THE HON MARK DREYFUS QC MP
SHADOW MINISTER FOR THE ARTS
MEMBER FOR ISAACS
THE HON BRENDAN O’CONNOR MP
SHADOW MINISTER FOR EMPLOYMENT AND WORKPLACE RELATIONS
MEMBER FOR GORTON
THURSDAY, 22 OCTOBER 2015
SUBJECT/S: Royal commission into trade unions.
SHADOW ATTORNEY-GENERAL, MARK DREYFUS: Today we discovered that the royal commission into trade unions has issued a notice to produce to the Victorian Branch of the Australian Labor Party. It’s a notice to produce the membership records of around 9,000 members of the Australian Labor Party in Victoria.
This is modern day McCarthyism. It’s a chilling intrusion into the personal affairs of thousands of ordinary Australians simply on the basis of their political affiliation. It’s an attack on a fundamental right of our democratic system which is the right to freedom of association. And no one should underestimate the intrusion into privacy that this would mean.
It’s one thing for this government-funded inquisition to be attacking trade unions. It’s quite another for this extraordinary intrusion into the private affairs of thousands of ordinary Australians simply because they are members of a political party.
And I’d say it’s one thing for the Government to be attacking Labor politicians. It’s quite another for the Government to be using the royal commission’s power to be prying into the personal affairs of thousands of ordinary Australians. These include of course public servants, police officers, nurses, people who are very, very happy to participate as members of the Australian Labor Party but would not necessarily want their affairs to be made public in this way. If we were in any doubt about the abuse of power that has gone on in this royal commission which we have said since the outset was a political witch-hunt, that doubt has now been dispelled by the sending of this notice to produce to the Australian Labor Party’s Victorian Branch.
And I’ll hand over to my colleague Brendan O’Connor.
SHADOW MINISTER FOR EMPLOYMENT AND WORKPLACE RELATIONS, BRENDAN O’CONNOR: Thanks very much Mark. This is, as Mark says, this is an unprecedented day in our democracy. It is modern day McCarthyism when you allow the powers of the state to intrude in this manner in the lives of 9,000 Victorians who have the temerity to want to participate in our great democracy. The fact is this notice to produce details of 9,000 Victorians is very intrusive.
I will just show if I can, and explain exactly the information that was sought by this commission in relation to this matter. This is an equivalent application form of the renewals and forms that were filled out by 9,000 Australians in 2013. What was sought by the royal commission was the names, the residential address of each member, the telephone numbers – mobile, office and home – the email address or addresses, date of birth, whether the members of the Labor Party happen to be a member of a trade union or not. And also for those members, the majority of whom pay by credit card, the credit card details of each person who has filled out one of these application forms.
Now, Labor has said all along that this has been a tainted commission, spending $80 million of taxpayer money, a biased commission insofar as the way it’s treated the witnesses, we’ve talked about the kid gloves used to deal with Kathy Jackson. We’ve talked about the fact that the Commissioner himself made admissions about him accepting an invitation to a Liberal Party fundraiser. And then of course presided over that conflict of interest, and found himself not in conflict of interest.
But if there was ever any doubt that this is a tainted commission, today with the efforts to invade so outrageously in the lives of 9,000 Victorians, I think that doubt can be put to an end.
I want to say one last thing, about Malcolm Turnbull. Because this is done under the name of our new Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull. This is executive power. This is not a court of law. This is determined by the executive government. This is Malcolm Turnbull’s royal commission. Malcolm Turnbull likes to talk about freedom, and he likes to talk about liberty, and he likes to talk about individual rights. Well where are the rights of those 9,000 Victorians who because of this notice to produce would have had to provide that information or the party would have provided that information to this tainted commission?
Malcolm Turnbull is all talk when it comes to liberty, because under his name, he’s allowing for this commission to use state powers to invade so intrusively into the lives of ordinary citizens. And we’re very happy to take questions.
JOURNALIST: What’s your understanding of the line of questioning that led to this notice to produce?
DREYFUS: Well, we don’t know but it’s actually irrelevant. It’s an outrageous intrusion into the personal affairs of these members of the party, and I would be saying this whether it was members of the Liberal Party who were being dragged before a royal commission, or whose personal details were being sought, or members of the Greens party. It doesn’t matter.
There is a right to freedom of association in this country, a right to belong to political parties without fear of any political or governmental intrusion and this has well and truly crossed the line.
JOURNALIST: So if there was a non-publication order placed on the names and personal details of the members, would there be any concern about the royal commission having those registrations?
MARK DREYFUS: Of course there would. It’s still an intrusion by government. That’s what needs to be stressed. This isn’t a court. This is the executive government using its power to set up a royal commission, to set terms of reference for a royal commission to pursue its political opponents.
That’s wrong. We’ve said that from the very outset of the royal commission and here we have further example of the abuse of power that this government has engaged in by setting up this royal commission.
JOURNALIST: A lot of the questioning yesterday related to the Industry 2020 fund. Can you deny that that fund was used to buy Labor memberships?
