SHADOW MINISTER FOR CONSTITUTIONAL REFORM
MEMBER FOR ISAACS
ABC RADIO DARWIN LATE BREAKFAST
MONDAY, 11 OCTOBER 2021
SUBJECTS: National Anti-Corruption Commission; Territory rights.
ADAM STEER: Some of the biggest news stories this year, both locally and interstate, have come about due to investigations by anti-corruption watchdogs. Of course, the latest coming in New South Wales where its ICAC claimed just about the biggest scalp it could, the former New South Wales Premier Gladys Berejiklian who is currently under investigation. Every jurisdiction in Australia has an ICAC equivalent body apart from the Commonwealth, but that may not be the case for much longer because the Federal Government is looking to put its ICAC legislation through Parliament very soon. However, the Morrison Government's model would mean the Federal ICAC wouldn't hold public hearings, act on anonymous tips or issue public reports, and would apply a relatively low threshold of what is labeled corrupt. The draft plan has been dismissed as too weak by former judges, constitutional lawyers and barristers who spent years prosecuting corrupt politicians. So, with this looming as an election issue, we know what the Coalition's looks like, what does the ALP's model look like? Mark Dreyfus is the Shadow Attorney-General. Welcome to ABC Radio Darwin. You're holding a virtual Town Hall meeting in Darwin today about the Opposition's plans. Let's start with the Federal Government's ICAC model, how would you describe it?
MARK DREYFUS, SHADOW ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Good morning Adam, good morning Jo. Great to be with you. Very weak. The Centre for Public Integrity has described the model that Mr Morrison's put forward as the weakest watchdog in the country if they legislate it in that form, and that's true. We've got the advantage that the states and territories have all had anti-corruption commissions for some years now, the Northern Territory for some years. And it gives, actually, to the Commonwealth, the advantage of making sure we pick the best features of anti-corruption commissions, Mr. Morrison seems to have picked the worst features. He's got a commission he's proposing that, as you said in your introduction, wouldn't really be able to investigate much at all, wouldn't hold public hearings, wouldn't be able to act on complaints from the public. There's a long list of its deficiencies.
STEER: The Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, in the wake of Gladys Berejiklian stepping down, said that if they were to introduce an ICAC model it wouldn't be anything like the New South Wales model which has taken down three New South Wales Premiers. What parts of the New South Wales model would you say it would be good to put into the federal model?
DREYFUS: We don't actually know what, as usual, Mr Morrison is really saying. It's just words coming out of his mouth. He also, nonsensically, said that there needed to be a presumption of innocence. Of course there's a presumption of innocence. There's a presumption of innocence in our criminal justice system, there's a presumption of innocence in all of these anti-corruption commissions. He hasn't actually said which parts of the New South Wales ICAC model he wouldn't use, and looking at it, I think we absolutely have to have public hearings. That's what the New South Wales ICAC does, because that's what the Northern Territory anti-corruption commission does and it should be an essential element.
STEER: Okay, so Labor's ICAC model would involve public hearings, would also involve public reports?
DREYFUS: Yes. Again, the public needs to know what these anti-corruption commissions do. The public needs to know that they're going about their work in a proper way. The public needs to see that when a complaint is made that it will be investigated. We're not for a moment saying that every part of these anti-corruption commissions' work has to be done in public, that couldn't work either. But it has to have the discretion to hold some public hearings, there has to be a degree of transparency about the way this anti-corruption activity takes place. Mr. Morrison seems to think it can all be done in secret. That just wouldn't work.
STEER: What would Labor's model mean? Would Labor's model mean the ICAC would be able to act on anonymous tips?
DREYFUS: Yes. And it should be able to. It's a really important feature of anti-corruption commissions that it should be able to get an allegation from whatever source and then investigate, and then decide whether to investigate further. Just to look at the numbers, the New South Wales ICAC has for the last decade or so received well over 2000 complaints every year but it's only ended up holding a full investigation into something around 10 of all of those 1thousands of complaints and that's because it puts a lot of work into deciding whether or not it is going to conduct a full inquiry. That's as it should be.
JO LAVERTY: This is ABC Radio Darwin. You're with Adam Steer and Jo Laverty. It's just after twenty to nine. Mark Dreyfus is the Federal Shadow Attorney-General. In your view, Mr Dreyfus, is there corruption in the Federal Parliament that could be uncovered by a federal ICAC?
DREYFUS: I wish I could say that there isn't any corruption, but I don't think anyone can say that, and we've at the moment, got no means of finding out. We've got a government, Mr Morrison's Government, potentially indifferent to corruption. You've only got to look at the way they've responded to the scandal of Sports Rorts, saw the scandal of the Car Park Rorts, saw Mr Morrison's own reactions to one of his senior ministers who he recently promoted again, being involved in the use of forged documents in his own office. Nothing gets investigated under this government and sadly I think it's probable that there is corruption in the Federal Government.
