SUBJECT: Scott Morrison & Angus Taylor misleading the Parliament; Ensuring Integrity Bill; Religious Discrimination Bill.
ANTHONY ALBANESE, LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY: In attempting to defend a minister, who has deliberately misled the Parliament, the Prime Minister himself yesterday misled the Parliament. And he has not had the courage to do what other Prime Ministers, other ministers have done, which is to go into the Parliament and have the courtesy of advising the Parliament of the mislead, and then apologise to the Parliament. That is the normal procedure that occurs. The letter to the Clerk provision is for when Parliament is not in session. This morning the Prime Minister was prepared to enter the Parliament to vote in gagging this debate, but wasn’t prepared to take that opportunity to correct the record and to treat the Parliament with the respect that it deserves.
This mob says that they are conservatives. But the truth is they have shut down debate on 20 occasions this week. They are not prepared to allow for a proper debate about the actions of an embattled minister, which arose from him being too smart by half, sending a letter on his letterhead, with his signature, to attack Clover Moore and her position on climate change. That’s why this has arisen. This was raised more than 80 days ago. For 80 days this minister has refused to say where the document came from. Because we know it isn’t what he told the Parliament. We know it wasn’t downloaded from the City of Sydney website. And instead of him doing the right thing, fessing up early on, he’s just dug in and dug in and dug in, and sunk deeper and deeper. We have a Prime Minister whose depth is a mile wide but an inch deep. He is incapable of acting in the national interests. So, instead of standing aside the minister under section 7.1 of the Ministerial Code, he has continued to dig in, made a phone call, which on any assessment he then went into the Parliament and said he’d discussed the substance of an investigation with the New South Wales Police Commissioner. And yesterday implied in Parliament again that not everyone has all the facts about this matter, and implied he had more facts about the investigation than what has been publicly released in spite of the fact that the New South Wales Police, as is normal practice, issued a media release about Strike Force Garrad and said they wouldn’t be making any further comment.
So, we have a minister, who’s embattled, we have a Prime Minister who has intervened directly by making that phone call into the investigation. Yesterday under some pressure he quoted allegedly a Victorian police detective when it was, in fact, 2GB radio host Ben Fordham he was talking about, and hasn’t had the courage to come in and do the right thing and correct the record and apologise. What’s more, they have shut down debate. I have been here a while under Prime Minister Howard, under Kevin Rudd, under Julia Gillard. There were debates in the Parliament. Indeed, under Tony Abbott. If Christopher Pyne was still the Leader of the House there would have been debate, this week, about serious matters. You can’t hide from scrutiny. Parliament has a role. Our current Prime Minister thinks he’s above scrutiny. Scrutiny from the media, scrutiny from the public, where when asked questions he says it is just gossip or it is just in the bubble. He doesn’t hold serious press conferences too often. Today he actually put in a request for a pair, at 9:32, to avoid going in and voting on it, something that was withdrawn some 10 minutes later for reasons that are beyond anyone’s comprehension. Well, he can’t continue to duck and weave. He has to be held to account. And what Labor is trying to do in Parliament is to do just that. Happy to take questions.
JOURNALIST: Mick Fuller expects that the investigation, the Strike Force, will be wrapped up next week. Are you confident the investigation will be independent? And conducted thoroughly?
ALBANESE: Well, look, I have no reason to doubt the confidence of the New South Wales Police Force to conduct investigations. But the problem here is that the Prime Minister’s intervention will have members of the public thinking, ‘well, if one of my mates has a police inquiry, can I pick up the phone to the Police Commissioner and ask about that inquiry?’ That’s why the Prime Minister’s statement, that the inquiry wasn’t just whether there’s an inquiry or not, that release was out there. And I note Commissioner Fuller also said he had at least four phone calls from the Prime Minister. Three missed calls from a mobile that he didn’t have before he eventually took the call. Now, I have been a Minister of the Crown. The normal processes are not a Prime Minister ringing on his mobile the head of a police commission. What would happen would be advice would be got from the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet about appropriateness of it. You would have note-takers. We asked yesterday in the Parliament, would that information be released. But, of course, as all of you who are involved in the right to know campaign, this Government wants to operate in secret. How is that that happens? That isn’t the way phone calls happen from the leader of a nation to the Police Commissioner about an investigation into one of his ministers. The way that it should happen, if it does at all, is through proper processes. It would appear that none of them were followed in this case, and that, I think, has the public scratching their heads.
