Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said it’s “very unusual” for three of his senior ministers to be hauled before a court for criticising Victorian judges, and added that he supports of their right as “Victorian citizens” to voice concern.
Mr Turnbull said Health Minister Greg Hunt, Human Services Minister Alan Tudge and Assistant Treasurer Michael Sukkar respect the independence of the judiciary but criticism of court decisions must be allowed.
“The idea that you can protect the independence of the judiciary by prohibiting criticism of the judiciary is just wrong,” Mr Turnbull told 3AW on Thursday.
“I would never imagine that public comments or criticism, whether it’s by a politician in parliament or a newspaper columnist, would influence a judge in their deliberation.”
Mr Turnbull said his ministers are “citizens of Victoria” and there is “real concern about law and order and the failure of the state government and the system to protect people”.
Lawyers for the three ministers are expected to face court on Friday to explain why they shouldn’t be referred for prosecution for saying the Victorian judiciary was being soft on terrorists.
Mr Hunt accused the Victorian court system of becoming a forum for “ideological experiments” as the Court of Appeal considered a federal prosecutor’s appeal over the sentence of a terrorist.
Liberal Democrat Senator Leyonhjelm says he thinks contempt of court “is when you do a brown eye” and not when judges or their decisions are criticised.
“Judges are not elected and these dear, little daffodils are saying ‘we shouldn’t be criticised for the way we are doing our job’,” he said in Canberra on Thursday.
Mr Sukkar told The Australian newspaper the judiciary should focus more on victims and less on terrorists’ rights, while Mr Tudge said some judges were “divorced from reality”.
Labor and the Greens have slammed the government’s decision to publicly fund the ministers in court on Friday.
“The three ministers made comments to a newspaper on a matter that had nothing to do with their respective portfolios,” shadow attorney general Mark Dreyfus said.
“The cost to the public purse in deploying the Solicitor-General to the Supreme Court of Victoria tomorrow will no doubt be upwards of $10,000.”
Greens Senator Nick McKim said if the ministers are “foolish enough to try to bring the court into disrepute for base political purposes, then they should stick their hands into their own pockets.”