Press Conference re: Tony Abbott's Royal Commission

SUBJECT/S: Tony Abbott’s royal commission












SUBJECT/S: Tony Abbott’s royal commission


MARK DREYFUS, SHADOW ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Fair-minded Australians would see in what has occurred the apprehension of bias that should have been the reason why Dyson Heydon disqualified himself from continuing in this role. Tony Abbott should have relieved Dyson Heydon of the need even to make this decision. The fact he has not done so, the fact that at least for the moment the commission is continuing means that we have a continuing royal commission tainted and discredited by what has occurred. Discredited by the scandal that has occurred. I don't think any fair-minded Australian looking at this invitation to the speech that Dyson Heydon was to give, complete with the Liberal Party's logo in the top right-hand corner and instructions on the reverse that told people considering going to hear this speech that cheques were to be made payable to the Liberal Party of Australia, and more, that all proceeds from this event would be applied to State election campaigning.


This is a Liberal Party event, Dyson Heydon has associated himself with a Liberal Party event. There's the apprehension of bias that any fair-mind observer would bring and all Australians as a result have lost confidence in this royal commission. We say that what should occur is that the Government should accept the suggestion that Labor made right at the start of 2014, which is that a joint police task force should be established, a joint police task force of the Australian Crime Commission, the State police forces, Federal Police and for far less than the $80 million that's been put into this royal commission, the tens of millions of dollars expended to date, we would have already seen the allegations that have been made, investigated, quite possibly prosecutions already commenced. The only result of this royal commission has been to delay the proper progress of those investigations.


Any questions?


JOURNALIST: Did you expect the unions to pursue from a legal action?


DREYFUS: I'm not going to give legal advice to the unions. The union representatives have said that they are going to be considering the detailed reasons that Dyson Heydon has given over, and we'll learn tomorrow whether or not the unions who made the application for Dyson Heydon to disqualify himself are going to, as is their right, take this matter for determination by a court. Because, of course, it needs to be stressed that the royal commission is not a court. Dyson Heydon is a retired judge of the High Court of Australia. He's not sitting as a court and the course for anyone who disagrees with his determination today is to take the matter to a court.


JOURNALIST: Should the commission's hearings continue tomorrow morning if the unions are possibly considering further legal action?


DREYFUS: That's a matter for the commission, and as indeed it's a matter for the trade unions as to whether or not they decide they're going to take this matter forward to a court.


JOURNALIST: How many senior lawyers do you know who are incapable of using an email, and is this appropriate?


DREYFUS: I don't know that his full justification is that he doesn't use email, but again I would say that what we have here is an apprehension of bias. Giving a character reference for Dyson Heydon doesn't take the argument anywhere, and perhaps even commenting on whether or not Justice Heydon uses email doesn't take the matter anywhere. What the conclusive about this, where the apprehension of bias comes from is this invitation clearly marking this as a Liberal Party event. No-one could be in any doubt about the political nature of this royal commission. It's a commission that from the start was intended to smear the political opponents of the Liberal Party, which is not just trade unions, but the Australian Labor Party. And it's an improper use of the royal commission’s power that's given rise to the problem here, not whether or not Dyson Heydon can read emails.


JOURNALIST: What do you say of Dyson Heydon's claims that just because someone agreed to give a speech at a certain function doesn't mean... [Inaudible] ?


DREYFUS: I'd say it's not about his state of mind, it's about what the fair-minded observer looking at this, having regard to the nature of the royal commission's activities, having regard to the royal commission's own terms of reference, having regard to the way in which the royal commission has been conducted since the start. People would remember that the very first witness and the very first matter dealt with by this royal commission was a 20-year-old set of allegations into the conduct of the Honourable Julia Gillard, former Prime Minister of Australia not when she was Prime Minister, but when she had worked as a solicitor in 1992 and 1993. It's hard to see any current benefit that could be gained for the people of Australia from such an inquiry and of course, the interim report makes it clear that there was nothing there that Julia Gillard had to answer for. But it was part of the smear that this royal commission has been from the outset, part of as I say, the abuse of the Government's power to set up a royal commission. That's the problem.


JOURNALIST: Did you organise to leak the invitation to the press?


DREYFUS: It's not about leaking. This was a public event. It's an advertised public speech by Dyson Heydon to an event to speak at an event, which it became clear although this was not initially publicly advertised, was conducted by the Liberal Party of NSW.


JOURNALIST: Did you pass that fact on?


DREYFUS: It's not a matter of who passed it on, because it's about the apprehension of bias. It's about what a fair-minded person looking at the fact of Dyson Heydon, the Royal Commissioner in an intensely political royal commission, whether or not it's the right thing for him to have done and how the matter came to public attention because it was already in public if I can make that clear, is entirely irrelevant to the question that Dyson Heydon had to decide and entirely irrelevant to if a court is going to be asked to decide it, irrelevant to that question, too.


JOURNALIST: Are you worried your reaction would be perceived as Labor trying to stop the Commission from trying to unveil any more corruption?


