Subjects: Mal Brough, Bill Shorten
PETER VAN ONSELEN: Welcome back to the program. I’m joined now live from Canberra by as promised, the Shadow Infrastructure Minister, Anthony Albanese, former Deputy Prime Minister. Thanks for your company.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Good to be with you, Peter.
VAN ONSELEN: Did Mal Brough mislead the Parliament?
ALBANESE: He certainly did. He did yesterday and he did again today with his non-apology. You know what I thought of when I saw (I happened to be in the Parliament when he came in and did his rather pathetic non-apology) – I thought of the Bronwyn Bishop press conference on the Saturday over Choppergate where she basically was in a hole, she kept digging and it got worse and worse. Well, Mal Brough is in a hole. He should stop digging and he should resign.
VAN ONSELEN: I’m on the record as saying that I thought that he should step aside particularly given the position of Special Minister of State, that’s really what gets me here, police investigation underway or not.
ALBANESE: It’s extraordinary.
VAN ONSELEN: But I don’t think he misled the Parliament, technically speaking. I think he’s being cute about it, but he did simply say that that wasn’t the full interview, and it wasn’t the full interview. It just so happens that the material difference is neither here nor there.
ALBANESE: No. Let’s be very clear, Peter. What he did yesterday was attempt to verbal 60 minutes and Channel 9. He suggested that there could have been other ways in which the question was interpreted. That there was some preamble, that Channel 9 had cut the coverage in a way to make it appear that his very clear answer – “Yes, I did” – was about something other than procuring Peter Slipper’s diary. Now, what is very clear from the footage is that the only thing that was missing from the shot that went on the 60 Minutes program was an “ah” and an “um”. There was no ambiguity in the question. It was crystal clear and it’s crystal clear that Mal Brough should resign. This is a guy who has dissembled the whole way through the Ashbygate affair. This is a guy who, when Sam Maiden raised with him, in the Sunday Telegraph, whether he had any involvement with Ashby and over getting lawyers and those issues, and he said “No it’s got nothing to do with me.” Then he had to do a press conference and say that in fact he did assist in terms of getting that legal assistance for James Ashby. The whole way through, Mal Brough’s stories have changed.
VAN ONSELEN: But how do we explain James Ashby on radio, just yesterday I think it was, saying, and this doesn’t do Wyatt Roy much good, don’t get me wrong, but he basically said it wasn’t Mal Brough who asked me to do these things and then he threw Wyatt Roy under the bus.
ALBANESE: Well, he certainly did throw Wyatt Roy under the bus in order to protect Mal Brough. But we know firsthand about Mal Brough’s meetings with Clive Palmer and what he asked for. We know firsthand of Mal Brough down the barrel of a camera just like I am talking to you here, except it was a face to face interview of course with Liz Hayes of 60 Minutes, that he clearly confirmed: “Yes I did’’. What’s more, in the follow up questions he went to justify why he did that. But of course there‘s a problem which is that it is a breach of the law, just like Mal Brough wrote to Malcom Turnbull and said that there were no issues with regard to ongoing investigations. We know that the AFP had essentially a raid on his house with a subpoena that outlined very clearly what the potential breaches of the law are in terms of these issues. This goes to Malcolm Turnbull’s judgement. How is it that you could appoint Mal Brough to, of all positions, Special Minister of State, that administers the Member of Parliament Staff Act, that oversees the way that parliamentary offices are run and here we have, over the whole Ashbygate issue, an issue whereby clearly, Peter Slipper’s diaries were obtained in a completely unauthorised way. With the exchange of text messages that are out there for all to see, with clearly Mal Brough and James Ashby saying “I can’t read it all, can you send through a clearer copy and scan it”, of the diaries? It’s all there and Mal Brough yesterday attempted to say that somehow it was 60 Minutes’ fault – that statement. Today he has gone into Parliament. There was no apology from Mal Brough. He said “I’m sorry if some people have misinterpreted what I said yesterday.” Well, that’s not an apology. That’s reminiscent of Bronwyn Bishop over Choppergate. I will tell you what, I’m sure Tony Abbott today regrets hanging on to Bronwyn Bishop for as long as he did. I tell you what, Malcolm Turnbull shouldn’t hang on to this minister. He shouldn’t have appointed him in the first place and Tony Abbott made a misjudgement when it came to holding on to Bronwyn Bishop. But he at least had the good judgement to not appoint Mal Brough to the ministry, let alone as the Special Minister of State.
