2CC Breakfast

Subjects: Carbon pricing, James Ashby, Christopher Pyne, Peter Slipper.

Transcript, E&OE

2 May 2012

MARK PARTON: It's been a little while since we caught up with Federal Trade Minister Dr Craig Emerson, but he is on the line right now. G'day Craig.

CRAIG EMERSON: G'day, how are you Mark?

PARTON: Not bad. There's no leadership spill today is there?

EMERSON: No. We're ploughing on, doing what we need to do and that's make some tough decisions for the nation's future.

PARTON: Well, those tough decisions include, because there's been talk from the likes of Kristina Keneally this morning, that perhaps that Federal Labor should tone down the carbon tax and wind it back.

EMERSON: No, we're not doing that. Thanks Kristina for the advice but what we're doing is implementing what we said we would do, and that's put a price on carbon. The price, as you know, involves free permits for the most emissions-intensive trade-exposed industries. And so we think this is an impact that can be absorbed because of the free permits. and so that's what we're doing. This is the sort of reform, Mark, that governments tend to shirk because they think that it's better to put these matters off. We don't think that's the right way for Australia. In time, I think people will realise that by moving now rather than delaying for some considerable time and then having to deal with the shock of people putting a price on carbon all around the world would be very, very disruptive for our economy. So this is the right time to do it.

PARTON: I don't know that anyone … or certainly the numbers that are listening to that message are dwindling around the country. But let's talk about …

EMERSON: By the way, Mark, if I could just say, that's what people said about tax reform. Capital gains tax, fringe benefits tax were unpopular. And now people look back on that period of 1985 and, yes, we did need to repair the income tax base. Those decisions weren't popular and neither was putting an assets test on pensions. But they've actually been very good for this country. That's what we're talking about here.

PARTON: Let's talk about James Ashby and Christopher Pyne. What's going on there?

EMERSON: Well, that's a very good question – because even as late as yesterday, Mr Pyne was denying that he had sought the contact details of James Ashby. It turns out he did. He said he couldn't remember ringing him for those, but it turns out that he both emailed him and sent text messages to get Mr Ashby's details – which were provided. So why is Mr Pyne seeking to conceal this from the public if in fact he had no role in developing these complaints with Mr Ashby? I must say Christopher Pyne said as late as last night 'why would I have any reason to contact Mr Ashby?'. Well, good question – because he did in fact contact him by both email and text message.

PARTON: Are you … I don't know, for you is this sort of taking on a Godwin Grech-like shape?

EMERSON: Well, it's getting curiouser and curiouser, in that Mr Pyne said that in fact that he.…with Mr Ashby...[audio cuts out]

PARTON: I'm losing you a bit there, Emmo.

EMERSON: Mr Pyne said at first that he was just passing the time of day with Mr Ashby.

PARTON: For two hours?

EMERSON: Yeah, and drinking for a very long period of time. Then when that became known publicly he then denied that he'd sought Mr Ashby's contact details. Now it emerges that he did in fact seek Mr Ashby's contact details and he was given those details. So why is Mr Pyne ducking and weaving? Why is he trying to conceal the truth? I know that he and Mr Abbott, when asked whether they had any knowledge of this complaint that Mr Ashby was making, said 'we had no specific knowledge'. Why insert the word "specific" there if it's not to cover the fact that they did have knowledge? Why would you use those words? Why would both men coincidentally use the word "specific"? And the answer is: to conceal the truth.

PARTON: It is … it is a pretty interesting turn of events. One of the things that annoys me is that those from the Coalition stand up and roundly criticise Peter Slipper for being such a rat but so many of the things that have been detailed but also intimated that he did, he did while flying the Coalition banner.

EMERSON: Well exactly. And Mr Abbott has said 'we were trying to get Mr Slipper out of the Parliament'. Well Mr Slipper has produced a letter where he gained assurances from Mr Abbott that he would be preselected either for his existing seat of Fisher or for the seat of Fairfax.

PARTON: I would think that that was a blatant lie, though, wouldn't you?

EMERSON: It may well turn out to be another Abbott lie, exactly.

PARTON: What a nasty old game you're involved in, Craig.

EMERSON: This is the problem, you know. And you talk about nastiness: Mr Abbott is saying 'oh well, Mr Slipper is unfit' and all that; Mr Abbott took Mr Slipper's vote. In this context, Mr Abbott would not be the Opposition Leader if he had not accepted Mr Slipper's vote. He's now saying Mr Slipper shouldn't have a vote in the Parliament; he shouldn't have a role in the Parliament. But he was quite happy to accept Mr Slipper's vote to make him, Mr Abbott, the Opposition Leader. Mr Abbott defeated Mr Turnbull by one vote. One vote: Mr Slipper's vote.

PARTON: Craig, I can't wait for it to all be over and we can just start it all again next year after the election.

EMERSON: Well, we will see how it transpires. I ask that Mr Pyne now stand up with the media, hold a press conference, release the records of his contact with Mr Ashby so we can know the truth. Why is Mr Pyne seeking to conceal the truth from the public? And the answer is: he obviously has a fair bit to hide. Why not just say 'yes, of course I had a drink with Mr Ashby. We had a chat but none of this came up'? What he's actually sought to do is conceal the fact that he spent a long period of time drinking with Mr Ashby, and yesterday put out a statement seeking to conceal the fact that indeed he had contacted Mr Ashby for his details through both text messages and emails.

PARTON: Craig, thanks for your time.

EMERSON: Thanks, Mark.

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