SHADOW MINISTER FOR CONSTITUTIONAL REFORM
MEMBER FOR ISAACS
ABC RN DRIVE
MONDAY, 4 APRIL 2022
SUBJECTS: AAT Liberal mates jobs; ABCC; Dyson Heydon settlement.
ANDY PARK: Well, it's that magical twilight right before an election is called where, let's say magical things can happen, especially if you're a friend of the government. The Federal Attorney-General has appointed at least six people with Liberal Party connections to government roles with annual salaries of up to $490,000. Nice work if you can get it. Former Liberal MPs, staff members and party donors are among those appointed to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal in what Labor is branding a jobs for mates exercise. More than 85 former Liberal MPs, staffers and candidates have been appointed to the body since the government took office. By comparison, Labor appointed two in its six years. Mark Dreyfus is the Shadow Attorney-General. Welcome to
PARK: (question not broadcast)
DREYFUS: Well, we will establish a National Anti-Corruption Commission as quickly as we can. It's not something you can establish overnight. Obviously, there needs to be legislation passed by both Houses of Parliament. Then we've got to advertise for staff and appoint staff. Happily, there are eight existing anti-corruption commission. Every state and territory has an anti-corruption commission that gives us potentially a pool of experienced investigators, people with anti-corruption commission experience from which to recruit. And of course, we'd probably be looking to appoint former police officers who have experience in investigations, as well as experienced lawyers. So you can't do that overnight. But I am confident that a lot of work has already been done on what the model looks like. There's already been a lot of debate at the national level about what the national anti-corruption commission should look like. I'm confident we can get this done in the first term.
PARK: You took the government to task last week for cutting funding for staff for their proposed commission, how much money is Labor committing for the creation or operation of this body?
DREYFUS: We think that this is something that can be done - and the government itself two budgets ago, set aside some money for the establishment something in the order of $100 million for establishment in the first two years of operation. And we think that that figure is about right. And just to give that some context, in this current financial year, the government of Australia is going to spend about $580 billion, about $60 million an hour. The idea that you would be spending say $50 million a year on a national anti-corruption commission we think is really value for money.
PARK: Turning to those Administrative Appeals Tribunal appointments, former West Australian MLC Michael Mischin has been appointed Deputy President. While he was a Liberal MP he is also a barrister. Aren't those skills an asset?
DREYFUS: The problem with this is that we've got a Liberal Government at it again, just days out from an election. The qualification for appointment has to be more than just being a former Liberal Member of Parliament or a former Liberal staffer or a failed Liberal candidate. We're now up to more than 85 of their mates being appointed by the Liberals since 2013.
PARK: So are you saying that party affiliation automatically should disqualify somebody?
DREYFUS: No, I'm not. I'm saying it shouldn't be the only qualification and unless you've got a transparent, merits-based appointment process, you can't but affect the confidence that Australians can have in this very important government tribunal that determines disputes between citizens and the government. It determines migration disputes. It determines things like Robodebt, debts owed to the Commonwealth. It determines all manner of and reviews all manner of government decisions. It's really important that Australians feel confident that the people who make up the Administrative Appeals Tribunal are independent, that they have got the appropriate skills. And if the skill set seems to be 'were you connected to the Liberal Party?' that's not what you need to build confidence in this tribe.
PARK: Yet in fairness, Labor didn't support an amendment from South Australian independent Senator Rex Patrick to amend the courts and tribunal bill to make it illegal to appoint members who are not lawyers. Why not?
DREYFUS: Because that's not the only qualification. This is merits review. It's not a court. It's actually part of the government or part of the executive of the Australian Government and very often what's required is not legal skills, because no point of law comes up, but knowledge of the particular subject matter of the area. In the case of say determining whether a debt is owed by someone who's received a government benefit, which is what the Robodebt scheme was about that wasn't something that necessarily required legal skills any more than determining whether someone should have refugee status is something that requires legal skills. It's someone that is experienced in government administration, experienced at looking at facts and potentially because some of the areas of the AAT are quite specialised specialist knowledge. So we didn't support the idea that only lawyers should be appointed to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal. But it's got to be people who are appointed on merit. It's got to be people who are better than just mates of the Liberal government.
