THE HON MARK DREYFUS KC MP
MEMBER FOR ISAACS
NATIONAL PRESS CLUB
WEDNESDAY, 12 OCTOBER 2022
SUBJECTS: National Anti-Corruption Commission; Optus data breach; Veterans Royal Commission; Administrative Appeals Tribunal; Human Rights Commission; Whistleblowers; Bernard Collaery; Media freedom; Ministerial diaries; Voice to Parliament; Julian Assange.
LAURA TINGLE: Thanks, Mr Dreyfus. There are some really obvious things that have arisen about the integrity commission since you released your proposal. Given a lot of the focus is on the relationship with the Parliament, I've got two related questions, because I'm chairing and I can. The first one is about the committee which will oversight the Commission. As you say, it's going to have a broad range of people on it, but the Government will ultimately have a casting vote as chair, would your ambition and hope be that the committee would basically form unanimous or consensus agreements on any of the matters that it deals with? And informing and designing the proposal? Did you look at the question of Parliamentary Privilege and how that may affect the Commission's powers? Because, for example, in the Veterans Suicide Royal Commission, underway at the moment, Parliamentary Privilege has become an issue that's frustrated the Commissioners in being able to gain access to some information.
ATTORNEY-GENERAL MARK DREYFUS: On the first question, Laura, it is absolutely my hope that this committee will operate a bit similarly to the way in which the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security has historically operated, which is to, as far as possible, get to unanimity. And the reason for that is we want to have in the national security space the support from across the Parliament for the measures that we take on national security. So too with this. It's really important that Australians see the Parliament coming together to agree on a model which is why I'm hoping for support across the Parliament to pass this bill. But equally, in its ongoing work, I would like to think that we can achieve a level of consensus in the Parliament, not on partisan lines, but a level of consensus about the need to take measures against corruption, the need to improve integrity across our system. And so yes, I'm looking for this Parliamentary committee, when it's established, to work towards consensus, work towards unanimity. I can't insist on it, and we'll have to wait and see how it operates, but I think that that's a worthwhile thing.
On the second part of your question, which is about Parliamentary Privilege, Parliamentary Privilege is expressly preserved in this bill and I was a bit puzzled by the comments of the Veterans' Royal Commission. I'm hoping that more work is able to be done with the Veterans' Royal Commission, because, in fact, the purpose of Parliamentary Privilege is to provide a means for citizens to come forward to the Parliament. It's the way to ventilate problems and have them have attention paid to them and ought not be in any way a bar to a subsequent Royal Commission coming along and conducting its own investigations into those matters. So, I see Parliamentary Privilege is something that is an aid to accountability. It's an aid to transparency. It's an aid to things being examined, not the reverse.
DAVID CROWE: Mr. Dreyfus, David Crowe from the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age of Melbourne. The Administrative Appeals Tribunal has been a source of a lot of concern for many years now in terms of the political appointments made to that tribunal. And there's now an intersection with the issue of the anti-corruption commission because there's concern expressed by two Liberals today, James Paterson and Andrew Hastie, about who will authorise a warrant for the interception of a phone call, for instance, which could see possibly low-level people, excuse me, calling them this, low-level people signing off on those warrants. I'm interested in your view of whether that's a genuine concern or whether that's actually an unfounded concern, but also does it not highlight the fact that in the last nine years there was a trend towards a greater political appointment of members of the AAT? Can something be done about that? Will your judicial commission actually vet and approve appointments to the AAT as well?
ATTORNEY-GENERAL: That was clever. I was told you're only allowed to ask one question. I was amazed to see the story on the front page of The Australian today, with two Liberal Members of Parliament attacking the extraordinarily partisan and political appointments that their former government made over nine years to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal. If ever you wanted a demonstration or a confirmation that something needs to be done about the AAT, there it was with these current members of the Opposition attacking, in effect, the partisan appointments that they made with almost 90 failed Liberal candidates, former Liberal staffers, former Liberal Members of Parliament that have been appointed. It also shows you how cynical the Liberal Party is that they can only see government institutions through some partisan prism, which is what they've done there. I can very directly say that we are engaged in a process of looking at reform of the AAT. So let's put that to one side, because we're here to talk about the anti-corruption commission today.
