Subjects: Voice to Parliament; Censure of former Prime Minister, National Anti-Corruption Commission; Neil Prakash; High Court Citizenship decision.
REPORTER: How big of a blow have the Nationals dealt to The Voice?
ATTORNEY-GENERAL MARK DREYFUS: It’s very disappointing that the National Party have announced this position but I’m not going to give up on convincing them, and every other Australian, that they should be supporting The Voice to Parliament in the Constitution, in the referendum that we’re going to be bringing to the Australian people in the next financial year, as the Prime Minister has said.
REPORTER: Without bipartisan support can a referendum succeed?
ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Of course it can. I think it’s such a long time since there’s been a referendum in our country, it’ll be 23 years by the time we get to the referendum since the Republic referendum in 1999, I don’t think anyone can make judgments based on what is really ancient history for most Australians. You’ve got to be over 40 to have voted in a referendum, you’ve got to be over 60 to have voted in a successful referendum. That tells you how far in the past referendum practice is.
REPORTER: Do you fear though that some of the concerns people like Jacinta Price put out there that this is going to be just more bureaucracy that there’s a lack of detail as to how a Voice to Parliament should actually work? Aside from the merits of those arguments do you fear that those beliefs are widely held within the Australian community?
ATTORNEY-GENERAL: No, I don’t. I don’t think that those fears are widely held. I think that there will be people out there who will find reasons. Always there are going to be people who oppose for the sake of opposing, or people that will find reasons to oppose. But this is what the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people of Australia called for at Uluru in May 2017. We spent years and years before then discussing and debating what form of Recognition of our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people was appropriate for the Constitution. The answer was given in May of 2017, in the Uluru Statement from the Heart, and that called for a Voice to Parliament in our Constitution. That’s what we’re going to hold a referendum about. The Prime Minister’s been very clear in his historic speech at Garma just how simple this process actually is. It’s a short question that Australians will be asked to answer at the referendum and three or so short sentences to go into the Constitution, which the Prime Minister put in draft form in his speech at Garma. I’m really looking forward to this referendum when we hold it in the next financial year and I am confident that we can bring back even people that have indicated early disapproval.
REPORTER: On the censure motion against the former Prime Minister, considering that it is something of a formality, isn’t it? To censure a former Prime Minister, the actual consequences, it’s not like he’s going to get voted out of Parliament or anything like that. Can you explain what the significance is to the Australian public of a censure motion?
ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Censure motions are rare. Censure motions of former Prime Ministers are even more rare. I would remind the Liberal Party that they in government brought forward a censure motion against their former minister Bruce Billson for a much lesser piece of misbehaviour than what we see from the former Prime Minister. What Mr. Billson had done was to take money from the Franchise Council of Australia as an effective paid lobbyist while he was still sitting in the Parliament. The Parliament thought that that was something deserving of censure. We supported that censure when it was brought forward by the former government and we’re calling on the Liberal Party to support the censure motion of their former Prime Minister. We’ve heard deep criticism of the former Prime Minister from his own party colleagues. Think, for example, of the comments made by Karen Andrews immediately when the revelations came that Mr Morrison had appointed himself to some five ministries. We’ve now had, not just the Solicitor-General saying that this was a fundamental breach of the principles of representative democracy, we’ve had a former High Court Judge in Virginia Bell making it absolutely clear that she agrees with the Solicitor General that it is a fundamental breach of the principles of representative democracy and making clear that detail of Mr Morrison’s actions. It is absolutely deserving of censure by the Australian Parliament. It’s a very serious step and it will happen later this week. We’re calling on the Liberal Party to support it.
REPORTER: Why hasn’t the Government put meat on the bones yet in terms of The Voice to Parliament? Are you not opening up to a scare campaign if you haven’t actually detailed it?
ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Well, I appreciate the people who are wanting to oppose The Voice to Parliament going into the Constitution are using that clamour for detail as one of the reasons for opposition. But we are right at the start of this referendum. We haven’t even brought the bills to change the Constitution to the Parliament. We are proceeding methodically, as this Government does, by consulting deeply with a reference group of Indigenous leaders with a wider group of Indigenous people who are providing advice on how the referendum campaign should be structured and we’ve got a constitutional experts group advising as well. Those are the early steps in getting this referendum campaign going and it’s far too early for people to be saying, as The Nationals regrettably did yesterday and it is disappointing, that they’re going to oppose it before they’ve even really thought about.
REPORTER: If The Greens make any more changes to the NACC will it get through in its final form this week?
ATTORNEY-GENERAL: We’re calling on the Liberals to stop playing games. They voted for the National Anti-Corruption Commission bill in the House of Representatives. It’s now gone to the Senate and now they are seeking to wreck the process by bringing forward an amendment to create an unprecedented Opposition veto of the appointments that are to be made to the National Anti-Corruption Commission. It could potentially have the effect of blocking the creation of the National Anti-Corruption Commission. Perhaps I should see that as consistent with the behaviour of the former government which promised a national anti-corruption commission in December of 2018 but, of course, never delivered. If they’re serious about tackling corruption in this country they will pass the bill in the form in which they voted for it in the House and we can get on with the important work of creating a powerful, transparent and independent National Anti-Corruption Commission. We’re going to keep our commitment to the Australian people that we made it the last election. The Liberals seem intent on blocking it but perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised given their conduct over the past term of Parliament.
REPORTER: There were reports over the weekend that Neil Prakash will be brought back to Australia, extradited to Australia to face terror charges here. Is that anything you can shed light on?
ATTORNEY-GENERAL: If and when he arrives back it’s a matter that the Australian Federal Police will deal with and I defer to their decisions in relation to Mr Prakash. But there is of course an outstanding arrest warrant for him based on his appalling conduct working with the Islamic State back in 2014, and 2015.
REPORTER: Do you accept that there are going to be a swathe of people who had their citizenship stripped, who are now going to reapply to get that ack as a result of the High Court decision?
ATTORNEY-GENERAL: The High Court has already said that at least two of the people whose citizenship was purportedly stripped by the former government were never validly stripped of their citizenship. That’s the incompetence of the former government in bringing unconstitutional legislation to the Parliament. It seems apparent that quite a number of the other purported citizenship strippings that occurred are also unconstitutional. We’ll clean up this mess in due course. Thanks very much.