THE HON MARK DREYFUS KC MP
MEMBER FOR ISAACS
MONDAY, 28 AUGUST 2023
SUBJECTS: Voice to Parliament; Juvenile crime; Supermarket profits.
GARY ADSHEAD: We've got a lot of pollies in town at the moment, federal politicians, they've got a Cabinet meeting coming up this afternoon. But Mark Dreyfus has been good enough to drop by to our 6PR studio and the Federal Attorney-General joins me now. Thanks very much for your time.
ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Very good to be with you, Gary.
ADSHEAD: No doubt you're - I'm not saying this is why you're here - but the Voice to Parliament. I started the program, I was speaking to Shane Love, the Nationals WA Leader, Opposition Leader here in this state. They changed their tune on the Voice and they're saying that they don't trust the way that your government's going about implementing it. How do you react to that?
ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Well, I'm very sorry to hear that there's been a reversal of position. We've got the National Party putting, apparently, the interests of party unity and following Peter Dutton ahead of the interests of WA and the nation. This is a very simple, very significant change to our Constitution that will make Australia a better country. And I'm very sorry that here they were, the National Party used to support the Voice.
ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Used to support Constitutional recognition, supported the Uluru Statement From The Heart and simply because they wish to apparently follow Mr Dutton they've abandoned that position. That's a pity. We'd hoped when we brought this to the Australian people after the election that we'd get bipartisan support. We've always hoped for that. It wasn't to be. I'm sad to say there seem to be a lot of federal politicians on the other side of politics who think they can get some kind of party advantage out of being opposed to the Voice.
ADSHEAD: And the thing that happens every time we bring up the Voice, and I'll be watching the text line as I speak, and feel free by the way folks, 133 882, if you do want to call in, but the one thing that I noticed that comes up a lot is we don't have enough information about how it would work. I'm going to really simplify this, what do you say to those people that, around the street that talk to you, maybe you're out doorknocking, or whatever the case may be, what do you say to those people who say there's not enough information about how it would work?
ATTORNEY-GENERAL: I invite people to look at the actual change to the Constitution which Australians are going to be voting on later this year. It's a really simple change. It says that in recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people there shall be an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice that is going to make representations on matters relating to Aboriginal people to the Parliament and the executive government. And then, really significantly, it says, and this is the last sentence of the change, that the Parliament is going to make laws about the functions and form of the Voice. So that question of exactly how it's going to operate is going to be a matter of Parliamentary debate next year. Parliament retains all of the power. What's very clear, and your listeners should get this firmly in their head, this is about advice. The Voice is going to be sort of like a committee of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People, giving advice to the Parliament, advice to the executive government.
ADSHEAD: Okay. Is that, can I ask you seriously, is that becoming the problem, that you're saying to people that it's only once the legislation gets debated that you'd know the actual issues and the sort of why it would work? Is that a problem, because people can hang off that?
ATTORNEY-GENERAL: I don't think so. I think that people need to understand that's how our Constitution works. I think Australians would be surprised to consider, not that we have elections in this country because we're a democratic country, but the Constitution just says there has to be elections. It leaves up to the Parliament who is going to be able to vote, whether it's compulsory, what form of voting we use, the Constitution doesn't talk about the Australian Electoral Commission. All of those are details that are properly left to the Parliament. The Constitution is there to establish principles, the detail is always a matter for the Parliament to legislate on.
ADSHEAD: The Australian's run us through this morning, talks about the playbook for the referendum, what have you made of that? And particularly around this kind of notion that if people start asking about detail you sort of move them on as quickly as possible. I mean, that's the sort of wording of the campaign playbook. What do you what are you saying to that?
ATTORNEY-GENERAL: It's not about moving people on. It's about inviting people to focus on this very simple but significant changes to the Constitution, and knowing that it's going to be up to the Parliament to make laws about the final details and the functions. That should be a reassurance to people. We've gone to the trouble of publishing some design principles, to give a kind of indication, or sketch out what we think that the Voice is going to look like. I say to people it's going to be like a committee of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People who are there to give advice. It's going to be representative. It's going to have people, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People from all parts of Australia making up this Voice. They'll be bringing to Canberra the local voices from the Swan River or from Fitzroy Crossing or from Margaret River, the local voices from Kalgoorlie, or on the other side of the country from Yarrabah, or from Sydney, or from my part of town the Grampians from Victoria. Any and every part of Australia is going to be represented in the Voice and how we go about doing that will be what the Parliament talks about next year.
