Sep 10, 2012

Transcript of Doorstop, Senate Courtyard

ANTHONY ALBANESE:  Thanks for joining us.

During the break I wrote to the Speaker of the House of Representatives about whether Tony Abbott as Leader of the Opposition had misled the Parliament.

People would be pretty familiar with Tony Abbott’s train wreck of an interview with Leigh Sales on the 7:30 program. On that program he was asked and had the opportunity, not once, not twice, but three times to say that he had read the statement from BHP.

Because it didn’t fit in with his rhetoric about the carbon price and the Minerals Resource Rent Tax, both of which according to BHP Billiton itself had nothing to do with their decision on Olympic Dam, he chose to say that he hadn’t read the press statement from BHP Billiton.

So Tony Abbott was prepared to go on national television and make wild assertions without knowing any of the facts.

When he was held to account for that the following day, Tony Abbott told the Parliament that he had read the statement at 3:45, and on the Today program the next morning, that was reinforced.

Joe Hockey indeed said that he read the statement with Tony Abbott, and backed up his explanation. The problem is, just as the 7:30 train wreck of an interview is available on the web for all to see, the fact is that Tony Abbott and Joe Hockey’s whereabouts are known at 3:45 pm on the Wednesday. They weren’t together.

Tony Abbott stood up and gave a Matter of Public Importance (MPI) on the floor of the Parliament. He then left the chamber. Joe Hockey was on his feet speaking to the MPI at 3:45. Tony Abbott wasn’t in the same room. And unless there was something going on, some sort of ‘Klingon’ thing happening between Tony Abbott and Joe Hockey, then it simply can’t be true that they read the statement together at 3:45 pm.

What we have is a series of circumstances whereby Tony Abbott says one thing and when he’s caught out, he changes his view and tries to cover up rather than just say, “yeah, I should have read the BHP Billiton statement before going on the 7:30 program”, and “I should be better prepped before I do a serious television program”.

No wonder he avoids 7:30, Meet the Press, Lateline and other programs in which he’s put under scrutiny.

Again this week, in David Marr’s Quarterly Essay, Tony Abbott was asked about what occurred when he was in student politics.

Tony Abbott’s on the record of course saying, I’m not asking the Australian people to take me on trust, but on the record of a lifetime as a student president, trainee priest, Rhodes Scholar, as well as a Member of Parliament and as a Minister in a government.

A couple of weeks ago, he was here saying that the Prime Minister does need to make a full statement about the circumstances under which she left the law firm. So, he was quite prepared to make all these demands about the Prime Minister and her background going back decades.

Yet, when issues are raised about Tony Abbott’s performance as president of Sydney University SRC, he ducks and weaves. First of all, he doesn’t deny that these incidents occurred and then later on changes his story.

Well Tony Abbott, just as he demands of others, owes a full explanation of these events. It is Tony Abbott himself who says that it’s legitimate to go back into people’s past and to demand full explanations.

The Prime Minister gave a full explanation before the entire press gallery and took every question that people could give of her on the last sitting day of the Parliament. Tony Abbott needs to stop ducking and weaving. Tony Abbott needs to be held to account.

This is a guy who wants to be the Prime Minister of the country. He’s the Leader of the Opposition and yet he is sloppy on detail. When he himself says you can judge his character by his background going back to when he was SRC president, I think people with knowledge of some of his activities at Sydney Uni are indeed entitled to judge him on that basis.

QUESTION: Minister, this isn’t the first time you’ve referred to Tony Abbott’s student days. Is this the sort of thing a Cabinet minister, the Leader of the House, should be digging around on spending time on?

ANTHONY ALBANESE:   What we had during that last fortnight’s sitting is day after day the Leader of the Opposition speaking about the Prime Minister’s past well before she was in the Parliament and saying that that was legitimate, and saying that there should be proper scrutiny of it.

I think as the alternative Prime Minister of the country, Tony Abbott should be held to account for what he stands for and for what his values are.

These events of two weeks ago exhibit a pattern of behaviour. The 7.30 interview cannot be clearer. It was very clear that on three separate occasions he had an opportunity, an opportunity to say that he’d read the statement from BHP Billiton, and yet, with all of Tony Abbott’s statements, they’re always loose; they’re off the cuff; they’re just the same old slogans out there every day.

What we see is this relentless negativity from the Leader of the Opposition – it is important that he be held to account.

QUESTION: Minister, in your guise as Sherlock Holmes, is it possible that they read the statement actually in the Parliament, because statements are brought in to the Parliament?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well, you can have a look for yourself; and I’m sure it might even be made available for you. They were preparing for the MPI, and that was what Tony Abbott was doing.

Tony Abbott’s own words can’t be clearer and he was asked a very clear question: have you actually read BHP’s statements? The answer was, no. And then, Leigh Sales went on to say, but, hang on, you haven’t read their statements today, but you’re commenting on their announcement and how the Federal Government’s to blame. The Leader of the Opposition didn’t challenge that.

