Media Conference – Parliament House
Subjects: National Anti-Corruption Commission; Family Law reforms; Whistleblowers; AAT; Data breaches; Voice to Parliament.
ATTORNEY-GENERAL MARK DREYFUS: The Australian Labor Party pledged that if the Australian people gave us the honour of governing this nation we would repay their trust by returning integrity, honesty and accountability to government. Labor told Australians that if we were elected we would legislate a National Anti-Corruption Commission in 2022. We honoured that commitment in November last year and I’m now pleased to announce that the Parliamentary Joint Committee on the National Anti-Corruption Commission has informed me of its approval of my recommended appointments for Commissioner, Deputy Commissioners and the Inspector of the National Anti-Corruption Commission.
As the inaugural Commissioner of the National Anti-Corruption Commission I will be nominating to the Governor-General one of Australia’s most respected and highly qualified investigators, Justice Paul Brereton. Justice Brereton is a Judge of the New South Wales Court of Appeal, the Assistant Inspector-General of the Australian Defence Force, and holds a commission as a Major General in the Australian Defence Force Reserves. Justice Brereton has a wealth of experience leading complex and sensitive investigations including as the Assistant Inspector-General of the Australian Defence Force when he delivered the Afghanistan Inquiry Report. Justice Brereton’s proposed term of appointment as the inaugural Commissioner of the National Anti-Corruption Commission is five years.
For Deputy Commissioner I propose to nominate Nicole Rose PSM, the Chief Executive Officer of AUSTRAC and Dr Ben Gauntlett, the Disability Discrimination Commissioner at the Australian Human Rights Commission for terms of five years.
I will also be appointing Jaala Hinchcliffe, the current Integrity Commissioner and agency head for the Australian Commission for Law Enforcement Integrity as Acting Deputy Commissioner. ACLEI will be subsumed into the National Anti-Corruption Commission and Ms Hinchcliffe’s appointment will provide continuity for ACLEI during the transition.
I propose to nominate Philip Reed, the current Chief Executive Officer of the New South Wales Independent Commission Against Corruption to be the inaugural CEO of the National Anti-Corruption Commission for five years.
And finally, I will be proposing Gail Furness SC, the Inspector of the New South Wales Independent Commission Against Corruption to be appointed to the position of Inspector of the National Anti-Corruption Commission on a part-time basis for seven years.
Subject to the Governor-General’s agreement all appointments will take effect upon the commencement of the act. I’m proud to say that these candidates were selected through a merit-based selection process and I know these are the people with the experience and capacity to guide the National Anti-Corruption Commission through its first months and years of operation and set it up for future success. The proposed appointments show the Government is delivering on its commitment to the Australian people to return integrity, honesty and accountability to government by establishing a powerful, transparent and independent National Anti-Corruption Commission in its first term. Today’s announcement is a significant milestone for the Commission’s historic establishment and demonstrates that the Government is on track for the Commission to be operational by the middle of this year.
On another matter, today the Albanese Government has also introduced legislation to reform the Family Law Act to make it simpler and safer for separating families and their children. These reforms will see more family law matters resolved quickly and inexpensively without compromising the safety of family members. The bill recognises the importance of a child having a relationship with both of their parents which will ensure the court continues to take this into account when making parenting orders. The Government looks forward to support from across the Parliament for this important and necessary bill which will better assist Australian families in the family law system and ensure the best interests of children are paramount. I’m very happy to take questions.
REPORTER: Mr Dreyfus, do you ultimately see the result of this Commission leading to the end of politicians’ careers and in fact them being jailed? In your appointments there’s a number of people here from New South Wales, obviously the Inspector Gail Furness, Philip Reed’s been with the NSW ICAC, Nicole Rose, Justice Brereton…
ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Nicole Rose is the Chief Executive Officer of AUSTRAC.
REPORTER: She’s spent a fait bit of time in New South Wales, I believe. Do you have any fears that perhaps, on occasion, the New South Wales ICAC has been accused of overreach and this body could ever do that?
ATTORNEY-GENERAL: This is an independent Commission. I think that the legislation that we passed through the Parliament, which was supported across the Parliament last year, is the best possible model and I’m looking forward to the Commission commencing its operations.
REPORTER: Could you just explain why you’re moving to abolish the presumption of parental responsibility given it was not a recommendation of the ALRC Review in 2018? And can you justify that this change won’t take us really back to a time when mothers were given primacy in caregiving as some critics have suggested?
