Apr 27, 2012

Transcript of Interview with David Speers – Sky News

Issues: Peter Slipper’s Cabcharge documents; Coalition involvement; Tony Nutt; Godwin Grech scandal; Andrew Wilkie conversations

DAVID SPEERS: Anthony Albanese, thanks for your time. Can I start by asking, are you satisfied Peter Slipper has not engaged in any criminal conduct?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: What I’m certainly satisfied is that the allegations that were made that were very specific by Mr Ashby that Peter Slipper had handed over blank Cabcharge dockets to hire car drivers – to what end is unknown, but that that behaviour had occurred – simply, the documents that were provided by the Department of Finance and Administration and released by Mr Slipper last night as soon as he received them indicate clearly that that is not the case, that the dockets were filled in, in Mr Slipper’s handwriting.

DAVID SPEERS:  But James Ashby in these court documents claimed that on 27 January he travelled in a vehicle that was not obviously a taxi cab or a hire car, driven by someone identified by Peter Slipper as a friend. He said Peter Slipper signed three Cabcharge…

ANTHONY ALBANESE:  No, that’s not right, David…

DAVID SPEERS:  That’s what he says in the court documents…

ANTHONY ALBANESE: …that’s not right…

DAVID SPEERS: … I’m reading from…

ANTHONY ALBANESE:  That’s not…

DAVID SPEERS: … them right now.

ANTHONY ALBANESE:  He clearly indicated the Cabcharge had been for one driver in Sydney. In terms of the documentation Mr Ashby alleged that he handed over blank Cabcharge dockets to this driver.

DAVID SPEERS:  That’s right. In a car that was – I’m reading from it now – was not obviously a taxi cab, which did not have a meter or any other form of charge device, did not display in any way obvious that it was a car for hire. He says he handed over three vouchers.

What Peter Slipper has produced last night are not Cabcharge vouchers. They are the drivers’ dockets from a Legion cab.

ANTHONY ALBANESE: No. The documents that the Department of Finance and Administration have produced and given to Mr Slipper after his request, clearly indicate, because they have a number on them in terms of showing that it’s a business, be it a taxi or a hire car, that they have been filled in, that you have in handwriting either city or suburbs or airport, some destination. You have in handwriting a figure for a dollar amount and a dollar amount and they’re signed.

That’s the documentation provided by the Department of Finance. The Department of Finance, in terms of having received this through the Cabcharge system – that is what they have released last night.

DAVID SPEERS: But the unusual thing about these dockets – which we should point out, are the driver’s dockets only used when the electronic system has failed. They’re called emergency dockets. They all come or most of them come from the same driver’s receipt book. The serial numbers are in sequential order, even though some of the trips are days, weeks apart.

Now, this would indicate that the electronic system only failed when Peter Slipper was in the car and these manual dockets had to be used.

ANTHONY ALBANESE:   No, David, let…

DAVID SPEERS:  Isn’t there something unusual about that?

ANTHONY ALBANESE:  Let’s be very clear here. The charge isn’t whether Peter Slipper or any other Member of Parliament is unusual. The charge here is that Peter Slipper engaged in fraudulent conduct and handed over blank Cabcharges. What has shown by this documentation provided by the Department of Finance is that that allegation is not correct. And if that allegation is not correct, then it does draw into question some of the other statements that have been made.

DAVID SPEERS: Well, again, James Ashby is talking about Cabcharge vouchers being handed over in a car that wasn’t a taxi. Peter Slipper has produced Cabcharge dockets…

ANTHONY ALBANESE: No, no. let’s be clear, David. Peter Slipper has not produced; the Department of Finance and Administration has produced. An important point. These aren’t things that have been dreamt up by Peter Slipper…

DAVID SPEERS:  Well, no, but he’s released them…

ANTHONY ALBANESE:  … these…

DAVID SPEERS:  … he’s released them…

ANTHONY ALBANESE: That’s right…

DAVID SPEERS: … and they are dockets from the driver…

ANTHONY ALBANESE:  That’s right.

DAVID SPEERS:  … that relate to a Legion cab…

ANTHONY ALBANESE:   And that is…

DAVID SPEERS: … they’re the manual driver’s dockets…

ANTHONY ALBANESE:  And that is the way, as you know, that Cabcharges used to operate, in terms of the driver would have a manual machine and that was the only system previously why it would occur.

Now, I don’t…

DAVID SPEERS:  When was the last time you used one of those machines? Because it’s pretty rare. Cabcharge, the company, says 99 per cent of the time their electronic system works. Only…

ANTHONY ALBANESE:   But…

DAVID SPEERS:  … one per cent therefore has it failed; and yet…

ANTHONY ALBANESE:  So what, David?

