SHADOW MINISTER FOR CONSTITUTIONAL REFORM
MEMBER FOR ISAACS
ABC RADIO MELBOURNE DRIVE
MONDAY, 14 JUNE 2021
SUBJECTS: Melbourne Floods; G7 Summit and Mr Morrison’s failure on climate change; Biloela Family; Press freedom; Christian Porter abandoning defamation action against the ABC; Covid-19 outbreak.
RAF EPSTEIN: Mark Dreyfus joins us. He's the Shadow Attorney-General. He's part of Anthony Albanese's Shadow Cabinet. He's also the ALP MP for the seat of Isaacs here in the southeast of Melbourne. Mark Dreyfus good afternoon. Thanks for joining us.
MARK DREYFUS, SHADOW ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Afternoon Raf. Good to be with you. Hello to your listeners.
EPSTEIN: We are broadcasting statewide Mark Dreyfus but just a reminder, the people of Melbourne, not everyone is, in fact, I would say most people don't know who their local Federal MP is. Your suburbs in Isaacs?
DREYFUS: I run from South Road Moorabbin right down to Eel Race Road in Carrum and out to Dandenong South. So, a big chunk of South East Melbourne. 13 kilometres of beautiful Bay beach.
EPSTEIN: Of course. Of course. I want to come to some of the big federal political issues, but just on losing power and losing phones when you most need them, which is the middle of an emergency. Surely we can do this better?
DREYFUS: I'm sure we can. And it's shocking to think that so many thousands of homes have remained without power for so many days.
EPSTEIN: Got any ideas on how we do it better? I don't. Have you got any ideas on how we do it better?
DREYFUS: I think one thing we could do is big batteries, better storage, which would get us over part of the problem. And we certainly need to be looking at more ways to store power.
EPSTEIN: Microgrids or something. The G7 statement. This presumably means we will never invest in another coal mine in this country. Does it mean that or not?
DREYFUS: I've thought for a long time we weren't ever going to invest in another coal mine in this country and I've been looking on in amazement at a Prime Minister that's been prepared to fund a feasibility study to build a coal fired power station in North Queensland. He must have known that we were never ever going to build one. So here he is at the G7 pretending to take some interest in climate change, but still, back in Australia, is wanting to spend money on a feasibility study, a $4 million feasibility study for a coal fired power station in North Queensland
EPSTEIN: A power station is different to a mine obviously. Do you see the G7 statement as ruling out investment in coal mines because your resources spokeswoman doesn't want to rule out investing, or opening new mines? Do you want to stop investing in new coal mines?
DREYFUS: The G7 statement shows us that the developed world thinks that it is urgent that we act on climate change and it's perhaps marking an end to the coal era, which does not mean that that's going to happen tomorrow. It doesn't mean it's going to happen next year. But it is saying that an end is coming. That's where the rest of the world is at. Mr Morrison is an embarrassment to us. It's embarrassing to see him representing our country overseas in a context where the rest of the world has adopted that position on climate change, where the rest of the world is totally committed to net zero by 2050, where our major companies are totally committed to net zero by 2050. States are committed to net zero by 2050. We've got, regrettably, Mr Morrison still pretending that that's not where we have to get to. So, it's a very clear statement led by President Biden.
EPSTEIN: The coal mine question Mark Dreyfus. I'm not disputing what you're saying about 2050. You've got a clear difference with the Federal Government when it comes to zero emissions by 2050. But the person in your party who speaks on coal mines says for as long as international markets want to buy Australian coal then they should. Is that going across or against what the G7 has said today?
DREYFUS: It's about demand. And if there ceases to be world demand for Australian coal, we won't be mining it anymore.
EPSTEIN: So, you’re not ruling out the mine because of the climate, you're saying we might not need them because we might not be able to sell it there? They're two very different things.
DREYFUS: I represented Australia for a couple of years at the international climate talks in the Gillard Government. The framework that the world has adopted is about working on demand, working on use in the countries which use fossil fuels. So, we haven't adopted a different system, which some people have suggested perhaps we should where countries have to be accountable for mining of fossil fuels, or extraction of fossil fuels. And where the rest of the world is now going suggests that there won't be demand for coal, there won't be demand for gas, there won't be demand for oil, because the rest of the world is moving away from use of fossil fuels. And that's what has to happen if the world is going to take action on climate. So all I'm saying Raf is that for any Australian government not to recognise that, for any Australian government not to want to work with the rest of the world, not to see the direction that the world is headed, is absolutely letting Australia down. That's what Mr. Morrison is doing. He's letting Australia down.
EPSTEIN: If I can invite a caller in on this topic, I do want to leave some time for some other topics as well. But Gary's called from, what might be your electorate, I'm not sure, from Caulfield South. What do you want to mention Gary?
CALLER: I'd like to ask a couple questions if I may. Number one, do you feel that closing down our coal power stations has contributed at all to our issues with power supply? And number two, where do you think we stand with our footprint in the world compared to China's?
