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Radio Interview – 5AA Mornings

The Hon Mark Dreyfus KC MP


Subjects: Nazi hate symbols; Voice to Parliament; National Anti-Corruption Commission; Brittany Higgins

MATTHEW PANTELIS: The Federal Government's moving to outlaw nationwide the Nazi swastika. Legislation to be debated next week in Federal Parliament with the plan being to ban the display and sale of Nazi symbols including on flags, clothing, and the Internet. There will be exemptions for religious use. The symbol has significance in Hinduism, Buddhism and other practices. The Government saying it sends a strong message and certainly the Anti-Defamation Commission Chair Dr Dvir Abramovich says it's monumental. This is a little bit of what he had to say earlier. 

DR DVIR ABRAMOVICH: The law about who we are as a people. It's about honouring the values and the common humanity. But also, it's a tribute to the Diggers who fought to defeat the Third Reich. It's a tribute to the 6 million Jews and millions of victims murdered by the Nazis. 

MATTHEW PANTELIS: Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus on the line Attorney, good morning. Thank you for your time. 

ATTORNEY-GENERAL MARK DREYFUS: Good morning, Matthew. Thanks for having me. 

PANTELIS: I understand the legislation doesn't include the Nazi salute. That's a matter for the state governments apparently. Why can't it encompass that as well? 

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: This legislation that we are bringing in bans the public display, including online, of these Nazi symbols, and bans the trade in items which bear these symbols. We think that's the appropriate thing for Commonwealth legislation and it will mesh with state law, including in my home state of Victoria, where they have banned the Nazi salute. State legislatures and state police are a bit more able to deal with street offences like this. 

PANTELIS: I see. So, the thinking behind this from a national perspective - Victoria had moved down this path already hadn't they, in terms of banning merchandise and the rest being displayed, flags, et cetera? So, taking it to the national level, you obviously feel it's important enough to do that? 

MARK DREYFUS: We do. This bill is going to send the clearest possible signal to those who seek to spread hatred and violence and anti-Semitism. We find these actions repugnant, and we will not tolerate them.  

PANTELIS: What sort of penalties? 

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Showing the seriousness that we view this with there will be a penalty of up to 12 months imprisonment. 

PANTELIS: And fines as well? 

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Yes, fines are possible as well.  

PANTELIS: All right. So it's pretty strict. You'd have to be brave, I suppose, to go out and do that. Is it up to 12 months? Or is that the minimum? 

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: No, it's up to 12 months. And clearly for a more minor offence, or someone who's a first offender, the court might think it appropriate to put a lesser penalty on it. If someone is a repeat offender, and very serious displays, and attempting to spread fear and hatred, that might warrant the full penalty. 

PANTELIS: Was there a tipping point? Was it the rally in Victoria several months ago in front of Parliament there that prompted this? 

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Well, obviously, we have seen those appalling, disturbing displays here in Melbourne. But equally, the Director-General of ASIO has spoken over the past three years about a rise in far-right violent extremism and that's got to be a concern. 

PANTELIS: Can I ask you about a couple of other issues. The Voice legislation that's expected to fly through the Senate? Can I clarify the legislation? Does it authorise the referendum to take place and the question that'll be asked? 

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: The legislation does do that and we've got a constitutional provision here which sets out a timetable. Once a bill to alter the Constitution has passed through both Houses of Parliament with an absolute majority in each House that triggers a timetable. There must be a referendum, not sooner than two months and not later than six months from passage through the Parliament. So come the second last week of June, when we expect this bill to pass the Senate with an absolute majority after there's been debate, that will trigger that timetable. 

PANTELIS: And the date we'll find out then, I assume, as to when it will be? 

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: The Prime Minister will be announcing a date soon, 

PANTELIS: Given the polling showing the Yes vote to be potentially in difficulty, is there the chance the referendum could be delayed until next year, so the campaign can refocus? 

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: No, if it passes through the Senate in late June, as we expect, that will require the referendum to be held towards the end of this year.  

PANTELIS: So within six months? 

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: And I am very confident that Australians are going to see this as the unifying moment that it will be when the referendum succeeds, because I'm very confident that there's going to be a Yes vote among a majority of Australians in the majority of states. That this is a tremendous opportunity for our country and a chance to not only recognise Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People, but to start listening in a formal way to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People. We know we get better outcomes when listen to, and work with, Aboriginal communities. 

PANTELIS: From next month, just moving on from the Voice to the National Anti-Corruption Commission, that's when it begins operations? 

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: First of July, Matthew.  

PANTELIS: There's some matters on the agenda. We've heard about, for instance, the Price Waterhouse Coopers scandal, is that something that the National Anti-Corruption Commission could look at? 

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: I've said repeatedly, Matthew, when we were planning the National Anti-Corruption Commission, when we were bringing the legislation to the Parliament last year, that it's not a matter for Members of Parliament, not a matter for ministers to say what the National Anti-Corruption Commission should look at. We've provided here for an independent National Anti-Corruption Commission. Any Australian is able to refer any matter that they think is appropriately looked at by the National Anti-Corruption Commission and it's going to be a matter for the Commission to determine what it investigates and how it investigates it. And I think that your listeners should look very, very carefully at anyone that says that matter has to be investigated or this matter has to be investigated. Leave it up to the Commission. 

PANTELIS: Well, the former Defence Minister Linda Reynolds had said she might refer the compensation paid to Brittany Higgins to the Commission, is that something the body should be looking at it? Is it setup for that? 

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Going back to what I said a moment ago, I'm not going to be dictating - I'm the Minister for the National Anti-Corruption Commission - I'm not going to be dictating to this independent commission what it should look at. I'm also the minister who's responsible for litigation against the Commonwealth and responsible for settling cases and I did make the decision to settle that claim that was brought against the Commonwealth. And it was done, I can assure all of your listeners, in an entirely regular way in accordance with the Legal Services Direction. 

PANTELIS: Objectively though, should the Commission be up there looking at that? 

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: It's a matter for the Commission as to what it looks at. 

MATTHEW PANTELIS: Okay. So people can refer to it and away the Commission goes. Just want to come back to Nazi symbols and I know that there are more exemptions apart from religious. David wants to know if there'll be an exemption for museums to display symbols with a swastika? 

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Yes. Academic, artistic, literary use of these symbols, and most importantly, any religious use of these symbols because the swastika has significance in Hinduism and Buddhism and for Jains. We've consulted with those religious communities and I do want to assure all of them, that their sacred symbols will not be in any way affected by this ban. 

PANTELIS: Another question from a listener, people with tattoos, cover up, I suppose? 

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Cover up. I'd have to ask why anybody would want to tattoo on their body, these hateful symbols, spreading hatred and violence and really seeking to glorify the horrors of the Holocaust. Why anyone would want to put that on the body is, to me, unthinkable.  

PANTELIS: Would it be caught under the legislation with somebody with a tattoo be penalised? 

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: This is a ban on the public display of these hateful symbols. 

PANTELIS: Long sleeve shirts. All right. Attorney-General thank you for your time.  

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Thank you very much for having me.