ABC Radio National Drive

Subject/s: Bob Day's resignation



PATRICIA KARVELAS, HOST: Yesterday it was Bob Day. Today it’s One Nation Senator Rod Culleton whose job is in doubt. The government will ask the Senate to challenge Culleton’s election because of a larceny conviction, the second referral in as many days. I spoke a short time ago with Shadow Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus. Mark Dreyfus, welcome to the program.


KARVELAS: One Nation Senator Rod Culleton’s election is being referred to the High Court, also on top of Bob Day’s. Should Rod Culleton resign too to clear the air? What’s Labor’s position?

DREYFUS: We don’t know the detail of the basis of the reference, but it’s more chaos in the Senate. What we do know is that the Attorney-General has been sitting on this, as I think the government has been sitting on the details in relation to Bob Day, and Senator Brandis needs to explain himself. Why is it that this had to wait, too, until the day after there was a reference announced for Bob Day?

KARVELAS: So are you happy with it being dealt with by the High Court? You’re not calling on One Nation or Rod Culleton to resign?

DREYFUS: If there are issues about the eligibility of Senator Culleton, then they are properly determined by the High Court sitting as the Court of Disputed Returns.

KARVELAS: Culleton says he is not surprised about this referral to the High Court. Should One Nation have put him up as a candidate if they knew this was going to be an issue?

DREYFUS: Look Patricia, I think all parties have got an obligation to thoroughly check candidates before they are put forward. In particular, there is an obligation to check for eligibility for the matters that are set out there, plain for all to see in Section 44 of the Constitution. I can tell you that Labor has a very clear vetting process for candidates before all elections, as to whether or not they are going to encounter Section 44 problems. The citizenship one is the one that’s given rise to most trouble in recent years, where people are dual citizens, and that’s not permitted for someone who’s running for the Australian Parliament. But the one that Bob Day has fallen foul of, or may have fallen foul of, that hasn’t been looked at so frequently.

KARVELAS: The validity of Bob Day’s election is to do with him wanting to move electoral office, which he eventually did with government approval, I think it was against Department of Finance advice, that’s according to reports this afternoon. Should this form part of the proceedings in the High Court?

DREYFUS: Well, as I understand it, that will be part of the proceedings in the High Court, because the issue is about whether or not he has breached, or was in breach of Section 44 (v) of the constitution, which prohibits someone running for Parliament if they have what’s referred to there as a direct or indirect pecuniary interest in a contract with the Commonwealth. And here, it’s apparent now, it wasn’t apparent yesterday when Senator Brandis made his three-line statement, that the government has known the facts underlying the ineligibility of Bob Day for a long time. They’ve been directly looking at it since August, but it seems they had departmental advice on the problem much, much earlier. And again, the government’s got to come clean about when it knew about Bob Day’s ineligibility. Was it before the election? Was it immediately after the election? And then explain why it is they sat on this material? Was it that they wanted Bob Day’s vote? Because that’s certainly what it looks like. Why did they wait for Bob Day’s resignation from the Parliament before waiting for this referral, or announcing they’re going to make this referral to the High Court?

KARVELAS: Given all these questions that you’re asking about the government’s knowledge here, do you think this case is ready for the High Court?

DREYFUS: Well I don’t know the full detail, but I do know that Senator Brandis appears to be playing very fast and loose with the truth. We learned in the inquiry into the circumstances surrounding George Brandis’ misleading of the Senate over the Solicitor-General, that the Solicitor-General had been asked to advise about the composition of the Senate, which turned out to be advice about Culleton, and gave that advice back on 14 October.

So, what’s happened in the intervening 15-day period? And again, George Brandis has to explain. Regrettably, the Commonwealth of Australia is now in a position where we don’t have a Solicitor-General, because he’s resigned, the resignation caused by George Brandis’ conduct, and regrettably, the government is in the appalling situation of having to rely on the flawed judgement of the same man, George Brandis.

KARVELAS: You seem to be going after George Brandis in this affair pretty hard, but given that the government now wants to refer both of these cases to the High Court, isn’t the right process being followed? Isn’t it really in the hands of the High Court now to determine?

DREYFUS: Well, when the reference is made, and that can’t happen until the Senate sits on 7 November… but why didn’t this happen long before now? Those are questions for George Brandis to answer.

Of course, I’m going after him pretty hard, because he’s lied to the Australian Parliament on more than one occasion, and he’s not fit to be holding his office, Patricia, I’ll be very clear about that.

KARVELAS: But on this issue. I understand that you’ve raised previous issues, but let’s try to detangle it all if we can. On this issue, where’s the evidence that George Brandis has lied?

DREYFUS: Well, he said that he only got advice on Friday. The Solicitor-General said at a Senate inquiry some weeks back that he’d been asked to provide urgent advice and did so on 14 October. And as for the material on Bob Day, it’s now apparent, it wasn’t apparent in Senator Brandis’ short statement yesterday, but it’s become apparent overnight, that the government has known about this transaction, if I can call it that, involving Mr Day’s Senate electorate office, which turns out to be his actual own office which he used to own and conduct his business from, the government permitted to be converted into a Commonwealth rental property. The government received advice in February 2014, before Senator Day even took up his seat in the Senate, the government was advised by the department not to enter into the proposed transaction, and of course the whole thing involved, slightly to digress, a tremendous waste of public funds, because the usual situation is that an incoming Senator will take over the office of the outgoing Senator. In this case Senator Don Farrell left his office on 30 June, and rather than move in, Mr Day decided that he wanted the Commonwealth to start paying money for an office that he already owned. Now I understand that there has been a change of ownership to somebody associated with Mr Day since then, but those are the matters that the High Court is going to be looking at. And these facts about the waste of money, the refusal to take over the office that had been occupied by Don Farrell, they have been known for many, many months and the Government having been told by the Department not to go into this transaction – that’s been known for many months and it appears that the Special Minister of State, Senator Scott Ryan, not later than August was looking into a demand for money from the owner of the building. 


