Speers on Sky News

SUBJECT/S: Marriage Equality; Integrity Commission; Citizenship; Homeland Security










SUBJECT/S: Marriage Equality; Integrity Commission; Citizenship; Homeland Security


DAVID SPEERS, HOST: Mark Dreyfus, thank you for your time this afternoon.




SPEERS: What did you make of George Brandis’s speech today?


DREYFUS: I liked the speech David, the Attorney-General’s got a sense of history – he knows the importance of this bill for Australia and I think he conveyed some of that importance in his speech.


SPEERS: Let’s get to the debate itself. You’ve said today Labor will support some technical amendments but none of the substantial amendments that are being moved. So what are the technical amendments?


DREYFUS: The technical amendments have actually already passed David, they were the first lot of amendments put up. And what they are is, what you expect to get in the unusual event of a private Senators’ bill or a private members’ bill actually passing, the relevant Commonwealth departments who have got intersections in their Acts of Parliament with that private Senators’ bill should come forward and say well actually we need to have a few consequential amendments here, we need to mesh that private Senators’ bill with the current Commonwealth statute book, that’s what the technical amendments are. They are things like changing the word ‘overseas marriage’ to ‘foreign marriage’. It’s that sort of thing.


SPEERS: Technical language, alright.


DREYFUS: There’s no sort of political content to it. We said, having looked at them, that they raise no concerns. We would support them, we did support them. The Senate has now moved on to considering the long list of Fawcett-Paterson amendments.


SPEERS: The last time I checked a couple of those Fawcett amendments, I mentioned this just earlier, were voted down and fairly comprehensively. So – does that signal to you the rest will go the same way?


DREYFUS: I can’t absolutely say what is going to happen on the floor of the Senate, not least because I’m not a Senator. But I think it’s a fairly good guide to the way in which the Senate is going to deal with the next, I think there are four further packages or groups of Fawcett-Paterson amendments. And I’d be expecting them to be voted on in the same manner because they are pretty similar in their intent and they are objectionable for pretty similar reasons.


SPEERS: And these do go to things like conscientious objectors to same sex marriage. Labor has said you will vote against George Brandis’s amendments on this. Is that right? The ones to protect civil celebrants from having to officiate in same-sex marriage services?


DREYFUS: Yes we’ll vote against – we’ve said that we will vote against those, the two Brandis amendments, for similar reasons to the objection that we have to the Fawcett-Paterson amendments. One of them, one of Senator Brandis’s amendments, are an extension of discrimination. This marriage equality bill is an opportunity for reducing discrimination in Australia. It’s for increasing equality in Australia.


SPEERS: But why is it OK for a religious minister to say no, but not for a civil celebrant to say no to a same-sex marriage?


DREYFUS: Well the obvious point is that civil celebrants are there to carry out the law of Australia. And if the law of Australia changes to allow marriage between any two people, then it ought to be a condition of being a civil celebrant that you perform that marriage.


SPEERS: But religious ministers are also there to carry out the law of Australia aren’t they?


DREYFUS: They are, but the Marriage Act has recognised for many years David that ministers should be free to refuse to perform a marriage for any reason. And it’s obvious why - because there is no religious content to a civil marriage, that’s the point. They’re very different. And obviously, a Rabbi, an Orthodox Rabbi who believes that only he is able to perform a marriage between two Jews, is not going to be prepared and ought to be able to refuse to perform a marriage between other people who turn up. So too with a Catholic priest in accordance with the Catholic sacrament of marriage, the Catholic priest ought to be able to say no, the marriage you are asking me to perform does not accord with the Catholic sacrament of marriage and I am going to refuse. And can I just say, the compromise that was reached with the Senate Select Committee, which reported in February this year, on which the Liberal backbenchers bill led by Dean Smith is based, provides for a new category called ‘religious marriage celebrant’. And existing civil celebrants who are religious, and it’s a pretty small group we understand, but it’s people like ministers of a yet-to-be recognised religious denomination who have chosen to become marriage celebrants. They will be able to elect and say ‘I want to be a religious marriage celebrant’ and with that will go the opportunity to refuse to perform a marriage.


