E&OE Transcript, Parliament House Canberra

SUBJECT/S: Tony Abbott’s royal commission













SUBJECT/S: Tony Abbott’s royal commission


BRENDAN O’CONNOR, SHADOW MINISTER FOR EMPLOYMENT AND WORKPLACE RELATIONS: [audio cuts in] Dyson Heydon agreed to a Liberal Party fundraiser event and that has been on the record now since April this year. It's clear that as a result of the acceptance by Dyson Heydon of an invitation to speak at a Liberal Party fundraising event that he disqualifies himself as a commissioner of this royal commission.


We have said all along that Tony Abbott had established a commission to go after his political opponents. We have said all along that Tony Abbott was willing to spend up to $80 million of taxpayers' money and use the powers of the state to attack his political opponents. I am on the record saying that the commission has been acting in a biased manner, in a prejudicial manner, in a sensational manner in terms of matters that have been disclosed to it and has acted improperly in many ways. 


But today it's clear, if it was never clear before, it is entirely clear now that this is Tony Abbott's royal commission, an $80 million political witch-hunt into the political opponents of this Government. Let’s not understate this. The inaugural speaker of this event was the current Attorney-General George Brandis followed by other Attorneys-General of Liberal Government’s Bob Ellicott, Tom Hughes and others.


This is a Liberal event and we have now a commissioner of the royal commission involved in fundraising for the Government, for Tony Abbott. He is in a position that is impossible for him to remain in the office. It is now incumbent on the Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, to ensure that Dyson Heydon disqualify himself from any further proceedings of this royal commission. I’ll just handover to Mark.


MARK DREYFUS, SHADOW ATTORNEY-GENERAL: My colleague Brendan O'Connor’s made it very clear that this royal commission and in particular this royal commissioner cannot continue. This is to be looked at from the point of view of a fair minded observer and any fair minded observer, any fair minded Australian would see that this executive inquiry, headed by a former judge to be sure, but not conducting a court proceeding, this executive inquiry should be brought to an end and this royal commissioner should stand down. He should stand down because the bias and political nature of this royal commission is now clear for every fair minded Australian to see.


It's something we’ve said from the outset that this handpicked royal Commissioner and the way in which the commission has been conducted has shown the political nature of the royal commission and now we have, if more were needed, absolutely clear, clear proof of the association between this royal Commissioner and the Liberal Party of Australia.


His preparedness – extraordinarily – to appear at a Liberal Party fundraiser, an invitation that I have here shows it to be the Liberal Party of New South Wales organising this event and the back of the document that I also have here shows that cheques are to be made payable to the Liberal Party of Australia and if there were any doubt about the political nature of this event we read that all proceeds from this event will be applied to state election campaigning. 


This is not some casual appearance by the royal commissioner. This is Dyson Heydon appearing as the guest speaker at a Liberal Party event, the funds from which are to go to Liberal Party election campaigning and he's the latest in a line of Liberal Party speakers, actual Liberal Party speakers. Dyson Heydon should not continue as royal commissioner. We’d be asking, for example, is he a member of the Liberal Party of Australia? Is that why he has agreed to appear at a Liberal Party fundraiser?


But what’s apparent is that any fair minded Australian would now see that this royal commissioner has demonstrated the appearance of bias by agreeing to appear at a Liberal Party fundraiser and on that basis by itself he should stand down as royal commissioner.


JOURNALIST: Dyson Heydon’s put out a statement this morning saying that he told organisers of the event he wouldn’t be attending if it was connected to the Liberal Party. Does that pass the sniff test in your mind?


DREYFUS: No, he has agreed to appear at an organised fundraiser for the Liberal Party of Australia. He should reveal immediately every single piece of correspondence that has passed between him and the Liberal Party of Australia in the organisation of this event.


JOURNALIST: If he doesn't disqualify himself, what specific action would you be calling for?


DREYFUS: Well it is clearly a matter to be taken further. But the first thing - he should not wait for a formal application to be made to him in the hearings of the royal commission, still less should he wait for the Federal Court of Australia to deal with this matter.


O'CONNOR: And can I just add this is a test for the Prime Minister. Now, we know what Dyson Heydon should do, but he must disqualify himself, but let's be very clear here. The Prime Minister has to intervene and ensure that this commissioner is no longer presiding over this proceeding.


JOURNALIST: You mentioned the Federal Court is that an option down the track to seek to have him disqualified?


DREYFUS: I am speaking there from long past experience that when someone before a proceeding like this wants to raise the apprehension of bias that is clearly here now occurred, the first step is to raise the matter with the royal commissioner. If the royal commissioner refuses to disqualify himself formally it's a matter that can be then taken up in court, almost certainly the Federal Court of Australia. 


