ABC Newsradio

SUBJECT/S: George Brandis; Cyber security













SUBJECT/S: George Brandis; Cyber security


MARIUS BENSON, HOST: Mark Dreyfus, thank you for joining us.




BENSON: For outsiders, is this just a lawyer’s picnic?


MARK DREYFUS, SHADOW ATTORNEY-GENERAL: No, not at all. This is a very very important change which is being made by the Attorney-General that destroys the independence of the Solicitor-General – a very important function in government. And what’s worse is that the Attorney-General has lied about consulting the Solicitor-General before he did it. It has been stunning to see the Attorney-General seeking to cover up what was a clear lie to the Parliament. That’s an offence which carries with it resignation as the only possible penalty and if he won’t resign, the Prime Minister should sack him.


BENSON: But this dispute has simply settled down to a he said-she said dispute, because George Brandis and Justin Gleeson the Solicitor-General are in direct dispute as to the documents that are out there and different people are forming different opinions?


DREYFUS: Not in the least. This is a matter of fact. The Attorney-General is pointing to a meeting on the 30th November last year, at which he says, now, he consulted the Solicitor-General Justin Gleeson about the change to the law which he made on the 4th of May the following year, this year. But he didn’t at that point, he has now admitted, even have in mind the change that he made on the 4th of May. At no time did he tell Justin Gleeson the Solicitor-General that he was going to change the law and at no time did he tell him that he was going to impose a new requirement of obtaining George Brandis’ written consent before the Solicitor-General gives advice. How anybody can say they are consulting, when they have not even told the person they are consulting about what they are proposing to do is beyond me. Any reasonable person would see that this is simply a cover up by the Attorney-General who has simply been caught out in a lie.


BENSON: But it’s not going to be a reasonable person deciding these issues. It’s a political issue. It’s directly in a political forum tomorrow with a Senate hearing. And people presumably, if it comes to a vote, will divide on party lines.


DREYFUS: It shouldn’t just be seen as a matter to be resolved by politics. I still think, and I still hope that we have an Australian Parliament that actually relies on facts, that actually relies on truthful statements being made to it by Ministers. Here we have, as a fact, that the Attorney-General didn’t consult the Solicitor-General. He has lied about it. And he should pay the penalty. And no one should be in any doubt as to the importance of this. A former Solicitor-General to the Howard and Keating Governments filed a new submission yesterday with the Senate Committee. He describes this directive, this new law from Senator Brandis, as completely destroying the independence of the Solicitor-General. He likens it to putting a dog on a lead. Let no-one be in any doubt as to why this is important. It’s important for two reasons. The change is very important because it destroys the independence of the Solicitor-General and the lie to Parliament is deeply important. The directive can’t stand and the Senate can deal with that but Senator Brandis needs to do the right thing and resign in shame.


BENSON: Mark Dreyfus on another issue, the Prime Minister is famously a tech head. He uses many apps and one of the apps he uses is WhatsApp, the application for communication. There is criticism from some security advisors saying that it may not be a secure form of communication for the front bench. Do you know if the Labor front bench uses WhatsApp?


DREYFUS: Certainly I don’t. I can confirm that I wouldn’t. And I wouldn’t dream of using WhatsApp as a Cabinet Minister. I find it extraordinary that on the day after a very major cyber security report was released by the Government, with pious statements made by the Minister Dan Tehan and the Prime Minister about the importance of security arrangements and being aware of cyber security matters. We find that the Turnbull Cabinet is using a non-secure WhatsApp messaging application, which is not authorised it would seem by the Australian Signals Directorate. They are treating security with contempt. Immediately, Mr Turnbull needs to stop using WhatsApp for Government communications. It’s clearly to avoid apparently the obligations under the Freedom of Information Act. Again, the Turnbull Government is more interested in the politics, more interested in its own political skin than in keeping the important communications of Cabinet Ministers secure.


BENSON: Mark Dreyfus, thank you for your time.


DREYFUS: Thank you Marius.