MIL-OSI Australia: Radio interview – ABC National Breakfast

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Source: Australian Executive Government Ministers

E&OE

Subjects: Violence against women; Bondi Junction incident; Wakeley incident; Social cohesion; Religious discrimination; West Australian foster child.

PATRICIA KARVELAS: This week we’ve seen some of the most horrific, violent attacks in Australia for years. The Bondi Junction attacker was shot dead by police. The alleged attacker at a Sydney church has now been charged with a terrorism offence. The two stabbings, as we’ve covered this week, have led to increasing tensions in some communities and have made many people worried over the lasting impact it will have on our ability to live together harmoniously. It’s known as social cohesion but really it’s just about being able to live in our diversity with respect. Mark Dreyfus is the Attorney-General and he joins us this morning. Mark Dreyfus welcome back to the program.

ATTORNEY-GENERAL MARK DREYFUS: Good morning Patricia. Good to be with you.

KARVELAS: There are people concerned about how quickly the church attack was deemed a terrorist attack. I spoke to the Race Discrimination Commissioner yesterday who said there are implications when you characterise actions in a particular way. Do we need to change our approach to incidents like this one to protect social cohesion?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: This was a very distressing attack and I think we need to remember the injured, we need to remember all those who witnessed this incident. We need to remember the police and the first responders who were at the scene. There is a very clear framework here and the Director-General of ASIO Mike Burgess has said the designation of a terrorism incident is one that’s driven by ideology, whether that be religious or political motivation.

KARVELAS: How about the ideology then or the ideas around women of the other attacker at Bondi Junction?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Well, of course, that’s the other shocking event that’s occurred in the last week. A devastating senseless tragedy and, again, our first thoughts need to be with the loved ones of the victims at this terrible time. We should be paying tribute to the brave police officers and the first responders for their courage. The police at Bondi took swift action, Patricia to determine what was the best course of investigation. And we can all say that violence against women is never okay. We’ve seen too many instances of violence against women. Enough’s enough. Australians deserve to live their lives in safety.

KARVELAS: I have a text message that says “can we make it a terrorism offence to kill women, maybe then more will be done?”

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: I think we can talk about violence against women without blurring lines into something else. We’ve got a crisis of male violence in Australia. We know that it’s a scourge in our society. We know it must end and I think it’s really clear women can’t be expected to solve violence against women alone. It is time for men to step up and I don’t think debating definitions is the way to go.

KARVELAS: But yet the community is asking for that. Not all the community but I’m reflecting some of the views, particularly from women. They feel like there has been a different treatment of these events. One was a mass killing of largely women.

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: We need to act. We need to educate ourselves. Men need to step up. We need to talk to our sons, to our colleagues, to our friends. We need to work together to a solution and I think it’s going down some kind of almost a wrong path to say let’s redefine. It’s not about definitions. This is about action. We need to shift the way in which we think about this. We need to acknowledge, and I’ll say it again, violence against women in Australia is perpetrated by men. We’ve got a crisis of male violence in Australia. It’s a scourge, and we all need to act on it. And that’s not a matter of how we define it.

KARVELAS: Isn’t, though, it a matter of technical definitions as well and legal responses if we have, as you say it in your speech today, a crisis of male violence in Australia?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: I’m wanting action Patricia. I’m wanting everybody to think about this differently. I know what the government can do and we’ve been acting. We’ve had a whole range of reforms. We’re going to keep acting. But what we need is for an acknowledgement of the devastating consequences of violence, of the deep distress that’s being felt in our community right now. We need to be accepting that family and domestic violence is indiscriminate. That there are women of every age from every cultural background with different jobs and levels of education or income living in different areas and leading different lives, that family violence destroys lives. That one life lost is too many and it’s got to end. I know that governments at all levels need to be working on this together. I certainly know that the safety of women and children is a national priority for the Albanese Labor Government and we have a shared goal right across the government to end violence against women and children in a generation. It’s a primary responsibility for me as Attorney-General. That’s why I’m working on reforms and that’s why my colleagues who’ve got similar responsibilities in this area are also working as hard as they can.

KARVELAS: In terms of the Bondi Junction attacker, do you think part of the exploration of an investigation should look at whether he was influenced by a so-called incel ideology? That’s an ideology in itself isn’t?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: The work of the New South Wales Police is ongoing. I don’t think it’s appropriate for me to comment.

KARVELAS: But if women are targeted is the idea of exploring whether ideology, of hatred of women, incel ideology, was a motivating factor?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: I think we need to be investigating what were the motivating factors here, if they can be determined, and it might be now that the attacker is dead that it won’t be possible. But there’s going to be a coronial inquest into these shocking, senseless deaths and I don’t think it’s appropriate for me to comment, let alone speculate, at this time.

KARVELAS: So we’re talking about social cohesion in the wake of the attacks. We’ve seen, particularly in how it’s playing in Western Sydney, there is an adjacent discussion at the moment around religious discrimination laws. What timeframe do you have in mind to introduce and pass the religious freedom and religious discrimination laws?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: We’re trying to do this in this year. We are not, like Mr Morrison did, going to drag this right up until election day. He tried to do this in the dying days of the last term of Parliament and that’s the wrong time. We’re very happy to keep talking about this but we can’t allow this to drag out. Right now is a very good time for us to try and come together and legislate in a way that unites the country, that protects kids and teachers, and protects people of faith. I’ve had one very good meeting with Senator Cash already. I’m very hopeful we can bring the Parliament together on this topic.

