SUBJECT/S: National Security; Letter from Haron Man Monis; Citizenship; Trade Union Royal Commission.
THE HON MARK DREYFUS QC MP
SHADOW MINISTER FOR THE ARTS
MEMBER FOR ISAACS
FRIDAY, 5 JUNE 2015
SUBJECT/S: National Security; Letter from Haron Man Monis; Citizenship; Trade Union Royal Commission.
MARK DREYFUS, SHADOW ATTORNEY-GENERAL: It's very concerning that Senator Brandis and Ms Bishop have taken, it seems, some days to advise the Parliament of Australia and advise the community of Australia, that they misled the Parliament and managed to mislead both Houses at once last week, when they claimed that the letter written by the siege gunman Man Monis to the Attorney-General of Australia, that he received on 9 October 2014, had not in fact been disclosed to the joint Commonwealth NSW inquiry.
It is concerning. That's why we have called for and I'm hopeful that it will take place very soon, an additional Senate estimates hearing so that the questions that are now raised by the Government's disclosure that the centrepiece of their pretty intemperate attack on Labor the week before last for asking entirely appropriate questions about the handling of this letter in the Attorney-General's office and Department, that the centrepiece of that pretty intemperate attack was the claim that this letter had been given to the joint NSW Commonwealth review. It turns out now that it hasn't been. Not only should Senator Brandis and Ms Bishop answer questions about why it took them so long and why, in fact, Ms Bishop timed her disclosure to the House of Representatives for the moment after Question Time, or why Senator Brandis sat through estimates all this week reading poetry at one stage, but didn't think it appropriate to advise his fellow Senator that is he'd misled them the previous week.
There's not only that. There's the apparent breach of the Ministerial Code of Conduct set down by the Prime Minister, which directs his Ministers that they are to clear up any misleading that they have done of Parliament or of the community as soon as practicable. It's now quite apparent that it hasn't been done as soon as practicable.
So it's clear that Labor was right to raise the questions that we raised about the initial handling of this Man Monis letter. The Government, by its conduct here, by treating this as a matter of political sensitivity rather than the matter of national security, that it is, has got even more questions to answer and that's why we have called for a further hearing of the Senate estimates. Any questions?
REPORTER: What steps have you taken to recall the Senate?
DREYFUS: I have spoken to the Deputy Chair of the relevant Senate estimates committee, that's the legal and constitutional affairs, Senator Jancinta Collins. Three Senators who are members of the committee need to request, that will happen, I'm very hopeful, today. I'm expecting that the Government, if it behaves appropriately, will assist in putting that additional Senate estimates hearing on as soon as possible.
REPORTER: Are you claiming there was some sort of cover-up?
DREYFUS: We just don't know. I don't accept the Government's bald explanation saying it's an administrative error or mistake. We want to ask some questions about that. It seems to us extraordinary, when we have raised this matter in the House of Representatives, when there's been an extraordinarily intemperate attack rather than giving answers to our entirely appropriate questions, and over and over again both Senator Brandis and Ms Bishop saying this letter was provided to the joint Commonwealth NSW inquiry, that they didn't actually check. That's not good enough. That's one of the things we want to ask questions about.
REPORTER: The Government says it took four days to establish the facts… (inaudible). What's your issue with that?
DREYFUS: Senator Brandis said he was told on Monday. What takes three working days to check? He was told on Monday the House of Representatives and the Senate and the community of Australia had been misled the week before. He should have gone into the Senate at the earliest possible opportunity and said that. The Government should have gone into the House of Representatives at the earliest possible opportunity and said that too.
REPORTER: Are committee members in favour of holding another hearing?
DREYFUS: I'm confident there will be three Senators who is will want another hearing to be held.
REPORTER: Have you spoken to them yet to ask?
DREYFUS: As I said, I have spoken to Jancinta Collins, the Labor Senator, the Deputy Chair of the committee and I'm confident that the request is going to be made and I'd call on the Government to ensure that that additional Senate estimates hearing is held as soon as possible, which to my mind would be next week.
REPORTER: Man Monis sent many letters before the Sydney siege. Why should the Government have been more concerned about this letter than the others considering that he was a serial letter writer?
