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SUBJECTS: Israel; High Court









SUBJECTS: Israel; High Court


LAURA JAYES, HOST: We find the Shadow Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus in Jerusalem this afternoon, Mark Dreyfus thank you so much for your time. I know it’s very early morning there, it looks like a lovely day in Jerusalem though. I do want to ask you first about the visit. We know that Bill Shorten and Labor more broadly are more pushing for a Palestinian state. We know Prime Minister Netanyahu is quite conservative on that front and he was in Sydney not that long ago saying that ‘what does a two-state solution actually mean?’ So can you just clarify Labor’s position for us?


MARK DREYFUS, SHADOW ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Thanks for having me Laura and yes it is a lovely day here in Jerusalem. The Labor Party’s position is very clear. The Labor Party at our national conference in July 2015 voted again to support a two-state solution. What that means is secure borders for two states, a state of Israel and a state of Palestine, existing with each other at peace. We are wanting to see a resumption of peace negotiations. And I don’t think we could be clearer than that, that’s been the policy of the Australian Labor Party now for many years, it remains the policy of federal Labor.


JAYES: We did see Binyamin Netanyahu when he was in Sydney slap down the likes of Bob Carr, Kevin Rudd, Bob Hawke who have been quite critical of his leadership. Do you take his point in saying yes a two-state solution is a great headline but when it comes down to the detail and actually working this out this is something the Palestinians have been working against so it’s difficult to see how that might happen. I might ask you a more broad question when it comes to that – do you think the likes of Bob Hawke, Bob Carr, Kevin Rudd need to be a little bit more realistic about what’s happening on Israel’s borders?


DREYFUS: I think what is clear, and Penny Wong our foreign affairs spokesperson has commented on this in the past, is that Australia is not going to be a party to these peace negotiations. The parties are the people of Palestine, the organisations that represent the people of Palestine, and the state of Israel. And it’s going to be for them to reach the lasting peace that I think everybody in the world would like to see brought about to bring an end to a very very long-running, bitter conflict. It’s – we need to get the Australian role in this in perspective. Which is that at best, Australia can only play a very very minor role, if any role at all, in bringing about those peace negotiations recommencing, or bringing about a two-state solution.


JAYES: Yes we’re certainly not going to resolve the Palestinian crisis from here in Australia, nor are we going to do that in this interview. So Mark Dreyfus QC I want to ask you about the constitution. Not section 44, but section 64 of the constitution now. Labor has released advice today saying that up to 100 decisions made by Barnaby Joyce and Fiona Nash could be under a cloud. So can you just clarify what is that advice and are you willing to refer it to the High Court?


DREYFUS: It’s not a matter for Labor to refer this to the High Court. This is yet another aspect of the chaos caused by this incompetent government - by in fact Barnaby Joyce’s recklessness, Fiona Nash’s recklessness and incompetence in standing for election while they were ineligible to be elected as members of Parliament. The consequence in the case of those two members of Parliament is that their time, their lawful time as ministers under the constitution according to section 64 came to an end in mid-October last year. So for more than a year, or in fact for a little over a year, Barnaby Joyce and Fiona Nash have not been lawfully ministers of the Commonwealth and that throws into question more than 100 decisions that they have made as ministers. It’s not for federal Labor to be rushing off to the High Court of Australia, it’s for the government – I’d first of all say the government should never have run this risk in the first place. Extraordinary conduct on the part of a responsible government which has proved to be actually irresponsible. Whether any of those decisions are going to be challenged is a matter for the people affected by those decisions, and we’ve learned today from the acting Prime Minister that the Attorney-General is now rightly looking at some of those decisions. There’s clearly more to come out about this.


JAYES: Sure but many decisions are actually made by cabinet which those ministers were a part of. Are you saying that the decisions made by cabinet are under a cloud? Or are you just talking about specific things that individual minister have signed off on?