DREYFUS: Labor's made it clear from the outset of the announcement of this royal commission that Labor wants to see all corruption, all illegal activity stamped out of the union movement, as indeed we want to see corruption and illegal activity stamped out across the Australian community. There should be no doubt whatsoever about that and I'd say that our suggestion to the government, which was that a joint task force should be set up consisting of the Australian Crime Commission and State and Federal police forces, that was the way to go. I'd again make the point that it wasn't anything to do with this royal commission that two senior officials of the Health Services Union have been prosecuted, taken to court and convicted and one of them now remains in jail. That's got nothing to do with this royal commission. That occurred while Labor was in government. It's got nothing to do with this royal commission that Kathy Jackson has been ordered by the Federal Court of Australia to repay $1.5 million to the union from which she misappropriated those funds. And all of those proceedings involving the Health Services Union make the point that you don't need a royal commission to investigate, you don't need a royal commission to bring prosecutions. The Australian Crime Commission has got coercive powers, police forces have got investigative powers and we would have got, I think, far more bang for buck out of setting up a joint task force, a suggestion that the Government ignored because what this Government wants to do is misuse its royal commission's power to create a smear of its political opponents. If we could have one at a time.


JOURNALIST: Will you continue to push for Heydon to be removed from his post, and how will you do this?


DREYFUS: We're certainly going to be taking forward in the Senate next Monday, which is when the Senate next sits, a petition to the Governor-General to remove Dyson Heydon from this office. Tony Abbott has failed to act to remove Dyson Heydon from Tony Abbott's own royal commission. It's now left for the Parliament to act.


JOURNALIST: But is this possibly a bad move for Labor, pursuing a High Court judge?


DREYFUS: I'd repeat, Dyson Heydon is not a High Court judge, he is a retired High Court judge and that's not a small distinction, it's a very important one. In his interim report, Dyson Heydon himself makes clear that the royal commission is not a court of law. He is not sitting as a judge, he did not pretend to be sitting as a judge and referring to his undoubted eminence, giving character references for Dyson Heydon is entirely beside the point. The point is the Liberal Party event to which Dyson Heydon accepted an invitation, at which Dyson Heydon accepted an invitation to speak. It's not about him being a judge and it's certainly not about anything to do with that kind of wash over you might call it, of him having been a former judge.


JOURNALIST: Labor clearly wants this commission shut down, do they have something to hide?


DREYFUS: Absolutely not, and we've made that clear from the start. Labor wants all corruption in the union movement, all wrong-doing in the union movement investigated and to suggest that we have brought forward this point, or have taken up this point because of any desire that there not be full investigation would be completely wrong. What we need to see is a royal commission tainted as this one now irredeemably is, and Tony Abbott should never have started this royal commission in the first place. That's the problem, it's an abuse of the royal commission’s power. Malcolm Fraser himself early last year made this point, saying that it was entirely improper for the Commonwealth Government to be using its royal commission’s power to pursue political opponents. He was, of course, referring to not one but two royal commissions that this Government has commenced in order to pursue its political opponents.


JOURNALIST: Do you think the royal commission has done anything of value?


DREYFUS: I think the royal commission has publicised some allegations that could have been investigated by other means. I think the whole process by which this royal commission has been commenced, the way the terms of reference have been framed in fact make it very difficult to obtain anything of real value. But of course there may be things of value, of course even from the interim report you can see foreshadowing by the royal commission a possible legislative change. That's, of course, what royal commissions should be directed at. But I think, in fact, it's likely that the royal commission has impeded rather than aided the speedy prosecution, if prosecutions are warranted, of people against whom allegations have been made.


JOURNALIST: Dyson Heydon is staying on, could that not maybe benefit Labor's cause... could be seen as tainted or less credible?


DREYFUS: I think this royal commission is irredeemably tainted by the events which have occurred and that's a matter of regret. That's a matter which Tony Abbott has caused by setting up the royal commission in the first place. But in the events which have occurred, the commission will remain, whatever happens and whatever the unions decide to do and if a court is to rule on it, whatever those courts decide to do, I think Australians now have fully and completely lost confidence in this royal commission.


JOURNALIST: If it is up to the Governor-General to decide Dyson Heydon's fate, what would be your reasoning?


DREYFUS: I think that Dyson Heydon's position became untenable with his acceptance of an invitation to speak at a Liberal Party event - I put to one side entirely this distinction that's being made about whether or not it was a fundraiser. That's not to the point. This was a Liberal Party event. His position became untenable and I'd again call on Tony Abbott to terminate his commission.


JOURNALIST: You said there's value to come from this commission, however, you've previously stated with Dyson Heydon as commissioner it serves no value to Australians . Do you still stand by those comments?


DREYFUS: These events, these bordering on farcical events, the delay that's occurred in the getting of this decision, the dribs and drabs in which the details of Dyson Heydon's acceptance of the invitation, the way in which that was trickled out, all of that I think has irredeemably tainted this royal commission. Nothing further?


JOURNALIST: With respect, you haven't answered my question of whether you or someone you associated with leaked this invitation to the press?


DREYFUS: I don't think it's of any relevance how this matter came to public attention. What's of importance is that the event happened. I don't think anyone is seriously suggesting that this was a secret event. If it were, that would be even worse. This was, in fact, an event advertised by the NSW Bar Association inviting people to attend. What wasn't readily apparent, but became apparent, was that it was an event organised by the Liberal Party. One possibility of which was that it was going to raise funds for the Liberal Party that would be used for State campaigning, and it's not to the point how in particular journalists have got hold of this invitation, nor how it's come to public attention. The fact is it has come to public attention and the apprehension of bias, and I'd stress again that's the question here, it's what would a fair-minded observer make of these events? That question is determined by looking at what has occurred, not the particular method by which or the route by which this has come directly to public attention. Thanks very much.