SUBJECT/S: Andrew Hastie comments; Australia-China relationship; High Court Banerji ruling;
JONATHAN GREEN: Mark Dreyfus is the Shadow Attorney-General. He’s also a member of that same intelligence and security committee, He joins us now, Mark welcome.
MARK DREYFUS, SHADOW ATTORNEY GENERAL: Thanks for having me Jonathan.
GREEN: Now Labor has labelled Andrew Hastie’s comments as extreme, unwelcome and concerning. What are your concerns about his words?
DREYFUS: Well, that sort of language and those sorts of comparisons are never helpful. I understand, I think, the point that Mr Hastie was trying to make but many people are rightly offended by any attempt to make comparisons with Nazi Germany. He wasn’t trying to do that but it’s come out that way because he used a Germany 1939 type of comparison.
Much more importantly than that it’s intemperate language and Mr Morrison can’t simply dismiss Mr Hastie as a backbencher who’s entitled to his views. He’s Chairman of a very important committee, the intelligence and security committee of which, as you’ve said, I’m also a member, and Mr Morrison supports him in that role.
GREEN: This is an interesting point. As you say, you’re on that committee, you’re privy to the same information that comes before it, the same briefings on these issues. Does what Andrew Hastie wrote, does that reflect the tenor of your conversations around that committee table?
DREYFUS: I’m not going to talk about what occurs in that committee and he’s not speaking as the chair of the committee. I know that’s a hard distinction for, possibly, the public to follow but he’s speaking as a backbencher. He doesn’t claim to be speaking on behalf of the committee and he’s not.
We are very concerned about this kind of language coming from anybody, particularly people who are in relatively senior positions. I have to say China understands very well that Mr Hastie is Chair of the intelligence committee and I’d have to say his comments today just add to this Government’s history of pretty ill-advised and certainly unnecessarily inflammatory comments.
GREEN: Is it China’s goal to supplant the US as the dominant power in this region and does that present risks for Australia?
DREYFUS: Australia has to grapple with the fact that China is now the world’s second biggest economy - that’s a fact. It’s Australia’s biggest trading partner - that’s a fact. Our two-way trade last year with China was worth over $200 billion and on any view it is in Australia’s national interest to deepen our engagement with China.
But at the same time – and you’ve heard this from many people – Australia is entitled to stand up for our national interest. What we have to do, in that regard, is do it in a deliberate and measured way. We have to be free of hyperbole, free of exaggeration. We’re entitled like every other country to ensure that our sovereignty is safeguarded and we can get on with our national business and I think it’s possible to stand up for Australia’s national interest without being inflammatory.
GREEN: How much do you think Australia’s interest, Australia’s conscience almost, in terms of our relationship with China is subsumed by its corporate interest, its economic interest?
DREYFUS: I think we have to do both. We are a different system of government to China. We value human rights, I think it’s clear, in a different way to the way in which China approaches that question and we’re entitled to say so. We have got a different position on a whole range of international law questions - we’re entitled to talk about that publicly. But we’ve really got to do this in a different way than quite a number of Liberal ministers have in recent years, than Andrew Hastie was today. I think we need to move away from conflict - not towards it - and that’s a very important principle. There is a reason why diplomats are diplomatic.
GREEN: There is potential in this relationship for fairly significant retaliation that could harm us.
DREYFUS: It’s not that fear of conflict as such, or fear of retaliation, it’s that countries that are as intertwined economically as Australia and China are - they took almost a third of our exports, it’s more than our next four biggest customers combined. I’m not saying that’s a reason to give up our values - far from it - but I am saying that we have to be aware of that at all times. We have to work to build on that relationship as a basis for finding a way to coexist with China in future and to find how the relationship can work. Inflammatory language is never going to work.
GREEN: On another issue Mark Dreyfus the High Court decision yesterday upholding the sacking of a public servant Michaela Banerji for anonymous social media posts that were critical of government policy. What did you make of that?
DREYFUS: It’s a really important judgement. It’s particular important for the two million or so Australians who work for federal, state and local governments. It goes to the question of their participation - whether they have got the right to fully participate in all aspects of our democracy.
The starting point here is that there has always been some limitations on the way in which public servants can participate in government affairs but equally they’ve got rights to fully participate in our democracy. What I’m a bit worried about watching some of the commentary that’s come out of this is it seems to be being suggested that this High Court judgement amounts to a blanket ban on public servants making political comments or banning them from joining political parties. It certainly doesn’t do that.
What I am worried about is that this Morrison Government is going to somehow exploit the High Court decision to further muzzle public servants, to stop them properly participating in our democracy. That would be a wrong interpretation of the judgement and a misuse of it, but we’ve seen a preparedness on the part of the Morrison Government to muzzle as many people as they can. They want Australians to be quiet.
GREEN: Quiet Australians, Mark Dreyfus, all of us. Thank you for your time.
DREYFUS: Yes, Thanks very much Jonathan.