Skip to main content

Radio interview – ABC RN Breakfast

The Hon Mark Dreyfus KC MP


Subjects: The Voice to Parliament; National Anti-Corruption Commission; Censure of former Prime Minister.

PATRICIA KARVELAS: As you've heard this morning, the Government's plan for an Indigenous Voice to Parliament has been dealt a blow with the Nationals officially opposing the policy. David Littleproud joined us a little earlier, that interview is on the ABC Listen app. Well, the Liberals still haven't said if they'll support the policy and there's still no timeframe on when the vote will happen, or what it will look like. Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus joins us now. Welcome back to Breakfast.

ATTORNEY-GENERAL MARK DREYFUS: Morning, Patricia. Good to be with you.

KARVELAS: Thank you. The Nationals say they've made their position after wide consultations. Given they're a mainstream political party, and they have now signaled they'll be campaigning No and all of the referendums that have been successful out of the 44, only eight have been successful and they've all been bipartisan, does that deal this referendum a lethal blow?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: I think it's very disappointing, Patricia, to hear one of the major parties in Australia deciding before really the campaign has even started that they're going to oppose this really important measure. I don't think, however, that just because they've decided to oppose it - and of course they can still change their minds, we'll be hoping they will - just because they've made this announcement it does not deal anything like a death blow to this referendum. We're going to be bringing this to the Australian people. As the Prime Minister promised on election night, we're going to be bringing this referendum to the Australian people to establish a Voice for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in our Constitution and we're going to bring that referendum in the next financial year.

KARVELAS: Okay you say that, but the only eight successful referendums had bipartisan support. Why do you think this is going to be successful when it doesn't have that prerequisite support that traditionally you've had to have to get a yes vote up?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: We are confident that this is going to be supported by a majority of Australians in a majority of states.

KARVELAS: Why, though, if one of the main political parties in the Coalition is saying no?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Because I don't think that that's the end of the matter. We haven't even started the campaign yet. We've haven't even got to a stage where people are familiar with what's needed to change the Constitution. Just remember, Patricia, it's more than 20 years since we've even held a constitutional referendum in this country. If you're under 40, you've never voted in a referendum. We've got a lot of educating to do about why we need to change our Constitution and how we change our Constitution. That campaign will start next year and when it does I think you'll see that this is going to be resoundingly supported. We need a Voice for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in our Constitution. That's the form of Recognition that, after the longest-ever consultation among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, that they asked for at Uluru in May of 2017.

KARVELAS: They did ask for it. But let me just interrupt to say do you concede, though, the lack of detail has fueled opposition to The Voice? That you've, you've vacated the field in some ways by not filling in not, you know, colouring in this picture? And you've allowed the Nationals to come in at this point?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Not at all. The Prime Minister gave the clearest possible description of what's needed. It's a short question that's going to be put to the Australian people and some short sentences to go into the Constitution. I was present when the Prime Minister gave his historic speech at Garma back in July and he has put out the three draft sentences that will be added to our Constitution. Then it's going to be up to the Parliament to legislate in a detailed way to set up the body that is The Voice but the question that goes to the Australian people, and the three sentences or so that are needed to amend the Constitution, that's very clear already and people can see what is going to happen. They understand, I think, why we need to put it in the Constitution.

KARVELAS: You say that, and it will be designed by the Parliament, and I corrected, some people said I interrupted too much, but I did try to correct the statements from David Littleproud a little earlier because it is going to be designed by the Parliament. But either way, that doesn't mean that a No campaign that muddies the waters won't hurt the Yes campaign. I mean, sometimes the facts don't speak louder - isn't that your problem with getting a Yes vote up?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: We're prepared for No campaign. We think this is a step that takes Australia forward for everyone. And sadly, there are some in our country who oppose The Voice, it seems, and they're holding this country back. I've heard from voices right across Aboriginal Australia. I've heard from voices like Ken Wyatt, who is the former Liberal Minister for Indigenous Australians. He's participating in the referendum working group that we've established and I know that in conservative ranks there are very many people who will be supporting The Voice. As I say, the campaign hasn't even started yet. It's disappointing to see the Nationals jumping in this direction but I'm going to be working to change their minds in coming months.

