SUBJECTS: Federal Election; National security leaks; AFP raids; Afterpay; Cost of living.
SAM CROSBY: Thanks everyone for coming along today. My name is Sam Crosby and I was Labor’s Candidate for Reid at the Federal Election. Obviously things didn’t work out as planned and I think we need to be honest about why and be open to hearing from people about why they didn’t vote for us in this electorate or at least not enough of them voted for us in this electorate. So we’ve been out today meeting groups of voters and hearing directly from them what their problems were. So here with me today and I want to make especially welcome is Anthony Albanese who has been here throughout the campaign on multiple times with us. So I sincerely thank him for coming back. Also we have Jason Clare and Kristina Keneally. So I might hand over to Albo.
ANTHONY ALBANESE, LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY: Thanks very much, Sam. This is the latest leg on my telling it straight listening tour. What that’s about is one, acknowledging that we didn’t do as well as we should have in the election on May 18.
Sam Crosby was a great candidate for the seat, he campaigned hard for 12 months.
He received a swing to Labor in this electorate and it’s particularly pleasing that in new areas such as Newington he received a significant positive vote for the first time that Labor has won those areas. So I pay tribute to Sam and I thank him for waving the Labor banner during the election campaign. But he wasn’t successful in so many seats, we fell short of where we needed to be. And that’s why we will spend the next three years listening, developing policies and making sure at the same time as we hold the Government to account.
This morning I’ve been walking throughout Westfield Burwood. There is nowhere way better to get to know what Australians are thinking than walking through a local shopping centre on a Saturday morning. You get the full mix; people from different backgrounds, people who have different jobs, people who work and don’t work. People out there buying food and groceries for their family or shopping at other major stores that are in that shopping centre. And I’ll continue to do that because I want to hear directly from Australians why it is that we received the primary votes of just one in every three. We need to do better in 2022. And I’m determined to do better.
I have with me today two of my senior team; Jason Clare who will have responsibility for regional economic development but also importantly local government and housing. Local government as people would be aware is something that was very dear to my heart. It’s something that I focused on last time I was a minister and changed the relationship between the national government and local governments. Housing is absolutely critical. I grew up not terribly far from here in public housing. Housing affordability is a big issue and Jason will be looking with fresh eyes at those issues that are required. And of course Kristina Keneally who this week of all weeks has held the Government to account over the issues of Home Affairs and our national security issues.
This week we’ve seen I think quite extraordinary circumstances whereby we’ve had raids on Annika Smethurst’s home for seven and a half hours, raids on the ABC, questions asked of Ben Fordham at 2GB. Last night, Friday night, past the deadlines for the TV news’, it was announced that the investigation into the leak of ASIO national security advice on the medevac legislation that occurred last year would not proceed. It was said in that advice, it was said in that announcement, that they couldn’t identify a suspect. Well there aren’t too many people had that national security advice and I make this point, that Peter Dutton the Minister was on radio on the day that it appeared on the front page of the newspaper talking about that advice. Peter Dutton’s very sensitive and Peter Dutton yesterday once again said that there was somehow concern from us about the AFP’s actions and criticism of the AFP.
Can I make this point; we’re determined to hold the Government to account. It is the Government as the elected representatives who need to answer questions such as whether Peter Dutton or his office were involved in the leaking of that information. He can come out very clearly and indicate what the case is there because there’s no doubt that the leaking of that information was designed to impact on the parliamentary debate that was occurring that week. I said it at the time. I’m saying it again today consistently that he needs to answer questions here because the issue of freedom of the press is absolutely critical. But we also take seriously the issue of national security and information being used for partisan political purposes. And that’s what we’ve seen here. Can I ask Jason to make some comments and then Kristina.
