Subjects: Barnaby Joyce; infrastructure; marriage equality; Nationals.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Good morning. Tomorrow Barnaby Joyce will be Acting Prime Minister of this nation. He will be that in a position when it’s unclear whether he even has a right to sit in the Parliament of Australia. And it’s not Labor that says that, it’s himself, it’s the Government. It’s the Government that referred Barnaby Joyce to the High Court of Australia because, as we now know, he has acknowledged at the time of his election he was a citizen of New Zealand. Barnaby Joyce concedes that. I think Barnaby Joyce should have, when that became apparent, resigned from Parliament, had a by-election and cleared up his citizenship issue. Instead we are going through this farcical situation whereby the Government is governing without a mandate from the people of Australia or itself.
Barnaby Joyce is already preparing for the by-election. We have three projects – Scone Bypass, Tenterfield Bypass for heavy vehicles, and the Bolivia Hill Upgrade on the New England Highway – which were all funded by the former Federal Labor Government, were all in the Budget in either 2013 or before, and the Government did nothing in 2014, nothing in 2015, nothing in 2016, nothing in 2017 until this month – until this month when all of a sudden tenders are being issued. All of a sudden, this Government has an interest in New England infrastructure.
Well, that is Barnaby Joyce giving himself up. He’s out there campaigning for the by-election, issuing media releases that are not in his portfolio in the electorate of New England in the case of the Scone Bypass. The Government should do the right thing for certainty, for our democracy and not hand over the reins to Barnaby Joyce. Barnaby Joyce should step aside until the High Court brings down its decision, just as Matt Cavanan has stepped aside from the Cabinet.
JOURNALIST: Beyond the sort of image issues around making Barnaby Joyce Acting Prime Minister, what are the actual practical problems with that? I mean, what are the genuine serious implications?
ALBANESE: Well the genuine serious implications for ministers, let alone the Prime Minister, making decisions during a period in which they have acknowledged that they may be ineligible to hold office, brings into question the legitimacy of any decisions which are made. And that’s why there is a very serious practical implication here. This isn’t just about the normal argy bargy of politics. This is about the Australian Constitution, which sets out very clearly the eligibility rules to be a minister. What it says is you can be a minister for a period of time, for three months, without being a Member of Parliament so if there’s an issue over someone being elected or a by-election, a new appointment; that provision is in there. It is now much more than three months since the election. What the High Court is determining is whether in July of last year Barnaby Joyce was eligible to be the Member for New England.
So in terms of the circumstances of all of these decisions, post three months of that certainly, under the constitution are drawn into question. And, under those circumstances to make him Prime Minister draws into question every decision which is made by the Government. Now there are serious issues facing Australia. I’ve served as Acting Prime Minister. I know that there are decisions you have to make as Acting Prime Minister. And what the Australian people know is that those decisions shouldn’t be made under a cloud.
JOURNALIST: Are you expecting a particularly tumultuous Question Time what with the High Court challenge decision on the postal survey being delivered right in the middle of it?
ALBANESE: Well the decision on the postal survey is another example of a Government that simply can’t lead. They should have had a vote of the Parliament. This should have been settled by now. Instead they have had their plebiscite rejected. We now have this ridiculous voluntary, non-compulsory, non-binding survey which is costing the Australian taxpayer over $100 million which is being challenged because it hasn’t been authorised by the Parliament through any legislation. We’ll wait to see what the decision of the court is and respect that decision but this again just shows a Government that is not governing.
JOURNALIST: If the High Court shoots down the postal survey would Labor consider bringing on a vote of its own in the Lower House, a free vote, in the hope that perhaps it could get the numbers and convince a few Liberals to cross the floor?
ALBANESE: We support a free vote. We’ve had bills before the Parliament. That’s what should happen and that’s what should happen to save $100 plus million dollars of taxpayers’ funds. We could get it done on Monday, frankly and have a vote of the Parliament. Have the Parliament sit and give everyone an opportunity to speak. You can arrange these things so everyone can have ten minutes. Start Monday morning, through we go, until there’s a vote in the House of Representatives and the Senate.
And when everyone wakes up the day after they will wonder what all the fuss is about because everyone else’s relationships wouldn’t be impacted at all. All that it would be, a whole lot of people who love each other, who are committed to each other, would be able to celebrate their relationship and make that commitment in front of family and friends.
And as Shadow Tourism Minister, can I say this – the other thing that would happen is a whole lot of jobs created and economic activity if marriage equality was granted.
JOURNALIST: Would Labor consider bringing on a vote of its own?
ALBANESE: Look we’re not going to pre-empt the High Court decision. It’s this afternoon. We, unlike the Prime Minister, respect the fact that the High Court is an independent body and there’s a separation of the Government and politics from the legal processes and we’ll respect the decision of the High Court this afternoon which comes down I think at 2:15.
JOURNALIST: Senator Hanson has claimed credit for the Nationals voting at their Federal Conference on the policy to implement a burqa ban. Does she deserve it?
ALBANESE: I intend giving Senator Hanson all the oxygen on this issue that she deserves. Thank you.