DREYFUS: I think that we need a very careful staged replacement of fossil fuel power generation with renewable sources. And that's what's been occurring. I don't believe, if properly managed, that should cause any disruption to our supply. The suggestion was ridiculously made by some people on the other side of politics from me that disruption to supply in South Australia some years back, which was in fact caused by a storm event, had something to do with renewables in South Australia. That wasn't true. So, I think absolutely, we should be able to manage towards a lower use of fossil fuels. And as to your other question about China, China is a much larger country than our own and its overall emissions are much larger than our own. But at a per capita level, that's a per head level, our emissions are right up there, almost the highest in the world. China is not that.
EPSTEIN: Gary, just on the second point you made about China, just want to spell out what you mean by comparing us to China? What's your concern there?
CALLER: Well, even if we were to be able somehow to shut down all our coal-fired, state coal power stations, and we were able to go over completely to no fossil fuel, where the hell do you think we're going to be placed in the world and the overall effect on the world when China is not doing anything towards this situation?
EPSTEIN: I don't think they're doing nothing, Gary. You might not trust them, but they're not doing nothing. But either way Mark Dreyfus, if we shut down everything it's not going to make a difference, perhaps because of what China does?
DREYFUS: I don't accept that argument. This is this argument that says that Australia, because we're only a middle-sized country and are only responsible for one or two percent of world emissions, it doesn't make a difference. If every country in the world adopted that attitude then we would definitely be headed for the climate disaster that we are presently on the path to. We need every country in the world to do what it can and because Australia is a wealthy country, because we're a country that can do something to reduce our emissions, we should be doing a great deal more. And by doing so we will be showing the world what can be done, what a developed country, what a developed economy like our own can do. Australia is probably the continent that will be worst affected by climate change. We've got a tremendous personal incentive as a country to do as much as we can and I've thought for a very long time that Australia can take a leading role in action on climate. At the moment we are seen by the rest of the world as laggards. It's shameful what the Morrison Government has failed to do and we've been on full display, our laggardly attitude has been on full display at the G7 just in the last few days.
EPSTEIN: There's some breaking news from the ABC they are expecting some significant action on the Biloela family, the Murugappan Tamil family. We'll come to that with Mark Dreyfus, some of your calls as well. 1300 222 774. But let's just pause and get some traffic.
EPSTEIN: If you've got a question for Mark Dreyfus, he is Anthony Albanese's Shadow Attorney-General. Mark Dreyfus If I can just read the first few lines from the ABC story on the family who want to live in Biloela. This is the ABC's reporting. "The Federal Government is understood to be on the verge of announcing a solution. It would allow a Tamil asylum seeker family detained for several years on Christmas Island to live freely in Australia. The ABC understands the Immigration Minister Alex Hawke has been considering intervening in the long running legal battle by issuing the Murugappan family with visas or by allowing them to apply for a range of visas.” Mark Dreyfus, do you think they are going to be allowed to live freely in Australia?
DREYFUS: I hope so. It's past time that the Morrison Government should have brought this sorry saga to an end and allowed the Murugappan family to live in Australia, come home to Biloela, which is what the Biloela community want. These two little girls were born in Australia. Neither they, nor their family, present any threat to our national security. It's absurd that it's dragged on for as long as it has.
EPSTEIN: The Federal Government doesn't say it's about national security though do they? They say it's about setting a bad precedent, that's the Government's argument.
DREYFUS: Many of the ministers have actually been talking about national security matters. And certainly, you're right, they've said it sets a bad precedent. I don't think it even does that. That's why we have ministerial discretion Raf. If this is about to be brought to an end, something we've been calling on for many, many months, I say that's a good thing.
EPSTEIN: Does Labor share some of the responsibility? You’ve got a pretty similar policy when it comes to people coming by boat. Both of the parents in this family came by boat, I think on separate boats. Part of this mess is Labor's doing isn't it?
DREYFUS: We adopted a policy of offshore processing. The Morrison Government has created a policy of indefinite offshore detention and that was never Labor's policy. I cannot imagine that a Labor Government would have spent millions and millions of dollars detaining a family in this manner. So, no, I don't accept that Labor created this situation.
EPSTEIN: You can't magically process them fast when you do it overseas. I mean, it takes however long it takes to work out whether or not you want someone to be a refugee here. Labor contributed by making it offshore didn't it?
DREYFUS: We did adopt a policy in 2013 but not in my worst nightmares, as someone that was a member of that cabinet in 2013, would I have thought that we would still, eight years later, have people like this family maintained in detention, with the two little girls born in Australia maintained in detention for a couple of years. Still less did I think that after eight years we would have hundreds of people still in detention whose fates remain unresolved because of the way in which this government has chosen to administer our immigration system. It's a choice, Raf, and they've made some very, very bad choices and they're continuing to make bad choices. They don't want to exercise the ministerial discretions that are available to them.
