Sky News with David Speers

SUBJECT/S: Citizenship; marriage equality







SUBJECT/S: Citizenship; marriage equality


DAVID SPEERS, HOST: Thanks for coming on Mark Dreyfus. The court dates that have been set down for this to be heard, it won’t be until the 10th, 11th and 12th of October. Is that a reasonable time frame?

MARK DREYFUS, SHADOW ATTORNEY-GENERAL: I think so David – thanks very much for having me. I think that the court has shown that it appreciates the importance of this matter to Australia, and has set down a hearing which will allow justice to be done, will allow a fair hearing for anyone that’s going to be participating in this now five cases, soon to be seven cases before the High Court. And they’ve said it’s a three day case. Various parties including the former Commonwealth Solicitor-General Mr Bennett appearing for Senator Canavan said that the government had not allowed enough time in the proposal the government put forward and the Chief Justice has taken all of that into account and set it down for the 10th, 11th and 12th of October.

SPEERS: Now that raises this window, roughly seven weeks before that takes place, where Barnaby Joyce and Fiona Nash are going to continue as ministers. Labor’s got a big problem with that. Is there legal advice to suggest they should not be making any ministerial decisions?

DREYFUS: We think this is completely unsustainable and bordering on negligent for the government to allow the Deputy Prime Minister, who is now holding a number of portfolios including those formerly held by Senator Canavan and Senator Nash to continue in office as ministers. They must stand down – this is what the government did for Senator Canavan, and we assume that it was on advice. There is some indication in public statements by the government that it was on advice that Senator Canavan relinquished those portfolios that he held. The reason why it’s negligent is that the ministers’ decisions, any of them that Mr Joyce or Senator Nash may make between now and the time they are dealt with by the High Court, and that’s even assuming that the government is right and that they will be held to be eligible to be members of Parliament. Even if that’s right, there’s a long period when on the current state of the law, these two members of Parliament are not eligible to sit as members of Parliament and therefore not eligible to be ministers. And it will cause a problem potentially with people subsequently choosing to use that as legal grounds for challenging decisions that they may have made. That’s the problem. The government should deal with it by having them stand down in exactly the same manner as Senator Canavan was made to stand down.

SPEERS: You say there is a potential problem with people challenging ministerial decisions they make – how serious are you about this Mark Dreyfus? Will Labor challenge legally decisions made by Barnaby Joyce and Fiona Nash in this period?

DREYFUS: It’s not Labor that I’m worried about, it’s big mining companies’ decisions, about which the Deputy Prime Minister Mr Joyce may have made in his capacity responsible for mines or water allocation decisions, or water infrastructure spending decisions for a whole range of statutorily-based decisions that both Mr Joyce and Senator Nash have to make in their capacity as ministers and people who are aggrieved by those decisions may very well say they weren’t properly in office and that…the government can avoid this mess.

SPEERS: Sorry to interrupt – I’m just asking, Labor, you’re the one that’s expressing concern about it right now, and it’s open to you to challenge this presumably so will you?

DREYFUS: No this is a government that is in such disarray, who has mishandled just about every aspect of this citizenship matter, which is continuing to do so. I say again, Senator Canavan was made to stand down, that was an appropriate decision, and Mr Joyce and Senator Nash should also be made to stand down. It’s completely unsustainable that they should be left in office.

SPEERS: I’m just trying to establish – will Labor challenge ministerial decisions they make?

DREYFUS: No, it’s not that risk that we’re concerned with. It’s the risk that others aggrieved – companies and citizens who are aggrieved by any decisions that Senator Nash or Mr Joyce make in the intervening period, they will come along later and say those decisions are invalid. Now why would a careful government, a responsible government, deliberately bring about that situation when it can be avoided and should be avoided by having them stand down?

SPEERS: Now just as a side note on this, you recall when the situation around Barnaby Joyce emerged, there was argument from the government that there was a difference between him and Matt Canavan because Matt Canavan had his mum apply for his citizenship. That argument seems to have gone out the window now. His own lawyer saying he inherited when he was two years old because of the change in the Italian law. That would put him in exactly the same situation wouldn’t it? As Barnaby Joyce and Fiona Nash? To your point, that they should all be treated the same in terms of whether they’re in or out of cabinet – they’re all basically now running the same legal defence aren’t they?

