SHADOW MINISTER FOR CONSTITUTIONAL REFORM
MEMBER FOR ISAACS
ABC TV AFTERNOON BRIEFING
WEDNESDAY, 15 SEPTEMBER 2021
SUBJECTS: Christian Porter hiding the source of his legal fees; COVID-19 and Vic Lockdown; Kristina Keneally pre-selection; Diversity in Federal Parliament.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: Government MPs are today defending former Attorney-General Christian Porter. He's been accused of not being up-front on who covered his legal fees for his defamation case against the ABC. Mr Porter yesterday declared to Parliament that a blind trust covered part of the court costs and he isn't aware of where that money came from. Mark Dreyfus is the Shadow Attorney-General. He joined me a short time ago. Mark Dreyfus, welcome.
MARK DREYFUS, SHADOW ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Good to be with you Patricia.
KARVELAS: Former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has labelled it a shocking affront to transparency and says there should be public outrage. Do the general public actually care?
DREYFUS: I think the public care very much about integrity and transparency and accountability. What they're seeing here is a senior cabinet minister in the Morrison Government driving a truck through the requirements of the disclosure rules. There's a reason why we have these disclosure rules, it's so that members of the public can see if a senior cabinet minister or a Member of Parliament is getting a gift of hundreds of thousands of dollars. I think this is a bit like a cabinet minister walking out his or her front door in the morning and finding a paper bag with $100,000 in cash in it and a little note saying, "A gift to you from the Legal Services Trust." Nobody would think that's acceptable and it's not acceptable for Mr Porter to do what he's doing here. He should either give the money back, if he genuinely doesn't know who it is from, or he should find out who it's from and disclose.
KARVELAS: Assistant Defence Minister Andrew Hastie says Christian Porter hasn't broken any rules. Is that a valid excuse if, officially, no rules are broken?
DREYFUS: No. The spirit of these rules is absolutely so that the public will know if Members of Parliament and ministers are getting gifts. What Mr Porter's done can't possibly be in accordance with that. What Mr Porter's done is to receive, apparently, large amounts of money, could be a million dollars - you can imagine if it was a very small amount of money he probably would have disclosed it - he's received a very large sum of money and he's pretending that that's OK. He's pretending that he doesn't have to disclose it. It is an outrage. I do think that anybody looking at this, other than Liberal partisans, is going to say that's wrong and what now needs to happen is that Mr Morrison needs to enforce his own Standards of Ministerial Conduct. I think it unlikely because Mr Morrison has demonstrated his addiction to secrecy. He would probably think this is a good idea. He’s also demonstrated to us over and over again that he doesn’t think there needs to be standards in his government. If he was behaving decently Mr Morrison would insist on those two courses of action. Either Mr Porter hands the money back or he finds out who it's from and discloses it.
KARVELAS: Do you think there needs to be changes to the disclosure system? Is it working given no rules have been broken? You're saying there's another test and that it doesn't adhere to that. Does it mean the actual system needs reform?
DREYFUS: I'm not accepting no rules have been broken. I don't think that this is what's required.
KARVELAS: Clearly it's a grey zone because the other side, the Government side, is making a different argument as you know. Do those rules need to be tighter so that this kind of debate that's currently being had isn't being had? That it's much more black and white?
DREYFUS: Again, so that the Liberals can't get away with another rort? Yeah. If that's what's needed, if we need to change the rules so that these Liberals don't think they can get away with yet another rort then yes, the rules need to be changed. I saw Mr Frydenberg out this morning ridiculously suggesting that this is like what other Members of Parliament had done in the past. I have never seen a Minister or a Member of Parliament saying “I received an anonymous donation. It was a large one and I'm not going to tell you how much and I'm not going to tell you who it was from because I don't know.” You've only got to state it to see how ridiculous that is. And seriously, I can't imagine why they are suggesting that this is OK. But they are suggesting it's OK and if that's so we need to change the rules, and we need to tighten the rules so they can't get away with this. Imagine if we had a national anti-corruption commission by now? Something that Mr Porter and Mr Morrison promised us over 1,000 days ago. The national anti-corruption commission would be on this like a shot, would be saying “where did that money come from?” Because the potential for corruption, the potential for an extraordinary conflict of interest, the potential for influence is absolutely obvious. That's why we have these rules in the first place and Mr Porter is flouting them and his Liberal colleagues are flouting them and Mr Morrison needs to do something about it if he cares about standards at all.
KARVELAS: I want to change the topic and talk about the COVID situation. Ballarat in Victoria will enter a week-long lockdown tonight. At the same time the Premier, Daniel Andrews, has announced some restrictions will soon be eased once the 70% single dose target is reached. Are you confident of this approach? Do you think that, given Victoria and Melburnians particularly have suffered such long lockdown, that should be quite a generous opening up?
DREYFUS: We all want to open up. No-one who lives in Melbourne, no-one who lives in Victoria is in any doubt about that. We had five months of lockdown last year, many weeks of lockdown which we are still in right now. Of course we want to open up but we need to get vaccinated and need everybody vaccinated. We've only got to look at the experience of other countries around the world to see unless you get to very, very high rates of vaccination, you are going to see people dying and nobody wants that either. So, everybody's sharing the objectives here but it's a great shame that we didn't get vaccinated earlier. That there hasn't even been the supplies of vaccine available so that all of the people in our community who want to get vaccinated can. That's still the position. There are millions of Australians desperate to get vaccinated and they can't be vaccinated because Mr Morrison hasn't provided the supply that was the job that he had and he failed.
KARVELAS: The Victorian Ombudsman is investigating the handling of border restrictions after more than 80 complaints, including from Victorians trying to return home. Why shouldn't residents be able to return home and quarantine in their own households?
