The Latest with Laura Jayes






LAURA JAYES (HOST): Late this afternoon I spoke to the Shadow Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus and asked him when he wanted to see the government act on the Bob Day matter, what should have been the best time, if indeed Labor is accusing the government of acting too late?

MARK DREYFUS, SHADOW ATTORNEY-GENERAL: As soon as they became aware of the problem. And what's become apparent today is that the government kept this secret. The government was well aware, not later than August, before the Parliament even convened, of the problem about potential ineligibility to sit in the Senate of Senator Day, of former Senator Bob Day. And that's the time that the government should have made this clear.

JAYES: Well there is a bit of a timeline here though as well, and bear with me while I go through it, because I think it is important. On the 23rd of August, Brandis and Ryan sought advice from the Australian Government Solicitor. On the 26th, the Special Minister of State, Senator Ryan, wrote to Bob Day seeking further information. Bob Day responded on the 29th of August. On the 8th of September, there was further information requested from the Australian Government Solicitor. And then on the 20th there was more information requested. A copy of the vendor's finance agreement was received on the 26th of September. On the 4th of October, advice from the Australian Government Solicitor came back and it was "not conclusive". The Prime Minister was then briefed. External advice was then sought from David Jackson QC because of that “it was not conclusive” finding. On the 7th of October the Attorney-General briefed David Jackson. They terminated the lease on Bob Day's office. David Jackson requested further information. Senator Ryan wrote to Bob Day and requested further information from Bob Day again. That was provided that afternoon. He received advice from David Jackson. They wrote to Senator Parry and Day on the 28th of October. And now we are on the 7th of November. The Senate has moved a motion to refer the matter to the High Court. So, when in all of that, should the Government have made this public?

DREYFUS: Well that's the government's timeline. And what you need to remember Laura is that the government knew that there were problems with this in February 2014 before Bob Day even took up his seat in the Senate for the first time. He'd been elected at the 2013 election, but before he even took up his seat he's putting forward this extraordinary proposition, that a building he owns should become his electorate office requiring fit outs and benefits to him. And the Department of Finance advised the then Special Minister of State that this did not look good.

JAYES: But even the Australian Government Solicitor has seen this as so complex - he found the matter not being conclusive and even wanted a second opinion from David Jackson QC. So can you see the government's difficulty here in not wanting to come out prematurely and make this allegation against Bob Day, when it didn't have all the information, or it didn't have conclusive advice?

DREYFUS: I can see the Government's difficulty was that they wanted Bob Day's vote. This matter stinks. And the government is dribbling out bits of information designed to make it look like the government did something right here. In fact the government did nothing right here. We know from Question Time in the House that the Prime Minister knew some time in August, before the Parliament even convened, that there was –

JAYES: But Mr Dreyfus why should he have acted when the advice was inconclusive from the Australian Government Solicitor? And then they received further advice from David Jackson? Weren't the government just being prudent?

DREFYUS: No, the government has dragged its feet because the government wanted to have Senator Day's vote on the ABCC bill. And they were desperate to keep him in the Senate. They were desperate that there be no proper investigation of this matter until the vote could be had. Well that has ended because his financial affairs have resulted in his resignation from the Senate. But the government has got no decent story to tell here. The government wanted Day's vote. They were quite happy, I think, to turn a blind eye to the problems and go very, very slowly on investigating this matter.

JAYES: But that timeline in particular, I mean, you can't fault that. I mean, this is day-by-day.

DREYFUS: I can fault it. I do fault it.

JAYES: Okay, there was a ten day period in there where Senator Ryan was off because he'd had his second child, so there was a bit of a delay there, but what's the problem with the rest of the timeline?

DREYFUS: Well the Prime Minister knew in August about this and they should have got – 

JAYES:  Yes, and then they agreed to seek further advice from David Jackson QC.

