SUBJECT: Scott Morrison’s phone call to US President Donald Trump.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: In 2016 Australia’s High Commissioner to the UK at the time Alexander Downer alerted US authorities about a conversation he’d had with Trump campaign staffer George Papadopoulos who told him Russia had dirt on Hillary Clinton. That revelation sparked the Mueller probe and the rest is history. The call from President Trump came just weeks before Scott Morrison was feted with a state dinner in Washington. But the Prime Minister denies there’s been anything inappropriate or that simply nothing happened here.
SCOTT MORRISON: All that simply happened here, was the US Attorney is undertaking an official investigation and Australia had already stated in May that we would cooperate with such an investigation.
KARVELAS: That is Scott Morrison the Prime Minister. Well, Anthony Albanese is the Federal Opposition Leader and Anthony Albanese joins me tonight. Welcome to the program.
ANTHONY ALBANESE, LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY: Thanks for having me on again, Patricia.
KARVELAS: The Prime Minister says this was a brief phone call, there was no pressure, simply a request to follow through on an offer Australia had actually already made. Do you accept his explanation?
ALBANESE: Well I think there are more questions to be answered here. The US President rings directly the Australian Prime Minister asking for assistance with an internal investigation that was taking place, the Mueller investigation – it’s not really business as usual. And the Prime Minister has also said that he left it to the bureaucrats to deal with this issue. The problem there is that he had directly involved himself in discussing these matters with the President of the United States.
KARVELAS: Labor has linked the requests President Trump made of Scott Morrison with the state dinner he received in Washington. But the trip had already been planned, do you have any evidence of the two things being linked, given the timing of the Joe Hockey letter and the state visit and the call?
ALBANESE: Well what I’d say to you is that it is extraordinary that the Prime Minister involved himself in what became a de facto campaign rally for the re-election of Donald Trump, at that meeting in Ohio. He used words including making jobs great again, an obvious play on President Trump’s campaign slogan last time round; the slogan that he appears to be continuing to promote. Anyone who looks at the footage of that Ohio campaign rally, which is really what it looks like, will I think see that it’s not business as usual it’s something that former prime ministers including Gillard, Rudd and Howard, certainly didn’t do.
KARVELAS: Scott Morrison says Australia is not subject to this investigation or a party to it. So there was no reason to refuse to help. Do you think the PM should have refused the request?
ALBANESE: Look it’s not clear exactly what the context is here, even after the Prime Minister’s attempt to clean up this issue he hasn’t yet released the transcripts of the conversation. The Prime Minister certainly in terms of his engagement in the United States was not business as usual. I think the concern here is that Prime Minister Morrison once again has been loose with the facts when the question about Pastor Houston’s alleged invite to the state dinner has been raised with him today, he again didn’t give a straight answer. He didn’t simply say whether he was invited or not. And that report remains outstanding that the US itself essentially rejected that invitation. The report was that it had been, the invitation request, was on the basis of a request from the Prime Minister.
KARVELAS: Sure but that’s another issue, back on the substantive issue.
ALBANESE: Well this comes down to the same issue with the Prime Minister though. Which is that when he gets difficult questions, whether it’s about the phone call with the President of the United States, whether it be about the invite of Pastor Houston to the state dinner, whether it be the mention of Shanghai Sam, whether it be a range of issues – he dismissed it and he won’t give straight answers which is becoming characteristic of Prime Minister Morrison since his re-election, which is one of arrogance and stupor.
KARVELAS: If you had been Prime Minister and you’d received this call, would you have refused the president’s request?
ALBANESE: Well, I didn’t receive the call.
KARVELAS: I’m not taking the Prime Minister’s response.
ALBANESE: Absolutely, because it is important that he be held to account.
KARVELAS: What would you have done?
ALBANESE: Well I’m not going to answer hypotheticals. I’m running for Prime Minister as Leader of the Opposition. So it is important; part of what I have to do is to hold the Prime Minister to account for his own actions, and to make sure that he can continue this response which is becoming a pattern of not giving all the facts and not being accountable.
KARVELAS: But you can’t say you wouldn’t have done the same thing.
ALBANESE: Well it didn’t happen. I mean what would you have said, were you …
KARVELAS: I’m not running for Prime Minister.
