E&OE Transcript, Parliament House Doorstop

SUBJECTS: Legal assistance services, domestic violence leave, Mal Brough, New Zealand










SUBJECTS: Legal assistance services, domestic violence leave, Mal Brough, New Zealand


MARK DREYFUS: Morning. I’ve just come from the White Ribbon breakfast, which is here today in Parliament House. It’s good to see parliamentarians from right across both chambers participating in this White Ribbon breakfast on White Ribbon day, which is an indication of rising awareness of the tremendous problem of family and domestic violence in Australia. We’ve seen announcements from the Government earlier in the year, some announcements from Mr Turnbull indicating some Government initiatives, but one of the things remaining of concern to Labor is that the Turnbull Government is still set to cut about a third of the Commonwealth contribution to community legal centres, which of course stand in the front line in the fight against domestic violence. Community legal centres have been told by Senator Brandis who of course remains the Attorney General, that the cuts that were announced some time ago will take effect in 2017. Community legal centres call this a “falling off a cliff”, they say their funding is going to fall off a cliff. And as I said, community legal centres are in the frontline of standing against family violence. Community legal centres provide the services that ensure that the women that are going through the court system are not doing so alone. I would call on the Government, call on the Turnbull Government, to reverse the cut that is scheduled to take place in 2017. It is very important that community legal centres continue to be properly resourced.


There’s one other matter I wanted to raise today. It’s something that Labor has raised in Question Time on Monday and Tuesday this week, and that is the position of the Special Minister of State, Mal Brough. The Special Minister of State is in an extraordinary position. He’s in the extraordinary position that the Australian Federal Police, last week, conducted a raid on his home, executing a search warrant in pursuit of their consideration of whether to charge Mr Brough with serious criminal offences arising from his dealings with James Ashby back in 2012. The dealings of course concern Mr Brough encouraging Mr Ashby to steal parts of the diary of the Speaker of the House of Representatives for whom Mr Ashby was working. There’s a number of extraordinary aspects to this. One of them is that Mr Turnbull saw fit to appoint Mr Brough to the position of Special Minister of State, that’s the ministerial position that’s responsible for government integrity. It’s extraordinary that Mr Turnbull saw fit to appoint Mr Brough to that position when these matters were still hanging over his head. It’s even more extraordinary that Mr Brough has not stood aside while this investigation is being undertaken. Mr Brough confirmed in the Parliament yesterday that the investigation is underway. Mr Turnbull should stand him aside if Mr Brough doesn’t stand aside. There is a long standing precedent in Australian politics for ministers in this position to stand aside; or anyone holding a parliamentary office such as the office of the Speaker, the then Opposition now the Government called for Mr Slipper, as Speaker, to stand aside from his position when investigations were underway, and of course more recently, the former Prime Minister saw fit to stand aside Senator Sinodinos from his position as Assistant Treasurer, when I would say allegations of a different character were then being conducted and of course they’re still on foot. He hasn’t been cleared either. This Prime Minister, Mr Turnbull, despite the fact that Senator Sinodinos has not been cleared, has been included in his ministry, and extraordinarily when these matters were hanging over Mr Brough has made him Special Minister of State, the Minister responsible for government Integrity.


I’d repeat, it is an extraordinary situation that a minister, a senior minister, someone who has previously been a cabinet minister of course in the Howard government, should be in this position of the Australian Federal Police conducting an investigation into whether to charge him with not one but two offences, two criminal offences, concerned with him having procured James Ashby as an employee of the Speaker to steal parts of the Speaker’s diary. Really, it’s a situation that Mr Turnbull should not allow to continue.


REPORTER: Can I just ask about the domestic violence funding. Isn’t it the case that the Government had actually reinstated that cut and that the 2017 funding that you’re talking about that this hasn’t been an announcement for the next package - it’s not exactly a cut is it?


MARK DREYFUS: It is definitely a cut. The level of funding that the community legal centres have to work with is a level of funding that was increased by me as Attorney-General in 2013. This Government announced that it was going to cut back all of those increases. And in response to a complaint by Labor, complaint by all of the community legal centres across Australia, the Government relented in March this year and announced that it was going to reverse those immediate cuts, but extraordinarily the funding falls off a cliff in 2017. Our call is for the Commonwealth of Australia to continue to fund community legal centres which everybody acknowledges standing in the frontline against the fight against domestic violence.


REPORTER: Just on Labor’s proposal today to introduce five days of domestic violence leave. Why stop at five days? I mean these women will have to deal with relocating, ensuring their immediate safety, talking to police, and then of course potentially a trial. Can five days really cover all of that?


MARK DREYFUS: Well it may be an even longer period of five days is appropriate but this is a good place to start. Labor announced today that a Shorten Labor Government will introduce five days’ domestic violence leave in the National Employment Standards. We do think that it’s an important place to start. Many large private sector corporations have already put in place domestic violence leave. This would make it part of the National Employment Standards – not only a week – meaning this would be part of something that a Shorten Labor Government would do into coming into office. we call on the Turnbull Government to do the same thing: to introduce at least five days of domestic violence leave into the National Employment Standards.


REPORTER: And just quickly on another issue, what is Labor’s position on the proposed sale of the ICON communications network in Canberra.


MARK DREYFUS: You’d have to direct those questions to Jason Clare.


REPORTER: My name is [inaudible] and I’m with Radio New Zealand. As an Opposition MP, do you think the Parliament is open to the idea of giving New Zealanders a fairer deal in terms of getting able to access citizenship over here or perhaps welfare or the national disability?


MARK DREYFUS: Well as I tell New Zealanders when I’m doorknocking in my electorate – I’ve got a lot of New Zealanders living in my electorate in South East Melbourne – they are very welcome to become Australian citizens. Strangely, most of them say “No, no, I’m going to go back to New Zealand at some point, and I’m not wanting to give up my New Zealand citizenship”. But there’s absolutely no reason why New Zealanders can’t become citizens here. I always encourage them to do that because then they could vote for me and that would be useful. But unfortunately as I say I’ve got thousands of New Zealanders who’ve decided they don’t want to become Australian citizens. More generally…


REPORTER: You don’t think there needs to be a relaxation of the rules at all, to match more like what New Zealand has for Australians then?


MARK DREYFUS: Well more generally we’ve been working on closer economic relations with our friends the Kiwis for decades, many decades. It’s the right thing to do, but we are separate countries. New Zealand declined the opportunity to join the Australian Federation when we became a country in 1901. I don’t think New Zealanders are saying they want to be one country with Australia, I think they’re going to continue to be different countries, and those closer economic relations are something were going to continue to work on..


REPORTER: So you wouldn’t agree with another MP in the House who has said that perhaps New Zealand should become a seventh or eighth state of Australia?


MARK DREYFUS: I think it’s a choice for New Zealanders as to what they wish to do and I’ve never heard a great deal of interest from New Zealand recently as to becoming a seventh or eighth state of the federation of Australia, I think that’s something that would have to come from New Zealand.


Thanks very much.