KARVELAS:  So they were investigating it as soon as they got the external advice they say they informed the Senate and also briefed Labor, they argued that as soon as they got the final advice they informed Labor.


DREYFUS:  Well, when did they get their first advice, what was the basis for the Department recommending not to enter the transaction?  Why didn’t they contact other members, other parties in the Senate, as soon as they became aware of the facts underlying this, and when did they get preliminary advice?  Why didn’t they act then? You are left with the obvious conclusion that the Government wanted Bob Day’s vote in the Senate and were quite prepared to turn a blind eye to all of this until he resigned.


KARVELAS:  Culleton has spoken to the media and says the key in question, the reason he is even facing these charges, is that he took was only worth seven dollars fifty and  that it is essentially trivial to hold up the whole process.  Does he have a point?


DREYFUS:  The constitution is clear and it speaks of someone charged with an offence which carries a penalty of imprisonment of more than one year and the constitution is not concerning itself there with the seriousness of the particular facts, it is an actual disqualification that rests on what you are charged with and that’s the question that I imagine the High Court sitting as the Court of Disputed Returns is going to be asked to look at.


KARVELAS:  There is no doubt that things are more difficult for the government in the Senate now with two Senators with a cloud over the future of those positions.  Will you go for the political points on this, or should Labor just let the process get moving for the good of the Parliament and for parliamentary process?


DREYFUS:  These are matters which go to the operation of our democracy and we think that the constitutional provisions are very important.  These are constitutional provisions which go to eligibility to serve in the Australian Parliament.  Of course they are matters that have to undergo proper process and if there is a referral to the High Court sitting as the Court of Disputed Returns in principle we will support that, we will have to wait and see the actual references, but they are appropriately dealt with in the High Court and in the past, the High Court has shown that a preparedness to deal with matters like this very promptly, electoral matters, Court of Disputed Returns matters. I imagine that the High Court will get right down to this.

KARVELAS: The question of whether Culleton will even vote in the Senate is up in the air. He’s said various things in this press conference including consulting the Clerk of the Senate about that – should he vote?  Does Labor believe he should abstain from voting while this continues?

SHADOW ATTORNEY-GENERAL, MARK DREYFUS: I think that’s a matter for him to determine and I have noted that he has said – the comment that I saw was him saying that he would not vote – that he did not think it was appropriate that he voted.

KARVELAS: And do you support that decision?

SHADOW ATTORNEY-GENERAL, MARK DREYFUS: Well it’s entirely a matter for him.

KARVELAS: Well you either think his vote is appropriate or not - I mean it is a matter for him you're right but Labor surely has a view?

SHADOW ATTORNEY-GENERAL, MARK DREYFUS: Well this is a very unusual situation and he has this cloud hanging over his eligibility and I think that a better view is that while the cloud is there… but again, it’s for him to judge because he knows that the basis of that cloud and whether or not it’s going to be made out in the end and he will be held to be ineligible but I think there’d be a sound basis for him not voting.

KARVELAS: Bob Day has called on MPs and Senators to review their own arrangements when it comes to financial arrangements with the Commonwealth. Will you and your colleagues be doing this? Is there any work around this? Has Bill Shorten asked all MPs to look at their own arrangements?

DREYFUS: Speaking for myself I have nothing to review because I have no business arrangements with the Commonwealth.

KARVELAS: Sure, but broadly is that something Labor MPs are doing?

DREYFUS: I’m sure that before they entered the Parliament every Labor MP was asked to examine whether or not they have a contract with the commonwealth. And, I think it most unlikely that anyone certainly would be in the situation that Bob Day is in, apparently, an indirect pecuniary interest – that’s the way in which it’s been described by the Attorney-General George Brandis.

KARVELAS: Just on another topic, Kevin Rudd wrote a pretty frank opinion piece for Fairfax overnight. He says that in the hardening of the government’s immigration laws Malcolm Turnbull is appeasing the political thugs in the right of the party. And we've got now Peter Dutton and the government saying does Bill Shorten agree with Kevin Rudd on his analysis? Do you agree with Kevin Rudd on his analysis?

DREYFUS: What Kevin Rudd’s pointed out in that piece today is that the government’s claim that their announced new policy, which we haven’t yet seen the legislation for – that that new policy is pursuing Labor’s policy from 2013. That claim is false. Kevin Rudd is making it clear that the decision taken by the federal cabinet, which he led, that I was a part of, to announce a policy  that if you came to Australia by boat you would not be settled in Australia was a temporary policy. The arrangement we entered into with Papua New Guinea was for twelve months and it has been converted, Kevin Rudd rightly says, by this government into a permanent arrangement – something that was never intended by the Labor Government, never intended by Kevin Rudd as Prime Minister. I think it’s a very timely reminder of what was the policy that Labor adopted in July of 2013 and it’s a very false claim that’s been made by Mr Turnbull and Mr Dutton that what the Leader of the Opposition has rightly described as a ridiculous proposition. We haven’t even seen the legislation but it seems ridiculous if somehow in furtherance to the Labor policy.  

It’s not just pursuing the hard right of the Liberal Party that Mr Turnbull is now engaged in – he’s also pursing the approval of One Nation, which is why Pauline Hanson was so quick to applaud this announcement by Mr Dutton and Mr Turnbull on Sunday and say that they were taking One Nation’s politics.  

KARVELAS: Thank you so much for your time Mark Dreyfus

DREYFUS: Thank you very much Patricia.