DREYFUS: I’m not going to give a commentary on what’s happening in the royal commission, I’m talking about a matter – no, no, I’m not going to –
JOURNALIST: So you can’t deny –
DREYFUS: Absolutely I’m not going to be commenting in any way on this blow by blow, of what’s happening in this tainted royal commission. This is a misuse of the royal commission’s power and the royal commission itself has accepted this by withdrawing this notice to produce, accepting, and these are Counsel Assisting’s words, that it was oppressive to have sent this notice to produce.
JOURNALIST: Do you think they’ll come again though, is that the end of it, do you have concerns that they will try it again?
DREYFUS: We have concerns. We have had concerns since the very outset of this royal commission that it is a misuse of the powers given to the executive government of Australia to inquire into matters of public importance that require the powers that are given to royal commissions. And what we have seen here, and we have seen it right throughout, as Brendan said earlier, we’ve seen numerous examples of how it’s been a use of this power to pursue political opponents. It’s something that shouldn’t have happened in the first place.
O’CONNOR: If I can just add to Mark’s answer. This is the crudest attack I’ve seen by any government on its political opponents. This lines up with police state and tinpot democracies. To think that you can go about setting up a commission and spend the powers of the state and the money of taxpayers to so abusively attack the political opponents of the government. I don’t think ordinary Australian’s will ever accept this. Can you ever imagine this? You join a political party. You may be happy to declare that publicly. Some people would prefer that not to be the case. Public servants may not want to have that revealed. There is no reason for this to happen other than this overreach by this tainted commission to attack the political opponents of the Government. The real question that should be asked here is if there has been such a change, is what is Malcolm Turnbull going to do about this royal commission and its behaviour. Its conduct is reprehensible. Malcolm Turnbull if his words mean anything to him about freedom and individual liberty he should respond today. He should close down this commission. He should apologise to those individuals whose information was sought from them via the Victorian branch of the Australian Labor Party.
JOURNALIST: If the commission has withdrawn the request doesn’t that in itself say that they’ve accepted, they’ve gone too far and move on?
DREYFUS: They’ve had to be forced to do so. The problem here is that this commission, consistent with the way it has conducted itself throughout has ever thought that it might in some way be an appropriate use of its powers to send a notice to produce to a political party in Australia to get the private details, as Brendan O’Connor has outlined, of some 9,000 ordinary Australians who happen to be members of Australian Labor and that’s the matter on which we are commenting on. Brendan -
O’CONNOR: Just in response to Mark’s question. This is no underling writing a notice to produce. The signature of the Commissioner is on this notice. This was a decision made by the Commissioner - no one is going to suggest he’s a fool. He’s made a decision to compel the Victorian branch of the Australian Labor Party to hand over 9,000 Victorians’ personal details. The withdrawal of that notice as Mark has said is an admission of this overreach, but it’s just one thing after another. It’s one thing after another because this Commission was tainted from the start, terms of reference of which were designed to attack the opponents of the Government and Malcolm Turnbull has an opportunity to actually let his deeds match his rhetoric and do something about it.
JOURNALIST: What does this say about Dyson Heydon’s long standing career as a judge?
O’CONNOR: Well look, the fact is he had a significant and senior role as a High Court Justice. We’re not reflecting on his role as a High Court Justice. What we have done all along is watch the deeds and actions of the commission and we’ve called into question the inappropriate behaviour when it has occurred and again today we are doing the same. I have to say, this has exceeded even our worst fears about the behavior of the commission. For all the things that have gone before, this is even more reprehensible. It really means now that the Prime Minister, if he believes in freedom and individual rights and wants to talk about liberty as he likes to do in Parliament and everywhere else then he might want to reflect on what is happening here and make a decision in order to ensure that the conduct of this commission does not continue, that the biased behaviour and prejudicial conduct ceases. The best way to do that is the stop wasting tax payers’ money, close down this commission. This commission has been a disaster from the start and today is another example of it.
JOURNALIST: Was slush fund money from industry 2020 used by memberships in the ALP?
O’CONNOR: As Mark has said, we’re not going to respond to those matters. It’s not matters that we’ve even dealt with. It doesn’t matter what assertions are made, there will never be an excuse to seek to collate 9,000 Victorians details when all they have done is join a political party and involve themselves in this great democracy, Australia. It really is of concern to me that people can’t see what is a remarkable overreach. I believe most Australians if not all Australians will understand this is an outrageous act and the Prime Minister must do something about it..
JOURNALIST: What was your reason for not responding to the claim?
O’CONNOR: I haven’t gone through those details. I certainly will not be responding to assertions that are made without evidence - baseless assertions. There’s been too much to expect me and others to respond to baseless assertions in this way. I think the most important thing here today is to focus on what has happened and what has happened is the commission has chosen to invade the privacy of so many Victorians and Malcolm Turnbull has a responsibility to deal with this. This is not a court of law. It’s an executive commission, run by the Government, established by the Government, appointed by the Government. They’ve got to close this thing down.