Press Conference with Mark Dreyfus – Sydney

FRIDAY, 20 MAY 2016

SUBJECT/S: AFP Raids; Malcolm Turnbull’s mismanagement of the NBN.

MARK DREYFUS, SHADOW ATTORNEY-GENERAL: We’ve had a series of extraordinary events overnight with a police raid being conducted at the Commonwealth Parliamentary Offices in Melbourne, specifically at the office of Senator Conroy, an Opposition frontbencher. That raid took until very late into the evening. It was followed by a raid on the home of an opposition staff member. That raid was not completed until 5am this morning. As we have heard from the Commissioner of the Australian Federal Police, Andrew Colvin this morning, a claim for parliamentary privilege has been made in respect of those documents and that’s a very important aspect of this matter because, of course, parliamentary privilege protects the activities of members of Parliament, in particular, it protects the activities of members of Parlia ment who are engaged in holding the Government to account, who are engaged in conducting inquiries, as indeed Senator Conroy has been for many months as a Senator, as a member of a Senate committee inquiring into the mismanagement of the NBN by the current Prime Minister, Mr Turnbull when he was the Communications Minister. Those extraordinary events are not completed. The claim for parliamentary privilege has resulted in the documents being sealed and that claim will be resolved by parliamentary processes which are to come in coming weeks. 

But there is a more serious matter underlying this. Not only has this raid, both raids, occurred during an election campaign, they are in response to or, as we have learned again from Commissioner Colvin this morning, an investigation commenced at the behest of a Government agency, NBN Co. What we need to know is what did the Prime Minister, or his Ministers, or their staff have to do with the commencement of this investigation and what do they know about that. Have they had, has the PM or his Ministers or their staff had conversations with executives of NBN Co, a Government agency I would stress again, about the conduct of this investigation and has the PM or his Ministers or any of their staff sought updates from NBN Co, because this investigation, I say again, is sponsored by, was prompted by the NB N Co asking for an investigation last December into leaks which had occurred, allegedly, over several previous months because one of the documents, which is being sought here goes back to 2014.

I mention also that not only are there concerns about the way in which this Government agency has acted and concerns about what involvement there is of the Prime Minister or Ministers or their staff with the NBN Co, it’s now become apparent that this search warrant process is directed not merely at Opposition frontbenchers and their staff, but directed also at the media. It raises questions about not only the public’s right to know, but the right of the media to publish. As some commentators have already said this morning, it raises questions about protection of whistle blowers because at base, what this matter is about is documents which are concerned with the mismanagement of the NBN. My colleague, Jason Clare, is going to say more about that, but mismanagement of the NBN process, the ap palling cost blowout, the appalling delay, the fact that Australia has slipped from 30th to 60th in internet speeds across the world, all of them the responsibility of the man who is the current Prime Minister, but was for the first two years or so of this Government, the Communications Minister and responsible for these matters.

So, it’s for the Government to answer questions about what they knew, when they knew it and what their involvement has been in this investigation and while they are about it, the Prime Minister, ministers should answer questions as to why this particular set of leaks as distinct from the 20 or so leaks about national security matters, which have not been the subject of any police raids, have not even been the subject of any police investigation in some cases, why this matter concerning the NBN Co and Mr Turnbull’s mismanagement has been given such different treatment. Jason.

