SHADOW MINISTER FOR CONSTITUTIONAL REFORM
MEMBER FOR ISAACS
ABC MELBOURNE DRIVE
WEDNESDAY, 4 MAY 2022
SUBJECTS: National Anti-Corruption Commission; Clothing.
RAF EPSTEIN: The integrity you think or think is not in politics and the debate around an anti-corruption commission, it’s a feature of the campaign. I'm not able to bring you an interview with the Attorney-General. I've put in repeated calls and texts and have had zero replies. That doesn't mean we can't talk about the issue and the invitation remains open to the Attorney-General Michaela Cash. Mark Dreyfus though joins you. He is of course one of the Labor MPs here in Melbourne and of course, the Shadow Attorney-General part of Anthony Albanese’s team. Mark Dreyfus, thanks for joining us.
MARK DREYFUS, SHADOW ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Good afternoon Raf. Good to be with you.
EPSTEIN: Why don't you have a detailed bit of legislation out there? Wouldn't that help your argument?
DREYFUS: It's a matter for government Raf. We've published detailed design principles. It's very clear what features we say a strong independent anti-corruption commission should have and we think that's enough for an opposition. The reason you need to do it from within government is that you need to mesh the anti-corruption commission with a whole range of existing integrity. bodies that exist at the federal level.
EPSTEIN: Wouldn't it strengthen your argument though if you had a draft? I mean, you can see their draft, you could just go through and make notes?
DREYFUS: You can see their draft and you can see that it's hopeless, that it's a sham. It's more of a cover up commission than an anti-corruption commission. So I don't think they've aided their cause by having a draft exposure draft bill that they never did bring to the Parliament. No, I don't think that it's necessary for an Opposition to draft legislation in order to make a clear commitment to doing something in government and my leader Anthony Albanese has made it even clearer by saying we will legislate on this by the end of 2022.
EPSTEIN: Okay, let's go through some of the detail. I've tried to read the Government's draft bill. I'm neither a lawyer nor a legislator, but I can see that, I mean, there's different bits and pieces of this corruption watchdog but they can initiate their own investigations, they can act on their own initiative. So what's wrong with that?
DREYFUS: Well, under our model, they certainly can. It's not clear that they can act in that way under the Government's model. They would have to wait, as we read it in in the Government's model, for a referral from the government of an allegation of corruption about the government. And that is patently ridiculous. You need to have an independent commission that can receive complaints from members of the public, that can receive anonymous complaints, that can act on its own motion if it wants, when it sees something in the course of another inquiry. That's what independence means and that's what strength means. And anything less than that is just not adequate.
EPSTEIN: I'll come back to the referrals, maybe, because I want to quote some of the language in the bill. But under their bill, under Section 24, what the Coalition is proposing, they can suggest to the minister legal changes to the public service. That's a pretty big stick. The Integrity Commissioner can recommend the need for, or the desirability of, legislative reform or changes to administrative processes. So if they see the laws around Sports Rorts, or the laws around car parks, that needs to be changed they can call for change. That's a good strong thing for the integrity commission to have, isn't it?
DREYFUS: It is and all of the anti-corruption commissions that now exist in the six states and the two territories can do just that. That is a basic feature of an anti-corruption commission. So tick. That's what we would expect to see. And certainly the legislation that we bring down will contain that feature. One of the points about this Raf is that because for more than three decades, in some jurisdictions, there have been these anti-corruption commissions, I am confident that the model that we introduce at the federal level can pick up the best features of each of those six state and two territory commissions and that will be an obvious feature.
EPSTEIN: If I can just refer you to, you mentioned that issue of referrals - again, if I can quote from the Government's own legislation they didn't debate in the Parliament, but they tabled it - Ministers and MPs can refer an issue to that integrity body if they reasonably suspect that the offence to which corruption relates to has been or is being committed. That sounds pretty good. So I mean, you could, under that model, refer a tonne of your concerns to this Integrity Commissioner?
DREYFUS: Sure. But it's a very, very narrow threshold that would, in fact, eliminate from any investigation a whole lot of serious and systemic corruption.
EPSTEIN: Can you explain that? How, if it's narrow, what does it eliminate?
DREYFUS: The government has tied this to a newly created offence, the criminal offence of corruption. That is not the way that any of the state and territory anti-corruption commissions operate because they are not criminal courts. They are not there to substitute for the Director of Public Prosecutions and the police. They are investigating serious and systemic corruption within any part of the government that they have jurisdiction for and that's the way it should be. If, in the course of an inquiry, a commission discovers the possibility of a criminal offence having been committed, then they all have power to refer that on to the state police. So in our case, it'll be the Federal Police and the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions is the agency we’d use. But corruption in government is a much broader concept than the criminal law and that's why you need these anti-corruption commissions. Regrettably, this Liberal Government has confined its focus to criminal offences only and that, by definition, makes it much more narrow than it should be.
EPSTEIN: Do you think ICAC goes too far? Does the New South Wales model have too many public hearings?