It shows a misunderstanding by those Liberal Members of Parliament about what warrant issuing involves. It will be for the Commission, the Independent Commission, to determine whether it is going to investigate something. It will be for the Independent Commission to determine whether it wishes to conduct a telecommunications surveillance or execute a search warrant on private premises because the Commission won't need a warrant to walk into any government department. The legislation provides the power to do that, and ask for documents. So we're talking about search warrants of private premises, or telecommunications being conducted on anyone because that will require a warrant. All the people who are charged, which might be judges and might be AAT members, all that they do in that function is to review for lawfulness. It's a very straightforward function. It's an important check and balance in our system. That's why we do provide for warrants for telecommunication surveillance, we do provide warrants for listening devices, and we do provide for warrants for search warrants, but it's an entire misunderstanding of what role is played by AAT members in that process.
ROSIE LEWIS: Mr. Dreyfus, Rosie Lewis from The Australian. Just following up on Crowe's question, then, if all they do is review for lawfulness, does that mean that they're just going to automatically approve a Commissioner’s request for a warrant? Or do they actually have a job in reviewing the request for a warrant?
ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Everyone who receives warrants has a job to do. One of my tasks as Attorney-General is to issue the warrants to ASIO, which for many years has been a role of the Attorney-General, and I can assure you that I take that role extremely seriously. I'm assisted in the task by skilled officers of the Attorney-General's Department who do a preliminary review for lawfulness, but I consider wider concerns as well.
LEWIS: So I wanted to ask, then, how then can you guarantee that any of the AAT members nominated would not have been political appointments?
ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Well, clearly, I can't at the moment and your story on the front page of The Australian makes that clear. And it's not just me saying it. It's Mr. Hastie and Senator Paterson saying it loud and clear that we've had an extraordinary politicisation of the AAT, which is quite wrong. It's severely damaged the reputation of the institution, which is something that I regret, and we are embarked now on considering what we can do about it.
PHIL COOREY: Mr Dreyfus, Phil Coorey from the AFR. Just back on the anti-corruption commission and just the language that was used in Opposition when you were building support for it. I go back to December last year, I think The Sydney Morning Herald had an analysis on a government's grant program, which showed it was skewed towards Coalition seats and the then Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese said at the time: 'This is why we need a commission, and we need it now'. And he said: 'I'll put the Prime Minister on notice that a National Anti-Corruption Commission, we'll be able to look at the Sports Rorts program and these rorted programs of taxpayers funds'. I just want to ask you again, these are comments that the Government, your Government, has not been prepared to repeat since you've been elected as to what the commission should look at. Does the public need to temper its expectations in terms of the political behaviour that this Commission will examine? In other words, Sports Rorts, if it has occurred, is that really the sort of thing this is going to really look at? Or is it going to be much more serious and systemic behaviour than that?
ATTORNEY-GENERAL: I'd invite any member of the public or any journalist here who is interested in the scope of this Commission to look at how broad the definition of corruption is. To look at how broad the powers are of this Commission, which I'm hoping will be established by the end of this year, and consider that, as we said it would, it will have the power to look at any corruption anywhere in the Australian public service. What I'm not going to do is say that one particular instance or another of conduct or one particular program or another, or the rorting of one program or another, must be investigated by this Commission. Because to do so would be to fall into the error made by the former government, which was it reserved to itself in its draft legislation that it never brought to the Parliament, it reserved to itself the right to tell the commission what it was going to investigate. This, I stress will be an independent Commission. It's possibly its most important feature, that it is independent of government. The Government will not be directing it on what it can investigate. Any member of the Australian community will be free to bring forward any allegation they wish and one of the big jobs that this Commission is going to have is sifting through the material that is put before it. That's been the experience of all of the state and territory commissions. The silver lining in the cloud of the Commonwealth being last is that we are actually able to learn from the experience of the state and territory commissions and I know from that experience, because I've talked to very many of the past and present anti-corruption commissioners around the states and territories, one of the big functions is sifting. They have to, but it's their job to sift, not the job of government.
KATINA CURTIS: Katina Curtis from the West Australian. It was good to hear you talk about press freedom there. I was wondering if you could explain the interaction of the search and wiretap powers and the protections for journalists? I know there is the public interest tests on warrants if they're for searching journalists or newsrooms, but what about if they're on the other end and they're capturing someone who is perhaps a journalist’s source and their interactions with journalists and those weren't the ones that would be perhaps signed off or checked for lawfulness by AAT members? Can you give any guarantees that those AAT members would have legal qualifications?
