Attorney-general apologises to journalist after heated interaction, PM says standards not met

Attorney-general apologises to journalist after heated interaction, PM says standards not met
  • PublishedDecember 7, 2023

For the first time since the landmark High Court ruling that found indefinite detention to be illegal, Attorney-General Mark Dreyfuss, Immigration Minister Andrew Giles and Home Affairs Minister Clare O’Neil held a joint press conference on Wednesday. 

A total of 149 non-citizens, some of whom are criminals, have been released into the community subject to surveillance measures such as ankle bracelet monitoring and curfews.

Four of the released detainees have since been arrested and charged with a range of offences including indecent assault and breaching sex-offender registry conditions.

The attorney-general raised his voice at the journalist after she asked ministers if the government should apologise for the actions of the released detainees who had been arrested, an idea Mr Dreyfuss said was “absurd”.

A medium shot of a man in a suit and tie standing and speaking into a microphone at a lecturn. He holds up one clenched hand
Mark Dreyfus says he upheld the law by releasing detainees following the High Court’s decision.( ABC News: Matt Roberts )

Deputy Opposition Leader Sussan Ley took issue with the attorney-general’s conduct and used multiple media appearances on Wednesday to condemn it, and again on ABC’s RN on Thursday morning: “You saw the attorney-general come out yesterday shouting at a female journalist,” she said. 

“I felt like he was shouting at the women of Australia saying, ‘How dare you expect me to apologise.'”

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese on Thursday, in the last Question Time before parliament breaks for Christmas, took a question from Ms Ley regarding Mr Dreyfuss’s behaviour during the press conference.

“The attorney-general has, in my understanding, spoken to the journalist concerned, has apologised, has had a discussion with her,” the prime minister said in response.

“When our standards aren’t met in this place, that we expect, that’s the appropriate course of action to take.” 

Multiple members of the government had said Wednesday was a difficult day for Labor after paying respects to their colleague Peta Murphy, who died of cancer on Monday. 

Mr Dreyfuss’s wife has also recently passed away. 

‘I will not be apologising’

Speaking on Wednesday morning, Mr Dreyfuss defended the home affairs minister, who was about to answer the question regarding an apology for the actions of released detainees.

“You are asking a cabinet minister of the Crown to apologise for upholding the law of Australia, for acting in accordance with the law of Australia, for following the instructions of the High Court of Australia,” he said. 

“I will not be apologising for upholding the law. I will not be apologising for pursuing the rule of law and will not be apologising for acting, do not interrupt, I will not be apologising for acting in accordance with a High Court decision.” 

The immigration minister repeatedly dodged questions on Wednesday over who out of the cohort could be back behind bars. 

“I’m sure that you would appreciate that the legislation, that I hope will be passed in the House of Representatives this afternoon, requires me to make an individual assessment before each application,” Mr Giles said. 

The preventative detention legislation, which could send released detainees back to detention depending on their prior criminal convictions and risk to the community, passed the house late on Wednesday night. 


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