Parliament House doorshop

SUBJECT/S: Barnaby Joyce and Fiona Nash; marriage equality; citizenship; energy; North Korea

THE HON MARK DREYFUS QC MP
SHADOW ATTORNEY-GENERAL
SHADOW MINISTER FOR NATIONAL SECURITY
MEMBER FOR ISAACS

E&OE TRANSCRIPT

DOORSTOP

PARLIAMENT HOUSE, CANBERRA

TUESDAY, 5 SEPTEMBER 2017

                                                           

SUBJECT/S: Barnaby Joyce and Fiona Nash; marriage equality; citizenship; energy; North Korea

 

DREYFUS: Morning.  Barnaby Joyce and Fiona Nash must stand aside and they must stand aside today. There cannot be any doubt left by this government over the authority of senior ministers. And let’s be clear about this, the government has itself accepted there is a doubt about Mr Joyce, there is a doubt about Senator Nash because it has referred Mr Joyce and referred Senator Nash to the High Court of Australia sitting as the Court of Disputed Returns to rule on their eligibility to be members of this Parliament. If they are ineligible to be members of this Parliament then they are not validly appointed to serve as Ministers. We are talking about someone who is going to be the Acting Prime Minister of Australia, apparently, at the end of this week and it’s simply unsustainable. We have had constitutional academics explaining this, they say that it is simply not safe. It is really a contempt of the constitution for Mr Joyce and Senator Nash to continue in their positions. Senator Canavan was stood aside when he was referred to the High Court of Australia because of the doubt about his eligibility to sit in the Parliament and it was the right thing for the government to do to stand him aside as a Minister. There is no explanation from the government as to why the same course has not been followed for Mr Joyce and Senator Nash. And I want to clear up one other thing while I am here. It is simply not correct as the government has been trying to say that somehow if Mr Joyce is ruled ineligible and Senator Nash is ruled ineligible that they will have three further months under the constitution to serve as ministers, while in the case of Mr Joyce perhaps a by-election is held and in the case of Senator Nash there is some recount process. That is not correct, the three months started from the date of their ineligibility which is the date of their election to the Parliament and it ran out in October. So let’s have no more of this nonsense from the government, suggesting that there is nothing to see here or that there is no problem about Mr Joyce continuing in office.  There is a very serious problem about Mr Joyce continuing in office. There is a serious problem about Senator Nash continuing in office, they need to stand aside today. The government should stop treating the constitution with contempt, should stop acting in this negligent manner.

 

JOURNALIST: In the same-sex marriage campaign we have seen the involvement of far right groups like Antipodean Resistance and the United Patriots Front who are also facing courts at the moment in Melbourne. I just wanted to ask you, do you think the popularity of far right neo-Nazi groups like these are rising and are they a threat?

 

DREYFUS: We need to condemn neo-Nazi groups. The Prime Minister needs to be condemning neo-Nazi groups, it is an extraordinary thing that he has just remained silent in the face of ugly statements that have been made in relation to the marriage equality survey. We need some leadership from the Prime Minister on this. 

 

JOURNALIST: Just quickly back on citizenship, it seems like the lower house crossbenchers agree with Labor on the case of Barnaby Joyce. Is there any sort of tactic you could adopt in the lower house to step up the pressure on the government using that crossbench support?

 

DREYFUS: We are going to continue the pressure on the government over this and it is good to see that the crossbenchers in the lower house and I believe the crossbenchers in the Senate as well are taking this position. They have understood the constitution, they have understood the need to treat the constitution with the care and respect that it calls for and I will do everything we can in the processes of the House of Representatives relying on those crossbenchers who have made their position clear yesterday in voting with the Opposition on this, to draw attention to the extraordinary negligence that the Government is showing in leaving these two senior ministers in place when they have been referred to the High Court with a major doubt about their eligibility to be in this Parliament at all. 

 

JOURNALIST: Why wouldn’t Labor support a full audit of all parliamentarians?

