E&OE - PROOF ONLY
SENATOR PENNY WONG, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION IN THE SENATE: Thanks very much for coming. First, I want to say what a pleasure it is to be here at the Rainbow Labor Conference and what an honour it’s been to announce with Mark that a Labor Government, a Shorten Labor Government, if elected will appoint a champion for LGBTI Australians, a Commissioner to the Human Rights Commission charged with upholding the protections in the laws that Labor passed in government and working again to a more inclusive Australia. I’m happy to take questions about that announcement that we have made today later.
But I want to focus on this issue that has had a great deal of focus on it, which is the raids on the Parliamentary Office of a Labor frontbencher by the AFP. And I want to remind people of this fact: we’ve seen some extraordinary revelations overnight, extraordinary revelations. We’ve been told that not only were the Police, as is appropriate, participating in this search, but that an employee of the government owned NBN participated in this raid. And worse that that employee of a government owned entity took photos and transmitted them to NBN Co.
And I want to say this to the Federal Government: come clean on this. Tell us who those photos were sent to, who still has copies of those photos. Tell the Australian people if any of those photos were provided to Ministers or Ministers’ offices, because clearly that has been utterly inappropriate.
The second set of facts we now see today is the explosive admission, explosive admission, by Mitch Fifield that he did know after all, he did know about the AFP investigation. A day and a half after this matter became public, we finally have the Minister for Communications admitting to the Australian people he did know about the investigation the police were undertaking, not because the Police had spoken to him apparently, but because NBN Co had. The government owned company had told him about it.
Well, it’s time the Government came clean on all this. It’s time the Government came clean on this. It’s time the Government fessed up to everything that Ministers and their offices knew about this investigation. Because it’s clear from the statement from Mitch Fifield that there is more to be said. There is more to be said.
I want to turn now to what the Prime Minister said just a short while ago. Mr Turnbull was asked a number of questions about what he knew, about what his office knew, and when they knew. Well, he dodged them. He dodged them. He dodged questions put to him by the media, legitimate questions, about what his office knew about this investigation.
I just want to be clear about this: it is inconceivable that Mitch Fifield and his office, who knew about these leaks that were so damaging to Malcolm Turnbull, and knew about the likelihood or the reality of an AFP investigation, it is inconceivable that Mitch Fifield did not tell someone in the Prime Minister’s Office. And I say to Mr Turnbull: you need to come clean on this issue. You need to stop dodging legitimate questions, because it is quite clear that your Minister knew about an AFP investigation, your Minister knew about the investigation into damaging documents, documents that showed the truth of Malcolm Turnbull’s mismanagement of the NBN. It just fails the pub test that no one in your office was told. I’m happy to take questions.
JOURNALIST: Did the NBN Co. ever refer leaks to the Federal Police under the Rudd Gillard Rudd Labor Government?
WONG: I like the wording of that question. Not that I can recall, but I would have to go back-
JOURNALIST: -Mark, you were the Attorney-General at the time.
MARK DREYFUS, SHADOW ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Not that I can recall.
JOURNALIST: You have participated in Cabinet government before. Would an issue like this often come up in Cabinet discussions if there was a referral for an investigation of a leak?
WONG: The former Attorney-General is probably better placed than I to talk about the ways in which these decisions are made. But I think the issue here is this: what do we know? We know that the information that was coming out from this whistleblower was enormously embarrassing to Malcolm Turnbull. What it showed is that the cost of the NBN under him has doubled. What it showed is that the timeframe for delivery on the NBN has blown out under him. It showed he was mismanaging the project. There’s then a discussion in November with Minister Fifield which references the possibility of an investigation and then there is a referral to the AFP. Well, at which point did Minister Fifield first know? What did his office do about it? But most importantly, why is the Prime Minister dodging questions about when his office knew.
JOURNALIST: Is there a serious concern, that there may be someone in the Government who has access to Labor’s as yet unannounced NBN policy?
WONG: This is why I started with the point I made. We know photos were taken. We know that those photos were disseminated. Those photos were sent at least to NBN, but we don’t know who they were sent to. The Government should make clear who they were sent to. The Government should tell Australians who got those photos and the Government should make clear that they’ve been destroyed.
JOURNALIST: Given the documents were subject to parliamentary privilege, does it strike you that there’s been a serious breach of AFP protocol?
WONG: What I would say about parliamentary privilege is this: I saw the Prime Minister today trying to make light of parliamentary privilege. Parliamentary privilege isn’t the play thing of any government, or any political party. It’s a principle that’s been around for many centuries, it’s a principle which is about making sure that Parliament can shine a light in dark places. That whoever is the opposition of the day can shine a light on the truth. And parliamentary privilege is important and so too are those whistleblowers who have made sure the public are aware of the truth.
JOURNALIST: The ABC reports that the warrant used Section 79 of the Crimes Act to pursue the leaker and the Labor Party officials that allegedly received the documents. Has this section been used before and is it being abused? I mean the leakers face up to seven years’ jail and also the receivers in the Labor Party also face that jail time as well. Mark, can you comment on that.
