Parliament House Doorstop 29 August 2019

SUBJECTS: Press Freedom; Religious Discrimination Legislation; Conviction of Iraqi Protection Visa Holder; AFP raids on journalists; 2022 election.


SUBJECTS: Press Freedom; Religious Discrimination Legislation; Conviction of Iraqi Protection Visa Holder; AFP raids on journalists; 2022 election.

MARK DREYFUS, SHADOW ATTORNEY-GENERAL: I’ve just come from the Press Freedom Summit in Sydney, a very important matter for all of Australia and for the public’s right to know. It’s a very disappointing development that the Government was unable to send a single representative to this Press Freedom Summit in Sydney, including the Attorney-General who was actually in Sydney today, and who, I would have thought, could easily have attended. The Government couldn’t even send a backbench Member of Parliament.

The Government today has released its religious discrimination bill. It’s done so after two years of the Liberal Party arguing amongst themselves, and their divisions on this topic are still on full display today.

Labor has not been consulted about this bill. It’s apparent, from some of the public reaction already, that very many other Australians have not been consulted. Almost no religious organisations have been consulted. Certainly LGBTI groups do not appear to have been consulted.

It is vital that the government allow a proper time for the whole Australian community to consider this religious discrimination bill. It is vital because this is a very important topic. It’s one which, as I have said, the Government has been arguing among themselves for more than two years. It’s time that the debate that the Government has been having internally be allowed to occur with the whole Australian community.

I’d call on the Government to make sure that this is not a consultation in name only, but is a proper consultation. One where the Government not only allows adequate time for people to express their views about this important bill, but listens to the views when they are expressed. Because one of the aspects to the way in which the Government has been having this debate internally - and I think at one point the Attorney-General described as “workshops” with Liberal backbenchers - is that they have been prepared to drop out hints to the community, they have been prepared to hint that they were going to do certain things, but never been prepared to have a full debate.

What is now called for is the full debate and consultation that the Ruddock Review itself - the eminent panel that comprised the Ruddock Review called for - saying that the Government should ensure that there is a full debate on these issues if and when the Government got to acting on, as it now has, the Ruddock Review.

Of course, it is the case that only some of the recommendations of that Ruddock Review are being implemented, others the Government apparently disagrees with.

REPORTER: Christian Porter has made it clear that there needs to be bipartisan support on this bill in order for it to pass. Where do you perceive the holes to be?

DREYFUS: I have just seen this bill for the very first time. I would say again, the Government has chosen not to consult with the Australian Labor Party before releasing the exposure draft of this bill.

Unlike the Government, which has been having only an internal debate, Labor will be listening carefully to the whole Australian community. Labor will be consulting deeply and widely, which is what the Government should be doing too.

REPORTER: Are you more disposed towards the bill, considering it’s mirrored on other anti-discrimination legislation instead of a broader freedom of religion bill?

DREYFUS: The Ruddock Review, of course, recommended against that broader kind of legislation. I am not going to comment on the individual provisions of the bill until we have had proper time to examine it in detail.

REPORTER: The bill explicitly overrides Tasmania's anti-discrimination act. Are you supportive of that?

DREYFUS: That is a surprising feature of this bill. I have seen that already in the commentary that has occurred since the bill was released. It is a surprising feature because Mr Porter ruled out interfering with state anti-discrimination laws and apparently - I haven't examine the provision myself - but apparently what this bill does is to do just that. It does directly interfere with the Tasmanian anti-discrimination law.

That is a demonstration of the degree of difficulty, of the complexity of this kind of legislation, and of course we will be examining that and every other provision very closely.

REPORTER: LGBTIQ groups have said the bill will hand a sword to people of faith to attack minority groups. What is your response to those concerns? Do you think there is that risk and danger to those minority groups?

DREYFUS: Again, I will not comment on the individual provisions of the bill until I have had a chance to closely examine them, and that means sit down and take some time by looking at them. It is a lengthy bill. It’s one on which I would want to be hearing from all groups in the community before I express a view or before Labor comes to a concluded view.

But clearly, that issue of whether or not there should be legislation in this area that provides, as has been put, a sword, and not a shield, is right at the heart of the way in which the Commonwealth Parliament should choose to legislate.