 

DREYFUS: We have got seven members of Parliament that are now before the High Court, all of them referred by bipartisan basis. The government referring, making sure that its own Ministers were referred – that the three in question Senator Canavan, Senator Nash, Mr Joyce and the High Court according to the government is going to radically rewrite the understanding of Section 44(i) of the constitution. If the government is right, and they have not explained themselves at all, the government, for example, is putting forward an argument, which has been repeated over and over again by the Prime Minister and by Mr Pyne, and by others that somehow citizenship by descent is to be treated differently to citizenship by place of birth – there is no explanation has been given as to why that is so. It is not even clear whether that is in fact what the Solicitor-General has advised but the government is asserting that he has. If the High Court does what the government says it is going to do and radically rewrites the understanding of Section 44(i) of the Constitution then that is the time at which the situation of other members of Parliament needs to be considered when the High Court has given that interpretation of Section 44(i), not before. We have got a current case before the High Court, we have got a government that is saying it is going to urge the High Court to radically rewrite the understanding of the Constitution – the time to look at other members of Parliament is after that decision.

 

JOURNALIST: On the other High Court issue with same-sex marriage challenge that is getting under way today - where do you stand on that, are you hopeful it will succeed?

 

DREYFUS: The two plaintiff groups that are now before the High Court are both putting forward very similar arguments. They have said they have got a very good case. We have had commentary from constitutional academics saying that there is a strong case here. The two points that they are making are that the government is trying to proceed unlawfully without parliamentary appropriation, without a vote of the parliament, and that, the second point, that the Australian Bureau of Statistics does not have power under its legislation to conduct this kind of survey. The High Court is hearing the case starting this morning in Melbourne, full High Court and I am expecting that there will be a very prompt decision. I would simply say again, the two plaintiff groups have said over and over again that they think that they have a strong case and a number of constitutional academics have agreed with them.

 

JOURNALIST: If the government agrees to run with a clean energy target this week, is that something that compromise can be found on – that Labor could maybe agree on then?

 

DREYFUS: The government has gone on long enough with extraordinary uncertainty, creating business uncertainty and investment uncertainty. They know what they have to do. They have had a clear, clear recommendation from Professor Finkel, the Chief Scientist, which is that Australia needs a clean energy target. That is the way to achieve investment certainty in Australia. It is the lack of investment certainty that has led to new generation capacity not being built. The sooner the government gets rid of its internal divisions on this because that is what is holding this up, and gets on with a clean energy target the better.

 

JOURNALIST: There are other Labor MPs that have had questions asked about their citizenship – why wouldn’t they follow their leader’s lead and produce documents proving they have renounced all citizenship ties with other nations?

 

DREYFUS: Bill Shorten, yesterday, cleared up the kind of birther conspiracy nonsense that we have had no just from the former Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, but now the current Prime Minister, in the House yesterday, extraordinarily going on with this nonsense and Bill as the alternative Prime Minister quite rightly put this matter to rest and it is over. On the others, no basis has been put forward for them to do anything further that what they have. Labor has very rigorous processes. I would refer you to Senator Gallagher, for example, making a very full statement in the Senate yesterday. If the government is going on with this, if Mr Turnbull is setting some standard of producing documents, why I would ask are there Liberal members of Parliament not being asked to meet that standard? Clearly they are not.

 

JOURNALIST Just quickly on North Korea, as the rhetoric escalates, is Australia in danger of being dragged into conflict there? How far is too far in terms of our own involvement?

 

DREYFUS: We should all sincerely hope that there is no path here to armed conflict. The seriousness of this cannot be overstated. And as we heard from Nikki Haley, the American Ambassador to the United Nations, the United States is treating this extremely seriously. We should all treat this extremely seriously. More effort needs to be made with perhaps more severe sanctions to make sure North Korea starts to behave as a proper participant in the community of nations and not some kind of rogue state.

Thanks very much.

 

ENDS