DREYFUS: Well you’ve got another career waiting for you as a lawyer David – when you’re done with being an interviewer. It’s, you’ve picked up the point of similarity. I’m not going to comment on precisely what case Senator Canavan or Mr Joyce choose to put to the High Court. It’s been shifting ground for both of them, I’ll say that. Until they’ve sworn affidavits and filed them in court, and we’ll know what is the story that they’re trying to stick to, and hear the arguments and read the written submissions that the lawyers are making on their behalf, we won’t know precisely what it is that they’re saying. But you’ve picked up a very good point there, that Mr Joyce and Senator Canavan at least on the surface of the statements made in court today seem to be now in the same position. And there can be no proper distinction anyway, because what’s happened is that Senator Canavan and Mr Joyce and Senator Nash is to be referred to the High Court by the government itself and that’s because on the face of the understanding of section 44 of the constitution, at present on the face of the High Court’s previous decisions, all of them are ineligible to be in the Parliament. How a government can proceed knowing that on the current state of the law, all of these three ministers are not validly holding their posts, I don’t know. And it is unsustainable, it’s unforgivable that the government should behave in this way.

SPEERS: Now I understand you’re particularly focused on the National Party members here – can I ask you though about Malcolm Roberts, the One Nation senator because we learned today that he is in somewhat of a different situation, he obviously knew that he was a British citizen once upon a time unlike the others who all claim to have never known they were dual citizens. But how and when he renounced that British citizenship. He says he sent emails before the election to the British Home Office, but his own lawyer, as we were just pointing out, today told the High Court that he hasn’t quite got the chronology. But the Home Office – the election came and went, the Home Office then sent him a form to fill in, he filled it in and sent it back, and at a later time he got the confirmation of his renunciation. Where does that leave him do you think?

DREYFUS: You’d have to feel for any lawyer sent in to bat for a client that is already on the public record with three or four conflicting stories. It’s a bit hard to keep track of what Malcolm Roberts is exactly saying because he’s said variously that he didn’t, that he wasn’t a citizen, and then that he was a citizen and he didn’t know, or that he did know. And exactly what his position is going to be – a bit like Mr Joyce and Senator Canavan, we’ll have to wait and see what he swears, on oath, in an affidavit that’s filed in the court.

SPEERS: Let’s go to same-sex marriage, the electoral roll closes tonight for those who are going to take part in the postal survey. You were there with Bill Shorten today, and I expect you met with some members of the LGBTI community there. He, Bill Shorten I know spoke about an increase since this began in terms of abuse and hate speech and so on, being targeted. What evidence is there of that?

DREYFUS: We were, Bill Shorten and I and David Feeney, the local member, all met with members of the LGBTI community in the Thornbury area in David Feeney’s seat today. And there were some shocking stories David of hate speech, of abuse, of LGBTI people being shouted at on the street in the presence of their children often. And it was shocking for me to hear and I know for Bill to hear the sorts of things that have been happening. This postal survey has given license it seems to all kinds of bile and hateful speech. The government doesn’t seem to have thought about how it is going to deal with that. It’s not good enough for the Prime Minister just to stand back as he seems to want to do. Something needs to be said very directly. There needs to be leadership provided not just by the Prime Minister but by senior government ministers, particularly those who support a ‘yes’ outcome.

SPEERS: In fairness when it’s been put to them, some of this material, they have condemned it – the likes of Christopher Pyne, George Brandis, even the Prime Minister. So how do you protect against this though Mark Dreyfus? I know you’ve been talking to the government about this issue. Matthias Cormann had suggested putting the same rules around this postal survey, a statistical survey technically it’s called – as around an election when it comes to inappropriate or incorrect material. Are you reaching a compromise on that?

DREYFUS: Obviously we are talking with the government about what safeguards can be put in place. But just as the safeguards in the Australian electoral law aren’t really all that effective, particularly in real time because it’s pretty hard to get a court to step in during a campaign and give an injunction, usually it’s dealt with after the event with perhaps some criminal charges, we’ve got…it’s a pity the government didn’t think of this before it rushed into this postal survey. Most of all, what we need is leadership from everybody in positions of leadership in Australia that ask for Australians to be kind to each other in the debate that we are now embarked on. The debate that we shouldn’t be having in the context of a postal survey but we are going to have it. And if the High Court rules that this postal survey can go ahead, because there is another case in the High Court on the 5th and 6th of September, then I’d be expecting the government with their assistance to urgently legislate to the extent that it is possible, to put some safeguards in place.

SPEERS: Shadow Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus, appreciate your time this afternoon.

DREYFUS: Thanks for having me David.