DERRYN HINCH: On the line the Federal Minister for Trade, Mr Craig Emerson. Good afternoon.
CRAIG EMERSON: Good afternoon, Derryn.
HINCH: I guess back in November when Peter Slipper was anointed as Speaker, your side must have known the risks involved and must have known the stories circulating about him.
EMERSON: Well, there were allegations prior to that of misuse of parliamentary entitlements which were fully discharged; that is Mr Slipper was found to have done nothing wrong there, or if there were repayments they were made…
HINCH: He paid back $20,000, that's true.
EMERSON: …so that was known. We were then looking at Mr Slipper whether he could then discharge his responsibilities as Speaker and I think most people would say that he's done that very well.
HINCH: I think that's one thing we're going to agree on, because he did become — surprisingly to some — a very strong and a very fair Speaker, apart from the pomp and circumstance and the robes and things and the march.
EMERSON: Well, some people like that. But I think that's right…
HINCH: But Canberra's a small place, you would have known the scuttlebutt about the video from the Howard days when Tony Nutt was approached about the video.
EMERSON: Well, in fact I didn't but someone who should have — if that is in fact true, if it is in fact true — was the Manager of Government Business at the time who was none other than Tony Abbott. He would have to have known about any such video, if any such video existed, if in fact it was true. And I don't accept that the Labor Opposition should have known about that, but the Manager of Government Business would have. And indeed, if I could just make one more point: in terms of knowing Mr Slipper, Mr Abbott says he knew Mr Slipper very well…
HINCH: He went to his wedding.
EMERSON: …he went to his wedding. He said that he was trying to get him out of parliament, but it didn't stop Mr Abbott accepting Mr Slipper's vote — the crucial vote that made Mr Abbott Leader of the Opposition. All I'm seeking here Derryn, is the application of a single standard of justice, not two standards: one for the Liberal Party and one for the rest of Australia.
HINCH: But of course, the latest allegations against Mr Slipper are made since…I've read the whole of the court document and the allegations are made in January and February of this year, since that young man took the job in Mr Slipper's office. Now, the allegations are that he used his office as a bait for young men, which is a very serious allegation to make against one of the most powerful people and one of the most respected offices in the country.
EMERSON: Yeah, these allegations are made in civil proceedings and I suppose I should invoke these words, which actually relate to criminal proceedings and it says: 'it's not appropriate when a police investigation is going on for the Prime Minister to be expressing a view on that investigation.' Those words were actually John Howard's when he had three Coalition MPs under police investigation for alleged — and I repeat alleged — rorting of entitlements. Mr Howard did not think it was appropriate to comment; did not think it was appropriate to stand on the side; did not think it was appropriate that he shouldn't take their votes in Parliament. And in fact Mr Andrew Laming, who was the subject of a police investigation, voted with the Coalition on more than 50 occasions. So again, I am seeking here a consistent principle.
HINCH: Okay, but what are you going to do…because the way that Mr Slipper has worded his comments about stepping aside is that when the criminal matters are finished — he thinks they'll be done quickly, possibly in time for the budget session — he'll be back in business as normal. But while these other allegations are out against him, surely your Government can't accept him.
EMERSON: What I would point out is that these are allegations of a civil nature. Now if at every occasion that allegations of a civil nature are made against an MP the vote of that MP can't be accepted, then I would ask this question: why did Mr Turnbull continue to be a minister in the Howard Government when he had civil allegations against him. No reflection on him…
HINCH: Yes, that was the HIH case. No, and he was cleared…
EMERSON: No, no, but that's right, he was. But during the course of it Derryn, he didn't step aside and not vote in the Parliament, nor did we expect him to.
HINCH: But Mr Emerson, the one difference: Peter Slipper, the Speaker, is the man who is in charge of the probity, the decency, the moral standard, the laws of the House of Representatives. He's not a backbencher; he's not a minister; he's not an opposition frontbencher — he is the Speaker. In the United States right now, they take it so seriously in the United States, with Ms Gillard and Mr Swan overseas he would be the Acting Prime Minister. That's how serious it all is.
EMERSON: Well, we're not in the United States and I think that's a pretty good thing — I love this country. But the point is that if at any time there are untested allegations of a civil nature made against any Member of Parliament, including the Speaker, including the Leader of the Opposition — whom I think has a very high duty in the Parliament as well — that the Speaker or the Leader of the Opposition should step aside, then that's a new standard. Mr Turnbull didn't step aside, but I hasten to add nor did we ever expect that he should step aside.
HINCH: Now, have you seen the Herald Sun today?
EMERSON: No, I haven't actually.
HINCH: Okay, well I'll tell you where it gets to now, because this comes to the Parliament; your Government; your Opposition; the actual crux of it; the principle of Parliament. You've got a cartoon in the Herald Sun showing Peter Slipper in his full regalia, with fishnet stockings on, with the mace from the House in front of him, an aide in S&M gear being led in the men's toilet. That is how the actual office is being derided and ridiculed as we speak.
EMERSON: Well indeed, if we were to govern or conduct the parliament on the basis of cartoons in highly respected papers such as the Herald Sun or any other newspaper, I think that would be pretty unusual. But the point is…
HINCH: But it makes the point doesn't it, about how the office is being sullied.
EMERSON: I don't think it does and Derryn this is where I think it could get very dangerous. If we are saying that all you need to do is make a salacious allegation against another Member of Parliament and therefore through that process of making an allegation — whether founded or unfounded — that Member of Parliament shall be cast aside; that Member of Parliament's vote will not be counted, then there will be a hell of a lot of people sitting on the cross benches unable to vote. That would be a farce.
HINCH: All right, one final point. Now they put you out there, and I watch you on Sky all the time as the Government spokesman, it must be hard for you sometimes. You've got Craig Thomson, now you've got Peter Slipper — it's a very grubby world you're inhabiting at the moment. How do you handle it?
EMERSON: I handle it by taking account of these sorts of statements: 'that it's a long-held principle of the way that we administer the law in this country that while a police investigation is going on people should not comment; draw conclusions about guilt or innocence; but should simply allow the investigations.' That was John Howard on the 7th of March 2007. He was right then, he's right now and that's the principle of the presumption of innocence and I think it is absolutely central to our justice system.
HINCH: All right Mr Emerson, you are a dogged carrier of the banner. Thank you for your time.
EMERSON: Thanks Derryn.
HINCH: Minister for Trade, Craig Emerson. And I just realised then I mentioned that cartoon by Knight in the Herald Sun. It wasn't, it was actually Bill Leak in the Australian.
- Minister's Office: (02) 6277 4330
- DFAT Media Liaison: (02) 6261 1555