DREYFUS: That's what's being looked at.
KARVELAS: And it should be, shouldn't there? There's a sense of urgency. It seems like this is a basic fundamental right.
DREYFUS: It should be looked at. I personally was allowed to isolate at home on return from the last sitting of Parliament. So some people, not just MPs, but others who have returned from the ACT have been permitted to isolate at home. And I think that we need to look as hard as possible. I know that Jane Halton is inquiring into this very matter right now as to what are the arrangements that should be put in place for so-called home quarantine. We also need to massively expand quarantine arrangements, residential quarantine and again Mr Morrison failed at that job too. So, everybody shares the objectives here. We all want our community to get back to normal. We all want to get back out of lockdowns but we need to do so safely.
KARVELAS: On compulsory vaccination, New South Wales' roadmap requires customers and staff to be fully vaccinated to enjoy some freedoms at that 70% double dose target. What are the legal hurdles with that?
DREYFUS: I think that it's apparent that we're going to see distinctions made between people who have been vaccinated and people who haven't been vaccinated. There's going to be a wide range of those distinctions depending on the setting, depending on the workplace and depending on the venue. And I think the Federal Government needs to come to the party here. The Federal Government needs to be helping employers, needs to be helping venues by setting some standards itself. Again, we see Mr Morrison and Mr Hunt running away, leaving it to others to deal with what is an obvious problem. There is an obvious distinction to be made between the vaccinated and the unvaccinated and it's something the Federal Government ought to be helping with.
KARVELAS: Just on another issue, your colleague Kristina Keneally has been parachuted into the safe Labor seat of Fowler, displacing the local candidate, the young Vietnamese lawyer Tu Le. Do you think it's a failure of the party to back the best representative for the community?
DREYFUS: I'm really looking forward to Senator Keneally, who has made a tremendous contribution in the Senate, joining me in the House of Representatives after the next election as part of an Albanese Labor Government. And I'm also looking forward to the contribution that Tu Le is going to make. She’s a 30-year-old, a community figure, she's been an activist, she's a lawyer and she's worked very hard as I understand it in the Community Legal Service, her local Community Legal Service. She's obviously someone with a tremendous contribution to make and she will make it in the future. But right now I'm looking forward to having Kristina Keneally join me in the House of Representatives as part of an Albanese Labor Government.
KARVELAS: Is there a need for diversity quotas?
DREYFUS: We've got tremendous diversity in the Australian Labor Party. We are the party of multiculturalism.
KARVELAS: In terms of non-Indigenous people of colour in the Parliament, I think, this is all memory, but it's just over 4% is my memory and my memory is pretty good usually. In the community it's over 20% so clearly there's a lot of work to do. I know that like all frontbenchers you're going to say what Labor has done already and say that's good, but that's clearly not good enough yet, is it?
DREYFUS: I've long said, about both the Parliament and the judiciary, that we want to see them reflective of our community. It doesn't mean straight-up representative numbers but it does mean what the word suggests - reflective. When Australians look at their Parliament, they want to see that it's got very substantial numbers of women in it and Labor has certainly achieved that. We’ve got to 50% in our Caucus. They also want to see people from backgrounds across the Parliament reflecting our community. We won't ever get to exact proportions and exactly representing the precise proportion of people of each ethnic background in Australia. But we do need to have a reflective Parliament. I agree with you Patricia, we don't have that now and it's something that we need to work towards. But equally I am proud of the achievements that we've already made in the Australian Labor Party.
KARVELAS: Just on that issue, do you believe in having quotas or targets that are specifically dealing with it? Just like the Labor Party has introduce when it comes to gender quotas?
DREYFUS: The quotas that have got us to the position of having 50% women in our Caucus have been a tremendous success.
KARVELAS: So should it happen with people of colour?
DREYFUS: I think there are issues to do with how you define what the quota is going to look like. It's obviously a lot more simple if you're saying we want to have more women and the way we're going to get there.
KARVELAS: The term a lot of people are suggesting now, because it's been put on the table, is “non-Indigenous people of colour”. The people who are not Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders and people of colour in this country. That wouldn't include Southern Europeans for instance like me. It would be people of colour. That part of our community, do you think that's reasonable?
DREYFUS: Won't Southern Europeans like yourself say “I want there to be a quota for Southern Europeans like me”?
KARVELAS: They might. But you could also refute that argument if they were to make it, right?
DREYFUS: It's that point, Patricia, that is the issue. It's a lot simpler to have a quota for women. We have a quota for women. It's produced a Parliament that reflects the gender balance in the Australian community. I'm suggesting much more difficult issues arise. I'm not for one moment - and I did say this before, that it's entirely desirable to have a Parliament that reflects the community. How you get there is a more difficult question and simply the way in which you had to say to me a moment ago that we might have a quota for argument's sake for non-Indigenous people of colour. But immediately you have to say that wouldn't include people like me, Southern European background.
KARVELAS: That was my point.
DREYFUS: That demonstrates the problem Patricia.
KARVELAS: It doesn't. That's how specific you can be. If people who are white but different cultural background contest it, you can make the argument that the world has moved on and that those people don't need any particular targeting, right?
DREYFUS: Are you going to have a quota for Indigenous Australians? Will you have quotas - and you could name your group that might deserve to have a quota or should have a quota. I'm suggesting the fact you can ask that question demonstrates the degree of difficulty. I think overall we have to have the objective of a Parliament that reflects the Australian community and certainly in the Australian Labor Party we are well on the way to having, in our Caucus, a group of Parliamentarians who do reflect the Australian community. And I can say certainly, to be partisan, we reflect the community a great deal better than our political opponents.
KARVELAS: Thank you so much for joining us.
DREYFUS: Thanks Patricia.