SUBJECT: Angus Taylor; Westpac; Ensuring Integrity Bill.
KIERAN GILBERT, HOST: Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese. He joins me now. Mr Albanese thanks so much for your time. Malcolm Turnbull is criticising Scott Morrison for making the call to the Police Commissioner. But, if we look at recent precedence of similar scenarios, I guess, Jackie Trad, the Queensland Deputy Premier, she phoned the head of the corruption watchdog in Queensland just hours before referring herself to that very organisation. She said it was a matter of courtesy. Why shouldn’t political leaders like Jackie Trad and like the Prime Minister make that sort of call?
ANTHONY ALBANESE, LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY: Well, look the concern here is, Kieran, that when the Prime Minister said in Parliament yesterday that he was going to bring or speak to New South Wales Police. The context of that was him questioning whether there was actually an investigation that he didn’t seem to be aware of, and indeed, quite clearly wasn’t aware of, as question time began. What he did yesterday afternoon was to go into the Parliament and talk about his discussion with the Police Commissioner as being more detailed than just whether an investigation was taking place. Because he made a judgment as a result of that that Angus Taylor should not stand aside. That is extraordinary behaviour from a Prime Minister that avoids scrutiny from the media, avoids scrutiny at each and every opportunity indeed, just get angry and will talk about, ‘Oh, it’s just in the bubble’ or some other euphemism in order to duck accountability. Well, the fact is that these circumstances behind Angus Taylor’s third scandal mean that he should step aside if the Ministerial Code of Conduct, under Section 7.1, means anything else.
GILBERT: But, is he being held to a higher standard than Julia Gillard was under investigation over the fraud claims, Bill Shorten was under investigation at one point, and he didn’t reveal that until after it had wrapped up, neither of them stood down from their respective positions.
ALBANESE: Kieran, this is a police Strike Force that has been established into the three serious potential breaches; two of which carry 10 years in jail. We have circumstances whereby the minister has refused to say where this document actually came from, because what he has continued to argue, and indeed, in the statement he tabled on Monday in the Parliament continued to put the point that this came from the City of Sydney website. We know that that’s not true. You cannot just make things up and survive as a minister. There has to be some semblance of accountability here. The fact is that we had circumstances whereby a correspondence from Angus Taylor, on his letterhead, with his signature, with information that was simply wrong, simply made up, $15 million in travel, $14 million from domestic travel from the Sydney city councillors in order to have a cheap shot at the Lord Mayor of Sydney was given to the Daily Telegraph. When he got pinged for it, because it simply wasn’t true at all, he said that it was downloaded from the website. The metadata from City of Sydney that they release shows that that isn’t the case. And he has released information late on a Friday afternoon in order to try and bury this. And he continues to stonewall. He has misled Parliament in saying that it came from the city Sydney Website.
GILBERT: But on stonewalling, isn’t your position weakened by the fact that there are, I can go through the examples, what about the 21 red shirts MPs, six of them ministers, under investigation. None of them stood down in Victoria. Isn’t Labor’s attack diminished by the fact that there are other Labor examples?
ALBANESE: Which ones of those mislead the Parliament, Kieran? Which ones of those misled Parliament?
GILBERT: But we are talking about significant breaches, potential breaches, all under investigation.
ALBANESE: We are talking about deliberate misleading of Parliament by a Cabinet Minister. We’re talking about documents being produced that weren’t true. We’re talking about a minister who’s failed to provide any answers to that. We’re talking now about a Prime Minister’s judgment in ringing a Police Commissioner not about the national interest, but about something that is of his own personal interest in defending this scandal-prone minister. These are extraordinary circumstances and if you want to talk about precedence, Kieran, have a look at what Malcolm Turnbull did in standing down Arthur Sinodinos, who stepped aside, when you look at Mal Brough, who stepped aside. You look at Sussan Ley, who stepped aside. A whole range of ministers going back forever have stepped aside. This is the Prime Minister’s code of conduct. Section 7.1 is very clear. How can this bloke do his job, Kieran? This bloke is the Minister of Emissions Reductions where emissions are rising. The Minister of Energy when they don’t have an energy policy. He wasn’t doing his job beforehand. He is distracted by this. These are very serious allegations. You have a Strike Force established by New South Wales Police.
GILBERT: But you’re saying he has misled the Parliament? The allegation is that you are saying he has misled the Parliament?
ALBANESE: Absolutely I am.
GILBERT: But we don’t know definitively, do we yet? We have got to surely wait the investigation.