ALBANESE: And I’m not the Prime Minister, either. So, the fact is that hypothetical questions like that, what i’ve been determined to do, as the Leader of the Opposition, is not pretend that I’m the Prime Minister and to ensure that the Government is held to account, and that is what is important here, these revelations have been quite extraordinary. They weren’t volunteered by the Prime Minister, this came out because of a major story published in The New York Times which is a major international story in global media. Not because the Prime Minister volunteered any of this information.
KARVELAS: Would you be comfortable were the transcripts released of this conversation, and what precedent does that set?
ALBANESE: The fact is that the President of the United States has released previous transcripts as we know and …
KARVELAS: Well the Ukrainian story is one, and the one conversation with Malcolm Turnbull was actually leaked.
ALBANESE: This is a controversial issue rising out of a phone conversation between the US President and the Australian Prime Minister, where the US President has made a phone call directly to the Australian Prime Minister about an investigation that goes very much to the heart of what are issues of US internal politics.
KARVELAS: Can we take or can you take the Prime Minister at his word if he says that no pressure was exerted by the President and that Australia’s national interest will not be compromised?
ALBANESE: The fact is that people will make their own judgments on this. I’m not aware of all of the facts because the Prime Minister hasn’t seen fit to put all of the facts out there in the public arena.
KARVELAS: Do you want him to ask Donald Trump or the White House to officially release the conversation, should he get authorisation and aim to do that? Is that what you want him to do?
ALBANESE: I think that would be a common sense solution if the Prime Minister really wants to be transparent about these issues.
KARVELAS: You’re familiar with Alexander Downer’s meeting with George Papadopoulos and his decision to pass on the details of that conversation, specifically the claim that the Russians had dirt on Hillary Clinton. Do you think Alexander Downer has questions to answer?
ALBANESE: I’m also not aware of all that, but the context here of course; it’s not up to me to defend Alexander Downer’s actions. But it would be in the normal course of action that an Australian ambassador or in this case High Commissioner, would have discussions with a range of people about international relations. And given that it had a direct impact on the United States, our most important ally, it’s not surprising that that was passed on.
KARVELAS: The Prime Minister says it would be very uncommon for us, for Australia, to provide the diplomatic cables from Alexander Downer, but he hasn’t ruled it out. But he does say it’s very uncommon suggesting that Australia has no intention to do this. But there’s been no request. Should it be completely ruled out?
ALBANESE: Well it certainly is uncommon for Australia to pass on diplomatic cables. But I of course am not privy to what is in those cables that would be a matter of making a judgment as you do whether there are any national security considerations which need to be borne in mind.
KARVELAS: So in your view now the Prime Minister has addressed this in an interview on Sky News. Are you satisfied that he’s addressed some of your concerns that you’ve been raising now?
ALBANESE: I’m not satisfied that he’s addressed all of the concerns at all, which is why he chose to do a single interview with a single journalist and why he hasn’t fronted up to a media conference which is unusual for the Prime Minister given the amount of interest there is here. And of course in that interview, as I’ve said, he refused to go to the issue of the invitations to the US state dinner and continued to dismiss that. And that is the pattern of this Prime Minister. It’s a pattern in which when asked questions he speaks about the Canberra bubble. He says it’s just gossip. Well the fact is that I think Australians are entitled to know what the circumstances are about that issue as well.
KARVELAS: I’ve already asked you this, I know you have to move on. I know you’re doing your own drought tour and looking around the country but he quite clearly has not ruled out releasing these diplomatic cables to the US inquiry even though he says it’s unusual or uncommon. Do you think he should categorically rule it out?
ALBANESE: No. I think that is a matter of whether there are national security issues around those cables. So I’m not in a position to answer that and therefore it is a matter which only he and the respective Secretary of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Frances Adamson, I would have thought that her advice on this would be relevant.
KARVELAS: Just finally, do you have any sympathy for the Prime Minister’s position. He’s dealing with Donald Trump as President who everyone knows can be very difficult to deal with. Don’t you have any sympathy for the way that he’s handling this?
ALBANESE: Well he doesn’t seem to have been uncomfortable with the relationship up to this point in time.
Leader of the Australian Labor Party, MP for Grayndler, Rabbitohs Life Member. Authorised by Anthony Albanese, ALP, Canberra.