LAVERTY: Is there anything that you know of that you think, if there was a federal ICAC, I'd be there with this story?
DREYFUS: I know that we should have had a proper investigation into Sports Rorts. I know that we should have had, but didn't get, a proper investigation into the Car Park Rorts. I know that there should be a way to find out who gave possibly up to a million dollars in secret donations to the former Attorney-General, Christian Porter.
LAVERTY: And would this go back further than, would you like to see investigations, say, even when the Labor Party was in power? Would it go back?
DREYFUS: Absolutely. We're not setting up a body here to look only at one side of politics. We're setting up an anti-corruption commission, at the national level, that just like the state and territory commissions, will look at all senior public servants, all MPs, all ministers, and it won't matter to the anti-corruption commission which party, any of those MPs or ministers come from. It will be looking at the allegations it receives and I think if you look at the history of anti-corruption commissions now, for some decades in the states and territories, you can see that these anti-corruption commissions don't concern themselves with whether an MP or a minister was Labor or Liberal.
LAVERTY: At the federal level we've already got royal commissions and, as we've been saying already, that every jurisdiction has its own version of ICAC, so isn't this just another layer of bureaucracy which will just muddy the water on some of the work that those other bodies are doing?
DREYFUS: Not at all. The state anti-corruption commissions and the territory anti-corruption commissions can investigate state and territory governments. They can't investigate any misconduct or corruption that is occurring in the Federal Government or concerning a Federal MP. That's just a constitutional separation that we've got. So, in no sense would it be a duplication of the state and territory anti-corruption commissions. We absolutely need it at the federal level. Mr. Morrison promised this nearly three years ago and said that he do it after the 2019 election. Well, we're almost at the next election and we have not seen legislation introduced to the Parliament. It's long past time that we got on with this.
LAVERTY: Just finally before we let you go Mark Dreyfus, we'll move on to the private member's bill that Senator Sam McMahon has before Parliament which is aiming to restore the Northern Territory Parliament's right to vote on its own euthanasia laws. Will you support that?
DREYFUS: We do support territory rights and that's been Labor's long-held position. This bill, unfortunately, is a lot more complicated. It's got other provisions, it leaves out the Australian Capital Territory, which also suffered from the Howard Government legislation, taking away territory rights. It's got other provisions about the Fair Work Act, and another curious provision that would take away Territorians' property rights. It would mean that the Territory Government could take away compulsorily acquired property of Territorians without compensation so for all those complications which Senator McMahon has never really explained, I don't think we'll be supporting this bill. But Territorians should be in absolutely no doubt that Labor supports Territory rights. Labor supports the rights of Territorians to be self-governing, which was the promise made with the self-government act back in 1979.
LAVERTY: Can you just elaborate a little bit on some of those details that you said? Senator McMahon hasn't really been very open about so the property confiscation.
DREYFUS: There’s a provision in this bill that says that the Territory Government, as best as I can understand the bill, that the Territory Government should be able to take away the property of Territorians without compensation, and that's not the position the Commonwealth has. There's a constitutional guarantee that the Commonwealth has to acquire property from citizens only on just terms. Now, why Senator McMahon is introducing a bill with this provision in it I'm going to leave it to her to explain. She hasn't in the speeches that she's given in the Parliament so far and it's not something that we can support.
LAVERTY: And what was the other provision that you weren't supportive of?
DREYFUS: There's a complex provision that would amend the Fair Work Act in respect of some workplaces in the Northern Territory, and I'm not going to attempt to explain that.
STEER: I think that's just keeping up with the changes to some of the Fair Work Act which aren't allowed under our Territory legislation at the moment. The information that we've got on the properties, the Territory Parliament's pertaining to the acquisition of property on just terms, that doesn't sound like, "not just terms" which is not paying for a property which is compulsory acquired, but I think we'll speak to Sam McMahon on that and get her to explain it.
DREYFUS: When you're talking to her, ask her why she's left out the Australian Capital Territory?
STEER: She's left out that, we've explained that before, she's left out the Australian Capital Territory because they wouldn't sign up to the bill, basically, and so she went, we're going to go and do it on our own. Are there some on the right flank of your party who will vote against it - the likes of Tony Burke - a euthanasia bill, a right to die legislation?
DREYFUS: If the bill is about assisted dying or euthanasia that's likely to be a conscience vote and that's a position that Labor has had for many years.
STEER: So you will go to the federal election saying that you will reinstate the Northern Territory's right to choose whether they introduce legislation like euthanasia bills?
DREYFUS: Well it's a long-held position that Labor supports the rights of Territorians to be self-governing.
STEER: Mark Dreyfus good to talk to you this morning. Thank you.
DREYFUS: Thank you very much.