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Transcript of interview with Patricia Karvelas: RN Drive ABC Radio: 21 May 2015: Constitutional recognition of Indigenous Australians; foreign fighters

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21 May 2015

TRANSCRIPT - Interview with Patricia Karvelas - RN Drive, ABC Radio

Topics: Constitutional recognition of Indigenous Australians; Foreign Fighters


PATRICIA KARVELAS: Senator Brandis, what’s your take on Corey Bernardi’s comments today that the issue is racially divisive and doomed to fail? Have you spoken to him or do you intend to talk to him through these issues?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: No, I haven’t. Senator Bernardi is backbencher, he’s entitled to exercise the freedom of the backbench in saying whatever he likes. But, like all of us, Senator Bernardi was elected at the 2013 election on a platform which included a promise by Mr Abbott to progress the idea of the constitutional recognition of Indigenous people at a referendum. Now I have been working towards that end, as has the Prime Minister, as has the relevant Minister Senator Scullion. That is the position of the Government and the next step in that process will be the receipt next month of the Joint Standing Committee report by Ken Wyatt, the Member the Hasluck, which will recommend the form of the referendum question. It goes without saying that in order to acclimatise public opinion to the point where people are comfortable about changing our constitution, there should be a long and slow process. I think the Australian people think, before they approve a constitutional change, that there will have been a long and thoughtful national conversation in advance of any referendum.

PATRICIA KARVELAS: But doesn’t Senator Bernardi’s views perhaps reflect a broader growing view in the Coalition? Do you think he’s just an isolated voice? What are you picking up, do you think the backbench is going cold on this issue? Certainly we’ve had Cape York leader Noel Pearson say to us, that, you know, there is growing…he’s got a view that maybe some people are turning away from this issue and you need to capture the moment or it will be lost forever.

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Well Mr Pearson attended the meeting I attended in Broome yesterday. It’s in the nature of a conversation that different people will bring different views

to the table and we have not settled on the final form of the referendum question. I’m on the record as saying that I think that we should be relatively modest in our aspirations here because anything that is too radical is going to frighten public opinion away and the referendum would fail. So different people come into this debate, this discussion with different views. There are those who would not like to see any change, there are those who would like to see quite sweeping change. As always I think the sensible position lies in the middle.

PATRICIA KARVELAS: It’s fairly disrespectful given there was an election in 2013, that the Prime Minister has given many speeches about this issue that we’ve got at least one MP now speaking against the referendum. Are you concerned that it is a view that is more widespread?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: I respect all views in this debate. I’m not in the business of forcing any particular view on people. I respect the fact that constitutionally conservative people will be appropriately sceptical of the desire to deliver any change. Nobody has yet seen the final form of a referendum question and therefore I think to say at this stage, before the referendum question has even been published that it’s a bad idea, is perhaps a little premature. But nevertheless, I respect the fact there will be some people who are more cautious than others and their scepticism is entitled to be respected as well.

PATRICIA KARVELAS: Mick Gooda, the Indigenous Commissioner, also warns of a lack of action on constitutional recognition. He says that Indigenous people, the issue effectively will mean that the issue falls from the public consciousness. Isn’t there a danger that it will?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: I spent a lot of yesterday with Mick Gooda. Mr Gooda is, I think, a very very constructive contributor to this process. I think that Mr Gooda is not saying that this process if falling off the rails, as it certainly isn’t. What he was saying is that we need to get on with it, and I agree with that and we are getting on with it. The Prime Minister will be meeting with Indigenous leaders shortly and he has offered to include Mr Shorten in that conversation. And as I said a moment ago, the report of Mr Wyatt’s committee will be received next month. So that was the necessary next step.

PATRICIA KARVELAS: Why hasn’t the Prime Minister set a date yet? I mean these people have been waiting and waiting and waiting. They’re raised it a number of times.

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: The Prime Minister has indicated that he wants to have this meeting and a date is being arranged as we speak. It also involves Mr Shorten’s participation as well. I’m told that the Prime Minister did offer a date to Mr Shorten, and if there’s been a delay, and I don’t acknowledge that there has been, it certainly doesn’t lie at the Prime Minister’s feet.

PATRICIA KARVELAS: You’ve mentioned the long anticipated meeting between these leaders. You’re saying that the Prime Minister wants this to happen but ultimately that maybe Shorten has held it up?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: No. I think you’re over-reading what I said. I’m merely telling you that I’m advised that Mr Shorten has been offered a date by the Prime Minister and we are waiting to hear from Mr Shorten in relation to that date.

PATRICIA KARVELAS: Will you use returned foreign fighters for deradicalisation work? That could happen with them in gaol couldn’t it?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Well look, I agree with what the Prime Minister has had to say about this. I mean people who have gone to Syria and Iraq to fight on behalf of terrorist organisations are not welcome in Australia. They’ve committed crimes against Australian law. The fact that they have participated with ISIL and other terrorist organisations in the Middle East means that were they ever to return to Australia are likely to return to Australia more trained in sophisticated terrorist tradecraft, they are more likely to present a greater threat than the threat they presented before they were exposed to actual war fighting with ISIL. And I’m sorry to say Patricia, I’ve seen the sentiments offered by some commentators on this matter, but the fact is this Government takes a very hard line in relation to the threat posed to Australian domestic security by foreign fighters and by people who have been trained by ISIL.

PATRICIA KARVELAS: The Prime Minister Tony Abbott has said that, this week, those suspected of fighting with Islamic State will be questioned, charged, but I imagine it’s not always going to be straight forward to achieve convictions is it? You’ll need to prove that they’ve indeed been fighting in proscribed areas. It’s not an easy thing to achieve.

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: A couple of points to make in response to that. First of all, I think it’s a fool’s errand to anticipate the difficulties in particular hypothetical cases because every case depends on its own particular facts and circumstances so I don’t think one can generalise. Secondly, I think you’re running together two different concepts. First is being present in a declared area, which is a new offence introduced by the Government at the end of last year which there are now two - mainly al-Raqqa province, and Mosul; and secondly, participating in a foreign civil war and engaging in foreign fighting which has been an offence against Australian law ever since 1979. Now each of those two species of conduct, the same fact of course may mean that both of those crimes have been committed, but each of those species of conduct - being present in a declared area and fighting in a foreign civil war - are serious crimes against Australian law.

PATRICIA KARVELAS: In the event of prosecutors not being able to achieve a successful conviction, what will happen to those suspected of fighting with ISIS?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Well let’s not get ahead of ourselves. In the first place, we don’t want these people back in our country. Secondly if they return, if they’re Australian

citizens with a right of return, they will be charged, they will be prosecuted where they can be.

PATRICIA KARVELAS: And when they can’t be?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Patricia, we will be using the full force of the criminal law against people who have committed these serious crimes and I’m not going to get into hypothetical speculation about what might happen if a prosecution were not able to be successful borught. The Australian people can be assured, and everything that this Government has done in the 20 months we’ve now been in office, has demonstrated the depth and seriousness and strength of our commitment to use all legal measures to keep our population safe.

PATRICIA KARVELAS: George Brandis, thanks for joining us on RN Drive.

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Thank you Patricia.