ABC TV Weekend News Breakfast

Subjects: Meeting of Attorneys-General; Coercive control; Voice to Parliament.

FAUZIAH IBRAHIM: Federal Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus and his State and Territory counterparts have now endorsed draft National Principle to address coercive control. It is the first step towards a nationally consistent approach to criminalising the behaviours. Now, this follows a renewed focus on dealing with what experts are saying needs to complete change in the way that we understand violence against women.

DAN BOURCHIER: The Meeting yesterday comes at a time when the Albanese Government is developing a major reform agenda, including constitutional enshrinement of a Voice to Parliament, a federal anti-corruption commission and reform to whistleblower protections as well. Mark Dreyfus is the Attorney-General and joins us now from Melbourne. Welcome to Weekend Breakfast.

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Good to be with you, Dan.

BOURCHIER: Let’s start first with coercive control. What are these draft principles that have been agreed to?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: I’m very proud that at the first Meeting of Attorneys-General under the Albanese Labor Government we’ve managed to agree on some measures that will make it possible to keep women and children safe. And in particular, we’ve agreed on some draft National Principles on coercive control which we’re going to be consulting on in coming months, trying to get to some nationally agreed standard on how to deal with this. Coercive control is, of course, a pattern of behaviour might be not necessarily involving violence, where the perpetrator seeks to establish control over the victim.

BOURCHIER: And it’s been described by some experts, Attorney as being where there’s that domination or control of relationships, be that financially physically, mentally, emotionally as well. And right now, there’s a bit of a patchwork around the nation of some States and territories have definitions and rules. Some don’t. It sounds to me like that’s where you’re going with these principles. What exactly did they set out?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: They set out a description of what coercive control is. They talk about how to deal with coercive control and in particular they will make it a better understood, because we commonly hear that people find it difficult to recognise particularly where there’s been no violence occurring. People don’t identify that as a form of family violence. But of course, it is a pernicious behaviour and we need to get better levels of recognition so that we can begin to eliminate this.

BOURCHIER: Mr Dreyfus, can I just ask you at the moment, for anyone that might be watching us speaking this morning, who is hearing you and feels like this is their life, they don’t know where to go for help, or even as I’ve heard, whether there’ll be believed, what do you say to them?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: I say to them that they should reach out to the range of help lines that are available. I won’t take up time listing them, but they’re readily able to be found. It’s really important that people reach out for help, try to speak to someone else so that they can, if it’s a truly abusive relationship, work out, perhaps how best to leave it, or to work out how that relationship might be made better. But particularly this situation, if anyone can see it, if anyone can see that a family member, for example, is experiencing what is able to be recognised as coercive control, it’s potentially something that can lead to, in the end, as we’ve seen repeatedly, disastrous outcomes. Intervention is needed.

BOURCHIER: Clearly, part of this needs to be a national conversation about what coercive control is, what it looks like, and the impact it can have. What are the next steps for you and the other Attorneys-General?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: We’re going to continue to talk, we’re going to be meeting more regularly. One of the decisions taken yesterday is that instead of a very ad hoc Meeting that didn’t meet all that often – this is the first face to face Meeting of Attorneys-General for two and a half years – we’re planning to get together four times a year and this is a very important item on our agenda. We’ve also agreed to do more work on the criminal justice system responses to sexual violence. This is responding to something that Grace Tame raised with Attorneys-General last year, and I’m very pleased to see that tremendous cooperation in the room yesterday from Liberal and Labor Attorneys-General agreeing to work together nationally to keep women and children and safe, to work on family violence, to work on measures against sexual violence. So, it’s an ongoing project, I think you can say, Dan, which is going to lead to, I hope, coordinated action across our nation.

BOURCHIER: Well there certainly will be lots more to talk about that and we will keep coming back to that is there are developments from the Commonwealth from you and your team and the States and Territories. I just want to move on to a conversation around the referendum and the Voice. You were at the Garma festival on Yolngu country just a couple of weeks ago, when the Prime Minister Anthony Albanese made that keynote address speaking of hope, and humility, inviting Australians to vote in a referendum. He said that we should consider asking our fellow Australians something as simple but as clear as this do you support an alteration to the Constitution that establishes an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice. What likelihood do you now see, two weeks later in the conversations that we’ve had, of this getting the kind of unifying national support that it would require?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: We’re going to take time now, Dan, that the Prime Minister has set out a very clear roadmap of where we’re going. He’s set out what the three sentences to go in the Constitution might look like, on which we’re very happy to hear suggestions. He set out the question and I think that you’ll see, in coming months, careful building of the community consensus that we’re going to need to make this referendum successful. I’ve been very pleased to hear from the Leader of the Opposition, Peter Dutton from the Shadow Attorney-General, Julian Leeser, that they are keeping the door open and that’s appropriate. I’m very pleased to hear so many people making constructive contributions to this debate and to hear a number of constitutional lawyers today putting to rest this completely incorrect notion that it might be a veto or that it might be a third chamber. We need to put that to one side, and build the community consensus that we need to accept that this is the way in which we can recognise our indigenous people in our Constitution.

