‘I will not be apologising’: Dreyfus shouts at reporter in fiery High Court exchange

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Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus has lost his temper at a Sky News reporter, declaring he would not be apologising for upholding the rule of law.

In a fiery exchange during a press conference on the federal government’s proposed preventative detention laws, and laws to strip terrorists of their dual Australian citizenship, Home Affairs Minister Clare O’Neil was asked by reporter Olivia Caisley if the government owed an apology to people affected by the reoffending of three people released from immigration detention.

The High Court’s decision on November 8, in a case brought on behalf of a stateless Rohingya man who had served time for raping a child, found that detainees could not be kept in indefinite immigration detention if they could not be deported.

In a statement tabled in the Senate yesterday, Dreyfus said the legal advice made clear that a detainee’s criminal record could not be used to keep them in detention.

Since the landmark ruling, at least three of the approximately 150 people released from detention have been either arrested or charged.

The Coalition has called on O’Neil and Immigration Minister Andrew Giles to resign after a violent sexual offender and a child sex offender released into the community were charged with fresh offences this week. A third former detainee was charged after he was found in possession of cannabis.

The home affairs minister began to respond to Caisley, pointing out the government had acted in accordance with the court’s ruling, as it was legally bound to do so, and added that “if I had any legal power to redetain all of these people, I would do it immediately”.

At that point, a visibly annoyed Dreyfus stepped in to reprimand Caisley, pointing and raising his voice at her.

“I want to suggest to you that question is an absurd question. You are asking a cabinet minister, three ministers 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 I will not be apologising for acting …”

Journalist Olivia Caisley during a press conference at Parliament House on Wednesday.Credit: Alex Ellinghausen

Caisley tried to interrupt with a follow-up question – a common practice for reporters – and Dreyfus snapped. “Do not interrupt! I will not be apologising … for acting in accordance with a High Court decision. Your question is an absurd one,” he said.

O’Neil could then be heard muttering: “OK, I think we will move on here”.

Caisley has tangled with senior politicians before.

Earlier this year, former prime minister Paul Keating snapped at her “because I have a brain” when she asked him why he was certain that China was not a threat to Australia’s national interest.

Giles said the government had already begun preparing applications to return high-risk offenders to custody once the new laws pass.

“I will work firstly with the officials of the Commonwealth and then with the states, to ensure that we are prepared for every high-risk offender, to make sure that we can get the best application in as quickly as possible,” he said.

“I’m really disappointed at the contribution of the Greens on this. Because this is not a novel concept. We already have a preventative detention regime that deals with high-risk terrorist offenders.

“And I would say here the risk is clearer because we’re dealing with people who have already committed offences, and serious offences.”

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