ATTORNEY-GENERAL: It's a great question. And I can say, as I did in my speech, that we are looking at these two reports - the one from the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security and the one from the Senate Committee chaired by Senator Hanson-Young - both of which reported during the course of the last term. Both of them looked at what measures might be put in place to provide more checks and balances to make sure that there is a better consideration in the exercise of these powers of the really important role that is played by the press in the functioning of our democracy. What gave rise to both of those inquiries, of course, was the shocking raid on the home of an Australian journalist, something that is virtually unprecedented in the long history of Australian journalism. I won't say that there's never been a search of the premises of a journalist or interrogation of a journalist, but it's mercifully very, very rare. And that was followed by the execution of another search warrant at the headquarters of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation in Ultimo. Different matters to be sure, pursuing different investigations, but they happened quite close to each other and I think that really got a lot of people in Australia concerned. Both of those inquiries made serious recommendations about increasing the level of scrutiny of the use of compulsive powers. The former government said that it accepted the recommendations. So, there was not only a unanimous report by the PJCIS, but the former government accepted its recommendations and then didn't do anything. We are going to do something.
CURTIS: And AAT members with legal qualifications or no legal?
ATTORNEY-GENERAL: I think that one of the areas that has to be looked at. As is reported in Rosie Lewis's story this morning on the front page of The Australian, I'm on record as promoting the idea that you need senior people looking at these particular kinds of warrants. And that's an issue particularly to make sure that the, what I would hope to be a very small number of compulsory powers ever used connected to a journalist. You can't rule it out. There will be investigations where this comes up. But in those very small number of cases, there's every reason why you might like to increase the level of qualification of the person who's conducting the scrutiny.
RON MIZEN: Thank you, Attorney just on a slightly different topic of integrity and transparency. In Opposition you personally appeared in a matter against George Brandis to have his ministerial diary released, you said that voters should be able to know who their elected representatives are meeting. Justice Jagot, I believe, appeared in that matter and is who you've just appointed the High Court. She said she considered that there is a significant public interest in knowing the outline of the diary activities of elected representatives. Down the road the ACT Government releases ministerial diaries as a matter of course, on a regular basis. Should that happen here at the Commonwealth level? Or should at least those diaries be made available for free under the Freedom Information Act? And just on FOI you were deeply critical of the former government's implementation of FOI laws, you accused them of breaching them on a regular basis. What concrete steps have you taken since getting in government to ensure that public servants or ministerial offices are following the FOI Act to the letter?
ATTORNEY-GENERAL: It's a long project, Tom, making sure that everyone in the public service understands their obligations under the Freedom of Information Act. We had a major set of reforms sponsored by Senator John Faulkner when he was Special Minister of State in 2010. And what I've observed in the intervening period, is that at some point, whether or not you're going to have the Freedom of Information that the name of the legislation suggests, will depend on the amount of resourcing that governments put into the Freedom Of Information function. That, for example, might mean that you wouldn't want the same person, as was the case for many years under the former government occupying the three positions of Privacy Commissioner, Information Commissioner, and Freedom of Information Commissioner. Shortly before the election we moved to two people holding the three positions but that's something I'm looking at. But the other thing you need to do is get a different culture across the public service and that comes from the top. We are a government that is committed to accountability. We're a government that is committed to see freedom of information working properly. But it's a long project. I don't think I'm going to turn it around in one week, or even one month. It's something I'm going to continue to talk about, something I'm going to continue to work with colleagues and across the public service on making sure that there is as much transparency as possible about our government information and ministerial diaries. When I was arguing the case for Senator Brandis's diary to be released under the Freedom of Information Act I pushed back extremely hard against the suggestion that this was an unreasonable diversion of government resources to the question of even vetting the Attorney-General's diary. No one has yet, this is not an invitation to anyone in this room, but no one has yet applied for my diary under the Freedom of Information Act and I'm expecting someone will. If not before now, they will certainly now. And my view is, subject to appropriate deletions for national security matters, if they appear in my diary, that my diary should be available under the Freedom of Information Act. I would not in any sense suggest a different rule for me than the rule that I sought to apply to Senator Brandis, which was upheld by the full Federal Court.
