Subjects: Craig Thompson; Parliament is functioning; Tony Abbott’s ‘dummy spit’
CHRIS UHLMANN: Why did the NSW Labor Party pay Craig Thomson’s legal bills?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Oh, look, probably for the same reason that the Victorian branch of the Liberal Party paid the legal bills of a Victorian minister earlier this year. There’s nothing that unusual about a political party providing support to one of its members.
CHRIS UHLMANN: So how much money was paid?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: I have no idea. I’m not a member of the administrative committee of the NSW branch. But the real issue here is that Craig Thomson did do the wrong thing; he didn’t declare it when he should of. He owned up to that, he put in a declaration. But, it must be said of course, Tony Abbott put in two declarations that were late at least.
CHRIS UHLMANN: Yeah. You’re saying though that you’re not a member of the NSW administrative committee. You are one of the most senior ministers from NSW in this place, so do you know how much money was paid?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: No, I don’t.
CHRIS UHLMANN: Do you know whether it was a gift or a loan?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: I have no idea.
CHRIS UHLMANN: Do you know whether the Prime Minister was there when this was being discussed?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: I have no idea. But I don’t think that there’s anything unusual. I do have some knowledge about the way the NSW branch operates. And the idea that it would have involved people outside the NSW party offices reflects, I think, a knowledge of the NSW Labor Party. Most people in the game know that that wouldn’t have been the case. There’s nothing surprising about this.
CHRIS UHLMANN: And the branch paid the money because otherwise Mr Thomson would have been a bankrupt and had to leave Parliament.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well I don’t know whether that’s the case or not. But what I do know is that the branch clearly provided some support to Mr Thomson. He’s a member of Parliament from NSW. When I was a party officer, let me tell you, it was not that unusual for the NSW branch to certainly provide support to one of its members.
CHRIS UHLMANN: $90,000?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: I don’t know what the amount is, but certainly it’s not that unusual.
CHRIS UHLMANN: In that sort of amount?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well, I myself – before I took some legal action, even down to the case of scrutineering on Leichardt Council and challenging a decision, I got, if you like, support or commitment from the then NSW branch offices that they’d provide support for that legal action
CHRIS UHLMANN: Do you have complete confidence in Mr Thomson?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: I do. I’m of the view that people have a right to the presumption of innocence. That’s the basis of our legal system. And just as the only person in the Parliament who’s under charges, the Liberal senator, is entitled to the presumption of innocence.
CHRIS UHLMANN: Do you think that’s of a different order, though? That’s shoplifting; this is talking about $100,000 of uncredited credit card withdrawals.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well it’s interesting that you use the Opposition spin there, Chris, of shoplifting. You know full well that the charges aren’t restricted to that against the Liberal senator.
CHRIS UHLMANN: Detail them.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well, you know what the case is. And, you know, I don’t think – I don’t think it’s appropriate that we canvass in great detail the issues in terms of confronting the Liberal senator, who’s under charges. Certainly we have legal proceedings. What we do know is that the Opposition’s argument about transparency is pretty hollow. The Liberal senator was charged in May. None of us knew anything about it until July, and she remains chair of a Senate committee and receiving payment for that.
CHRIS UHLMANN: She’s standing down from that chair.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: No, she stepped aside in terms of which is a different position from resigning. When you step aside, you retain the salary.
CHRIS UHLMANN: Do you believe Mr Thomson when he says that he didn’t use his credit card to pay for prostitutes?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: I think it is reasonable to believe people when they say something until it is proven otherwise.
CHRIS UHLMANN: If he didn’t do anything wrong, then why can’t he say that in Parliament?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well Mr Thomson has said – has made a number of statements which you would be a aware of. I’ve certainly seen them, I see them written all the time, in which he’s denied the allegations. I think he’s entitled to a presumption of innocence. There’ll be processes. It’s important that whether it’s you on the 7.30 show or whether it be members of Parliament, that we don’t judge these things, that we allow – we know now there’s a police investigation – that we allow the proper processes to occur.
CHRIS UHLMANN: There’s an investigation, but there are no charges, so we can talk about up until such time there are charges. And if Mr Thomson did nothing wrong, why did he step down as chair of the economics committee?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Because the economics committee is meeting on Friday. Clearly, Mr Thomson, who takes his parliamentary duties seriously, indicated, quite rightly, I think, if we look at the hearing of the economics committee last week where you had a whole lot of reporters outside, they weren’t asking about what was going on in the economics committee. There’s a committee hearing on Friday with the Reserve Bank of Australia. Mr Thomson, out of respect for the committee and the work that it does, felt that his chairing of that meeting would be a distraction.
CHRIS UHLMANN: Is all of this damaging the Government?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well, look, you know, we would obviously – issues like this cause speculation to occur. What we’re busy doing, Chris, is getting on with the job of government. We’ve just carried our plain paper packaging legislation through the Parliament. That makes 182 pieces of legislation we’ve carried this term. The Howard Government in its first year carried 108. Many of those bills are big issues. We had a successful COAG meeting last Friday. We’re getting on with the job. Tony Abbott is getting on with the …
CHRIS UHLMANN: Do you think that that message is getting out to the public? Do you really think that people are hearing that, or are they seeing a government that’s mired in controversy and seems to be incompetent?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: We’re getting on with the job of providing good government. What Australians know is that if you compare our economic position, our position on jobs, with that of our counterparts in the industrialised world, there’s no country you’d rather be than Australia, that we’ve put in place those good economic management positions, that we’re putting in place national health reform. Last Friday’s COAG meeting had national transport regulators, the National Disability Insurance Scheme was advanced and national mental health reform. I think that’s what Australians are interested in. And over a period of time …
CHRIS UHLMANN: (Inaudible) … in Parliament today, do you think that it lowers Parliament in the eyes of the people?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Oh, look, there’s no doubt that that is part of Tony Abbott’s strategy.
CHRIS UHLMANN: And the Government’s certainly assisting; you’re providing the fodder.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well, we are seeing the longest dummy spit in Australian political history. Tony Abbott has a view that if he can’t control it, he’ll try to wreck it. It doesn’t matter whether it’s about the economy or jobs. You never see them happier than when there’s an announcement about job losses.
CHRIS UHLMANN: Why should the Coalition help, though; they’re in Opposition? Why shouldn’t they try to get government, particularly if they believe that you’re an incompetent government?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: What they should try to do is actually hold the Government to account.
CHRIS UHLMANN: Aren’t they doing that?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: They don’t even bother to do that. Today we saw them not even worry about Question Time.
CHRIS UHLMANN: But you shut it down.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: We’ve seen that – no, they shut it down with their suspension of Question Time at five minutes past two. Once again, as they have done throughout this year, Tony Abbott determined to engage in destructive behaviour. This guy is a wrecker, he’s not a builder.
CHRIS UHLMANN: But it was open to you to continue Question Time; you shut it down. Didn’t it look like a government on the run?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Not at all. We’ve made it very clear that when the Opposition suspends Question Time, then it is appropriate that if they don’t have any questions, then Question Time, what are we gonna do? Just have questions from ourselves? It’s very clear they’re not interested in holding the Government to account.
We’ve had some major issues this week, including the announcement affecting jobs in the Illawarra and Victoria. What we’ve had from the Opposition is no questions, no engagement on those issues, they’re not interested in it, or interested indeed in the wash up from the successful COAG meeting last Friday.
CHRIS UHLMANN: Alright. Anthony Albanese, we’ll have to leave it there.