DAVID SPEERS:  … on all of these occasions…

ANTHONY ALBANESE:  So what, David?

DAVID SPEERS:  … it’s failed.

ANTHONY ALBANESE:  So what, David. So what? What is your point?

DAVID SPEERS:     There’s nothing unusual about that? There’s nothing…

ANTHONY ALBANESE: What…

DAVID SPEERS:  … you don’t see anything unusual about that?

ANTHONY ALBANESE:  The charge here is not that someone has been unusual and has been old fashioned and used an old fashioned system.  That is not what the allegation is, David. The allegation…

DAVID SPEERS:   Well, it’s a system therefore that is open to…

ANTHONY ALBANESE:  The allegation…

DAVID SPEERS:   … open to rorting far more than the electronic system would be.

ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well, that’s not the allegation either, David. The allegation is what…

DAVID SPEERS:  But what I’m asking you is if there’s something…

ANTHONY ALBANESE:   The allegation…

DAVID SPEERS:     … unusual about this?

ANTHONY ALBANESE:  The allegation…

DAVID SPEERS:  We’re talking about taxpayers’ funds here, Minister.

ANTHONY ALBANESE:  Absolutely. The allegation is very clear. I know what came out in terms of the Steve Lewis article just over a week ago. That’s what I know, and I know the allegations that were made because they were in that article.

What Tony Abbott’s got to ask is and I note today in the Financial Review the reports that Coalition members knew this were coming. What Tony Abbott has to answer…

DAVID SPEERS:  Let’s get back to what we’re talking about here, what we’re talking about here are the benefits that are now public…

ANTHONY ALBANESE: We’re not discussing… well what we’re talking about here is the specific charges from Mr Ashby. Now I don’t know the details of how those allegations came about. But there are reports today that Coalition members knew about it. Tony Abbott has been very careful in his language where he said he didn’t have specific knowledge of any allegations.

What I want to know is what did Coalition members know? Did they tell Tony Abbott about any detail? Did Coalition members know that this story was about to hit in The Daily Telegraph six days ago?

DAVID SPEERS: Okay. But getting back to what’s at hand here and the question to you is: is there something unusual about the use of these manual dockets so often by Peter Slipper with amounts that the industry says are twice as much as they should be, using taxpayers’ funds?

Does this concern you?

ANTHONY ALBANESE:  Well some people choose to use fax rather than emails still. That’s a matter that isn’t up to me to explain with due respect. What is the case is that there were specific allegations have been raised.

They’ve been responded to with the Department of Finance and Administration providing the documentation that was given to them.

So this is documentation as far back as January. Mr Slipper has released all of the documents for the period that were available and sent to him by the Department of Finance and Administration.

DAVID SPEERS: Okay, so put simply though…

ANTHONY ALBANESE: And they showed very clearly that the allegations that were made by Mr Ashby are not correct.

DAVID SPEERS:  So put simply the question is are you convinced Peter Slipper has used his taxpayer funded entitlements appropriately.

ANTHONY ALBANESE:  I am convinced that the specific allegations against him are not correct.

DAVID SPEERS: No, I’m asking you…

ANTHONY ALBANESE:  They are not correct. Well…

DAVID SPEERS:  … whether you’re convinced he’s used his entitlements appropriately.

ANTHONY ALBANESE:  David, do I know whether Tony Abbott or Peter Slipper or Christopher Pyne or anyone else has engaged in appropriate behaviour at all times? It’s not up to me to answer that, David, with due respect. That’s absurd.

DAVID SPEERS: But given the irregularities in the documents…

ANTHONY ALBANESE: That’s absurd. What irregularities?

DAVID SPEERS:  Well surely given the many, well the ones we’ve just pointed out.

ANTHONY ALBANESE:  The irregularities aren’t in the documents. What’s in the documents is that you have receipts that have been provided by the Department of Finance and Administration. Mr Slipper has made them transparent and available for all to see. They clearly refute the very specific allegations that were made.

DAVID SPEERS:  But surely if there is a suspicion that taxpayers’ funds are being misused by the Speaker of the House…

ANTHONY ALBANESE:   But upon what basis, David?

Upon what basis?

DAVID SPEERS:  Well the basis that the amounts being claimed here are way over twice as much as what a normal trip would cost.

ANTHONY ALBANESE:  David, when you get in a COMCAR…

DAVID SPEERS:  We’re talking about a Legion cab here Minister, a Legion cab…

ANTHONY ALBANESE:  No we’re not necessarily at all.

DAVID SPEERS:  Well that’s what all these receipts say, Legion Cabs.

