E&OE - PROOF ONLY
SENATOR PENNY WONG, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION IN THE SENATE: Before we start, can I just express what I am sure everyone in Canberra is thinking. Our thoughts are with the people of North Queensland as they batten down and face a pretty terrible storm. So our thoughts and best wishes are with all of the people of North Queensland.
Can I turn now to the story that I’m sure you’re here to talk about, which is the China Extradition Treaty.
Can I say at the outset the Labor Party takes very seriously the extradition treaty with the People’s Republic of China and we remain deeply committed to the bilateral relationship.
The decision that the Shadow Cabinet made, that has been agreed by Caucus, is that we will not proceed with ratification of the treaty at this time. That is the decision that was made last night by the Shadow Cabinet and was communicated to, and agreed to by Caucus, this morning.
We appreciate that the Chinese Government is very clear about wanting this treaty to be ratified at this stage. However, we believe that the dissenting report of the Labor members on the JSCOT (Joint Standing Committee on Treaties), which was tabled some time ago, expresses a very sensible position, and that is this: that the Extradition Act, that is that the domestic legislation governing extradition treaties, needs to be properly reviewed. This is not just in relation to the Extradition Treaty with the People’s Republic of China, but a number of other treaties which were discussed in the context of the Joint Standing Committee’s Report.
So, as I said, the decision has been taken not to proceed with the Extradition Treaty ratification at this time.
JOURNALIST: What changes would you like to see occur so the Treaty could be ratified?
WONG: This issue here is the domestic legislation. So, the Extradition Act, we do believe, should be the subject of a proper and full review. The reasons for that are set out very clearly in the report to which I referred, and that’s the position of the Labor Caucus.
JOURNALIST: Is this a failure of Malcolm Turnbull’s political judgment to put this into Parliament without getting the assurance that Labor would back it in?
WONG: Certainly this has been an issue where there has been a lot of sensitivity in the community, and those sensitivities have been made clear and communicated to the Government by virtue of the dissenting report.
I would make this point though, that concerns reflecting those sensitivities have been expressed across the parliament. Not only in the JSCOT report, but as I can see it from the reporting – and you would see this better than I – every single member of the cross bench, a former Liberal Prime Minister, and a great many members of the Liberal Party.
JOURNALIST: Is Labor’s opposition concerning parts of the treaty or the principle of the treaty with China itself.
WONG: As I said, it’s an issue of requiring a review of the Extradition Act before we proceed to ratify this or any other Treaty.
JOURNALIST: So you don’t have a particular problem with the Chinese Extradition Treaty, per se?
MARK DREYFUS, SHADOW ATTORNEY-GENERAL: I think I’d direct attention to the detailed dissenting report that Labor members Joint Standing Committee on Treaties produced in December last year. And not only was their primary concern that there needs to be a full review of the Extradition Act, which has been on the Australian Statute books since 1988.
Previous reviews haven’t been full and wide-ranging and they have not been particularly public, but there were some actual concerns expressed about this particular treaty.
One was something that a number of submissions to the Treaties Committee drew attention to, notably the Law Council of Australia, and that was that unlike a number of previous extradition treaties in the thirty nine or so extradition treaties that Australia already has with other countries, there isn’t a clause resting on or that creates a discretion not to extradite that could be exercised by the responsible Minister if the circumstances were unjust or oppressive. So, it’s a kind of general catch-all clause and that was something – as I say – that a number of submitters to the Treaties Committee drew attention to.
JOURNALIST: The Foreign Minister now seems to be suggesting that the Government thought that Labor’s concerns had been addressed. She says she wasn’t criticising either Labor’s processes or the Opposition Leader; that they followed the processes. But, she left me the impression that she was suggesting that something might’ve changed and that you were changing your position. I’m just wondering, has anything changed recently since that…
WONG: The position I have articulated is precisely the position that Labor articulated, certainly via backbench members of the Committee, but certainly since that time, so this is an entirely consistent position.
JOURNALIST: Just last night with the meeting, were there any members of Labor that actually didn’t support the idea?
WONG: This is a question about what happened in Shadow Cabinet?
WONG: What I would say, it was actually a very important discussion, it was a very good discussion, it was a very serious discussion, because we do take very seriously, not only the extradition treaty and the issues associated with that, but the bilateral relationship with China. And I am really very grateful as I am sure Mark is to our colleagues for the sensible and methodical way in which this has been considered internally.
JOURNALIST: Just on a separate issue on 18C, which is coming into the Senate…
WONG: Well, we will come to 18C, should we finish extradition first?
JOURNALIST: Just on Mr Dreyfus’ point about refusing to extradite a prisoner, does Labor think that possibly critics of China who live in Australia could be in danger as a result of this extradition treaty?
WONG: Look, I’m not going to get into hypotheticals of constructed factual situations. What I will say to you is what I said at the outset. We are not proposing to agree to proceed with ratification at this time for the reasons that we’ve outlined.
JOURNALIST: The Foreign Minister said that the extradition treaty was in fact reviewed in 2012 and therefore she was somewhat flummoxed by your proposition that it needed a broader review, what’s your response to that?
DREYFUS: That review, it’s correct that there was some review conducted in 2012 and there was also some review conducted in 2005. They were however internal reviews; they were limited. What Labor’s calling for, what the dissenting report to the Committee is calling for, was a full and wide-ranging review that has a great deal more public input. That is a full review of the entire extradition system, which we think is timely given that this Extradition Act in the current arrangements has been there since 1988. And there are quite a number of inconsistencies between the extradition treaties; the thirty nine or so extradition treaties that Australia has currently got.
