Lateline interview

Subjects: Marriage equality and national security.






MATT WORDSWORTH, HOST: Mark Dreyfus is the Shadow Attorney-General and Shadow Minister for National Security. He joined me earlier from Melbourne. Mark Dreyfus welcome to Lateline, you’ve now been briefed on the operation that led to these terror arrests. Are you satisfied with Australia’s security arrangements?

MARK DREYFUS, SHADOW ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Thanks very much for having me Matt, and yes I’ve got to say the briefing provided today to the Leader of the Opposition and senior Labor frontbenchers by our senior national security officials confirmed to me, again, the high level of efficiency, competence and coordination that our national security agencies are bringing to bear in protecting Australians.

WORDSWORTH: Air travellers want to know how long these security arrangements, these extra checks at the airports are going to last – have you got any information on that?

DREYFUS: I can’t reveal any of the classified details of this briefing of course but the security level that’s been imposed at Australian airports is going to be very much kept under constant review, we’ve been assured that the security levels will be in place for no longer than is necessary.  

WORDSWORTH: Malcolm Turnbull has said since this operation unfolded that it underscores why a Home Affairs super-department is needed. Was there anything you were told that lent weight to that conclusion?

DREYFUS: Again, without saying what we were told in the security briefing, I think we can now expect from Mr Turnbull that kind of statement every time any time anything occurs in security. We’ve actually yet to hear from Mr Turnbull any justification for his proposed Home Affairs Department which he’s repeatedly described as a “massive change”, as “the largest change in 40 years”. I think Australians need to hear what it is about this new arrangement, this department rearrangement, that is going to in fact make Australians safer. If anything, the operation that led to the arrests in Sydney on Saturday confirm to me – and I can say this from the publicly available information, and I think Australians are able to judge this – that our national security agencies are well co-ordinated, the national agencies co-ordinate their work with state police forces, and have acted very promptly as we would expect as soon as information is received that needed to be acted on. How that leads the Prime Minister to say that there is some justification for a Home Affairs Department, a massive upheaval, is not yet clear and we’re still waiting to hear from the Prime Minister how it is that this is going to make Australians safer.

WORDSWORTH: You had the opportunity to ask the head of ASIO, the head of Immigration, the head of the AFP, the very question on whether they think the Home Affairs super-department is necessary. Did you take that opportunity?

DREYFUS: As I say, we’re still waiting to hear – we’re not going to stand in the way of something that would make Australians safer, but we’re still waiting to hear what it is about the proposed new Department of Home Affairs that is going to improve Australian safety. It might be that there is some additional level of coordination that is going to arise from it. If so, that’s a good thing. It might be that there’s some minor improvements to Australia’s security but what we want to make very sure of is that the disruption that is always caused – the cost and diversion of resources and disruption that is always caused by new departmental arrangements, isn’t in fact going to be detrimental to Australian security. And that’s the thing we’re still not yet assured of. We’re still waiting to hear details, Matt.

WORDSWORTH: So I guess you’re going to hold off on deciding whether or not you might unstitch the super-department if Labor wins the next election but will there be a reshuffle in the meantime when you’ve got a new Home Affairs Minister, to create a Shadow Home Affairs Minister?

DREYFUS: We’ll have to wait and see what this actually looks like when it is implemented at some point next year. Because it’s not suggested that this change is taking place this year, it’s suggested it’s going to take place some time in 2018. When it happens, and when the details of it come to light, and what the continuing role of the Attorney-General is going to be, or the positioning or whether there is legislation, when all of that is clear, Labor will be in a position to make an assessment as to whether or not we need to change our shadow ministerial arrangements. At the moment, we’re certainly not changing any of them.

WORDSWORTH: On same-sex marriage, it’s dividing the Liberals. There’s a private members’ bill to create marriage equality but not the desire by the leadership to put it to the floor of Parliament for a vote. But, if Labor suspended standing orders and moved that it be brought on, you would get the support of those few Liberals wouldn’t you?

