SHADOW MINISTER FOR CONSTITUTIONAL REFORM
MEMBER FOR ISAACS
ABC RADIO NATIONAL DRIVE
THURSDAY, 25 NOVEMBER 2021
SUBJECTS: National Anti-Corruption Commission; Religious Discrimination Bill.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: Mark Dreyfus is the Shadow Attorney-General and he joins us on Drive. Welcome back.
MARK DREYFUS, SHADOW ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Hello, Patricia. Good to be with you.
KARVELAS: Labor voted in favour of debating the federal integrity commission bill. Despite securing the most votes on the floor it was defeated on a technicality. How strong a message does it send about support for this conversation and a commission?
DREYFUS: I think there's an overwhelming desire on the part of a large majority of Australians to see a National Anti-Corruption Commission introduced and it should have happened long ago. The Prime Minister stood up with his former Attorney-General Christian Porter on the 13th of December 2018, months before the last election, and promised to create a National Anti-Corruption Commission and it's not happened and he's trying to blame Labor, extraordinarily, for his own failure to do this.
KARVELAS: Labor's accused the Prime Minister of losing control of his Government with Tasmanian Liberal MP Bridget Archer crossing the floor to bring on the debate. Is it fair to say the Prime Minister has broken his promise? Because I suppose it was meant to happen in this term. It could still happen, could it not? It's not broken yet?
DREYFUS: The Government hasn't introduced legislation to the Parliament. At the last Senate Estimates the officials of the Attorney-General said that we would not see an anti-corruption commission established before the next election. So, no, it won't happen before the next election and he has broken this promise, and it's disgraceful. It is really disgraceful Patricia to see a Prime Minister, a failing Prime Minister flailing around, blaming others, and on this occasion blaming Labor for his own failure to create a National Anti-Corruption Commission. I haven't seen Mr Morrison blaming Labor for anything else that he wants to do. This is something he doesn't want to do. And I haven't noticed him not bringing legislation to the Parliament when Labor disagree. We've disagreed with Mr Morrison on a whole range of things but he has barged ahead. On this one he is just looking for excuses, something we've become all too familiar with from Mr Morrison.
KARVELAS: Mr Morrison told Question Time Labor doesn't support the legislation and would rather support a New South Wales ICAC-style body which he likened to a kangaroo court and he accused it of doing over former New South Wales Premier Gladys Berejiklian. How do you respond to those claims that that model is problematic and the Prime Minister obviously pointing to Gladys Berejiklian as a popular figure that was brought down?
DREYFUS: I find it deeply disturbing, Patricia, to see the Prime Minister lashing out at the New South Wales Independent Commission Against Corruption. The inquiry into the former Premier is chaired by a judge, a former judge of almost 20 years standing. A very eminent and respected judge by the name of Ruth McColl and, for Mr Morrison to lash out in this way is beneath the standards that I think most Australians expect of their Prime Minister. What we need is a Prime Minister who respects agencies like the Anti-Corruption Commission in New South Wales. We need a Prime Minister who's not going to prejudge the outcome of an inquiry. And in particular we need a Prime Minister who's not going to malign the New South Wales ICAC as a kangaroo court or dismiss a very serious inquiry into potentially corrupt activity by the former Premier as an inquiry into who she had as her boyfriend, which was pretty much the phrase he used. This is not conduct fitting for a Prime Minister and it shows that he's not prepared to take this issue of integrity and anti-corruption seriously.
KARVELAS: Has the current or the former Attorney-General ever met with you to discuss their model for a Commonwealth Integrity Commission?
DREYFUS: No. And in fact, I saw Senator Ruston on your TV show earlier today claiming that there had been extensive discussions between Labor and the Government about the National Anti-Corruption Commission. Sadly, no such discussions have taken place and the Government has ignored every single criticism that has been made, not just by Labor but by very eminent retired judges, by integrity experts around the country who have said that the model that the Government put forward in its discussion paper and then an exposure draft of legislation simply wasn't adequate. Now, unless the Government is prepared to listen to the almost universal condemnation of its model we're not going to get anywhere. But sadly they have not reached out to Labor at all so I don't know what Senator Ruston was talking about. It's absurd for the Prime Minister to be blaming Labor for his own failure on this. We've got the advantage in Australia now - because the Commonwealth is the last Australian jurisdiction to get an anti-corruption commission - we've got the advantage that we can look at the eight already existing anti-corruption commissions in the six states and the two territories. We can pick the best features of each of those commissions and I am very confident that we can get this right. I'm equally sure that Mr Morrison hasn't got it right yet and in fact, he hasn't done anything yet.
KARVELAS: Some moderate Liberals, including Trent Zimmerman, want to see immediate changes to the Sex Discrimination Act to ensure protections for LGBTIQA students. Is that a move you support?
DREYFUS: This is another broken promise by Mr Morrison. At the Wentworth by-election, a month after he became Prime Minister in 2018 - so we're talking about October 2018 - Mr Morrison promised to remove the exemption that's currently in the Sex Discrimination Act that would permit a religious school to expel a gay student. And here we are, more than three years after that promise was made and an election's gone by and Mr Morrison is somehow saying to Australia that matter, even though it's directly connected to the Religious Discrimination Bill that's been brought into the Parliament this morning, that matter has to wait. It could wait for another two years on the timetable that Mr. Morrison seems to have in mind because he's given a reference to the Law Reform Commission to look at this, but not until a year after the Religious Discrimination Bill has passed, if indeed it passes, and we don't know when that will be. Now, that's not a really acceptable approach. And that's why Mr. Zimmerman, the Liberal Member for North Sydney and a number of other Liberal backbenchers have said, they think that now is an appropriate time to deal with this outstanding promise that Mr Morrison made back in October 2018 and I agree with them. I think that we can go forward with this and it is a good time to look at it. And it's for that reason that we want to make sure that we have a very long look at this Religious Discrimination Bill. That's why we've called today for a Joint Select Committee of the Parliament to be established, so that both our Members from both Houses - Senators and Members from the House of Representatives - can participate in a public inquiry so that the public can be given an opportunity to look at the very complex provisions of this bill. There's no doubt Patricia about the core of the bill. Labor absolutely agrees with the Government, and I think with almost every other Australian, that there ought to be protection for religion. That there ought not be in Australia any discrimination against people on the grounds of their religion. So there's agreement on the core of the bill but we need to look at the detail of the drafting, we need to look at the complexity of these provisions. And going back to your question, yes, this would be a good time to be looking at that matter raised by the Prime Minister himself back in October 2018.
KARVELAS: Thank you so much for your time, Mark.
DREYFUS: Thanks Patricia.