SHADOW MINISTER FOR CONSTITUTIONAL REFORM
MEMBER FOR ISAACS
ABC MELBOURNE VIRGINIA TRIOLI
TUESDAY, 5 OCTOBER 2021
SUBJECTS: National Anti-Corruption Commission; Vaccinations for MPs.
VIRGINIA TRIOLI: For many reasons you might be looking forward to the next federal poll, most likely in March next year. That's what we're hearing and what a couple of people I know on the inside are telling me, so you can almost set your watch by that. It does look like that the issue of establishing a federal ICAC might become, for you, a key federal election issue as well and that's quite a good issue to have a big discussion about. As I mentioned I wanted to speak to the Federal Attorney-General about the legislation that's being prepared for Parliament right now on a federal ICAC, that's the phrase that we'll use. Michaelia Cash seems to be unavailable this morning. Mark Dreyfus joins us now. Shadow Federal Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus, Good morning.
MARK DREYFUS, SHADOW ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Good morning, Virginia.
TRIOLI: It's good to have you on board. The issue for you, for Labor, seems to be three particular matters that you want the federal government to consider, or to change in relation to the legislation they're drawing up right now, and there's going to be a big dispute between the two sides over retrospectivity. How exactly do you want an ICAC to be made retrospective?
DREYFUS: Well, it has to be able to look into the past.
TRIOLI: How far into the past, though?
DREYFUS: It's going to be a matter for the commission itself to determine. Is it going to be in the public interest for a matter to be looked at? Obviously, the focus of the anti-corruption commission has to be the integrity of government in Australia now and the further back in time you go the less likely it is that it's going to be in the public interest for the commission to spend the time investigating. But it's about the independence of the commission here Virginia.
TRIOLI: So, what you're saying is someone could now, or once the legislation was in place, if they went to ICAC to make a complaint or to draw ICAC's attention to something, it could be a matter that occurred five to 10 years ago?
DREYFUS: Yes. But clearly, if someone came along and said that 25 or 30 years ago they are aware of some corruption that they wanted the commission to look at, and all of the people have gone, some of them have died, witnesses aren't available, and it's got very little relevance to anything happening in Australia today, you could imagine that the commission would determine it wouldn't go further with an investigation into a matter from long ago,
TRIOLI: So you wouldn't put a time frame around it? You would not say, or do you have in mind Mark Dreyfus, a time frame? Only five years, only 10 years, only 15 years?
DREYFUS: I think it's a matter to leave to the Commission. It will have to determine a whole range of public interest questions before it goes on with particular investigations. We think it should be investigating serious and systemic corruption in Australian government. We think it should be able to receive complaints from any source, to be able to receive referrals from any source. It shouldn't be limited. It should be broadly based and if it determines that there's a matter of serious and systemic corruption it's got to have the powers to go on and investigate. The model that the Government's putting forward is much too limited. It wouldn't be independent. It wouldn't be powerful enough. It wouldn't have enough scope and, apparently, they actually don't want to do a commission at all, Virginia. They've had three years to do this, and they haven't done it.
TRIOLI: Well let's wait till we see the legislation and we can see what that looks like, whether it seems to be a serious attempt or not. When it comes to the three elements of the initial proposal that you want to see change, you mentioned in passing there that anyone could make a referral, and that there be different scrutiny thresholds between police and members of government and senior public servants. Do you know why the Federal Government doesn't like the idea of making the commission retrospective?
DREYFUS: I think that the previous Attorney-General, Christian Porter, got tangled up in an idea that he wanted to limit the powers of the commission to look at matters that were going to be within a newly created criminal offence of official corruption, which is part of the Government's model. And it shows the confusion in Mr Morrison, and the former Attorney General Mr Porter, they seem to somehow think that the standard of conduct for federal ministers is, 'have you been convicted of a criminal offence'. That's never been the standard in Australia. We've got a much higher standard for ministers and Australian governments and that's why Mr Porter got tangled up in that idea that it would look at the newly created offence of official corruption. I don't know, but it's the wrong approach. It's much too limited. We're trying to fill a gap here. We've got a number of integrity bodies already at the federal level, but there's clearly a gap. There needs to be an independent body that can look at serious and systemic corruption. Labor is absolutely determined that if we are elected at the next election, we will create one.
TRIOLI: All right, Well we're expecting to see that legislation, most likely introduced in the final sitting fortnight of the year.
DREYFUS: Sadly, I've just heard the Assistant Minister on ABC RN a few minutes ago refused to commit to introducing a bill. I just don't think this government is serious. Three years ago Mr Morrison promised it. It hasn't happened. They've claimed to be working on it for four years.
TRIOLI: That's interesting. Before I let you go I do want to ask you though, what do you think of Federal MPs being required to have a mandatory vaccination for COVID-19? Are you in support of that?
DREYFUS: Yes. Political leaders are requiring frontline workers to be vaccinated and political leaders should be vaccinated to.
TRIOLI: Okay, I'm being told on the text line "Please listen Virginia. He's a QC, you're not".
DREYFUS: (Laughs) Everybody, every Australian, has got an interest in this matter. It's not just for QCs, I can tell you, Virginia.
TRIOLI: Well, I live by the motto from Alice in Wonderland "a cat can look at a king".
TRIOLI: Good to talk to you Mark. Thanks so much.