Issues: New Cultural Centre opening and Federal Labor’s Economic Stimulus Plan; Peter Slipper; second Sydney airport; Opposition research; unemployment benefits; Captain Emad; private financing of public infrastructure; The Media
ANTHONY ALBANESE: I’m very pleased to be here today at the Italian Forum in Leichhardt in Sydney where I’ll be opening the Italian Cultural Centre. This will be a major beneficiary of the Federal Government’s Economic Stimulus Plan. Under the Regional and Local Community Infrastructure Program, we provided a grant to the local council and the local community in order to have a cultural centre that will bring activity not just for the Italian–Australian community but for others in the Inner West. It has a world–class theatre for productions, for plays and for other community activities.
It’s a great example of Labor’s Economic Stimulus Plan creating jobs in the short term but also making a big difference to the living standards and quality of life of people in the longer term. It was one of 5,000 separate projects funded under the Regional and Local Community Infrastructure Program.
Today I also wish to make some comments on yesterday’s fairly dramatic events in the Court regarding the allegations that were made against the Speaker, Peter Slipper. Indeed, yesterday was the 40th anniversary to the day of when the first reports appeared in the Washington Post about what became known as the Watergate scandal.
What we heard yesterday in the Court was that there was considerable contact between Mr Ashby and senior people in the media and the LNP. The Government has made an application that this is an abuse of process and that these actions were vexatious. That is, this was politically motivated and what we’ve seen here is an engagement in the politics of personal destruction.
It is very clear from the statements made in Court that much more needs to be known about the details.
If we cast ourselves back to that Friday afternoon when documents were lodged in the Court at four o’clock, and yet by the next morning we had the first five pages of the Daily Telegraph full of these allegations with no ability for them to be examined by Mr Slipper who was overseas on parliamentary business at the time. We had Tony Abbott put out a media release by 9.15 am on the Saturday, and contrary to what occurs every week, we had two Liberal Party spokespeople doing the Sunday morning programs. We also had Tony Abbott making a very rare appearance on Monday night on the 7.30 Report.
What we know is that senior members of the Liberal Party obfuscated about their knowledge, saying they had “no specific knowledge” of Mr Ashby’s allegations against Mr Slipper.
We know that there was considerable contact between senior members of the LNP, the media and Mr Ashby, and those statements were made in Court yesterday.
We know also that throughout this process senior members of the Liberal Party, whether it be Mr Abbott, Mr Pyne, Ms Bishop or others, all used the same term “no specific knowledge” at the beginning.
We know that it was Mal Brough that said it was “nonsense” the idea that he had any prior knowledge prior to the court documents being lodged. We now know that he had face–to–face meetings on a number of occasions with Mr Ashby about the accusations against Mr Slipper, the same person who Mr Brough is determined to take his seat in the Federal Parliament.
We know also that Mr Pyne has changed his story a number of times with regard to the contact he had [with Mr Ashby] about this.
What we need to get to through these legal processes is the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth about the allegations that were made and the involvement of people in the lead–up.
Sexual harassment is a serious issue. It needs to be taken seriously and not used as a political plaything in order to damage any individual, or indeed any Government
What we’ve seen here are serious allegations. We now know that a number of people will be subpoenaed to appear before the Court. But I think it’s in everyone’s interest, given the way that the allegations were made so publicly and so dramatically, that there be full transparency in this, and that all the information be out there in full public view so that people can make their own decisions about exactly what the involvement was in this.
I think the way that this has progressed is making the whole ‘ute–gate’ affair, where people thought there was a problem for Kevin Rudd and Wayne Swan in that weekend leading up to the realities being known as that whole affair unwound. I think what we see here is some parallels with that.
But we need to know exactly what the details are in a full and transparent way.
QUESTION: Was the Attorney General interfering in the court process when she was speaking to journalists about the [indistinct] of the case yesterday?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Absolutely not. What the Attorney [Nicola Roxon] was simply doing was explaining the fact that the Government has put forward certain submissions to the Court. Given that it’s the Government doing that it is entirely appropriate that a Government spokesperson indicate what the Government was doing without passing any direction to the Court.
What the Government has done is put forward an application to the Court that this was an abuse of process and also vexatious, and someone had to say that. It’s appropriate that the Attorney be accountable and explain the fact that that was occurring.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well, the Attorney didn’t comment on the case. The Attorney stated what the Government’s position was in terms of the application that the Government had made before the Court. That’s important here given the public nature of the claim by Mr Ashby, which is a civil claim against the Government.
The Government and the Attorney General is the first defendant in this claim by Mr Ashby. This is a process that has been fully conducted in public without the facts being known, allegations being made – indeed allegations made in the paper on that Friday afternoon and on the Saturday which have disappeared from view when it came to Mr Ashby’s actual claims before the Court. For example, the issue of the Cabcharges doesn’t appear in any of Mr Ashby’s actual claims. Nor does a number of the other claims that have been put forward.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: No, because what’s occurred is the Court made a decision to have a hearing next month. It’s appropriate that those legal processes take their course at that time. Of course, much more information will be known about exactly what occurred in the lead–up to Mr Ashby filing this application at 4.00pm on that Friday afternoon.
QUESTION: There’s going to be a protest down at Wilton today over this airport business. Do you still stand by your idea to have the airport there?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well what we’ve done is release a 3,200 page comprehensive report into the aviation needs of Sydney. Sydney does need a second airport sooner rather than later. If we don’t have one we’ll be saying no to jobs, no to economic growth and no to Sydney continuing as a global city.
