ABC Radio PM

Subjects: Christopher Pyne and James Ashby.

Transcript, E&OE

1 May 2012

PRESENTER: The Federal Government has challenged the Opposition frontbencher Christopher Pyne to release his phone records. They want to know the extent of his contact with James Ashby, the man who made fraud and sexual harassment allegations against his boss, the Speaker Peter Slipper. The Government has seized on a Fairfax online report that the two had drinks in the Speaker's office a month before Mr Ashby filed the court documents. The report says that later Mr Pyne asked for Mr Ashby's phone number. But Mr Pyne denies ever having any phone contact with Mr Ashby and says Mr Ashby never raised the matters canvassed in the subsequent court action. The Trade Minister Craig Emerson's been speaking to Alexandra Kirk.

CRAIG EMERSON: When asked about any knowledge that they have had in relation to the document prepared by Mr Ashby both Mr Abbott and Mr Pyne have used a pre-agreed formulation saying that they have no “specific” knowledge - no specific knowledge. I have suggested that this is a weasel word. The insertion of the word “specific” covers, potentially, a lot of facts that they may not want to be in the public arena.

KIRK: But do you know that they know anything at all?

EMERSON: I think the responses today of Mr Pyne to two sources who say that Mr Pyne spent almost two hours with Mr Ashby tell a lot about Mr Pyne's motives. Because he said that he said hello to them; he passed the time of day with them. That was last Sunday. Now, he's confirmed that he's spent almost two hours with Mr Ashby, drinking with him. Why wouldn't Mr Pyne have revealed that last Sunday if he had absolutely nothing to hide? He would simply say that ….

KIRK: But Mr Pyne said this is just part of his dealings with the Speaker's office.

EMERSON: Then why would he be so economical with the truth as to give the impression that he simply said 'hello, how's the weather'? That's what passing the time of day means. No Australian would believe that sitting with someone for almost two hours and drinking constitutes “passing the time of day”. And then there's a question of whether Mr Pyne subsequently rang and asked for Mr Ashby's mobile number. I understand that Mr Pyne is now saying he did not, but only a little while ago he was saying he could not remember. Therefore, Mr Pyne is invited to provide his telephone records to the media and, indeed, to detail any and all contact he had with Mr Ashby in relation to this matter before the matter was revealed in the media through the production of this document.

KIRK: Well, Mr Pyne denies the claims. Have you any proof to the contrary?

EMERSON: I am asking questions that are legitimate to ask when someone uses some weasel words such as “no specific knowledge”, giving the impression, when he says he “passed the time of day” with someone, is not giving the correct impression; that in fact he spent almost two hours drinking with Mr Ashby.

KIRK: Well Mr Pyne says he had cause to meet Mr Ashby twice in the Speaker's office, and it was all to do with the course of his work. Has the Government spoken to Mr Slipper's office or Mr Slipper himself about this?

EMERSON: No. I haven't spoken with anyone in Mr Slipper's office, or with Mr Slipper. And what I am asking …

KIRK: Wouldn't it be advisable to check the facts with Mr Slipper's office?

EMERSON: I think it pretty reasonable, given that there are two sources who have said that Mr Pyne did in fact spend almost two hours with Mr Ashby, a fact that he no longer denies. But Mr Pyne sought to conceal that fact by simply saying he passed the time of day with Mr Ashby. Spending two hours drinking is not passing the time of day. And the more questions that are asked, the more Mr Pyne is forced to reveal extra details. Why didn't he say at the outset 'yes, of course, I know Mr Ashby; I've spent up to two hours having a drink with him, but I had no prior knowledge at all', rather than “no specific knowledge”.

KIRK: Are you suggesting the Opposition's been in cahoots with Mr Ashby?

EMERSON: I am asking legitimate questions. And those questions should be answered fully, rather than using weasel words such as “specific knowledge”. If he's got nothing to hide, why not say that at the outset?

PRESENTER: The Trade Minister, Dr Craig Emerson, speaking to Alexandra Kirk. And Christopher Pyne declined to be interviewed by PM this evening.

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