THE HON MARK DREYFUS KC MP
MEMBER FOR ISAACS
WEDNESDAY, 20 DECEMBER 2023
SUBJECTS: Supreme Court of Victoria decision, Bruce Lehrmann defamation action, Privacy Act reform, Natasha Fyles resignation.
ATTORNEY-GENERAL: The Albanese Government's utmost priority is protecting community safety. All that the Opposition is interested in doing is using community safety as a political plaything. What the Opposition has repeatedly suggested is that the Government ignore the advice of our police, of our security agencies and experts and ignore the law - that has to stop. The Opposition has to stop doing this. The Opposition has repeatedly undermined confidence in the Australian Federal Police in our state and territory police forces and their ability to protect the community. This has to stop. The Opposition has to stop undermining confidence in our police forces. The Opposition is called into question the post-sentence order that the Liberal Party legislated for when they were in government - and that has to stop too. And the Opposition has suggested that it is open to the Government to break the law. The Opposition should not do that and they have to stop doing that. The community is not kept safer by the Opposition stoking fear. And I need to say this about the order that was made by the Supreme Court of Victoria in respect of Mr Benbrika yesterday: the application for the Extended Supervision Order was the strongest possible action available under law. It followed advice from all operational agencies involved in the matter, including the Australian Federal Police. Yesterday, the Victorian Supreme Court imposed an Extended Supervision Order, the order that I asked for, which included 30 stringent conditions, including an electronic monitoring device and a curfew for a period of 1 year. In answer to some of the nonsensical things that have been said this morning by the Acting Opposition Leader, an application for a Continuing Detention Order would have failed. The Supreme Court of Victoria, Justice Hollingworth, made that crystal clear yesterday. She made it abundantly clear that a Continuing Detention Order was not available, it was not supported by the evidence and could no longer be ordered by the court. Accordingly, the application for an Extended Supervision Order with stringent conditions was the strongest possible action available under law. The Opposition continues to play politics with the community safety - that has to stop. This Government acts on the advice of security and law enforcement agencies in accordance with the law. If the Opposition is suggesting that the Government should disregard the advice of security and law enforcement agencies they should say so directly. Mr Dutton has been repeatedly criticised for his failures in the Benbrika manner, including by the Supreme Court of Victoria in the most direct terms yesterday. The Court described the decision by Mr Dutton to withhold relevant evidence from Mr Benbrika and the Court in 2020 as a "serious breach" of the Criminal Code. We have been forced to clean up the legal mess that Mr Dutton left behind. I'd say again, the Opposition needs to stop undermining confidence in our police. And they need to stop stoking fears in the community. Happy to take questions.
JOURNALIST: You mentioned the Court ruling on the likelihood of a Continuing Detention Order, but prior to that, at any point in your thinking on this case did you personally prefer a Continuing Detention Order, or did you contemplate that?
ATTORNEY-GENERAL: I act in accordance with legislation - legislation put in place by the former government. And what it requires is for the court to look at the circumstances as they are at the time. I called to give evidence before the Supreme Court of Victoria, the same expert that the former government had called to give evidence in 2020. Her evidence before the court in 2020 had been that Mr Benbrika posed a high risk, her evidence before the court in 2023 was that he posed a moderate to low risk. And the court expressly referred to that in the reasons that Justice Hollingworth gave yesterday for making the Extended Supervision Order. She said that the Extended Supervision Order and the 30 stringent conditions that she imposed addressed the risk as outlined by the government's expert.
JOURNALIST: The Commonwealth applied for a 3-year ESO, Mr Benbrika only got the 1-year order. Will you try to extend Mr Benbrika's order to ensure he is under tough restrictions for longer?
ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Our utmost priority remains at all times protecting community safety. These kinds of post-sentence orders are required by the legislation put in place by the former government to be reviewed every year, even if a 3-year audit were to be made. Of course, we will be looking at the circumstances over the course of the next 12 months. And if there is a requirement for a continuation of the order, in other words, an extension of the Extended Supervision Order that's now there, we will make such an application. But it will be in accordance with law, looking at the circumstances as they are at the time - just as in 2023, I applied for the appropriate and strongest possible order for the circumstances of 2023.
JOURNALIST: Given the revelations that have emerged during the Bruce Lehrmann defamation action, will you support an independent examination of the Commonwealth's handling of the compensation settlement reached with Brittany Higgins?
ATTORNEY-GENERAL: I'm not going to comment on anything that has emerged from that trial when the case is still continuing.
JOURNALIST: Just back on Benbrika, do you share the view, does the government share the view, not based on legal advice, is it based on the government's judgment or based on officials, that Benbrika poses a moderate or low risk, do you share that view?
ATTORNEY-GENERAL: I put before the Court the evidence of the Australian Federal Police, they gave evidence to the Supreme Court of Victoria. I put before the Court the evidence of Dr. Chelsea Dewson - the same expert was called by Mr Dutton as then-Minister in 2020. The court acts on evidence and it made the Extended Supervision Order that I asked for based on the evidence and I'd say again about Sussan Ley, she seems to be saying that we should disregard the evidence given by the Australian Federal Police, she seems to be saying we should disregard the advice of experts. We won't be doing that. We'll be showing appropriate regard for what our police have to say. It's a disgraceful thing that Ms Ley is undermining confidence in our police, particularly at this time of year in the run up to Christmas.
JOURNALIST: Do you think the Deputy Opposition Leader is fit to hold the office that she holds?
ATTORNEY-GENERAL: I'd say of the Deputy Opposition Leader that she has behaved dishonestly and irresponsibly and she really needs to be reflecting on the way she operates. We can't senior politicians in this country seeking to scare people in the community, seeking to undermine confidence in our police forces. But we need to have senior politicians who don't say things that they know to be untrue, who properly state the framework within which this has to be considered. She needs to reflect on the fact that the legislation that we're operating under was put in place by her boss, Peter Dutton, when he was the Minister for Home Affairs in 2019. We have used that legislation properly to apply for the strongest possible order. And that's what was made by the Court yesterday. So that's what I'd say about Ms Ley, that she needs to really take a long hard look at herself and reflect perhaps over the summer period whether or not she's acting properly. I would say she's not, we can't have senior politicians acting like this.
JOURNALIST: Will the Commonwealth review the use of VERA 2R risk assessment tool in light of the Courts criticising its accuracy.
ATTORNEY-GENERAL: We will of course consider the written reasons - we've had oral reasons from Justice Hollingworth yesterday, we'll consider the written reasons of the Court. And clearly there was criticism by the Court of the use of that methodology. But the methodology is one that is one of many means of putting that sort of assessment before the court, it's not something that's required by the legislation, the legislation requires the Court to look at a whole lot of factual matters.
JOURNALIST: When she hands down those written reasons, what other options might be available?
ATTORNEY-GENERAL: There's always options available to the Commonwealth but it'll be in accordance with the provisions of the Criminal Code, which provide appropriate circumstances for post-sentence orders to be made. We've applied right now, at this point in February 2023, when I made the application and continuing through today, we've applied for as strict as possible order designed to keep our community and the Supreme Court of Victoria has made the order I sought.
JOURNALIST: On the Privacy Act, do you have any sense of when the government might be ready to introduce legislation?
ATTORNEY-GENERAL: I'm very hopeful that we will move to introduce the first substantial reforms to the Privacy Act in many years sometime in the course of next year.
JOURNALIST: On the resignation of the Northern Territory's Chief Minister, are you concerned about what this could mean for Labor's chances at the next Northern Territory election?
ATTORNEY-GENERAL: I thank Natasha Fyles for her service that she has provided both to the Northern Territory for many years as Health Minister and Chief Minister and to Australia and I'm sorry for the circumstances of her going. Thanks very much.