SHADOW MINISTER FOR CONSTITUTIONAL REFORM
MEMBER FOR ISAACS
ABC RADIO NATIONAL DRIVE
THURSDAY, 24 SEPTEMBER 2020
SUBJECTS: Climate Change; $1.3 billion Westpac fine for money laundering; Federal Judge calling Alan Tudge’s conduct criminal; Attorney-General’s failure to uphold the law; Western Sydney Airport land rort.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: Westpac has agreed to pay an eye watering $1.3 billion, the largest fine in Australian corporate history, for more than 23 million breaches of money laundering laws. The bank admitted failing to report international transactions and insufficient monitoring of customers making suspicious transactions, some of which facilitated child sexual abuse. But the deal negotiated with Austrac doesn't include criminal penalties for any Westpac executives or the board. The Federal Attorney-General Christian Porter says the fine is substantially higher than what the bank had wanted to pay.
PORTER: This $1.3 billion amount more properly reflects both the seriousness of the offending that Westpac had engaged in, but also an acceptance of the fact that these represent some of the greatest failures of a corporate entity in Australia's history to abide by Australian law.
KARVELAS: Mark Dreyfus is the Shadow Attorney-General, welcome.
MARK DREYFUS, SHADOW ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Good to be with you, Patricia.
KARVELAS: We'll get to your get to your portfolio in a moment, but can I get your response to this story in the Nine papers that you called your colleague Joel Fitzgibbon the idiot for Hunter?
DREYFUS: I don’t comment on private meetings and I’m not about to start now Patricia.
KARVELAS: Do you deny calling him the idiot for Hunter?
DREYFUS: I don’t comment on private meetings. I am very passionate about the threat to Australia from climate change. That's been so for my whole political career. I worked closely with Greg Combet as his Assistant Minister For Climate Change in the Gillard Government and I can say I'm very proud to be a member of the only party of government that stands for strong action on climate change.
KARVELAS: Okay. Are you concerned that Joel Fitzgibbon’s spruiking of coal as a future energy source is politically damaging to Labor?
DREYFUS: We're in opposition, Patricia, and we're using that time in opposition to develop the very best policy to take to the election. I know we will be taking to the next election a serious plan to tackle climate change and a serious plan for Australia's energy. And what I’d say about gas is under Scott Morrison gas prices have tripled to households and manufacturers at the same time as Australia is becoming the world's largest gas exporter. We see no plan from the Prime Minister to deliver cheaper gas prices for Australian households or manufacturers, and instead what he should be doing is focusing on renewable energy. That's what I'll be saying about gas.
KARVELAS: Okay, Joel Fitzgibbon says ‘that's our policy’. I mean that was his quote. Is it your policy?
DREYFUS: Joel Fitzgibbon has got his own views about what should be Labor policy. I think he was trying to suggest that it’s Labor policy, which it is not, to build a 1000 megawatt electricity generator in the Hunter Valley. That might be something Joel Fitzgibbon is keen on but it's not Labor policy and it's never been Labor policy.
KARVELAS: And it should never be Labor policy?
DREYFUS: I want to talk to you about the lack of policy from our government. And I'll say again, Labor's working hard on developing policies to take to the next election. But in the meantime, we're focusing very hard on the lack of energy policy, the lack of coherence in climate policy from this current government. I want this current government to start focusing right now, in fact they should have done it years ago.
KARVELAS: But you're not in charge of government policy because you're not in government. Do you think Labor should not embrace gas?
DREYFUS: I think we need to recognise that Australia right now is the world's largest exporter of gas. There are very substantial uses of gas in Australian industry - it's used in very many Australian households. But at the same time, and we need to come to grips with this, it's a fossil fuel. These are complex policy areas, it shouldn't be reduced, as Scott Morrison always tries to do, to a sort of mindless simple slogan “are you for this? Are you against that?” What about actually having a bit of coherent policy, which we've been waiting for seven years for from this government?
KARVELAS: Do you agree with Austrac’s chief executive, Nicole Rose, that the penalty that has been, of course given, sends a strong message to companies about the need to harden the financial system against crime?