KARVELAS: Okay, The Nationals Leader David Littleproud told me earlier it won't shift the dial for rural and regional First Nations communities and shouldn't be enshrined in the Constitution for future generations. He talked yesterday about it being a “Voice for Redfern”. Given you haven't told us what the body will look like isn't that why he can say these things? Because the body doesn't exist so he can say whatever he likes, quite frankly, because you haven't got an answer to that?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: I accept that David Littleproud cares about improving outcomes for Indigenous Australians and I think all well-meaning Australians care about improving outcomes for Indigenous Australians. That's what The Voice is going to do. It's going to improve the lives of Indigenous Australians. It's about improving outcomes in practical ways, like in health, in education, in housing, because it will improve decision making in our Parliament and it's the best possible way to provide Recognition for Indigenous Australians. That's what the Uluru Statement from the Heart was about Patricia. And I think when David Littleproud and the other Nationals, and we've heard from Nationals in Victoria already, when they hear more and think more deeply about this, I think they'll see the worth of putting The Voice for Indigenous Australians in our Constitution. This is a step forward for the whole country.

KARVELAS: I want to change the topic if we can. This week the Senate is voting on your bill for an anti-corruption commission. The Greens are threatening to support the Coalition's amendment, which would require three quarters of the members of the joint parliamentary oversight committee to appoint a Commissioner and Inspector. Two prominent transparency and integrity groups have backed that amendment. Why are you opposed to that?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: This is the Liberal Party trying to frustrate the will of the Australian people who voted for a powerful transparent and independent National Anti-Corruption Commission. They elected Labor to govern our country and we will deliver the commitment we made at the last election for a powerful, transparent and independent National Anti-Corruption Commission. The Liberals voted for the bill in the form in which it's now in the Senate, in the House of Representatives, and they should stop playing this kind of game. If they're serious about tackling corruption they'll back the bill in the form in which it's now in the Senate. The form that they voted for in the House. They need to stop wrecking. The Liberal Party is a party that promised an anti-corruption commission back in 2018 and failed to deliver it for four years. They never even brought legislation to the Parliament. They voted for the bill in the House of Representatives. The Leader of the Opposition Peter Dutton said on the 28th of September, within an hour of me introducing the legislation in the House, that Labor had got the balance right, that our bill gets the balance right. Well, it's time to stop playing games, Patricia. We say to the Opposition: 'Stop it now. Don't try and create a veto over the appointments of the Commissioner, because that will potentially have the effect of blocking the whole Commission'. It's completely unacceptable wrecking behaviour from a party of blockers and wreckers and we're gonna call them out.

KARVELAS: Will the bill pass this week?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: The bill will pass this week and I'm calling on the Opposition to drop their ridiculous amendment. It is a ridiculous amendment that they never included in their own proposed model when they brought a model forward as a draft in 2021. They didn't even involve the Parliamentary Oversight Committee that was in their bill in the appointments process at all. Now ignoring the fact that we have created a very representative Parliamentary Oversight Committee with six Senators and six House members and six Government members and four Opposition members and two crossbenchers, that's not enough for them. They want to put in an Opposition veto that would enable them to block the appointment of a Commissioner and if they blocked the appointment of a Commissioner that is blocking the creation of the Commission. It's unacceptable. It's a complete ignoring of the will of the Australian people and we will not stand for it. If they do go forward and include this ridiculous amendment in the bill with the cooperation of their new allies, The Greens Party, we will reject it when it comes back to the House and send it back again.

KARVELAS: Former Prime Minister Scott Morrison is facing a censure in Parliament this week for his secret appointments to other portfolios. Censure motions are rare, but they're really just symbolic aren't they? Does it really make any difference?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: It's really important that the Parliament of Australia mark its disapproval of the unprecedented and wrong behaviour of the former Prime Minister. Let's remember that the former government voted a censure of its former minister Bruce Billson over his taking of pay from the Franchise Council of Australia while he was still sitting in the Parliament. This behaviour by the former Prime Minister is much, much more serious. We've had it condemned by the Solicitor-General, condemned by a former Justice of the High Court of Australia, Virginia Bell, whose report was made public last Friday. And it's not enough that we heard just the Solicitor-General and former Justice of the High Court Virginia Bell's report. The Parliament itself must mark its disapproval of this conduct so that it never happens again.

KARVELAS: Many thanks for joining us this morning Attorney-General.

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Thanks very much Patricia.