ABC News 24 Weekend Breakfast

Subjects: Craig Thomson, Budget.

Transcript, E&OE

12 May 2012

ANDREW GEOGHEGAN: For more let's cross to the Federal Trade Minister Craig Emerson for his reaction. Mr Emerson, you've heard what Craig Emerson, er, sorry Craig Thomson, no doubt what he has had to say this morning. He claims he's been framed – do you believe him?

CRAIG EMERSON: It's not really up to politicians to determine these matters. Of course members of the community will have a view, but the responsibility of politicians is to separate the processes. That is, that there should be legal and investigative processes; they should occur and politicians shouldn't seek to be part of that. And what's happening in the Federal Parliament is that Mr Abbott has appointed himself judge and the Opposition MPs as jury on the Craig Thomson matter and wants to vote to exclude Mr Thomson from the House of Representatives. This is a very, very dangerous pathway to travel when Opposition Leaders and Members of Parliament more generally appoint themselves as judge and jury over other Members of Parliament and seek to exclude other Members of Parliament from the House. Imagine when there's a majority government, the majority government then determining that it doesn't like someone or there are allegations against someone and those politicians have the power – or seek to exercise the power – to exclude others from Parliament. This is a very, very dangerous pathway.

GEOGHEGAN: But as you well know, politics is much about judgement and character. Do you trust his judgement and his character?

EMERSON: I don't trust Tony Abbott's judgement and character…

GEOGHEGAN: No, but we're talking about Craig Thomson.

EMERSON: And what I'm saying is that as a politician it is irresponsible to prejudge these matters by saying that they want to be part of a process of excluding any Member of Parliament from the House of Representatives. Bear in mind that in the previous parliament there were three Coalition MPs who were actually investigated by the police. At no time did the Labor Opposition believe anything other than both the presumption of innocence and those investigative processes should be allowed to follow their course without interference. That has been Labor's position consistently. And that is now changing with Tony Abbott seeking to appoint himself as judge and Opposition MPs as jury in these matters. What I fundamentally believe – and I think that the Australian people should support – is the idea that politicians not make judgements of a legal nature against other politicians. Leave that to the police; leave that to the courts; but once politicians start taking on the role of judge and jury that is a very dangerous pathway for our democracy.

GEOGHEGAN: Well, I'm simply asking you to comment on his comments this morning and his claims that he was framed…

EMERSON: I know what the question is, and I keep answering the question by saying that I am a politician; I am a Member of Parliament and I am a Minister and I am going to allow Mr Thomson the presumption of innocence, like every Australian is allowed. I am also going to say to you that the investigative processes should continue. Mr Thomson has been charged with nothing, with nothing; and yet we have underway if the Coalition got its way a process to exclude him from the House of Representatives which means that those 80, 90, 100 000 members of the community in the seat of Dobell would not have a voice in Parliament. I'm saying that is a very direct threat to our democratic processes and it's not for me to be judge and jury on Mr Thomson. I will not do that; it is irresponsible to do that. The community may form a view one way or the other – that's up to members of the public. But when politicians start saying 'I have decided that Mr Thomson is guilty' then that is a very dangerous path because there are no charges. Let the investigative processes continue and come to a conclusion.

GEOGHEGAN: Why haven't we heard this defence from Craig Thomson until now?

EMERSON: Well, I think he took this opportunity given that he will be making a full statement to the Parliament upon its return on Monday week. I think at the outset he was considering whether he should be making such a statement. Then it became clear that the Fair Work investigation was going on and on and on. No doubt, it's quite possible anyway, that Mr Thomson would have believed that it would be better to wait for that Fair Work Australia report to emerge. That Fair Work Australia report has emerged; it doesn't actually involve recommendations of criminal charges as far as I know; it's a civil matter. There are police investigations and for goodness sake let's not have politicians interfere in police investigations; appoint themselves as judge and jury because that way lies madness; that way lies a very real threat to our democratic system here in Australia.

