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Transcript of doorstop interview of the Shadow Attorney -General: High Court, Canberra: High Court injunction to stop Government spending on IR advertising campaign.

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Nicola Roxon MP Shadow Attorney-General



Subject: High Court injunction to stop Government spending on IR advertising campaign

ROXON: Thank you for all coming today. You know why you’re here. Labor and the ACTU have launched a claim in the High Court asking the High Court to stop the Government from spending taxpayers’ money illegally. This is an extraordinary step for us to take. It’s a very serious matter to take a case to the High Court and the Court is treating it as a serious and urgent matter. We have our first preliminary hearing tomorrow in Sydney.

We all know that the Government’s industrial relations agenda is an extreme agenda. We know that they are prepared to spend a lot of money advertising on this issue. We believe that that’s a waste of money. We believe it’s wrong to spend money on party-political advertising. We think it’s unethical. But the question that the Court will decide is, is it also illegal? It’s wrong, it’s partisan, it’s unethical. Is it illegal? And that’s what the Court is going to decide.

John Howard might control both Houses of the Parliament but he’s not above the law. The Constitution requires that he ask the Parliament for money that he wants to spend and we don’t believe he’s done that properly in this case and that will be debated before the Court as a matter of urgency.

JOURNALIST: What’s your advice on your prospects of success?

ROXON: Well obviously, we wouldn’t have taken this serious step if we weren’t confident that we have a good case. It isn’t an area that’s been tested very often. We know that it’s worth running this argument. We think that the Government should be held to account if it’s going to spend large amounts of public money advertising an extreme industrial relations agenda that hasn’t even been put before the Parliament. I mean, we don’t need more ads. We actually need answers from the Government. Are people going to lose their

lunchbreaks? Are they going to lose their annual leave? Are they going to stop being paid overtime? We actually need answers from them, not this political propaganda at public expense.

JOURNALIST: But isn’t your case more about, you know, procedure - Government procedure and Parliamentary procedure - than the content of the industrial relations laws?

ROXON: Of course it is about Parliamentary procedure. It’s about the legality of what the Government is doing. Mr Howard is not above the law. He must comply with the Constitution. It’s not a difficult thing to do. There are many advertising campaigns that are specified in the budget - but for some reason this one isn’t. We want to know why and we think that it makes this spending unlawful.

JOURNALIST: How is this different to, say, other campaigns like the GST or other ones recently?

ROXON: Well, there are plenty of campaigns that are in the budget currently - the Super Choice advertising campaign, the generic medicines advertising campaign, the national security campaign - a whole host of them that the Government specifies and itemises in the budget. They’ve failed to do that for this and we want to know why. We think that it means that they’ve left themselves exposed. They’ve been untidy and we think lazy but they’ve possibly also spent this money illegally and we’re going to call them to account on that.

JOURNALIST: So, could the Government make it right by legislating?

ROXON: Certainly, the Government always has the opportunity to return to the Parliament. It could introduce a special appropriations bill and ask the Parliament to approve spending on this sort of campaign. Then we’ll have a proper debate and the Parliament will do its job and the public will understand that the Government is spending this money to try to influence the political debate, rather than the money it might spend on advertising ordinary government entitlements or benefits, which it’s obviously appropriate for governments to be able to do.

JOURNALIST: You still wouldn’t be happy with that action, though, because you would still be against any advertising, wouldn’t you?

ROXON: Our issue is that there’s a policy question and there’s a legal question. Those of you who’ve been following this issue know that the Labor Party has opposed government expenditure on advertising. They’ve spent nearly $1 billion in nine years on government advertising. We think that’s a waste of

money and we think it’s wrong. We have put forward previously private members bills to change the rules with amounts that we’ll do that again, but in the interim, we believe that they have made a mistake here. They haven’t appropriated the money properly. We think they’re breaking the law by spending our money on something that hasn’t been approved by the Parliament and we want them stopped.

JOURNALIST: How much is the legal action costing and who’s funding it?

ROXON: It’s being funded by the ACTU. It’s obviously not cheap to go to the High Court but it’s something that is worth doing. The public is entitled to have people pursue their interests in the Court. It’s their money that’s being spent on this advertising campaign and if it hasn’t been approved properly by the Parliament then we’re entitled to try to uphold the Constitution in arguing this case.

JOURNALIST: Will you be seeking an order tomorrow as some kind of way to have the ads stopped?

ROXON: We’ve sought in the case both interim orders as well as permanent orders. We’re seeking the High Court to grant an injunction to stop the ads being run. Tomorrow there will be debate about whether an interim

injunction will be granted and if it isn’t then obviously the urgency of the matter will be discussed and a timetable will be set. But that’s really a matter for the Court. We’re asking for both an urgent and intermediate injunction but also that what we’re asking for as our permanent relief. You’ll see from the statement of claim we’re seeking a declaration that the money has been spent unlawfully and then the relief flows from that.

JOURNALIST: Given that the problem you’re complaining about could be corrected quite simply in Parliament, isn’t this just a stunt?

ROXON: It’s not a stunt. This is actually about upholding the law. John Howard isn’t above the law. He has to comply with the rules that everyone else has to. The Constitution explicitly says that if the government wants to spend money it has to have it approved by the Parliament. We don’t think they’ve done that and we think we’re entitled to ask the Court to stop them spending $20, $30, $40 million of public money on this political advertising campaign.

JOURNALLIST: Would it be necessary to call the Minister to give evidence?

ROXON: I don’t think that it’s usual for them to have to call witnesses in this type of proceeding. It would normally be done on affidavit material. But

that will be a matter that obviously the Commonwealth can address. I think it would be unlikely that that would happen in this case.