Transcript of doorstop interview – Parliament House, Canberra
Wednesday, 13 June 2007
E & OE – PROOF ONLY
Subject: Liberal Party fundraising event at Kirribilli House
ALBANESE: There are six points that Labor wants to make arising from Question Time today. The first is that Prime Minister continues to insist that the Liberal Party function held in conjunction with Federal Council on the 1st of June was not a Liberal fundraiser.
However the documents distributed to business observers and the registration form makes it clear that as part of the cost of $8,250, it includes the Prime Minister’s welcome reception. Indeed there are only three events singled out. The morning tea with Chiefs of Staff, the Prime Minister’s welcome reception and the Senate Afternoon tea. It makes it clear that is a part of the registration fee of $8,250.
The Prime Minister is once again being too cute by half in pretending this wasn’t a fundraiser, when every single person who attended the event knows that it was.
Of course $8,250 for this event at Kirribilli is something ordinary working Australians can’t just do everyday and was seen to be a highlight and promoted as such.
The second is that today in Question Time the Prime Minister drew an extraordinary distinction.
He was asked “If the Liberal Party function at Kirribilli house was not a fundraising event as the Prime Minister claimed, why has the Liberal Party agreed to pay back a portion of the function cost.”
The Prime Minister responded. “There’s a very very good reason Mr Speaker, the other people attending the function were delegates to the Federal Council meeting.”
Thereby the question the Prime Minister’s got to answer is: is he saying with that answer and the subsequent answer given in Parliament, that indeed no money was paid by the Liberal Party for the Business Observers but the $ 5,100 was just meant to cover delegates to the Federal Council Meeting. A quite extraordinary distinction.
If that is the case then business observers who paid $8,250 for the privilege of attending the Kirribilli House function, zero was re paid to the taxpayer as a result of the Prime Ministers answer in Question time today
The third issue goes to of course costs and we gave a couple of examples in Parliament today.
The St George Leagues Club which should be known to the Prime Minister, charges $22 for a reception and cocktails and light food. Nothing like the prawns oysters and fine wine with due respect to the St George leagues club that was served at Kirribilli house that night. And whilst the view across from St George Leagues Club which overlooks Kogarah Jubilee Oval, some people would regard as being particularly important, I’m not quite sure that measures up to the view across Sydney Harbour. I think most Australians regardless of which team they support would think that is the case.
A useful comparison is in fact the Guillaume Restaurant in the Opera House, which charges $60 per head for 2 hours serving of Canapés. That’s its starting price on top of that there’s alcohol costs, a $6,000 venue hire and a minimum charge of $ 30,000. That’s more comparable to Kirribilli House. They’re the sort of costs that Australians know and particularly people in Sydney know come to those who want a Harbour view, fine wine and food to that extent.
The fourth issue is the issue of the Commonwealth Electoral Act. The Electoral Act makes it very clear in section 287 “that services provided for less than full price and gifts of services of products are all considered as political donations.”
The Prime Minister made it clear that no money whatsoever was paid for the venue hire. The Prime Minister made that clear. We know that if someone wanted to hire a venue such as Kirribilli House it would exceed the amount which must be declared. Therefore the Prime Minister is now in a situation whereby the Commonwealth has to declare the donation of the use of Kirribilli House if it’s going to not be in breach of Commonwealth Electoral Laws. An extraordinary situation.
The fifth issue goes to the Ministerial Code of Conduct which makes it clear that “official facilities should be used for official purposes.” It also makes it clear that Ministers must and I quote “never abuse the Privileges which undoubtedly are attached to Ministerial Office.” It can’t be argued that the Prime Ministers residence or second residence at Kirribilli House isn’t attached to his Prime Ministerial office. This clearly is an abuse of that privilege. It clearly is not using the official facility, one of the two most important in Australia, for official purposes. It simply is quite unacceptable.
The last point that the Opposition wishes to make goes to the heart of what this issue is about. This Government has been in office for 11 years. It is no longer in touch with the needs or aspirations of working Australians. The struggle that they have to endure to get by to pay their mortgages, to pay their health and education bills, or to pay for petrol for their car.
This is a Prime Minister who believes that he owns the Government. Today in question time he stated the following “Mr Speaker the answer is no because the allegation made by the Leader of the Opposition is wrong, it was not gifted to the Liberal Party it was hospitality provided by me.
JOURNALIST: Why didn’t you attempt to censure John Howard after Question Time today?
ALBANESE: We will continue to pursue these issues. We will be having a close examination of the responses that the Prime Minister gave in Question Time today. We think there are many more questions that need to be asked, because a government that sees the taxpayers as essentially being no different contributing their taxes, as contributing to Liberal Party funds, is a government that is out of touch and has been there for too long. And certainly, that’s why we intend to pursue this issue vigorously, as I’m doing right now.
