ABC RN Drive

SUBJECT/S: Federal ICAC, Religious Freedoms and LGBTI Students



SUBJECT/S: Federal ICAC, Religious Freedoms and LGBTI Students
PATRICIA KARVELAS: For Labor’s response I’m joined now by Mark Dreyfus, the Shadow Attorney-General. Welcome back to RN Drive. 
MARK DREYFUS, SHADOW ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Good to be with you Patricia.
KARVELAS: The Federal Government says this will be an investigative body and that any prosecutions that arise from it would go through the courts. Why does it need to have public hearings?
DREYFUS: We think that public hearings are a really essential part of any National Integrity Commission and I think it’s a view that’s widely shared by the Australian public – it’s certainly a view that’s shared with the retired judges who have been calling for a National Integrity Commission to be established. David Ipp the former ICAC Commissioner has been very clear about this. Without public hearings you don’t get the educative effect of being able to teach the public about anticorruption measures and importantly you don’t get witnesses coming forward. If you hold public hearings the public are aware of what’s happening – they are aware of the process. I don’t think that the Australian people who want to see a national anti-corruption commission established want a secret tribunal.
KARVELAS: Don’t people who are the subject of an investigation have a right to expect privacy unless they are charged?
DREYFUS: Well, that’s one of the great issues and we’ve sought to deal with that by saying that there should not be compulsory public hearings for every part of every inquiry, but rather the Commissioner should have a discretion to decide whether or not a particular part of an inquiry should be held in public. But without that discretion all you are left with is a secret tribunal and that doesn’t serve the functions I outlined before.
KARVELAS: Who would make that determination just to be clear?
DREYFUS: It’s appropriately made by the commissioner in charge of the National Integrity Commission.
KARVELAS: And do you provide any framework for when and how they would make these decisions – on what basis?
DREYFUS: We’ve suggested in the seven principles that we outlined when Bill Shorten announced our commitment to a National Integrity Commission back in January this year that it would be important to write in to the legislation some criteria so the people, the public, could see how the Commissioner was going about making that choice whether or not to hold a hearing in public. They would be public interest considerations. And of course on the other side of the ledger you’ve got to have concern for people’s reputations but both functions have to be considered – both issues have to be considered. You can’t simply say that because there’s potential reputational damage the commission would never sit in public, which seems to be the odd position the government’s arrived at.
KARVELAS: The government’s proposal would not allow retrospective investigation – should investigation be retrospective?
DREYFUS: We think of course they should be retrospective. It’s a curious thing that the Morrison Government is proposing – not that they are going to do it. They are proposing that after an election at which they are re-elected they would establish a National Integrity Commission - because they are certainly not going to legislate before the election. They are proposing they if they establish one it wouldn’t be able to look at any of the activities that have occurred under the Abbott, Turnbull or Morrison governments and we don’t think that’s right. I think that the Attorney-General has got muddled up here and is confusing the issue of whether or not you should retrospectively make an act criminal by retrospective effective criminal law, with this form of integrity commission which of course is an executive inquiry. And of course it should be able to look at past offences.
KARVELAS: Cathy McGowan, the independent, has welcomed this and says she will work with the government – is there room to hammer out something bipartisan or are we going to see something, a polarised debate around this?
DREYFUS: I would welcome working with the government and that’s the invitation that Bill Shorten and I held out in January this year. We’ve been met by the government either deriding or flatly rejecting everything about a National Integrity Commission with Mr Morrison describing it as a “fringe issue” in parliament. Mr Porter wrote to me in May saying there was no persuasive evidence for it and as recently as the 19th of November Christopher Pyne was saying he didn’t think that was necessary. Now of course we would welcome bipartisan work because of all things that need bipartisan support, it’s anti-corruption measures where the public grow to understand that all parties in the Australian Parliament have set their face firmly against corruption and are working together on measures to deal with corruption. It’s one of the reasons that we’ve advanced for why this is needed - it’s to rebuild confidence in our system of governance.
KARVELAS: So given the government has made this announcement today for a federal anticorruption body, is there room to try and legislate for it? And if Labor wants to make changes, to do that if you were to win government?  
DREYFUS: Well unfortunately I’m now a member of the parliament that never sits. 
KARVELAS: It will sit for a couple of weeks next year before there’s an election.
