Apr 28, 2020







SUBJECTS: Angus Taylor; Coronavirus; need for accountability and transparency during COVID-19; Australia’s relationship with China; Mike Kelly.


FRAN KELLY, HOST: Anthony Albanese, welcome back to Breakfast.




KELLY: Now, Labor has been after Angus Taylor on this issue ever since his attack on the City of Sydney Lord Mayor, Clover Moore, backfired so badly last year. Do you have more questions for the minister today given these statements by the New South Wales Police that have come to light?


ALBANESE: Well, one question that would be good, or one answer, more importantly, which is, ‘Where did the document come from that Angus Taylor or his office gave to a publication newspaper, the Daily Telegraph, that was a fraudulent document?’. He knows where it came from. He has told Parliament that it was downloaded from the City of Sydney website. We know that isn’t true. The police have confirmed that is not true. There is no evidence that it was downloaded from that site. And he should just say where it came from. This is, quite frankly, absurd that this has gone on for so long. And if he won’t do it, the Prime Minister must make him come clean to Parliament. Lying to Parliament is a very serious offence. And we can’t have a circumstance whereby it is just swept away like it didn’t happen.


KELLY: Well, this is new information. Just to fill everyone in who is listening. This is information that came out of that New South Wales committee as well. The New South Wales Police have told the committee, they found no evidence that the minister’s office downloaded that document from the City of Sydney. So, in other words, the wrong report did not come from the website, which is what the minister told the Parliament back in October.


ALBANESE: That’s right. And importantly, the police have also said that he refused to be interviewed and that all correspondence went through his solicitors. Now, that directly contradicts what both Angus Taylor and the Prime Minister told Parliament, which was that they would cooperate fully with the police investigation.


KELLY: Well, just to be clear on that to, the minister’s offices says that he did not refuse to be interviewed. The police said that they asked questions of the minister’s lawyers. They were directed to the minister’s lawyers. The lawyers provided the requested documentation. That is not failure to cooperate though, is it?


ALBANESE: Well, I think it is. He has refused to say where this document came from. We know where it didn’t come from. It didn’t come from the City of Sydney website. Because the New South Wales Police went through the metadata and it was never there. It wasn’t downloaded to the minister’s office. So, the minister knows where this document came from. He also knows that he has misled Parliament deliberately on multiple occasions about this issue.


KELLY: So, where do you want this to go now? I mean, the New South Wales Police referred the matter to the AFP. The Federal Police decided not to investigate because, quote, ‘It was unlikely to find sufficient evidence to substantiate a Commonwealth offence’. And it also cited, quote, ‘Low level of harm’. The minister has apologised to Clover Moore. We’re in the middle of a global pandemic. Do you really think this needs to go any further?


ALBANESE: Look, he just needs to say where the document came from. I think everyone is kind of off this issue, but you can’t have a circumstance whereby a minister simply is allowed to deliberately mislead Parliament on multiple occasions and still sit there in the cabinet.


KELLY: So, will you, will Labor pursue this when Parliament resumes in a couple of weeks’ time?


ALBANESE: We, of course, will pursue this. This isn’t, of course, the most significant issue. We have concentrated on the Coronavirus issue, and we’ll continue to do that. But ministerial accountability is the foundation stone of Westminster democracy.


KELLY: You are listening to RN Breakfast. Our guest is Federal Opposition Leader, Anthony Albanese. Can I ask you about China, the Government has rejected Beijing’s threat of a consumer boycott, which came in response to our Foreign Minister’s call for an investigation, a global investigation into the corona-pandemic? Do you agree with the Foreign Minister Marise Payne that they have effectively amounted to economic coercion?


ALBANESE: Well, I certainly agree with the Government’s position on this. This is something that’s certainly not a partisan issue. I think that not just the Government, but I think Australians who are currently social distancing, who are not being able to undertake their normal activity in life, have a right to know exactly what happened here. And it’s not just a matter of an academic exercise of someone writing a thesis. This is so that it never happens again. And that’s why we have strongly supported the recommendations not just for an investigation into how this occurred, but also that a body, the obvious one is the World Health Organization, to be given the power to be able to go to a nation state and make inspections in a similar way to which weapons inspectors are empowered to do so. This has had a devastating impact on lives, but also on economies. And it’s important that we do whatever we can to make sure that it doesn’t happen again. And I would have thought that China, along with every nation in the world, has an interest in achieving that.


KELLY: Given the response from China to Australia’s call for this investigation process that you just talked about there, and also the ambassador’s response, and as I say, notion of some kind of consumer boycott, Shadow Foreign Minister, Penny Wong, said the relationship with China quote, ‘Has clearly entered a new phase’. She’s called for a legitimate debate about the terms of our engagement with China, which suggests a major rethink. Sounds like you’re on the same page as Peter Dutton, when he called for a reset with our relationship with China? Is that what you are calling for?


ALBANESE: Well, I’m on the same page as Penny Wong. Penny Wong has had a sophisticated approach to these issues. And it’s one that talks about Australia’s place in the world, which is three-prong. Obviously, our relationship with the US is one of those. But also support in our regions, as well as support for multilateral forums.


KELLY: But do you see this pandemic changing our relationship with China, and how?


ALBANESE: I think over a period of time, our relationship with China is one that is a sophisticated relationship, it needs to be one that is nurtured. It’s an important one for us. China will grow to be the largest economy in the world in coming decades. They are a significant power in our region. But we need to recognise that we do have different political systems. Australia is a democracy. China isn’t.


KELLY: But Penny Wong talks about our relationship entering a new phase. What does that mean?


ALBANESE: Well, you’d have to ask Penny Wong. But in terms of, this is a relationship that’s constantly evolving, that’s constantly going through new phases as China grows, and as our relationship with it develops. And it’s important that an element of that relationship be transparency. Australia wants a positive relationship with China, but it’s got to be built on a level of trust and transparency. And transparency is what is required from assessments of this Coronavirus, how it came about?


KELLY: Just finally, Anthony Albanese, there’s many reports that the Labor Member in Eden Monaro, Mike Kelly, is about to retire from Parliament for ill-health. Has he told you he is retiring?


ALBANESE: Look, he is dealing with some health issues, there is no secret in that. And he is not the only Member of Parliament who has been dealing with health issues in recent times on both sides of the House. And it’s important at times like that, that people’s privacy and their capacity to deal with those health issues is dealt with.


KELLY: Are you preparing for a by-election in Eden Monaro?


ALBANESE: What I’m preparing for is Parliament coming back in May. And in terms of Mike Kelly’s health issues, they are well-known. They actually arise from his service in the Defence Force and his exposure that occurred whilst serving our nation overseas. And that’s deserving of respect and deserving of something better than speculation which has been around for the last year also about Mike Kelly.


KELLY: Anthony Albanese, thank you very much for joining us.


ALBANESE: Thanks, Fran.