Radio interview – ABC Statewide Tasmania
Subjects: Family Court facilities in Burnie; Child care; The Voice to Parliament; National Anti-Corruption Commission; Vaping
LEON COMPTON, HOST: The Tasmanian Government is in the process of building a new courthouse for Burnie for the Magistrates and Supreme Court. It's going to cost tens of millions of dollars. It's been much debated, particularly the location. But what we're also told is that won't have room for the new Family Court, which is funded by the Federal Government. The State saying, well, they want a court space here they will need to chip in. Let's find out if that's changed. Mark Dreyfus is the Federal Attorney-General. Attorney-General. Good morning.
ATTORNEY-GENERAL MARK DREYFUS: Great to be with you.
COMPTON: Is it acceptable that the Family Court couldn't find anywhere in the North West of Tasmania to hold hearings for a month, it looks like longer?
ATTORNEY-GENERAL: No, of course not. And I'm really pleased that the Chief Justice of the Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia announced on Monday that they've got to an interim solution with the cooperation of the Supreme Court of Tasmania and that's good. But we need to find a permanent solution to this because it's just not acceptable that people who are in the Family Court or the Circuit Court need to go all that way to Launceston. It's a real burden. We need to have a facility in Burnie.
COMPTON: Have you asked questions about how it came to this?
ATTORNEY-GENERAL: I have and it's got a long history. This Federal Court was sitting in the Magistrates Court in Burnie. The Magistrates Court in Burnie got too busy. Then there was temporary accommodation in the Arts Centre in Burnie. It's now under renovations. And I'm very pleased to see that announcement from Chief Justice Alstergren that the Supreme Court is going to step in and make safe - because they need to be safe - facilities available in Burnie as an interim solution. But long term we need to find a permanent home for the Federal Circuit and Family Court. When people have got family law matters they need to be able to go to a courtroom in Burnie.
COMPTON: It would seem logical on the face of it from somebody outside the law that if the state government is spending tens of millions of dollars building a new courthouse complex in Burnie, that space would be made for the Federal Circuit to attend that as well.
ATTORNEY-GENERAL: And I agree with you.
COMPTON: So why does it seem that the state government are not planning to make that space in the design?
ATTORNEY-GENERAL: That is the discussions are still to be had between the federal government and the state government.
COMPTON: The plans are going on now. With respect minister the planning is happening now.
ATTORNEY-GENERAL: That's why the discussions will be happening. We've got examples around Australia of shared facilities so I think that should be the objective. But I can't say that the objective is arrived at yet because the discussions are still being had.
COMPTON: That would want to happen before final designs are done by the state government and when tenders are offered?
ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Of course, and it's about making sure that there's enough room in the facility. We've got examples of sharing of state courts by federal courts when they come on circuit. Courtrooms are pretty similar, whether they're being used for federal jurisdiction or state jurisdiction. It's about making sure that the facility is large enough.
COMPTON: Does that seem like the most logical solution to this to you?
ATTORNEY-GENERAL: It does, it does and I can point to examples around Australia where the Federal Government has chipped into state facilities.
COMPTON: I want to talk to you about another story we've been discussing on mornings, childcare support. Your government promised in Opposition and now have delivered in Government a significant increase to the money that parents will get for sending their kids into childcare. You want to make it cheaper. Does it surprise you, or are you aware, that childcare operators have just been sending out letters to parents informing them that the fees for that childcare are gonna go up by almost equivalent amounts?
ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Well, I'm not aware of the exact figures. I know that like everyone else in Australia, people who are operating businesses, people operating not for profits, which many childcare centres are, are facing increased costs. So it's not surprising to me that there's been increases in charges. Whether it's swallowing up the very substantial increased assistance that we've providing to Australian families from the first of July, I'd have to look at the figures but I do know that there's been a very, very substantial increase in the amount of Federal Government assistance. It's something we said at the election we would do and we have delivered on the first of July, just this week.
COMPTON: When's the Voice referendum going to be?
ATTORNEY-GENERAL: It's going to be in the last quarter of the year.