JOURNALIST: Why does Labor think that Angus Taylor should step down when there’s an ongoing investigation but it was ok for a senior Labor figure as a frontbencher not to step down during a police investigation as serious as sexual assault?
ALBANESE: What you know full well is that the Ministerial Code of Conduct applies to ministers, because they make decisions. The Ministerial Code of Conduct applies for a very good reason. What we say about Angus Taylor is that you have this police investigation, it’s the Prime Minister’s own code of conduct under section 7.1 that leads in to a circumstance, whereby the Prime Minister could step him aside. But what we also say very clearly, is that this minister has deliberately misled the Parliament. That’s a sacking offence. Game over under the Westminster system. That has occurred. He has apologised and conceded that the information was wrong. And he has said that it was downloaded from the City of Sydney website, which they provided their metadata, and it was never on there. What’s more, it was implausible that they spent, ten councillors, the Mayor and the rest of the council, spent $14 million on travel in a year. $1.4 million on average, each. It was an absurd claim. But he was so determined to attack climate change. They were determined to just run at anything.
This is an attack from a Cabinet Minister in the national Government against a local mayor that had pulled all of these issues in order to make it a cheap political point and then forwarded that letter to the Telegraph. And I’ll say this as well, does anyone think that Angus Taylor can front up to the climate change conference held in Spain next week and say, ‘Hi, I’m the guy that is the Minister for Emissions Reduction in Australia, where emissions are increasing. I’m the guy who’s also the Minister for Energy, but we don’t have an energy policy. And by the way, there’s a police investigation underway, called Strike Force Garrad, looking into my behaviour’. But this Government seems to be ‘business as usual’. And the question is; does the Government actually intend they will still try to pursue this minister, this embattled minister, representing Australia’s interests at an international conference on climate change which is being held and began this week that the minister will appear at the end of next week? This minister can’t go there. And he can’t do his day job.
JOURNALIST: So, you would stand one of your Shadow Ministers in similar circumstances and you undertake here today to do that if any of your Shadow Ministers are under police investigations?
ALBANESE: If I was a minister, if I’m elected to Government, I will uphold the Ministerial Code of Conduct.
JOURNALIST: So, only in Government?
ALBANESE: Well, the Ministerial Code of Conduct, the hint is, it’s a ministerial code of conduct. So, in terms of processes, the Ministerial Code of Conduct should be followed. That’s why it’s there, for a reason. Because ministers make decisions, and they can’t be in a situation whereby they are compromised.
JOURNALIST: So, there are different standards for Shadow Ministers under investigation, they can continue?
ALBANESE: Well, I’m not going to answer hypotheticals. I’m answering this specific question about Ministerial Code of Conduct that applies to ministers and has applied for a very long period of time, and has always, always been the case. And what we see here, unlike what happened under Prime Minister Howard, but also under Tony Abbott and Malcolm Turnbull where we had people like Arthur Sinodinos, Sussan Ley, other people, standing aside.
JOURNALIST: Mr Albanese, did you have a pairing arrangement with the Prime Minister yesterday afternoon?
ALBANESE: I’m not sure who he was paired with. But he was paired yesterday afternoon, my understanding is that he had a family event, and that is fair enough. And that is why I moved that the answer to the Parliament at 9:30am this morning, not yesterday afternoon.
JOURNALIST: The Government’s very confident it’s going to get its Ensuring Integrity Bill through the Senate this afternoon. Would you pledge to repeal those laws if they become laws?
ALBANESE: Look, these are anti-union laws. They are not through yet. I don’t deal in assumptions. I’m about defeating bad laws. I am about defeating these bad laws. And whilst some who want to cheer on the Government and say they are going to have wins, might argue that’s the case. These are bad laws. These are rotten laws. And the fact is that this is an attack on the right of trade unions to exist. These laws are totally different from the laws apply to corporate Australia. And we are in negotiations with the crossbench to defeat it, these bad laws.
JOURNALIST: (Inaudible) bring them to the next election?
ALBANESE: No I am not answering whether South Sydney will win the third game next year before we know what the second game is. Will we win back-to-back premierships in 2021? Ask me after we win in 2020.
JOURNALIST: On religious discrimination, given what you said to caucus, that Labor supports freedom of religion but you don’t support increasing discrimination in other areas. Doesn’t that make it impossible to support the Religious Discrimination Bill in its current form?
ALBANESE: We haven’t seen it.
JOURNALIST: In its current form. The exposure draft that Labor has seen.
ALBANESE: We have not seen it. It has not been introduced to the Parliament and the Government has not given us the courtesy of an advanced copy. Thank you.