DREYFUS: What we’ve got here is an extraordinary set of events and we need to focus on what these documents actually are. They are documents which have been progressively put out into the public arena over the last several months. They are a massive embarrassment to Malcolm Turnbull. They are a massive embarrassment because they show that his promises before the last election of delivering fast broadband to every Australian household by the end of 2016 lie in tatters. That his promise of delivering the NBN cheaper is a nonsense, because the cost of the NBN delivering the national broadband network to Australians has doubled and it’s going to be done slower and it’s going to be done in a mishmash of technologies with other revelations such as the purchase of some 1900km of copper.
That’s where we’re headed under Malcolm Turnbull’s NBN. All of these embarrassments to him, what has caused the NBN Co. to become agitated about documents that have been leaked. All of those embarrassments to Mr Turnbull, none of which he has yet answered, are what’s prompted this investigation, coming as we have seen in the extraordinary way that we have.
What’s really concerning is the revelation that an NBN Co. employee took photographs during the course of the raid and then transmitted images of some 32 documents to the NBN Co. That came to light yesterday. And I would repeat Senator Wong’s demand the Government come clean about this matter and absolutely undertake that no use will be made of these documents, indeed that the images will be destroyed.
JOURNALIST: Do you think that NBN Co’s position has become untenable in terms of its impartiality and was it appropriate for the NBN Co. to refer these leaks, seeing as though you were saying they embarrassed the Turnbull Government. Is it appropriate for an organisation such as NBN Co. to refer to Federal Police leaks that embarrass a Government?
WONG: What we know [is] that NBN Co. is not impartial. NBN Co. is a fully owned government entity. It has two shareholders, they are Mathias Cormann and Mitch Fifield. It is not impartial and what they have done is sought to refer matters about leaks which embarrass the Prime Minister to the Australian Federal Police. They have also had an employee participate in the raids and, as Mark said, take photos of documents which were subsequently sent back to them. So I think the NBN Co. does have questions to answer.
I want to come back to something else you were asking about and that is about the appropriateness or otherwise of this. All I would say on this point is this: I would make the point that the Government has been prepared to countenance a referral to the Australian Federal Police in relation to documents which embarrass the Prime Minister, because it exposed his mismanagement.
I wonder whether the Government has been as active in pursuing the national security leaks we have seen, on the submarines procurement process, on the leaking of a draft Defence White Paper, on the leaking of a document that had “Cabinet Protected Sensitive” to Laurie Oakes, which was designed to embarrass the Labor Party.
I think the reasonable question for Malcolm Turnbull is this: if your Minister, Mitch Fifield was prepared to sit down with the NBN and countenance these issues being referred to the AFP, I trust that the leaks to which I have referred, these other leaks, have had a similar sort of treatment by the relevant minister.
JOURNALIST: Who do you feel should be investigating what’s gone on in the last 36 hours, 48 hours? Who is the appropriate person to sort of get to the bottom of why the NBN staffer was doing what they were doing and why the AFP allowed it to happen?
WONG: I think the issue is that the Government should stand up and make clear what happened in terms of NBN’s involvement. The NBN is a government entity.
JOURNALIST: Some people have drawn comparisons between this case and Mal Brough, James Ashby and saying Bill Shorten called for Mal Brough to stand down while the investigation was ongoing. Do you think that Stephen Conroy should similarly stand down while the investigation is?
WONG: No, I don’t.
JOURNALIST: Does Labor have confidence in the Commissioner, Andrew Colvin?
WONG: Yes, we do.
JOURNALIST: Mark, how can you be the Attorney-General, if you are saying the raids have undermined confidence in the AFP?
DREYFUS: This was a very important point that [I] was making. It’s concerning to all Australians to see a police raid on Commonwealth Parliamentary Offices occupied by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition in the Senate. That’s not something that Australians are used to seeing and the concern that I expressed was about the possible impact on the Australian Federal Police and confidence that Australians rightly have in the Australian Federal Police. And that’s why I congratulated Commissioner Colvin yesterday morning after he came out to give his press conference.
Commissioner Colvin is a professional, he understands the importance of reassuring Australians as to the confidence that they can have in the independence of the Australian Federal Police. Because he is a professional, I will assume that when he was speaking about his press conference yesterday, he knew nothing at all about the conduct of this NBN Co. employee during the course of the search conducted at Senator Conroy’s office.
What we heard from Commissioner Colvin, to the contrary, was his concern to respect and protect the claim to parliamentary privilege that was made right at the start of the commencement of the search of Senator Conroy’s office.
JOURNALIST: The AFP are only following the word of the law here, aren’t they? Section 70 and Section 79 of the Crimes Act say that if documents are leaked, the AFP must investigate it if it’s been referred to?
WONG: Well, our criticism is, as I said before. We’ve had a referral to the AFP by a government owned company, after conversations with the Minister, in relation to documents that embarrass the Prime Minister. We look forward to the Government being as active in pursuing those documents to which I referred earlier, including national security documents which appear to have been provided to the media under Mr Turnbull’s Government.
