SUBJECT/S: Marriage Equality, Bill of Rights, Royal Commission into the Banking and Financial Sector.












SUBJECT/S: Marriage Equality, Bill of Rights, Royal Commission into the Banking and Financial Sector.


EMMA ALBERICI, HOST: Shadow Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus joins us now from Canberra. Mark Dreyfus thanks for your company.




ALBERICI: Is there amendment at all Labor would countenance in order to have the Dean Smith bill passed?


DREYFUS: We’ve said and made it very clear earlier today that it’s our collective position that we will oppose all of the amendments that have been put forward by Senators Fawcett and Patterson - a long list of amendments from them. Most of them which have now been voted down by Senator Brandis. Amendments also from Senator Hanson and from Senator Leyonhjelm and some from Senator Janet Rice, they’re all private Senators amendments. So far the Senate has got through the technical amendments that the Attorney-General brought forward which we supported. They’re all not amendments with a political component. They’re proper consequential amendments drafted up by various Commonwealth Departments to make sure that the marriage equality bill fits with other Commonwealth statutes. And all of the other amendments that have been dealt with by the Senate, they are Fawcett-Paterson amendments – they’ve all been voted down by a substantial majority. And I think, as we go to air, the Senate is debating the last of those Fawcett-Patterson amendments and it will then move on to consider the other amendments.


ALBERICI: So just let me clarify again, if it meant the difference between passing the legislation this year or not, would you, for instance, agree to a compromise that might see article 18 of the UN’s International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights inserted?


DREYFUS: We’ll face that If it comes about…at the moment we’re very clear. We think that amendment is unnecessary. We think that it pre-empts the Religious Freedoms Inquiry to be chaired by Phillip Ruddock, which the Prime Minister has set up. And we think that it’s cherry picking from the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, because what Senator Brandis with that amendment has done is paraphrase a single part of that covenant, Article 18(1) – he’s ignoring Article 18(3) and Article 26 for that matter. All of which talk about balancing particular religious freedoms or religious rights with other rights.


ALBERICI: So are you saying that Senator Brandis is entertaining the idea of putting this in?


DREYFUS: Senator Brandis has moved two amendments. One of them is completely objectionable, which would give all civil celebrants the right to refuse to perform a same-sex marriage. We think that’s simply wrong, that’s adding to discrimination. That’s not what the Parliament should be engaged in. And the second, is his paraphrase about Article 18(1) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and we’ve opposed that for the reasons I’ve just indicated.


ALBERICI: Does Labor support the idea of a Bill of Rights for Australia?


DREYFUS: Well I think we’d be getting a bit ahead of ourselves there. The Labor Party’s National Platform calls for us in Government to examine human rights protections in Australia and the framework for protecting human rights. It’s interesting that having railed against a Bill of Rights, conservatives in Australia have now called so loudly for a protection of some human rights – namely religious freedoms – that the Prime Minister has been moved to set up this panel chaired by Phillip Ruddock. And that’s of course a debate that is going to ensue which will raise questions about protections of human rights. But that’s the commitment that Labor’s got. We will keep under examination whether human rights are adequately protected in Australia. That’s consistent with what we’ve done for the last forty years.


ALBERICI: Because constitutional law Professor George Williams from the University of New South Wales says Australia’s law fares poorly when it comes to religious freedoms. He says the UN’s ICCPR is reflected in the laws and constitutions of every single democracy but ours. In fact, he makes the point that the constitution of Canada for instance explicitly states that people have fundamental freedoms including freedom of conscience and religion.


DREYFUS: That’s right. That’s one of the rights that is protected by the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and what you see in Canada’s charter of rights which has got constitutional status and has now been the subject of – in the more than a decade it has been in force – it’s been the subject of lots of rulings by the Canadian Supreme Court. Their charter of rights picks up all of the rights in the International Covenant. The concern that we’ve expressed about what Senator Brandis is trying to do here, is that it simply cherry picks a very small part of the International Covenant and ignores other parts. The debate we ought to be having is what other rights ought to be considered and how they should be balanced. And that’s something that I’m hopeful that the Ruddock inquiry is going to look at. This is not however, this marriage equality bill is not the time to be cherry picking from the International Covenant and just picking out one of those rights. 


ALBERICI: But does Labor believe religious freedoms are currently adequately protected in law in Australia?


DREYFUS: Certainly in relation to marriage equality, an acceptable balance, a careful balance has been struck by the bill drafted by Dean Smith and the other Liberal backbenchers – which is the bill being debated in the Senate right now. And that’s why we’re opposed to the long list of amendments that various Senators are putting forward and which are now being debated. And happily, a majority, a substantial majority in the Senate has agreed so far with the Labor position and has rejected those various attempts. More generally, your question is about religious freedoms in Australia. And Labor is always up for a discussion about protection of human rights, of which, religious freedoms or religious rights, are part of the overall picture. So of course, we are ready to discuss at any time the adequacy of protection of human rights in Australia


ALBERICI: Is there a risk this same-sex marriage bill won’t go through before the end of the year?


DREYFUS: It’s looking increasingly like it’s going to pass the Senate in short order and regrettably the Prime Minister decided that the House of Representatives wouldn’t sit this week. It would be a tremendous shame if the Senate finishes tomorrow and the House of Representatives is not there, and it won’t be, to receive the bill – because we could have got straight on with it. But I’m confident that a week ought to be sufficient and we’ve got that week next week.


ALBERICI: Okay finally, what’s the point of a Royal Commission into the banks given we know the kinds of shenanigans they get up to? Isn’t it better to save the time that would take and for Parliament to get on with the business of setting up a compensation fund for victims and better resourcing ASIC, the corporate watchdog, to identify bad behaviour and prosecute it?

DREYFUS: I’m not confident that we’ve even now, got to the bottom of the rorts and rip-offs that are being increasingly reported coming from the banking industry. That’s why we need a Royal Commission. That’s why we’ve been now calling on a Royal Commission for some time. It’s a complete mystery to us why the Prime Minister is so adamant that there should not be a Royal Commission. He’s quite wrong Emma to be suggesting that you can’t get on with legislative reform if you’ve identified it just because a Royal Commission is taking place. There’s plenty of examples of Royal Commissions taking place at the very same time as legislative reform has occurred. And he is simply continuing with this delay –


ALBERICI: But he’s right isn’t he though? You wouldn’t want to pre-empt the findings of a Royal Commission by passing laws that might be inadequate or simply not fit for the task that might be identified by a subsequent report from a Royal Commission?


DREYFUS: There’s no reason why you can’t do things in stages Emma. And if you’ve identified things that are clear now that we need to do, in terms of reform of regulation of the banks, you’d be getting right on with it while we have a Royal Commission to make sure that we get to the bottom of the rorts and rip-offs to make sure that people get the chance – this is what Royal Commissions do – to tell their story so that there is public exposure of the rorts and rip-offs and the whole of the Australian community can see why it is that additional regulation is needed. If it were to be the case that Government has legislated with some reforms and the Royal Commission said ‘yes, we’ve found rorts and rip-offs but we think that the Government has got to an appropriate destination with that new regulation’ – then that would be the outcome. But I think it is very unlikely that this Government, is going to go as far as it needs to do with appropriate regulation of the banking sector.


ALBERICI: Mark Dreyfus, thanks for your time.


DREYFUS: Thank you very much Emma.