JASON CLARE, SHADOW MINISTER FOR REGIONAL SERVICES AND LOCAL GOVERNMENT: Well thanks very much Albo and thank you for the privilege and the opportunity serve to in the important portfolios of regional services and local government and housing and homelessness. As a local MP not far from here I know that when you stand on a street corner and you ask people what are the issues that they care most about, it’s more often than not local government. It’s things like roundabouts and speed humps and recycling. Out in the bush it’s about drought and it’s about water. So this is an important portfolio and an important part of us learning the mistakes that we made in the election campaign and listening to people, is listening to local government and talking to people that are on the frontline in providing services to our local community. Many places local government is like the sun in the solar system. And yesterday I was talking mayors and councillors from across New South Wales and I’ll be out and about in the months ahead talking to mayors and councillors in local government right across Australia.
As Albo said I’ve also got the housing portfolio and some very important and some very bad news broke this week and that is, that the number of people behind in their mortgage is now at the highest level in Australia since the Global Financial Crisis. We found out this week that in the same week that the worst economic growth numbers have come out since the Global Financial Crisis, more people are behind in their mortgage now than at any time since the Global Financial Crisis. And that according to Standard and Poor’s is because wages are flat and because of underemployment. Lots and lots of people who can’t get enough hours of work. And so it’s becoming harder and harder to pay off their mortgage. It’s just another real life example about how this Government has mismanaged the economy. And another reason why Scott Morrison and Josh Frydenberg and the Liberals and Nationals need to pull their finger out now and get this economy moving again for ordinary working Australians.
KRISTINA KENEALLY, SHADOW MINISTER FOR HOME AFFAIRS: Thank you Jason. This morning Scott Morrison said that nobody is above the law. What we saw just a few months ago is classified information. Leaked, putting in the public realm an unauthorised disclosure of classified information. Done so with political intent and implications. The intent to influence parliamentary debate about the medevac legislation. The unauthorised disclosure of this classified information was characterised by the head of ASIO, Duncan Lewis as seriously damaging. As risking the trust that the people and the parliament can have in the work that ASIO does.
Now if Scott Morrison does truly believe that no one is above the law, he will direct Peter Dutton to come out today. To come out today and make clear whether the Minister for Home Affairs or his office had anything to do with this leak. Now, we absolutely respect the Australian Federal Police and the work that they do. They have our support. The concern here is that there is a very real perception of bias and interference. There is that very real perception of bias and interference. And that problem lies with the Government. We have seen Scott Morrison insisting that when there is an unauthorised disclosure of national security information that it must be investigated. It took in some of these circumstances two years. For this matter to reach the point of warrants and investigation. What we’ve seen with his medevac legislation, the unauthorised leak of ASIO and Home Affairs advice is it in a couple of months the AFP have decided to discontinue the investigation. Well, given that it’s now incumbent upon the Government to explain what they know about this leak and to make clear whether or not the Minister or his office were involved. This leak was designed to influence the parliamentary debate. This leak was seriously damaging. As the head of ASIO Duncan Lewis has said and this leak, this leak is a serious matter that now the Government must respond to. Happy to take any questions.
JOURNALIST: Mr Albanese, we just heard Peter Dutton’s name name dropped twice there. Who do you think leaked the Medevac policy document?
ALBANESE: Well I don’t know. So I’m not going to assert that I have knowledge that I don’t what I do know is this. The leak occurred on the front page of the newspaper. Peter Dutton gave an interview on the record where he spoke about that national security advice on that day. Peter Dutton himself spoke about it on Ray Hadley’s program. That was entirely inappropriate for him to do so, and he did so too in order to secure a political advantage. So he needs to explain why it is that he was ready for that interview. Why it is that that information was put out at a time clearly strategically in order to influence parliamentary debate.
JOURNALIST: You’re alleging that Peter Dutton or his office were involved?
ALBANESE: I’m alleging that Peter Dutton needs to say very clearly whether he or his office were involved in this leak. Quite clearly that sort of national security advice wasn’t circulating around the building on post it notes. This is national security advice to the Government and the Government needs to explain how it is that it got in the public realm and the Director General of ASIO, Duncan Lewis has on the record very clearly said that this was damaging.
