RN Breakfast with Fran Kelly

Subjects: Home affairs, national security.







FRAN KELLY, HOST: Australian National Security agencies will be brought into one portfolio of home affairs as we have heard this morning, following a massive shake up of law enforcement operations announced by the Prime Minister yesterday. The portfolio will be led by the current immigration minister, Peter Dutton. It will cover seven agencies, including the AFP, ASIO and Border Force. Here is the Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull this morning.

MALCOLM TURNBULL, PRIME MINSITER: I know people put a political gloss on these things; it’s in some way disappointing that they do. The only issue here is the safety of all Australians. You know, having these agencies together is common sense, it’s logical. If you were starting from scratch of course you would have them under one minster, just like they have in the UK with the Home Secretary. Can I tell you, the safety of 24 million Australians is much more important than political commentary.

KELLY: That’s the Prime Minister speaking on channel nine this morning. The new home affairs ministry will be mapped out over the coming months and will get going later in next year. Mark Dreyfus is the Shadow Attorney-General and the Shadow Minister for National Security. Mark Dreyfus welcome to RN Breakfast.


KELLY: In this era of unpredictable and frequent, more frequent terror events around the world, isn’t it the job of the Government to make sure that our security arrangements are fit for purpose which might mean change?

DREYFUS: Of course it is and one can’t argue with saying that the only issue is the safety of Australians. The question is however how does this change, that the Prime Minister has announced yesterday, make Australian’s safer. And that’s what we didn’t hear from the Prime Minister in his press conference yesterday, I don’t think we heard it this morning and certainly didn’t hear it from Mr Dutton in his interview on the ABC last night and I say again, how it is that these changes are going to make Australians safer. It is a pretty important question because we have had just about every expert and every professional in this area saying that they can’t see a reason for this to be occurring. It’s something that has been rejected in the past, not just by Labor in 2008 but by Tony Abbott in 2015.

KELLY: The PM reminded us of some of those findings of the review into counter terrorism in 2015, which said that quote “the creation of a small flexible coordinating department of Home Affairs reporting to a Minister for Home Affairs could avoid many of the draw backs associated with bureaucratic gigantism. Such a department would provide leadership and coordination to its portfolio agencies”. That’s what that review found in 2015; you’re not convinced of those benefits?

DREYFUS: Well you’ve described this in the introduction as a massive upheaval other experts in the commentary have described this as a massive upheaval and the concern is that we are going to have this disruption to our national security arrangements and we need to make sure that disruption is not going to be detrimental to our national security. Quite apart from the concentration of power in the hands of a single minister, we are going to lose three ministers working on counter terrorism and national security matters and potentially losing with that the checks and balances that go with having three ministers. It’s not yet clear what it is the government is proposing we are told that ASIO and the AFP are going retain their independence. We are told that the Attorney-General is going to continue to be involved, not entirely clear how. We are told that the Justice Minister, presently Michael Kennan is going to continue to be involved, again not entirely clear how. We need to hear from the Government, we need to hear from Mr Dutton, we need to hear from the Prime Minister how it is that this is going to make Australians safer.

KELLY: Ok, we did hear from the former head of ASIO David Irvine last night speaking on the business on the ABC. He said he was less concerned by the various intelligence agencies being brought under the one portfolio than ensuring that the legal framework governing their powers doesn’t change. Let’s have a listen.

DAVID IRVINE, FORMER HEAD OF ASIO:  The most important things are that the laws which govern the operation of the security intelligence agencies, ASIS, ASD, the electronic interception agency, they all operate under very specific laws which give guarantees that what will be doing will be legal and appropriate. That is actually one of the things that we need to continue to protect that the organisations operate according to the law and whether they operate answering to that portfolio minister or this portfolio minister is, to my mind, secondary to that key point.

KELLY: That’s the former head of ASIO David Irvine speaking on the ABC last night and do you agree with him and if those laws governing the agencies aren’t changing and from what we know so far they don’t seem to be that’s really what matters?

DREYFUS: We need to see the detail the Government is going to be providing a briefing to the Opposition. We were told in the press conference yesterday that there are going to be some legislative changes. Of course I agree with David Irvine as to the importance of the legislative framework, the checks and balances around the exercise of extraordinary powers that in particular ASIO has intrusive powers into the lives of Australians, but it’s for the government to demonstrate to Australians how it is that these changes are going to make Australians safer.