It is related to, I am reminded, another matter that the Attorney-General will have to clear up - he hasn't done so today - and that is how does this bill interact with the process that the Government itself commenced by referring directly related matters to the Australian Law Reform Commission some time back?

That review by the Australian Law Reform Commission of exemptions in the Sex Discrimination Act relating to religious institutions is ongoing. The Australian Law Reform Commission is about to publish, they have said, a discussion paper and are not due to report on the subject of their reference until sometime in 2020. The Attorney-General will need to explain more than he has today how that bill interacts with that process that has been conducted by the Law Reform Commission.

REPORTER: Should the Government wait on this act until the Law Reform Commission has finished its report next year?

DREYFUS: This is a Government without a plan on most things and we are seeing them stumbling around in this area as well. It is for the Attorney-General to explain because it is his reference to the Law Reform Commission that is potentially being interfered with here by the publication and production of this bill.

REPORTER: Does Labor agree with the Prime Minister's decision to deport this Iraqi refugee who has been convicted of child sex offences?

DREYFUS: The crimes of which this man was convicted are appalling crimes and Australian law is very clear, there is no place for someone who has committed these crimes in Australia.

REPORTER: What is your response to the Prime Minister’s observation that he came into Australia, came here during the chaos of Labor years?

DREYFUS: The Prime Minister seems to be implying that immigration ministers have to foresee the future. And if he is saying that, then he needs to be considering whether he is accepting responsibility for every single one of the thousands of arrivals in Australia who he, as Immigration Minister, issued a visa to. Many, many thousands of people are in Australia, sitting here on a visa issued by Mr Morrison personally as Immigration Minister. Is he accepting responsibility for all of their conduct and all of their behaviour so long as they remain in Australia?

REPORTER: Do people have a right to question whether background checks were sufficient enough?

DREYFUS: I’d say again, these were abominable crimes committed by this man and Australian law is clear, there is no place for this man in Australia.

REPORTER: Just on another issue do you think it was appropriate for Mike Pezzullo to have called the Deputy Commissioner of the AFP on the night Annika Smethurst’s home was raided to congratulate his officers on the raid?

DREYFUS: I haven’t seen those reports. If that is so, it’s something I’ll certainly be very interested in hearing more details about.

REPORTER: Further on this question of the refugee, if he has been granted refugee status on the basis that he faces discrimination or torture or whatever in his own country, is it legal for Australia to return him to that country under our obligations with the UN?

DREYFUS: These are terrible crimes that were committed by this man. Australian law is clear and there is no place in Australia for this man.

REPORTER: The question is, are we within our rights to send him back to Iraq or to send him somewhere else?

DREYFUS: That is what Australian law presently says and Australian law will work so as to remove this man from Australia.

REPORTER: There has been speculation about your future in the media over recent weeks. Are you committed to serving out this term in Parliament and are you interested in a legal appointment like the Supreme Court?

DREYFUS: I am absolutely committed to serving out this term of Parliament and that’s the end of the matter and I don’t know where those ridiculous suggestions come from.

REPORTER: On the religious freedom is do you believe that we would see this legislation passed by the end of the year or is that unlikely?

DREYFUS: I’ve said, and Labor has said repeatedly throughout the Government’s divisions, disputing and arguments about this, that it is not good enough for the Liberal Party of Australia to keep this internal to the Liberal Party room. This is a matter which concerns all Australians. The whole community should have time, and an appropriate opportunity to have a say on the proposals that finally have seen the light of day from the Government. There needs to be appropriate time for consideration.

Without even having looked at the bill I don’t know how long appropriate time is but I would say it has to be a pretty decent amount of time Particularly when the Liberal Party of Australia has taken more than two years of arguing amongst themselves to get to where they got to today.

REPORTER: So you’re saying you’re not going to rush this? Labor is not going to rush this?

DREYFUS: The Government’s in charge of the process.

REPORTER: But they want your support.

DREYFUS: It’s for the Government to decide how long they are going to allow for consultation and it’s for the Government to decide when they going to bring this bill to the Parliament in a formal way. I would urge on the Government that they allow appropriate time for this to be considered by all Australians, allow appropriate time and not rush it.



  • Mark Dreyfus
    published this page in Transcripts 2019-08-29 17:02:15 +1000