DREYFUS: Seven sitting days before the budget on the 2nd of April, that’s the current government plan so if they can put legislation together we are very happy to look at it - but unfortunately that’s not the course they’ve set. They’ve published a consultation paper, a pretty thin and inadequate consultation paper but they’ve published one and they’ve called for submissions with no indication that they are proposing to put legislation together. But of course I’m ready to be surprised if the government actually gets its skates on and produce a bill, we’ll work with the government on it – we’ll look at it.
KARVELAS: On another issue, and another federal government announcement, the federal government has released its response to the religious freedoms review, the Ruddock Review. It’s accepting 15 of the 20 recommendations, the rest are going off to review including  the rights of schools to discriminate against students and teachers. But there is in this, a Religious Discrimination Act. Now I know Bill Shorten has said yes Labor is prepared to look at this – will you legislate a Religious Discrimination Act?
DREYFUS: We’ll look at the detail when the government releases legislation. Again I’m very concerned at the limited time the government’s allocated to parliamentary sitting days next year – it doesn’t really give much time and I would have to say on whether or not the Religious Discrimination Act is needed, Labor is resolutely opposed to all forms of discrimination in Australia including religious discrimination. And if one is needed and I would have to say that not something that is absolutely obvious – there’s been three previous inquires in the last three years before the Ruddock report none of them saying that there was a high level of religious discrimination in Australia - but if one’s needed we are certainly prepared to look at it and we’ll certainly look at the detail if the government ever gets around to releasing legislation.
KARVELAS: So you don’t think that they’ve made the case for a Religious Discrimination Act?
DREYFUS: I think it’s worth examining and I think it’s worth examining in the context of how it fits with anti-discrimination law. One of the difficulties that has been faced, with the removal of the exemption for LGBTI kids in religious schools, that is the removal of discrimination against LGBTI students is just how it might interact with religious rights and religious freedoms and it might be that the solution to the difficult problem that has apparently prevented Mr Morrison from keeping the promise he made during the Wentworth by-election. It might be that the solution lies in legislating a Religious Discrimination Act  but as I say it’s a pity we didn’t get the Ruddock report six months ago, it’s a pity the government hasn’t moved faster, it’s a pity Mr Morrison hasn’t kept his promise. We will be working on all of this and if we are elected. It’s clearly something we’re going to have to deal with
KARVELAS: So is this unlikely now to pass before a federal election in your view?
DREYFUS: Well, we put a Private Members Bill up almost in despair because Mr Morrison hadn’t kept his promise to remove the discrimination against LGBTI kids in religious schools, when he said he would. He managed to make a complete hash of that in the last two weeks of parliament. Our Private Members Bill is still there, the government and I think Senator Patrick, the Centre Alliance referred the bill to yet another inquiry by Senate committee. That will be reporting on the 12th of February and when we go back to Parliament, we will continue to prosecute that matter.
KARVELAS: Okay, so that means of course that it will become an election issue, the Religious Discrimination Act.
DREYFUS: Well I hope it’s not.
KARVELAS: But there’s no other option because you say you want to prioritise the other issue which has been sent off to the Law Reform Commission so there won’t be time to deal with it, it’s inevitably going to become an election issue.
DREYFUS: Well again, part of the announcement that was made my Mr Morrison today was that he was sending off to the Law Reform Commission an issue that’s already been looked at by several inquiries, that is this question of the exemption for children.
KARVELAS: I know but the Parliament can’t come to an agreement. You can’t agree with the government, the government can’t agree with you, you won’t have a conscience vote.  There’s an impasse, there’s a stalemate.
DREYFUS: The conscience vote is a complete red herring, Patricia. It’s got nothing to do with anything; I don’t know why Mr Morrison is doing - unless he’s trying to cause some confusion here. There’s no reason to say that the conscience vote one way or another is an issue. I’m waiting to hear coherent, sensible arguments from Mr Morrison as to why Labor’s very simple proposal to remove the exemption - which is what our Bill does and it’s what Mr Morrison promised he would do - I haven’t heard any arguments from Mr Morrison as to why that shouldn’t be progressed and  I would plead with him not to make any of these matters a matter of partisan contention let alone some kind of election issue, they’re much too important and difficult issues for that to occur. We’ve got plenty of other things to argue about at the election like health and education and jobs, and let’s hope those are the issues and not some manufactured issue by Mr Morrison about religious freedom.
KARVELAS: Thank you so much for your time
DREYFUS: Thank you very much.