Doorstop Interview, Canberra

SUBJECT/S: Senate inquiry into George Brandis; Citizenship changes; Government paying people smugglers; Bill Shorten.









SUBJECT/S: Senate inquiry into George Brandis; Citizenship changes; Government paying people smugglers; Bill Shorten.


MARK DREYFUS, SHADOW ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Yesterday the Senate voted, with all eight of the crossbenchers voting for an inquiry into the Government’s handling of the letter received by the Attorney-General on the 9 October 2014 from Man Haron Monis, the Martin Place gunman.


This is a very significant inquiry and it represents the Senate’s insistence that the Government should not be allowed to shut down the handling of this letter that the Attorney-General received from Man Haron Monis on 9 October 2014, a little under a month from the time that the Government increased the threat level to the highest level ever, and of course only a matter of some weeks before the dreadful siege took place.


What of course happened was the Government failed to give this letter to the joint Commonwealth/New South Wales inquiry, and then covered up the fact that they had failed to give the letter to the joint Commonwealth/New South Wales inquiry. Both the Attorney-General and the Foreign Minister managed to mislead simultaneously both houses of Parliament, and then think they can come into the Parliament a week later and say ‘Oh, we’ve misled the Parliament,’ thinking that would shut down the matter.


Well it hasn’t shut down the matter. This is really the Senate’s attempt to investigate what has become the cover up of a cover up. I’m very pleased to say that all eight of the crossbenchers supported it, along with the Greens Party and, of course, the votes of the Labor Party.


The inquiry will be a short inquiry and I hope it will get to the bottom of, first of all, why the letter wasn’t seen as the red flag that it should have been seen as by the Attorney-General’s office and the Attorney-General’s Department; why it was that the letter was not referred to ASIO, and why it was that, despite the fact that it had been answered, treated as the Attorney-General put it, as a routine matter, why it was that the letter was never given to the joint Commonwealth/New South Wales inquiry.


JOURNALIST: Is it encouraging that Malcolm Turnbull appears to be speaking out against the Abbott Government’s changes to citizenship and (inaudible) dual nationals, saying it should respect the constitution?


DREYFUS: What you see from the Abbott Government is the true nature of just what a divided and dysfunctional Government it has become. It’s an extraordinary thing that we have a Prime Minister who is far more interested in scoring political points, even out of national security – that’s the really shocking thing here – we’ve got a Prime Minister that’s interested in scoring political points out of national security, that’s the only conclusion we can draw from the fact that the Government first started talking about changes to Australia’s citizenship law as apparently some measure in relation to national security, as long ago as January 2014.


It’s now 18 months later, we still haven’t seen a Bill from the Government. We still haven’t seen the legal advice that the Immigration Minister said he would share with the Australian people. We’ve seen criticism after criticism expressed by people on the conservative side of politics, including conservative constitutional lawyer Greg Craven, former senior Liberal cabinet minister Amanda Vanstone, and of course now Malcolm Turnbull adding his voice. We already knew his views because of the extraordinary leaks about national security that have come out of the Abbott Cabinet, but it’s now the second time in a week we’ve heard from Malcolm Turnbull expressing his views about the undesirability about some of the proposals that the Government is putting forward. It’s about time that the Government produced its Bill. It’s about time that the Government explain to the Australian people – “What is the legislation it’s proposing to put forward?” - so that we can have a proper debate about these important national security questions, and not the endless political point scoring that the Prime Minister seems to want to engage in.


JOURNALIST: You cite some of these figures that are really uncomfortable with where ministerial discretion sits, that it’s before any full judicial process. You’ve given in principle support for this legislation.


DREYFUS: We’ve given in principle support to the idea that there needs to be an examination of current Australian citizenship law.


JOURNALIST: Where do you sit on Ministerial discretion though?


DREYFUS: It is unthinkable that this should be allowed to be determined by Ministerial whim. And that’s what’s the Government’s proposing – and I’m going on leaked talking points. That’s all we’ve got to go on, but the leaked talking points would suggest that what the Government has in mind is a Ministerial whim, not a court, and what an outrage that the Government should be running on talking points that suggests that a conviction, that a legislative scheme that requires a conviction for a terrorist offence is somehow toothless. That’s not my word, that’s the Government’s word in its talking points. What have we come to in Australia where we’ve got the Federal Government of Australia saying that we don’t need courts? We’ve got the Federal Government of Australia saying we don’t need criminal courts or judges determining whether or not someone is guilty of an offence. Apparently from now on under this Government, it’s enough that it’s going to be on a Ministerial whim; the Minister looking at whether or not someone’s suspicious.  That’s going to be enough to strip someone of citizenship. Well, I hope we’ve made very clear that we’re looking for a great deal more than that. If it hasn’t been made clear before now, I’m making it clear now. We’re looking for a great deal more than a Ministerial whim and we can’t really progress this debate further until the Government comes forward with its legislation. It’s absolutely beyond time, the Government having started to talk about this in January 2014, that the Government to now produce its legislation. I think the reason the Government has not produced its legislation is that they simply can’t agree internally, they’re divided, and they haven’t previously got the proper legal advice they should have got as to the constitutionality of this measure, which is why they’re dysfunctional.


JOURNALIST: Do you think it’s unusual then that the Solicitor-General’s advice has only been seen, as I understand it, by two cabinet ministers and the Prime Minister, being Peter Dutton and also George Brandis, and the rest of the cabinet hasn’t seen it at this late stage. Do you find that unusual?