DREYFUS: Every decision made under an Act of Parliament by either of these ministers is potentially now able to be challenged. And it doesn’t matter whether or not it went to cabinet, this is just a further bit of smokescreen from the government. This is a government that likes to say, ‘oh none of that matters’ or ‘don’t worry about that’ – it’s an extraordinary attitude. A reckless, a cavalier attitude that this government has shown to the constitution, to the rule of law, ministerial responsibility. That was their effort last week. That’s been thrown out the window as well. The government needs to come clean – the government needs to say which decisions are potentially affected, what are they going to do about it, own up to whether or not anyone is going to challenge them. Some of them obviously may be minor decisions but some of them are extremely important decisions. Water allocation might be one among them. And this is a mess entirely of the government’s making. The government should never have allowed Mr Joyce and Fiona Nash to continue in their ministerial positions from the instant that there was any doubt about their eligibility to serve in Parliament.


JAYES: What about – Barnaby Joyce has responded to this today saying that essentially by you challenging this you are just playing into the hands of him winning a by-election, a bit of political spin there perhaps on his part. But he says as he moves around the electorate, people think it’s quite ridiculous that he has been seen to be a dual citizen. But of course the High Court had a different opinion of that altogether. But the government is moving to perhaps make some amendments to the Citizenship Act to make sure that this cannot happen again. Would Labor support those amendments?


DREYFUS: To go back to your question, the first part of your question, it’s Barnaby Joyce that’s behaved in the ridiculous manner here. It’s Barnaby Joyce that’s been reckless, and incompetent in the way in which he stood for Parliament. Reckless and incompetent in the way he continued as a minister. And for him to simply brush this away demonstrates contempt for the Australian constitution. Not what you would expect from a conservative member of Parliament. And his latest suggestion that we should have some kind of omnibus referendum where we have multiple questions put to the Australian people at a referendum – he’s even thrown in that he wants the republic considered at a referendum. What is he talking about, one is tempted to say, and is this now government policy that we’re going to have some large referendum including changing this section about citizenship which apparently  he wants to change so as to say ‘this should never have happened, I should never have been embarrassed by my own incompetence’. I think actually there are many more urgent changes that we might consider making to the constitution well ahead of changing the citizenship provision in section 44. Starting with constitutional recognition for Indigenous people. And I’d agree with Barnaby Joyce, the republic would be a lot more urgent than changing the citizenship provision. Speaking for myself, I don’t think there’s a difficulty with people who stand for election to our Parliament, a very high honour and a great responsibility, going to the trouble of checking whether they are in fact dual citizens before they stand for election. That’s what Barnaby Joyce failed to do, he is rightly massively embarrassed by his own recklessness and incompetence, and for him to suggest ‘oh let’s change the constitution because of my recklessness and incompetence’, other members of Parliament have dealt with this. Particularly since 1992 when the High Court gave a very very clear ruling in Sykes & Cleary, I don’t see why we shouldn’t continue to go on dealing with it simply by going and investigating if you’re in any doubt about your dual citizenship status. And making sure you are not a citizen of another country. That’s what he failed to do.


JAYES: Mark Dreyfus just one final question on the Solicitor-General Stephen Donaghue. If his advice was so strong to the Prime Minister, how can his ongoing position be tenable?


DREYFUS: We don’t know that his advice was so strong. What we do know is that the Prime Minister was extraordinarily arrogant with the ringing and memorable phrase ‘the High Court will so hold’. Which at the time it was uttered sounded like a threat to the High Court. And ever since, right up to the judgement the Prime Minister was asserting that he had some advice from the Solicitor-General Stephen Donaghue. Stephen is an eminent Australian lawyer. I have no doubts as to his competence, no doubts as to his integrity. I have very many doubts about the competence and integrity of the Prime Minister. I don’t believe for one moment that the advice that he got from Stephen Donaghue was as strong or to the effect that he has implied it was. I would join in the calls that have been made for the release of this advice from the Solicitor-General. It’s very important that the Australian people be able to judge for themselves whether the Prime Minister was in fact concealing the doubts that I actually think in all likelihood the Solicitor-General expressed in the opinion he gave. So let’s see that advice and I’m calling on the government to release it straight away.


JAYES: I think we’d all like to see that advice. Mark Dreyfus thank you for joining us live from Jerusalem this afternoon.