WONG: Mitch Fifield himself has said that the prospect of this investigation and this referral to the AFP was discussed with him a month earlier. I think he has some questions to answer about his involvement. Mr Turnbull has dodged questions today, very clearly put to him about what his office knew. He claims he didn’t know. What did his office know? And as I said, I think it is inconceivable, and it is inconceivable I assume to most fair-minded observers, that a Cabinet Minister who was talking to a government entity about leaked documents, embarrassing the Prime Minister, that no one in the Prime Minister’s Office was made aware.
JOURNALIST: Even if we do find out later today or later this week that the Prime Minister’s Office or the Prime Minister himself, knew about the leaks being referred to the AFP, what will you then say? Is it inappropriate for him to not, I guess, drop the – is that what you want, you want him to drop the investigation?
WONG: Well, no, I would not. I think Australians would like the Prime Minister and his Ministers to be up front. It’s taken many hours for Mitch Fifield to tell the truth. I think it would be much better if the Prime Minister was up front with people, rather than dodging the question.
JOURNALIST: Do you think that Minister Keenan and the Attorney-General would be aware of it, considering that they’re, I guess, responsible for the AFP?
WONG: I look forward to them disclosing what awareness they’ve had of the investigation today.
JOURNALIST: Just on LGBTI issues.
WONG: Everyone off this?
JOURNALIST: Can you tell us a bit about who you might have in mind for this LGBTI Commissioner?
WONG: I think you’re chancing your arm, but I’ll give you to Mr Dreyfus.
DREYFUS: Obviously we’ve got no particular person in mind for the LGBTI Commissioner role. I’m very excited to be here with Senator Wong announcing a new Commissioner role at the Australian Human Rights Commission, building on the several special purpose Commissioners that there are in the structure of the Human Rights Commission. We think it’s absolutely appropriate that there be a special Commissioner for LGBTI issues to take forward the legislative reform that we put there in 2013, adding the ground of gender identity and orientation to the Commonwealth anti-discrimination, sex discrimination. We will follow in appointing, if we are elected and this position can be established, and I’ll just add one other thing, it’s with, of course, new money for the Australian Human Rights Commission. Unlike the Coalition, which has sought to have the Human Rights Commis sion repeatedly do more with less, including the announcement of reinstating a full time Disability Discrimination Commissioner, which the Coalition disgracefully got rid of. Even that is not accompanied by any new money. We respect the Human Rights Commission, respect its need to be adequately resourced and we will be providing $1.4 million of new money to fund this position.
The appointment is one which will be done using transparent process, just as we had in place for judicial appointments and all very senior government appointments. We think it’s appropriate to have an expressions of interest process, an interviewing process, to have as much transparency as possible. And you can be assured that if we are elected on 2 July we will be legislating for this new position and advertising for expressions of interest as soon as possible. I look forward to appointing the LGBTI Commissioner for Australia.
DREYFUS: It’s similar matters to those that Rowena has been at work on here in Victoria since her appointment. We know from the experience of having full time Commissioners working on particular issues that having a specialised Commissioner does assist in drawing attention to the particular forms of discrimination experienced by LGBTI people in Australia. The statistics that were given, for example, in the Human Rights Commission report last year on LGBTI discrimination in Australia, showing that there are higher depression rates among the LGBTI community, higher suicide rates in the LGBTI community and all of those other statistics showing that LGBTI Australians are continuing to experience discrimination. That’s what we want to work against. We think a specialised Commissioner is going to assist that task.
JOURNALIST: Earlier this week the Greens called on Labor to support the removal of exemptions from the discrimination act for religious organisations. So, at the moment a teacher who has a child out of wedlock at a Christian school, for example, can be fired, or a teacher who is revealed as gay can be fired. Does the Labor Party support these exemptions being removed and if not, why not?
DREYFUS: We have no current plan to change the existing exemptions in the area that you’ve talked about. I’d refer you to the Party platform, which was the subject of extensive debate last National Conference here in Melbourne in July, and you’ll see from it there’s no current plan, no policy to remove those exemptions. I would point out, since you’ve raised this area, that Labor in government did remove the exemptions from the aged care sector and that was of course after a very long process of consultation, full announcement of what was going to be proposed, working through with the aged care sector of whether or not those exemptions still served a purpose. And with the support of Catholic Care, Baptcare, Anglicare and a range of other church organisations, who fully supported the removal of the exemption, that’s what we legislated for towards the end of the term of government in 2013. But I mention that to make the point that Labor does not proceed other than in a very measured and very open manner. I repeat again, we’ve got no current plans to change the current legislative exemptions.
JOURNALIST: Just in the same vein, can you just clear up for us once and for all whether the Labor Party will return its funding for Safe Schools and if it will make it mandatory like Victoria has, across Australia.
WONG: The first point I’d make is Labor funded the Safe Schools plan across the nation. It is a Labor program, rolled out by a Labor Government. And we did it, as I said earlier, not because we were making a political statement, we did it to address the tragic statistics of self-harm and depression, abuse and tragically at times suicide amongst the LGBTI community in our schools.
Now, you would anticipate given our strong statements on this that Labor will continue to be very supportive of a program which counters bulling, tries to ensure that all schools are safe, but this is a long election campaign and I’ve not doubt we will have more to say about this issue down the track.