SPEERS: So there is a way out if someone is genuinely, if they want to be listed as a religious marriage celebrant.


DREYFUS: And the bill that is before the Senate provides for that. What we object to is the suggestion made by one of the two Brandis amendments that there ought to be a general possibility for all marriage celebrants to be able to refuse to perform a marriage. We don’t think that’s right, and we’ll be doing what we can to make sure it doesn’t get up.


SPEERS: Now on all of these amendments about religious protections, Labor MPs and Senators are actually bound to vote against them. You’ve got a conscience vote on same-sex marriage, but they are bound on the religious protections to vote against these amendments. Why?


DREYFUS: No, they’re not bound. There is the possibility throughout this debate of a conscience vote where it directly raises the question of marriage equality. And what’s occurred here, now that all these amendments have come forward and been tabled and they’ve been able to be considered by Labor senators, is that no Labor senator has called for a conscience vote on any of those amendments.


SPEERS: OK, because I was told they are actually bound. They’re not bound? They can vote in favour of the amendments?


DREYFUS: We regard members of the Labor caucus as bound on procedural matters, so they are bound to vote in accordance with our collective position as to a question such as should the bill come forward now. But there is a conscience vote. Our national platform makes this clear. On questions of marriage equality.



And these religious protections?


DREYFUS: And what’s happened is that these either, these amendments are directly contrary to other parts of Labor policy because they interfere with existing anti-discrimination provisions in the Sex Discrimination Act. Or the Labor senators who considered this have thought, that doesn’t raise a conscience vote.


SPEERS: OK – just to be clear, on all of these amendments throughout this debate this week, no-one in Labor is bound.


DREYFUS: No, but we have as it happens a collective position we’ve got to on these amendments. We’ve been through the process David.


SPEERS: Next year, if there is – after the Ruddock inquiry that’s been set up – some sort of bill that comes forward about religious protections, will Labor MPs have a conscience vote on that?


DREYFUS: No, because the platform does not call for that. The agreement that we reached back at the last national conference was that there would continue to be a conscience vote on the question of marriage equality.


SPEERS: But if this is a separate bill about religious protections more broadly? Would there be a conscience vote on that?


DREYFUS: Every consideration of human rights potentially, every protection of human rights debate potentially is going to raise this kind of question. Potentially, a question of religious belief. The Labor Party has never seen it as necessary to have individual positions adopted. These are matters that we can and do argue out in the federal Labor Party, in the caucus, through the mechanisms of our national conference, and I’m confident we will be able to do that again. We’ve resolved some very very knotty questions in the past without seeing the need to go to a conscience vote.


SPEERS: Leaving this issue to one side, dual citizenship – the deadline is approaching for the Senators and then the following week it will be for the lower house MPs to produce their documents. What’s the process within Labor at the moment? Do all MPs have to hand their documents to the leaders’ office by tomorrow? Is that right?


DREYFUS: We have had for many years, perhaps I should start by saying, a very comprehensive vetting process and that vetting process can pretty simply be extended to the current round of disclosures. We already know through our party administration all of the matters that Labor members and Senators…


SPEERS: Everyone has to produce documents, will they hand them to the leader tomorrow?


DREYFUS: The Leader’s Office are going to assist members of caucus in making sure that we get our disclosures right.


SPEERS: So you’ll get all of the documents tomorrow?


DREYFUS: I haven’t got the exact timing but obviously if Senators are called on to produce their material, by this Friday, and members are being called on – we don’t have the exact timetable yet because that is yet to be sorted. But if members of the House are going to produce their material next week, that assistance is being offered right now by the Leader’s Office to members and Senators.


SPEERS: And have any problems emerged that you’re aware of?


DREYFUS: None that I’m aware of, and I’m not absolutely ruling out the possibility that there is something I don’t know about. But we looked at all this, and this is the very, very big difference between Labor and the other parties. We looked at all this before the election.