DREYFUS: Very slowly Laura. And if all of the information here – 

JAYES: But that took a month –

DREYFUS: That's far too long, this is a – 

JAYES: But that’s David Jackson’s…he sought further information and then they’ve got that advice on the 27th of October, on the 28th they wrote to Senator Parry and Bob Day.

DREYFUS: They’ve got counsel available to them. He is called the Solicitor-General of the Commonwealth. And there is a question there, why didn’t they go to the Solicitor-General of the Commonwealth? Whose resignation I might say only took effect today on the 7th of November. Why didn’t they go to Justin Gleeson and get his advice? Why didn’t they get advice about this many many months ago? These problems have been in the knowledge of the Minister of Finance, Senator Cormann, who became Special Minister of State. They’ve been in the knowledge collectively of the government since before Bob Day became a Senator. And I think the government is actually just trying to put a very very brave face on matters by saying we actually did look at it and now we’re taking it to the High Court…because it would be a scandal if they didn’t.

JAYES: What would you have done if the Australian Government Solicitor came back and said it’s not conclusive, we’re not quite sure whether he is eligible…

DREYFUS: Well I don’t know if they did say that. I don’t know that the government has said that advice from the Australian Government Solicitor was inconclusive. I think that was the proper time at which the matter should have been referred to the Court of Disputed Returns from the Senate. Right away, before Senator Day was even sworn in, this matter should have been directly grappled with by the government but of course this government wanted to get his vote.

JAYES: But what are you particularly concerned… what did the government want Bob Day’s vote on in particular? Because they didn’t keep him there for the ABCC, so what has he voted on which you are so concerned about?

DREYFUS: Well they wanted him there for the ABCC bill.

JAYES: But he’s not there, so what has he voted on in the last couple of months that Labor is concerned about?

DREYFUS: No I’m concerned about the way they wanted to keep him there to vote on the industrial legislation. And it hasn’t proved possible, that’s why they’re now taking it to the Court would have been scandalous if they hadn’t.

JAYES: But if they really wanted his vote on the ABCC, wouldn’t they have brought it forward to one of the sitting weeks between, I don’t know, August and October?

DREYFUS: I’m not answerable for this government’s incompetence. I’m not answerable for this government’s delay, I don’t know why they are not now bringing forward these two bills, the ABCC Bill and the Registered Organisations Bill, which was said to be the double dissolution trigger…

JAYES: Yeah but Bob Day won’t be voting on them, because he has resigned.

DREYFUS: Too right he won’t, but they wanted him to vote on it, that’s crystal clear, they must be very disappointed that he’s resigned from the Senate. Having gone down this path, eventually, very slowly, investigating it, of course they have to go to the Court of Disputed Returns because whether or not he was validly able to even take up his seat affects who will replace him.

JAYES: Does the Act, does the Human Rights Act need to change so they don’t have to go through that compulsory conciliation on what is seen to be frivolous and vexatious claims? Are you willing to at least look at that Mark Dreyfus?

DREYFUS: I’m willing to listen to what the Human Rights Commission has to say about whether it’s working…

JAYES: And Gillian Triggs said at the last Senate inquiry that she’s willing to work with the government on looking at that. So are you at least open to that idea?

DREYFUS: Of course, I’m open to any agency, any Department looking at how its processes can be improved. But against a backdrop of proper information. The proper information here is that we have got around 100 complaints a year going to the Human Rights Commission. A great majority are resolved, and a great majority are resolved promptly to the satisfaction of both parties.

JAYES: But you’re not going to support a parliamentary inquiry?

DREYFUS: I don’t think we need a parliamentary inquiry, particularly we don’t need a parliamentary inquiry to tell us what we already know, which is that this law has served Australia very well for the 21 years it’s been in operation. I think Tony Abbott reached that conclusion when he dropped the suggestions for change or repeal of 18C.

JAYES: Retrospectively perhaps he didn’t. But I think Andrew Broad is of the same opinion as you today, so ending on a unity ticket. Mr Dreyfus thank you for your time.

DREYFUS: Good to be with you.