DREYFUS: This is a matter, Matt, for the Liberal Party to sort out. It’s a party, a government that is beset by massive infighting. It’s been extraordinary to listen to the Liberals and the LNP from Queensland going hard at each other now for days, but it’s a matter for them to work out how to bring about a free vote. Labor’s position is clear, and I would have to say the Labor Party is the grown-ups on this issue. We’re standing ready…

WORDSWORTH: OK so if you’re the grown-ups, let’s put this, let’s settle this now. You could bring on this debate next week if you move to suspend standing orders and that could bring on this bill for a free vote.

DREYFUS: We’re not seeking to take any party advantage whatsoever. We want to get this done…

WORDSWORTH: So that means yes or no, you will do that?

DREYFUS: I’m not committing to any particular parliamentary tactics and I certainly wouldn’t be announcing them on national TV…

WORDSWORTH: Well it’s not like nobody’s talking about it, the Liberals know that’s in your arsenal, so it’s not like you’re going to be a surprise attack.

DREYFUS: We don’t want to do anything that would embarrass, or cause more difficulty for particular members of the Liberal Party. We want this to happen. Our position is very clear, we think there should be a free vote in the Australian Parliament on the legislation that is needed to bring about marriage equality in Australia. And it’s something that can be done, should be done, the time is long past for it to be done. All we’ve had from the Liberal Party is a delaying tactic now which is going on and on. I can understand the desperation of those members of the Liberal Party who want to bring on that free vote but it’s got to be a matter for them. Labor won’t be seeking to play any political games over this matter. We want the outcome, which is marriage equality for Australia.  

WORDSWORTH: So the Liberals are working reportedly on a compromise of a postal plebiscite, much cheaper than the $180 million compulsory plebiscite they originally proposed. Which is more likely to get up in a postal vote, a yes vote or a no vote?

DREYFUS: I think we’ve seen from repeated poll results that Australians by a substantial majority support marriage equality and that number of Australians is growing month-by-month. So I’m not in any doubt about what the result would be. I’m also not in doubt about the worthlessness of a postal vote, which would be voluntary as I understand, the proposal that’s been put forward. It too would cost many millions of dollars, and to what end? To have a voluntary vote which doesn’t determine anything? Not as a matter of law, not in any way, and would carry with it all of the divisiveness and harm that is feared about that kind of public campaigning. That’s…

WORDSWORTH: I’m just interested then about Labor’s proposal for a plebiscite on a republic, something that also will be meaningless because it can’t change the constitution, and divisive because we’ve had a divisive debate on the republic before?

DREYFUS: It’s a very very different proposition when you’re talking about something that requires a national vote. And that is, of all the people, that’s a constitutional change. As Bill Shorten…

WORDSWORTH: A plebiscite’s not a constitutional change though, you will still need a referendum.

DREYFUS: That’s right, but as Bill Shorten, I thought with real eloquence when he spoke at the republican dinner last weekend, as he pointed out, in ‘99 when the republic referendum failed, it was because Australians were in effect being asked to decide two questions at once on the same topic. We can clear out of the way that there’s a substantial majority of Australians in favour of moving to a republic, then we can determine the model that’s to be put to the people at the constitutional referendum. I think it’s an excellent proposal and I’m looking forward to it being implemented in the first term of a Labor government.

WORDSWORTH: But how do you get around the fact that you’ve argued it’s a waste of money to have a same-sex marriage plebiscite but not a waste of money for a republic plebiscite? It’s up to the Parliament to make these decisions, and then put it to the people in a referendum?

DREYFUS: They’re completely different things. One is a law change, just like, just…

WORDSWORTH: I think the public is aware of that, but they’re both seemingly can’t…ineffective in just having the plebiscite.

DREYFUS: One’s a law change. John Howard changed the Marriage Act without needing to put the matter to the people at a plebiscite. And nor do we need to have a plebiscite now on anything to do with marriage. We should just have the Parliament do its job. The republic requires a constitutional change. It’s a very, very different process and I think we need to take incredible care. We haven’t had a successful referendum in this country since 1977. And if, to make sure that the conditions are there for a successful referendum, we have a national vote first on the simple question of “do you want to move to a republic?” I think that’s an excellent way to proceed. It makes success of the republic, when we do get around to holding the referendum, much more likely and that’s what I’m supporting.

WORDSWORTH: Shadow Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus, we are out of time but thanks very much for joining us.

DREYFUS: Thanks very much Matt.