JOURNALIST: Just on the raids that we saw this week, in April last year after the Annika Smethurst story, Mark Dreyfus wrote to the Prime Minister calling for an investigation. That’s exactly what the AFP has now done, it seems to contradict your comments this week?
ALBANESE: Not at all. Well what we saw this week was a considerable length of time, a delay. And it compares with the announcement late last night of a closure of an investigation. So after a long period of delay, my concern is that you’ve had a series of events this week that happened to have occurred just after a federal election has happened. And so Ben Fordham, questioned, Annika Smethurst’s home raided by seven offices of the AFP for seven and a half hours. When questioned about why they went through Annika Smethurst’s underwear drawer, the advice is that USBs are very small, and that’s one of the things they were looking for.
They had a quite extraordinary warrant issued to the ABC premises. An extensive number of officers going through material at the ABC. And we need to take this back a little bit, just step back. What is this information about with regard to the raid on Annika Smethurst’s home? It was that there was debate taking place in the Government over whether there should be increased spying powers on Australians, undertaken without their knowledge. Is that in the public interest? I think it is, that it is in the public interest that Australians find out what’s being considered by their Government.
JOURNALIST: Then why did Mr Dreyfus write to the Prime Minister? He seemed to then link it to political chaos in the Government, but it was very clear that he wanted investigations, so why did he do that? Was it just political point scoring?
ALBANESE: The fact is, that we need to wind it back to what the issue is here. I’ve just done that. No, the issue here is firstly, is it in the public interest for there to be as there is throughout the Western world, whistleblower legislation – there’s protection available on the basis of public interest. The issue secondly is what happened with the delay and the timing of any investigation. There were investigations into leaks – that happens. What we have here is an extensive delay and then the Government this week refusing, refusing to say that they supported freedom of the press. We had Scott Morrison as the Prime Minister essentially say “nothing to see here. This is business as usual.” That was his initial response. I don’t think that’s acceptable.
JOURNALIST: So would you have been happy if the raids had taken place just after that story?
ALBANESE: I’ve stated my position …
JOURNALIST: Would you have been happy …
ALBANESE: No I’ve stated my position. You mightn’t like the answer, but I’ve stated my position. My position is very clearly that freedom of the press is absolutely critical.
JOURNALIST: So do you agree with Mark Dreyfus then and think that that leak should have been investigated?
KENEALLY: We have been utterly clear this week that there are some matters that government does need to keep secret in order to ensure that people are kept safe and secure. That needs to be balanced with the tension in a democracy to a free press and for the citizen’s right to question the Government’s actions. And when there is an unauthorised disclosure of classified information the Government should investigate it. But the Government is the one that needs to answer questions about how they are addressing that tension. I want to make a couple of points in response to your questions.
First of all when it comes to freedom of the press and national security legislation, Labor has at every juncture, stood up and made amendments, moved amendments, made improvements to legislation brought before the Government – brought before the Parliament by the Government. For example, the foreign interference and espionage legislation – it was Labor that moved against the Government’s initial wishes to have a public interest defence for journalists in that legislation. When it comes to encryption laws, it was Labor that threw the PJCIS moved many amendments, made 17 recommendations through that bipartisan committee. The Government has not taken those up.
So the onus here rests upon the Government to explain how they are managing this tension. It is not a question of whether or not leaks should be investigated. It is a question about how the Government is managing that.
Secondly, when it comes to this particular medevac bill and the unauthorised disclosure of classified information, what we have here is a circumstance where when Scott Morrison says that nobody is above the law, we have leaks of information that embarrass the Government – they get investigated with rigour and with extraordinary warrants, with extraordinary warrants upon journalists homes and media organisations. But when it comes to a leak of information that would benefit the Government – there is not the same apparent vigour, and rigour when it comes to that investigation. That is what is creating the perception of bias here and that is unfortunate for the AFP because that problem sits with the Government. This is a leak of information from Peter Dutton’s department, from two departments that report to Peter Dutton. It was a leak of information that benefited Peter Dutton in a parliamentary debate. And it is being investigated by another body that reports to Peter Dutton. All roads here lead to Peter Dutton and Peter Dutton must today stand up and make clear whether he or his office had any involvement in the leak of this classified information. A leak of information that Duncan Lewis himself said was seriously damaging.
