Sky News PM Agenda

SUBJECT/S: Citizenship, counter-terrorism, energy policy, Liberal Party dysfunction.









SUBJECT/S: Citizenship, counter-terrorism, energy policy, Liberal Party dysfunction.


DAVID SPEERS, HOST: More now on the first day of hearing at the High Court over the Dual Citizenship Seven, whether they have indeed breached the constitution, are ineligible to sit in Parliament. With me now to discuss this and some other issues of the day, the Shadow Attorney-General, Mark Dreyfus. A very good afternoon to you.


What have you taken from what you’ve garnered from this first day of hearing? Does it give you confidence one way or the other about which way this might be going?


MARK DREYFUS, SHADOW ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Thanks very much for having me David. I don’t think anyone ever watching a High Court proceeding could have confidence about an outcome. You can do the best you can and glean from what the justices say in argument, but the outcome is up to the justices when they end this three day hearing. We’re just in the first day at the moment.


What’s happened in the first day is the government and some of the barristers arguing on behalf of the MPs who’ve been referred to the Court of Disputed Returns are putting their case as to why those MPs should not be regarded as ineligible.


Doing the best I can from a distance, what it boils down to is them saying that if they’re ignorant of their foreign citizenship status, then they remain eligible. If the court accepts that argument, it will be to my mind quite a substantial change in what the High Court has ruled up until now, in a case called Sykes and Cleary in 1992.


SPEERS: Just on that, there was a lot of argument around that Sykes Cleary case. The High Court Chief Justice remarked in a bit of an aside apparently, just before the lunch break, I’m just seeing this, that as an authority that has been around since 1992, this case, and somebody could arrange their affairs, quote, she apparently remarked. Is that taken as a bit of an indication there that she thinks that perhaps they should have been arranging their affairs a little better?


DREYFUS: As I say David, we should hesitate to read too much into what justices say in the course of argument, but the Chief Justice is there making a very good point and one I think that as someone who’s been a MP for ten years, I’ve made sure that I’m not a dual citizen, and I’d be expecting every single member of the Australian Parliament to have done the same. The reason why we’ve got these seven MPs now before the High Court is that they didn’t take the care that they needed, and this is a point that some of the opposing submissions in the court, the written submissions, all of which are available for people to read, and I’ve read them, are making.


You shouldn’t be adopting an interpretation of the constitution that rewards MPs who are careless and obviously a fair amount of carelessness has gone on here.


SPEERS: Do you have any sympathy though if a foreign country changes their citizenship laws or rules and that then affects someone sitting in the Australian Parliament?


DREYFUS: The court in Sykes and Cleary actually made a comment about this. They made a point, and I’m paraphrasing, that if some hostile power were to confer foreign citizenship on every member of the Australian Parliament, obviously we wouldn’t let that have effect, because that would be allowing a foreign power and potentially a hostile power to interfere in our affairs. But that’s not the case here. In the case of Barnaby Joyce, who’s the one that ought to be of concern because he’s the Deputy Prime Minister, someone who knew that his father was born in New Zealand, knew that his father was a New Zealand citizen, and appears to have simply done nothing to investigate whether or not he was a New Zealand citizen.


Two clicks on a website of the New Zealand government would have enabled Barnaby Joyce to find out he was in fact a New Zealand citizen. And to have done that, throwing into jeopardy the many dozens of decisions he has made as a minister, all of which now are thrown into doubt, I found extraordinary. The very least he should have done is stand down from his ministerial position when he referred himself to the High Court, and what mess has been created there by the government in not doing for Mr Joyce what was done for Senator Canavan, who did stand down from his ministry, well we’ll have to wait and see what the High Court says.


SPEERS: Well, we’ll have to wait and see what the High Court says. Let me just turn to just another portfolio aspect here. The meeting last week of state and federal leaders at the special COAG summit on counter-terrorism. A couple of major outcomes there. One in relation to sharing biometric facial data from state driver’s licence data, federal passport data. Do you have any problem with that?


DREYFUS: We have to wait and see what the form of the Commonwealth legislation is going to be. Bear in mind David that as the federal opposition, we’re not present at COAG, we’re yet to receive a briefing from the government, and we’re still waiting for whatever draft legislation the government is going to put before the Parliament on this. As indeed the State Premiers I don’t believe were given draft legislation either. So what’s been done here is an agreement in principle. I think most Australians can understand the need for modernising the way in which we deal with facial recognition, and if the technology is there and it keeps us safer, that’s something we can look at, but as always with this sort of legislation, we have to look at what are appropriate safeguards, we have to look at limits on the use that is to be made on the technology that is available to the government. And that detail….


SPEERS: Fair enough and as you point out the states haven’t seen that draft legislation from the Commonwealth either. They were very quick to say yes, this is something they were willing to support. Federal police already get access to this data, it just takes a long time. This is about giving them instant access to do an ID verification.


DREYFUS: That’s right and you’ve just stated it then David, we’ve had use of these images in the past. This is apparently a proposal that is going to make the use of those images quicker, so that instead of….


SPEERS: So in principle you don’t have a problem with that?


DREYFUS: In principle no, because we’ve got agencies here saying that this is going to be useful, it’s going to make Australians safer. As always with this sort of national security legislation, we need to make sure that the balance is right. You can only do that by looking at the legislation and that’s coming.


SPEERS: The other agreement was on the pre-charge detention being extended to 14 days nationally when it comes to terror suspects only. What’s your view on that one?


DREYFUS: The key to this is it’s 14 days detention without charge, and that’s quite a substantial change in police practice. Of course it’s the case that New South Wales police have for some time had the power to detain suspects for 14 days without charge, but no other state in the Commonwealth have ever had that power. So what’s proposed is that there be national consistency. That is as I understand it what the Premiers and Chief Ministers agreed to. What’s been astounding since COAG last Thursday is the revelation that according to the Justice Minister Michael Keenan, this is to extend now to ten year olds.


