SHADOW MINISTER FOR CONSTITUTIONAL REFORM
MEMBER FOR ISAACS
ABC RADIO NATIONAL BREAKFAST
FRIDAY, 12 FEBRUARY 2021
SUBJECTS: Commonwealth anti-corruption commission; Judicial Complaints Commission; Crown Casino.
GERALDINE DOOGUE: The Federal Government's long awaited Commonwealth integrity commission will be one small step closer later today with the deadline for feedback on the proposed laws wrapping up. If it goes ahead the Government's planned $147 million CIC would have the power to investigate corruption and criminal conduct across law enforcement agencies and the public sector. But the proposed body has been widely criticised by Labor as lacking the teeth to make the difference. The Opposition Shadow Attorney-General is Mark Dreyfus and he joins me now. Welcome to RN Breakfast.
MARK DREYFUS, SHADOW ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Good morning Geraldine, good to be with you.
DOOGUE: What are your essential concerns about the model put forward by the Government?
DREYFUS: Our concerns are that what's proposed by this government is a weak, secretive and compromised commission. It won't be able to hold its own inquiries, it could only act on referrals, it wouldn't be able to hold public hearings and, as presently proposed by Mr. Morrison and Mr. Porter, it wouldn't be able to investigate any corrupt conduct that occurred before the commission was established.
Australians want a lot better than this. They want a strong anti-corruption commission. I want to see honesty in government returned. Instead, we've all we've heard from this government is Sports Rorts, dodgy land deals, handing out jobs to their mates. And just on that over 70 former Liberal politicians, failed Liberal candidates, Liberal donors and Liberal mates have been appointed to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal. It just goes on and on.
DOOGUE: And there's also, as I was reading last night, the Government has to refer, does it not, potential cases to the commission? Nobody else can refer cases to the commission?
DREYFUS: And that's a key point. It would not be able to initiate its own inquiries. It would have to wait for referrals from the government and what chance of that from Mr. Morrison?
DOOGUE: Because it can become a major public discussion as well, that's the failsafe here.
DREYFUS: We've had major public discussion after major public discussion and all we get is Mr. Morrison brushing things away. No minister is ever held accountable. Nothing is ever fully investigated. Sports Rorts - which happily a parliamentary committee is still trying to get to the bottom of, that's coming back today - but the involvement of Mr. Morrison, the involvement of his office in those disgraceful Sports Rorts, using hundreds of millions of dollars of public money as if it were a Liberal Party slush fund, we've never got to the bottom of that Geraldine. I fear that if this anti-corruption commission, as currently proposed by Mr. Porter, were established it wouldn't be able to look back into the past. And what chance Mr Morrison of referring his own misconduct over Sports Rorts to an integrity commission? I'd rate that chance at zero
DOOGUE: Is it better than nothing though?
DREYFUS: Of course it's better to have an anti-corruption commission than no anti-corruption commission. But I think that the Commonwealth of Australia has got the advantage of seeing the eight anti-corruption commissions that have now been established in every state and territory. We can pick out the best of each of those state and territory commissions and make sure that the Commonwealth commission, when it's established, is the best in the country, the strongest in the country, the most independent in the country. Instead, what we've got from Mr Morrison and Mr Porter is, as all of the commentators have said, it's a weak, secretive and compromised commission that won't do the job it's set up to do.
DOOGUE: Now the Government's proposal means most hearings would be held in private. Does the Government have a point in keeping hearings of such a powerful body out of the public eye? There is a risk, is there not, and various legal commentators have said that often people get mentioned, collaterally, and they end up in court, as it were, when they're not even the main target of inquiry. Is there an argument that this becomes a form of star chamber?
DREYFUS: It's far more important that the Commission be able to sit in public. The late David Ipp, a very fine Australian lawyer who headed the New South Wales Independent Commission Against Corruption, explained to me before he died how important public hearings are. They encourage other people to come forward. They bring out information that would not otherwise be brought out and they reassure the public. They build confidence in our systems of government if you have public hearings and people can see that justice is being done, that an inquiry is taking place.
DOOGUE: They can become theatre though can't they? Very much become theatre?
DREYFUS: I fully accept that Geraldine. Of course there's a risk to reputation, but I am confident that you can make rules, you can give appropriate powers and discretions to the commissioners, that they will be able to protect the reputations of innocent people who are merely assisting a commission with its inquiries. We can all point to examples but the same could be said of open justice in open courts. We have a system of open justice in Australia and, of course, you can sometimes get a bit of smear associated with appearing as a witness. But judges and courts are more than able to deal with that and I am confident that we can design a commission that will be able to hold hearings in public. It won't do all of its work in public. It couldn't. But we must have that power given to the commission.
DOOGUE: Would you care to say which model of the eight you mentioned, you know, what's a key feature or is there one that you favour over others?
DREYFUS: An absolute no, I'm not going to pick out any one of the eight state and territory commissions. I'm going to say, of them, that each of them have excellent features and we should range across all of the examples and pick out the best. But it's already clear that the model that Mr Porter and Mr Morrison are putting forward is woefully inadequate. We need it to be able to start its own inquiries. We need it to be able to hold hearings in public. We need it to be able to investigate corrupt conduct that occurred before its establishment. That's one of the most ludicrous aspects of Mr Porter and Mr Morrison's proposal. They're saying it'll start on day one when the commission is established and it doesn't matter about the Sports Rorts or the dodgy land deals or all of the sleaze that we've seen from Mr Morrison. None of that will be able to be investigated and frankly that's an outrageous suggestion.
