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Radio interview – ABC Melbourne

The Hon Mark Dreyfus KC MP


Subjects: Supreme Court of Victoria decision; fruit cake

O'DONNELL: We are talking about important news today and we're very pleased to be joined by the Attorney-General of Australia, Mark Dreyfus, because we want to talk to him about the convicted terrorist Abdul Nacer Benbrika, who has been released from prison this afternoon, after spending 12 years behind bars. Welcome Attorney-General.

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Thank you very much Bridie, and it's really good to be with you and your listeners.

O'DONNELL: Attorney-General, does Benbrika pose a threat to the community?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: I decided that he posed some risk, which is why in February of this year, I applied for an Extended Supervision Order to the Supreme Court of Victoria. And the Court has today granted that Extended Supervision Order with 30 really strict conditions. And those are the terms on which he is going to be released.

O'DONNELL: There were some conditions you had asked for that are not included. Is there anything specific you're concerned about that hasn't been included from the Victorian Supreme Court decision?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: We'll be waiting for the Judge's written reasons, which she said will be issued within a few days. And we'll consider those. The key one would be that I had asked for this Order to last for three years. The Judge has said it should last for one year and we can all consider whether or not it needs to be considered after that. But I'd stress that these are really strict conditions. They include electronic monitoring and a curfew and a whole range of other conditions that are designed to keep the community safe. That's the basis on which the Judge said that she made the order.

O'DONNELL: Now, Benbrika was arrested in 2009. So he served over 12 -

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: 2005, I think you'll find Bridie.

O'DONNELL: Pardon me, thank you, 2005. So nearly two decades in prison. And you are a constitutional law expert, amongst other things, but also a very fair and decent person. Do you feel he has served enough as an individual, this has been a substantial amount of time in incarceration?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: It's a very substantial sentence, indeed. And when his sentence came to an end, in 2020, he was ordered to be kept in detention on a Continuing Detention Order. I think it's not a matter for me is the key to this Bridie, it's a matter for the court. Courts sentence people who are convicted of crimes to terms of imprisonment. And under our law, only a court can make an order for a Continuing Detention Order, or, as has happened today, an Extended Supervision Order. Overwhelmingly people after they've served their time, get let out. But in a few cases, there's this possibility of what I've asked for from the Court, an Extended Supervision Order. It's the strongest possible order that I was able to ask for and that's why we asked for it.

O'DONNELL: Now, speaking of the Court decision, Justice Hollingworth, it's been reported that she was scathing that your department didn't disclose issues with the terrorism risk assessment tool, the Vera 2R, to Benbrika's lawyers. Can you tell us why you didn't disclose those issues with the terrorism tools?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: It wasn't me Bridie. In fact, the Judge's comments, the Judge's really severe criticism was directed at Mr Dutton as the Home Affairs Minister and at the Department of Home Affairs for their failure to disclose important material that was relevant to the consideration of a Continuing Detention Order back then in 2020. The Judge said that Mr Dutton's failure to disclose this material was a serious breach of the Criminal Code. And it could have led to a different outcome. And certainly, that application, which was being heard this year, simultaneously with my application for the Extended Supervision Order, certainly complicated things and it's disappointing to see -- the former government and particularly the now Opposition Leader being criticised in this way.

O'DONNELL: Now, speaking of that Extended Supervision Order, can you tell us what advice you received that meant that you were requesting the 3 years, we've heard it's only been granted for 12 months rather than 3 years? Why was it that you were seeking a 3-year Extended Supervision Order?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: I've at all times acted on the advice of police and our security agencies, and I've understood the Judge's reasons for saying 'no a year is enough'. This legislation that was put in place in 2019 by the former government, which Labor supported from opposition, requires in any event, a review after a year. So I think the Judge's reasons, she gave oral reasons today for making this order and saying that she wouldn't give the 3 years that I'd asked for, but instead said it should be for 1 year, as she said, it has to be reviewed anyway, even if I made a 3-year order. So we'll all be looking closely to make sure that the community has stayed safe, that these conditions work. And if they need to be extended, if there needs to be an Extended Supervision Order continuing in place to keep the community safe, everybody should be absolutely assured that that's the application I'll be making towards the end of this year - as in the next year coming.

O'DONNELL: Indeed, we're speaking with Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus, re Abdul Nacer Benbrika, a convicted terrorist, terrorist cell leader. He was released or will be released today from Barwon Prison. We heard from Leanne Wong, one of the ABC reporters who's been following this story today. Attorney-General, he remains an Australian citizen, and has the rights of being a citizen. Do you feel safe in that situation?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Well, he's an Australian citizen, he's served a very lengthy term of imprisonment. Again, the reason why he is again an Australian citizen is a problem that can be laid directly at the door of Mr Dutton. He passed in 2019 legislation that the High Court said was unconstitutional. We warned about this, I personally warned about this back in 2019. The High Court on the 1st of November set aside Mr Dutton's unconstitutional legislation. And I'd say to everyone, we're not made safer by unconstitutional legislation. We've passed a new citizenship cessation law, but because of the way the High Court expressed its reasons on the 1st of November, Mr Benbrika is going to remain an Australian citizen. He's got the rights of every Australian citizen.

O'DONNELL: And on that High Court decision, are you concerned at the prospect of detainees that could reoffend over that Christmas period that is coming up for all of us?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: We believe we've got in place appropriate conditions to manage those people who've been released.

O'DONNELL: Now, I just wanted to change tack a little because just before you arrived, we were talking about Christmas and baking. And you decided that you wanted to tell me that you have some baking traditions. So I would love to know about those. Tell me what happens in your household, perhaps your family, your extended family.

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Every year for a long time I've made a recipe that my grandmother gave me which is a fruit cake recipe that guests at this time of year like to eat and it involves steeping dried fruit in brandy for about a week and then baking the cake with that's dried fruit and nuts steeped in brandy. It's a very rich fruit cake, moist and I reckon I've got it down pretty pat after a couple of decades of making it.

O'DONNELL: And do you go cream or custard or brandy? Someone was talking about hard sauce, which is a brandy and butter.

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: This is a cake that does not need sauce.

O'DONNELL: That's a bold claim.

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: It's a cake, it's not a pudding. It's a cake that, if I get it right, it's very slow cooking, over about three hours, it's a moist cake.

O'DONNELL: And it requires a lot of energy to be an Attorney-General. There's hopefully no truth about the rumours of you seeking other jobs or retiring?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Absolutely not. I'm very much enjoying being back in Government after what felt to me like much too long in Opposition. And we've got a lot done and I plan to get a lot more done.

O'DONNELL: Attorney-General, thank you so much for your time.

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Thanks very much Bridie.