Transcript of Lateline – Tony Jones talks to Attorney-General Philip Ruddock and Labor’s Anthony Albanese
Australian Broadcasting Corporation
Reporter: Tony Jones
Federal Attorney-General Phillip Ruddock and Labor’s manager of business, Anthony Albanese, discuss the fake leaflet distributed by Liberal Party members in Lindsay, as well as the Prime Minister’s speech.
TONY JONES: If you wanted some idea of who will win on Saturday, don’t look to today’s polls. The galaxy poll says Labor is ahead by four points With the ALP on 52 per cent of the two-party preferred, and the Coalition on 48. In contrast, The AC Nielson shows Labor ahead by a whopping 14 points.
If the Nielson poll is right, we’ll probably have a result by early in the evening, but if Galaxy is on the money, we could be waiting all night.
To discuss the polls, the actual votes cast by the country’s newspaper editors and the Lindsay campaign overboard scandal that’s dominating the final days of the campaign, we’re joined now by the federal Attorney-General, Philip Ruddock, and Labor’s manager of Opposition business, Anthony Albanese.
Thanks to both of you for being there.
Anthony Albanese, let’s start with the scandal and John Howard’s proposition that the sins of the husband should not be visited on the wife. It’s as simple as that, isn’t it? If the candidate did not know that her husband was mail boxing or doing anything wrong, she’s in the clear?
ANTHONY ALBANESE, LABOR SPOKESMAN: Look, there remains a number of outstanding questions about this scandal. Who paid for it? Who was responsible for the distribution? We know that this was a very well organised operation, indeed a military style operation being conducted in the streets of Lindsay two nights ago, and we need to know who was giving introductions to the foot soldiers.
TONY JONES: There’s been a counter-argument that Labor’s operation was somewhat military in style, as well. How did you get, or how did Labor get a tip-off about what was going on in that seat and who from?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well, a member of the Liberal Party contacted the assistant general secretary of the New South Wales’ ALP, Luke Foley, and informed him about what was about to occur, about the fact that they were being organised from Jackie Kelly’s home and the nature of the material. So the Labor Party members, of course, observed these occurrences.
And that, of course, blows away the argument from Jackie Kelly, who was trying to argue this morning that this was just a prank and a spontaneous act organised over a few beers. It’s very clear that this was a calculated decision designed to mislead voters in a dishonest way, just days before they cast their vote.
TONY JONES: Just so that we understand completely what you’re alleging, are you saying the knowledge of this went further up the chain of the Liberal Party? Because that’s been denied by the federal campaign, by the state headquarters and by just about anyone who’s been asked?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well, we know that Jeff Egan was not a rank and filer. Jeff Egan is a member of the key seats committee of the NSW branch. That’s effectively the state campaign committee. As I understand it from a Liberal Party source this evening, that only has seven or eight people including, at the last election, Peter Debnam on it. We know he’s the chair of the party’s local government committee. He’s responsible for coordinating the local government activity of the Liberal Party right across this state. He’s a member of the state executive and I’ve spoken to Liberal Party members who are casting doubt on whether, in fact, these people have been expelled or not. Because there hasn’t been a member of the state executive.
Clearly the Liberal Party is trying to slide through past Saturday’s election, but when the state executive meets, of course to consider this, Jeff Egan, who’s a part of the majority group, the right wing group that now controlled the NSW branch, could well just re-admit or refuse to take action against these people.
TONY JONES: Let me put that straight away to Philip Ruddock, has Jeff Egan been expelled or not?
PHILIP RUDDOCK, ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Well, I don’t know who’s been expelled. What I know is –
TONY JONES: Why not?
PHILIP RUDDOCK: I’m told by the state director three people have been expelled. Look, these issues –
TONY JONES: What, he didn’t tell you which of your members have been expelled? Because it’s widely been reported that Jeff Egan, a member of the state executive has been expelled.
PHILIP RUDDOCK: The point I would make –
TONY JONES: But you don’t know, is that what you’re saying?
PHILIP RUDDOCK: I don’t know, that’s what I did say.
