THE HON MARK DREYFUS QC MP
SHADOW MINISTER FOR THE ARTS
MEMBER FOR ISAACS
SUNDAY, 31 MAY 2015
SUBJECTS: Sydney siege inquiry; Counter-terrorism; Letter to Attorney-General; Citizenship; Same-sex marriage.
BARRIE CASSIDY: Mark Dreyfus, welcome.
MARK DREYFUS,SHADOW ATTORNEY-GENERAL : Good to be with you.
CASSIDY: Politicians walk a fine line on these things, they can be seen as politicising a national tragedy. How comfortable were you, you had grounds to raise it?
DREYFUS: I think there were good grounds for raising it. It is important. The safety of Australians depends on us questioning the Government from time to time. Just as we saw from this spectacular Cabinet leak that there was very serious questioning going on in the Federal Cabinet about another national security proposal, so too the Opposition is entitled to ask questions about national security matters and this matter came to light when counsel assisting in the inquest in Sydney on Monday, in her opening address, raised this letter. We knew nothing of this letter up until now because it hadn't been referred to in the Thawley report.
CASSIDY: Why do you think the letter wasn't included when others were?
DREYFUS: You'd have to ask the authors of the report. I found it curious letters sent to the Prime Minister and then Attorney-General Robert McClelland are referred to in the Thawley report. This letter that came to Attorney-General George Brandis a matter of two months before the dreadful siege is not referred to.
CASSIDY: Are you suggesting there might have been some political interference?
DREYFUS: I don't know. I'm making the point there was no reference to this letter that came to the Attorney-General on 9 October last year. I utterly reject, Barrie, the suggestion it is not appropriate for members of the Opposition, in the Parliament of Australia, to ask questions when things like this come to light. This is a letter that was received weeks after the Prime Minister stood up on 12 September and told all Australians that they had to be more alert and to refer everything they saw that was suspicious to relevant security agencies. Our questioning goes to what happened inside the Government. Did they change their procedures?
CASSIDY: It goes to the question of what's in the letter, I suppose. As the Attorney-General points out, there was no express support for IS, no threats.
DREYFUS: I don't agree with the Attorney-General it was routine correspondence. This is a letter which, on its face, shortly after the declaration of the caliphate, refers to Caliph Ibrahim, the leader of the Islamic State. IS, Daesh, is the organisation that is chiefly responsible for the raising of the threat level in Australia to the highest level ever. I think this should have been referred to ASIO.
CASSIDY: In any case, if an official in the Department read that letter and didn't interpret it as something that should raise a red flag, how can the Attorney-General be blamed for that?
DREYFUS: The Attorney-General is responsible, he is meant to be the chief national security minister, he is responsible for the procedures certainly in his own office, certainly in his Department and I'd say across the Government. What we need is joined-up agencies. We need procedures in place that are going to raise red flags. That's the purpose of our questioning. It turned out, from our questioning, there was absolutely no change internally in the Attorney-General's office or in the Department following on the raising of the threat level to the highest level ever and the letter wasn't referred to ASIO. The first the Director-General saw it was Thursday morning last week.
CASSIDY: You refer to other letters and it raises the question why the previous government didn't respond to those. One went to the Labor Attorney-General, copied to Kevin Rudd and to ASIO and it referred to David Hicks saying that Osama Bin Laden was a lovely man. Man Monis said of that "What's so strange about that? My cousin met him and said he is a lovely man, too". Why didn't that set off alarm bells?
DREYFUS: The difference is that, I think - I stand ready to be corrected - that was back in 2008. What we are talking about here is letter that's come to the Attorney-General of Australia weeks after the threat level has been raised to the highest level ever, after the events that have occurred in 2012, 2013 with what was formerly al-Qaeda in Iraq, renaming itself as Islamic State, and this organisation, Daesh, is an organisation that does pose a threat. That's what's referred to in this letter. That's why it was raised at Question Time. It's come to light on Monday. We pursued it.
CASSIDY: Let's go to the Government's plans on stripping citizenship from Australian jihadists fighting overseas. Are you comfortable with the idea a Minister alone has this kind of responsibility and authority?