DREYFUS: I absolutely do. This is a massive penalty. I hope, a lesson that the banks are not above the law, that banks and all corporations will face severe penalties if they abuse the law in such a flagrant way. We need to remember what this was about. This was Australian banks turning a blind eye to the abuse of their payment system so that criminals could fund terrorism and fund paedophiles and fund crime syndicates. It's shocking misbehaviour, shocking criminal activity, and that’s why it warranted this massive penalty. I don’t think anyone in the Australian corporate or banking community could fail to take notice of this massive penalty.
KARVELAS: Should Westpac executives, or the board, face criminal penalties?
DREYFUS: Yes, certainly that's something that you'd be looking at if there’s repeat offending. But after this message I very much doubt that there will be repeat offending, from certainly Westpac and you'd hope not from any other bank.
KARVELAS: The Attorney-General Christian Porter has downplayed a Federal Court ruling or finding that that the Acting Immigration Minister Alan Tudge acted criminally when he ignored a court order in relation to an asylum seeker. What should happen to Alan Tudge?
DREYFUS: It’s shocking to see a Federal Government minister being described by a Federal Court judge as having acted in a criminal matter. What he did was to unlawfully detain a man for days, effectively thumbing his nose at the Federal Court of Australia. That's why a Federal Court judge has called it criminal conduct. Mr Tudge should go, there's no doubt about that, and the Prime Minister should have required his resignation immediately, because no explanation has been forthcoming. But shockingly, we've now got the Attorney-General of Australia, the first law officer of Australia, not requiring Mr Tudge to resign, not upholding the rule of law, but instead, defending his colleague. He is another example, an amazing example, of how this mob, the Morrison Government, think they are above the law.
KARVELAS: Sure, but Alan Tudge is considering his legal options and clearly is looking at contesting this, challenging this. Doesn't that mean you're going to kind of have to wait until the legal process does its work?
DREYFUS: It’s a bit hard to see what he's going to contest. He appealed against a grant of a visa by the Administrative Appeals Tribunal and kept the man concerned in detention against the law unlawfully for days. He had to be ordered by the Federal Court - this happened back in March – he had to be ordered by the Federal Court to release him. The Federal Court demanded that he explain himself, and Mr Tudge thumbed his nose at the Federal Court.
He's never explained himself. He never explained why he acted unlawfully, and the first law officer Mr Porter is making it worse, because he's not explaining it either, brushing it off as some kind of policy matter. It's not a matter of policy whether you obey the law, the duty of ministers is to obey the law. And the first duty of the first law officer is to uphold the law.
Mr Porter should be rushing to say we can't have ministers behaving in this way. And unless he can come up with a coherent reason for why Mr Tudge broke the law, that's the end of the matter. And of course we didn't see any such coherent reason from Mr. Porter today, we saw nothing from Mr. Porter except the defence, and an attempt to brush away, what the Federal Court, the second most senior court in the country, has said about the Immigration Minister.
Over and over again we’re seeing a government that puts itself above the law, and it's got to stop.
KARVELAS: Just finally on another issue, will Labor move to establish a Parliamentary inquiry into the Federal Government's decision to pay 20 times the value of land at the Western Sydney Airport site which was owned by a Liberal donor?
DREYFUS: We will continue to demand answers. Whether or not it’s a special Committee of the Parliament or something that the Public Works Committee of the Parliament can look at, we intend to continue to pursue this. It’s $30 million paid for a property which, at most, was valued at $3 million, might have been worth a lot less. It's a deal which stinks to high heaven, and yet again, we see the Morrison Government saying no one's responsible. Mr Fletcher, who was the minister at the time says it's nothing to do with him.
Over and over again, we see a government where no one's responsible. Where ministers put themselves above the law.
KARVELAS: If you look at the Auditor-General's report – and I'm sure you have as have I - it doesn't say the minister’s responsible?
DREYFUS: It doesn’t need to. Ministers are responsible for what happens in their department.
KARVELAS: But what if the department doesn't pass on the information?
DREYFUS: He is still responsible for what happens in his department. It's a pretty strange state of affairs when the defence of the federal minister to allegations, not necessarily of his own impropriety but allegations of impropriety in his department, is to say, ‘well, I'm either negligent or incompetent’, because that's the effect of what Mr Fletcher is saying. He's saying, “I don't care what happens in my department, as long as they don't tell me about it.”
KARVELAS: Mark Dreyfus we're out of time but thanks for coming on the show.
DREYFUS: Thank you very much, Patricia.