ATTORNEY-GENERAL: The Albanese Government is going to restore the best interests of children as the guiding principle of the family law system. The presumption about parental responsibility has actually taken the focus away from the needs of children. It’s caused confusion which has led to what I regard and the Government regards as an unacceptable situation where abusive partners have a false belief that they have a right to equal time against the wishes of the other parent and their children. This has been happening inside and outside the court as parents negotiate parenting arrangements. It’s still possible for courts to order equal shared responsibility where it’s in the child’s best interest but there have been multiple inquiries, multiple reports over the last decade, some 12 inquiries into the family law system and very many of them drew attention to this presumption of shared parental responsibility. We think it’s high time that it was repealed. We’ve put out an exposure draft earlier this year, and almost overwhelmingly there was support for this repeal.
REPORTER: Given the extremely high bar that you set for public hearings of the National Anti-Corruption Commission when do you expect the Australian public will learn what the first matter that the NACC investigates is?
ATTORNEY-GENERAL: It’s going to be a matter for the Commission. There is a discretion in the Commission to hold public hearings and it’s going to be entirely a matter for the Commission to announce what inquiries it is conducting and to conduct those inquiries as it sees fit. So, it’s not a matter for my expectation.
REPORTER: Richard Boyle, ATO whistleblower, revealed problems within the ATO practices of debt recovery and now he might be facing trial and potentially a jail sentence. What do you make of that?
ATTORNEY-GENERAL: There’s a judgment of the court in Adelaide that was made on Monday this week. That judgment is the subject of a suppression order. The matter is before the court and I will not be commenting.
REPORTER: On the Richard Boyle case, obviously, he tried to use the whistleblower defence that you introduced back in 2013 to defend against these charges that are laid against him. Are you concerned that the potential jailing of Mr Boyle, as well as the war crimes whistleblower David McBride, could potentially deter future whistleblowers from coming forward to the NACC?
ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Mr Boyle’s case is before the court in Adelaide. There is a judgment of the court that is the subject of a suppression order and I won’t be commenting on that case,
REPORTER: Specifically, on what this case could do potentially if he does go to jail, does this deter future whistleblowers from coming forward.
ATTORNEY-GENERAL: I’m not going to comment, even hypothetically. I think everybody needs to wait to see what is in that judgment just for starters. And as to the McBride matter, that matter is also before the court and I won’t be commenting.
REPORTER: The Government’s undertaken to abolish the AAT. Where’s that review process up to? Does that include the abolition of the IAA?
ATTORNEY-GENERAL: I’ve established a taskforce in the Attorney-General’s department, which is now consulting and with a view to bringing legislation before the Parliament, we hope later this year. That taskforce in the Attorney-General’s Department is assisted by an expert group headed by former High Court Judge Patrick Keane. The consultations are proceeding well, but it is, of course, a major exercise to abolish a medium sized Commonwealth agency and replace its legislation, but that is well underway. In the meantime a merit-based selection process is underway to add to the existing membership of the Tribunal to try to deal with the extraordinary backlogs that are there, particularly in the migration division of the AAT.
REPORTER: Is there a firm start date for the NACC? Is it July 1? And also you’ve taken two key people away from the New South Wales ICAC, have you had a discussion with your new colleague in New South Wales about this? What’s it going to mean for the strength of that body?
ATTORNEY-GENERAL: That’s going to be a matter for the New South Wales ICAC and the New South Wales Government. Both of these excellent public servants applied for these jobs and are going to make tremendous contributions in their roles as Deputy Commissioner and the CEO.
REPORTER: There’s been another data breach this morning at Meriton Property. Has your government done enough to protect the personal information of consumers and will you take more action against public property companies given the fact that they hold so much personal information?
ATTORNEY-GENERAL: As you’d be aware we legislated in November last year to very substantially increase the penalties that apply for companies that failed to take proper care of personal data of Australians. I expect that those very, very substantially increased penalties will act as a spur for companies to take better care. We’re only a couple of months into that new regime. The penalties have yet to be applied in any prosecutions but I do think that that’s important. The Government, of course, is able to assist and ready to assist and is assisting companies that have been affected by data breaches.
REPORTER: You’re introducing a Constitutional Amendment Bill tomorrow and it’s a pretty major change to the Constitution. What are your reflections on that and would you like to see moderate Liberals come on board and support even if their party opposes the Voice?
ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Thank you for the question. Tomorrow, I will be introducing into the Parliament legislation that will give all Australians the power to change our Constitution to recognise Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and include a Voice to the Parliament. The Voice can make representations on matters that relate to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. Only good, no harm can come from listening and being better informed. And in direct answer to your question, of course, we want all Members of the Australian Parliament to support this referendum including every member of the crossbench and all members of the Liberal Party, and we’re very hopeful that there will be that support.