Interview with Kieran Gilbert on Sky News

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Shadow Attorney-General & Shadow Minister for Indigenous Australians Julian Leeser MP Interview

Topics: National National Anti-Corruption Commission, the Voice and Syria repatriations.

2:15pm, 3 October 2022 on Sky News Afternoon Agenda.

Kieran Gilbert: Parliament doesn’t sit again until the budget later this month. But there’s a lot on the Government’s agenda between now and then. It’ll set about explaining and gathering support for two key pillars of its reform agenda the National Anti-Corruption Commission and the Indigenous Voice to Parliament. To look more at both of these, joining me now from Sydney is the Shadow Attorney-General, Julian Leeser. Julian Leeser thank you very much for your time. Let’s start with the National Anti-Corruption Commission. This reference to extraordinary circumstances to justify public hearings.

Is that a is that a red line for you and the opposition that has to be there, that sort of hurdle before public hearings are considered by the commission?

Julian Leeser: Well, Kieran, this National Anti-Corruption Commission is not the first time that a corruption commission has been introduced in Australia. The first corruption commission was brought in into place over 30 years ago by the Coalition in New South Wales and so we’ve had over 30 years of experience there dealing with corruption commissions and the way in which they conduct themselves. In relation to the public hearings versus private hearings, I think exceptional circumstances is a good safeguard and I think the government has done well to put it in there.

It shows that certainly that public hearings should not be the rule, that they should be the exception, but that for us is the baseline. And going forward, we want to see even further protections in relation to people who might be appearing before the Corruption Commission so far as public hearings are concerned. We believe that a judicial officer should determine whether a public hearing proceeds and should be the person who is assigned to determine the relative balancing of the series of factors contained in the legislation. We think that the commission itself has an interest in having public hearings.

And if we’re going to provide real protections for people, and remember, these commissions have extraordinary powers, we need to ensure that an independent person is making an assessment as to whether a public hearing is appropriate, whether those exceptional circumstances actually apply. So, we think that’s a good baseline start.

Kieran Gilbert: You’d like to see. So you, well, at the moment, the legislation suggests the commissioner would decide on those, on the basis of whether it’s extraordinary circumstances and in the public interest. You’d like a Supreme Court Judge?

Julian Leeser: Yes, a superior court judge determining that matter. And that is because the Commissioner at the end of the day will have an interest in having a public hearing because they want to justify the fact that they’ve got these powers. They want to demonstrate to the public that they’ve actually gone after corruption. And so we think it is a better method to have a warrant style procedure of an independent person, a judge of a superior court, balancing up those factors and determining indeed, whether the exceptional circumstances apply and whether those other issues in relation to the public interest that are set out in the legislation, have been properly balanced.

We think that is a provision that can help increase public confidence in the work of the Commission and that at the end of the day is an important thing.

Kieran Gilbert: You’ve also spoken in the last day or so about the safeguards for journalists. Are you satisfied that sources of journalists will be protected in any such commission as the legislation suggests?

Julian Leeser: Well, this is the reason why there are these Committee hearings, because I think it’s very important that journalists and media organisations examine the provisions closely and make submissions to the committee inquiry process to see whether indeed the balance there is right, given the practical experience that they have in relation to dealing with the sources. I mean, these corruption commissions have extraordinary powers. They can basically take people off the street. The right to silence doesn’t apply to people. The privilege against self-incrimination is removed. Legal professional privilege is abrogated. And you know, what we have is a situation here where a person who is charged with a terrorism offence has effectively more rights than a public servant, say the gardener at Parliament House or somebody who’s working at the NDIS.

But there’s been an interesting development over the weekend.

Mr. Dreyfus was asked on the Insiders program about whether there was a special carve out for unions in relation to the Corruption Commission, and he denied that there was any such carve out. But I would draw Mr. Dreyfus’ attention to Section 12 of the Corruption Commission Bill. Let me read it to you. It says: “An individual other than an official of a registered industrial organisation, that means a union, who exercises or performs functions conferred on the individual by or under a provision of the law of the Commonwealth.” That person, so basically, if you are exercising a power under a law of the Commonwealth, whether you’re a public servant or not, this law applies to you except if you’re a union official. Now, Mr. Dreyfus denies that this is the case, but there it is in Section 12 of his own legislation. There’s no mention of it in the 350 pages of the explanatory memorandum. I think he needs to explain why there is a carve out for union officials. In relation to those union officials to shut down building sites.

Kieran Gilbert: But you’re saying the registered industrial organisation that that’s only unions, but it’s not. You’ve also got those commercial groups. The Australian Industry Group is one of those, the Master Builders Association, the Pharmacy Guild… These are all registered organisations. So, it’s not just the unions, is it?

Julian Leeser: It’s not just the unions, but the unions exercised special powers under the Fair Work Act and under the Workplace Health and Safety Act, which can include entering sites, which can include shutting down the sites. Effectively, the unions are the safety regulator. Now there is not a carve out for people working in the NDIS. There is not a carve out for aged care nurses. There’s not a carve out for low level public servants. There’s not a carve out for people who are contractors or subcontractors, of the federal government. But there is a carve out for union officials and other registered industrial organisations.

We want to know why. And why Mr. Dreyfus denies that that carve out exists and why there is no explanation in the explanatory memorandum to his bill.

Kieran Gilbert: He’s also saying, though, to be fair, to quote him, he says “any third party who was seeking to adversely affect public decision making in a corrupt way is going to be the subject of investigation by this commission.” So, he says that unions are not union officials are not excluded.

