ABC Radio National

Subject/s: the Brandis diary; marriage equality; 18C; unions








Subject/s: the Brandis diary; marriage equality; 18C; unions


ALISON CARABINE, INTERVIEWER: Mark Dreyfus, good morning.




CARABINE: You’ve been pursuing the diary since 2014, you’ve wanted to know if George Brandis consulted Community Legal Centres before cutting their funding. You now have the diary – is there anything in it that throws light on this question or has this all been a monumental waste of everyone’s time?


DREYFUS: This has been a monumental waste of everyone’s time, and as we expected there is no evidence that George Brandis consulted anybody before he embarked on his cuts to Community Legal Centres, to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Centres, and completely cutting the funding to Environmental Defenders Offices. What a waste of taxpayers’ money, of public servants’ time, the court’s time, just because apparently of the Attorney-General’s personal vanity.


CARABINE: But as the Attorney-General’s office points out, some meetings would have been organised at short notice or may have been over the phone, therefore the diary doesn’t necessarily prove anything either way – it’s all pretty inconclusive.


DREYFUS: Well it’s the record we’ve got, let the Attorney-General explain – who did he meet with? And I think you’ll find he didn’t meet with anybody.


CARABINE: Now you do refer to the Attorney-General’s vanity, as being the reason why he didn’t want to release the diary – how much taxpayers’ money did the AG spend trying to keep the diary secret? Do you have an answer to that?


DREYFUS: It’s tens of thousands of dollars Alison, we don’t know how much – perhaps we’ll find that out in due course. But he should never have done this. The time that FOI requests are meant to take is 30 days. This request has taken over a thousand to be properly dealt with, with much wasted time and effort in between. The minister who is responsible for administering the FOI Act of all things – the Attorney-General should be ashamed of himself.


CARABINE: And if Mark Dreyfus one day you find yourself back in the position of being Attorney-General yourself, would you release your ministerial diaries and not take three years to do so? Can you give us that guarantee?


DREYFUS: I’m a supporter of Freedom of Information Alison – if it’s good enough for President Obama to release his appointments diary, if anyone asks me for mine, I’ll certainly be doing that.


CARABINE: Let me take you to a few other issues. Peter Dutton has been highly critical of company CEOs who signed that letter urging the Prime Minister to put the question of marriage equality to a vote in Parliament. Peter Dutton says any person does have a right to argue a point of view but these corporate bosses should be doing so in a personal capacity, not as representatives of publicly listed companies. Does the minister have a point here? Should these CEOs get “back to their knitting”?


DREYFUS: What an extraordinary thing that Peter Dutton has said there. CEOs of publicly listed corporations have a right to speak out on absolutely anything in Australian society, particularly when it’s a matter that affects their workers. And of course marriage equality affects their workers. Hundreds of thousands of workers in Australia deeply…I find it a bitter irony that we’ve got a Liberal Party that wants to give free speech for racists but not free speech for CEOs. And that’s where Peter Dutton apparently stands.


CARABINE: We’ll get to the freedom of speech issue in a moment – marriage equality could be back on the agenda this week. Has Peter Dutton just made sure that the moderates in his party will lose out yet again? Is it now impossible for the PM to shift away from the plebiscite idea?


DREYFUS: I’m hoping that the Liberal Party wakes up to themselves. Just this morning we’ve had news that in the most conservative seats in Australia, Liberal-held seats, an overwhelming majority of voters want this matter to be a free vote in the Federal Parliament. Let’s get on with it, it’s long past time…


CARABINE: But it’s not going to happen is it?


DREYFUS: Well I’m an optimist and I’m hoping they will see sense, understand that a majority of Australians want this to happen and let it happen.


CARABINE: You reference the freedom of speech issue – it will be re-run this week with changes to the Racial Discrimination Act to go before the coalition party room tomorrow. If it does agree to remove “insult” and “offend” from 18C, possibly with the addition of “harass”, are we really going to see hate speech unleashed in this country?


DREYFUS: Anything that weakens this law is sending a green light for racists. And that’s the problem. I don’t know why the Liberal Party for six years has been wasting this country’s time debating this matter. A section which has served Australia well should stay where it is. The hand-picked committee that Malcolm Turnbull had looking at this, which has got a majority of coalition members on it, three weeks ago didn’t recommend any change to section 18C. This is over Mr Turnbull. This needs to be put to rest and why the Liberal Party are still tearing themselves apart over this issue, which will not create a single job, why they are tearing themselves apart over this issue which is of little interest to most people in Australia but of deep concern to Australia’s ethnic communities, I’m at a loss to understand it. They need to say “this is over, there will be no change to section 18C”.


CARABINE: At the very least we could see changes to the complaint-handling procedures of the Human Rights Commission. Is that something that Labor would support?


DREYFUS: Of course Alison. All procedural changes at all times for every part of government administration should certainly be looked at and we will have a look at the detail of whatever the government brings forward in terms of a bill.


CARABINE: Now Mark Dreyfus you are battling away at a very noisy Melbourne airport so thank you for persisting with us – just finally the cuts to Sunday penalty rates will be at the forefront when Parliament returns today. The government will be pointing out all those enterprise bargaining agreements which have already lowered workers’ wages. It’s also flagging a ban on “secret deals” between businesses and unions, how worried is Labor that Bill Shorten’s union past could be coming back to haunt him?


DREYFUS: Labor is proud of Bill Shorten’s union past. Labor is proud of the agreements that Bill Shorten did while he was a union secretary, I challenge the government to show the full detail of every single one of those agreements and why would anyone be surprised that Malcolm Turnbull, in his desperation, is rolling out the discredited Heydon Royal Commission again which was set up to try to destroy Bill Shorten? It failed to do that, but here we go again. We’re going to get fragments from the discredited Heydon Royal Commission again, apparently that’s what we’re going to hear more of this week. But it’s actually a sign of the desperation of the Liberal Party.


CARABINE: Mark Dreyfus thanks very much for your time.


DREYFUS: Thanks Alison.