Three senior Turnbull government ministers are due to face a Melbourne court for contempt over their remarks on Victorian judicial decisions.
Health Minister Greg Hunt, Human Services Minister Alan Tudge and Assistant Treasurer Michael Sukkar have been called to appear at the Supreme Court in Melbourne on Friday.
The three are not expected to appear in person and will likely be represented by lawyers – who are being funded by the public purse.
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said it was “very unusual” for the ministers to be hauled before a court and added that he supported their right as “Victorian citizens” to voice concern.
Mr Turnbull said his government and its ministers respected 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 were “citizens of Victoria” and there was “real concern about law and order and the failure of the state government and the system to protect people”.
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.
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 slammed the government’s decision to publicly fund the ministers’ court appearance.
“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.”