ANTHONY ALBANESE:  Yes, but there are a range of sub-contracting issues with regard to issues of cabs and hire cars. I wasn’t in the cab or the hire car. I can’t give details of that with due respect. All I can do is comment on the specifics. I do know that hire cars are expensive, I do know that COMCARs cost you $80 if I wanted to go from the Commonwealth Parliamentary Offices that are 100 metres down the road to the Sky News studio. The fare would be $80 if I were to get a COMCAR.

DAVID SPEERS:  All right, well if Peter Slipper now feels he can return to the Speakers’ chair, will you support him in that?

ANTHONY ALBANESE:  Well I’m not going to get ahead of that.

Mr Slipper has said he’ll make a statement later on.  It’s up to him as the Speaker to determine whether he goes in the chair or not.

The position of Speakership is not beholden to the Leader of the House, or to the Government, or to the Prime Minister. It’s something that’s elected by the House of Representatives. He has been elected. He’s entitled to resume the chair when he sees fit. The House of Reps will then make a judgment on it.

But one of the things I do know from bitter experience – we had a situation with the Godwin Grech affair where there were a whole lot of people in the Gallery, including on Sky News, making all sorts of assertions on that Friday afternoon.

When it came out what the details were in terms of who knew what, and who’d been engaged in those exercises, then it had a very different outcome, a very different outcome to which people thought was going to occur prior to that difficult weekend.

And of course on the Monday morning there were assertions made whereby Prime Minister Rudd and Treasurer Wayne Swan’s positions were deemed to be in difficulty. We’ll wait and see what occurs…

DAVID SPEERS:  Okay, that’s a fair cop.

ANTHONY ALBANESE:  … we’ll wait and see what happens. I’ve seen journos get it wrong before. There are…

DAVID SPEERS:  No, that’s a fair cop, but I’m just asking you if there’s a no-confidence motion against Peter Slipper and he’s back in the chair, you won’t support it?

ANTHONY ALBANESE:  At this stage in terms of the information that’s available to the Government – there is one date that’s outstanding in terms of the allegation of criminal behaviour because those receipts weren’t available from the Department of Finance and Administration. But let’s be clear – these receipts have to have gone through the Cabcharge process. I’m not sure of all the detail of that. But clearly they go through and the originals end up with the Department of Finance and Administration for processing.

There’s one date that isn’t available yet due to the time lag that often occurs. One would assume that when that comes, that will be made available.

We’ll see whether that indicates that, just as with the other documents, they are as Mr Slipper said they would be in his handwriting.

DAVID SPEERS:  All right. So a qualification there, but nothing you’ve seen yet to disqualify him from sitting in the Speakers’ chair. I just want to ask… sorry, go ahead.

ANTHONY ALBANESE: Call me old-fashioned David, but I reckon people are actually entitled to a presumption of innocence. It’s also my view, notwithstanding Mr Abbott’s claims that things were known around Parliament without putting the detail on what was known around Parliament, this case in terms of the civil case, of course, goes back to 2003.

I note that that was when John Howard was in office. Allegedly reports were made to John Howard’s office.

Tony Abbott draws the distinction and says, that wasn’t court proceedings. Well civil court proceedings can begun by any individual against any one. I could go down and [indistinct] something in there before.

DAVID SPEERS: Well okay but I think with the 2000…

ANTHONY ALBANESE:  And Tony Nutt has said they’re not true.

DAVID SPEERS:  The 2003 case I should point out that the witness to that video felt it was a consensual relationship. This claim is of sexual harassment.

ANTHONY ALBANESE:  No, that is very much so, David, as you’d be aware, very much a part of the case in terms of…

DAVID SPEERS:  The affidavit.

ANTHONY ALBANESE: … the affidavit, and part of building up a case that says action should have been taken.

Tony Nutt has of course denied that.

Certainly people should look at the facts rather than jump…There’s a whole lot of rumours go around Parliament House about entitlements, about relationships.

DAVID SPEERS:  Well we’re trying to look at the facts, that’s all we’re trying to do.

ANTHONY ALBANESE: That’s right. But let’s not jump to conclusions.

DAVID SPEERS:  Let me just ask you. If Peter Slipper does not return to the Speakers’ chair, what happens with the Budget? Have you spoken to Andrew Wilkie in particular who’s no longer guaranteeing supply and confidence to the Government?

ANTHONY ALBANESE:  Of course I’ve spoken to a range of the cross-benchers which I tend to do.

I also discussed issues with Andrew Wilkie, as I do.  I don’t discuss the private conversations I have with independents or cross-benchers, but certainly Mr Wilkie’s position has been that he’s inclined to support Budget bills and supply to the Government.

I note that again, this morning, he reaffirmed his view that the Government should serve a full term.

DAVID SPEERS:  All right. Leader of the House Anthony Albanese, thank you.

ANTHONY ALBANESE:  Thanks very much David.