SHADOW MINISTER FOR CONSTITUTIONAL REFORM
MEMBER FOR ISAACS
ABC RADIO NATIONAL BREAKFAST
TUESDAY, 1 JUNE 2021
SUBJECTS: Christian Porter abandoning defamation action against the ABC; Covid-19 outbreak; Government’s failure on Aged Care.
FRAN KELLY, HOST: Mark Dreyfus is Shadow Attorney-General, he joins me in the Parliament House Studio. Mr Dreyfus, welcome back to Breakfast.
MARK DREYFUS, SHADOW ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Good morning Fran.
KELLY: Christian Porter is claiming victory after discontinuing the defamation action against the ABC. This matter therefore will no longer go before the Federal Court. Why then does Labor think an independent inquiry is warranted into this historical rape allegation, which Christian Porter so strenuously denied?
DREYFUS: We're back where we were on the 15th of March when Mr. Porter decided to sue the ABC. He's now abandoned his claim against the ABC and there has been no concluded investigation. The Australian Federal Police hasn't investigated this matter, the New South Wales Police weren't able to conclude their investigation, the Federal Government has never investigated this matter - Mr. Morrison didn't even bother to read the document that was sent to him. We've got the most serious allegations having been made against a serving cabinet minister. We need to determine - and this is the purpose of an independent investigation - we need to determine whether or not Mr. Porter is fit to continue to serve as a cabinet minister.
KELLY: Well, let's go to that, the need to determine. I mean, you said it yourself, the New South Wales Police have chosen not to pursue the case after the death of the woman at the centre of the allegation. The ABC has said, we know now in this public note, it's never contended that the "serious accusations could be substantiated to the applicable legal standard criminal or civil". Isn't that going to be an insurmountable hurdle for any inquiry? Guilt or innocence could never be proven so what's the point?
DREYFUS: There hasn't been an investigation Fran. And if it's good enough for the High Court of Australia to commission an eminent Australian to inquire into the alleged misconduct of a serving High Court former High Court Judge years after the event that shows you that having an investigation isn't, to repeat the nonsense that Mr. Morrison was going on with earlier this year, something against the rule of law. It's entirely consistent with rule of law. The fitness for office of a cabinet minister is a hugely important matter. We need an independent investigation. I say again if it's good enough for the High Court of Australia it ought to be good enough for this Federal Government.
KELLY: We've spoken before about that analogy and the difference, there are major differences with the High Court investigation of Dyson Heydon. It was very much a workplace matter and he's still alive so there is a different situation. Christian Porter had indicated during the defamation process he was willing to take the stand and be cross-examined in court. That now will not happen because the defamation is no longer going to proceed. What opportunity would he have to defend himself before an independent inquiry? What guarantees would he have of procedural fairness?
DREYFUS: He'll be offered procedural fairness in an independent inquiry. We have independent inquiries of all kinds all the time. Mr. Morrison was claiming, ridiculously, in Parliament back in March that the defamation proceeding was going to provide the forum within which the allegations against Mr. Porter would be tested. That's not now going to happen so that excuse, one of many that Mr. Morrison has used here, isn't available to him. Mr. Morrison saying this morning "that matter's been dealt with" that is a nonsense. The matter has not been dealt with. We are still waiting for the matter to be investigated. And of course, Mr. Porter can be given procedural fairness. Of course, this matter, the investigation, can be conducted in private. But it ought to be independent. It ought not to be someone that's handpicked by Mr. Morrison from his own team. That's another favourite trick of our tricky Prime Minister where he gets someone on his own staff to investigate something. That's not what's required here we need an eminent Australian to be brought in to investigate to the extent possible.
KELLY: "To the extent possible" remains the question mark over this. That's the point we always get to in these interviews. Christian Porter's lawyers had filed an application to have major parts of the ABC defence struck out on the basis that it was scandalous, or an abuse of the process of the court. They want it permanently removed from the court files. A number of other media organisations including Nine and News Corp are going to challenge the non-publication order today in the court as I understand it. Should that material be available to be considered by an inquiry or will this defamation result, the discontinuance, mean the ABC can't release it?