EPSTEIN: It's 25 minutes after five across Victoria on the ABC. Mark Dreyfus is with you, part of Anthony Albanese's Shadow Cabinet. Just a few issues if I can Mark Dreyfus before we get to some news headlines. Just on a press freedom issue - I don't know if you think it is a press freedom issue - there's a commentator/comedian called Friendlyjordies. His producer has been accused of stalking John Barilaro who is the Deputy Premier in New South Wales. The question I put to you - I don't know how much you know about this - but the producer is on bail and he can't comment, or talk about, or have anything to do with, any news or satire about the politician John Barilaro. Is that the sort of bail condition we should accept even if we don't like someone's journalism?
DREYFUS: I don't know anything about this. But I would say that's a very unusual bail condition Raf.
EPSTEIN: I think he's been hit with an AVO basically. The police have said 'you're stalking this guy' and AVOs have quite tough conditions. But he's also a journalist.
DREYFUS: I would have thought that the Deputy Premier of New South Wales is able to adequately defend himself against speech. And it might be one thing to say that the person who's on bail shouldn't approach the Deputy Premier of New South Wales, it's quite another to prevent him from saying anything publicly. But as I said, I don't know about this particular case.
EPSTEIN: The former Attorney-General, now has a different position, Christian Porter. He's settled his defamation argument with the ABC. Why on Earth does Labor want someone else to sift through the allegations again? If the ABC has settled this case against Christian Porter, if the police aren't investigating any further, why does Labor need another sort of inquiry?
DREYFUS: When a senior cabinet minister, who remains in Cabinet, is the subject of extremely serious misconduct allegations - and some journalists have described these allegations against Mr Porter as the most serious allegations ever made against a serving cabinet minister, I don't know whether that's right but they're certainly very serious - when that sort of allegation is made, they have to be investigated.
EPSTEIN: Why do they have to be? If they can't be proven why do they have to be investigated?
DREYFUS: So that you can determine the fitness for office of that cabinet minister. What we've had so far is no police investigation. And we had a Prime Minister who hid behind this private defamation action, actually saying in the Parliament, in answer to a demand that there be an investigation, 'no, no, this matter is going to be investigated in the defamation action that Mr. Porter is bringing'. That defamation action is now finished, Mr. Porter withdrew it and apparently we're all now meant to accept that there should never be any investigation.
EPSTEIN: But what can an investigation - I'm not saying you could or should not try to make a political point about this, it's just not at all clear to me - even if the best detective and the most eminent judge in the world were to examine something that Christian Porter is adamant never happened you're never going to determine anything except an intelligent person's consideration. How does that serve us?
DREYFUS: That might mean that Mr. Porter won't be charged with a very serious criminal offence but it doesn't mean that you shouldn't attempt to investigate the fitness for office on a continuing basis of a senior cabinet minister. If it's good enough, Raf, for the Chief Justice of the High Court to commission an eminent, independent person to investigate allegations of sexual misconduct against a former High Court judge…
EPSTEIN: There was a systemic issue to be addressed there. Wasn't that different?
DREYFUS: There were actual allegations brought by actual people who were the subject of the misconduct by that former High Court Judge. Six of them. And it's pretty serious allegations. The Chief Justice of the High Court didn't say 'oh we won't be investigating that because Dyson Heydon, the former High Court Judge won't ever be charged with any offence and there can't now be an allegation of sexual harassment because he's left and the work situation is finished'. She didn't say that at all. She said it's important that matters like this be investigated. And I say that Mr Morrison should seek to uphold proper standards in his own ministry. He's never done that all the time he's been Prime Minister.
EPSTEIN: All you'd do is disagree with any finding that says he can stay around.
DREYFUS: But at least the Australian public would know that there had been some attempt to investigate some actual examination of these very serious allegations that were made. Instead, all we've got, as usual from Mr Morrison is waving it away, pretending that that matter has been dealt with. That's one of his favourite phrases, he often says that even when it hasn't been dealt with at all. We're in that situation again, Raf, sadly, where very serious allegations have been made against a senior cabinet minister. They haven't been investigated. There's clearly a whole lot more that could be investigated and we see that from some of the reporting of what would have been the subject of the defamation file. But that's never to occur now because Mr Porter ran away from it.
EPSTEIN: I do need to get some news headlines and this is not a criticism, this is a genuine question. We've seen the state opposition here really struggle in the middle of a pandemic to break through and even to get some significant name recognition from Michael O'Brien, who is the State Opposition Leader. Do you think Anthony Albanese is actually getting heard by anybody in the middle of COVID and everything else that is going on? Are any of his messages landing or people are too distracted by everything else that's going on?
DREYFUS: Absolutely. But I agree with you it is very, very difficult in the middle of a pandemic. It's unprecedented and no one can remember having to deal with this. But certainly, the message that Anthony Albanese has been delivering about the appalling vaccination rollout that Mr Morrison is responsible for, and the failure to build proper quarantine facilities which Mr Morrison is also responsible for, those messages are very much getting through. And that's because Anthony Albanese has been very, very clear on those matters.
EPSTEIN: Appreciate your time Mark Dreyfus. Thank you.
DREYFUS: Thanks very much.