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Doorstop – Parliament House

The Hon Mark Dreyfus KC MP


Subjects: National Anti-Corruption Commission Inquiry Report; Oil and gas investments; Foreign recruitment

ATTORNEY-GENERAL MARK DREYFUS: The Joint Select Committee on the National Anti-Corruption Commission bills tabled its unanimous report in the Parliament today. I'm delighted that the report is a unanimous report because it's the best possible basis for going forward in this Parliament with this really important piece of legislation. It's been a long time coming. The reason why it's the best possible basis for going forward is that it gives confidence to the Australian people, when they see a unanimous report of a committee made up of members of both Houses, with Government Opposition and cross bench members, unanimously commending the report to the Parliament for passage. We will be bringing the bill back on for debate on the 21st or the 22nd of November and our intention is that the legislation will pass through the Parliament this year, so that we can then get on with the very important job of setting up the Commission, with a view to it commencing its operations around the middle of next year. I again thank the committee very much for the work that they've done over the last six weeks. I will carefully consider the recommendations that the committee has made and the Government will announce its decision on those recommendations before the bill comes back on for debate.

REPORTER: Do you broadly agree that journalists need more protection under these laws?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: This bill contains protection for journalists, it contains protection of journalists' sources. It's a very long-standing commitment of the Australian Labor Party, it's very clear commitment of this government, that there should be protections for journalists. No journalist should be punished for doing their work.

REPORTER: Helen Haines said the inclusion of the exceptional circumstances test came to as a surprise to her and many others. You have refused to answer questions about whether it was added as part of the deal with the Coalition and you've blocked your department from saying when it was added to the bill. Can you rule out that that was part of a deal? And will Labor members have genuine consideration of amendments to remove that when this bill comes to pass?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: We will give complete consideration to all of the recommendations of this committee and indeed all of the very well-considered suggestions that have been made during the course of this Parliamentary committee hearings in the submissions that were made. But I can say very directly there have been no deals done anywhere in the Parliament for the passage of this legislation. The bill that I brought to the Parliament, on the 29th of September is the bill that our government thinks is the best possible model for establishing, at long last, a National Anti-Corruption Commission for Australia.

REPORTER: Why do you need to cover up the timeline then with the public interest disclosure, if there's no political deal?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: The bill that the Parliament now has before it is the bill that is being debated in the Parliament and I don't think there's much to be gained by going through the drafts of this bill. It's like saying we want to go back and look at the entrails of when Labor first devised our design principles more than four years ago. We've had some changes in them over the course of the last four years and we've had some changes in the way in which we have approached the final form of this bill in bringing it to the Parliament. But what's important is the bill that is now to be debated in the Parliament is the bill that's been examined by this Joint Select Committee and what we're going to be now doing is looking at the recommendations of the Joint Select Committee.

REPORTER: The Victorian IBAC says there's an unnecessary hurdle to having public hearings, so why do you still think that that's the most appropriate test?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Many people have made comments in the course of this bill being considered in the Parliament since we introduced it on the 29th of September. I think you'll see when you read the report of the Joint Select Committee that quite a number of aspects of bills like this, and anti-corruption commission models, questions on which minds may differ. I'm very confident that the settings around public hearings - and just bear in mind that the former government's approach was to have no public hearings for investigations of corruption against ministers or members of parliament - this bill provides for public hearings. It will be at the discretion of the commissioner and we think that that is an appropriate setting.

REPORTER: Attorney-General if you might indulge a brief topic just off of this one, in relation to the possibility that the Australian Government could be sued by oil and gas investors in Australia, if they decide to proceed with a regulatory intervention in the gas markets, how concerned are you that that's a possibility? And secondly, have you been asked to provide any input into that work and ministry or working group that's underway on the prospect or the risks that are associated with being sued under our treaty obligations?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: We're a government that respects the global rules based order. We will always pay close attention to our international law obligations, and our international trade obligations and, of course, the manner that you raised in your question is an important one. It'll be taken into account in any decision that we make in relation to oil and gas.

REPORTER: Attorney-General I just wanted to ask on another totally separate topic, do you have any concerns or does ASIO have any concerns that Australians could be working with the military in China, and what sort of penalties would they face were they to do so?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: This is something that the Defence Minister spoke about yesterday. Of course it's a concern that any former members of the Australian Defence Force could, at any point, even consider going and working with a foreign military, putting at risk the chance that knowledge that they have gained, secret information that's come their way while they've been working in the ADF could be put to the use of a foreign military or foreign power.

REPORTER: Do you think that's happened, or is happening?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Well, I'm not going to comment on whether or not it has happened or is happening. But I will say as a matter of principle, and this is what the Defence Minister spoke about, very, very directly and clearly yesterday, ADF members swear an oath to serve their country faithfully, and that oath carries with it the obligation after they leave the ADF to never reveal any of the national security secrets that have come to them, or information about our forces. To never reveal any of that information.

REPORTER: Are you now confident Attorney-General that the NACC bill will pass both Houses of Parliament in the final sitting fortnight?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL:  I think that this unanimous report of a committee of both Houses of the Parliament, containing as it does Government, Opposition and crossbench members, having produced a report in this form gives us the best possible basis for thinking that we can get this bill through the Parliament this year with overwhelming support in both Houses of the Parliament.

REPORTER: How open are you to making amendments?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: We will consider the recommendations that have been made by the committee in its report. And with that, I have to go to Question Time. Thanks very much.