DREYFUS: I think it’s very unusual that this was taken to Cabinet as what’s called an under the line item, apparently without any papers. This was the subject of a massive leak about national security that we heard some weeks back, where six Ministers were named, we got practically a transcript of what they’d said in Cabinet. That’s our concern, that’s why the leak occurred. Apparently there were initially no papers. There certainly wasn’t the legal advice, which you’d ordinarily expect to go before Cabinet. And I say that as a former Cabinet Secretary and a former Attorney-General. You would expect a full brief and a full set of papers to be going to Cabinet on a matter as important as this, certainly including legal advice from the Solicitor-General, because there are some serious constitutional questions that have been raised, not just by me but by a range of constitutional academics, and some of the Liberal cabinet minister themselves. That’s the very sort of matter where you would be getting advice from the Solicitor-General, where you’d possibly even be getting advice from other eminent lawyers about it, to make sure that any legislative proposal is in fact able to comply with the constitution. What’s the point of legislating if it’s going to be struck down by the High Court? If it is going to be struck down by the High Court, again it is something that leads you to think that the Prime Minister is much more concerned with scoring political points than with the national security of Australia.


JOURNALIST: Mr Dreyfus do you think the Australian taxpayers expect to know if their money has been paid to people smugglers on water or on land?


DREYFUS: I think Australian taxpayers are entitled to know how their money is being spent. That’s a general principle of Australian Government, we need to have accountability and transparency but this matter was opened up by  the question of payments being made to people smugglers to turn boats around to smuggle people back into Indonesia, because that’s what the process is here is the subject of this allegation. This matter was opened up by Cabinet Ministers; it was opened up by Minister Dutton, it was opened up by the Foreign Minister Julie Bishop giving their denial and then the back tracking from the Prime Minister.


The fuss, the extraordinary controversy that has erupted over this is entirely caused by way in which the government has handled this matter. The Government have opened it up, it’s for the Government to shut this down because the present situation we are in is that we have photographs and TV footage of wads of cash in an Indonesian police station, a current investigation by the Government of Indonesia people coming forward in Indonesia to speak to journalists about these allegations that they were paid.


The Prime Minister has declined to rule out that this occurred and has declined even to rule out that this would occur in the future. What that has done has been to create an extraordinary pull factor, to use some of the language that has been used in the past or perhaps putting the sugar on the table to use another dreadful phrase that has been used in the past by the Prime Minister and Mr Dutton and Mr Morrison. It’s for the Government to take this off the table, it’s for the Government to shut this down. This mess is entirely created by the way in which the Government has behaved.


JOURNALIST: Aren’t you worried though that a cheque could surface virtually with Julia Gillard’s name? 


DREYFUS: I am absolutely able to say categorically that at no point during the six years of Labor Government was any people smuggler boat paid to smuggle asylum seekers or people on that boat back into Indonesia.  So no I am not worried about that.


JOURNALIST: But you are splitting hairs, you are talking about on water versus on land. You are talking about one small aspect of this and Labor can’t say whether they did pay people smugglers or not.


DREYFUS: It’s not just a matter on land or on water I’m talking about. The controversy that has occurred as of now being created by the two Ministers I mentioned, Dutton and Bishop, being prepared to talk about national security matters in the way that they did, followed by the Prime Minister’s equivocation. That’s the way this controversy has come about, that’s why it’s being created. Just to go back to the activities of Australian Intelligence Officers or the activities of the Australian Federal Police, I am not going to comment on particular activities of the Australian Federal Police or Australian Intelligence Officers but I’d invite all of you to consider Australian Intelligence Officers and Australian Federal Police certainly need to obtain information, they would certainly be involved in breaking up people smuggling syndicates working at times with Indonesian authorities on that very project. All of that is a hugely different activity than what has occurred here. What is the subject of this allegation, one that has been blown open by the way in which these hapless Cabinet Ministers have chosen to talk about this, which is the paying of crew and captains of boats to smuggle people into Indonesia on those boats.


JOURNALIST: Mark Dreyfus you’d admit that the photographs of the wads of cash and the Indonesian police saying that if someone has told them that they were paid, it’s not really proof is it? Given the reputation of Indonesian police in some of those areas of them being (inaudible).


DREYFUS: It’s something that absolutely warrants an investigation and as I say the problem is one that is caused by the way in which the Government has chosen to deal with this matter. This is not something that has been created by the Indonesian Government; it’s certainly not something that has been created by Labor. This is a problem of the Governments own making, it’s for the Government to shut this down and we’d be expecting the Prime Minister to behave in a different way, stop trying to make political capital out of national security but deal with an actual national security problem that his Government and his Ministers have created by the way in which they have spoken about this matter. That is, to first of all deny, then to have equivocation from the Prime Minister which leaves on the table this potentially tremendous incentive for people smuggling boats to not only take cash from the people that they are promising to transport to some safe haven, New Zealand or Australia, but then to know that they are going to get paid by the Australian Government to smuggle those very same people back into Indonesia. The Government needs to shut this down. It’s a problem of the Governments own making and all of the obfuscation that we had yesterday from Government Ministers does not alter the appalling way in which the government has dealt with this national security issue. Thanks very much. 


JOURNALIST: Just one more question Mark, sorry. Was Mark Arbib right to warn Julia Gillard about Bill Shorten, saying he couldn’t be trusted?


DREYFUS: We saw yesterday a fascinating piece of Australian television and a fascinating piece of Australian historical television, because that’s what it is, it’s history. I know that there will be people who are wanting to make this television program yesterday, and perhaps next week, current affairs. But it’s not current affairs. It’s a piece of history. And I have to say Bill Shorten has done an extraordinary job as Opposition Leader to get Labor into and to keep Labor in the competitive position that we have now been in for almost the whole term of the Abbott Government, to draw attention to the unfairness of the Abbott Government, to draw attention to the unfairness of their Budget, and to keep up the fight, to hold this Government accountable. That’s what Bill Shorten has been doing and I know that I and my colleagues, with Bill Shorten leading us, will continue to do just that.