TONY JONES: How come?
PHILIP RUDDOCK: Because I didn’t ask and I wasn’t told.
TONY JONES: Is that a "don’t ask, don’t tell" policy?
PHILIP RUDDOCK: No, it’s a question in my view – and this is the point that should be made – that the Labor Party and the Liberal Party have both taken the step of referring this matter to the NSW electoral officer with a view to ensuring that if there are any offences at all, those matters are pursued and investigated. My view is that these are very serious allegations. They should be investigated but as with any allegation, the investigation should be allowed to take its course and shouldn’t be compromised by me or others commenting on it.
TONY JONES: Before his reported expulsion, Jeff Egan was a member of the Liberal Party state executive. What sort of man is he? How senior is he in the state branch as far as you know?
PHILIP RUDDOCK: We have quite a large executive with a large number of members and he is reported to be a member of the executive. I haven’t served on the executive for a long period.
TONY JONES: Don’t know him, never heard of him?
PHILIP RUDDOCK: I’ve heard of him and I’ve probably met him, but he’s not a close associate.
TONY JONES: Is he, as reported, a right-wing power-breaker in the NSW party, is he, as reported, a former adviser to Helen Coonan?
PHILIP RUDDOCK: I mean, I take it that if it’s so reported, those who suggest it’s true can vouch for it. I can’t. The point I would make is that this conduct was totally unacceptable. The Prime Minister was involved to the extent that once he became aware of it, he said that firm action had to be taken. Those believed to be accountable, they should be dealt with. They were. It was a matter that occurred very quickly.
TONY JONES: Ruddock, I have to bring you up again on this. I mean, you’re talking about firm action against anonymous people because you apparently don’t know who’s been expelled from the party?
PHILIP RUDDOCK: I think the point that I am making is that there are certain allegations, they’re going to be the subject of investigation. The party made its own inquiries and has taken firm action against those it believed were involved.
I’m not in a position to prosecute the matter. I don’t know. I see the reports, I know what’s written in those reports. But look, from my point of view this is a distraction. It’s a distraction that the Labor Party wants at this point in time, a crucial point in time in a campaign. Expulsions from political parties are not new matters in relation to people who misbehave in relation to electoral matters and other matters. The Labor Party’s had a number of expulsions, some of which took a long time to be dealt with. In my view, this is a matter that the Labor Party want to see pursued and pushed very strongly, because they didn’t want scrutiny in relation to the charter of budget honesty and the Labor Party’s failure to present 123 of its policy for costing when required.
TONY JONES: Anthony Albanese, do you know for sure that the Federal Police already investigating this scandal?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well, we have asked the Australian Electoral Commission to consider referring this matter to both the Federal Police and to the NSW police. It would appear to be a pretty clear case of fraudulent behaviour. I mean, this pamphlet when people look at it, wasn’t something that was just cooked up over a cup of tea. This had ALP logos in both the bottom corners. It had photographs, it had flags. It had very carefully worded material designed to play, to push leaflet, if you like.
We know that the Liberal Party in the past has been engaged in push polling, where they ring up trying to turn people off voting for the Labor Party. This was the next step of the sort of right-wing American tactics that we’ve seen imported into this election campaign of turning that propaganda into leaflets. And it just beggars belief. I mean we had Andrew Robb on here last night saying, "Oh, we’ve taken strong action, two people have been expelled but I don’t know who they are," and 24 hours later, Philip Ruddock the Attorney-General, the senior legal officer of the land here representing the Liberal Party says he doesn’t know either. I mean, it’s pretty clear that the Liberal Party doesn’t want scrutiny on this issue. It wants it to slide through past Saturday, because quite simply they’ve lost control. The mainstream of the Liberal Party have lost control of the NSW branch.
TONY JONES: Philip Ruddock, do you know whether Federal Police will be investigating this matter?
PHILIP RUDDOCK: Well, I understand the Electoral Commissioner has said they will be. That’s the report I’ve heard.
TONY JONES: And will that happen before, will that investigation by the Federal Police begin before the election? In other words immediately, or will it wait till after the election has already taken place?