DREYFUS: On the contrary, the New South Wales ICAC has the power to hold public hearings but less than 5% of all of its hearings are conducted in public and they have published statistics that show that over the last 20 years. What they need is the discretion to hold a hearing in public. It's an absolutely vital feature because it builds confidence in the administration of the Commission and the administration of government and it's another ridiculous deficiency in Mr. Morrison's model that he would ban public hearings in any investigation of a minister or an MP. It's one of the many, many deficiencies in the Liberal Party's model.
EPSTEIN: He makes the point that, he gave an interview – it wasn't on television or radio, but he gave an interview in The Age newspaper – saying that you are effectively, if you want the sorts of programs involved in those sporting clubs or the car parks, if you want them to be subjected to a corruption inquiry, you are handing government over to faceless officials. The quote from the Prime Minister is there's a great danger in that, it wouldn't be Australia any more. It would be some kind of public autocracy. Does he have a point?
DREYFUS: It's an absurd thing to say. Mr. Morrison is campaigning there for more corruption, for less scrutiny, for less accountability.
EPSTEIN: Isn't he just saying governments should be able to hand out government money?
DREYFUS: He's saying he doesn't want scrutiny. He doesn't want accountability. He doesn't want an anti-corruption commission to be telling him that he's behaved in a corrupt manner. Now I find that an absurd position for any Prime Minister. Some of the things that he has said about the anti-corruption body in New South Wales are simply nonsense and he has been called out on it now not only by the retiring ICAC Commissioner who called him a buffoon, but also by the Premier of New South Wales, someone from his own party, who has resoundingly rejected the idea that the New South Wales ICAC is a kangaroo court. And today, we heard his colleague, Josh Frydenberg, refusing to agree with Mr. Morrison.
EPSTEIN: Well, he agreed with the Prime Minister’s criticism of the New South Wales body though. He does agree with the Prime Minister's assessment of the New South Wales watchdog?
DREYFUS: Well, he's not prepared to call it - and he's right not to do this - a kangaroo court because it is a ridiculous phrase to use and it undermines public confidence in the Prime Minister's home state of New South Wales, in the long standing anti-corruption body. I think that the Prime Minister has behaved disgracefully throughout this now, he's never wanted it.
EPSTEIN: There’s not much love lost between you and the Prime Minister on this issue is there?
DREYFUS: There is not because he promised the Australian people that he would do an anti-corruption commission before the 2019 election, and he has broken that promise.
EPSTEIN: Well it’s your fault. I mean, does he have a point there? It'd be better, wouldn't it be better if it was bipartisan issue?
DREYFUS: That one is simply bizarre again, Raf, to suggest that because Labor didn't agree to his inadequate model he's not going to legislate it. I haven't noticed the Liberal Party in the past, on things like industrial relations, saying we're not going to go ahead with this because the Labor Party won't agree with that.
EPSTEIN: Isn’t this issue different? Doesn't he have a point? I mean, we had a significant divide in Victoria, between Labor and Liberal before Ted Baillieu brought in the IBAC. It doesn't help it. This is one of those issues that would be better to have both parties supporting it. He's right in that sense, isn't he?
DREYFUS: And both parties do support it, because he said before the last election that he was going to do one, but he's failed. He hasn't had the courage to bring his model to the Parliament so that we can debate it. One of his MPs crossed the floor to try and get a debate going on a national anti-corruption commission but they refused at all points. They haven't brought the legislation forward and a whole term of Parliament has gone past. They’ve broken their promise. There needs to be a change of government. Labor will do this Raf.
EPSTEIN: Do you think you’re going to win? You were quite confident the other week?
DREYFUS: I’m not going to say. I’m hoping we can win, but the polls were wrong in 2019 and they could be wrong again. I’m working every moment right up to the close of the vote for a Labor victory.
EPSTEIN: And is this a vote changing issue? Because I have had senior people in Labor say to me, integrity commission, great idea, I don't like the way the Morrison government's approached it, but Labor people saying to me it's not a vote changer. Do you think it is?
DREYFUS: I can tell you anecdotally I've just been in Perth and doorknocking, and doing work in street walking in Perth with our excellent candidates over there, and it gets raised with me without prompting. People care about this issue. I am certain that for very many people in Australia they are sick of what they see as corruption in the federal government over the last three years. They want something done about it. They see the way that their anti-corruption commissions work at the state level. They've seen the good work that's been done, and they want one nationally.
EPSTEIN: You didn't know you were going to get this question, totally unprompted, have you got a favourite item of clothing?
DREYFUS: I do. Well, actually, you will laugh. You'll think I'm trying to mimic Malcolm Turnbull but I have a leather jacket which I love very much.
EPSTEIN: Does anybody else in your family like that leather jacket?
DREYFUS: Happily, Deborah likes it very much too, so, there you go.
EPSTEIN: That’s his wife. I appreciate your time. Thank you.
DREYFUS: Thanks very much Raf.
EPSTEIN: Mark Dreyfus, Shadow Attorney-General. Of course he's the ALP MP for the seat of Isaacs here in Melbourne. Interesting that he's, they've got him door knocking in Perth. They’re really, the push is on there isn't it? The push is really on for those seats.