ADSHEAD: All right. Kim's on the line. As I said, this is the question that just keeps coming up. Hello, Kim.
CALLER: Good morning. Good morning, Minister.
ADSHEAD: Just popping on his headphones, Kim. Just standby. All good. Here we go.
CALLER: Thank you. Good morning, Minister. Good morning, Gary. The way I perceive what Mr Albanese is trying to achieve, he's trying to sell us an idea on the future of Australia, a very important selling point. The analogy I make is if I want to buy a car, I know I want to buy a car. We know you want to make a change to the Constitution. But if I'm going to buy a car, I want to know what sort of car, what colour, what make, four wheel drive, whatever. And at this stage, with the Voice as far as I'm concerned, I don't have enough detail to make a decision one way or the other. And I'm just curious when will we get the details because that's what's important? People are scared, because I'm not gonna go and say I want to buy a car without knowing what exactly I'm getting, not some concept, I want to know what I'm getting for my money. So that's why, at this stage, I'm definitely a fence sitter.
ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Well, with the greatest of respect, Kim, if that approach had been taken we would never have had a Federation come together. The six colonies would have remained separate colonies and they would never have been able to agree on the Constitution that brings us all together. Just to give you another example, I gave the example of elections before. The High Court is provided for in the Constitution but it doesn't say how many judges. It doesn't say where it's to sit. It doesn't say where they meet, it doesn't say whether it will even have a building and that's a matter that's left to the Parliament because that's the way our Constitution works. So, saying we need to know every last little detail like what is the colour of the car we're going to buy, that's not the way Constitutions work, it's not the way this referendum is going to work. This referendum, if it's successful, and I very much hope it will be, is going to put 92 words in the Constitution, that, as a matter of principle, say we're recognising Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People and this is how we're going to do it with this Voice. And the form and functions of the Voice are going to be spelled out by the Parliament after debate, which will happen next year.
ADSHEAD: I do want to ask you about a couple of other issues. But I'll just take one more call from Terry. G'day Terry.
CALLER: Hello. I'd just like to make a couple of points, if I might, not points, questions, if I might. Number one is the Apology was going to fix everything. That was going to be the antithesis of everything. That was going to fix it all. It did absolutely nothing. Now this situation that we have here, this Voice thing will do exactly the same. Absolutely nothing. And based on the fact that there must be dozens of Aboriginal groups out there, which can give the government advice, why the hell do we have to put it in the Constitution?
ADSHEAD: Yeah, that's another - , sorry to interrupt you Terry - but that's another point that comes up. You know, you've got this National Indigenous agency, I don't know how much funding, it's in the billions of course. You know, people do say if you've got these bodies in place, what on Earth have they been doing?
ATTORNEY-GENERAL: We want to hear directly from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People.
ADSHEAD: They're not being heard by their own agency that's supposed to look after their interests across the country?
ATTORNEY-GENERAL: We want to make sure that there will be listening going on. That, on a stable basis, that there will be this body. Now. I'd say to the caller, no one said that the Apology was going to do everything. People said that the Apology would help. The Apology led to these Closing the Gap targets which, sadly, we are not meeting. We know we need to start doing something differently. We can't go on doing things the same way over and over again and expecting you to get different results. This is what Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People themselves have asked for. This is the form of recognition that they have asked for, to have this Voice and that will let the rest of us, particularly the Parliament and the executive government listen. I'm confident that it's going to make a difference.
ADSHEAD: Last question on that then I'll move on to something else. But can you give us a hint on whether we are expecting a date to be announced because I think that's another thing people go to. We haven't even got a date yet.
ATTORNEY-GENERAL: The date is going to be announced on Wednesday.
ADSHEAD: Done. All right, in South Australia.
ATTORNEY-GENERAL: In South Australia.
ADSHEAD: You didn't think about doing it here to try and sort of lift up the West because I mean, people say it's a dead loss over here. The Voice, it's gone, it's over.
ATTORNEY-GENERAL: The Prime Minister would say it had to be somewhere, and you're always going to get a complaint from the place where it isn't, but the announcement will be made in South Australia by the Prime Minister on Wednesday morning.