COMPTON: Why don't you have a date yet?
ATTORNEY-GENERAL: We're working towards announcing the date.
COMPTON: What's the holdup? Are you looking at when all the footy finals happen? Are working out when the Women's World Cup resolves itself in the soccer? What is the holdup?
ATTORNEY-GENERAL: I think the Prime Minister has already made it clear that it's going to be after the footy finals. It's in the last quarter of the year.
COMPTON: Can you explain to me what the delay is?
ATTORNEY-GENERAL: We've got a constitutional timetable here. The constitutional timetable started running on the 22nd of June when the Constitution Alteration passed through the Senate. It had already passed through the House with the absolute majority that's required. We need to hold the referendum not sooner than two months, and not later than six months, from that date and we will. It's been a long-standing commitment of our government, made by the Prime Minister on election night, that we would implement the Uluru Statement From The Heart in full, starting with a referendum on the Voice and that's what's happening.
COMPTON: How will Voice representation work, and obviously everything in this studio happens through the prism of the Tasmanian context. How will Tasmanian Aboriginal Tasmanian voices be represented on this advisory panel to government if the Voice referendum succeeds?
ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Aboriginal people from Tasmania will be represented on the Voice. It will have representation from all over Australia and it's going to make sure that on laws and policies that affect Aboriginal people, they are listened to. That's the key to this, that we will get better outcomes. It just makes common sense that we get better outcomes when we listen to the people who are affected by laws and policies. We know about the appalling outcomes that have been experienced by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People now for very, very many years - poor outcomes in health, in education, in justice. In my area Aboriginal people are the most incarcerated people on the planet. That should be a matter of national shame. We've got to do more and I am confident that this Voice is going to provide us with a practical improvement.
COMPTON: So, what is the mechanism by which a Tasmanian Aboriginal person or multiple people will be elected to, or placed, as part of this?
ATTORNEY-GENERAL: It's going to be a matter for the parliament to decide after this referendum succeeds and we have a Voice in the Constitution. It's a very short set of words that is going into the Constitution. It's got three sentences. The third sentence says that the Parliament will have the power to make laws about the functions, powers and mechanisms of the Voice, and one of the things that that law to be passed by Parliament - it'll be next year after the referendum takes place - one of the things that we'll deal with is the mechanism for voting and selecting the people who will be in the Voice.
COMPTON: We have an interesting situation in Tasmania - and you've seen this nationally - where one of our prominent Aboriginal representative groups, the Tasmanian Aboriginal Centre, will be campaigning for a No vote. If the vote gets up, but they've campaigned No, will representatives from the TAC still be eligible to throw their hat in the ring to be part of the Voice?
ATTORNEY-GENERAL: All Aboriginal people in Tasmania will be eligible to throw their hat in the ring to be selected as part of the Voice. But just like on other political matters, Leon, we don't look for unanimity. We don't look for 100% of any group. What I'd say about some Aboriginal people who are opposed is that overwhelmingly, across Australia and I'd say including in Tasmania, overwhelmingly the Aboriginal population is in favour of the Voice?
COMPTON: There's a lot of talk about information or disinformation in this campaign. To this point, do you feel that disinformation is part of this campaign, whether it's from the Yes or the No side?
ATTORNEY-GENERAL: It's part of modern politics, sadly that, particularly with social media, that disinformation, misinformation can take off and sadly some of the people who are putting the No case have spread disinformation and misinformation about the Voice. It's actually a really, really simple concept. I'd invite anyone interested to read the Uluru Statement From The Heart and just look at the simple words that are going to go in the Constitution, which say in three sentences that there's going to be a Voice called The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice. The second sentence that it's going to speak to the Parliament and the executive government of the Commonwealth about matters which affect Aboriginal people. And third sentence, the Parliament has the powers. That's it. It's a very simple set of words. It's a very simple concept and sadly, a lot of disinformation has already been spread.
