of himself for his circus-like performance in the Parliament yesterday. The point is one of substance. It doesn’t matter when it’s brought forward. We brought it forward because we thought it was a matter of national importance that someone who was running for Prime Minister of Australia might in fact be ineligible to sit in the Parliament. It doesn’t, I repeat Fran it doesn’t matter when a point is raised. It doesn’t matter who raises it. It’s still a point of substance and here, as it happens, one of Australia’s most eminent constitutional counsel Bret Walker, two of Australia’s leading constitutional experts Professor Williams and Professor Twomey have all said that there is substantial doubt. Indeed Walker has said that in his view Mr Dutton is ineligible and the Solicitor-General’s advice on which Mr Dutton is trying to rely says that there is a doubt. And the Prime Minister should spend the weekend reflecting on the appalling state of affairs that he has created and on Monday come into the Parliament and refer Mr Dutton to the High Court.
KELLY: Alright in the interests of balance we should point out that Peter Dutton has two legal advices that suggest that he’s fine. But on that, if Scott Morrison doesn’t deal with that on Monday will Labor try again to refer Peter Dutton to the High Court? You tried once and you failed.
DREYFUS: We’ll keep our options open and it’s apparent that others are keeping their options open too such as Julie Bishop, who has said that there needs to be clarity and that she’ll be making up her mind if and when she’s called on to do so. And we’d be hoping that other members sitting on the government benches have more respect for the constitution of Australia than the current Prime Minister is showing for the constitution of Australia.
KELLY: Mark Dreyfus the issue of some women in the Liberal Party talking about bullying and intimidation has been swirling around now for two weeks, the Liberal women accusing some on her own side and some on Labor. But yesterday, Julie Bishop when she was commenting on allegations made by her colleague Julia Banks, said that some of her colleagues were accused of behaviour that could be in some instances illegal. As the Shadow Attorney-General do you have any idea what she means? What kind of behaviour could be deemed illegal in this situation?
DREYFUS: Well I can say that clearly Julie Bishop, a very senior very longstanding member of this Parliament chose her words carefully. She knows the detail of what the conduct was. I can only imagine that it’s something that goes to the provisions in the Criminal Code, that goes to the provisions in the Electoral Act which make it a criminal offence to try to bribe an elected official, make it a criminal offence to try to intimidate or coerce an elected official. They would be the kind of criminal provisions that I imagine Julie Bishop is talking about but without more detail as to the actual conduct, I’m simply speculating. What I would say again is Julie Bishop chose her words carefully.
KELLY: And just very briefly I’ve got the news in a minute, has Labor got a fight on its hands in Wentworth? The candidate preselected is a very experienced former Ambassador Dave Sharma for the Liberal Party.
DREYFUS: Of course - Labor always had a fight on our hands in Wentworth. I know Dave Sharma, I think he’ll make a good candidate. But we will be looking to take the fight right up to him and to the Liberal Party and Dave Sharma needs to perhaps be giving some answers to the people of Wentworth. He needs to be trying to find a policy on climate change for example, trying to find a policy on energy which is completely absent from this government and again the result shows the decisions in the Liberal Party that they couldn’t bring themselves to preselect a woman.