JOURNALIST: The Treasurer has spoken this week, accused the Prime Minister of turning Kirribilli into a Liberal Party pleasure palace. Do you think he went too far with those remarks?
ALBANESE: When you examine the Prime Minister’s answer today where he said that the hospitality was provided by himself, rather than by the Australian taxpayer, when you have a situation whereby the Prime Minister, in a number of his answers today, also spoke about additional costs as if the regular staff at Kirribilli, as well as the facilities that are there, are there at the gift of the Liberal Party rather than there to serve the interests of the Australian public and Australian people, it’s pretty clear that the Liberal Party regards Kirribilli as its own private country club. That is symptomatic of the way that they treat taxpayers’ funds in terms of their spending hundreds of millions of dollars of taxpayers’ funds on advertising.
JOURNALIST: What do you want to actually happen, though? Should the Liberal Party repay the money? Do you want the Prime Minister to step down? What’s going to happen next?
ALBANESE: Well, it’s very, very clear that there’s been a breach of the Electoral Act. It’s also clear that there’s been a breach of the Ministerial Code of Conduct. It’s clear that $5100 is nowhere near the cost of holding an event such as this. You couldn’t hold an event such as this at the local bowling club in Marrickville for the sort of funds that the Prime Minister has paid back, or for the amount of funds that have been paid back to the Liberal Party for this event. So, we intend to pursue this issue.
I think the Prime Minister has to come clean about the details of this. He has to come clean about what the full costs are of holding this event, including the staff costs at Kirribilli, including security staff and cleaners, for 225 people to go to an event at Kirribilli. If you look at the amount of funds that the Prime Minister said was paid back and what it was for, he made the extraordinary position that $829 was paid for additional casual staff. Now, I don’t believe that 225 business observers being served prawns, oysters and, as I understand also, posh soup in little shot glasses, fine wine, this was a pretty full on event from those people who attended it.
JOURNALIST: Can you tell us a bit more about the posh soup?
ALBANESE: I’m told that there was posh soup served in little shot glasses, along with the oysters and prawns, along with fine wine overlooking the most magnificent harbour in the world, at the bargain basement prices of under $10.00 for food and $6.00 for drinks, which is about the price that you pay for a pint of beer.
JOURNALIST: Wasn’t it an example of good economic management?
ALBANESE: Well, the Prime Minister hasn’t even argued that spin but maybe you could suggest that to him, Maria, and he could come up with that in his answers in Question Time tomorrow.
JOURNALIST: So, say he does come up with the costs, the PM comes up with the costs, to follow up on James’ question, what do you want him to do? Do you want him to repay this cost once it comes out, or what are you looking for here?
ALBANESE: What we want is a return to Westminster principles, a return to a separation of power, a return whereby the Prime Minister of the nation recognises that he’s there at the will of the Australian public, not to ensure the fruits of office are there for the benefit of the Liberal Party. We want this to stop. And in the lead-up to the election, after 11 years it’s getting worse. The advertising spend is getting worse. The arrogance is getting worse. The Prime Minister wasn’t holding functions like this in his first term; he wasn’t holding functions like this in his second term. This is characteristic of a government that has been in office for too long and I think the Australian public will make up their own mind about that and have the opportunity to do something about that later this year.
JOURNALIST: Should elderly Australians be concerned about Sharon Burrrow or Dean Mighell giving them meals on wheels?
ALBANESE: Well, that was an absurd proposition from the Government in Question Time and I’m not going to dignify it.
JOURNALIST: If I heard you correctly before, you said there’s been a breach of the Electoral Act regarding Kirribilli House. Would it be correct to say that (inaudible) in the Opposition’s view, if Mr Howard doesn’t make a declaration?
ALBANESE: That’s right. Under the Electoral Act, and it must be made in the financial year, so the financial year, of course, ends at the end of this month. Section 287 of the Commonwealth Electoral Act makes it very clear that donations in kind have to be repaid. It‘s pretty clear that this is a donation in kind, paid by the Australian taxpayer – unbeknownst to taxpayers out there – to the Liberal Party so that people who could afford to pay $8250 a head, could have a soirée at Kirribilli House with fine wine, prawns and oysters. I’m sure that if the Prime Minister opened it up for everyone, he’d get quite a few attendees at $10.00 a head. And we ask the Prime Minister today to name a single venue in Australia, let alone one with magnificent Sydney Harbour views, where you could get that sort of function for under $10.00 a head for food and $6.00 for alcohol. And the Prime Minister, of course, couldn’t come up with that because, quite frankly, it doesn’t exist. Thanks very much.
Leader of the Australian Labor Party, MP for Grayndler, Rabbitohs Life Member. Authorised by Anthony Albanese, ALP, Canberra.