Sunday, 20 October 2019

Doorstop – Press Gallery Canberra



Subjects: ACT cannabis, Religious discriminations; Australians in Syria

QUESTION: Are you now of the view that there is absolutely no need to do anything with regard to Canberra's marijuana laws?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Well, the legal advice that I've got, which I agree with, which I've relayed by a letter today to the ACT Attorney-General, is that it is still an offence under Commonwealth law in Canberra to possess an amount of cannabis less than 50 grams. That's the state of the law.

QUESTION: So just to clarify does that mean that the federal law overrides the territory law if someone's caught with some marijuana in their backyard?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Well the federal law contains a defence which says that if a state or territory has a positive right to possess an amount of cannabis that is a defence to the commonwealth charge. What the ACT has done is decriminalise but they have not established a positive right so the commonwealth law still operates.

QUESTION: So your intention Attorney-General is to do nothing more?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Well there is nothing to do. What ACT do with their laws is obviously a matter for them. But what I am saying is that if you possess cannabis in Canberra under 50 grams there is still a commonwealth law which prohibits that and it is unlawful.

QUESTION: Long before they legalised it they decriminalised it in the ACT so you got a fine but not a conviction if you're caught. Are you saying for all those years people have actually been in breach of commonwealth law in the ACT or….even under the decriminalisation regime?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Well the commonwealth law has always operated. It's never been displaced or made null and void through the activation of the defence in the commonwealth law. It has always operated.

QUESTION: So how does it work with the, would the Federal Police, act under ACT law or Commonwealth law when they're enforcing?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Well the police enforce laws that are on the books and the Commonwealth law is on the books. The expectation is that police enforce the law. And the law is, as I have been advised and which advice I completely accept, it remains unlawful at commonwealth law to possess cannabis in the ACT.

QUESTION: So will you instruct the Federal Police to start enforcing the Commonwealth laws?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: I don't need to instruct police to enforce the law.

QUESTION: Which one do they enforce?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: All laws are meant to be enforced in the ACT.

QUESTION: But you have a federal police force in the ACT, you don't have state police, how does it work?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: I understand the distinction….

QUESTION: How does it work, what do they uphold?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: They uphold the laws that exist both state and federal or territory and federal.

QUESTION: Attorney-General are you now absolutely firm there will be no effort at any time to bring back the Australians trapped in northern Syria.

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: That's not what I said. What I said was that as conditions have existed recently and certainly as they exist at the moment, there is simply no capacity to do that without putting Australian lives at enormous risk and peril and we are not prepared to do that.

QUESTION: And you don't see that changing any time soon do you?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Well it is an immensely dangerous place – the most dangerous place on earth at the moment – and even the greatest geo-political experts can't say what is going to happen and unfold here.

QUESTION: Are Australian authorities in contact with any of the women and children in that area?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Look I don't have information on that.

QUESTION: ….changes in the religious discrimination act, are you looking at expanding the powers of positive discrimination beyond just schools to other religious institutions?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: There aren't powers of positive discrimination. Section 10 of the Bill simply says this; that if the Bill establishes, as it does, that it's prima-facie unlawful to discriminate against someone on based on their religion there has to be certain exceptions to that because a Catholic Church might only admit Catholics. Now whether or not that exception is extended out to accommodate for religious hospitals and religious aged-care is the issue that we're grappling with now after the consultations but I think some refinement in that area is going to be necessary.

QUESTION: Are you going to repeal Medivac this week?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Well we are very much intending to do so. It's very bad law. There are already laws that allow for the medical transfer of people from overseas facilities. They are laws that have operated well but they are also laws that leave the ultimate discretion with the Minister. And I think people have an expectation that when border security is at stake and where there are a range of issues that an elected representative maintains discretion in these matters and so we will very much be trying to repeal those very bad laws to re-establish the orthodox situation that has…

QUESTION: How are your negotiations with Jacqui Lambie going on this?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Well they're being headed by the Minister for Home Affairs so I'll have to leave that to him.

QUESTION: Can I just ask as Leader of the Government in the House as well do you intend to bring the measures with regard to phoenixing to the House this week because it looked like they were on a list for last week as well as this week….what's your plan with this?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: My recollection is that they've been on the Notice Paper – they haven't been got to yet as a matter of process, but they're on the Notice Paper so you can expect that they'll be debated shortly.

QUESTION: On religious discrimination you spoke about the balance, just on-air then …business for example, complaining are you going to make refinements on behalf of business or are they just going to have to live with that?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: I must say I'm finding the business complaints less persuasive than some of the other issues that have arisen. I think most Australians perhaps think that businesses have gone, large businesses in particular, a little bit too far in telling them how to live their lives and what they can and can't say in their spare time as part of their employment contract – and particularly for people who would otherwise be prevented from making what aren't much more than statements of scripture or doctrine or belief on Facebook. We think that if a big business thinks that's absolutely necessary to protect their finances then they should be able to show that before they're able to do that.