Julian Leeser: Well, why is there a carve out in Section 12 that says that when a union official is exercising powers under a Commonwealth law, that’s powers under the Fair Work Act or powers under the Workplace Health and Safety Act, to shut down sites to enter sites. Why are they not subject, when no other Australian other than a judge or the Governor-General or a Royal Commissioner is? And that’s a big question for the Labor Party. Why have they exempted union officials in the exercise of those powers from the jurisdiction of this commission? And why is there no explanation in the explanatory memoranda.

Kieran Gilbert: Will you seek to have that removed before you back it?

Julian Leeser: Well, I want to understand why it’s there in the first place, Kieran. I mean, why is it there? Why does Mr. Dreyfus deny that it’s there? Why is there no explanation and why is there a carve out for no other person other than union officials and other than the Governor-General, judges, royal commissioners? I mean, union officials are not at the same status as a judge, a royal commissioner or the Governor-General, but effectively they’re exercising powers under the legislation they exercise them is carved out, in a way all sorts of other Australians who exercise powers under federal law are not carved out. And that is the point that we’ve been making.

Kieran Gilbert: We’ve got some other important issues we’ve got to get. So, is your inclination to support the voice to parliament right now?

Julian Leeser: Well, the opposition’s position has been that we come to this with an open mind, but we await the detail. And I must say I’ve been a little puzzled with the Government’s approach to this. At the weekend there was talk about them looking at changes to the Referendum Machinery Provisions Act. That’s changes to the way in which referenda are governed. They’ve established these two new groups, a working group, and an engagement group. There’s a question out there. There’s some draft amendments to the Constitution, but no particular process as to how the public is to engage with those draft amendments.

But the key thing that is missing in all of this is what actually is this national body and how will it work? Who will be chosen? What powers will they exercise? Who will do the choosing? These are questions that I’ve been asking since Garma. These are actually the essential questions Australians will want to know before they go and vote on this and before we as the Opposition can properly respond to this and Australians more generally can. And I, I don’t know why the Government seems set on answering every other question except this particular question, which is central to the way in which people will make a decision on the bodies in the first place.

Kieran Gilbert: You’ve got an incredibly difficult sort of balancing act as well. Within the Coalition. There are those strongly against the Voice, those former and current members. But Tony Abbott at the weekend described it as institutionalizing discrimination. How do you bring the broad church with you if you are going to back it?

Julian Leeser: Well, I think this is why it’s so important that the government actually puts forward the detail and puts forward a process by which we can engage with the detail. Because you can’t build public confidence in a particular idea like the Voice unless people actually understand how it’s going to operate. And I think the government has been all over the place on the detail. First, the Prime Minister said there’d be no detail, then he said to be some detail. Then he cherry picked some things out of the Co-design Report. And what I’d like to see is an orthodox approach to this which is sitting down and actually working through the detail, producing an exposure draft, allowing that to be subject to critique and then coming up with a final proposal because that’s the way in which you should make public policy. It’s the way in which you’ve got the best chance of bringing people along with you. It is much more difficult to bring people along with you unless you level with them about what this body is actually going to do.

Kieran Gilbert: But there are those within your party room right now without the detail who whose inclination is very strongly against it. We’ve heard from members of the National Party and of course the CLP and Jacinta Price and others. You’re starting, you’re starting from a difficult place if you’re going to reach consensus yourself within your party.

Julian Leeser: Well, look, there are a range of views in other parties too. I mean, Lidia Thorpe in the Greens has expressed some opposition to this as well. And what I’m saying is it is hard to build consensus for something when you don’t know what that thing is that you’re talking about. And it’s really for the government to put forward what it is that these bodies are going to do? How it is that people are to be chosen? What sort of powers and functions they’ll exercise? What topics can it be consulted on? How will how will this all work? And I think if they do this, if they do it in a consultative way, if they do it in a way that brings people with them, they’ve got more of a chance of bringing all Australians with them.

Kieran Gilbert: Finally, the repatriation of Australian women and children from those refugee camps in the Middle East. Do you support the move?

Julian Leeser: Look, I’m most concerned about the safety and security of Australians, law abiding Australians first and foremost. It’s for that reason that Karen Andrews, when she was Minister, didn’t send people into Syria because it’s dangerous to come and bring people back. I think it’s really for the government to demonstrate that it can protect Australians, both those who might be bringing people back and those in whose communities these people may live. I think Australians would be very concerned about people who’ve been radicalized, who have been living with other people who’ve been radicalised, coming and living in their communities and going to their schools.

And so, I think it’s very important that the government guarantees that it’s got proper measures in place to protect the safety and security of law abiding Australians. That is our first duty as members of Parliament and it’s the first duty of government.

Kieran Gilbert: Sure, but it’s also a duty of government to take responsibility for its own citizens. And other countries have already done that in terms of repatriating women and children from these camps. Isn’t it simply our responsibility to deal with this? Obviously, the radicalisation issue is a real one, but they’re our responsibility, aren’t they?

Julian Leeser: The citizens I feel greatest responsibility for are those law-abiding Australians who are going about their daily lives and who want to be free from terrorism. These people knew what they were doing when they travelled to these places, when they got involved with ISIS. These areas had been declared areas. We made it a crime to travel to those places, and yet they did it at any rate. These people were caught up with an ideology that fought against the basic values of our country and of the Western alliance more broadly. I am concerned to protect the lives and security of law-abiding Australians in the suburbs and towns of our country, who don’t want to have who want to be free from terrorism and who don’t want to have their lives disrupted by people who’ve come back to Australia with a radical agenda.

Kieran Gilbert: Shadow Attorney-General Julian Leeser MP, thank you.

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