ADSHEAD: Okay, how did you react, and whether you've had to get involved or not from your office on, you know, Annastacia Palaszczuk, under a lot of pressure on Queensland juvenile crime, suddenly there's this lurch in terms of yes, we will lock them up in in police watchhouses for as long as it takes. So, she's taken sort of a harder line than previously on it. Was that a mistake? Are you concerned about that as Attorney-General?
ATTORNEY-GENERAL: I don't want to be commenting directly on state governments. I've come to office as Commonwealth Attorney-General with an election commitment that we made at the last election to invest tens of millions of dollars in something we're calling Justice Reinvestment, which is really an invitation to states and territories to try different ways of approaching the interactions of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People with the justice system. Again, we need to start looking for different ways of doing things. It's one of the reasons I've put on the agenda of the Standing Council of Attorneys-General, the question of raising the age of criminal responsibility. Australia's got one of the lowest ages, at 10, of any developed country in the world. Some of the developed countries have got ages of 14, or in a couple of cases, even 16. We've got to acknowledge that children need to be treated differently when they interact with the criminal justice system.
ADSHEAD: So, in other words, you would see, if we go forward and you get agreements from all the states on that, you would see that an 11 year old who commits a serious crime would not be incarcerated in any way, shape, or form?
ATTORNEY-GENERAL: It wouldn't be dealt with as part of the criminal justice system, wouldn't be dealt with by undergoing a criminal trial.
ADSHEAD: There'll be a victim, there'll be someone who has been ...
ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Too right. That's the nature of crime, that there's a victim and that's why the whole community is concerned about this. I'm simply suggesting that there are different ways of approaching this. I'm acutely conscious as the Commonwealth Attorney-General that the states and territories are responsible for something approaching 98 or 99% of the criminal justice work that occurs in Australia. That each state and territory has direct responsibility with the criminal law, setting up the courts. We have state and territory police forces for each state and territory. So I'm engaged in making sure that we have proper debate in this country, encouraging states and territories to look at different ways of doing criminal justice.
ADSHEAD: Well, obviously, you've got a situation now in Queensland where the harder line has been introduced, you know, it's just me talking here, whether you agree or not, but there might be some political expediency around doing that because that's what people want to hear. We've seen it in WA, our former Premier absolutely played the hard line on juvenile justice and youth crime and the rioting that was going on in the juvenile detention centre. So what makes you think you can get the states together when elections are coming and they all want to win?
ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Indeed, but there's other parts of Australia where there has been movement from local jurisdictions such as the Northern Territory, which has legislated to raise the age of criminal responsibility to 12. The Australian Capital Territory, which has announced that they're going to move on the age of criminal responsibility, and Victoria also announced that they're going to move. It suggests that there is movement across the country on these matters. And so yes, it's possible to point to some jurisdictions where a tougher line has been taken. It's also possible to point to other jurisdictions which are trying different approaches.
ADSHEAD: Can I just finish with an observation and get your reaction to this? We have been talking, and your government had to deal with all the issues around cost of living - the interest rates going up the price of petrol going up the cost of putting food on the table, etc, housing, you name it rental, it goes on and on. We're seeing that as the backdrop, and yet, every day last week, the companies the corporations were putting out their profit results and telling us that they've made record profits right across the board. Is that just capitalism or something gone wrong here, that we, the punter, are paying daily, while the corporates are making buckets of cash?
ATTORNEY-GENERAL: If you ask the corporate executives Gary, they will point to the interests of shareholders. They will say that the shareholders want to see companies making a profit. But I think people that are shopping every day at supermarkets are looking at the very large profits that some of the supermarket corporations have made and announced, as you said, last week, and saying, well, I'm the person who's putting my hand in my pocket, trying to fill the trolley with food for my family. So there's a tension there. We do have a capitalist system. We want companies to be profitable. But we want to make sure that they're not exploiting the situation either.
ADSHEAD: Attorney-General, thanks very much for joining us in the studio. Enjoy your stay in Perth where, I've found out just before we went on air, this is where you were born, so you're one of ours.
ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Indeed. Always good to be back in my birthplace.
ADSHEAD: Good on you.
ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Thank you, Gary.