E&OE Transcript, Melbourne

SUBJECT/S: Turnbull’s election stunt; Tony Abbott; Veep; ABCC; federal anti-corruption body









SUBJECT/S: Turnbull’s election stunt; Tony Abbott; Veep; ABCC; federal anti-corruption body


MARK DREYFUS, SHADOW ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Yesterday we saw an extreme and tricky move by the Turnbull Government to use a provision in the constitution which has never been used for this purpose before. To bring back the Parliament, having cleared all of the business of the Parliament and restart the Parliament on the 18th April. So we have the pretence of the Governor-General opening the Parliament on the 18th of April for a new session, when in fact all Australians can see that the Prime Minister is heading to an election. We’ve had a whole range of ministers in the last 24 hours or so and including the Prime Minister and the Attorney-General, trying to suggest that there’s nothing to see here, that in some way this is an ordinary use of the constitution, that this is an ordinary process.


It is in fact an extreme and tricky move to use a procedural provision that’s only there so that the Parliament can in fact be restarted after an election. That is what it’s there for, or to be used after some kind of extraordinary event. It’s a very extreme and tricky move to use it in this way for purely tactical political advantage. And we can see that from the way in which this provision has been used since 1961. It’s only been used four times and the last two times in 1977 and 1974 it was used so that the Queen could open Parliament. So Parliament was prorogued so that a new session can be commenced so that the Queen could address the Parliament to open it, an entirely appropriate use of this section. The two previous occasions were following the 1969 election when John Gorton wasn’t ready to commence his government’s legislative program to the Parliament, the Parliament sat for one day and was then prorogued and reopened at the start of 1970, after the 1969 election. And the only other time since 1961 that this provision has been used is on the death of the then-Prime Minister Harold Holt.


So there you have in those four examples nothing since 1977 and only used four times since 1961, a pretty clear demonstration of how extreme and how tricky this move is from the Prime Minister, cooked up with his Attorney-General, and of course not telling the Treasurer who didn’t even know an hour before the announcement was made by the Prime Minister yesterday that the Prime Minister was in fact proposing to shut down the Parliament on the 15th of April and re-open it on the 18th and bring forward the date of the budget from the 10th of May to the 3rd of May. What we see here is a Prime Minister desperate to have an early election, desperate to bring the Australian people to the polls. Hang the expense to taxpayers, because no-one should be in any doubt about the immense expense to taxpayers of shutting down Parliament, ending all the Parliament’s business, and then re-opening it on Monday 18th of April. That’s what the Prime Minister is doing, he doesn’t want to go to full term. He’s not prepared to take the risk of delivering to the Australian people the calm and orderly government he said he was going to be providing. Instead he’s rushing to the election, let no-one be in any doubt about the stunt-like nature of this.


If this Prime Minister was serious about the two bills that he mentioned in his letter to the Governor-General, he would have brought them on for debate over the last five weeks of sittings that we’ve just finished, or he would have brought them on for debate after he became Prime Minister in the middle of September last year. He did neither. He didn’t bring these bills on for debate last year, he didn’t bring these bills on for debate in the five weeks of sitting we’ve just had, instead he’s told the Governor-General that the sitting schedule has to be altered, that the Parliament has to be shut down and then artificially reopened so that the PM can bring on these bills for debate. Bills that as late as last week in the case of the ABCC bill, the Prime Minister declined, voted against them being brought on in the Senate last week.


Make no mistake, this is a Prime Minister who is quite prepared to use any kind of constitutional adventurism, any kind of trick to get over the will of the Senate which just last Friday voted to say that the Senate would not sit again until the 10th of May unless a majority of the Senate voted in favour of that step, the Prime Minister is not prepared to abide that decision of the Australian Senate, he’s using this obscure provision to drag the Parliament back on the 18th of April. We’ve seen here the Prime Minister in the last six months, fully on display in the last 24 hours that he’s not about economic leadership, not about any plan for Australia, he’s got no vision for Australia, what he’s doing is executing a plan for an early election.


And what people should be listening to is Tony Abbott, in saying loud and clear, that Mr Turnbull is continuing the policies of the Abbott regime. He is continuing Tony Abbott’s policies, all we’ve got is Tony Abbott with a new face, or Tony Abbott with a better salesman selling the policies. We should listen hard to Tony Abbott when he says he won’t have any trouble campaigning for Mr Turnbull at the election because it’s a continuation of his policies.