DOOGUE: The feedback on the proposed model closes today. What changes do you think the Government is likely to make?
DREYFUS: I have no idea because Mr Porter and Mr Morrison announced their commitment to an anti-corruption commission well over two years ago. They, in a very meandering way, got to the point of, finally, after much public pressure publishing a draft bill and asking for submissions. The draft bill took account of none of the criticisms that have been expressed about their proposal. No timetable has been set, and I'm very fearful that it will be just like the long list of announcements that Mr Porter and Mr Morrison have made, saying that they're going to undertake some reform or another, and then nothing happens. I'm calling on Mr Porter to give us a timetable. When are you going to introduce a bill to the Parliament? That's what Australians need to know. They need to have a bill in the Parliament so that we can see what they're proposing - and up until now we've thought a weak and secretive and inadequate commission - or whether they're going to accept the public criticisms that have been made and proceed to set up a real, strong, independent and powerful anti-corruption commission, which is what Australia needs.
DOOGUE: Because he says he's been a bit busy, Mr Porter, about a range of things particularly prompted by COVID to do with privacy and so on and so forth. But he did make a big announcement this week proposing a federal judicial commission with the power to investigate allegations of corruption and misconduct among judges. I mean this is tricky, because putting an independent body that can preside over the independence of judges might have its challenges. How do you see that?
DREYFUS: I've said ever since we had the findings against former High Court Judge Dyson Heydon and the flood of disclosures of abuse and harassment that accompanied that, that we need to have a formal complaints body to deal with misconduct claims against sitting judges. The current processes for dealing with complaints about federal judges are, well, cumbersome is the right term because the only option is moving in both Houses of Parliament to remove the judge from office. We've got examples now in New South Wales and Victoria of judicial commissions which work and it's long past time that the Commonwealth get on with establishing an independent judicial commission. But again, I'm fearful, we've seen announcements from Mr Porter before.
DOOGUE: He says it's got to wait until after the CIC legislation goes ahead.
DREYFUS: Why, I would ask? And I just point out the last time we saw a front page exclusive on the front page of the Australian with Mr Porter announcing something was back in 2019 when he announced that he was going to establish a scheme for better protection of public service whistleblowers in Australia and bring in reforms. We've seen not one jot of that reform.
DOOGUE: Well, in fact under clause 70 of that proposed bill whistleblowers would risk prosecution wouldn't they for making an unwarranted allegation?
DREYFUS: Yes, that's one of the concerns that's been expressed about the anti-corruption commission. I'm just making the point that we've seen many announcements from Mr Morrison, many announcements from Mr Porter, and it's very rare for this government to actually follow through on their announcements. I seriously doubt that the Attorney-General will do anything at all about a judicial commission, I would welcome it if he did.
DOOGUE: On another matter the Government is also pushing forward, according to the Minister, the Attorney-General, with legislation to merge the Family Court and the Federal Circuit Court, which has been an ongoing discussion for several years. Very vexed in some minds. Why is Labor so opposed to that idea?
DREYFUS: We're opposed to it because this is not the reform that is needed to deal with crippling delays that are occurring in the Family Court and the Federal Circuit Court where it can take up to three years for people to get their family disputes resolved. It's been absolutely clear for years and years that there needs to be more resources, there need to be more registrars, there need to be more judges. Some reforms can take place and are being undertaken by the court - and I'd congratulate the court for doing this - which is meshing the rules of the Federal Circuit Court and the Family Court of Australia. But all of the people that have worked in the Family Court - former judges, current family lawyers, families that have had to go through the system - none of them are calling for an abolition of the Family Court as we know it. This Government set up a very large Law Reform Commission inquiry which reported, now, some two years ago. It's the largest ever review of the Family Court, of the Family Law Act and it did not recommend what the Government is still pressing forward with. It's very disappointing to see the Government ignoring all the advice that it's had. It's not explained how abolishing the Family Court in its present form is going to produce any of the outcomes that are needed. As I say, it's a question of more resources and that's the thing that the Government should be focusing on for first.
DOOGUE: And look finally Mr Dreyfus, just this week the independent review of Crown Resorts in New South Wales issued that scathing report into the company - and we've just had further resignations this morning, and probably more - saying it wasn't fit to hold a casino license. Among a raft of recommendations by the former Supreme Court judge was the establishment of an independent casino commission to regulate the gaming sector, such as works for instance in a place like Singapore, which seems to be doing it very well. Do you support that?
DREYFUS: I think clearly it's an industry which has got special problems. The risk of money laundering in particular is absolutely there with casinos. So that's something, that suggestion that Patricia Bergin has made, is something that should certainly be looked at. I've been very focused on the way in which the Morrison Government hasn't assisted state-based casino regulators to prevent money laundering despite being warned by AUSTRAC, the Commonwealth agency, that there were serious problems back in 2017, but they didn't do anything then. The Morrison Government failed to share with state regulators what was known to the Commonwealth Government about the risks of money laundering. And if what it takes is setting up a specialised casino regulator, I think that should certainly be looked at.
DOOGUE: Thank you very much indeed for joining us.
DREYFUS: Thanks very much Geraldine.