Interview on Sky News AM Agenda with Kieran Gilbert
Topics: Citizenship; Foreign interference laws; Same-sex marriage

Kieran Gilbert: For more on all of that I spoke to the Education Minister Simon Birmingham, and began by putting to him the fact that Labor maintains they’ve taken all reasonable steps and that the shadow Attorney-General for one is not budging on that?

Simon Birmingham: Well look, firstly, this reasonable steps provision that the Labor party is relying upon has never been tested by the High Court. So, this is just again a trust us case from the Labor party. Secondly though, there appear to be cases where even the alleged reasonable steps haven’t been taken or cannot be proven. You look at David Feeney, a case of somebody who forgot to declare a $2.3 million house and it appears for ten years to have forgotten that he had dual citizenship because his declaration is simply a statement of: I claim I made a lodgment to renounce but I don’t have the paperwork, the Labor party no longer has the paperwork, the British Home Office can’t find the paperwork, I mean it’s a dog ate my homework type excuse that he’s lodged as a declaration. Now the Labor party clearly have cases to answer, despite all that they’ve been saying for the last few months. And this is the extent of the hypocrisy and lies that Bill Shorten have been telling…

Kieran Gilbert: Mr Dreyfus, his family heritage, he was stripped of, his family was stripped of citizenship by the Nazis from Germany–came to Australia. He says he knows the law and therefore he doesn’t have the dual citizenship. He is suggesting others like Mr Frydenberg and Mr Falinski need to provide more evidence as to the status of their citizenship. Is that fair given Mr Frydenberg, he argues does not have enough evidence or legal advice included in his declaration?

Simon Birmingham: So let’s unpack that. Mark Dreyfus says trust me I know the law I don’t need to provide any evidence, but others do need to provide evidence. What we really ought to be doing is saying ok– there are a category of people who have clearly stated in their declarations that they have never been a citizenship of another country. Mark Dreyfus is one of those people–Josh Frydenberg is one of those people– they all sit in a camp of people who have clearly gone through the process said we’re not citizens of another country, but if somebody else wants to come along and disprove the information that has been provided, then good luck to them. But then there are a category of people and a number of Labor party MP’s fall into this, who have admitted that they were citizens of another country and then they’ve claimed they took certain steps. Some of them appear to not to have done so in timely manner, others appear maybe not to have done so at all. Those are the cases that obviously have significant questions to be answered that do need to be determined by the High Court.

Kieran Gilbert: Well they all look like they have taken steps. You say that some might have not taken any at all. Who would you suggest?

Simon Birmingham: Well David Feeney remains the big question.

Kieran Gilbert: He maintains that he did he just doesn’t have evidence of it

Simon Birmingham: He doesn’t have evidence, the Labor party doesn’t have evidence, the British Home office doesn’t have evidence. Kieran, I mean come on, it’s a bit of try on really it seems. You’ve got Bill Shorten who has really been caught short on this, he has been caught out, having told lies over the last few months that there is nothing to see, nothing to worry about in terms of the Labor party’s declarations. He’s been running a protection racquet it seems for number of these individuals and he has been doing so all the time whilst attacking the Liberal and National parties.

Kieran Gilbert: Now the Labor party is maintaining as well that they’re not convinced about the assertions of the Greek Authorities– an unconvincing letter from the Greek Embassy is the way that Mr Dreyfus refers to it in his statement this morning, in relation to Julia Banks, Alex Hawke, Michael McCormack and Arthur Sinodinos.

Simon Birmingham: So Mark Dreyfus is his own legal counsel and completely confident about himself, wants others to declare legal advice that he is not willing to seek himself and is now bringing into question evidence provided and statements made by the Greek consulate speaking on behalf of the Greek Government. I mean it is madness the arguments the Labor party are making to defend themselves. We have taken a very upfront, honest approach to this, Liberal and National MPs who clearly had a problem who clearly were dual citizens took steps to refer themselves to the High Court or to resign from the Parliament. So they have been very transparent about this. We initiated the declaration process and everybody has complied with it on our side. The only cases where there is clearly unanswered matters that only the High Court can answer, relate to a number of MPs predominantly Labor MPs who had dual citizenship and may not have taken reasonable steps to renounce it.

