Radio National Drive Interview

Subjects: Brandis FOI; TPP; National Security; GST













PATRICIA KARVELAS: The highest legal officer in the land has been taken to court because he doesn’t want to disclose his diary. George Brandis has been challenged in the Administrative Appeals Tribunal by Shadow Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus. The dispute is about six months’ worth of entries in the Attorney-General’s ministerial calendar of appointments. Mark Dreyfus joins me now, thanks for joining me.


MARK DREYFUS: It’s a pleasure.


PATRICIA KARVELAS: Why do you want print-offs of the Attorney-General’s ministerial calendar from September 2013 to March 2014?


MARK DREYFUS: I asked because it became apparent towards the end of 2013 and into 2014 that this Attorney-General had cut funding to the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island Legal Services, cut funding to Community Legal Centres, cut funding to Environment Defenders Offices, all without even meeting with these groups. I repeatedly was told that he doesn’t meet with anybody, that he’s not consulting anybody, and in particular that we can’t get a meeting with him. And I thought it appropriate to see just how the Attorney-General has been going about his job in his first eight months and who he was meeting with.


PATRICIA KARVELAS: Either you’re going after something very specific or it’s just a political fishing expedition, isn’t it? Because broadly, are you trying to determine who he hasn’t met with? Is that what you’re trying to determine?


MARK DREYFUS: There is an absolute clear public interest, in members of the public, the whole Australian community, knowing who senior ministers are meeting with, right up to the Prime Minister, what they’re doing to fill their days. That’s why the Prime Minister of Australia, in previous times, why the President of the United States, the Prime Minister of the UK, put on the public record who they’re meeting with. The public interest couldn’t be clearer.


PATRICIA KARVELAS: I understand the Tribunal has reserved its judgment today. When do you expect a decision?


MARK DREYFUS: It’s a bit like asking how long’s a piece of string, Patricia. I wouldn’t dare to predict when Justice Jayne Jagot, who was the Tribunal today, will produce the decision. But I’m hoping quite soon, because I think it’s a relatively simple point that he, and the Attorney General is making a mountain out of a molehill, is trying to pretend it would be a huge burden to print out in weekly format, from Outlook Express, his appointments diary. And to me, that’s not something that should take, as he’s asserting, hundreds of hours. It’s an absurdity to even suggest it.


PATRICIA KARVELAS: On RN Drive my guest is Mark Dreyfus. He’s Labor’s Shadow Attorney-General, talking about a range of issues. Our number here 0418 226 576. You can also tweet us @RNDrive. The text of the Trans-Pacific Partnership was released last night. One of Labor’s main complaints was the secrecy over it. Is Labor more opposed or more in favour now that you know what’s in it?


MARK DREYFUS: Ah, we haven’t had a chance - there’s thousands of pages, I’ll say that straight away - we haven’t had a chance to go through the detail of it. It’s of course been released by the New Zealand government, not by our government, the New Zealand Government put it up on their website. That’s a good thing. It gives us and the whole of the Australian community a chance to examine what it is that our Government’s agreed to.


PATRICIA KARVELAS: Andrew Robb says the TPP has more ISDS exclusions, including for tobacco company claims, compared to the South Korea trade deal which passed Parliament easily. What do you say to that?


MARK DREYFUS: I haven’t had a chance to look at the detail, it was only put up yesterday, I’ve been in court today. I’m going to be looking at it over the weekend. But Labor is opposed to these investor state dispute settlement clauses, and what the Government has said about the clause in the TPP is that there are protections so that Australia’s sovereignty is not breached. Because that’s what ISDS clauses do, they let private companies sue the Government of Australia for measures in relation to things like environment protection or public health. We’ve been assured by Andrew Robb repeatedly that there are protections or qualifications around the ISDS clause that the Government’s agreed to, that preserve Australia’s right to legislate in these areas. We’ll have a look at this but right in front of us, right now, we’ve got the obvious example of Phillip Morris suing Australia over something, that’s the plain packaging legislation case, something they lost on in the High Court of Australia. They’ve gone off and invoked an obscure provision in an old treaty that Australia had with Hong Kong, and are now conducting a private arbitration in Hong Kong under an ISDS clause that’s costing Australia tens of millions of dollars in taxpayers’ money.


PATRICIA KARVELAS: If I can turn to national security, the Government will introduce its next tranche of legislation next week which would allow for control orders against children as young as fourteen. Now both the Attorney-General’s Department and the Federal Police say existing safeguards for control orders are adequate. Do you have a position on this?