ALBANESE: Yes we do, Kieran. We know that he misled Parliament because we know that he said that it was downloaded from the City of Sydney website. They provided the metadata that shows that information was never on the website. Never. We know that that’s a fact.
GILBERT: Okay, well, we’ll wait to see what the investigation comes up with, that Strike Force. But obviously, the Prime Minister thinks it is going to not eventuate in terms of implicating Mr Taylor. I need to ask you about other issues before you go.
ALBANESE: Well, on what basis does the Prime Minister make that assertion after a discussion with the Police Commissioner? If he is making the assertion on the basis of that discussion, that is entirely inappropriate. Entirely inappropriate for that to have occurred.
GILBERT: The Ensuring Integrity Commission Bill is in the Senate today. Now, I know that there were initial concerns, and probably well founded in the way it was initially drafted, but with the strengthening of it by Centre Alliance and One Nation, now, this demerit system for the unions can only be applicable if it’s, you know, side by side or confirmed by a conviction in the court. This seems a much greater gravity of offence now for deregistering an official or a union. Why wouldn’t Labor accept that in terms of governance of the labour movement?
ALBANESE: Bit different attitude towards the banks, isn’t it? 23 million breaches by Westpac. ‘Nothing to see here. It’s a matter for the board. It’s a matter for the CEO. It’s a matter for them.’ What they want to do is to have the capacity to attack the trade union movement. That’s what they’re about, this Government. We had, of course, the raids that occurred on the AWU, at massive costs, came to nothing and got thrown out by the courts. We have a Government that’s obsessed with attacking unions. That’s what this is about. It’s not about integrity. This Government, if it wants to talk about integrity, they have got a minister sitting on their front bench who won’t step aside while there’s this police Strike Force undertaking its investigation and thinks that he can just continue as business as usual. This is not a Government that’s about integrity. It’s not a Prime Minister who’s accountable. And if you want to do an interview, ask Angus Taylor onto the show, and what you’ll get from his office is, ‘oh, are you going to ask any questions about the investigation? Because if you are, he won’t come on. He won’t come on.’ That’s how accountable this bloke is. And the Prime Minister just says, when asked questions by the media about invitations to the White House, ‘That’s all just gossip’. He won’t answer questions. This is a Government that thinks it’s above scrutiny, it’s above the media, and it’s above everything. Well, it’s not above the long arm of the law that yesterday announced this inquiry.
GILBERT: Okay. Now finally, I know you have to go but you make the comparison with Westpac. But Westpac, we’ve seen three heads roll, senior officials gone in a week. What about the CFMEU? They’ve faced significant allegations and convictions at times. But what about the CFMEU officials, do they remain in place?
ALBANESE: Did the Government do that? Did the Government do that? Did legislation do that, Kieran?
GILBERT: No, but the point is here, you’re making the parallel here to the CFMEU and unions. Their officials remain there.
ALBANESE: The point is Westpac made those decisions. Decisions that are appropriate such as the decision of who belongs to the Labor Party, I made a decision on John Setka that he wasn’t appropriate to remain a member of the Labor Party because his values didn’t reflect Labor’s values. Unions are democratic organisations that make their own decisions through their members, through democratic processes, just like Westpac made their decisions through shareholders electing a board that then makes decisions about its employees. There is not a parallel here in terms of this legislation. It provides very different rules for unions than that are provided for by corporate Australia. And that’s the point here, this Government whenever it gets a chance to attack unions, it does so. This is a time where wages are not keeping up with the cost of living. And if you remove unions, if you remove unions, which are what this legislation is about, eliminating unions from work sites, if you took the construction union of work sites, what you would see is more industrial accidents, including fatalities. You would see more wage theft. You would see more replacement of Australian workers, with foreign workers being exploited. You’d see all of that occur. This Government does not accept that unions have a legitimate role to play in a civil society and without unions, if the weren’t there, we wouldn’t have the sort of conditions that you enjoy as a result of the struggles of workers and unions over a long period of time. That’s why we have holiday leave. That’s why we have superannuation. That’s why we have sick leave. That’s why we have a limit to the hours that people work. This Government is just obsessed with attacking the very right of trade unions to exist. And I think that it stands in stark contrast to their attitude towards corporate Australia.
GILBERT: Anthony Albanese, I appreciate your time. Thanks so much.
ALBANESE: Thanks very much.
Leader of the Australian Labor Party, MP for Grayndler, Rabbitohs Life Member. Authorised by Anthony Albanese, ALP, Canberra.