GEOGHEGAN: You're still willing to take his vote in the chamber; you're obviously willing to…

EMERSON: Well, hold on, hold on. I am not aware of anyone in the House of Representatives in any living memory being excluded from voting in the House of Representatives. There were three Coalition MPs who were actually subject to police investigation, who voted more than 50 times each at that time in the House of Representatives – three of them. And one of them is still there and voting against Mr Thomson saying he should not have that right to vote. Mr Andrew Laming was subject to a police investigation for stealing from the Commonwealth. Now, we said at the time that he was entitled to those processes and the presumption of innocence. And you know who else said that? John Howard and Tony Abbott, the then Leader of the House. He defended those three MPs on the Coalition side and said 'of course they should be able to participate in the Parliament'. But when it's a Labor MP, he changes his tune and changes his standard and says that Labor MP should not be able to participate. And we know why because it's all about the balance in the House of Representatives – not principle. If it was principle, Mr Abbott would not have accepted the vote of Senator Mary Jo Fisher who was not only subject to investigation but charged and found to be guilty of a criminal offence. Mr Abbott said of Mary Jo Fisher she did not participate in parliamentary debates and votes. That is a complete lie. She did participate and voted against the Clean Energy Bill. It was inconvenient for Mr Abbott to acknowledge that, so he simply said 'she did not participate, she did not vote' – she did. And that was only months ago – we're not talking about ancient history here. And so I'm saying let's have one standard for all Australians, for all parliamentarians – not one standard for Mr Abbott and the Liberal Party and another standard for the rest of Australia.

GEOGHEGAN: As you well know, this is a huge distraction for the Government. The latest opinion polls are not pretty; the approval ratings for the Prime Minister have fallen yet again. On the flip side, the approval for Tony Abbott has increased. You would have expected surely a bounce out of the budget; you failed to get that.

EMERSON: Well, there are very rarely bounces out of Budgets if you actually have a look at the opinion polls as they are taken immediately after Budgets – this was I think taken on Wednesday and Thursday night. We didn't do this to seek a positive opinion poll based on polls taken on Wednesday and Thursday night; what we did is we sought to return the Budget to surplus, which we are, to help the Reserve Bank again maybe look at reducing interest rates in the future; a surplus is the sign of a strong economy, we've helped lower and middle-income earners make ends meet by the Schoolkids Bonus and increases in family payments – both of which, both of which Mr Abbot has now indicated he will reverse. He will remove the Schoolkids Bonus – why? Because he says that mum and dads around Australia cannot be trusted to spend the Schoolkids Bonus on their children, that they might spend it on pokies. What a deep, deep insult; what an offensive insult to the Australian people. And he's said now that even the increases in family payments will not last under a Coalition government – they're the sorts of choices that people will have. And these payments will come in and of course the Carbon Price will come in and there'll be compensation for that of $10.10 per week compared with an increase in the cost of living of $9.90 per week. But all of that, those increased payments are at threat; in fact Mr Abbott has said that he would remove them.

GEOGHEGAN: Craig Emerson, you're in desperate need of a boost in the opinion polls if you're to hang onto government. Surely the Budget would be one opportunity to do that to provide some sweeteners for the electorate and that's failed to hit the mark?

EMERSON: Well, I'm saying again that we don't bring down budgets and then wait for an opinion poll taken on Wednesday and Thursday night. This Budget will be lived in the experience of the Budget; that is payments will be made because the Schoolkids Bonus has gone through the Parliament against the votes of the Coalition and similarly the family payment increases should go through the Parliament. Mr Abbott has said that he will put that through the Parliament but review it subsequently, which is political speak for 'reverse'. So what we are seeing here is that one political party – the Government of Australia – recognising that there are cost of living pressures and another, Mr Abbott, saying that he will remove those increases because he can't trust the mums and dads of Australia to spend family payments and the Schoolkids Bonus on their children because he thinks they might spend it on a poker machine splurge. That is a disgraceful comment, a disgraceful verdict that Mr Abbott has made in respect to the people of Australia.

GEOGHEGAN: So are you counting on the fact that once the Mining Tax and the Carbon Tax, once they're in place and the tax cuts forthcoming that the opinion polls will turn around?

EMERSON: Well, what will happen is that there will be a very clear choice in the eyes and the minds of the community. And that is the benefits from the mining boom will be fairly shared amongst the families of Australia and the small business people of Australia through small business tax breaks, and of course increased superannuation for working people and then you've got Mr Abbott saying that they don't need this stuff, they don't need it because he'll remove the carbon price and under him the price of electricity will fall – this is what he's going to actually say. 'Gospel truth Tony': believe me, if you elect me the cost of electricity will fall, therefore you don't need a pension rise, you don't need a tax cut, I'm going to reverse all of those. And no-one, no-one will believe that under an Abbott-led government the cost of electricity will fall because there's no living experience of electricity prices falling.

GEOGHEGAN: Craig Emerson, thanks for your time.

EMERSON: Okay, thanks a lot.

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