QUENTIN DEMPSTER: Quentin Dempster. Attorney-General, thanks very much for your protection and acknowledgement of freedom of the press and our liberal democracy. I realise you and the Prime Minister want your NACC bill to secure hopefully unanimous support in the Reps and the Senate. But how far are you prepared to compromise with the Liberal Party? Your shadow Julian Leeser, is proposing that a separate judge have the final say on exceptional circumstances for National Anti-Corruption Commission public hearings, is that acceptable? How can you be so sure the exceptional circumstances clause won't be litigated all the way up to the High Court and back if the vested stakes are high enough?
ATTORNEY-GENERAL: On the first one, I've been a bit puzzled by some of the statements that the Shadow Attorney-General Mr Leeser has made since his Leader, Mr Dutton stood up on the day that the bill was introduced to the Parliament and said that he believes that the Government had got the balance right. Now, we've consulted with the Opposition, just as I have consulted with every member of the Crossbench in both the House and the Senate. And I am looking forward to the Opposition supporting this bill. Which is why I'd say again, I'm a bit puzzled about some of the comments that Mr Leeser has chosen to make since the bill was introduced. It's not clear to me that he is speaking with the authority of the Leader of the Opposition. I'm not entirely sure why he's made a number of those comments on the particular point that he's making about the need for a superior court judge to make a decision on whether or not a public hearing should be held by the Commission. That would seem to me to be a gross interference with the independent conduct of the Commission by the Commissioner. It would unnecessarily bog down the Commission in needless litigation. It would involve possibly quite an extensive hearing before the superior court judge, which a whole lot of factors about the investigation would have to be revealed to the judge, possibly in a confidential way, possibly with all sorts of suppression orders, it doesn't it barely bears thinking about how complicated it would be. And I don't think we'd gain much from it. The experience of State and Territory commissions has been that not many, not many hearings are conducted in public. I know that there's a desire on the part of probably many people in this room for as much of the work of the anti-corruption commission to be in public, but it simply can't be. It's, as I said, in my address, it's not a court. It's got to look at most of the work it does in private, simply to protect reputations, to guard against prejudice in criminal proceedings, a whole range of things. Those are the reasons why you would want it in private.
On your last question, I'm not thinking that providing for exceptional circumstances, albeit that it provides guidance to the Commissioner, is going to create some opportunity for litigation. It will remain an independent discretion to be exercised by the Commissioner as to whether or not a hearing in public is to be held. The one commission that's published extensive statistics on this, which is the New South Wales ICAC, its experience suggests that it holds about five per cent of its hearings in in public.
DEMPSTER: If the stakes are high enough, though, the vested interests and their reputation and future, why persist with exceptional circumstances as a litigated clause?
ATTORNEY-GENERAL: It won't be. I don't think that it gives rise to litigation. It's an open discretion to be exercised by the Commissioner. I'm trying not to give legal advice and I won't give you a legal ruling on it, because it's not my job. But we've seen from the state and territory commissions repeated examples of people who are the subject of investigation running off to the Supreme Court of that state or territory to try and stop commissions from proceeding with investigations, or in the case of a notorious current and very long running investigation in Victoria, trying to prevent the Commission from reporting. We've done our best in this bill to reduce, I won't say eliminate, but to reduce opportunities for that kind of interfering litigation.
ANDREW PROBYN: Andrew Probyn, ABC. Mr. Dreyfus, when you were in opposition, unfairly or fairly, you gained the reputation is that dobber-in-chief, you referred quite a few ministers to the AFP. Indeed, predecessors of yours as Attorney-General both George Brandis and Christian Porter. So when it comes to the National Anti-Corruption Commission, or NACC, when will referrals be made? And conversely, what punishment would there be for public disclosure of false allegations? Given that the reputation reputational damage is evident, to coin a phrase that perhaps reputations would be knackered”?
ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Thank you very much, Andrew. I'm not going to give a quote on what things should be referred or what shouldn't. It's going to be a matter for any member of the Australian community to put before -
PROBYN: It wasn't about referral. It was about when would they become public.