SPEERS: And if there is a problem that the Leader’s Office spots when all the documents come in, will that be made public before it hits the floor of the Parliament?


DREYFUS: It’s the intention of the regime that’s been adopted both in the Senate and in what’s proposed for the House that there’s not going to be a gap, or much of a gap, between the filing and the public disclosure. The Senate material is going to be filed this Friday and available next Monday, we’d be looking for a very similar speed in the disclosure, public disclosure of the filings in the House.


SPEERS: A couple of other issues quickly Mark Dreyfus, we spoke yesterday on this program to two of the former judges who – and you would be aware of this – are pushing for a federal anti-corruption watchdog. They’re meeting I understand with you, and other members of Parliament about this. What is your own thinking at the moment about a federal ICAC style body?


DREYFUS: We’ve certainly never ruled this out. Labor senators participated in a Senate select committee which was unfortunately interrupted by the election last year. It was reconstituted after the election and reported in September. And the call that that all-party committee made was for the federal government to examine a broad-based anti-corruption agency. The federal government has not responded to that recommendation made in September – we’re looking very closely at this and you could not but be impressed by the call from retired judges of the eminence of those that you interviewed yesterday. And they are but two of a larger group of very eminent retired judges..


SPEERS: Indeed and they laid out design principles, it all seemed to make sense in terms of how it should function, picking out the best aspects of state-based anti-corruption bodies. So what will the process be for you from here on, if the government is not going to have the inquiry that they should? What will you do?


DREYFUS: Between now and the next election I can say that Labor will adopt a formal position one way or another. And I think that I can say on behalf of my colleagues that we’re looking and listening very closely to what appear to be rising calls for such a body at the federal level.


SPEERS: So you may go to the next election promising to introduce a federal anti-corruption watchdog?


DREYFUS: As I say, we’re looking very closely at it, and what’s changed since perhaps me talking to you about this three or four years ago, is that there has been this Senate select committee process. It’s an all-party process, and it’s one which has called for a federal government – the federal government – to examine a broad-based anti-corruption agency.


SPEERS: And a final one Mark Dreyfus, there is talk, I’m sure you would have picked this up, about the Homeland Security department, ministry, being brought forward possibly even to the next couple of weeks. Being set up, there might be a reshuffle that accompanies this, but Peter Dutton overtaking that role of Home Affairs much earlier than the next year. Does any legislation have to go through the Parliament that you’re aware of? In terms of giving the Attorney-General the power he needs to still approve search warrants for ASIO and so on?


DREYFUS: There’s been very little said publicly about this proposal. What was disclosed at the last round of Senate estimates is that there is quite a substantial taskforce in the Department of Prime Minister & Cabinet, led by Allan McKinnon, about 25 people in the taskforce which is looking at how to set this up. I hadn’t heard what you’d just said which is that there is a proposal to do this earlier than the last public announcement of this which is that sometime in the new year, further announcements would be made. But certainly there is legislation that is needed in order to alter ministerial responsibilities from the present arrangements which confer directly, warrants power for example and a range of other powers from the Attorney-General who is the minister. Our understanding, and this is something that has been said by the government about this, is that at least some legislative change is needed.


SPEERS: Would you be prepared to do that this year?


DREYFUS: Well, we haven’t seen the final proposal from the government. What we’ve seen is that no agency has called for this to occur. That it wasn’t a recommendation of the review that was conducted by Stephen Merchant and Michael L’Estrange, the intelligence community review earlier this year.


SPEERS: So you’re still not convinced on the need for the whole thing at all?


DREYFUS: We need to see what is actually being proposed, because at the moment the government is being pretty vague about what it will look like. Pretty vague about its ultimate responsibilities. What we’ve heard is that some mega-department is to be set up. But until the final form of it emerges from the taskforce that is now doing its work, it’s not something we’re able to comment on.


SPEERS: Shadow Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus, thank you for joining us.


DREYFUS: Pleasure.