Doorstop, Parliament House

Subject/s: Appointments to the High Court of Australia, George Brandis and the Bell Group case

THE HON MARK DREYFUS QC MP
SHADOW ATTORNEY-GENERAL
SHADOW MINISTER FOR NATIONAL SECURITY
MEMBER FOR ISAACS

 

E&OE TRANSCRIPT

DOORSTOP

CANBERRA

WEDNESDAY, 30 NOVEMBER 2016

 

Subject/s: Appointments to the High Court of Australia, George Brandis and the Bell Group case

 

MARK DREYFUS, SHADOW ATTORNEY-GENERAL: I would like to start by welcoming Justice Susan Kiefel as the first female chief Justice of the High Court of Australia. This is a very, very good appointment. Justice Kiefel has an inspiring life story. To think that someone can rise from being a law clerk or secretary, do a law degree, become a barrister, then become a Federal Court judge, then a High Court judge and then finally, at the pinnacle of the Australian legal system as Chief Justice of the High Court of Australia. It’s an excellent appointment and I am looking forward to many years further of continued service by Justice Kiefel. I also welcome the appointment of Justice James Edelman to the High Court of Australia – someone that’s already given service to Australia as a judge in Western Australia, a judge of the Federal Court in the Brisbane registry with an already a stellar legal career behind him and he is to be of service again to Australia as a judge of the High Court.

 

On a less happy note, I want to welcome the inquiry that has been established yesterday by the Senate into the sorry circumstances of George Brandis and the Abbott-Turnbull Government’s conniving with the Western Australian State Government to dud Australian taxpayers out of $300 million. You have what pretended to be a full statement from Senator Brandis on Monday in the Senate. It of course wasn’t a full statement. That story is already crumbling. Just last night, Mike Nahan, the Treasurer of Western Australia has again confirmed that West Australia had a deal with the Abbott-Turnbull Government over this special act of the West Australian Parliament. That special act of the West Australian Parliament of course, sought to displace the priority that goes to the Federal Commissioner of Taxation. It would have essentially dudded the Australian taxpayer out of $300 million. It is a shameful deal. Mike Nahan says they had a deal and what we don’t know – we know some of the details – but what we don’t know is what was said by Senator Brandis to the Solicitor-General. What was done by Senator Brandis to stop the proper arguments being run in the High Court about the unconstitutionality of this special Act of the West Australian Parliament? We need to know the full story.

 

This Senate inquiry will get to the bottom of this story and I’m sure that Senator Brandis will be appearing before the Senate inquiry. He of course volunteered to appear before the previous Senate inquiry into the other recent, shameful events that have been discovered, that led to the resignation of the Solicitor-General after years of fine service to Australia. He had to resign, caused by Senator Brandis.

 

Senator Brandis appeared before that inquiry, he needs to appear before this upcoming further inquiry and really, Senator Brandis has to go. It is extraordinary to see how many accidents, how many pieces of mismanagement and maladministration he can be engaged in and weirdly survive. It’s extraordinary and is a reflection on the weakness of Malcolm Turnbull that Senator Brandis is still in the position of Attorney-General and still in the position of Leader of the Government in the Senate. He’s really got to go. This latest set of events where he is trying to say that there was no agreement – Mike Nahan has contradicted that. He’s trying to pretend that he did not have a raging blue with the Solicitor-General by simply not disclosing what actually transpired between him and Mr Gleeson. What he has done is tried to keep to this deal, shameful deal that was done between the West Australian Government and the Abbott-Turnbull Government to dud Australian taxpayers out of $300 million, and seek to pursue that by running dead, by running dead in the High Court, is now pretending he knew nothing of it till the 3rd of March. That’s simply not credible either. We are looking forward to the Senate inquiry getting to the bottom of this matter.

 

JOURNALIST: Just on your comment there that Senator Brandis has got to go. It seems a forgone conclusion that you have already found him guilty, so what’s the point of this inquiry? Is it just a show trial to drag him through the mud some more, if you have already found him guilty and want him sacked?

 

DREYFUS: On the contrary. Senator Brandis should be giving a full and frank explanation of every single dealing that he has had in relation to this shoddy deal between the West Australian Government and the Abbott-Turnbull Government. He needs to give a full and frank explanation because he is accountable to the Australian people and can’t hide behind legal professional privilege, he can’t hide behind some imagined confidentiality. He has to come clean and say exactly what it is that he has done. Of course he has got some chance to explain himself but so far the explanation he has given is wholly inadequate compared to what has been appearing in the press about what actually happened.

 

JOURNALIST: Beyond Senator Brandis, who are the key ministers past and present that you want to get in the hot seat of this inquiry and what do you want to squeeze out of them?

 

DREYFUS: Well we saw that Senator Brandis was quite happy to throw Joe Hockey, the former Treasurer, under the bus and if possible he should come and explain what his role was in this but as well Kelly O’Dwyer, first Assistant Treasurer, now Minister for Revenue has clearly been involved in this. She is the Minister responsible for the Australian Tax Office. We need to know how Senator Brandis engaged with Kelly O’Dwyer. What were her dealings with the Australian Tax Office? And the other, the West Australian ministers, what was the role played by Christian Porter in this matter? Again, Senator Brandis has disclosed a small part of the role that was played by Christian Porter in this, saying he produced a letter by the West Australian Government and a slide show. We are still waiting to see what was in that slide show that Senator Brandis talked about on Monday. What was the role played by Senator Cormann, another senior West Australian Minister? But particularly Mr Porter and Ms O’Dwyer have direct and recent involvement in this attempt to get, particularly, Justin Gleeson to run dead in the High Court.

 

JOURNALIST: Do you reckon you have jumped the shark in calling Brandis guilty already, without hearing his evidence at the inquiry?

 

DREYFUS: It’s more incompetence from Senator Brandis. This is just event after event of maladministration by this Attorney-General, going right back through just about every month that he has been Attorney-General, of the three years now that he has been Attorney-General, we have seen the disasters that he has caused.

 

Misleading of the Senate over Justin Gleeson over the making of the Legal Services direction, or going back to ‘people have a right to be bigots’ which derailed Tony Abbott’s attempts to repeal or amend Section 18C, or the way in which he has attacked the legal assistance sector repeatedly with cut after cut. I could go on, but this is a Minister who has been proven beyond doubt that he is no longer fit to be a Minister and the only amazing thing is that he is still there. 

 

Thank you.

 

ENDS