JOURNALIST: Ms Keneally are you saying that the leak from the News Corp Smethurst story should be investigated but it shouldn’t involve the journalist?
KENEALLY: What I am saying is it is appropriate for the Government, it is in fact incumbent upon the Government to take seriously the unauthorised disclosure of national security information. But it is also incumbent upon the Government to manage that tension of the balancing citizen’s right to know and a free press with that type of investigation. Here’s the deal, we had an election three weeks ago. The Morrison Government won and with that victory comes the responsibility in a democracy of keeping the balance right between the investigation of national security information unauthorised disclosures and balancing the freedom of the press.
Now I would say that I’m not alone. Many Australians this week have looked with increasing concern. Around the globe people have looked with create increasing concern and alarm. People like Ita Buttrose and Michael Miller, ABC and Newscorp, have looked with increasing alarm about these raids and these investigations and the way they have been carried out by the Government.
Whether anyone is charged, whether any journalist is charged, it is inarguable that these raids will have a chilling effect on public conversation and on the media. It is incumbent upon the Government, Scott Morrison as Prime Minister, to make clear his position on that balance between national security information – keeping it secure and press freedom in this country. He has not spoken fully on this. It is incumbent upon Peter Dutton to say what he knew about this leak.
JOURNALIST: Can I ask you an unrelated question? The head of the CFMMEU has indicated that he intends to plead guilty to harassing a woman. He’s also made some comments that could be construed, mildly, as unflattering to Rosie Batty. What does the Labor Party intend to do about that? Should he be a member of this party?
ALBANESE: Well in terms of criminal investigations that are taking place that are before the courts, we do have a separation of the legal system from the political system, so I don’t intend to comment on it. With regard to the person who I think you’re asking a question about, I certainly have no relationship with the bloke. I have condemned previous comments that he has made, that he’s confirmed that he’s made, and I will continue to do so.
JOURNALIST: Just on another, you were talking earlier about cost of living pressures, I don’t know if you saw today but Afterpay is extending it’s reach into medical services, so pharmacies, all sorts of other medical areas. The danger there isn’t it, that people will end up sick and in debt?
ALBANESE: Look, there are huge issues here. What we have is an economy that’s flatlining. What we have is real wages not keeping up. With inflation. What we have is increasing casualisation of workplaces so that people are more and more insecure. We have rising indebtedness, as Jason said, we have in terms of mortgages, record numbers falling behind in terms of their payments. And we’re very concerned about the state of the economy and about the Government’s failure to manage the economy properly.
The economy should work for people not the other way round. And this Government has got it wrong. The Reserve Bank this week in reducing interest rates further, has indicated really that they don’t believe that the Government is putting in place appropriate policies. We have record levels of debt. We have unemployment and insecurity at work rising, wages decreasing, increased pressure on the family budget and we are concerned about these issues and we don’t believe that the Government has a plan to actually deal with it. If they had a plan they should bring forward the Parliament, have it sit, and we can pass the tax cuts that were due on July 1 like they said they would do – except for the fact that Mr Morrison knew that he wasn’t telling the truth because he’s asked that the writs be returned on June 28 which makes it not possible to happen.
JOURNALIST: So should there be greater regulation of services like Afterpay, which, they don’t they don’t have the same regulations as other financial services because they don’t charge interest, but should there be greater control?
ALBANESE: We will examine those issues but we’re not the Government. The Government needs to get on top of these issues. At the moment that they essentially are wandering around in a in a haze a bit like today, saying that there’s nothing to say here there’s no problems in the economy. They should have a look at what the Reserve Bank of Australia is saying.
Thanks very much.
Leader of the Australian Labor Party, MP for Grayndler, Rabbitohs Life Member. Authorised by Anthony Albanese, ALP, Canberra.