KARVELAS: And when you say a good meeting with Senator Cash, why do you consider it a good meeting?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Because we met and talk through the issues and she’s gone away to talk to faith leaders, as I’ve been doing now for many months, to talk to her party room. I’m going to continue, as has the Prime Minister, to talk to faith groups. I’m going to continue to talk to teacher representatives, to the LGBTIQ+ community. It must be possible for us to protect people of faith without using this as yet another excuse to promote division.

KARVELAS: If you can’t pass this by the end of the year will you shelve it?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: I’ll say again that we don’t think trying to do this right at the end of a parliamentary term, as Mr Morrison tried to do in February of 2022, is the right time. This needs to be done in a considered and measured way and the middle of this year is a good time to do it.

KARVELAS: So the middle of this year is kind of the timeframe or deadline you’re giving for trying to pass it and then it’s shelved?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: I’m working with colleagues, I’m working with the Parliament, I’m working particularly with the Opposition, to try to reach a resolution and enduring solution of this that strengthens protections for all Australians, including teachers, students, and people of faith.

KARVELAS: If you can’t get that by, what, like August is it then shelved?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: I’m working away with colleagues, with the whole Parliament.

KARVELAS: And if it doesn’t work, I’ll ask again politely Attorney-General, is it then shelved?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: We are right now in the middle of negotiations. We are right now working together. We are right now in discussions. I and the Prime Minister met with faith leaders in Sydney last Friday morning as part of this process. It’s ongoing.

KARVELAS: Can you answer the question directly?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Well, I’m saying that we’re working away.

KARVELAS: Yeah, I know you’re working. Of course we expect that you would right. But then if that doesn’t get an agreement do you then shelve it?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: if we don’t reach agreement, that’ll be a matter of extreme regret for me and others because we’ve been at this now for several years. And I do think that the issues are well known and I’m equally, because they’re well known, confident that we can get to a resolution of them.

KARVELAS: Do you think religious schools should be able to sack gay teachers?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: It’s declared policy of our government, which we took to two elections, that there should be protection against discrimination for teachers in religious schools. We’ve made that very clear.

KARVELAS: How about transgendered people?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Nobody should be the subject of discrimination because of who they are and that’s a core principle for Labor. It’s a core principle we’ve taken to several elections, and we’ve made clear what we intend to do.

KARVELAS: And so do you believe in the wake of the social cohesion discussion we’re having and how it’s working in the community that this strengthens the case for these laws?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: I think that this is an opportunity, this Religious Discrimination Bill and the changes we wish to make to the Sex Discrimination Act, this is an opportunity to unite the country and to show that, consistently with long established Australian values, we can be a community that treats each other with respect. I see the religious discrimination legislation as something that is entirely consistent with the community coming together. Just like we’ve seen in the wake of the horrible tragedy that occurred at Bondi Junction. We’ve seen the best of Australian values coming forward in the last days. We’ve seen the community coming together, expressing their support for the families of victims, laying flowers in Bondi. We’ve seen the kind and compassionate and unified spirit that Australians I know hold and I think that the religious discrimination legislation can be dealt with in that same spirit.

KARVELAS: Why can’t we see the legislation? Doesn’t the public have a right to debate it as well? You represent us but doesn’t the public have a right to see what you’re putting forward?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Of course, when the legislation comes to the Parliament, it will be there for all to see.

KARVELAS: Not then, because now Australians aren’t part of the debate. You won’t show us the details. So it’s being had in a political bubble.

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: This is a debate that’s been going on, Patricia, I think you’re pretty aware of this, this is a debate that’s been going on for the better part of a decade. The issues are pretty well known and it’s very consistent for government to hold talks with people in processes. That’s talks with the Opposition, talks with the crossbench, talks with groups right across the community before the final form of bills is arrived at and then they are introduced to the Parliament. So, making public drafts or pre-drafts I don’t think is particularly helpful at this point in this debate, particularly given that we have had years and years and years of discussion about this topic.

KARVELAS: Just two questions on a few other topics very briefly. Do you think the payment that was paid by the Commonwealth to Brittany Higgins should be referred to the NACC? That’s the integrity body to be clear for our listeners.

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: I’m extremely proud of the National Anti-Corruption Commission that I brought to the Parliament, that the Parliament legislated for, which has commenced operations on the first of July 2023. That independence means that anybody can make a referral to it. And that independence also means that it’s entirely a matter for the National Anti-Corruption Commission what it chooses to investigate.

KARVELAS: So if it chooses to investigate this, do you think that’s fair enough?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: The claim that Ms Higgins brought against the Commonwealth was managed consistently with the Commonwealth’s obligations under the Legal Services Directions of 2017. The terms of settlement and the claim are managed in accordance with legal principle and practice. They were informed by external legal advice.

KARVELAS: So you don’t think it meets the test of current potential corruption?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: I’ve consistently said that it’s not a matter for me, particularly me, as the Minister responsible for the National Anti-Corruption Commission to be commenting on potential referrals, let alone actual referrals. I will say again about the settlement. This settlement with Ms Higgins was managed in accordance with legal principle and practice. It was informed by external legal advice.

KARVELAS: Just finally that tragic death of the 10 year old boy in Western Australia under state care has raised a lot of questions and concerns. Should the Commonwealth be involved in an inquiry into this and the wider system?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: This death of a 10 year old boy is an unspeakably tragic situation. My thoughts are with the family, with friends, with community who are grieving the loss of a son. It’s a shocking, heartbreaking event. It really demands deep reflection. The Commonwealth can be part of the solution in preventing families from coming into contact with child protection. And I think I, other ministers, all of our government, are committed to working with community to improve outcomes for children and for young people.

KARVELAS: Thank you so much for joining us this morning Attorney-General.

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Thanks very much Patricia.

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