MARK DREYFUS: We’re going to wait and see what the legislation looks like. This Government’s often talked about a whole range of national security matters, foreshadowed that legislation’s going to be forthcoming, and when the legislation finally arrived it’s often quite different to the things the Government has said. Obviously -


PATRICIA KARVELAS: Okay but how about on the principle. Let me take you to the principle. Because I hear Labor say a lot we’ll wait for the detail. We’ve been waiting for a while but this is very specific. It would allow for control orders against children as young as fourteen. They’ve said it will say that. What do you make of that specific proposal?


MARK DREYFUS: And we say what we’re obviously dealing with, is that there are children involved in acts of terrorism. We’ve had those events recently – the shocking event in Parramatta in which a fifteen year old boy murdered an employee of the NSW Police and was himself killed. It’s clear for all in Australia to see that very young people are now involved in acts of terrorism, and we have to look at any measures that will assist the police, will assist our security agencies in dealing with that involvement of very young people in acts of terrorism. But the detail, we’ll have to wait and see what the Government proposes, we’ll have to look at what safeguards can be put there. There’s a whole lot of safeguards Australia is required to put there because we’ve agreed to protects the rights of children under the Convention on the Rights of the Child. So, it is a matter of the detail, but of course, we stand with the Government in looking to do whatever needs to be done to keep Australians safe.


PATRICIA KARVELAS: Do you think a control order for a fourteen year old, if it was in place, would have prevented the Parramatta shooting?


MARK DREYFUS: Well, I want to hear from the police as to what they say, and why it is that a control order for a fourteen or fifteen year old boy might be of use. That’s why we’ve said very directly to the Government, as with previous pieces of national security legislation that it should be sent for public inquiry by the Intelligence Committee of the Parliament, to closely examine the terms of the legislation, and hear publicly from the police, from security agencies, as to why this particular measure that the Government’s apparently proposing, will help. Because we shouldn’t do things just for the sake of doing them. We should do things that genuinely work, that will genuinely make us safer, that will genuinely assist the police and the security agencies in going about their work.


PATRICIA KARVELAS: Is there any age at which you would draw the line? Because you’re obviously, you’ve left the door open, said that fourteen might be okay if there were protections. Would eight be okay? Would 10 be okay? Is there somewhere where you would draw the line?


MARK DREYFUS: Well, obviously, those below the age of criminal responsibility – and the law already draws a very sharp distinction under the age of fourteen, as it should. I don’t think anyone’s suggesting that the full extent of the criminal law should be brought to bear -


PATRICIA KARVELAS: Well it has actually been raised as an idea for discussion -


MARK DREYFUS: I haven’t seen it, and I’d be rejecting it. I’m not for a moment countenancing that someone of eight should be made subject to the criminal law. That’s not a principle that we’ve ever had in Australian law, nor should we start now.


PATRICIA KARVELAS: Just finally, here’s Bill Shorten earlier today on raising the GST to 15 per cent –




BILL SHORTEN: It’s a bad idea, and I can tell you one policy right now, one clear choice, as you’ve put it, for the voters. If you vote Labor you won’t be getting a GST – an increase to the GST – and if you vote Liberal you will be get an increase in the GST.


PATRICIA KARVELAS: So already the line in the sand has been drawn. Is Labor turning its back on a sensible, grown-up discussion on tax reform?


MARK DREYFUS: Not at all. We have simply said that increasing the GST, or increasing the base of the GST, is a regressive measure. Everybody accepts that. What we need is to make sure that the full range of tax proposals is there, and what that would mean is that we shouldn’t have Scott Morrison, the new Treasurer, ruling out dealing with high end superannuation measures. We shouldn’t have a rejection of the Labor proposals in relation to making multinationals pay more in tax -


PATRICIA KARVELAS: But that’s not what’s happened. The Coalition is now looking at the super system and talking about those kind of issues. So that is on the table.


MARK DREYFUS: And that’s a very good thing, and there’s a whole range of other measures that need to be considered and I welcome debate. We’re engaging in the debate. We say that the GST is a regressive measure, and that it’s not possible to design a way of increasing the GST to 15 per cent, or broadening the base in the way that the Liberal Party is taking about, in a way that is fair. In a way that does not impose further burdens on the poorest members of our community. And the suggestion that it can be done when what this Liberal Government is talking about is apparently cutting taxes for wealthy people at the same time as imposing higher taxation burdens on poorer people, that doesn’t sound fair to me, Patricia.


PATRICIA KARVELAS: Mark Dreyfus, many thanks for your time.

MARK DREYFUS: Thanks very much Patricia.