Subjects: George Brandis’ ministerial diary, Bali terror alert, Tony Abbott
THE HON MARK DREYFUS QC MP
SHADOW MINISTER FOR THE ARTS
MEMBER FOR ISAACS
WEDNESDAY, 20 JANUARY 2016
SUBJECT/S: George Brandis’ ministerial diary, Bali terror alert, Tony Abbott
FRAN KELLY: The long running legal battle over George Brandis’ ministerial diaries is far from over, it would seem. Last year the Administrative Appeals Tribunal ordered the Attorney-General to provide the Opposition with his diaries for a nine month period. It’s a period leading up to some key policy decisions, including proposing funding cuts for legal aid services. The Attorney-General has now advised Labor that he will appeal against that ruling. He will take it to the Full Federal Court. The Shadow Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus is spearheading the push to see George Brandis’ diaries. Mark Dreyfus, welcome to RN Breakfast.
MARK DREYFUS: Good morning Fran.
KELLY: George Brandis is going to appeal this decision. He says that it has wide-ranging implications for the FOI system and it’s in the public interest that there be a judicial clarification on how the freedom of information system works. Do you accept that? Is this a valid test case in a sense?
DREYFUS: No. I think this an extraordinary waste of public money. I think this appointments diary should be released immediately. He should get on and process the request that I made for the first time back in May 2014. That’s how long this has been running. His colleague, Julie Bishop, the Foreign Minister, has had no difficulty in releasing a month of her diary, immediately on request from a journalist, and I could point to the precedent set by, say, President Obama, who releases his appointment schedule, or Julia Gillard, who released hers.
KELLY: Could you please explain to everyone why you’re so obsessed with George Brandis’ diary. I mean if you’ve been chasing it since, I think you said, May 2014, why?
DREYFUS: This is a basic proposition about accountability and transparency in government. Australians are entitled to see what cabinet ministers are doing to fill their days and, of course, what prompted this was repeated statements made to me by, particularly legal assistance organisations, whose funding had been cut by George Brandis in his first eight months as Attorney-General, who’d simply said that he hadn’t met with them. He hadn’t consulted them. They couldn’t even get a meeting with him. So I’m wanting to know, on behalf of Australians, what it is that this Attorney-General does.
KELLY: So you want to see his diaries because you want to see proof that he had consulted widely before making some policy decisions, is that what you’re saying?
DREYFUS: Well, I actually think he didn’t consult at all and I’m wanting to see just how he did spend his first eight months in office. And after that I’ll be looking to see what he’s done the rest of the time, but we need to get through this first request, which he’s trying to establish an appalling precedent, which is to suggest that it’s not public property and it shouldn’t be available to the public just what cabinet ministers do with their time.
KELLY: Well, just on that, cabinet ministers are obviously very busy. He obviously did meet with some, in fact lawyers acting for George Brandis are saying that the diaries include details of more than 2,400 appointments during the period. So he’s been meeting people, but is it necessarily in your business or in fact our business to know everyone a cabinet minister meets? Is there not some case to argue that some meetings should be confidential?
DREYFUS: And I’ve said that from the outset. I’ve said that if there’s some national security reasons why certain meetings can’t be released, of course they should be deleted from the version of the diary that is released. But for all I know, the 2,400 entries contain things such as ‘clean my teeth’. It is certainly not the case that he has met with 2,400 people. We learned that because when they were claiming that it would take 600 hours to process the request –this is the refusal to even process the request – they were claiming that they would need to consult with some, I think it was, a mere 270-odd people. So he’s not meeting with thousands of people. He’s apparently met with only hundreds. I want to know basically who they were, how did he spend his days, and it should be public property.
KELLY: Well, the Attorney-General says in fact some of the information would reveal matters of national security concern, that’s one of the concerns he has against releasing it. He also says it would take his office, I’ve heard more than 300 hours, you said 600 hours, to provide the diaries. A lot of people listening might think, well, is this really worth it? Do we want our ministerial offices bogged down in this kind of thing?
DREYFUS: No, flip this over Fran. What’s the big deal about releasing the appointments diaries? The Federal Court Judge, sitting as the Deputy President with the Administrative Appeals Tribunal, Jayne Jagot, simply dismissed Senator Brandis’ objections to processing this FOI request. That’s where it should stand. He should get on and process the request and not waste even more taxpayers’ money in taking this before three judges of the Federal Court of Australia. I’m not the one that’s going on with this –
KELLY: – if he does that, that will cost a lot. You, presumably will also be hiring QCs I guess, to represent you. This could be a waste of money, isn’t it?
DREYFUS: Well, I actually appeared for myself.
KELLY: And will you do that at the Federal Court?
DREYFUS: I’ll consider it. Because I don’t think any more money should be wasted on this and I’m not seeking costs after the first round in the Administrative Appeals Tribunal, obviously. He shouldn’t be going on with this to the three judges in the Federal Court. It’s a waste of taxpayers’ money, he’s trying to set a wrong principle, and I’d point again to the behaviour of his own ministerial colleague, Julie Bishop, the Foreign Affairs Minister, who had no difficulty in simply releasing, in response to a Freedom of Information request, her diary.
KELLY: And just very briefly, we’re almost out of time, but Shadow Attorney-General, security across Bali has been increased overnight after a threatening letter was sent to a government office. Security has been beefed up at foreign missions. Police say it could be a hoax, but it comes less than a week after the deadly terror attacks in Jakarta. Have you had, or the Opposition had any briefings on increased terrorism activity in Indonesia?
DREYFUS: No, we haven’t had a briefing. We’ve sought briefings from the Government and I’m expecting that certainly by the time Parliament returns that we will have had such briefings.
KELLY: And also can I just get your reaction to the suggestion in one of the newspapers today that Peta Credlin is reportedly urging Tony Abbott to stick around, to run again in Parliament, one day with a view to retaking the Prime Ministership. Does Labor expect Tony Abbott to stick around in Parliament?
DREYFUS: Well, it’s clear that many in the Liberal Party expect Tony Abbott to stick around in Parliament. And again it’s evidence of what a divided party Mr Turnbull is leading: divided on factional grounds, divided on policy. He’s finding it very difficult to govern and it’s apparently going to get worse. Bronwyn Bishop is sticking around. Tony Abbott is saying he’s going to stick around. Apparently it’s because he’s too young according to some Liberal, according to the Daily Telegraph’s report. It’s a divided party Mr Turnbull is leading and far from there being no sniping, which is what Mr Abbott promised when he stepped down, we’re getting just that.
KELLY: Mark Dreyfus, thank you very much for joining us.
DREYFUS: Thanks Fran.