VAN ONSELSEN: Well, it strikes me that that there is little doubt that there was an error of judgment in promoting Mal Brough to Special Minister of State in particular. Reminds me of the decision by Labor, I’d have to say Anthony Albanese, to support Peter Slipper into the Speakership. But let’s not trawl over that. I want to ask you this though. Why has it take so long for Labor to get round to this? The 60 Minutes interview was a long time ago. We knew his position of Special Minister of State as soon as he was appointed to it. Why has Labor only come around to this line of questioning last week and this week?
ALBANESE: We’ve raised these issues appropriately. Of course, it was revisited by 60 Minutes after his appointment and secondly as well of course, you had the AFP raids essentially looking at this matter as well. Very clearly, this is the subject of an ongoing investigation. There’s a lot more to come out over these issues. Labor asked questions methodically each day last week and what we’ve got from Mal Brough is different answers at different times. He says, for example, he has been exonerated by the Federal Court. Now there are four Federal Court judges had a look at these issues. Two of them found there was actually a conspiracy to bring down the government. Two of them didn’t find anyone innocent. I mean, Mal Brough wasn’t even a party to those proceedings but what they said was that it should go through the legal process. It shouldn’t just be summarily dismissed. That’s essentially what those judges found.
VAN ONSELSEN: And just as importantly, the 60 Minutes interview was after that. Where does Labor go from here though? Obviously, you are going to look at this in Question Time. The government have been gagging debate. They don’t tend to do that if the Opposition Leader himself moves the motion, that would be unusual, almost unprecedented. Is Bill Shorten going to muscle up on this? That’s awkward to say the least isn’t it with some of the issues he’s faced around the Royal Commission?
ALBANESE: Well, I’d say this. It is very unusual indeed for a suspension of standing orders and I should know, I used to have to respond to them on behalf of the government every day during the 43rd Parliament. But what we have seen is the government gag debate – not just gag the Opposition members, but gag themselves from speaking in the debate. Because there’s not a minister – Christopher Pyne in particular – but not a minister anywhere who wants to go anywhere near defending Mal Brough. That makes the position completely untenable and he should just go.
VAN ONSELSEN: But will Bill Shorten go after him because the Opposition leader should take this one front on?
ALBANESE: Bill Shorten is not here, as you know. Well, he’s not here now, so it’s a bit hard for him to move motions.
VAN ONSELEN: But he’ll be here tomorrow.
ALBANESE: Mal Brough shouldn’t be here tomorrow. He should not be on the front bench tomorrow. It’s that’s simple. They need to cauterise this and they need to deal with it.
VAN ONSELSEN: Speaking of Bill Shorten not being here, he had his Christmas drinks. Who has their Christmas drinks when they are not here?
ALBANESE: Look, there’s traditionally drinks for the frontbench. I was there last night with members of the press gallery and from time to time, those things happen. Bill doesn’t have the access to the special purpose aircraft that the Prime Minister has. He’s travelling on commercial aircraft. So therefore, my understanding is Malcolm Turnbull will be back in Question Time today but Bill isn’t back in the country as yet.
VAN ONSELSEN: One last one, Anthony Albanese. You’ve got to let me ask this. I mean, Bill Shorten can’t stay out of the country forever. Mr 15 percent has to come back soon. When are you going to do everyone in the Labor Party a favour, certainly the 60 per cent of members who voted for you, and get this done and take over the leadership?
ALBANESE: I’m working as part of Bill Shorten’s team, Peter, and I’m working hard on my portfolio of infrastructure and I think I am doing a reasonable job of holding the government to account. Tony Abbott, I noticed, used to say he was going to be the infrastructure Prime Minister. When he has spoken about his legacy, infrastructure doesn’t get a mention because the only hole that’s been dug by this government is the one they buried the former Prime Minister in.
VAN ONSELSEN: All right well we might leave it on that note. Anthony Albanese, we appreciate your time on Newsday. Thanks for your time, as always.
ALBANESE: Good to be with you.
Leader of the Australian Labor Party, MP for Grayndler, Rabbitohs Life Member. Authorised by Anthony Albanese, ALP, Canberra.