SHADOW MINISTER FOR CONSTITUTIONAL REFORM
MEMBER FOR ISAACS
ABC RN DRIVE
MONDAY, 2 NOVEMBER 2020
SUBJECTS: National Integrity Commission; Australia Post; China Trade.
BEVERLEY O’CONNOR: That’s Attorney-General Christian Porter. Let's get more. I'm joined by his counterpart across the aisle, Shadow Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus. Mark, lovely to have you with us.
MARK DREYFUS, SHADOW ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Good to be with you.
O’CONNOR: So nice, as Melbourne is coming out of this COVID crisis, to have you physically with me.
DREYFUS: Indeed it is Beverley. This is the first time I've given a live interview in a studio for six months and it’s a great feeling.
O’CONNOR: Delighted it is your first and it's so nice to have you with us. This is a very interesting day. There's been so much pressure on the Attorney-General to deliver on this. From what we just heard it sounds like it's pretty strong. It sounds like it’s a strong commission. What are your views?
DREYFUS: I wish it was Beverley. We've had to poke and poke and poke the Government to keep the promise that it made back in December of 2018, when Mr. Morrison and Mr. Porter stood up and promised Australia a National Integrity Commission. And, unfortunately, it seems like they haven't listened to the criticisms, and there's been an avalanche of criticism after they sketched out their proposal back in December 18. It's still a commission which does not have the power to sit in public and hold public hearings.
O’CONNOR: Why do you think they backed away from that? It would seem that that would be a critical component if there were any issues of corruption, that the public hear about it, it’s in the public interest?
DREYFUS: I have to agree with you, Beverly. It's an essential element of most of the successful integrity commissions which we now have in every state and both territories. It's essential that they, not be required to hold public hearings obviously, but that they have the power in appropriate cases to hold public hearings. Only by holding public hearings can you educate the public that corruption is going to be looked at. Only by holding public hearings and making public reports will you carry out the core function of an integrity commission which is to build, or rebuild, public confidence in government and administration.
David Ipp, the late and great David Ipp who died recently, and was for a long time the Commissioner of ICAC in New South Wales and before that a judge in New South Wales, and he used to say to me that there is another very important function of public hearings, it encourages witnesses to come forward. When they see something is being investigated they will come forward and that's a very important function as well.
O’CONNOR: But it does have the powers of a royal commission so it is important that it can compel witnesses.
DREYFUS: Yes, of course. And I didn't hear from Mr. Porter - that list of powers that he read out, all of these are powers that the royal commissions, under the Commonwealth Royal Commissions Act, have already got - what he's missing out there and where I take issue with his claim that this Commonwealth Integrity Commission that he's proposing will be more powerful than a Royal Commission is that very inability to hold public hearings.
There's another very important difference from the long bill that we've had a chance, not to study in fine detail, but one very important feature that jumps out is that it will only be able to investigate criminal offences. Now royal commissions are not so limited. Royal commissions are not told that the only matters that they can investigate is where they suspect that a criminal offence has been committed. So, again, I'd suggest that far from it being more powerful than a royal commission this Commonwealth Integrity Commission Mr Porter's proposing will be substantially less.
O’CONNOR: Because sometimes corruption is not a criminal offence. It's about perception and it's about the flow on effect that that has.
DREYFUS: Quite so. Many matters that are well below the standard of conduct that we would expect of a public official, be it a minister, or a senior public servant, or a parliamentarian, don't actually get to being a criminal offence, but I don't think anyone's suggesting that the new standard for being a member of the Australian Cabinet, or the new standard for being a senior public servant is that they haven’t been convicted of a criminal offence. We're looking to set a much higher standard than that.
O’CONNOR: What do you make of the fact that it has been split into two? That there are rules for one group of public servants, police for example, and then a different set of rules for public servants and politicians?
DREYFUS: I frankly don't understand it. Why should there be a different method used for senior public servants, for ministers, for government agencies in general, than the method that is used for police agencies? Because that's apparently the distinction that Mr. Porter and the Prime Minister are seeking to draw. I haven't understood why they're seeking to make that distinction. Why should it be as Mr. Porter outlined this afternoon, that there would be public hearings for investigations into police officers, but no public hearings for investigations, where allegations of corruption are levelled against ministers, or senior public servants?
O’CONNOR: As you well know, often these things get to the place they need to be through consultation. So what, as an Opposition, can you do? How can you work with the crossbenchers to actually deliver something that you feel it has enough meat, has enough teeth?
DREYFUS: As it happens crossbenchers have already put forward legislation. Cathy McGowan in the last parliament and Helen Haines just last week put forward what looks to us to be a very good model. It might need some strengthening, we were thinking, but many aspects of her bill are a very good model for a National Integrity Commission and regrettably Mr Porter's model falls far short. Her model, for example, includes the possibility of public hearings, so that the Commission could conduct public hearings, and it puts safeguards around the use of that power so that as far as it is possible to avoid reputational damage that it is avoided.
O’CONNOR: And exploitation and politicisation, always an issue when there are hearings attached.
DREYFUS: Indeed it is.
O’CONNOR: I just wanted to ask you a couple more questions about some other developing stuff. Christine Holgate, the CEO of Australia Post, has resigned today. Was that an inevitability do you think?
DREYFUS: After, as she put it, she was humiliated in the Federal Parliament by no less than the Prime Minister, it may be that it was always going to end up in this place. But we in Labor think that there are broader issues about Australia Post that really should be the focus of attention. Things like why the Government is putting in new regulations that give us less reliable and less timely deliveries of mail which everybody has been experiencing.
O’CONNOR: Admittedly it's been COVID, a year of COVID crisis, which has put Australia Post under enormous pressure.
DREYFUS: Sure, but let’s ask some reasons why the Government has decided to pass regulations to make the service less reliable and less timely. Let's ask questions about why there is a whole lot of Liberal mates sitting on the board of Australia Post. Both of those much larger issues you would think.
O’CONNOR: To that point, does the investigation need to continue now that she's no longer there? And does the board come under scrutiny as well?
DREYFUS: Well, this Government has shown repeatedly, with every scandal that comes to light, that their response is that nobody is responsible. They want to sweep it under the carpet. Nobody's accountable. So, I wouldn't hold your breath Beverley, waiting for this government to have a further investigation into Australia Post.
O’CONNOR: And also, just briefly, Australia's lobster exports. They've been caught up in this argy-bargy between Beijing and Canberra. How do you see this impasse been resolved?
DREYFUS: It is very worrying. It's a problem that comes after our barley growers, winemakers, meat processers, coal companies, cotton growers, have all experienced similar difficulties. And I'd be suggesting that our federal ministers need to pick up the phone to their Chinese counterparts.
O’CONNOR: They’re not answering though, and I mean it would be tough even for Labor to break through this at the moment.
DREYFUS: They need to pick up the phone. We need to make sure that the immense levels of trade that we have with China can continue and return to a more even keel in our relations.
O’CONNOR: Lovely to have you with us. Thank you for being our first physical guest in such a long time.,
DREYFUS: Thank you for having me,