Kieran Gilbert: On the Dreyfus matter, and his criticism Josh Frydenberg whose mother arrived here stateless, I saw the arrival document, that hasn’t been attached to his declaration. Why is that?

Simon Birmingham: Well Kieran, Members and Senators aren’t under obligation to attach all relevant information–they make clear statements and those clear statements have been made in terms of where and when their parents were born–what steps they have taken to ascertain whether or not they have ever held foreign citizenship or their parents have ever held foreign citizenship. Now all our Members and Senators have outlined that in terms of their forms. Yes, indeed, Josh Frydenberg’s case has been extensively covered publically, and I find it frankly a little disgusting that Mark Dreyfus has decided to go after Josh Frydenberg in this way given all that has been revealed about the torment his mother went through the fact that she was stateless when she arrived in Australia. That’s all been splashed across the front pages of the…

Kieran Gilbert: I asked him about that and he says it’s about the law and about respecting the Constitution was his response?

Simon Birmingham: Yeah and that’s a complete double standard when you have a look at the standard he is applying to himself.

Kieran Gilbert: You also suggested that MPs aren’t required to, so his statement stands?

Simon Birmingham: No I’m not suggesting, and I’m happy to take Mark Dreyfus’ statement as a valid statement but indeed if you look at his statement alongside Josh Frydenberg’s statement there is no reason not to accept both of them as individuals, whose parents came from of course war torn Europe, whose parents were Jews who had been persecuted and their families who arrived in Australia stateless and who we ought to embrace as Australian citizens, clearly they are welcome by the Parliament, put this matter behind them. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t others to have questions answered and what we’ve seen from Mark Dreyfus is clearly an attempt to create a smokescreen, to hover over these Labor MPs.

Kieran Gilbert: On the foreign influence laws, I think many would welcome the announcement of them but is it inappropriate for the Government then to be using that as political weapon against Labor given the events around Senator Dastyari?

Simon Birmingham: Well the foreign influence laws have been under development for many many months well before we had any knowledge of the latest revelations about Sam Dastyari. Now, Sam Dastyari is part of Bill Shortens protection racquets, he was one of Bill Shortens NSW numbers men. And of course Bill Shorten wants to protect him notwithstanding allegations of foreign influence, he wants to protect David Feeney one of his Victorian numbers men notwithstanding the fact that he can’t prove that he took any steps to renounce his citizenship whatsoever. But the foreign influence laws themselves are good public policy, they deal with matters of foreign influence, foreign advocacy, foreign political donations, they’re comprehensive, they’re important and they will go through all of the normally parliamentary committee scrutiny.

Kieran Gilbert: And finally on the same-sex marriage bill, do you expect that will go through unamended this week, would you hope that’s the case?

Simon Birmingham: I hope that’s the case, I believe the bill that the Senate passed is a robust bill, in terms of its protection of religious freedoms. We already have strong protections in place in Section 38 of the Sex Discrimination Act for faith based schools, for example, to be able to employ according to their faith and doctrine, teach according to their faith and doctrine and those provisions will be unaltered by the passage of legislation to allow for same-sex marriage. That legislation to allow for same-sex marriage though does protect further all faith based institutions to ensure they can say no way Jose when it comes to any involvement in the conduct of celebration of a same-sex marriage.

Kieran Gilbert: There is discussion around the pious amendment put forward by Mr Abbot and Mr Andrews, is there any expression of support within the party room towards that or is just the two of them?

Simon Birmingham: I won’t go into the party room discussions, what is said in the party room stays in the party room, but my understanding is that technically speaking, were that amendment to be passed, it would replace the second reading amendment but of course on the second reading motion, of course you need to have a second reading carried for the bill to pass through. So it would actually create an obstacle for the passage of the bill and that is a significant problem given the government is intent and the majority of members of Parliament I’m sure are intent in seeing the same-sex marriage legislation pass through the Parliament.

Kieran Gilbert: Minister thanks for your time, we appreciate it.

Simon Birmingham: Thank you.