And then, Leigh Sales tried a third time and said, how do you know more what’s to blame than Marius Kloppers, who I presume has read his own documents? Tony Abbott didn’t respond or challenge that again.

Yet, he then went into the Parliament – that’s why it’s important, because, misleading of Parliament is a very serious offence – and said several times that claims he hadn’t read the statement were false.

QUESTION: Are you saying he has misled Parliament? What’s been the Speaker’s response on that?

ANTHONY ALBANESE:   It’s not up to me to pre-empt the Speaker’s response. He hasn’t responded directly to me except to acknowledge the correspondence.

QUESTION: Do you want this referred to the Privileges Committee?

ANTHONY ALBANESE:  That’s a matter for the Speaker.

QUESTION: Have you had a discussion with Mr Pyne about the code of conduct? And what do you make of his public comments?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: The code of conduct was one of the things agreed to and signed off by Christopher Pyne and Tony Abbott in the lead up to those 17 days of discussions.

What we had was a parliamentary reform document agreed by the Independents, agreed by the Coalition, and agreed by the Labor Party. If you could remember, it was sealed with a group hug in a place not too far from here.

What we’ve seen since then is them walking away from it.

Look at Malcolm Turnbull’s own comments about the behaviour of the Opposition in Question Time.

They’ve trashed Question Time.

In Question Time, you may as well have just a robocall with a button – press one for carbon price question, press two for asylum seeker question.

These slogans beam across the chamber at the Prime Minister each and every day.

There’s no attempt to hold the Government to account.

There’s a few three word slogans and then the inevitable suspension of standing orders.

I wonder if Malcolm Turnbull will get a question today, or this week, or anytime this year.

We’re pretty lonely. We go in with our folders every day. I’d love a question from Warren Truss but you just don’t get any. You just get the same old negative strategy.

It’s the same on the code of conduct. They agreed to it; no one forced them to do it. They spoke about parliamentary reform, they spoke about Tony Abbott respecting the decision of the Australian people in those 17 days of August 2010 and since then he’s been engaged in the longest dummy spit in Australian political history.

QUESTION: You said [indistinct] it will pass anyway with Labor and the cross benchers.

ANTHONY ALBANESE: We’ll wait and see. I don’t like pre-empting what the crossbenchers have to say. I think it’s up to them to declare their hand. I can speak on behalf of the Labor Party on these matters and we’ll be voting for it.

QUESTION: Minister, the Greens went backwards in Leichhardt and Marrickville – both of them…

ANTHONY ALBANESE: And Ashfield.

QUESTION: …all of them in your federal electorate. But it really is pushing a bit hard to say that that reflects a change in voting patterns federally doesn’t it?

ANTHONY ALBANESE:  Well, in Ashfield – I’ll begin with because it’s often the forgotten council – the Greens Political Party currently hold the position of Mayor. Next week, I doubt whether they’ll have a single councillor.

In Leichhardt, they’ve had an absolute majority – Leichhardt Council’s been a one party state. People have got to experience the Greens Political Party in action on Leichhardt Council and what they’ve seen is neglect of basic services in favour of trying to be an alternative national and international government.

In Marrickville, of course most infamously, they tried to turn themselves into the United Nations and that sort of approach has been rejected. This is a mob who opposed affordable housing proposals in Marrickville, who opposed out of school hours care at Marrickville West Public School because they’d prefer to spend ratepayers’ money on frolics that achieve nothing.

It is clear to me on Saturday that, in the Inner West at least, there was certainly a rejection of the Greens Political Party. This is a party that has got at each election – local, state and federal – in comparison with the previous election, an increase in their vote since the mid-90s. What occurred on Saturday was a reversal of that for the first time and I do think it’s significant.

QUESTION:  Did the Greens make a mistake selecting Christine Milne as Bob Brown’s successor?

ANTHONY ALBANESE:  I don’t want to reflect on Christine at all. I do think though that Bob Brown was a charismatic, significant figure who had a lot of respect across the nation and it was always going to be difficult for them.

One of the things I used that to say in election campaigns around the Inner West was people who vote for the Greens Political Party think they’re voting for Bob Brown; they’re not. In most cases they’re voting for an acolyte of Lee Rhiannon who Bob Brown doesn’t even really like and who stands for very different things to Bob Brown.

Lee Rhiannon’s people dominate the inner city. If they stood on their real platform then they’d be struggling to get to three per cent of the electorate, but they use the Greens name because it’s sort of nice and warm.

But the truth is that now we don’t have to say if you vote Green, you think you’re getting Bob Brown. People know they’re not getting Bob Brown, they’re getting someone else and I think there’ll be more scrutiny of who their candidates are and what they stand for from this point on at every level of government.

Thank you.

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** attached letter to Speaker

*** link to Question Time slideshow, 22 August 2012