DREYFUS: Of course it should be available. It should be available publicly. Let's think about what's happened here. Mr. Porter and Mr. Morrison relied on this defamation proceeding. Mr. Porter challenge the ABC to plead truth and to go into the witness box and give evidence on oath. The ABC accepted that challenge. They didn't choose to be sued, Mr. Porter sued them. They then pleaded truth and what is his response? Not to let them go into the witness box, abandon the case and try to suppress the defence that the ABC, our public broadcaster, has filed in the Court. He wants it suppressed permanently. I find the whole of this incredible Fran, and it remains the case that the matter hasn't been investigated. So if the ABC's done investigations, if the ABC's gone into print and put it in the court as a very formal court document saying this is the defence we rely on, then of course that should be available to an independent investigator. And I'd argue that the public funds, the very large amount of public funds that have already been spent here in defending this case brought by Mr. Porter, we ought to see what was produced by that investigation.
KELLY: And should any calls for an independent inquiry, should they be postponed until, for instance, a South Australian Coroner, who we know is considering the coronial inquest into the suicide of the woman who levelled the allegation, until that is either held or abandoned? Christian Porter denies the allegation. Do you have any understanding of where the South Australian coronial process is at?
DREYFUS: No, I don't know where the South Australian process is at. It may well be that no inquiry is ever conducted, certainly no hearing is ever conducted by the South Australian Coroner, but nothing further is known about that. And in any event, even if the South Australian Coroner inquires into the matter he or she would be looking at, which is the cause of death of the complainant against Christian Porter, that doesn't necessarily mean that these allegations, going as they do to Mr Porter's fitness for office, would necessarily be examined by the South Australian Coroner. So this is squarely for Mr. Morrison to deal with. He can't simply let this drift away or hope that it drifts away. He can't pretend, untruthfully, that the matter has been dealt with. It hasn't been dealt with. We're back where we were in early March before the court case that's now been abandoned was commenced by Mr. Porter. There needs to be an independent investigation.
KELLY: But you can't pretend either that Labor is not keeping up this to maximise the political pressure on the Morrison Government? I mean, the only template that comes close to this in terms of the federal political arena is that Bill Shorten was allowed to move on from a rape allegation levelled against him - again another historical allegation which he denied - levelled against him back in 2014.
DREYFUS: Where the complainant is still alive, where the police interviewed absolutely everybody connected with the events in question, where Mr Shorten was interviewed on a number of occasions, and the complainant was interviewed, and the police decided not to go forward with that matter. That is a very, very different situation than the present situation. We are in the position that the fitness for office of a federal cabinet minister is under question. I appreciate that under Mr Morrison's rule standards have dropped to the point where they are barely recognisable, but we are determined that there be standards. We are determined that there should be a standard or fitness for office of cabinet ministers and if very serious allegations are made against a serving cabinet minister they can't simply be waved away with a wave of the hand which is what Mr. Morrison is trying to do here.
KELLY: Can I just ask you finally and briefly on another matter, Mark Dreyfus, you're a Melbourne MP, your home takes in the south-eastern suburbs, you're home on the weekend, do you see the seven day lockdown lifting on Thursday? Are all the signs pointing to an extension?
DREYFUS: On behalf of everybody living in Melbourne I absolutely hope that the lockdown does come to an end, but it is all very worrying. Particularly it's worrying that we now have an outbreak, we now have spread into an aged care facility. An aged care facility in my own electorate saw 17 people die last year. We've still got people in my electorate in aged care facilities unvaccinated.
KELLY: Unvaccinated by choice or unvaccinated because they refused vaccination?
DREYFUS: Unvaccinated because it hasn't happened yet as I am told.
KELLY: The Government says there's only six in Victoria that have not been vaccinated, only six homes still.
DREYFUS: Well, that's not what I'm being told and as well aged care staff in an undetermined number - the federal government doesn't even know - aged care staff remain unvaccinated. That is unforgivable given what happened in Melbourne last year.
KELLY: Mark Dreyfus thanks very much for joining us.
DREYFUS: Thanks Fran