ATTORNEY-GENERAL: There are a range of safeguards in this bill that are designed to protect against unfair, undue reputational damage, and that includes keeping investigations secret. That's going to be a matter for the commission. Making statements in hearings about the status of a particular witness, whether they're the object of an allegation, or are merely appearing as a witness, making statements in reports that, as far as possible, clear someone who has become involved in some way in a Commission's investigation, all of those, we hope, are improvements on all of the states and territory arrangements. We hope that they will go some distance to guarding against undue reputational damage.
DOMINIC GIANNINI: Dominic Giannini from the Australian Associated Press. Thank you, Mr. Dreyfus. The ACT Supreme Court in May ruled that the legality of any bugging operation in East Timor was irrelevant to the charges against Bernard Collaery. So this means that we could conceivably still have a Collaery Witness K whistleblower case regardless of potentially illegal or corrupt actions by Commonwealth officials. What will the whistleblower reforms offer in term so of protections in cases such as these?
ATTORNEY-GENERAL: I'm not to be taken as commenting on Mr Collaery's case. I've said all I wish to say about Mr Collaery when I ended his prosecution using a very little used power. So I won't say any more about Mr Collaery. But obviously, we've got reforms ahead of us to the whistleblower protection scheme of the Commonwealth. I brought the whistleblower protection scheme that is now in place, the Public Interest Disclosure Act, to the Parliament in 2013. I was conscious that I may not have got it quite right, and provided for a statutory review of that Act, which was to take place unusually within two years of the act coming into force. That review did take place, a very eminent Australian public servant, Philip Moss, conducted the review, he handed the report to the government at the end of 2016 and I say this a lot about the former government, nothing happened. And I've now picked up that report. I've said publicly we are, and I said in this address today, we are going to bring reforms to the Public Interest Disclosure Act to the Parliament next year. I'm hopeful that they will pass before the anti-corruption commission is set up. But people should understand this. These are separate processes. The anti-corruption commission has within it, in its bill, protections for people who come forward to the anti-corruption commission. The Public Interest Disclosure Act is a much wider scheme that doesn't just deal with allegations of corruption it deals with any allegation of misconduct, or breach of a code of conduct. Any maladministration in the Commonwealth can potentially be the subject of whistleblowing. Brought forward to your superior and then you're permitted - it's the way the scheme works - to go public with your allegation if nothing happens. Now, there are some deficiencies identified by Philip Moss. I'm very hopeful that we can pick up those deficiencies, act on his recommendations and bring those reforms to the Parliament in the first part of next year.
SARAH BASFORD CANALES: Thank you, Mr Dreyfus, Sarah Basford Canales from the Canberra Times. While the Coalition was in government the funding of the Australian Human Rights Commission had been slashed. Now your government has adopted all the recommendations for their Respect@Work Report, to what extent will you restore the funding properly so it can do the mountain of work you've given it? And, cheekily, just to add to that, the Commission is also at risk of losing its A Grade Status due to a number of questionable appointments, including that of Lorraine Finlay, who you've previously described as another Liberal mate. Will you keep her in the role for the full five-year term?
ATTORNEY-GENERAL: The very first bill that I brought to the Australian Parliament, as Attorney-General was a bill that I think will go the distance to restore or remove the threat to the A Grade Status of the Australian Human Rights Commission, which, just for those of you that have not followed the minutia of this, the United Nations last year threatened to remove the A Grade Status of our national human rights institution, which is the Australian Human Rights Commission, because of a lack of merit-based appointments processes. So, the bill that I brought to the Parliament was one which sets up a merit-based appointments process for Commissioners of the Human Rights Commission and confirms the term limits as a maximum of seven years for those Commissioners. I've got absolutely no intention of in any way altering the term of Lorraine Finlay, who is the Human Rights Commissioner, and it's been a matter of some pride that that's the first bill I brought to the Parliament because I think merit-based appointment processes are really important. I thought it was a shocking thing that Australia, which is a country that prides itself on human rights standards, although there's always more we can do, but the thought that our national human rights institution could be downgraded to B status, I felt was something we needed to do something about straightaway.
BASFORD CANALES: And just on the funding?
