Sky News Lunchtime Agenda, 22 October 2014

SUBJECT/S: Renewable Energy Target; Foreign Fighters Bill; Iraq.

LAURA JAYES: First up is the Shadow Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus in the studio. We are going to talk about the Foreign Fighters legislation as promised, but first, just your instant reaction to this announcement we’ve seen from Ian McFarlane at the Press Club today.

 

MARK DREYFUS, SHADOW ATTORNEY-GENERAL: It’s just been announced Laura, but obviously we will work with the Government to try to restore some of the stability to this industry. There’s been tremendous damage done to the renewable energy industry in Australia by the uncertainty that’s been created by this Government, really since it came to office.

 

They said they had a bipartisan position that they supported and of course, going right back to the Howard Government’s first establishment of the Renewable Energy Target in 2001, there has been that bipartisan support. It has been very disappointing to see the way in which the Government has treated the Renewable Energy Target.

 

The whole of the Warburton Review process created further uncertainty, damaging investment, damaging employment in this industry.

 

What we want to do is get back to stability, to supporting this industry, to giving it absolute clarity on where things are going, so that we can start to see a return of investment and some security of employment for the thousands and thousands of people who are employed in this industry.

 

JAYES: For the sake of stability, is Labor willing to concede some ground here, to go back to the real 20 per cent of 28,000 gigawatt hours, for example?

 

DREYFUS: I’m going to leave it to Mark Butler to give a precise statement of Labor’s position here. I can tell you, however, what our intention is here, which is really clear.

 

We’re very troubled, as is the industry, by what the Government’s uncertainty and attacks on the industry have done to it. We need to get back to certainty in the industry. We need to get back to what should be a wonderful prospect for Australia. With our renewable energy resources that we have, we should be leading the world in this industry, not attacking the industry that’s been built up.

 

JAYES: Should we be looking at the words from Bill Shorten in just recent weeks saying that a real 20 per cent would be a massive cut. Should we read into that as perhaps Labor’s starting point?

 

DREYFUS: Of course. We’ve got to look at the number.

 

JAYES: You say stability is one of the most important things here. I guess what I’m trying to get down to is, is Labor willing to give ground and negotiate, to come to some kind of middle ground with the Government for the sake of stability and that industry.

 

DREYFUS: I think we’ve already heard from the industry itself what a massive cut, to use Bill Shorten’s words there, would mean.

 

People have to think about what the consequences would be. Forget real 20 per cent. That’s something of an illusion. This is always been about 41,000 gigawatt hours. That’s the target and we need to talk in terms of, why are we reducing the target? What’s the purpose of it?

 

My test for this and Labor’s test is how are we going to restore stability, certainty, predictability to this industry so that they can move on and we see a return of investment and a return of employment security.

 

JAYES: How do you feel, just lastly, about the exemptions, energy intensive industries such as aluminium and copper smelters. Is that something Labor would accept?

 

DREYFUS: Well, that’s something that clearly be looked at. We have to be conscious of the difficulties the aluminium industry in particular is under with falling prices and the like.

 

JAYES: Right, onto your portfolio, the Foreign Fighters legislation.

 

As I understand it, the Government will respond to this today. It is likely to accept all 36 recommendations. If that is the case, I know it is a hypothetical at this point, but will Labor pass the Bills if all of those recommendations are adopted by the Committee?

 

DREYFUS: I think, as we said on Friday at the press conference I did with Bill Shorten, we don’t want to get ahead of ourselves. You may be right, that the Government is going to accept all of the 36 recommendations. I think I made the point at the press conference that it would be surprising if the Government rejected a report that is being prepared by six Government members and five Labor members on this Committee. But we’ll wait and see. And it’s not just a matter of the blanket, or if you’re right, acceptance of those recommendations.

 

We need to see the amendments, because in many cases the recommendations of the Committee called for some quite substantial redrafting, including one, you’ll be pleased to hear, I remember you at the day of the press conference on the day after the Bill was first introduced to Parliament-

 

JAYES: -Subverting society.