PHILIP RUDDOCK: Nobody gives direction to the Australian Federal Police as to the way in which they should conduct an investigation and I certainly wouldn’t. But the point I do make is that in relation to these questions, and I regard them as very serious questions, I don’t dispute the point about the potential for offences to have been committed.
TONY JONES: Because Andrew Robb, your campaign spokesman, last night referred to these as "misdemeanours". Putting on your Attorney-General’s hat, tell us what the potential offences and penalties are?
PHILIP RUDDOCK: I don’t know the penalties but I do know there are offences for not properly authorising material that you seek to distribute. And in relation to those matters, if the Electoral Commissioner believes there should be an investigation, it would proceed. And there would be no political interference in relation to that. But the point I do make is that there shouldn’t be a rush to judgment, either. I mean, people are entitled to a presumption of innocence in relation to any matter that is involving potential criminal offences. And these matters ought to be dealt with properly and in accordance with law. And that’s the point that I would make in relation to the way in which this matter is being debated and discussed.
TONY JONES: Let me ask you this, can you and the party guarantee that your candidate in Lindsay is completely in the clear of any of these allegations? Because up until now she’s said nothing?
PHILIP RUDDOCK: Well, my understanding is that her husband has said she was not involved and knew nothing of it and added in relation to that, that she was very angry when she found out about it, she didn’t believe that those implementations should be made.
TONY JONES: She hasn’t been spoken to by the Federal Police, if they’re going to investigate this the matter they will be speaking to her, won’t they?
PHILIP RUDDOCK: They make the decisions as to what inquiries should be made if they come to a view that it should be investigated.
TONY JONES: Let me go back to Jeff Egan. The pen portrait, trusted senior party official, one time adviser to Helen Coonan, powerbroker of the dominant right wing faction in the party. We just heard Anthony Albanese say the right wing faction in the NSW party is out of control. What do you say?
PHILIP RUDDOCK: Well, I say that people belong to political parties and they coalesce on a range of issues and they form views. People characterise them in different ways. In my view, factions are quite unhelpful. I’m often characterised as being part of a faction. I don’t like it. It doesn’t reflect the way in which I think and I don’t comment on others.
TONY JONES: Are you suggesting that the factions here have been part of the problem?
PHILIP RUDDOCK: No, I’m saying that I don’t think there is a role in a major political party for people to do other than to consider issues on their merits and to come to a view on those matters. And that’s the way in which I’ve behaved.
TONY JONES: Are you worried that the right-wing faction now dominates the NSW branch of the party?
PHILIP RUDDOCK: No, I am concerned always –
TONY JONES: And the implications for that?
PHILIP RUDDOCK: I am concerned always we should have a broadly-based party with broadly-based views that enable anyone to be able to participate fully within the party organisation and that’s something I’ll continue to push.
TONY JONES: Anthony Albanese, you made another big allegation this morning on this matter. You said, "We know that these are the sorts of tactics that are being played out across the country". Do you have any evidence that these kind of things such as we’ve seen in Lindsay are happening in other places?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well, this is certainly an extreme example. But there are reports of other material being unauthorised, unauthorised material being delivered in places such as Wentworth, for example. Some three weeks ago there was a leaflet, the Exclusive Brethren denied involvement with it, but it certainly was an anonymous leaflet dropped on that electorate.
And certainly we’ve had reports today, the phones have been ringing hot, I must say at Labor Party campaign offices about material in South Australia in particular. But we’re very concerned that we have here a pattern of behaviour. And of course, the seat next door, Greenway at the last election just in the two nights previous to the ballots being cast there was a leaflet put and distributed anonymously, particularly targeting the Labor working-class areas, attacking the Labor candidate for Greenway in a surreptitious way purporting to be from the Labor Party, but trying to be a form of push leafleting.
TONY JONES: You have no actual evidence in this campaign of Liberal Party or Liberal Party members being directly involved in something similar to what’s happening in Lindsay?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: This is the most extreme example that I’ve seen in my time in politics where you have such senior members of the Liberal Party being involved. We know there were at least five people who were photographed. The Liberal Party are now saying that three people have been expelled. But they won’t say who they are. That leaves explanations about the other two.