COMPTON: You're on Mornings around Tasmania. My guest this morning the Federal Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus. If you've got a question, send me a text 0438 922 936. I'm getting some texts from the North West of the state as we're talking, people frustrated that a deal hasn't already been sorted out for the future of the Federal Court in North Western Tasmania.
ATTORNEY-GENERAL: I get the frustration. No one wants to have to get in the car and drive off to Launceston, potentially stay overnight. It's a terrible burden. We've got to make sure that there is a court facility in Burnie and there will be and that's what the Chief Justice Alstergren has announced as an interim solution in the Supreme Court. That's a good thing.
COMPTON: The National Anti-Corruption Commission commenced operations on the first of July. What's it going to hear first?
ATTORNEY-GENERAL: It's independent Leon and I am not going to dictate, I can't dictate, to the National Anti-Corruption Commission what it deals with first.
COMPTON: Can you refer matters to it?
ATTORNEY-GENERAL: I can refer members to it, you can refer members to it and all of your listeners can refer matters to the National Anti- Corruption Commission and I would invite any Australian who is concerned about what they think is corruption anywhere in the Commonwealth Government, any agency, any politician, any minister, any contractor to government. If you think there's corruption you should be reporting this to the National Anti-Corruption Commission.
COMPTON: Practically, how are they going to sift through all of that and make decisions about where to focus their limited attention?
ATTORNEY-GENERAL: The same way that all of the state and territory integrity commissions do. They try to focus the limited resources they've got on really important matters. Matters that are going to make a difference, matters that are going to assist in educating the whole community and people who work in government about how to prevent corruption. They're going to deal with serious matters.
COMPTON: Just on vaping, we've talked a lot about it on Mornings. We've spoken to principals, to parents all around Tasmania who talk about their growing concern. Will it be your office's responsibility to start making the laws or looking at the laws around the ban of vaping importation into this country?
ATTORNEY-GENERAL: These are matters for the Minister for Health and the Minister for Home Affairs. I'm not ducking, but the precise answer to your question is that it's not a matter for the Attorney-General's Department to deal with. Of course, this is a collective decision. We've got to do something about the explosion in vaping we've seen, particularly among our children, and that's why the Minister for Health has announced, with the support of the entire government that it's going to be prescription only and we're going to have stricter rules about importation.
COMPTON: As a proud Aboriginal man, says a listener to my text, this is from Rob the truckie, I can't wait to vote No. It's not a Voice for us. It's just a backseat whisper. It's not helping with reconciliation, nor helping any Australians. What do you say to Rob the truckie.
ATTORNEY-GENERAL: With the greatest of respect, I disagree with Rob the truckie. I think that this is going to be a great moment for our country, a unifying moment for our country. If not now when? We need to recognise Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People in our Constitution, and we need to provide the Voice that was asked for in the Uluru Statement From The Heart. I think this is a great moment.
COMPTON: And just a final one, what do you say to Tasmanian Aboriginal People hoping the Voice referendum will fail? They're campaigning for a No vote but then saying this will then give us impetus to start pushing for something we think is more important, a treaty?
ATTORNEY-GENERAL: We will get to treaty. There are three elements in the Uluru Statement From The Heart. The first of those elements is the Voice in the Constitution, and then we go to treaty and truth telling. In no way will the Voice be any obstacle to treaty and truth telling. It will assist in treaty and truth telling and, again with respect to those that want treaty now. Treaty's a long process. I'm a supporter of treaty negotiations, but it'll take a long time. The Voice is something we can do now. If not now, when?
COMPTON: And it would seem potentially that one thing in politics would flow from that. If the Voice loses, and those that have backed it so hard you know, lose political skin, it would seem like, one view that those same people that have recently lost to jump back into the fray on a new matter, it might push that further down the road?
ATTORNEY-GENERAL: I think it'll make treaty harder if the Voice doesn't succeed, but I'm focused on success, Leon, and I'm confident that the goodwill in Australians, the sense that Australians have doing the right thing, the fair thing, is going to push this referendum into success.
COMPTON: Mark Dreyfus, appreciate you coming into the studio this morning.
ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Thank you Leon.