Interview with Tom Elliott, 3AW

Transcript
15 Jun 2017
Prime Minister
Victorian judiciary sentencing; Mid-Winter Ball 2017
E&OE

TOM ELLIOTT:

Joining us on the line is the Prime Minister of Australia Malcolm Turnbull. Mr Turnbull, good afternoon.

PRIME MINISTER:

Good afternoon Tom. Great to be with you.

TOM ELLIOTT:

Is this unusual for three of your ministers to be hauled into court to explain themselves?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well it certainly is unusual but it is not unusual for Victorians to express real concern about public safety in their state.

Those three ministers, yes they are ministers in my government, they are Members of Parliament but they are also citizens of Victoria and residents of Victoria and you know, as your listeners do, that there is real concern about law and order and the failure of the state government and the system in Victoria to protect people.

Look, I think it is a matter of the justice system, the legal system in Victoria, the criminal justice system is a matter of real public interest and my ministers are focused on public safety, they are working with me and the rest of our team and our agencies to do everything we can to keep Australians safe and defeat Islamist terrorism.

TOM ELLIOTT:

Will the three ministers appear in court on Friday?

PRIME MINISTER:

I can’t answer that. I am sure they would be represented but whether they appear in person, that is a matter for them. I am not sure what arrangements they’ve made.

TOM ELLIOTT:

It is a civil or a criminal matter that they are asked to confront?

PRIME MINISTER:

Look, it is very unusual but let me just make this point – the courts of justice are not immune from public criticism. The courts cannot be and are not immune from criticism which may extend to robust observations of a particular decision or penalty. Now that is not my words, they are the words of Justice Forrest of the Victorian Supreme Court in a case only last year.

And time and again, our courts, the High Court, every court has defended the rights of Australians to criticise trenchantly, strongly, vigorously the decisions of the courts.

And you know I have to say that I and every member of my government absolutely respects and defends the independence of the judiciary and I would never imagine that public comments or criticism, whether it is by a politician in Parliament or a newspaper columnist or a radio host like yourself would influence a judge in their deliberation.

The independence of our judiciary Tom is secured by the character of our judges – strong, independent, good character, strong character who focus solely on the matters that are relevantly and properly before them and make their decision in good faith and in good conscience based on those matters that are before them.

TOM ELLIOTT:

Yeah but if they can haul three senior ministers of your government, the federal government into the courts – I mean, does that mean if I criticise them which I have done many a time, does that mean I’ll be headed into court next?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, Tom, who knows. Look, you know, the criticisms, the concerns that have been expressed about sentencing in Victoria are not new. And of course concerns are expressed about sentencing as you know in every jurisdiction at different times but this is a very unusual case for these ministers to be brought before the court. And I just want to emphasise that we absolutely stand for and respect the independence of the judiciary. But it is, you know the idea that you can protect the independence of the judiciary by prohibiting criticism of the judiciary is just wrong, and that is inconsistent with a long tradition of vigorous debate, robust debate. As Justice Forrest said only last year, robust observations can be made, criticisms can be made - they are made, but judges do their duty. You know let justice be done with the heavens falls they say.

TOM ELLIOT:

If these ministers, or indeed any other ministers, want to criticise the judiciary here in Victoria, or possibly in other states in the future, will you advise them to do so, to speak their mind?

PRIME MINISTER:

My position Tom is that I stand for an independent judiciary, the rule of law, democracy, freedom, freedom of speech, and in a free society a person is entitled to criticise the conduct of the courts or of a judge. And courts and judges are open to criticism, that’s not my words, they’re the words of Chief Justice Sir Antony Mason in a case in 1992 in the High Court.

So you know, it’s very clear that we are talking about the conduct of the judiciary and judicial decisions people are entitled to criticise them. Obviously, a different standard applies when you are talking about cases that are before a jury.

TOM ELLIOT:

No but this is a general issue –

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes that’s right

TOM ELLIOT:

Alright, well on the side in fact, I’ve already done an interview with Channel Seven News which will be playing tonight. So look, now another thing that’s come up - and I’m sure you’ve heard about this - so you gave, I guess an amusing speech at the Canberra Mid-Winter Ball last night. Somehow it’s been leaked, I’ve listened to a bit of it, you mock yourself and you mock Donald Trump. Are you disappointed that it’s been leaked to the media?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well it is a great tradition, you know it’s a big charity fundraiser, they raised nearly $400,000 and it is a good humoured sort of roast really. The Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition give a speech and poke fun at themselves and you know, often other politicians and so forth, but my speech was light-hearted, affectionately light-hearted and off the record.

TOM ELLIOT:

And is it meant to be off the record? It is meant to be off the record.

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes of course.

TOM ELLIOT:

Are you disappointed that it’s leaked?

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes I am, well I am disappointed and I think it’s, I guess what that means is that next year at the Mid-Winter Ball I will read selected passages from Budget Paper number 2.

TOM ELLIOT:

Well it will be good.

PRIME MINISTER:

That will pack them in (Laughter).

TOM ELLIOT:

I think it’s been leaked by Channel 9 correspondent Laurie Oakes. No? Well he’s spoken about it.

PRIME MINISTER:

Yeah, well I believe so - he’s apparently put it on.

TOM ELLIOT:

Will he be invited next year?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I don’t think he was there this year, but he has taken it on himself to do that.

But look, listen it’s a breach of protocol, it’s a breach of faith and all those things, but you know it’s light hearted, it’s affectionate, good natured and the butt of my jokes was myself.

TOM ELLIOT:

And Donald Trump.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I wouldn’t say that, I think it was more good-natured than that I think. But listen it’s fun, you’ve got to have a laugh, we’ve got to lighten up. It’s stressful business, politics Tom. You’ve got to be cheerful.

TOM ELLIOT:

Thank you Prime Minister we will let you get back to it. The Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull.

[ENDS]