CHRIS UHLMANN: I am joined now by the Trade Minister from Canberra. Craig Emerson, welcome.
CRAIG EMERSON: Thanks, Chris.
UHLMANN: Will Julia Gillard lead Labor to the next election?
EMERSON: Yes, of course she will…
EMERSON: …of course these matters come up from time to time in any political party, it's chatter. By the way, I have heard none of it. I very much respect Heather Ewart and her coverage, but I happened to be talking to members of the New South Wales Caucus today and they have heard nothing of it either. So the fact is the Prime Minister Julia Gillard has the guts, she has the determination to make sure that we are governing in Australia's national interest. Sometimes Chris that's not popular. Putting a price on carbon is not popular — we know that, but it's necessary for the long-term future of this country.
UHLMANN: We'll get to the price on carbon in a moment. You say it's just chatter, but with respect Minister we've been here several times before and that's what we've heard every single time.
EMERSON: Well, I can only repeat what the reality is for me, what the reality is for the Party. We've had this issue resolved decisively not very long ago and what we need to do is to continue to govern in the national interest. Previous governments have been in difficult political situations: the Howard government was in very difficult political circumstances and went on to win the 2001 election and the 2004 election. The Hawke government in implementing very difficult reforms — tax reform through a fringe benefits tax, capital gains tax, putting an assets test on pensions — was down for the count and written off, yet Bob Hawke won four elections. What we need to do is not be obsessed with the polls but to continue to do what is the right thing for this country. This is a great country and we're going to keep building it to secure the future of the working people of this country.
UHLMANN: Craig Emerson, when you talk about the Prime Minister's achievements you list among them the carbon tax. Isn't that part of the problem? The problem isn't the tax itself, the problem is the promise that the Prime Minister made. This is a tax the Prime Minister said that people wouldn't have and that they didn't want.
EMERSON: Well, I think the reality is that if you ask people — and again this is reflected in public opinion polling — whether they think the carbon tax and putting a price on carbon more generally is a good idea or a bad idea…
UHLMANN: The issue is trust, though. The issue is trust though, Craig Emerson. It's not the tax itself.
EMERSON: That's fine. That's fine to interrupt, but if I can just plough on here, Chris. The point is that we know it's not popular. We know that there has — to acknowledge Mr Abbott — been a very effective scare campaign. There's an expectation that Whyalla will disappear off the face of the earth on the first of July — it won't. It won't have anything like the impact that Mr Abbott has claimed. Indeed, after the first of July when it is implemented, Mr Abbott himself will have to explain why he's going to cut the pension; increase personal income taxes; put a million people back in the tax system because under Mr Abbott the price of electricity will fall. Pigs might fly.
UHLMANN: Could you get actually to the point of the question, as to whether or not it was about the carbon tax or whether or not it is an issue of trust with the Prime Minister?
EMERSON: And I say it is about the carbon tax because people are apprehensive about it, but what we have is a Government that is prepared to implement policies that are very important to this nation's future. I reflected today Chris on the fact that way back in 1989 I was working on what John Kerin once described as the world's greatest environment statement: Our Country, Our Future. We started ringing alarm bells about climate change in 1989. John Howard was the great 'gonna' of Australian politics who was gonna put a price on carbon. That didn't happen in the first term of the Labor government and this Prime Minister is pressing ahead in the national interest, just as Malcolm Turnbull thinks it's a good idea.
UHLMANN: Why was Peter Slipper ever put in the Speaker's job in the first place? It was simply about numbers, wasn't it? There was no principle involved; he wasn't seen as being the best person for the job in Parliament.
EMERSON: Well, he was actually the Deputy Speaker in the lead-up to that and I think that most parliamentarians — although the Coalition won't admit this — most parliamentarians would accept that he has done a good job as Speaker.
UHLMANN: And do you think that he's a fit and proper person to be the Speaker?
EMERSON: Well I think that what we need to do now is to allow these processes to continue. What happened — and I saw your introductory package — is that there was a convergence of events, that is allegations relating to Mr Slipper and when he did release the Cabcharge documents further questions were raised as if it's a crime to put 'city to suburbs' and 'suburbs to home' on a docket, but that's where we are. That then was intersecting with the Craig Thomson matter; that was affecting the standing of the Parliament in the eyes of the community and for that reason the Prime Minister acted.
UHLMANN: It was affecting the standing of the Prime Minister, wasn't it?
EMERSON: Well, it was certainly affecting the standing of the Parliament in the community's eyes. The Prime Minister then formed a judgement when she got back from overseas that it was time now — notwithstanding Chris the presumption of innocence which should be afforded both to Mr Slipper and to Mr Thomson — that the potential damage to the standing of the Parliament was such that she needed to move and she did.
UHLMANN: Finally Craig Emerson, what do you think it will do to the standing of the Labor Party that we now have another report that shows that a former national president of Labor in the HSU East Branch, that troubled branch, was perhaps putting millions of dollars of members' money at the very least at risk of having no formal audits, no proper processes.
EMERSON: Sure, well I've just had the opportunity to scan that report. It looks very poor, reflects very poorly indeed on that particular branch of that particular union, there's no doubt about that whatsoever. I would add that there'd been speculation that asking or directing Craig Thomson to go to the crossbenches was somehow in anticipation of this Temby report. It has nothing to do with Craig Thomson; it relates to the period after he became a Member of Parliament and was not therefore a union official.
UHLMANN: Craig Emerson, we'll have to leave it there. Thank you.
EMERSON: Okay, thanks Chris.
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