Tuesday, 27 August 2019

Doorstop, Ellenbrook, WA

Transcript

E&OE

Subjects: John Setka, Yang Hengjun , Witness K

ATTORNEY-GENERAL:
Well I think from the Government’s perspective, no one has any difficulty with Anthony Albanese, as the leader of the Labor Party, trying to find and execute a proper legal process to expel John Setka from the Labor Party.
What we have a problem with is why Anthony Albanese will not support the Government in trying to establish a proper legal process that would allow people who behave unlawfully, like John Setka, to be expelled from high public office in the union movement.
I mean if it’s the case that John Setka’s criminal and otherwise unlawful conduct over many years means that he’s not a fit and proper person to be a member of the Labor Party, why would Anthony Albanese regard him as being a fit and proper person to hold high office in a public registered organisation in the form of a union?
So the Government has before the Parliament, at the moment, integrity legislation which would set reasonable and appropriate standards that would allow for a proper legal process on application to a court to expel someone from public office in the union movement if they had engaged in the same type of cumulative unlawful and criminal behaviour as John Setka. This is an area of the greatest level of hypocrisy imaginable by Anthony Albanese.

QUESTION:
Can I just quickly ask you on when Yang Hengjun's arrest, Michael McCormack says it's not for him to say that he's disappointed. But the Foreign Minister says the Government is very disappointed. Are you concerned about this?

CHRISTIAN PORTER:
Well we're always concerned when Australian citizens are arrested overseas. I understand the conditions that are being applied are not those that we would necessarily come to expect on arrest in Australia. Every consular assistance will be offered to the individual. So it is a matter of concern, as it always is. Our path as a Government is to always offer the greatest level of assistance that we can provide but there are always going to be limitations to that when someone is arrested on a charge for an offence in another sovereign jurisdiction.

QUESTION:
It just didn't seem like the Acting Prime Minister was very concerned with his response earlier?

CHRISTIAN PORTER:
Well, I haven't heard directly his response. I very often find these things go through the wash and are put in ways that probably don't characterise the response in the most accurate possible light - I'm sure you're not doing that - but I think that the consistent position this Government has, as with all Australian governments, is we have great concern for Australians who are arrested pursuant to charges overseas. We offer every assistance that we can. But there are always limitations to that when someone is arrested pursuant to a charge in another sovereign jurisdiction.

QUESTION:
Why did you give the green light to the prosecution of Witness K and Bernard Collaery given your predecessor George Brandis didn't?

CHRISTIAN PORTER:
Well, Senator Brandis, as Attorney-General, requisitioned a range of legal advice on the matter, and advice was provided by two Commonwealth DPPs…the Solicitor-General. He also requested a further piece of advice which didn't actually arrive until after I became Attorney-General. I considered all of those pieces of independent legal advice. I considered the request from the Commonwealth DPP to prosecute and statutorily provided my consent, which was a requirement in those matters. The fact that Senator Brandis had commenced but not yet finished that process I don't think speaks to anything other than the fact that it was a process which took some time and there were layered levels of legal advice that had to be procured, received and considered.

QUESTION:
So was it that additional piece of advice that changed the decision?

CHRISTIAN PORTER:
Well all of the advice allowing - as I've said in a public statement that I provided to the news show last evening - all of the pieces of advice allowing for nuances and differences in emphasis all reached the same ultimate conclusion which was that the evidence meant that there was a reasonable prospect of conviction and a public interest and proceeding. And ultimately, I gave my consent on that ultimate issue in the same way that each of those pieces of advices had advised.

QUESTION:
What is that public interest in proceeding?

CHRISTIAN PORTER:
Well, I'm not going into all of the details of those pieces of advice. These matters are now before the courts and I have a requirement and responsibility to allow that process to proceed. I might just note for the record that the fact that one of the parties has intended to plead guilty, I think, clearly demonstrates that all of the pieces of advice which, in effect, said that there was both a reasonable prospect to conviction and a public interest that was underwritten by the evidence, have at least in that respect shown to be correct. Okay, any other matters?

QUESTION:
Just on that, giving more explanation on the public interest, you can't go into that because it is before the courts, is that what you're saying?

CHRISTIAN PORTER:
Well, the public interest and the reasonable prospects of conviction, where determinations independently are made by the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions. They were supplemented by a range of independent advice, drafted by people who are legally expert in these matters outside the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions. The content of that advice pointed to both the reasonable prospect of conviction and the evidence underwriting that, and the evidence underwriting a public interest in the prosecution being conducted. I'm not going into those multiple pieces of advice because the content of that advice is now going to matters that will be evidentiary before the courts. Now, that's a fairly basic precept for any trial, that you can't place any statements that would put a situation of contempt arising with respect to those proceedings, which will now play out in as open a manner as is conceivably possible. Okay, thank you.

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