 

DREYFUS: You raised the phrase, Laura, ‘subverting society’ and one of the Committee’s recommendations is that that term be removed.

 

JAYES: What about this term, when it comes to advocating terrorism, the term ‘promote’ has caused a lot of angst in the Islamic community. What the Committee here has recommended is that the Government just clarify what it means by this. What will the clarification look like that you will accept, and are you concerned that that is too broad?

 

DREYFUS: Much of the evidence that was given to the Intelligence Committee, many of the written submissions that were made to the Intelligence Committee, made the direct point that it wasn’t at all clear how the Government was in fact improving out legislative arrangements, when there are already clear offences of inciting violence, which is a very serious criminal offence and has been for many years in our criminal law, and another criminal offence of inciting a terrorist act. That’s again, a serious penalty applies to that, it’s been part of our law a long time.

 

What the Government needs to make clear, and the Committee’s report says this in pretty direct terms, the Government needs to make clear what it’s aiming at and whether or not these much vaguer terms like ‘promote’ and ‘encourage’ are really going to add to our law.

 

JAYES: I guess that’s my point. Why didn’t the Committee, or why wouldn’t Labor have pushed for that term to be ruled out altogether. Why not leave it at ‘urge’ or ‘incite’? Why do you need promote in there?

 

DREYFUS: I think the Committee’s report is reflective of the very constructive approach Labor’s taken to this Foreign Fighters Bill.

 

We understand that there’s a real threat that we have to deal with and that’s why it’s appropriate that the Government gives consideration to changing our laws in a range of respects, and Labor’s working to make sure that our laws are as good as they can possibly be. In this area, there has been a lot of concern expressed, but even there, and our members are on the Committee, and this is reflected on the bipartisan report, have really said to the Government, we’re giving the Government to better explain, to clarify what it is the Government’s seeking to achieve here. We’ll work with that.

 

JAYES: Okay, on another area, delayed notification of search warrants. This legislation would bring a penalty of two years to a journalist if they did report such an incident. Given Anthony Albanese and other members of the left have expressed concerns about similar measures in a previous package of bills, why is Labor not looking at this more closely and are you concerned that the Committee didn’t make any recommendations on that piece of legislation.

 

DREYFUS: It did make a recommendation. It’s in a similar vein to the one in which the previous Bill, the first Bill dealt with this secrecy issue, and what the recommendation of the Committee here is that the Explanatory Memorandum to the Bill be amplified and added to by the Attorney-General so that it is clear that the Director of Public Prosecutions will have to take the public interest into account in determining whether or not to bring any prosecution.

 

JAYES: It sounds like this legislation is giving a lot of executive power and saying trust us on a number of things. Do you think that’s a fair assessment?

 

DREYFUS: This is an expansion of power for the Government in some respects, and that’s why there needs to be proper community scrutiny, proper parliamentary scrutiny, and Parliamentary debate. I’d urge the Government to make its decision. I hope you’re right, that we’re going to see a decision by the Government very soon, and I urge the Government to make any draft amendments available as quickly as possible, so they can be examined, not just by the Labor Members of Parliament, but by the whole Parliament and by the community.

 

JAYES: Are you comfortable with the Government rolling out facial recognition technology across international airports and making it compulsory for both inbound and outbound passengers, because that’s what this legislation would allow. It doesn’t allow fingerprinting or iris scanning, but it would allow for a substantial rollout of what people would know as smart gates, for example.

 

DREYFUS: One of the things that the Committee has done, again very direct recommendation is because this came out in the committee hearings you couldn’t have learnt it by reading the explanatory memorandum, came out in the committee hearings that potentially the Government could use a regulation making power that’s in this bill to impose at some future time iris scanning and finger printing of everybody including every Australian leaving an Australian airport. The Committee didn’t think and we don’t think that that’s something that should be left to a regulation making power so that, if the Government accepts the recommendation that will have to be the subject of separate legislation.

 

JAYES: And just quickly before I get too technical on some of this legislation, from the outset and throughout this package of legislation it notes the contravention of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Now this is something you have referred to in many speeches over the years, you noted in pass in other speeches about this international treaty but this in this legislation is mentioned more than, or almost 200 times, are you concerned that actually written into this legislation is the government acknowledging that many of these issues do contravene that international treaty?