That report identified Wilton as a potential site and the Government is having a scoping study into the issues around it. I’ve met with the mayors of Wollondilly, Camden, Campbelltown. I’ve gone through the process and had constructive discussions with them.
It’s important to look at the facts that will come out of the scoping study. We’ll release it publicly as we did with the 3,200 page report and then people can make a decision.
But Sydney does need a second airport sooner rather than later. That much is absolutely clear.
QUESTION: Minister, what’s the reference to Watergate? What’s the link there between [indistinct]?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Just a historical coincidence that it is 40 years to the day. I think is worthy of note.
What occurred during Watergate was that people attempted to obtain information in a way that wasn’t legal and wasn’t appropriate. It is also the case that it took a while for the facts to come out.
Just like in ‘Ute-gate’, with regard to the allegations that were made, it took a while. Go back and have a look at the reporting that occurred on the Friday afternoon when the Senate committee met and examined those events in which Mr Grech was a central player. What occurred was when the facts actually came out they were very different from the allegations that had been made.
Here we had the allegations made in a way that maximised the publicity. You know, page after page after page of the Saturday Daily Telegraph and other papers outlining the allegations that had been made. Today you’ve got to go a fair way back in some of the papers to find any commentary – I think it’s on page 50 or something of the Adelaide Advertiser for example – and reporting of what occurred in court yesterday.
What I’m saying is let’s get all the facts out there. When all the facts are out there people will be able to make a judgement as to exactly what the circumstances were.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: The court process, which is why it was important that the Attorney state what the Government’s application was. The Government’s application, if you look at the court documents, clearly went to those matters. If you go to the court documents now, those court statements publicly available clearly indicate that the Government thinks that two staffers have engaged in a process that draws that into question and the Government’s lawyers yesterday made application before the Court for those matters to be considered.
QUESTION: Will the Government be airing its so-called dirt file on the Opposition this weekend?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: There isn’t one, so that can’t happen.
You know, have a look, I think people will make their own judgements about who’s engaged in personal attacks. It’s the Government that’s been concentrating on the fantastic economic performance that we have; the fact that we have an unemployment rate less than half of that of most advanced economies; the fact that we have an economy that is continuing to grow; that we have half a trillion dollars in the investment pipeline; that we’re dealing with the challenges of infrastructure and skills; that we’re dealing with education reform, providing assistance to families through the education bonus. I was with the Prime Minister yesterday outside Marrickville West Public School talking to parents about the increased assistance they’ll be getting. That’s what we’ve been concentrating on.
Mr Abbott and his team suspend Standing Orders every day because they’re not interested in Question Time. They’re only interested in a debate about personal politics.
I think people will make their own judgement about those issues.
QUESTION: The Australian Council of Social Services says the Government’s budget cuts to sole parents are in breach of the UN treaty. Given that legal advice, will you reinstate the payments?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: The Government has made our budget decisions.
One of the things that we’ve done is make sure that we provide increased assistance to help people into work. We want to spread the opportunities that are there from the boom. We don’t think that the beneficiaries of the boom should just be a few people at the big end of town. We think that this is a one-off opportunity that we have to get right. Given the strength of the economy, given that we have such a low unemployment rate, we need to make sure we truly spread that opportunity, particularly by providing assistance for skills and training.
The best thing that you can do to assist a family is make sure there’s a breadwinner in it.
QUESTION: How embarrassing has the Captain Emad saga been given that you put out a press release saying that you’d revoked his visa even though he’s already left the country?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: That’s a matter of process in terms of the Immigration Department. Proper processes have been gone through by the authorities including the AFP, and I think the Haneef affair showed the danger that’s there if you act in a premature way.
QUESTION: I’ve got one more: the working group on infrastructure has found this week that Australia’s economic growth is under threat because of blockages in funding projects, and they’re recommending that you sell off more public assets. Are you going to take on those recommendations?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: No, their recommendations were aimed at state and territory governments and it’s up to state and territory governments to consider the report.
What we have as a Federal Government is record investment in infrastructure: we’ve doubled the roads budget, we’ve increased the rail budget more than tenfold and we’ve committed more to urban public transport since 2007 than all governments combined over the previous 107 years.
We will need additional ways of getting private sector investment into infrastructure. Governments can’t do it all by ourselves, and we’re looking at ways in which that can be encouraged.
QUESTION: Minister, do you still fully support Peter Slipper?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Peter Slipper is the Speaker of the House of Representatives. I think in terms of his chairing of the Parliament he did a very good job.
These legal processes will take their course. What is clear is the court proceedings yesterday indicated that there is more to this than meets the eye in terms of a Friday afternoon lodging of court documents without any prior notice whatsoever, or any action being taken towards Mr Slipper. I think that Mr Slipper, like everyone else, is entitled to proper processes.
Now we have the civil proceedings. They will take their course and that is allowing for the information to be out there in full public view. I look forward to all of the information being out there publicly.
Though I think the people who have a look at the court transcript from yesterday will draw their own conclusions, and will also draw their own conclusions by the fact that there are changed stories from people such as Mal Brough and other members of the LNP.
Indeed, in terms of the involvement of the media in this as well, I think the public is becoming increasingly aware of their role. Look at the other issues that have arisen in other places.
And I think we need to be very careful about the media playing a role in which they confuse whether they’re reporters or participants. That is a very important issue, and I certainly think it will be looked at further.
Thanks very much.