Issues: Search and Rescue Operation; Dr Washer’s comments; migration legislation; Kristina Keneally’s retirement; Peter Slipper; Greg Hunt and pricing carbon
ANTHONY ALBANESE: I just wanted to give an update on the circumstances surrounding the tragedy that we’re seeing unfold off 200 kilometres north of Christmas Island.
Customs and Border Protection personnel, vessels and aircraft continued to assist with the search and rescue efforts approximately 200 kilometres north of Christmas Island from first light this morning.
AMSA continues to coordinate the search and rescue operation with the assistance of Border Protection vessels and aircraft including civilian aircraft. I’m advised that weather conditions are deteriorating.
Current indications are that 109 people have been rescued and the bodies of five people have also been recovered. Around 90 people remain unaccounted for. All survivors have now been transferred to Australian Government authorities on Christmas Island, and three of the survivors have been medivaced to Perth for medical treatment.
HMAS Larrakia completed the transfer of 16 survivors to Christmas Island overnight and is expected to return to the search area today. HMAS Wollongong remains in the search area assisted by RAAF maritime patrol aircraft and a Customs and Border Protection Dash–8 surveillance aircraft. The merchant vessels that have been assisting in the search and rescue have now been released by AMSA.
QUESTION: Can I ask, Minister, yesterday Mal Washer said it’s time to just get this done. Do you agree with him?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: We’ve agreed with that position for some time. It is important that we focus on the ongoing operation at sea at this time. But the Government has had a compromise on the table – put there in good faith – for some time. I note Dr Washer’s genuine comments, and I think certainly I’m of the view and the Government is of the view that we want to work together across the Parliament to secure an outcome that reduces the possibility of a tragedy like this being repeated.
QUESTION: Given that, then, will you bring to a vote the legislation in Parliament next week?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well, it’s there of course, and the problem isn’t the numbers in the House of Representatives. The problem is the Senate, and in the Senate the Government can only pass legislation with the support of either the Coalition or the Greens. At this point in time both the Coalition and the Greens are saying they will not vote for that legislation.
I note also that the Second Reading of Robert Oakeshott’s private members bill successfully passed.
The Government has a compromise on the table. It’s been prepared to have discussions with the Coalition and to work across the Parliament. But in terms of the numbers in the Parliament, the problem is the Senate not the House of Representatives.
QUESTION: Why not force their hand anyway and put it to a vote?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: In terms of the House of Representatives that’s not an issue. But I think we’ll discuss politics at an appropriate time. While the ongoing operation at sea is underway, I think it’s important that the Government concentrate our efforts on that. That’s what we’re doing and that’s what I think people would expect us to do.
QUESTION: How could there be a more appropriate time? You’ve got four days left of Parliament before a six–week break and more boats apparently in the water on their way here now.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: The Government has a position. But the ongoing operations at sea are still occurring, and in terms of political responses, that will be made at an appropriate time.
The Government’s position has been pretty clear. We put a compromise on the table in good faith and were prepared to have discussions across the Parliament. That remains the case.
QUESTION: So just to be clear, you won’t bring on a vote next week?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: I didn’t say that, and I won’t be commenting on that because today is not the time to be talking about politics. Today, the Government’s concern isn’t political manoeuvring. Our concern is the tragedy that is unfolding at sea and to minimise the extent of this tragedy. That is our focus, and that will remain our focus.
With regard to politics, there’ll be a time for that. Parliament is sitting this week and the circumstances are as I’ve outlined.
QUESTION: Have you got any updates as to how the survivors are actually going?
ANTHONY ALBANESE:I can’t go into further detail than I have already. Obviously there were a number of people who, because of health issues, have been medivaced in order to get care. We will take every action, as people would expect us to, to ensure that people are given the medical assistance they need.
QUESTION: Can I just ask on a couple of other matters? Kristina Keneally’s announced her retirement from state Parliament, are you sad about that?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Sad in one way, but I bet she’s not sad. Kristina Keneally had an outstanding parliamentary career. She got to be the Premier of the great state of NSW.