KELLY: Talking about checks and balances, you’re well versed in the way this portfolio operates. Is there an upside perhaps in changes that would mean the potential conflict of interest within the Attorney-General’s role of being the one to sign off from warrants and being the one responsible for the agencies that act  on those warrants, like ASIO and the AFP, that that conflict would be removed under this arrangement? Is that a benefit?

DREYFUS:  I’ve got trouble accepting that it is a conflict at all. The Attorney-General’s duty is to balance the competing objectives of national security and maintaining our liberties and that’s a duty, it’s not a conflict of interest at all. It’s something that has been managed by the Attorney-General for many decades bear in mind ASIO is nearly 70 years old, it was established by the Chifley Labor government in 1949 and we are here having proposed changes, that as far as I can see, ASIO did not call for, no other agency has called for, experts have said are problematic, Rick Smith who conducted the review for the Labor government in 2008 recommended and against this change occurring then, was sceptical when he was interviewed last night, Peter Jennings of ASPI saying last night that the Attorney- General’s role appears to be diminished. All of these are concerns, we’ve got senior ministers, the Foreign Minister, the Attorney-General, the Justice Minister all opposed to this change and as yet Labor stands ready to be convinced on this, Labor stands ready to listen to the Government’s case when they make it.  But as yet the Government has not yet explained how it is that this very substantial change to our national security arrangements is going to indeed make Australian’s safer.

KELLY: You are listening to RN Breakfast. Our guest is the Shadow Attorney-General, Mark Dreyfus. So, Labor is yet to be convinced but Bill Shorten has already make it clear what he thinks, I wonder if you will agree with him, he said yesterday that his concern is that these proposals aren’t being pushed by the security agencies they are being pushed by Peter Dutton. Do you agree with that then? Do you think it is possible that a Prime Minister of Australia would overhaul a national security architecture, the biggest shake up in 40 years, just to carry favour within his own party room?  Is that what you are saying?

DREYFUS: It’s obvious to every Australian interested in this area that there is a huge increase in power coming to Mr Dutton as a result of this upheaval.

KELLY: Yeah but that’s short term. Whatever impact that would have politically and internally for the Liberal Party that’s short term. This is a change in arrangements that will last a lot longer than Peter Dutton’s term.

DREYFUS: It sure will and Fran what we’ve got here is divided government in conflict with itself.  It is a division that has infected national energy policy and I’m concerned to ensure Labor is concerned to ensure that the government’s division has not also infected national security policy. These are very very important arrangements as all are saying this is a massive upheaval. The government has to make a very, very clear case to say that that upheaval is not going to disrupt national security but rather add to national security. At the moment that has not been explained.

KELLY: Has Labor asked for access to ASIO and the AFP to get their view on this?

DREYFUS: We have been offered a briefing by the government and we will of course take that briefing and I am looking forward to hearing from ASIO and the other agencies as to what they say about these proposed changes and it may be on a net basis we get an improvement to Australia’s national security out of this, in which case Labor will be supporting it, but at present we’ve had a press conference, interviews given by Mr Dutton, by Mr Turnbull which have not explained how these changes are going to improve Australia’s national security.

KELLY: Just before I let you go, the Prime Minister also received yesterday and made public the independent review of our national security and intelligence arrangements. Does Labor support the shake-up of the intelligent community recommended, we are going to be talking to Michael L’Estrange after 8 he is one of the authors of this review, do you support this idea of the new office of national intelligence?

DREYFUS: We’ve only just got an unclassified version of the report, we are yet to receive a briefing on it. I met with Michael L’Estrange in the course of his review several times and his suggestion is that the office of national assessments be converted into an office of national intelligence. That looks like a sensible idea. What’s striking however about the report of Michael L’Estrange, and I hope you ask him about it, is that he did not recommend the massive upheaval that is here being suggested. Despite the fact that his terms of referencing included looking at coordination arrangements and maybe he’ll say that he wasn’t there to look at changes to departmental arrangements but it’s striking to me that, in this seven yearly review of the intelligence and security agencies, Michael L’Estrange and Steven Merchant have not recommended the change that the government announced yesterday.

KELLY: Ok Mark Dreyfus thank you very much for joining us.

DREYFUS: Thanks very much Fran.

KELLY: Mark Dreyfus is the Shadow Attorney-General and Shadow Minister for National Security and after 8 we will be joined by Michael L’Estrange.