MICHAEL ROWLAND: In news this morning, Independent MP Tony Windsor says he intends to stand by his agreement with the Gillard Government while an investigation into Peter Slipper happens. For the Government’s perspective we’re joined now by the Trade Minister Craig Emerson from Parliament House in Canberra. Mr Emerson, good morning to you.
CRAIG EMERSON: Good morning Michael.
ROWLAND: Can the Government maintain its integrity as per the charge levelled by Tony Abbott there?
EMERSON: It’s a charge levelled by Tony Abbott who has double standards: one standard for the Liberal Party, one standard for the rest of Australia. The fact is that under the previous Coalition Government, Malcolm Turnbull as a minister was the subject of civil proceedings. We didn’t ask him to stand aside; we didn’t ask him to stand aside as Opposition Leader. Processes are underway. Those processes should be able to take their course without Mr Abbott calling for the end of the processes or interfering in the processes, calling for early elections. The truth is behind this all he wants is to be able to become the Prime Minister through a cheap and easy way to The Lodge. It’s not going to happen.
ROWLAND: And we point out as we conduct this conversation, Peter Slipper is fervently denying all allegations levelled against him. Let’s go through those allegations. The first lot are the criminal allegations of alleged misuse of government entitlements. That’s being investigated by the finance department; it may be investigated by the AFP. Are you confident Mr Emerson that those investigations will be wrapped up and a decision one way or the other made by the time Parliament gets back?
EMERSON: I’m going to make a very standard and honest observation and that is I don’t seek to prejudge or interfere in any investigation. This is what sets Labor people apart from the Coalition that is forever seeking to put pressure on authorities to conduct their independent investigations quickly or in a particular way to wrap them up, to reach a particular conclusion. These processes must be allowed to take their course and indeed you don’t need to rely on me for that judgement. Mr Howard said exactly the same thing when there is in fact a criminal investigation into Mr Andrew Laming and Mr Abbott said it’s not appropriate to comment; these matters should be allowed to take their course. I agree with Mr Howard. Tony Abbott agreed with Mr Howard at that time. The only thing that’s changed is that Mr Abbott thinks that this is a cheap and easy way to The Lodge. It’s not.
ROWLAND: If those investigations do drag on including the possible civil case involving the sexual harassment allegations, Anna Burke, a Labor MP, will sit in the chair as the Acting Speaker. How much more difficult — now that you’re back to a very much wafer-thin majority — will that be for the Government to get its legislation, particularly budget-related legislation, through the House of Representatives?
EMERSON: Well we deal with the numbers as they are and we have done so since the formation of this Government, the Gillard Government. And in dealing with the numbers as they are in the Parliament we have successfully passed 350 plus pieces of legislation including very important legislation such as the mining tax to share the benefits of the mining boom among working Australians, which Mr Abbott said he would rescind. We have done that successfully. In fact it was Christopher Pyne only a few weeks ago who conceded that this is a stable government that is going to run its full course and that’s what’s so frustrating. That’s what this is all about — that Mr Abbott just cannot come to terms with the fact that he will have to go to the Australian people in due course and explain how he’s going to fill his $70 billion funding hole in the budget and his other irreconcilable policies to make any sense of them. He doesn’t want to do that work because he knows he can’t and therefore he thinks this is his main chance; this is Mr Abbott’s main chance he reckons. And the fact is he’s going to be disappointed yet again because this Government will go full term. We’ll deal with the numbers in the Parliament as they were placed in the Parliament by the people of Australia at the last election and Mr Abbott is just going to have to come to terms with that.
ROWLAND: Now as you know…you’re a Queensland MP; you’ve dealt on and off with Peter Slipper for many years as a fellow Queensland MP; and as you well know there have been accusations swirling around him for many years. Was it a mistake to install him in the Speaker’s chair in the first place?
EMERSON: No, and you’re right that Peter Slipper has been around for a long time. He was preselected by the Liberal Party seven times. He was supported by Mr Abbott as recently as September of last year, who also went to his wedding. So what’s changed in fact is that Mr Slipper is no longer a member of the Coalition and therefore regarded by Mr Abbott as fair game as any MP would be; any non-Coalition MP would be by Mr Abbott. He’s happy to seek to interfere in investigations, call for the end of investigations, call for people to step aside during investigations when he has not applied the same standards to his own Coalition colleagues. We have in the Senate Mary Jo Fisher who was not only investigated but charged and found guilty of a criminal act. Now what did Mr Abbott say about her? ‘Oh,’ he said, ‘but she didn’t vote in the Senate while this was underway.’ Completely false. Completely false. She voted against putting a price on carbon through the Clean Energy Bill.
This is what I’m saying Michael, that Mr Abbott will say anything and do anything to find a cheap and easy way to The Lodge because he knows that in doing it the normal way, the way that the Australian people expect, he can’t make his budget numbers add up. He has to explain how to reconcile irreconcilable policy differences in the Coalition. He doesn’t want to do that so he thinks this is his main chance. Well Mr Abbott, you’re going to be very disappointed.
ROWLAND: As you say, Tony Abbott has every right to attack non-Coalition MPs, as does the Gillard Government every right to attack Coalition MPs. I ask you again, was it a mistake to offer the Speakership to Peter Slipper?
EMERSON: And I answer again, no it wasn’t a mistake to offer the Speakership. So there’s the question, there’s the answer. What I’m saying is that there should be one standard Michael and I think that your viewers would accept there should not be one standard for the Liberal Party and one standard for every other person in Australia. When an investigation is underway then people are entitled to the presumption of innocence — but not if you’re a Liberal. When there is an investigation underway, people should not seek to interfere in that investigation — but not if you’re a Liberal. When there’s an investigation underway you should apply the same policies and standards that you applied when you were in government — but not if you’re a Liberal. This is the point I’m making. Hypocrisy, thy name is Liberal.
ROWLAND: Do you trust Peter Slipper?
EMERSON: It’s not a matter of, I don’t know Peter Slipper that well. What I do know is that he has actually discharged his responsibilities as Speaker of the House of Representatives very well by any standard. And perhaps this is the source of frustration…
ROWLAND: But as a fellow Queensland MP, you’ve known him for so long. Do you trust him?
EMERSON: I just don’t know him well enough to know everything that happens in his professional, in his private life, in any other dimension of his life just as I don’t know what goes on in the lives of every other Coalition MP. I’m not very close to Coalition MPs but I will make this point if I might, Michael: Malcolm Turnbull, as I said, was the subject of civil proceedings. He didn’t step down; we didn’t expect him to. Now Mr Abbott is threatening a vote of no confidence if Mr Slipper does not step down in light of civil proceedings. It will be very interesting to see how Malcolm Turnbull would vote on that because he has benefited from the presumption of innocence. He has benefited from being able to be the Leader of the Opposition during civil proceedings and I think actually that Malcolm Turnbull is an honourable man.
That would be fascinating if it comes to that to see how he votes because Andrew Laming who has benefited from the fact that while he was under police investigation he voted more than 50 times with the Coalition, with Mr Abbott, with Mr Howard, and actually voted with Mr Abbott on a motion where Mr Abbott believed that Craig Thomson should leave the Parliament. So he got those protections but he wasn’t prepared to afford those protections to Labor people and that’s why I say we can’t have two standards in this country, Michael: one for the Liberal Party and one for everyone else.
ROWLAND: Okay, we’re out of time. Craig Emerson in Canberra, thank you very much for your time this morning.
EMERSON: Thanks Michael.
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