JOURNALIST: So we shouldn’t ratify any more until that review’s done in your opinion?
DREYFUS: Well, I’m actually not sure that there are any others that are particularly close to completion.
JOURNALIST: Mr Dreyfus do you accept the principle that there are deep flaws in the rule of law in China, that in fact the rule of law does not exist there?
DREYFUS: Do you want to…
WONG: Well look…
DREYFUS: We’ll both go.
WONG: It is a different political system and I think every Australian understands that. But, we have managed over many decades to have a strong bilateral relationship with China; recognising that there are differences in our political systems and will continue to be.
DREYFUS: If I could add to that, Australia has not only this deep bilateral relationship in a whole range of policy areas, but in law enforcement Australia has a deep bilateral relationship with China that is to be sure founded on a range of multilateral treaties. But they are treaties about international corruption, on transnational crime, terrorism, and there is already very good and deep cooperation between Australia’s police forces and the police force in China in relation to all those matters. So no-one should think that the extradition treaty, which we are here talking about today, is the only feature of that law enforcement relationship quite apart from all the contacts that we have with China.
JOURNALIST: So the lack of transparency and the near 100 per cent conviction rate are not deal breakers?
DREYFUS: I’ve tried to make clear that as the dissenting report to the treaties committee explained, we think there needs to be a wide-ranging review of the extradition system as a whole. That’s a necessary prerequisite to going forward in extradition. The government’s rejected that.
JOURNALIST: Just on that point you made before, the Foreign Minister has linked both the people transfer agreement and law cooperation around operations that they do, police operations and that kind of thing, to this extradition treaty. And the government has linked these, to say if we don’t have the extradition treaty then we’re endangering those other agreements. Does Labor’s decision today endanger those other agreements?
DREYFUS: I don’t think that they should be linked. I’m not sure why the Foreign Minister has done that. These are separate arrangements. The transfer of prisoners arrangement has been working well, we expect that to continue. So too, there are deep, deep cooperative arrangements between Australian law enforcement agencies and Chinese law enforcement agencies in a whole range of areas that have been bearing fruit. Just this week we’ve seen a very large apprehension of an illegal drug shipment which was stopped as the result of cooperation between Chinese and Australian agencies.
JOURNALIST: 18C will be debated in the Senate today, the legislation, your position on the wording is well established. And we’ve got some procedural or process changes. Would you pass those if the government was prepared to split the bill and have you had any indications from the government they might split the bill?
WONG: Obviously this is Mark’s area so I’ll turn to him shortly but I would make this point – we are about to start debating this legislation. I understand there are a significant number of amendments that Senator Brandis is drafting or having drafted which we have not seen. The government is nevertheless proceeding with the debate, presumably because they want to get it off the books. You have to really ask about the pointlessness of this exercise. Why is the government proceeding with the debate when the Senate hasn’t seen what the amendments actually are, on the one component where there is a possibility of some agreement? It really is simply to satisfy the hard right of the Liberal Party, have a vote and get rid of it. I think it is frankly a rather pointless debate if that’s the way the government wishes to proceed.
JOURNALIST: So you’d rather the whole thing go down than…
WONG: No on the issue of the process amendments I haven’t seen them, I don’t know if Mark has. I think we’ve left open the possibility of some dialogue around that but I’ll flick to my colleague.
DREYFUS: Very clearly on the substantive changes to Section 18C, Labor is implacably opposed to this gutting of 18C. So too, as we understand it is Senator Xenophon and his colleagues, Senator Lambie and the Greens Party members in the Senate. So I don’t need to say anything more about that because that is going to be voted down if and when we get to a vote later this week in the Senate, with a bill that is already starting debate imminently at a time when the government rushed the legislation into the Senate last Wednesday, we’ve had a ridiculously short inquiry.
There are 59 process changes in this bill, this is the other part of the bill. They don’t just affect complaints under Section 18C, they affect each and every one of the 2,500 complaints the Human Rights Commission gets under the Sex Discrimination Act, the Disability Discrimination Act, the Age Discrimination Act and might I say the Racial Discrimination Act where the bulk of complaints are not 18C complaints, they are complaints about Racial Discrimination in employment and government services.
The government is allowing, by seeing all of this through the prism of 18C, it’s brought in these procedural changes many of which in principle Labor agrees with, many of which in principle the Human Rights Commission agree with, but yet again Senator Brandis has botched the changes. That’s why in the very short inquiry that had its public hearing on Friday morning the representatives of the Attorney-General’s Department have said that there are government amendments all ready to the bill that the government only introduced on Wednesday and regrettably Labor has not been shown those government amendments.
Whether or not those government amendments fix up the botching Senator Brandis has made to those procedural changes time will tell but obviously we’ll be looking very closely at what the government is doing and what those amendments say if we receive them.
JOURNALIST: Mr Dreyfus would you support the process changes if they capture the cases that are already lodged?
DREYFUS: That’s one of the problems that have been identified by some of the submissions that have been made in this short time. It’s one thing to introduce procedural changes going forward, it’s another to tell the Human Rights Commission that for their current case load of some 2000 cases, many of which are nearing completion, that it has to go over them again and run the ruler over them again using the new procedural arrangements that the government is here proposing.
It hasn’t been thought through properly by the government, the government hasn’t consulted properly about them. It’s not in any way apparent why these procedural changes need to be rushed but we are doing our best in difficult circumstances that have been created entirely by the government.
Thanks very much.