She’s someone who’s a friend of mine, and I know that we give up a lot in terms of time spent with family, and I know that she was feeling that. So it doesn’t come as a great surprise to me that she’s chosen to move on from political life.
I think she’ll do a great job as the head of Basketball Australia. Kristina is someone who is a sports nut, a proud South Sydney Rabbitohs fan, and I note some unfortunate decisions last night. So not a good way to be celebrating as she would have been doing with her family.
So I wish her all the best for her future.
QUESTION: Will it be helpful, do you think, for the State Party, sort of, to move on from that sort of…?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: No, I think she’s a loss. She’s someone who’s passionate about making a difference for her local community as the Member for Heffron, some of which is in my Federal electorate of Grayndler.
She was a great local member, and a constant visitor to the schools around Tempe, St Peters and Sydenham. She was a great local member and also a great parliamentarian.
So I think she’s a loss. But politics isn’t forever and she’s chosen to move on into the next phase of her life and I wish her all the best, as I’m sure everyone in NSW would do.
QUESTION: There’s been some talk that Luke Foley might take over the seat. Have you heard any rumblings?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: That’s a matter for the NSW branch. I put my cue in the rack with regard to the NSW administrative committee some time ago. I’ve moved on and I haven’t regretted it for one second.
QUESTION: Would you like to see someone particular take over the seat?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: I’ve moved on. That’s a matter for the Labor Party in Heffron and the NSW branch.
QUESTION: NSW only holds like a 7 per cent margin on that seat, what do you think – sorry, Labor only holds a 7 per cent margin – what do you think it’s likely that it’s going to be able to hold onto the seat with a by–election?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: I’d be pretty confident. An overwhelming majority at the last election voted for Barry O’Farrell to be the Premier. They’re still waiting for him to do something. Anything will do.
QUESTION: Can I just ask, Minister, the Government’s raised some pretty serious allegations about James Ashby’s case against Peter Slipper. Can you outline them?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well this is a real concern. Some time ago, I think it was on 17 May, Tony Abbott said: “All of our contact is on the record” between Ashby and members of the Coalition. What we see, just like in the Godwin Grech affair, is details seeping out day by day about the ongoing cooperation and collusion between James Ashby, members of the Coalition and some people – at least one person – in the media.
These revelations today are pretty extraordinary.
Mr Ashby, while telling his employer that he was sick, was flying interstate to meetings at Holt Street, News Limited’s headquarters. That’s extraordinary – and that News Limited was picking up the hotel bill. This was well before the revelations were splashed in the Daily Telegraph’s Saturday edition on page 1, page 2, page 3, page 4 and page 5.
Now we saw Tony Abbott go to ground last week and not do any media appearances. But he was pretty active that weekend (21 & 22 April 2012).
He had a media statement ready to go at 9.15am. He did a press conference on the Saturday and two doorstops on the Sunday – one in Melbourne, one in Sydney. He appeared Monday morning on the Sunrise program and on the 730 program that night.
And two of his Coalition colleagues appeared on the Sunday shows, and as anyone who works on Insiders or Meet the Press or any of the other shows know, it hard to get more than one of them. Tony Abbott runs faster from those shows than he runs from the Parliament. But they were all there. All lined up, ready to go.
And what we know now is that there was considerable contact. Of real concern is the revelation in today’s Weekend Australian that we had a situation whereby requests were made for the Speaker’s diary – copies of it to be made – and provided to Mal Brough, the person who wants to replace Peter Slipper as the Member for Fisher, a senior member of the Liberal National Party, former minister in the [Howard] Government and very close to all the Coalition leadership in Canberra.
You know, there are some questions to be asked about whether that’s appropriate or not, and whether that’s lawful.
You can’t just go around providing diaries to members of the media or the political opponents of Mr Slipper while being on Mr Slipper’s payroll. So those circumstances need to be transparent.