And we still haven’t heard any response about what the involvement was of potentially – of electorate officers in the production of this material and exactly who paid for this material and Jeff Egan, the senior member of the state executive, was quoted in today’s Daily Telegraph when asked, "Was this authorised, the material?"
He said, "Yes".
PHILIP RUDDOCK: Can I just say in relation to this, this is a prosecution that is being pursued of individuals. My view very clearly is –
TONY JONES: We ought to note here, and I’m going to vote it for the record that Jeff Egan has publicly denied that he had any involvement in distributing unauthorised material.
PHILIP RUDDOCK: I just simply make the point that when you take this matter to the relevant authorities with a view to having it investigated, expecting that there may be an investigation by the Australian Federal Police, then those inquiries ought to be allowed to take their course. The Prime Minister made it very clear that this is unacceptable –
TONY JONES: Even if it results in a tainted result in a critical marginal seat in a federal election?
PHILIP RUDDOCK: The point that the Prime Minister has made is that this was totally unacceptable and he has disassociated himself from any of the views that have been expressed, that were linked to the Labor Party and he took very firm action in relation to that matter. There have been other examples, but there have been examples, of course, that have involved the Labor Party.
We saw only recently a situation in which there was a pamphlet that the Leader of the Opposition had to act to have withdrawn that had been produced in the seat of Wakefield in South Australia, involving a characterisation of the Liberal candidate. I don’t think these ought to be the issues of the campaign. We are at that point in the campaign in my view, where there ought to be a focus on who is best able to govern Australia. In relation to the –
TONY JONES: We know why that isn’t the case, because of this allegation. The latest polls may be inconclusive, but your confidence must have been a little shaken by the fact that the largest tabloid in Sydney, the Daily Telegraph and The Australian and the Sydney Morning Herald, rather uniquely, have come out in favour of Labor.
PHILIP RUDDOCK: Well, editors are entitled to form a view and people who read them may or may not be influenced by them. I don’t know that editorial, however they’ve been written in past elections, have really influenced people. My view is that people will make their own judgment on the basis of the campaign and on the basis of the record of the Government and there is a substantial record on which they can judge our performance.
The Labor Party claim now to be fiscal conservatives, but when it comes to putting in place their documents, their policy documents for proper costing, they’ve left 123 of them until the last minute when they know they can’t be costed. That doesn’t suggest a approach which a fiscally conservative team would be taking.
TONY JONES: Anthony Albanese, I’m going to stick with the newspapers, because we’re nearly out of time. You’re a Sydneysider, how big a bonus do you regard it as having the biggest tabloid in Sydney, the Daily Telegraph, come out in favour of the Labor Party for this election, basically cast a vote for Labor. Also the Sydney Morning Herald, a very rare event and The Australian?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well, I think what that reflects is the fact that it’s only been Kevin Rudd and Labor that have been putting forward a positive agenda during the six-week campaign. A positive agenda on education, climate change, infrastructure, water – all these issues have been advanced at the same time as the Government has been more and more desperate.
TONY JONES: It reflects the opinions of the editors, with respect. I’m simply asking you, do you think there’s any political effect out of this?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Look, I think people by and large do make up their own mind, but certainly it adds to the voices out there saying that it is time for new leadership. It is time for a change of government and this government that has got more and more desperate as it’s got closer to polling day, and the Lindsay debacle reflects that desperation. I think it is out of touch and it’s out of ideas and frankly, I think it’s out of time.
TONY JONES: And indeed we are out of time for this discussion, I’m sorry to say. That’s where we’ll have to leave the both of you.
Anthony Albanese, Philip Ruddock, thanks to both of you for joining us.
PHILIP RUDDOCK: Thank you very much.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Good to be with you.
Leader of the Australian Labor Party, MP for Grayndler, Rabbitohs Life Member. Authorised by Anthony Albanese, ALP, Canberra.