SUBJECTS: Class actions; ASIO power; China relationship.
SHADOW MINISTER FOR CONSTITUTIONAL REFORM
MEMBER FOR ISAACS
THURSDAY, 14 MAY, 2020
SUBJECTS: Class actions; ASIO power; China relationship.
NEWSREADER: The Attorney-General, Christian Porter, has ordered an inquiry into those class actions, bothered by the big fees that lawyers make on the way through. Now, his opposite number, Mark Dreyfus, is wary, though, that this could be a proxy to trying to end class actions all together. He has been speaking to our reporter Matthew Doran.
MATT DORAN, HOST: Mark Dreyfus, thank you for your time.
MARK DREYFUS, SHADOW ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Thanks for having me.
DORAN: The Attorney-General Christian Porter has said that there are situations where litigation funders, class action funders, are coming in and they are effectively skimming 30% off the top of any compensation that successful applicants get in court hearings. Do you dispute that figure?
DREYFUS: Let's be clear about what's happening here. The Government set up another inquiry into class actions and litigation funding when it hasn't even responded to the monumental report by the Australian Law Reform Commission which this very Government commissioned. It reported in December 2018, 17 months have gone by, we are yet to have a response from the Government.
So I ignore what the Attorney-General is saying. I look at what the Government has done, what this hapless Government has done which is not to respond to its own inquiry on the same subject. They clearly didn't like what it said, so they've set up another inquiry.
DORAN: We might ignore what the Attorney-General has said but he has made these comments publicly about the amount of money that is taken away from people who are successful in these class actions. For people who aren't aware of how these arrangements work, what do you argue are the benefits of having these class action funding arrangements? Why are they so necessary?
DREYFUS: Class actions are overwhelmingly a benefit to Australians. They enable ordinary Australians who couldn't possibly afford to take on huge corporations or to take on the Commonwealth Government when they've done wrong, they enable ordinary Australians to group together and go to court and obtain justice.
And it is no accident that the Government announced this inquiry shortly after a class action was commenced against this very Government over its illegal extortion of Australians with their Robodebt scandal. That's a class action that has now got more than 10,000 Australians signed up. There are tens of thousands more who could potentially be joining that class action against the Commonwealth Government.
DORAN: How much of this, do you think, plays into a broader argument about access to justice? You yourself have had a career as a solicitor and a barrister, you know just how much the cost of mounting court cases are. Do you think that there needs to be more of a debate in Australia about just how expensive it is for the average Australian to have their day in court?
DREYFUS: Absolutely, and it is a constant problem that access to justice is beyond the reach of many ordinary Australians. Class actions, where wrongs have been committed against large numbers of Australians, are one solution to this problem.
Another solution would be for the Government to properly fund legal assistance services, and I'm talking there about state and territory Legal Aid commissions which receive contributions from the Commonwealth, or community legal centres. This Government has got a shameful record of trying to cut the amount of money that is going to legal assistance and certainly not increasing it to anything like the levels that is required.
DORAN: Mark Dreyfus, you are the Shadow Attorney-General, so it would be remiss of me not to go around the grounds on a few other issues here in Parliament. First of all, we saw yesterday the introduction of some legislation by Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton looking at changing the way ASIO can go about its business, particularly with searches and warrants for questioning and arrests. There have been concerns raised immediately that lowering the age that people can be subject to these warrants to 14 could be a step too far, and also allowing warrantless tracking of people considered a suspect in various crimes is also going to be permitted under that legislation. How do you, considering this has come through the Intelligence and Security Committee before, how do you justify those measures being put forward?
DREYFUS: This matter will go to the Parliamentary Committee on Intelligence and Security. I expect that that reference will be accepted today and the inquiry will commence. The Liberal and Labor members of that committee, because it is a bipartisan committee, have shown over the past couple of years that they will give very rigorous scrutiny to any bill that is presented to Parliament, particularly bills like this, that deeply affect civil liberties in Australia. The committee has shown, both Liberal and Labor members have agreed over the past couple of years to reject, on some occasions, bills that this Government has brought to the Parliament, and certainly to recommend amendments as needed.
I'm not going to pre-empt what the committee will do on this occasion. It has been quite a time coming. The particular power that you mention is, of course, prompted in part by the shocking murder of police accountant Curtis Chang in 2015 outside the Parramatta Police Station by a 15-year-old, and it is well-known that some of these terrorists groups prey on younger people, horribly influencing younger people to participate in their terror activities. That, of course, is what has prompted the legislation to come forward. The Government has taken some five years since that event to bring this forward, but we will give this legislation the very close scrutiny that it warrants.
DORAN: Mark Dreyfus, thank you for your time.
DREYFUS: Thanks very much.