That is astounding and we need to hear a lot more about what the justification for that is and the detail of what that Commonwealth legislation is going to look like. As I understand it this was not something that was discussed with the first ministers, with the State Premiers and the Chief Ministers, and it’s not part of the existing New South Wales law, which stops at 14.


We’ve had confusion between the Prime Minister and the Justice Minister in the four days since. We’ve had the Prime Minister claiming there’s no change. We’ve had the Justice Minister say it’s going to be to ten. We’re waiting to see what the justification for this is, what the agencies say about it, what safeguards are going to be proposed and what the legislation is going to look like.


SPEERS: Look, sadly we have seen Australian kids as young as 14 involved in terrorism here as we know. Would that be a reasonable age limit for you, you use the word ‘extraordinary’ about a ten year old. Would 14 be more reasonable?


DREYFUS: Well, with 14 year olds, we agreed to reduce the age at which control orders, another power that’s available to the Australian Federal Police, to reduce the age to 14. That followed in the aftermath of the shocking shooting by a 15 year old boy of a police accountant outside the Parramatta Police Station. So we’ve had the proof if you like, visible to all Australians, that some quite young people, in that case a 15 year old boy, can become involved in shocking terrorist acts. And it was really on that basis that we were prepared to agree to drop the age to 14.


Ten years old is another thing altogether and I think most Australians know that. That’s why I’ve described it as baffling. It was never mentioned. It wasn’t something that as yet been explained by Michael Keenan. We’re waiting for the explanation.


SPEERS: Now Mark Dreyfus, can I turn to the climate and energy debate. Tony Abbott’s intervention from London, where he’s given a speech to a group of climate change sceptics, saying that global warming might actually be doing more good than harm. What do you make of those remarks?


DREYFUS: I think he should try telling that to the people of Puerto Rico, for example, the most recent victims of extreme climate events occurring in the Caribbean.


SPEERS: Is that linked to climate change, the Puerto Rico hurricane?


DREYFUS: What the climate scientists have been saying for years is that we can expect as a result of climate change, increased intensity of weather events. It’s not possible to say that any particular event is caused by climate change, but it is possible to say that over time our climate will alter and we will be getting more intense hurricanes in the Northern Hemisphere, cyclones in the Southern Hemisphere, certainly we’ve experienced a few of those in Australia. It was probably best put by my colleague Tanya Plibersek earlier today. She described the former Prime Minister’s comments as entering the world of the loopy. What’s really disappointing is to see the Prime Minister, who I think we all thought accepted the science of climate change, accepted the need for Australia and the world to reduce our emissions, standing silent in the face of this nonsense, this idiocy from the former Prime Minister. And I’d be expecting a responsible Prime Minister to come out and say directly that none of that from Tony Abbott will form any part of the formation of government policy, but instead we’ve had timid silence from the Prime Minister who quite apparently is in the grip of the right of his party.


SPEERS: All right, so you believe Malcolm Turnbull needs to come out and denounce Tony Abbott every time he says something like this. On the Labor policy when it comes to climate change and energy, Labor is still committed to a 45 per cent emissions reduction target. So there would still be, even if the government adopted a clean energy target, there would still be quite a difference wouldn’t there? We’re not going to get bipartisanship on this whole issue if Labor is still wedded to a 45 per cent emissions reduction target.


DREYFUS: It should be possible to achieve bipartisanship on this and I need only point to the 30 or so developed countries in Western Europe and particularly the United Kingdom, a country close to our own, where it’s been bipartisan for years and years that there needs to be a national effort to reduce emissions, a bipartisan agreement on having a market signal put in by government, bipartisan agreement on the need to increase renewable energy. And it’s a national shame here in Australia that the Liberal Party has set about wrecking the comprehensive scheme of policies that Labor put in place when we were last in government, and that the Liberal Party is still rejecting reasonable offers that we in the Labor Party have made.


They rejected the Emissions Intensity Scheme idea and then when we offered to assist them with a Clean Energy Target, that too has been thrown back in our faces. What we need in Australia is certainty in policy and we’re not getting it.


SPEERS: We’re yet to see where the government is going to land on all of this. I take your point on that. But doesn’t the minister have a point in saying that renewables are coming down in cost, even some in the clean energy industry say that, that they are the most cost competitive energy to invest in right now – you don’t need subsidies forever.


DREYFUS: Absolutely they are getting cheaper. Absolutely they are already considerably cheaper than coal fired power. We’ve had the ridiculousness of the former minister Senator Canavan, still spruiking the idea that a coal-fired generator is going to be built in Australia. I think we should be listening to the Chief Scientist, Alan Finkel, who said at the energy conference on Monday that because renewables are getting cheaper, the Clean Energy Target, if adopted, and he says it must adopted, will also be more affordable for Australia.


It’s extraordinary that we’ve got a national government in Australia that’s turning its back on rationality, turning its back on what business says should happen, turning its back as to, certainly on the right, on the science of climate change itself. We need to actually come to grips with the fact that there’s been massive rises in electricity prices, massive rises in gas prices, and it’s a result of the complete turmoil and uncertainty that this government has by its lack of policy brought about since it destroyed our scheme in September 2013 on getting elected.


It’s long past time for this government which claims to be a government that’s close to business, to start listening to Australian business and Australian industry, and giving some policy certainty, some policy predictability, to energy and climate change policy. Because in the absence of that predictability and certainty we are not going to see investment and we are not going to see the price falls that we need to get in both gas and electricity.


SPEERS: Shadow Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus, we’ll have to leave it there. Thank you very much for joining us this afternoon.


DREYFUS: Thanks very much David, good to be with you.