JASON CLARE, SHADOW MINISTER FOR COMMUNICATIONS: Thanks, Mark. Look, Malcolm Turnbull basically had one job for the first two years of this Government and that’s to build the NBN. By any objective analysis he has made a shocking mess of it. The cost of the NBN is now almost double what Malcolm Turnbull said it would be. The time it’s going to take to build the NBN is more than double what Malcolm Turnbull said it would be. And Australian internet speeds are double what they – we went from 30th in the world to 60th in the world over the last three years. We have doubled in the rankings. It’s a shocking mess, a shocking indictment on Malcolm Turnbull’s administration of the NBN. These leaks, these leaked documents are very damaging for Malcolm Turnbull and ver y embarrassing because they expose his failure as a Minister. They expose his failure in implementing the policy he took to the last election. What these leaked documents show, is they show the delays, they show that in the fibre to the node areas where they are rolling out fibre to the node, they are all behind schedule. They show the cost blowouts. For example, they show that the cost of fixing the old copper to make this second-rate NBN work has blown out by 1,000 per cent. So it’s very embarrassing, very damaging for Malcolm Turnbull. The events of the last 24 hours shine a bigger light than ever before on the abject failure of Malcolm Turnbull to build the NBN. No wonder NBN Co wants to silence these whistle blowers. Malcolm Turnbull has butchered the NBN. Instead of NBN getting the police into investigate, they should be focused on fixing it. They shou ld be focused on doing what every Australian wants and that is to build the NBN that Australians need for the future. Happy to take questions.

JOURNALIST: I’ve lost track of the silly political referrals to the AFP on Bronwyn Bishop’s travel expenses. Is this your chickens coming home to roost? You have engaged in this silly game of trying to escalate referrals and now it’s come back to bite you?

DREYFUS: I wholly reject that question and the premise behind it. I don’t think there is the slightest problem about drawing the attention of the Australian Federal Police or drawing the attention of the Australian people to a misuse, a very serious misuse of public office by a Turnbull Government Minister, namely Stuart Robert. He is now under continuing investigation by the Australian Federal Police. For you, a journalist, to suggest that in any way there was anything – I think your word was “Silly” – is an absurd question to ask and a ridiculous demeaning of the role of the Opposition, which is to hold the Government to account. I am very proud of the role that we have played in holding this Government to account. It was completely appropriate that the Australian& nbsp;Federal Police investigate Stuart Robert. It is, on the face of it, an appalling misuse of his public office to lend his high office as a Minister of the Australian Commonwealth to his business mates for an event in China because that’s what’s at base and he was photographed doing it. I don’t think there is any problem with that. I reject any comparison that you are trying to draw.

JOURNALIST: The NBN, referred their leaks to the AFP, you referred yours?

DREYFUS: Australian citizens have the right where they think some wrongdoing has occurred to ask the police to investigate. Our interest here is in how this was prompted by Government Ministers. It’s the role of the Prime Minister, the role of the Minister, the role of their staff in acting, apparently, differently in relation to these alleged leaks to more than 20, often very serious national security leaks that have occurred over the course of the Abbott-Turnbull Government. Or indeed the attitude expressed by Mr Turnbull to the suggestion that there should be an inquiry into the release of the photograph of the staff member who was involved in Mr Briggs’ resignation where Mr Turnbull as Prime Minister dismissed that proposition, saying, I think something to the effect&n bsp;that “These leak inquiries never go anywhere”. Why is it in the case of the NBN Co where the documents are revealing tremendous embarrassment to Mr Turnbull for his mismanagement of the NBN, why is it that’s the subject of an investigation that has been commenced by the NBN Co, a Government agency and serious national security leaks have been left uninvestigated. That’s the point.

JOURNALIST: This morning you suggested on Radio National that there were questioning about the timing of these raids. You’ve since heard from the AFP Commissioner who has held a press conference saying the election campaign has nothing to do with it and he says it’s just the progress of the investigation, do you still dispute that?

DREYFUS: I’m very, very pleased to have had the explanation from Commissioner Colvin. It’s entirely appropriate that he held a press conference to explain what was the basis of the timing because, of course, Australians looking last night or Australians looking this morning at their news would be immensely concerned at the sight of Australian police going in to the offices of Opposition members, going into the homes of Opposition staff. That’s not something that is very common in Australia. It, of course, raises concerns and that’s why I’m very pleased that Commissioner Colvin has gone out this morning and explained, as he has, the timing of this. But it’s not about the Australian Federal Police. This is about why NBN Co has chosen to commence this inv estigation, why the Government, because the NBN Co answers to the Government, has had this investigation undertaken and not much more serious potentially national security leaks.

