SHADOW MINISTER FOR CONSTITUTIONAL REFORM
MEMBER FOR ISAACS
ABC CAPITAL HILL
WEDNESDAY, 1 DECEMBER 2021
SUBJECTS: Jenkins Report; National Anti-Corruption Commission; Religious Discrimination Bill.
MATTHEW DORAN, HOST: Well, the Shadow Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus has legged it up the hill from the National Press Club to join us this afternoon on Capital Hill. Mark Dreyfus welcome to the program.
MARK DREYFUS, SHADOW ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Good to be with you.
DORAN: Let's start with the Jenkins Review because it is the issue that so many people are talking about today. You've been in Parliament for more than a decade now. Do the findings, do the things that this report highlights, surprise you?
DREYFUS: They're shocking. They are really shocking, and we welcome this report. It's something we called for, it's something that we've cooperated with, and I thank Kate Jenkins and her staff for a very fine piece of work. We will work constructively across the Parliament to make this a better workplace.
DORAN: Considering what this report says about the systemic problems in this building, how difficult is it going to be to clean this situation up?
DREYFUS: This is a very special set of workplaces for a whole range of the reasons that Kate Jenkins has analysed in this report. It's going to be difficult. The fact that some of the practices she describes, some of the events and shocking conduct that she describes, have been going on for such a long time shows us that it is very difficult. Labor has progressively moved in the time that I've been in the Parliament to a situation where we have 50 per cent women in our Parliamentary party. I am sure that that has made a difference to our part of the Parliamentary workplace, but we have more work to do. We, in Labor, have more work to do. The whole Parliament has more work to do on this.
DORAN: You've been down at the National Press Club this afternoon listening to those speakers talking about the case for a federal integrity commission. Do you think the issue resonates with the public? Do you think that they are aware that there isn't such a body at a federal level and that there is actually a need for it? Or is this more of a political argument?
DREYFUS: I am absolutely confident that Australians from all walks of life, Australians from all income levels, from all parts of the country, are crying out for this to happen. And one of the reasons is that every state and territory already has an anti-corruption commission. Australians have got used to the idea that their own state governments and the administration of their states are subject to anti-corruption commissions and they say rightly, 'why don't we have this at the national level?'. Certainly, Labor is committed to introducing a national anti-corruption commission, a strong and independent national anti-corruption commission if we are successful in the next election. But in direct answer to your question, I think there is a demand for it. I think that Australians are calling for it. I often have it raised with me at meetings, many of them virtual, that I've been conducting over the last couple of years about this topic, have been very well attended and that's because there's a demand for this.
DORAN: The Prime Minister has been highly critical of the New South Wales model. He's pointing to the investigation into the former Premier, Gladys Berejiklian, describing it as a show trial. Do you share any of the concerns? Obviously, I can imagine you're not going to be on the same page as the Prime Minister there. But do you share any of the concerns about the public nature of some of these inquiries and whether or not they do remove, or chip away at, that presumption of innocence, and being something of a show trial?
DREYFUS: I share the concerns of Dominic Perrottet, the Premier of New South Wales, who has said directly that the Prime Minister, Mr Morrison, was wrong to describe the New South Wales ICAC as a kangaroo court. It is wrong for Mr Morrison and it's deeply disturbing that he should have engaged in this at a time when ICAC is still completing its inquiry and has yet to report for him to express the views that he's expressed, in effect, concluding what should be the outcome of this inquiry. That is quite wrong. It is completely disrespectful. It's an abuse of his own office as Prime Minister for him to do it.
As to your direct question about the features of what an anti-corruption commission should include, we're in a position now to learn from the lessons of the six state and two territory anti-corruption commissions and to pick the very best features. That's probably the silver lining in the cloud of the Commonwealth being last, we're actually able to pick the best features. One of those issues is making sure that we avoid as far as possible reputational damage being caused to people who are called as witnesses, against whom no allegation of wrongdoing is made. We've seen smears of that kind of person appearing, and where someone who is the subject of an allegation is exonerated I think we could look at ways to make that really clear by perhaps writing into the legislation or requirement that there be statements of exoneration by the committee. But sure, any system like this can be improved. We will try to make sure that our strong and independent anti-corruption commission, if we are fortunate enough to be elected, we will legislate to make sure it's got the very best features we can give it.
DORAN: The Prime Minister says Labor's holding up this process. Are you?
DREYFUS: That's an absurdity. He set as a standard, or as a reason for him not bringing forward legislation to establish an anti-corruption commission that Labor doesn't agree with the model put forward by the government in its discussion paper and exposure draft legislation. Almost nobody agrees and we're right to point out that the model that Mr Morrison has put forward is woefully inadequate. It's much more a commission, if it were to be established, that would cover up corruption. And it's not just me saying it. That's academics, retired judges, Transparency International, the Accountability Roundtable - a whole range of people have directly and specifically criticised the government's model. So there's no reason why we would support it. We're not going to support it but that's never been a reason that Mr Morrison has used for anything else. He's brought forward plenty of proposals that Labor doesn't support. And if that were a test, then a great deal of legislation this Government has rammed through would never have seen the light of day. So it's a nonsensical excuse. He promised to do this. He has failed to keep that, as so many of his promises.
DORAN: And just briefly, the legislation that's been prioritised over the Commonwealth Integrity Commission by the Government is the Religious Discrimination Bill. Again, the Government accusing Labor of holding up that process there. Can you summarise what your concerns are with that legislation and where it's actually at in terms of Parliamentary procedure?
DREYFUS: We've said very directly that we're not going to adopt a final position on that bill until after the Parliamentary inquiry process has been completed. And given that the Government itself has taken three years to bring this bill to the Parliament in the dying days of this Parliament last Thursday when the Prime Minister stood up on the 13th of December 2018, and promised to legislate a Religious Discrimination Bill before the 2019 election. He also promised to work with Labor. He promised to work in a bipartisan fashion across the Parliament to produce a Religious Discrimination Bill. Labor supports - and we've made this clear for many years - a piece of legislation that will protect people of faith from discrimination, in a similar way to the way in which we have anti-discrimination legislation protecting people from discrimination on the grounds of race or sexuality, or disability or age. He's failed in all of his promises. He didn't legislate before the 2019 election. He hasn't worked with Labor or anybody else in a bipartisan fashion. At the last minute he produces a bill last Thursday. He didn't even consult fully with his own party and now, absurdly, apparently he and his Attorney-General, Senator Cash, are claiming that Labor has delayed. It's an absurd suggestion. I'm sorry to hear him making it. But it's entirely appropriate in circumstances where Senator Cash herself has said that she expects amendments to be suggested by the Parliamentary committee process that we not have further debate in the Parliament until such time as the Parliamentary committee has reported. It's not Labor that's causing any delay here. As I understand it the bills are not being brought forward by the Government today. But the same could have been said for Monday and Tuesday. Nothing Labor has done has caused any delay. But of course it's appropriate in circumstances where you've got complex legislation that very many people in Australia are seeing for the first time, last Thursday, that we take a bit of time to consider those provisions. And just to demonstrate how complicated they are, Senator Cash and her junior minister, Senator Stoker, can't even agree among themselves on what some of the provisions mean. That should demonstrate to everyone the complexity with which we're dealing,
DORAN: Mark Dreyfus, thank you for your time today. Thank you so much.
DREYFUS: Thank you.