ABC RN Breakfast

SUBJECT/S: Pink batts; National Integrity Commission; Foreign interference bills











SUBJECT/S: Pink batts; National Integrity Commission; Foreign interference bills


FRAN KELLY, HOST: Shadow Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus joins us in our Parliament House studios. Mark Dreyfus, welcome back to Breakfast.




KELLY: We’ll come to the anti-corruption commission in a moment, first though the latest cabinet leak from the ABC. This time it’s from Kevin Rudd’s time as Prime Minister. A report to his cabinet in April 2009 warned of “critical risks” associated with the roll-out of the Home Insulations Program. The “pink batts” scheme. And this was before those four young men died installing the pink batts. Why did the roll-out proceed when the government was warned of critical risks?


DREYFUS: This is something that we’ve had – I haven’t seen the document I’ll say straight away Fran. I wasn’t in Cabinet at the time. It’s probably the most examined piece of government administration in recent history. We’ve had eight public inquiries, followed by a politically inspired Royal Commission in late 2013 that reported in early 2014 and I don’t think there’s anything more to be said.


KELLY: Well there’s something more to be said given we did have a Royal Commission and Kevin Rudd, who was the Prime Minister, went to the Royal Commission and said he wasn’t warned of these risks. If he’d been warned of the risk that people could die he wouldn’t have gone ahead with it.


DREYFUS: And I don’t understand the document to say anything different.


KELLY: Critical risks, what would you think that would mean?


DREYFUS: I think critical risks were to do with…again, I stress I haven’t seen the document, but I think critical risk would have been to do with whether or not the stimulus effect the government was looking for, from the expenditure of around $1 billion for installing home insulation in around one million homes, would have been something that would have had risks associated with the amount of money to be spent and whether or not the money could have got out fast enough….


KELLY: OK, so you don’t think it would have gone to safety?


DREYFUS: It could have gone to safety. Of course it could have, but I haven’t seen the document so I’m just speculating. What I’m commenting on is that we had eight inquires followed by a politically inspired Royal Commission which didn’t really produce much in the way of findings, and I’m a bit surprised to see this document from 2009 being given the status that is had. But perhaps Kevin Rudd has something to say about it.


KELLY: Well you weren’t in the Cabinet at the time as is fair to point out, but you were given the task of helping clean up the program once it was closed. So you’re saying you never read that report. Did you ever see anything that was warning of the dangers of what was a largely unregulated rollout using workers who were not properly trained, of safety concerns?


DREYFUS: I came into this in March 2010. The program was closed in January 2010. The four young installers died in November and December 2009. Their tragic deaths were the subject of coronial inquiries. Three of the four employers were prosecuted for serious breaches of Occupational Health and Safety laws. My task, assisting Greg Combet, was to get the program shut down in the most efficient manner as possible and we did that.


KELLY: You’re the Shadow Attorney-General, do you think this new information could expose the Commonwealth to further compensation claims?


DREYFUS: I don’t think so. The question of compensation claims was thoroughly examined not just by the eight inquiries but by the Royal Commission itself. And the government of course hasn’t even gone on with the single recommendation of the Royal Commission, which was compensation for existing installer’s firms.


KELLY: It’s nineteen to eight. Our guess is Shadow Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus. Mark Dreyfus, Labor has resisted a federal anti-corruption body for years but now it says, Bill Shorten says, we need a National Integrity Commission with the powers of a Royal Commission, to be set up in the first year of a Labor government. Does that mean you’ve come to accept there is a problem with corruption at a federal level?


DREYFUS: We think this is an idea whose time has come. All Australians deserve to have confidence in our system of government, in our public service, in our Parliament. We know very much, and Bill Shorten talked about this at the Press Club yesterday, that there’s been a decline in confidence in our system of government and in the Parliament, and this is a measure that can go some way to restoring that confidence. It’s not prompted by evidence of wide-scale corruption in Australian government. If we knew of that of course we’d be reporting it to the police.


KELLY: Does that mean it’s just cosmetic then if we don’t actually need it? Really you’re saying that you don’t anticipate that it will reveal any serious corruption at a federal level?