ATTORNEY-GENERAL: On the funding, I've brought legislation to the Parliament to fully implement the Respect@Work Report by the Sex Discrimination Commissioner. Another piece of unfinished business from the former government who said that they accepted all of the recommendations made by Kate Jenkins but then proceeded to bring legislation to the Parliament which didn't implement all of those recommendations. I've brought a bill to the Parliament in the last sitting week which implements the remaining recommendations with the exception of one that my colleague, Mr Burke, is going to deal with. And as part of that process of implementing the Respect@Work recommendations we are looking at the funding of the Human Rights Commission. It's in hand.
BEN WESTCOTT: Thank you for your speech Attorney-General, Ben Westcott from Bloomberg. I too have a multifaceted question. On the eve of a very busy legislative agenda coming up for the rest of the year, not only have you said you'll want to pass your NACC by the end of the year, but also you've said you'll want to get through privacy law changes by the end of the year in the wake of the Optus hack. Do you still think it's possible to do both of those by the end of the year? And, in relation to privacy laws, do you think Australia at the moment currently strikes the right balance between protecting our citizens privacy and data collection to assist our intelligence services?
ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Thanks, Ben, for the question. We have got a busy legislative agenda, there's a lot to get done. It's partly a product of inactivity from the former government and there's no better example of inactivity than in this Privacy Act area. The former government commenced a review of the Privacy Act and that's all they did. The review started, work was done by excellent officers in the Attorney-General's department. And I should acknowledge those who are here today. The team that worked on, or some of the large team that worked on the anti-corruption commission bill, are here and I'd thank them for their work. But the Department started on the work, but there was no indication of when this Privacy Act review was to be completed. One of the things that I've done on coming to government is to make sure that that will be brought to a conclusion. It will be finished by the end of this year. That's the review as a whole because we have a very outdated piece of legislation in the Privacy Act. But no one foresaw the shocking privacy breach involved in the data breach from Optus, something that's affected millions of Australians in a dreadful way. And I've said that we're now looking at bringing forward from that Privacy Act review process some urgent reforms that we can make quickly to the Privacy Act which won't be the whole piece. It won't be the full set of reforms that we want to make. But there's some things that I think we can do urgently that pick up possibly - and I can't fully commit because I we haven't completed our deliberations on this - but I can foreshadow that one of those amendments to the Privacy Act might be the increasing of penalties. That's something the Privacy Commissioner herself has called for. Another might be better arrangements, because this is something that the group of ministers who immediately sprang into action when the Optus breach was notified to us, the better sharing of information with financial institutions. I was just talking to the executive from Westpac who's here with a number of them but in order to ensure that there wasn't more damage done as a result of this Optus data breach because, as has been now said, by many people, 100 points of identification for millions of Australians was bound up in this breach, that gives rise to possibilities of identity theft. But it also gives rise to the possibilities of a range of financial fraud. One of the ways to guard against that is the sharing of information with the financial institutions, with the major banks and we found that the means to do that was quite cumbersome. It required regulations to be made under the Telecommunications Act by the Minister for Communications and we would like to think that it's possible to devise a way to get that done quicker because I'm sorry to say I fear that this will not be the last data breach in Australia's history. We need to have better information sharing when the data breaches happen. Before that we need to have higher penalties to provide a better incentive to make sure it doesn't happen in the first place. And there's a third thing that we might look at - which is the question and I've talked about this already - why is it that companies feel that they need to have and keep so much information in the first place? Because if they didn't keep so much information for so long, the consequences of a data breach wouldn't be so serious.
WESTCOTT : And just in terms of the balance between intelligence agencies and personal data protections for Australians? Do you think that balance is currently correct?
ATTORNEY-GENERAL: I think it's something that we need to continually look at and that's why the Rudd Government created the Independent National Security Legislation Monitor modelled on a similar agency in the United Kingdom. The Abbott Government tried to abolish the Independent National Security Legislation Monitor but, happily, did not receive support in the Senate for doing so. And the four Independent National Security Legislation Monitors have shown the worth of creating that agency because Grant Donaldson, the current INSLM, is looking at a range of security laws. We're expecting a report from him on the high-risk terrorist offenders legislation. The reason why we have this monitor is so that there can be a process of continuing review, to make sure, to answer your question, that we've got the balance right. I don't accept that the really extreme powers that we have created over the last 20 years to deal with terrorism are set and forget. I think we need to accept that they are extreme powers. There's a reason for bringing them in but we need to keep under review whether we still need them and we need to keep under review whether we've got the safeguards, the checks and balances that surround those powers exactly right.
