Sky News Agenda interview

SUBJECT/S: Turnbull’s election stunt; ABCC






SUBJECT/S: Turnbull’s election stunt; ABCC



KIERAN GILBERT, HOST: Thanks very much for your time. You’re a QC. Does the Prime Minister’s move here under the constitution stack up?


MARK DREYFUS, SHADOW ATTORNEY-GENERAL: It’s a tricky move by Turnbull. He’s using a section that’s only been used four times since 1961, and never for a partisan political purpose like this, which is pretty much trying to use a section which is just procedural to break a deadlock. That’s what Section 57 is for. The last couple of times it was used, it was used for the Queen’s visit, in 1974 and 1977, so that the Queen could open a new session of Parliament. This is very different. Mr Turnbull has included in this stunt misleading the Governor-General by suggesting in his letter to the Governor-General that the two bills in question have something to do with criminal process, and of course they don’t.


GILBERT: But you say it’s a stunt. It’s valid under the constitution, you’d recognise that?


DREYFUS: There’s a provision in the constitution that allows the Governor-General to recall Parliament. It will involve proroguing both houses of Parliament and a huge waste of taxpayers’ money, because all of the business of the Parliament comes to an end on the 15th of April. It will have to be restarted again and both houses will be back there on the 18th of April. You’ve got to ask the question, why didn’t Mr Turnbull, after he became Prime Minister in mid-September last year, bring on these bills if they are so important? Why didn’t he bring them on for debate in the five weeks of Parliament we just had? Why did the Liberal Party vote against bringing on the ABCC bill for debate as recently as last week. That’s what shows the trickiness of what Mr Turnbull is on about here.


GILBERT: I know that you’re saying that it’s rare, that it’s unusual, only been used a few times. But, as a lawyer, as a QC, you know that if it’s in the constitution, he’s well within his rights to use this mechanism by which to then facilitate a potential double dissolution. Again, another very valid mechanism to deal with a deadlocked Parliament.


DREYFUS: Well, it’s just that it’s pretty disorderly for the Prime Minister to set a sitting schedule last December which had a seven week break in it -  that’s his decision - and then in the chaotic way in which Turnbull’s, in the way all of his work has been characterised since mid-September, no economic leadership yet, he’s bringing the Parliament back again. Of course it’s in the constitution, but it’s never been used for this kind of purpose before and it’s not ordinary. What happened to calm and measured government you may ask Kieran?


GILBERT: You say it’s a political move and everything is in this place to some extent. It’s also, he argues, an economic move here because of this deadlock in the Parliament when it comes to the union governance issue, in which Labor does not support the ABCC or the registered organisations bills, and the Prime Minister is saying that these are necessary reforms in the wake of the Heydon Royal Commission, this is a crucial watchdog to have in place. How you can you maintain that greater governance is not needed?


DREYFUS: We’ve already got a watchdog. What Mr Turnbull needs to do is make the case, which he has completely failed to do up until now, that the Fair Work Building Inspectorate, which the former Labor Government put in place to replace the Australian Building and Construction Commission, is in some way inadequate. Productivity has increased in the building industry since the ABCC was abolished. Days lost have decreased very substantially since the ABCC was abolished. There’s no economic case that Mr Turnbull can make and he should stop trying to mislead the community and for that matter the Governor-General by suggesting that these two bills have something to do with criminal law enforcement. They don’t. What should have happened….


GILBERT: So you deny that there’s still a lawlessness problem on construction sites, that the CFMEU, the militant CFMEU is at the heart of many of these problems?


DREYFUS: Of course we don’t. We’ve said right from the outset that Labor absolutely stands against any corruption, any lawlessness, anywhere in Australia, whether that be by companies or unions, and that remains our position. We said about this Royal Commission, don’t have a show trial, don’t waste $80 million on a Royal Commission, reinforce the Australian Crime Commission, set up by the Costigan Royal Commission in the 80s, to deal with criminal breaches of the law, reinforce the police and put in a joint taskforce to beef up resources. That’s what should have happened. In no sense are we denying that there are difficulties and there are problems, but that’s what the criminal law is there for, and that’s why a number of unionists have been charged, and those cases are going to take their course. These two bills are saying nothing about that.


GILBERT: A number, several, is how many, we’ve seen dozens of unionists come under that scrutiny of the Royal Commission. Let’s look at though this point that Brendan O’Connor has made a few times. Mr O’Connor saying that the ABCC could mean no legal representation for people who go before it. I just want to get your thoughts on this, to clarify. My reading of it, Section 61 says, legal representation, a person attending before the Building and Construction Commissioner, or before an assistant as mentioned earlier may be represented by a lawyer if a person chooses. That seems like a pretty clear defence of legal representation for any individual that goes before the ABCC.


DREYFUS: There’s a whole range of problems with this ABCC Bill. What it comes down to though is we shouldn’t have one law for tradies and another law for everybody else. This is a government that claims it is interested in traditional rights and freedoms. This Australian Building and Construction Commission Bill absolutely attacks traditional rights and freedoms of Australians, and we shouldn’t have uneven laws. So let’s hear Mr Turnbull actually make the case as to why it is that the Australian Building and Construction Commission is needed when we’ve already got a regulator, we’ve already got the Fair Work Building Inspectorate. The whole of this exercise yesterday, which of course the Treasurer didn’t even know about at the time when Mr Turnbull was making the announcement. The whole of this exercise yesterday is directed towards going to a Double Dissolution. I don’t think Mr Turnbull actually cares about these two bills. I don’t think…


GILBERT: You’re not just defending the labour of the Labor Party here, the union arm from which you get millions of dollars per year in funding?


DREYFUS: No, that’s nonsense. I’m looking at the evidence of productivity going up since the Australian Building and Construction Commission was abolished, that days lost have gone down. I’m looking at provisions in the bill that is before the Parliament, which are a shocking breach of Australian’s traditional rights and freedoms. And I say again, why should we have one law for tradies and another law for everybody else?


GILBERT: Mr Dreyfus, thank you for your time today down in Melbourne.


DREYFUS: Thank you.