Parliament House Doorstop

SUBJECT/S: Liberals’ royal commission; national security legislation; Christmas Island










SUBJECT/S: Liberals’ royal commission; national security legislation; Christmas Island


MARK DREYFUS: You’ve just asked my colleague Sharon Bird some questions about the royal commission, and that’s what I’m here to talk about as well. There’s been a concern since this royal commission into trade unions was first announced at the end of 2013 that it was a political exercise.


It’s, of course, one of two royal commissions established by this Liberal Government, the other one being the Royal Commission into the Home Insulation Scheme, which has vanished without trace, having consumed $25 million or so of taxpayers’ money. This royal commission into trade unions, that’s still going, has cost somewhere between $60 and 80 million of Australians taxpayers’ money and it is clear, as every day passes, just what a political exercise it is.


It was clear that it was a political exercise when the terms of reference were announced. It’s been clear that it’s a political exercise on every day that the royal commission has been conducting its hearings, and in the way in which it has gone about conducting the royal commission, and that’s the concern.


We have seen now on Friday the material produced by the royal commission, which is not material that even needed to be made public, being given first to members of the Australian Parliamentary Press Gallery, to the media in Australia, before being given to the parties concerned.


Now I’ve got no concerns about the material, at some point, arising from this royal commission being reported on. But this royal commission has not understood properly the incredible responsibility that’s cast on a royal commission. It is an executive inquiry, it is not like a court, it is not subject to the kind of ordinary rules that a court would be subject to and it’s a real concern, again, to see this royal commission putting out material without giving the parties even a chance to look at it, not even responding to calls from Bill Shorten’s lawyer over the course of Friday which of course is the news that’s come out this morning.


This is no way to conduct a royal commission. I’m very fearful that because of the way in which this royal commission has conducted itself throughout, and I have in mind there its behaviour in relation to Royal Commissioner attending a Liberal Party fundraiser. Or when we were here the last time Parliament sat, on the last sitting Thursday, it became clear the commission had tried to get at the membership records of every single member of the Australian Labor Party in Victoria. Of course, they then withdrew that request but it’s the fact that they even thought that it might be appropriate to seek such records in that way tells you a lot about this royal commission.


My fear is that any useful material that may come from this royal commission is going to be tarnished because of the way in which this royal commission has gone about its task. It’s gone about its task in, really, a partisan manner. And it was – from the outset set to behave in this manner because the terms of reference condemned it to this. We’ve said from the very first day that this royal commission was announced that a proper course for the Commonwealth Government is to refer allegations of serious wrongdoing to the police, to the Australian Crime Commission, to the ordinary processes of the criminal justice system. And it’s something that, instead of spending the $80 million on a royal commission, the money would have been far better spent on beefing up the processes of the criminal justice system and getting the results in that manner. 


REPORTER: Mr Dreyfus, just on the way that material was released on Friday. As I understand it that has been quite standard practice for the royal commission in releasing this material over the last couple of months – couple of years, really. Are you saying that there should have been special treatment for Mr Shorten given the serious nature of an Opposition Leader being before a royal commission?


MARK DREYFUS: I’m talking about all of the parties before the royal commission. This is not Mr Shorten who’s been singled out here - every person who has been dragged before the Royal Commission potentially suffers tremendous reputational damage and often there’s no means available to that person to deal with or cure that reputational damage.


That’s something that royal commissioners and their staff need to be thinking about. I’d suggest that what a proper course of action for the royal commission, rather than rushing to publish what are, after all, just draft material and possible courses for the Commission to take, is to simply give notice to those affected. Let them deal with it and receive submissions from people who are affected by possible findings and deal with it in that way. There is no actual need for it to be given to the media at all. I would point out to you that even the Royal Commission into Home Insulation proceeded in that way, and many previous royal commissions have proceeded in this way. This royal commission has chosen to conduct itself in the most public manner, seemingly heedless of the reputational damage to those involved.


REPORTER: Just on counter terrorism legislation, discussion late this week is likely to return to reducing control orders from sixteen years of age down to fourteen and also the removal of Australian citizenship from dual nationals. Can you just update us as to where Labor stands on both of those issues?


MARK DREYFUS: No, I think you need to be asking the Government to update the public on where they are on both of those issues. On the Citizenship Bill, it was introduced to the Parliament after 18 months’ discussion around the 23rd or 24th June this year. It then went to an inquiry by the Intelligence Committee. The Intelligence Committee considered it, held public hearings and made very detailed recommendations to the Government as to how the Bill needed to be changed, and drawing attention as well to some serious constitutional problems with the Bill.


The Government has not even responded. I know they have listed the Citizenship Bill for further debate. They did that in the last sitting period, but it didn’t materialise. The Government has not even responded to the report of the Intelligence Committee, so we don’t actually know what form the amendments are going to take. Indeed we don’t know whether the Government is going to make any amendments and we don’t know how the Government is going to deal with the constitutional issues that were identified by the Intelligence Committee.


On the other matter, that’s a separate matter, the Government started talking a couple of weeks back about the possibility of legislation reducing the age at which control orders might be applied to Australian citizens, in this case as you’ve said in your question, reducing the age to fourteen. We have not been briefed by the Government, we have not seen a Bill by the Government, and if the Government’s got a proposal, of course, as is with all other national security proposals, we’ll look at the detail.


REPORTER: Just back on the Royal Commission, there’s been some pretty bad findings against some CFMEU officials that have led to recommendations for charges to be laid at least. Do you think that perhaps Labor needs to look at distancing itself from the CFMEU while … [inaudible].


MARK DREYFUS: I’d make a couple of points there Laura. First of all, there have been no findings of the Royal Commission, this is material that is part of the course of proceedings of the royal commission. The second thing is that Labor has said at all times, from before this royal commission was established, that Labor has no tolerance for criminal behaviour, whether it be in the corporate world, or in unions, or in any other aspect of Australian life. We say that the full force of the law should be delivered to anyone that has engaged in lawful conduct and that remains our position. And I say again this royal commission was established, and its terms of reference tell you this, to achieve political damage on the Labor movement.


It’s not a way in which the Government should have proceeded to deal with allegations of wrongdoing. They should have been referred to the police and the huge resources that have been devoted to this royal commission should in fact have been devoted to beefing up the criminal justice system, so that it could deal properly with these allegations.


It’s a real concern, it remains a real concern the way in which this commission has gone about its business, and I’d say as I said before we hope that any good that might come out of this royal commission is not tarnished by the way in which this royal commission has chosen to go about its work.


REPORTER: Just news coming through about riots on Christmas Island after the death of an asylum-seeker. Should Peter Dutton be out responding here this morning?


MARK DREYFUS: Our Shadow Immigration Minister, Richard Marles, has sought an urgent briefing from the Government as to exactly what is happening on the ground at Christmas Island. I think we are all waiting to hear – obviously the reports are of real concern – but we’re all waiting to hear what in fact has happened there. Thanks very much.