BOURCHIER: In addition to that, there are a number of indigenous senators who have spoken out saying they worry that it lacks the ability to see real change on the ground. Jacinta Nampijinpa Price from the CLP, Lydia Thorpe, from the Greens have raised these issues. Is that the case? Are you worried that this would be a talk fest without tangible actions flowing from it?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: No, I’m not. I think that this can only add to the range of measures we need to take to improve Indigenous health, to improve Indigenous housing, to deal with all of the social problems that Senator Price is talking about. I think that governmental action, action by the Parliament on those matters can only be improved if we can be receiving representations from the Indigenous people of our country. That’s what the Voice is about. It’s to elevate to constitutional level, the possibility of receiving representations, of receiving suggestions from our Indigenous people on measures that we need to take that are about them. We haven’t had that in the past. I’m very much looking forward to this referendum succeeding so that there will be at the constitutional level a Voice to Parliament. And I don’t think in any sense that the two things are inconsistent. I accept Senator Price’s concerns about what needs to be done for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders across Australia, but I think that the measures that we need to take can only be improved if we listen to a voice of Indigenous people.

BOURCHIER: Do you want to see the model of what that Voice would look like before Australians are asked to vote on changing the Constitution?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: I know that there’s been a lot of suggestions that we need to see full detail, is the way it’s sometimes put. I don’t think that’s right. I think that as the Prime Minister has made very clear, by outlining the three sentences to go in the Constitution, it’s going to be for the Parliament to decide the exact detail of the Voice after the referendum succeeds, after we change the Constitution. The change to the Constitution is the first step that’s going to open the door for the completion of discussion about the Voice which will come later. So of course, as my colleague, Linda Burney, as the Prime Minister has said, we’re going to have to have some discussion about what the Voice could look like. But the final detail of that, as the constitutional change that the Prime Minister has outlined makes clear, will be left to the Parliament.

BOURCHIER: And there’s a middle ground in there, Attorney-General, between having some conversation and seeing a model. How much detail do you think is required before Australians vote on a referendum?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: We’ve been talking about Recognition of our Indigenous people in the Constitution for more than 15 years now Dan. This is the form of Recognition that was asked for in the magnificent Uluru Statement From The Heart. We need to change the Constitution. That’s the first step, to put the Recognition of Indigenous people in the form of a Voice to Parliament into our Constitution and then we can get down to the final detail. I don’t think it’s necessary to get down to the final detail and I’m a bit concerned that those who are demanding the final detail what they’re really saying is that they want to vote no. Let’s put the Recognition of Indigenous people in the form of the Voice to Parliament in the Constitution, and then, as the Constitution will then provide, it will be for the Parliament, in conversation with Indigenous people, for the Parliament, in consultation with the people of Australia, to settle on what the final form of the voice will look like.

BOURCHIER: And in terms of voting in that referendum, Mr Dreyfus, when do you want that to happen?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: We haven’t set the precise time for the referendum yet, other than saying we are going to hold this referendum in this term of Parliament. And I think that’s for good reason that we haven’t set the time or the date of this referendum yet, it’s because we’re needing to work out how to build the necessary community wide consensus and support that this referendum is going to need to succeed.

BOURCHIER: That could that be as early as May next year as some have called for?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: I’m not going to engage in speculation Dan on when the date is.

BOURCHIER: I have to try.

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: You did have to try, but as I’ve said we we’re not setting the precise date. We’re having a big think about when will be the most appropriate time. And I think that will be when we can see that the necessary community consensus has been built

BOURCHIER: Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus, we will have to leave it there. Thank you so much. We’ll be talking to you a lot more about these in the months and years ahead, I suspect.

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Thanks, Dan. Good to be with you.

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