JOURNALIST: Would you like to any see any repercussions for the Liberal Party, for the organisers as well?


DREYFUS: Well this has got nothing to do with the organisers, they're behaving like political parties do which is seeking to raise funds for their campaigning activities. The problem here is that the royal commissioner Dyson Heydon has lent his name, has offered to appear at a Liberal Party fundraiser, and it just does not stand up to any scrutiny. The way this has to be looked at is what would a fair minded person looking at this make of the royal commissioner appearing before a Liberal Party fundraiser? Well I know what any fair minded person I know and I think everyone watching knows what any fair minded person they know would think of that event.


JOURNALIST: How come this is a fundraiser that so dastardly when it's okay for Bill Shorten to claim public benefits, travel entitlements to go to Light on the Hill which is a similar event, same amount of money we're talking about but that is a public lecture and that's okay.


DREYFUS: That's a bizarre and irrelevant question and it doesn't even deserve an answer.


JOURNALIST: Sorry but is this a public lecture, in the same - do you put it in a different class?


DREYFUS: That's a bizarre and irrelevant question; this is a Liberal Party fundraiser. Invitations were sent to the members of the lawyers branch of the NSW Liberal Party who are the organisers of this event and Dyson Heydon, the Royal Commissioner has offered to appear as the speaker at the Barwick Memorial Lecture following on from George Brandis, Bob Ellicott – a former Liberal Party Attorney-General – and Tom Hughes a former Liberal Party Attorney-General.


JOURNALIST: Is there any chance that the organisers might have jumped the gun here, the commissioner is saying that he didn't, you know, that he has told them that he wouldn't go if it was a Liberal Party event. Is there any chance they jumped the gun? 


DREYFUS: The royal commissioner has to disclose immediately every single piece of correspondence that's passed between him or his office and the organisers of this event. 


JOURNALIST: Mr Dreyfus you asked earlier at the end of your remarks that he should say whether he's a member of the Liberal Party. Do you believe or have you any evidence that that's the case?


DREYFUS: He's got to disclose all of his links with the Liberal Party of Australia and the concern here is that Tony Abbott's royal commission is now exposed to be the biased and political action that it always was. We've got Tony Abbott spending $80 million of Australian taxpayers' money to pursue the political opponents of the Liberal Party and extraordinarily, in fact beyond belie,f we have the royal commissioner of that very royal commission appearing at a Liberal Party fundraiser, confirming in the minds of any fair minded observer the link between this royal commission and the Liberal Party of Australia, the political interest of the Liberal Party of Australia.


JOURNALIST: If he disqualifies himself, could it continue with a different commissioner? Is that a course of action that would be reasonable in your view?


DREYFUS: This royal commission should never have been commenced and it ought to be dead and buried because the royal commissioner should stand down. And as we have said all along ordinary processes of the law, ordinary inquiries of existing Commonwealth agencies, ordinary work of the Fair Work Commission are the appropriate ways in which to deal with every single one of the allegations that have been put before this royal commission. We've seen from the way it's conducted itself that its first target was Julia Gillard and that's come to nothing; and its second target has been Bill Shorten, the Leader of the Federal Opposition, and that's also come to nothing because Bill Shorten stood up and answered more than 900 questions before the royal commission back in July, and this royal commission ought to be brought to an end.


JOURNALIST: Has anyone written, from the Labor Party to the Prime Minister asking for Dyson Heydon to resign?


DREYFUS: We've only just found out about this and it's been and we've attempted - we have attempted on finding out about it to move a motion and to allow us to have the Parliament declare that Dyson Heydon has, by his own actions, disqualified himself from continuing to sit as royal commissioner. But that's as far as we've taken it at this point.


JOURNALIST: Mr O'Connor you characterise this as a test for the Prime Minster, do you have any evidence that the Prime Minister was involved in sourcing Mr Heydon for this fundraiser?


O'CONNOR: Well he's a captain's pick. I mean the Prime Minister when announcing the royal commission spoke highly of Dyson Heydon, talked about his capacity to make good judgment. In fact he said ‘we're very happy tor Dyson Heydon to deal with this matter’, for this matter to be ‘in his hands’, I think he said, and he talked about his virtues. It's clear now the reason why Tony Abbott wanted Dyson Heydon to preside over these proceedings. Dyson Heydon willingly accepted to speak at an event that was raising money for the Liberal Party, and the only reason he is now saying he won't proceed with that event is because he's been found out today.


DREYFUS: Thanks very much.


O'CONNOR: Thank you.