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Transcript of interview with Melissa Clarke: ABC News 24: 24 August 2013: Polls; Liberal Party's paid parental leave scheme; United Nations Human Rights Committee; Labor's ban on political parties accepting tobacco donations



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TRANSCRIPT OF ATTORNEY-GENERAL MARK DREYFUS INTERVIEW WITH MELISSA CLARKE ABC NEWS 24 24 AUGUST 2013

E & O E - PROOF ONLY _____________________________________________________________

Subjects: Polls; Liberal party’s paid parental leave scheme; United Nations Human Rights Committee; Labor’s ban on political parties accepting tobacco donations. _____________________________________________________________

CLARKE: Mark Dreyfus, thanks for being with us this morning.

MARK DREYFUS: Good to be here, Melissa.

CLARKE: The polling consistently shows that the Coalition is set to take government after September 7. How do you turn that around in two weeks?

DREYFUS: It's tight, Melissa. We always knew it was going to be tight and we're fighting and we've got a lot to fight for. We have policies that are detailed. We have a vision for Australia and I think that people are increasingly starting to see that by contrast the Opposition do not have detail. They barely have policies, they've got a grab-bag of promises, none of them costed and no more so than one of the few policies, the so-called signature policy they've got, the paid parental leave policy, which has just fallen apart since its recycled announcement last week.

CLARKE: You say it's tight but it's not really. Labor's primary vote is at 35 per cent according to polls today. How do you make up at least four per cent as a bare minimum to try to hang on to government.

DREYFUS: You need to look at the two-party preferred for a start and it's tight. It's absolutely winnable. We've been the underdogs since the start of the campaign and what we need in the remaining two weeks of this campaign is a bit of focus on the detail or rather the lack of detail in the Opposition's policies.

And again I'd say this paid parental leave scheme, it's unfair, everyone now sees the unfairness of it. It's unfunded and it's vastly too expensive. And everybody's criticising it. Yesterday we had former finance minister, Nick Minchin, a close ally of Tony Abbott's, saying it wouldn't pass the Senate, walking away from it. The conservative state premiers don't support it. They won't be putting money into it.

Business is saying that it is too expensive, too generous, and of course it hits pensioners and people with money in superannuation funds.

CLARKE: Well, I'm glad you raised Nick Minchin mentioning the Senate there because there has been a bit of attention focused on the Senate in the last couple of days, with Nick Minchin talking about how the balance of power might work and certainly the Greens looking at the polling and putting an emphasis on urging people to elect Greens to hold the balance of the power, presuming a Coalition government will get in. Would it get to the point where the Labor Party will put the emphasis on encouraging people not to give the Coalition power in both houses? Is there a point where you need to switch to trying to not lose power in both chambers?

DREYFUS: We are aiming at winning majority government which means winning a majority of seats in the House of Representatives and we are aimed at winning as many seats as we can in the Senate. I'm not going to speculate about what might happen after an election but I did note ex-senator Minchin saying that he didn't think they'd get a majority in the Senate.

What's important here is that instead of this speculation or speculation about polls, Melissa, that we focus on policy and paid parental leave, one of the very few detailed policies that the Liberals have actually exposed to a bit of scrutiny has fallen apart as unfair and unfunded and unaffordable.

CLARKE: Well, on policy matters, let's turn to one in your portfolio area when it comes to asylum seekers, because of course some of your responsibilities as Attorney-General cover this. We have had the United Nations Human Rights Committee make some condemning remarks on the asylum seekers who've come to Australia and had adverse ASIO security findings, and have not been able to have any kind of resolution as to what to do with them, given that they are found to have genuine refugee status but are found to be a security threat. When and how is this going to be dealt with?

DREYFUS: Well, we've of course already partially dealt with it by setting up a review process with former Federal Court judge Margaret Stone and again this is another area where there's a pretty sharp contrast between us and the Opposition. I've said as Attorney-General that we'll be looking at that United Nations report and as well, looking at what else can be done. But we already have this non-statutory review with former Federal Court judge Margaret Stone.

By contrast, Senator Brandis, other Liberal front-benchers have said they would abolish that process and it's a bit more of the gratuitous cruelty that we've come to expect from this Opposition. We've seen that in their decision, for example, that they wish to deny the possibility of residence to the 30,000 people in Australia whose claims are still being processed.

CLARKE: So for these-

DREYFUS: -There's a very sharp difference, Melissa.

CLARKE: For these individuals, who this United Nations Human Rights Committee reports refers to, the ones for whom there isn't a resolution yet, are things such as

alternative monitoring options something that a Labor Government, a re-elected Labor Government would be willing to consider?

DREYFUS: Well, that's the sorts of things that the report is pointing to. What I point to is the fact that Margaret Stone has commenced her reviews. We've had three people who on her recommendation have had their adverse security assessments changed or withdrawn and her review process is continuing. The Opposition have said they would simply abolish the process that she's embarked on, which to my mind is working. We do have to have regard to Australia's security, but equally we have to have regard to the human rights of those people, the small group of people, but a significant group who are in that situation.

CLARKE: Now another policy area in your portfolio, earlier this week you announced that a re-elected Labor Party would seek to ban all political parties from receiving donations from tobacco companies. Can I ask why this is something you see needs government intervention if it is morally problematic or an ethical decision that the Labor Party sees as somewhat dubious, then why does the Government need to intervene? Shouldn't public pressure be able to achieve this outcome?

DREYFUS: We've already got provision in the Electoral Act that prohibit certain kinds of donations. This would be adding to that list and what we're talking about here is 15,000 Australians dying of tobacco-related illness each year. Billions of dollars added to the Australian health budget because of smoking. And it's about time that the Liberal Party stopped taking money from big tobacco because the only reason that big tobacco gives money is to influence government policy. And it's good that Tony Abbott has said that after taking millions of dollars from big tobacco over the last decade or so for their electoral campaigns, the Liberal Party federally won't be taking those donations anymore. He needs to also rule out the state branches of the Liberal Party taking those donations, which he hasn't yet done.

CLARKE: Well, if you've got the outcome that you were seeking in the Federal Liberal Party not accepting those donations do you need to proceed with the legislation?

DREYFUS: No, it should be across the board and no political party should be able to receive donations from big tobacco. It's entirely appropriate legislation, but what's important is that Tony Abbott has very belatedly been dragged kicking and screaming, as with so much else of good policy, to accept that he shouldn't be taking money from big tobacco.

CLARKE: So why now this in the middle of an election campaign, why couldn't you have done it earlier in the term? Surely it's just a wedge during the campaign term.

MARK DREYFUS: If it's good policy, it's always a good time, but of course during campaigns is a very good time for people to focus their attention on this sort of thing - where the money's coming from for campaigns.

CLARKE: Alright. Attorney-General, Mark Dreyfus, thanks for joining us this morning.

ENDS