DREYFUS: That was the focus of my questions last week. This letter was sent to Senator Brandis, the Attorney-General of Australia, a matter of weeks after the Prime Minister of Australia had announced that the terror threat level had been raised to the highest level ever in our history. The Prime Minister called at that press conference on all Australians to be alert to anything suspicious. I would have thought that a letter received by the Attorney-General of Australia, which referred to the leader of the Islamic State, an organisation, or Daesh, an organisation that the Prime Minister has taken to referring to as the death cult, so here's a letter from someone who has been in litigation with the Commonwealth, who is on bail for serious criminal offences, that refers to the leader of the Islamic State, the death cult, as Calif Ibrahim. That's something that followers of Islamic State do. And that to me at a time when the Prime Minister has some weeks before announced the highest ever terror threat level, that should have raised a red flag. It should have been referred to ASIO. It should have been dealt with differently by the Government than the way in which it was. It should have in fact been dealt with in the way that Attorney-General McClelland back in 2008 dealt with the letter he received from Man Monis which was to do just what we say should have happened here. Attorney- General McClelland referred it to ASIO.
REPORTER: On another matter, Michael Danby says there should be judicial review in cases where Minister is seeking to strip citizenship from terrorists. Do you agree?
DREYFUS: We don't know the detail yet of the Government's proposal. We have said this now for some time. The Government has been talking about some proposal or another to strip some people of Australian citizenship since January 2014. That's when Mr Morrison as Immigration Minister started talking about it. The Prime Minister's talked about it on a number of occasions since. Coming forward into this year, in an important speech that the Prime Minister gave on counter-terrorism matters back in February, he again talked of this proposal to strip Australian citizens of their citizenship. We need to see the detail. We need to see the detail on what will be the circumstances that the government says this stripping of citizenship should occur in. We need to see what the Government's proposing as to who is to do it, whether it's to be the Minister or a judge. We need to see whether, for example, it's to follow a conviction or to be merely on suspicion. All of those details require a piece of legislation. It's apparent the Government hasn't even got that piece of legislation ready, despite talking about this for over 18 months, and it's high time that we had a discussion based on an actual piece of legislation, not on slogans, which is what we have had from the Prime Minister up until now.
REPORTER: What do you actually get out of an additional estimates hearing?
DREYFUS: The additional estimates hearing will provide us with an opportunity to inquire as to what processes were followed in the Attorney-General's department when they were asked to cooperate with the joint NSW Commonwealth inquiry. And why it is that the Attorney-General's Department seems to have been able to produce a number of rather old letters, such as letters sent to the former Labor prime ministers or to the former Labor Attorney-General, Robert McClelland, back in 2008, but don't seem to have been able to produce to the joint NSW Commonwealth inquiry a much more recent letter received by the Attorney-General of Australia - in fact, received a mere two months before the dreadful siege occurred. That's something that requires a much better explanation than the Government's provided to date.
We want an explanation as to why these Ministers have failed to comply with the Ministerial Code of Conduct and now that we know that the joint NSW Commonwealth review didn't have the Monis letter or the Government's response, we want to ask some more questions about what change should have occurred in the Attorney-General's department and throughout the Government in response to the raising of the terror threat level. Extraordinarily, what we heard from Julie Bishop in the House of Representatives the week before last was that no change at all had been made to internal protocols and internal procedures in the Government. I would have thought, particularly given the way that the Prime Minister has chosen to speak about this continuously since he announced the raising of the threat level, that some change at least ought to have occurred in protocols and processes within the Government. It seems that nothing had happened.
REPORTER: Do you think there's something sinister behind all of this?
DREYFUS: We need to be able to explore questions of national security. It's a really important principle here. Of course, Labor shares with the Government the objective of keeping our community safe, but that doesn't mean that we agree with the Government on every single measure as to how that end of keeping our community safe is to be achieved. What it does mean is that it's our duty as a loyal Opposition, to raise questions, to examine what the Government is doing, and it's a very proper question, it seems to me, just on this letter, to inquire into why it was that no red flag went up; why it was that the letter wasn't remember referred to ASIO; why nobody within the Government, despite the raising of the terror threat level, seems to have thought that this was a matter sufficiently important to do anything at all about. Indeed, somewhat weirdly and curiously, the Defence offered by the Foreign Minister in the House of Representatives was that the processes and protocols used in the Attorney-General's office and the Attorney-General's department were the same as they had been when I was Attorney-General back in 2013. That, in itself, demonstrates that the Government is not paying sufficient attention to the national security issues that are raised here.
REPORTER: Can you provide an assurance that during Mr Shorten's time at the AWU he had no knowledge of any membership fees being disguised as payments for anything else?
DREYFUS: I'm not going to provide a commentary on something that's before the Royal Commission. We have said this repeatedly. It's apparent, daily, that this Royal Commission is a political witch-hunt. We are seeing more of that rolling out just now. But I'm not going to comment on the day to day activities or the evidence that's coming out. We are still to hear from a whole lot of witnesses. If there is nothing further, thanks very much.