MARIUS BENSON: Craig Emerson, is the Government on the brink of collapse?
CRAIG EMERSON: Of course not, and I don't know how many times this sort of commentary appears. It's been going on almost since the day that the Government was formed, and yet 350 pieces of legislation have passed, including some very difficult legislation such as putting a price on carbon and sharing the benefits of the mining boom through the mining tax. And just about every week there's analysis that suggests that it's an unstable Government. I actually thought that Christopher Pyne, for once, got it right when he suggested a couple of weeks ago that this Government will run its full course because it isn't effectively a minority government. It has the support of Independents who are strong in providing that support.
BENSON: But he expressed that view after you signed up Peter Slipper and that looked solid. That is not his view now, and that is not the general view.
EMERSON: Oh, well, surprise, surprise!
BENSON: You don't have Peter Slipper in your Speaker's chair anymore and you also don't have Craig Thomson in the Labor Party, although it does seem like a "Clayton's" expulsion. He's been effectively expelled from the Labor Party. Is it okay to kick him out of the Labor Party and still rely on his vote in Parliament?
EMERSON: Well, of course it is. And every Member of Parliament is entitled to a vote. I note, of course, that the Coalition had three Members of Parliament in the last term who were being investigated by the police. At no stage did we say that they shouldn't be entitled to a vote. So let's have, again, one standard for all; not one standard for the Coalition and another for the rest of us.
BENSON: But if Craig Thomson is not good enough to be in the Labor Party, isn't it dubious relying on his support in Parliament?
EMERSON: Well what does that say about Mr Oakeshott and Mr Windsor? They're not in the Labor Party either.
BENSON: But they weren't expelled from the Labor Party.
EMERSON: And neither has Craig Thomson been expelled from the Labor Party. He contacted the State Secretary in New South Wales and asked to be suspended from the Labor Party.
BENSON: After the Prime Minister … after the Prime Minister ordered him to do so.
EMERSON: They reached an agreement on that and it is true: the Prime Minister wanted him to do that, and Craig Thomson was coming to that view.
BENSON: How do you answer this question from Tony Abbott when he asked 'what does the Prime Minister know now that has suddenly caused her to disown Craig Thomson?'
EMERSON: I can answer that easily. There is no new information about Mr Thomson. It just came to a point where the Prime Minister formed the judgement that it would be in the interests of the Parliament, and people's attitude toward the Parliament, that Craig Thomson go to the cross-benches. That's what's happened. There is no new information.
BENSON: Julia Gillard says Australians see a dark cloud over this Parliament. That cloud is made up of Peter Slipper in one half and Craig Thomson in the other. Julia Gillard hired Peter Slipper, and Craig Thomson she declared confidence in through the years. Is she the author of the dark cloud over Parliament?
EMERSON: Well there are circumstances where there's an investigation relating to Mr Slipper. There is an investigation, in fact more than one, relating to Craig Thomson. And it got to a point where the Prime Minister formed the judgement that for the respect of the Parliament, the action that she took should be taken.
BENSON: There is new talk today of the leadership of Julia Gillard because of her judgements on Peter Slipper and Craig Thomson. Do you concede that there is talk in your ranks?
EMERSON: There's always chatter about this sort of thing and you'll never make everyone happy all the time.
BENSON: Are people chattering to you amongst your colleagues?
EMERSON: Zero. Not a word. But nevertheless, I'm not going to say there's no chatter. If I read the newspapers, then possibly there is. I don't know. But no one has spoken to me. And the point is that there'll always be chatter. There is nothing new in that.
BENSON: Peter Slipper as Speaker at the moment is on something like double pay: more than $320,000 as an annual salary. How long will that continue while he's not in the chair?
EMERSON: Well he's stood aside from the Speakership. These are the arrangements that are in place. You can't strip someone of his basic pay as a Speaker if he is stood aside. Now, if we're going to go into all of these sorts of discussions, we need to make sure that there's consistency in the Coalition's approach, so that we have one set of standards for all of the Parliament. I seek only one thing from Mr Abbott: consistency. I've never seen it in his professional life. I don't expect to see it in the future, but that's where we are.
BENSON: Craig Emerson, thank you very much.
EMERSON: Thanks very much. Thanks Marius.
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