JOURNALIST: So you are entirely satisfied with the explanation from the AFP?

DREYFUS: I’ve accepted what Commissioner Colvin has said. This is about the involvement of Ministers, about what the Prime Minister has had to do with this, about what their staff have had to do with this because it beggars belief that a government agency, the NBN, has completely, without reference to its Minister, completely without reference to the Prime Minister or any of their staff, gone about pursuing the leaks in the way that it has.

JOURNALIST: So just following on from that, you’re talking about the independence of the NBN Co.

DREYFUS: It’s not independent. That’s a very straightforward matter. It’s a government-owned enterprise.

JOURNALIST: So you are alleging there was direct interference?

DREYFUS: These are questions for the Government to answer. It’s not a matter of interference. The NBN Co answers to the Government. It is wholly owned by the Government. It’s a government-owned enterprise.

JOURNALIST: You’re not alleging it happened.

DREYFUS: I’m asking the question and the Government should be answering these questions.

JOURNALIST: You don’t mind that they did these raids during an election campaign, you’ve withdrawn that criticism?

DREYFUS: I think it’s concerning these raids occurred. It is unprecedented, as I said last night, I have a concern, just as Commissioner Colvin has concern about confidence of Australians, of all Australians, in our police forces, in our security agencies. It’s absolutely vital that everybody understands that police forces do not act in a politically motivated manner. It’s because of that concern that it was appropriate for Commissioner Colvin to go out this morning, as he did, to put those concerns to rest. But obviously those concerns cannot help but arise when you’ve got a raid on an Opposition front bencher’s office at the Commonwealth Parliamentary offices in Melbourne and a raid on an Opposition’s staffer’s home in Melbourne occurring in the secon d week of an election campaign.

JOURNALIST: Do you think it’s acceptable, as someone who could become the Attorney-General in the coming weeks, to insinuate that the Government could have control over the AFP because indirectly, that’s what’s been said?

DREYFUS: It’s not what’s been said. As has been said by Commissioner Colvin this morning the investigation being conducted by the Australian Federal Police is being conducted because the NBN Co asked for it to be conducted. Our question is, as to what were the conversations between the Prime Minister, between ministers, between staff of the PM and ministers and NBN Co that prompted this investigation and on and an ongoing basis, what did they know about this investigation?

JOURNALIST: Was the Victorian ALP concerned about the press freedom when they sought the prosecution for journalists at The Age newspaper for exposing the use of data basing? 

DREYFUS: I’m not even going to dignify that question with an answer because it has nothing to do with the subject matter of this press conference.

JOURNALIST: are you concerned about the leaking …

DREYFUS: The Police Commissioner, Commissioner Colvin, is concerned about that matter and that’s why he said at his press conference this morning that he has referred that particular issue to the integrity processes of the Australian Federal Police.

JOURNALIST: The Commissioner might think the Federal Police has been compromised by the way this information has been revealed?

DREYFUS: It’s very unusual for the Australian Police Commissioner, the Commissioner himself, to hold a press conference about an ongoing investigation. The reason that he has held that press conference is because concerns arise as to the confidence people can have in the independence of the Australian Federal Police. That’s why I said to earlier questions, I was very pleased to see Commissioner Colvin out there this morning reassuring Australians, as he should, as to the independence of the Australian Federal Police. But the reason he’s had to do that is because of the timing of these raids.

JOURNALIST: You’d think that the operation aspects of the inquiry impacted by the debate swirling around it and they’re entitled to feel they’re not operating in a clean environment?

DREYFUS: I think common sense would tell you that if the Australian Federal Police execute raids on the Commonwealth Parliamentary Offices and on an Opposition front bencher’s office and on an Opposition staffer’s home during an election campaign, they’re not exactly going to get clear air. This has been created by the conduct of these raids and the Australian Federal Police, with the greatest of respect to them, needed to take that into account and perhaps they have. It’s not something that Commissioner Colvin went to this morning. But they needed to take that into account in the context of the ongoing investigation. Thanks very much.