TV interview – ABC Breakfast

SUBJECTS: Socceroos; National Anti-Corruption Commission; Whistleblower protections; Industrial relations bills; Julian Assange.

HOST: Okay, let’s return to Federal Parliament where the Government is due to introduce proposals for new laws offering protection to whistleblowers. It’s after the Government managed to successfully push through its National Anti-Corruption Commission bill and the censure motion against former Prime Minister Scott Morrison. Well the Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus is joining us this morning. Good morning to you, Minister. Thanks for being with us on Breakfast.

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Good morning. Lisa. It’s great to be with you. And what a great morning – Go the Socceroos!

HOST: Yeah, well, I’m glad you raised that, because I’ve got to get to some serious business with you. Because the crowd over there were holding up signs saying there needs to be a public holiday. Are you going to take that up with the PM?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: I will, I will. But maybe we’ll wait until after we see what happens with Argentina. But it’s just a great thing to wake up to.

HOST: Yeah, it certainly is great to have some good news. Now is the National Anti-Corruption Commission bill in the way that it’s been passed good news for you? Because there were certainly some people who wanted to see some amendments moved through.

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: I think it’s good that you mention, Lisa, the way in which it passed. It passed through both Houses of Parliament with overwhelming support. And I think, of course, there was a debate about some aspects of the bill, you always do get some debate, but there was a constructive and cooperative approach in the Parliament. And I think that gives confidence to the people of Australia that with this powerful, independent and transparent National Anti-Corruption Commission that we’re going to set up around the middle of next year that it’s something that the Parliament as a whole agrees with. And it’s a really, really important step in the task that we’ve got of restoring trust and integrity in our politics.

HOST: Yeah. So what happens now with the process of finding a Commissioner? I know that you’ve already started that process, what’s the timing on it?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: We’ve got to transparent and merit-based appointments process as we should and we’re now in the active search for the Commissioner. It’s a very important appointment, obviously, because that first Commissioner is someone that is going to put their stamp on the character of this Commission and we’ve seen that with the way in which the state commissions have unfolded. So, I’m thinking hard about who’s the right person. We’ve got a search going on at the moment and sometime in the new year we’ll be making the announcement about the appointment. And of course, the bill provides for that appointment to go to the Parliamentary oversight committee. We’ve got layers of oversight in this bill.

HOST: Can we talk about the whistleblower protection legislation that’s coming in before the Parliament. How’s that going to change what happens at the moment with whistleblowers?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: When I was last Attorney-General in 2013 I brought the first national whistleblower protection scheme to the Parliament. It’s called the Public Interest Disclosure Act and what I introduced yesterday was the first stage of reforms to that scheme. We’re going to have a larger reform next year but this first stage tightens up protections and, of course, that’s where we need to get to. We need to make sure that people who see wrongdoing, people who see maladministration or corruption can report it to their superiors and if they don’t get action, that they should be able to go public with their concerns and that they be protected against reprisal. That’s the important thing about whistleblower protection. We need to get these laws right, because we all know that it’s an important part of integrity. It’s an important part of good administration that people will be able to make complaints.

HOST: So where does that leave people like David McBride and Richard Boyle, who are currently being prosecuted?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Richard Boyle has in fact relied on the whistleblower protection scheme in the Public Interest Disclosure Act and I won’t comment on that, because it’s before the court. We’re waiting for the court’s decision there. David McBride is facing criminal charges later this year, sorry, it’ll be now in the new year. Again, I’m not going to comment on something that is a criminal trial before the court.

HOST: All right on the IR bill, reports today that BHP is the latest company to come out and criticise the bill. But it also leads to the suggestion that, as a government, this Labor Government has got some real problems with the relationship with big business. So you’re going to have to mend some fences?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: There’s always a process of mending fences, it’s constant. But I think our relations with the Australian business community are very good and it’s something that the Prime Minister has worked very hard at. We need to get wages moving again. That’s what this bill is about. That’s what the debate’s about and we’re looking at having those laws passed through our Parliament this week. It’s been a great year of achievement, Lisa, and I’m very pleased that we are keeping the commitments that we made to the Australian people on the 21st of May at the election.

HOST: Yes, and it’s six months to the day, actually, since you were sworn in as Attorney-General. We heard from the Prime Minister yesterday on Julian Assange, the fact that he has been lobbying personally lobbying the US Government. Is that an ongoing process? What’s your involvement with it? What happens next? Because the US has shown in the past they have not been open at all to any pleas from other governments.

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Without expressing any approval for Mr Assange’s actions, and you heard that from the Prime Minister yesterday, the Prime Minister has said over and over again now enough is enough. And what we’ve also said is that we’re making representations to the US Government. These kinds of diplomatic activities are best done behind closed doors. We’re making every effort, but I don’t think unpicking how that’s going is going to work very well.

HOST: All right. Thank you very much for your time this morning Attorney-General.

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Thank you, Lisa.

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