DREYFUS: Fran, I think we should all sincerely hope that once this body is set up, and I’m confident it will be - I’m hopeful that the government will accept our offer to work in a bipartisan manner on setting up a National Integrity Commission, but if not, when Labor comes to government, we’ll be getting this set up in the first year of government. I’m hopeful, and I’m sure you share this hope and all our listeners do, that a National Integrity Commission would not uncover wide scale corruption, but its existence is something that can give confidence to the Australian public, that we’ve got an overarching body that is able to deal with any kind of corruption that is reported to it, and deals with the problem that the Senate Committee which looked at this and reported last year identified, which is that though we have a number of integrity bodies and existing investigative bodies at a federal level, many more than at a state level, there are gaps and they operate in particular siloed areas. A National Integrity Commission overcomes those gaps.


KELLY: You’re right. I do hope it doesn’t find widespread corruption at a federal level, but let’s look at the gaps. Because as you say we’ve got the police, the Public Service Commissioner, the Commissioner for Law Enforcement Integrity, the new Parliamentary Expenses Authority, we’ve got Parliamentary Committees that work, in fact, it’s already been noted this morning that Sam Dastyari was drummed out of Parliament without a federal ICAC. What kind of examples or breaches would a federal ICAC examine and investigate? Where are the gaps? Can you give us a sense of where they might appear?


DREYFUS: I think it’s evident that where you’ve got a government that’s spending something in the order of $400 billion of Australian taxpayer’s money every single year, and it’s a growing amount, that there’s a potential for corruption, where there are contracts worth many millions of dollars, sometimes billions of dollars that are being handed out by Commonwealth public servants, overseen by Ministers. There is of course potential for corruption, and one can point to all sorts of areas where that potential for corruption exists.


KELLY: But what’s to stop an Integrity Commission from being weaponised? Barnaby Joyce has raised doubts about it. He says that a Minister would be “terrified to make a decision that’s different from his department” and therefore could undermine the ability of government. We’ve had one listener write in and say that what will happen is the Minister’s Chief of Staff will tell the Parliamentary Secretary not to submit advice that the Minister won’t like. This happens already according to this listener. Do you see that as a problem?


DREYFUS: I think it’s regrettable that the Deputy Prime Minister of Australia seems to have no understanding of what corruption actually is. He’s talking about some instance of maladministration, perhaps. What’s really regrettable is that there’s continuing turmoil within the Turnbull government. The Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister are at loggerheads. Yesterday Mr Turnbull said that he would look at the establishment of a federal anti-corruption body and Barnaby Joyce is ruling it out completely. That’s not a very good start to our offer of working in a bipartisan manner with the government on this. And again, the Deputy Prime Minister and the Prime Minister need to sort out their differences.


KELLY: Let’s turn to another issue. Parliament’s Joint Committee on Security and Intelligence has just started hearings on the proposed foreign interference laws. The legislation sets up a registry for representatives of foreign governments. It also extends the legal definition of espionage to include behaviour the government considers harmful to national security. Now, journalists, universities, churches, legal groups, media companies, are all expressing concerns over elements of this Bill. What do you think about this Bill? Will Labor push for greater protections? Do you agree for instance with the MEAA who says that this would criminalise journalism?


DREYFUS: The Committee had public hearings all day yesterday. I’m a member of the Intelligence Committee. We’ve got two Bills before the Committee. One’s the very substantial revision to espionage and secrecy laws in the Criminal Code. The other is setting up a new regime called the Foreign Influence Transparency Scheme, which would require a register and registering processes that would apply right across the Australian community. What was striking yesterday from all of the witnesses, was not just the journalists and the media organisations, who were the last group of witnesses to appear before the Committee yesterday, and they of course have very justifiable concerns it seems to me, about the very broad way in which the new secrecy provisions have been drawn. I’ll come back to that. But what was striking was all of the other bodies. Representatives of the charity sector, representatives of Australian business organisations, the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference, the Group of Eight and Universities Australia, all saying that these two Bills have been hastily drafted, they’re full of drafting errors and they are inconsistent with each other and they appear to have a range of unintended consequences.


KELLY: Sorry, I just need to interrupt you because we’re out of time. I just need a quick answer to this question: Would Labor in government, or would Labor out of government be pushing for greater protections?


DREYFUS: We share the government’s concern about foreign interference in our system of government and in our politics. Our objective is always the protection of national security. We put Australia’s interest first, but we’re not yet convinced and the concerns expressed yesterday show that the government hasn’t quite probably achieved the intention that these Bills are designed to serve. We probably need to have a serious look at a whole range of matters including the way that these Bills have been prepared.


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


DREYFUS: Thank you Fran.