And just to finish, laughably from Mr Turnbull we’ve had the extraordinary new three-word slogan: “continuity with change”. A slogan apparently taken from a satirical television series called Veep, and with a straight face we’ve had the Prime Minister of Australia try to tell Australians that he stands for continuity with change. And you just have to ponder which bit of the slogan we’re going to have from one day to the next. One day it’s going to be Mr Turnbull’s continuity, the next day it’s going to be Mr Turnbull’s change. Who would know from one day to the next which bit of the slogan is going to apply?


JOURNALIST: What are your tactics going to be when the Senate goes back on April 18?


DREYFUS: The Senate is entirely in control of its own processes other than of course it’s been summoned back with a change to the start date by the Prime Minister having used this tricky device of a procedural provision in the constitution so we know that the Senate will be there in Canberra as will the House of Representatives for the opening of a new session of parliament because that is what Mr Turnbull has done. Beyond that, it’s a matter for the Senate to determine which way it chooses to order its business and which way it’s going to conduct itself and that of course is always the case.


JOURNALIST: So debate will be delayed on the ABCC bill?


DREYFUS: Well it’s entirely a matter for the Senate. And I’m not going to pre-empt the way in which the senators, the 76 senators will determine to conduct the proceedings of the Senate once they are back in Canberra for the opening of this new session of Parliament.


JOURNALIST: Would Labor consider passing the legislation and then repealing it after they win an election in September/October?


DREYFUS: We’ve made our position absolutely clear, like the Registered Organisations Bill which has already been twice rejected by the Australian senate on the votes of the Labor senators, and we’ve already made our position clear on the ABCC bill which we abolished when Labor was in government. And we know that the policy we adopted then of abolishing the ABCC and putting in its place the Fair Work Building Inspectorate which is the current regulator, was the right policy. We’re able to point to the Australian Bureau of Statistics own measurements on this which is that productivity did not improve when the ABCC was introduced and that days lost did not improve and in fact with the Fair Work Building Inspectorate both have – in the case of productivity not worsened in any way and days lost also is in a better position than when the ABCC was there. I challenge Mr Turnbull to actually make a proper case, not run a scare campaign, using Tony Abbott’s lines, but make a proper case on the evidence produced by the Australian Bureau of Statistics, on proper measurements of what affects productivity and days lost actually are. Make a case as to why the existing regulator put in place by Labor, the Fair Work Building Inspectorate should be abolished and replaced by the ABCC which will introduce some extraordinary encroachments into Australian basic rights and freedoms and create a different regime, different laws for tradies than for the rest of us. We’ve got ample reason to continue with our longstanding policy that we will not be supporting the reintroduction of the ABCC. We say that the case has not in any sense been made.


JOURNALIST: Mr Dreyfus would you consider the crossbencher’s proposal for a broad-based federal corruption commission?


DREYFUS: We think that all forms of corruption, be they in corporate life, in unions or anywhere else in Australian society needs to be opposed and we need to constantly keep under review whether or not the particular mechanisms, particular agencies that we’ve got at the federal and state level are the right ones to make sure that we are doing everything we can to stamp out corruption. And on that basis, that’s why state governments in most jurisdictions have introduced anti-corruption commissions, with different varying names in different states. At the federal level up until now we’ve pointed to the fact that we have an Australian Crime Commission, we have the possibility of joint taskforces between the Australian Federal Police and state police forces, and that’s what we called for when this Liberal government announced it was going to embark on the course of spending $80 million on a show-trial royal commission, we said that’s not the right course to take if you want to stamp out corruption and criminality, you should be beefing up the resources of the Australian Crime Commission, you should be beefing up the resources of the Australian Federal Police and setting up joint taskforces. That is something that I think needs to be kept constantly under review. I’ve noted what some of the crossbench senators have said, that they think this proposal for an ABCC ought to be broadened to a much more broad-based anti-corruption commission, of course we’ll listen to those arguments but first we’ll continue to keep this under review. But of course the end has to be kept in mind, the end is reducing corruption wherever it appears, trying to stamp out corruption wherever it appears.