JOSH BUTLER: Josh Butler from The Guardian. I wanted to ask you about the Voice to Parliament. Will there be public funding given to the respective sides of the debate? And, related does the Government have concerns about an influx of private money into the respective campaigns, particularly or potentially from overseas political interest groups? What could the Government do to ensure that voters get transparency about who is bankrolling the respective sides of the campaign?
ATTORNEY-GENERAL: It's a great question. We are looking at all of the arrangements about how this referendum on The Voice is to be conducted. We've committed to accepting the generous offer made in the Uluru Statement From The Heart. I hope everyone in this room, indeed, I hope everyone in Australia has read the Uluru Statement From The Heart. It's a wonderful, wonderful national opportunity to recognise our Indigenous Australians in our Constitution and I'm looking forward to the referendum happening. But before that, we've got to pay attention to the machinery that surrounds the conduct of a referendum. We haven't had a referendum in Australia since 1999. We haven't had a successful one since 1977, ancient history almost. If you're under 40 you haven't voted in a referendum. And we need to look really hard and we are looking really hard, and there's deliberations now within government as to what the arrangement should be. One of those questions goes to your question, Josh, which is achieving transparency in donations, possibly to a greater level than we presently have in the electoral process. Another question, a machinery question, is how to make the very antiquated referendum machinery provisions look more like the electoral process that we have in Australia, which is what Australians are familiar with. So, that's ahead, but you'll see more in in coming months about what the arrangements are we are proposing.
BUTLER: Do you have concerns about overseas groups? Overseas funding of this particular referendum? Is that a concern of yours?
ATTORNEY-GENERAL: It is a concern. I can't think of a reason why there should be overseas funding permitted for campaigning in this referendum.
ANDREW TILLETT: Andrew Tillett, Vice President here at the Press Club and from the AFR. You spoke about press freedom. You spoke about whistleblower reform. We've got Julian Assange, his lawyer, Jennifer Robertson here at the Press Club next week. Do you still think it's in the public interest that that prosecution of Julian Assange continue? And, related to whistleblowers, you intervened in the case of Bernard Collaery, will you intervene in the cases of Richard Boyle and David McBride?
ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Mr Assange’s case has gone on long enough. The Prime Minister has said this, the Foreign Minister has said this. I've said this. I'll say it again. It's gone on long enough. But we're not going to conduct our representations to the Government of the United States in public and I’ll say no more about that. On Richard Boyle, his case is currently before a court in Adelaide. Mr Boyle is now conducting a preliminary hearing ahead of his criminal trial on whether or not the provisions of the Public Interest Disclosure Act protect him and it would be entirely inappropriate for me to comment further about that case, which is currently this week being conducted.
TIM SHAW: Thanks for your address today. You made this point “the guidance and information to support the public sector to understand the concept of corrupt conduct”. Do you want to see that extended to senior advisors in ministers offices within the Albanese Government? And would you expect those senior advisors working with public servants in those various departments to go tell the minister “it's a rort”? And if it's a rort, is that policy proposal potential corruption?
ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Let's be clear, the National Anti-Corruption Commission is going to cover ministerial staff. For many years, there's been a discussion about what is the precise role of ministerial staff. They are treated differently by legislation, they are treated differently from the members of the Australian Public Service. But we are not going to be drawing any such distinctions for the National Anti-Corruption Commission. It will apply alike to permanent public servants, casual public servants, labour hire contractors see and senior advisors. All ministerial staff, from the executive assistant through to the most senior of the ministerial advisors, they are all covered. And I'm hoping that the education function of the Commission about which I spoke in my address will be, in part, able to be directed to ministerial staff who I've thought for a long time sometimes miss out on the standards training, and the ethics training and a range of other training devices that are standard fare in the Australian Public Service. I know that we in Labor have put a lot of effort into training our staff but possibly we could do more. And one part of training our staff is now going to be able to be performed by this anti-corruption commission, which is going to have an education role. I mentioned it in my address because I actually think it's really important. And it's variable between the state and territory commissions. Some of them are better at it than others, but those that do it well have got a very clear outreach function to government departments and everyone in the public sector and that includes publishing things and conducting courses.
TINGLE: Unfortunately, we're going to have to end it there. But could you please join me in thanking the Attorney-General.