PARK: On RN Drive with Andy Park. Shadow Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus is here. Just moving to the Master Builders Association. Their campaign today is calling out Labor's plan to abolish the Australian Building and Construction Commission if it's elected. Construction, of course, is the fourth largest employer in the country. It's an important vote. How damaging could this be for Labor?
DREYFUS: Well, the Australian Building and Construction Commission, there's never been anything other than a witch hunt, which has, as far as I can see, done no good whatsoever for the construction industry or any other part of Australian life. It's something that the Liberal Government decided to do. It's pursuing political ideologically-driven vendettas. It's got nothing to do with a properly regulated construction industry.
PARK: Is Labor committed to abolishing the ABCC? And if, if not, is there any kind of wriggle room for the Master Builders Association to suggest alternatives?
DREYFUS: Well, the Master Builders Association are equally pursuing an ideological position. And I just don't think that that's the appropriate response. We've got a Fair Work Act. You don't need to have, on top of that, an additional body called the Australian Building and Construction Commission.
PARK: The Master Builders Association is also called out both the major parties for not doing enough for small business. In fact, those very words only passed Anthony Albanese's mouth once during the Budget reply last week. Have small business owners has been being forgotten by Labor in this campaign?
DREYFUS: Absolutely not. We are committed to doing more for the working people of this country and to doing more for small businesses in this country, building a prosperous economy. These criticisms that are based on what was, or what wasn't in a half hour speech, in no sense is the Budget Reply Speech that traditionally the Opposition Leader delivers two days after the Budget intended to be a comprehensive policy statement. Most often, it'll be exactly like the excellent Budget reply speech that Anthony Albanese delivered last Thursday night, which was a statement of intent, a statement of direction and focused on a very particular policy area, namely, the need to do more about the shocking state of aged care in our country. Something that we've had a Royal Commission report into, multiple recommendations which the Government has simply not acted on. We need to do more. And that's the point of, that was the main focus of Anthony Albanese speech. So I think, parsing the speech and saying it only had six references to climate change, or it only had seven references to that or only had six references to this I don't think that gets anyone anywhere. It misunderstands the nature of the Budget reply speech to do that.
PARK: Just lastly, Senate estimates heard that the non-disclosure obligation in relation to the confidentiality agreement of the sum for alleged victims of sexual assault at the hands of Dyson Heydon was at the request of the government. You said that taxpayers should know the cost of that. What does this show about, I suppose, secrecy and what kind of order would that sum have been in?
DREYFUS: This is an extraordinarily secretive government. All I can say is that I understand it to events substantial sums of money paid to the former staff at the High Court who were sexually harassed by Justice Dyson Heydon when he was a judge at the court. This was disgraceful conduct. It was the subject, absolutely appropriately of an investigative report commissioned by the current Chief Justice, Justice Kiefel. The report that she made public found that some six former staff of the court were sexually harassed by Justice Heydon. A compensation settlement has been reached with three of those six and not at their request, but because the government wanted it, the amount in question that has been paid to them is not to be disclosed. Now this is just more of the same from a government that has not understood the issues of sexual harassment, has not understood a whole range of issues concerning women. And in particular, we had a [email protected] Report done by the Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins, which said that the question of non-disclosure agreements needs to focus absolutely on the position of victims survivors, it's their choice. It's their lives that matter. It's their future lives that matter. And said in the report - and it appears that Senator Cash, the Attorney-General and Mr Morrison haven't understood this, and certainly they haven't acted on it - it appears that they haven't understood that non-disclosure agreements often harm the future lives of victims survivors. It's imperative that they should be allowed to choose whether or not a settlement sum is to be kept confidential. The Government has not explained why it wanted the settlement some kept confidential, and it appears that it has ignored the wishes of the victims about the three women who suffered at the hands of justice Heydon.
HOST: Appreciate your time tonight. Thank you.
DREYFUS: Thanks very much Andy.