On the Saturday morning (21 April 2012) there were a whole lot of allegations, most of which have now been withdrawn and weren’t proceeded with by Mr Ashby – a whole lot of statements about Cabcharges and other issues that haven’t been proceeded with. So given the public way in which these allegations were made and the consequences of those allegations, with Mr Slipper stepping aside from chairing the Parliament, we need to know exactly what the involvement of the Coalition in these activities was.
Just like we only found out many days, weeks and months later that Godwin Grech, who was allegedly going to bring down the then Prime Minister [Kevin Rudd] and the Treasurer [Wayne Swan], was having meetings in Sydney and colluding with people in the Senate – Senator Abetz – and Malcolm Turnbull. All these people were engaged in the Godwin Grech affair whilst professing innocence.
What we had last week was Mal Brough say on the Bolt Report, in a friendly interview, that he was prepared to make all the information available and it should be done as soon as possible. Well, some of the info is now out there Mr Brough, what’s your response to it? Is it correct that you were engaged in these activities directly?
We also know that an LNP minister has been subpoenaed by the court as well. I think the public have a right to know exactly what occurred here and exactly what people’s involvement was.
QUESTION: Should Mr Slipper still have to front up to the allegations, though? I mean, none of – no matter what the level of political interference, it doesn’t affect whether or not the allegations amount to…
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Sexual harassment is a serious issue. But what we have here is evidence of diaries being provided to Mr Brough and Mr Lewis of the Daily Telegraph. Exactly what are the circumstances in which the copies of that diary were relevant to a case in which the allegation is one of sexual harassment of an employee by an employer? They’re the circumstances here.
Put it all together. Join the dots. It’s pretty obvious what’s gone on here, and that’s why it’s extraordinary that Mr Brough, who said, when first asked about this, that it was “nonsense” that he knew anything about it.
When Mr Abbott and Mr Pyne and Mr Hockey and Ms Bishop all had the same form of words – “No specific knowledge” – what’s pretty clear is that some people knew a hell of a lot about what was going on. Who didn’t know anything was Mr Slipper because there was no complaint made to him or to the Federal department or to the Federal minister, or to anyone else, in terms of the formal processes that would normally occur in an issue of sexual harassment.
Sexual harassment is a serious issue. It shouldn’t be used as a political plaything in order to achieve political advantage.
QUESTION: Greg Hunt has said that the carbon tax has been – at Rio – what do you reckon about his comments? That no–one’s managed to get on board with anything like what we’ve got.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well that wasn’t the agenda, and Greg Hunt knows that that’s the case.
I mean, poor old Greg Hunt. You’ve got to feel sorry for the bloke. He did a thesis on the need to put a price on carbon, and yet he’s out there undermining his own integrity.
You know, I don’t take him seriously, you know why? He doesn’t take himself seriously. He should go and read his thesis, and if he goes and reads his thesis, he’ll see why there’s a need to put a price on carbon.
I mean this is the place, here in Marrickville, my electorate office, where Sophie Mirabella – paid for by the taxpayer – came to to attend a demonstration, an aggressive demonstration where people were carrying a coffin. In fact in Parliament a couple of weeks ago, the Member for Canning Don Randall thought it was very funny, asking whether I fitted into that coffin or not, and made a whole lot of entirely inappropriate comments.
But that’s what we’ve seen from the Coalition: desperation when it comes to these issues and a preparedness to associate themselves with people who had banners that go well beyond anything I’ve ever seen in my entire political life. I saw it here in person at that demonstration. I had to have the Australian Federal Police here in order to keep order because of the nature of the hysterical whipping up the Coalition has done with its lies about pricing carbon.
Well, we will all see on 1 July, next Sunday. The sun will come up. The sky won’t fall.
I’m actually doing the Bolt Report next Sunday on the condition that Andrew Bolt still exists, that Channel 10 still exists and that Melbourne is still there.
This has been the greatest beat up of all time.
The problem for Tony Abbott is that he says Whyalla will disappear off the map. Well if you live in Whyalla and you wake up next Sunday morning, you’ll know that Tony Abbott is a fraud.
Leader of the Australian Labor Party, MP for Grayndler, Rabbitohs Life Member. Authorised by Anthony Albanese, ALP, Canberra.