 

DREYFUS: It is right that we have examination of all legislation from a human rights point of view, it’s right that the Government upfront and it does in the explanatory memorandum say when the international covenant on Civil and Political Rights is being contravened, but also we have to note that the same covenant recognises that there will from time to time be security reasons, national security reasons, which are a reason for breaching the provisions of the covenant. What the covenant does and what examination from a human rights perspective does it makes us think, so that in relation, for example to that declared areas provision, that is a restriction on Australians freedom of movement.

 

That’s something that is protected by the International Covenant and we should be thinking, do we need to restrict freedom of movement in that way and if we do how can we make it as little as possible a restriction. That’s why there has been a debate and that’s why it’s something that we’ll need to be talking to the Government and looking at their amendments on what should be, if the offence is to be created, the excuses for travelling to one of these declared areas.   

 

JAYES: Okay, I put it to you that there is significant amount of members in Caucus that are not comfortable with the level of bipartisanship that Labor is offering on national security, will we see a slight departure from that bipartisanship greater oversight offered from Labor from this package of bills and the next when it comes to metadata?

 

DREYFUS: We don’t yet know whether the Governments going to behave in a bipartisan way, what we do know is that a number of, that the Labor members of the Committee work very, very hard to put to their Government colleagues on this Committee, there ought to be changes to the bill and -

 

JAYES: But do you admit that there is a level of anxiety within Labor about how far some of these powers are going?  

 

DREYFUS: I think there is a desire for there to be proper scrutiny and all members of the Labor Caucus understand the kind of issues that we’ve been talking about, understand the need to make sure there is a proper balance between protecting the safety of Australians and protecting our security and not unduly making incursions into very long established rights and freedoms. That’s always the tension and we are working with the Government to make sure that in this case, where there is a real threat that we do have to deal with Labor recognises that that threat is real, we also think that the threat is manageable but part of managing the threat necessarily means looking at the powers that we have given to our agencies, the powers that are available to the Australian Federal Police to make sure that they are properly equipped but at all times, all members of the Labor Caucus are watching very keenly like hawks to make sure -

 

JAYES: Some of them are quite anxious about some of the measures but look I do just want to end on one final question.  Senate Estimates today has revealed that the legal framework required to send our special forces into Iraq, well it hasn’t actually been finalised the administration hasn’t been done and this is what seems to be holding up our special forces actually getting on with their mission. Are you concerned, and does that say to you, that perhaps dealing with the Iraqi Government isn’t as easy as the Government thought it would be and then does that put a question mark over any kind of legal arrangement that is done with the Iraqi Government?

 

DREYFUS: It certainly puts a questions mark over, Laura, what the Foreign Minister Julie Bishop thought she was doing holding a press conference in Bagdad and announcing that this was a done deal. It now appears it wasn’t a done deal, that’s what we’ve learnt in Senate Estimates today, obviously the legal arrangement need to be in place, obviously it needs to be a written arrangement and I’d like to hear from the Government just what has been arranged before our SAS troops are deployed in any way in Iraq.

 

JAYES: The Iraqi Government, just finally, says or would prefer for this document, the finer details of this arrangement not to be made public, does that ring alarm bells?

 

DREYFUS: It does. I think that Australians are entitled to know what are the terms on which our troops are engaged and the Government’s got to be making much more of an effort to explain what is the arrangement that they have reached and what are the terms on which our SAS troops are going to be engaged.

 

JAYES: Do you think they should still be going in within days?

 

DREYFUS: Well we need to know because from Senate estimates today we’ve seen this real lack of clarity.

 

JAYES: So will you reserve your support for their entry into Iraq before you do see that clarification?

 

DREYFYS: We’ve said at all times we need to have clear principles, clear objectives that are being met, those are the conditions for our support for any deployment.

 

JAYES: Shadow Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus thanks so much for joining me.

 

DREYFUS: Thanks Laura.