DREYFUS: We don't know yet what the Government is proposing. The Government has been talking about this since January 2014. The Prime Minister has spoken of it often. We have had the backbench of the backbench being sent out to do opinion pieces and express their views. Finally the week before last, we saw the Minister for Immigration joining it, then the Prime Minister, so Peter Dutton, Tony Abbott speaking about it. We now know there is a spectacular disagreement in what can only be described as a disunited and dysfunctional Cabinet over this issue. What is the Government's proposal?
CASSIDY: But if they land on this position?
DREYFUS: I'd ask which position?
CASSIDY: That the Minister alone has this responsibility, would you oppose that?
DREYFUS: I think it raises some real concerns.
CASSIDY: Raises concerns but would you oppose it?
DREYFUS: It raises tremendous concern. We haven't had a chance to look at any proposal because there isn't one. There is a seven-page discussion paper. I echo what the former independent national security monitor Brett Walker said last Tuesday, rightly, this is an incredibly serious step to remove the citizenship of an Australian. At the moment we have in the Citizenship Act three real methods by which you can lose citizenship. One is you fight for a foreign power when Australia is at war with that foreign power. The other two require a conviction first. The conviction in relation to fraud in obtaining citizenship or conviction for an offence committed before you were a citizen and it is only then the Minister is given a discretion.
CASSIDY: You would like that to be the standard rather than act on suspicion?
DREYFUS: That's the current framework. The Howard Government re-legislated the Citizenship Act in 2007 and the bedrock of the Act is nobody is to be made stateless.
CASSIDY: I'm trying to get a commitment from you that that would remain the bedrock?
DREYFUS: Absolutely the bedrock should be nobody should be made stateless by an act of the Australian Government. Australia signed up to this in 1973, that we will not make people stateless, we will do what we can to reduce statelessness because it is a real problem. This point, we need to know what the Government is proposing. It needs to recognise the seriousness of the step of taking an Australian's citizenship away and I think there are issues about what the standard of proof would be, who should do it, should it go before a judge or a minister and what the circumstances are to be?
At the moment, there is a monumental conflict in Cabinet, between ministers and the backbench, between ministers and each other, as to what the route to go down is. When the government makes up its mind, when the Government does some good government, which is meant to have started back in February, we will be in a position to comment.
CASSIDY: Some of your colleagues find this a difficult area. Laura Tingle put up the Government keeps rolling out legislation until Labor cracks, they know you are so terrified of being seen as soft on terror. Is there validity to that?
DREYFUS: There is validity to the other thing Laura said which is the Government pushed this so hard, it's wedged itself which is what we saw in Cabinet that came to light through massive leaks this week. Labor stands together with the Government, Barrie, on the objective of keeping Australians safe. That's absolutely appropriate. But it doesn't mean we have to agree with the Government. There needs to be a debate about what means we use to keep Australians safe and I'm going to keep fighting for this. We are entitled and it is our responsibility as the Opposition to keep asking questions of the Government.
CASSIDY: Just finally on the gay marriage issue and there is a report this morning that says Bill Shorten is now inviting Liberal MPs to step up and second his private members bill and that Tanya Plibersek would step aside from that role. It would still be Bill's bill, wouldn't it? He would still have ownership over it. Is that the answer?
DREYFUS: There is a number of ways to get to this but the invitation to the Liberal Party to say You should be co-sponsoring this bill. We are looking forwards to a Liberal Party member stepping up and co-sponsoring this bill. That's going to be the breakthrough. We need the other - the other thing we need to make this happen is to have a free vote.
CASSIDY: So they can co-sponsor it provided Bill Shorten introduces it. You can see why they would see it still as ownership?
DREYFUS: Let's see someone step forward first. Bill Shorten and Tanya Plibersek are trying to build on the momentum in Ireland, a vote by a substantial majority by referendum to bring in marriage equality in Ireland. That is something. It is a real event. First country in the world to do it this way. We want to build on that momentum but, in order for it to happen, and I think it is going to happen this year in Australia, we need what the Liberal Party calls a free vote, we describe it as a conscience vote, to happen in the Liberal party room.
CASSIDY: Thanks for your time this morning.
DREYFUS: Good to be with you, Barrie.