PAUL HENRY: So the Speaker of the Federal Government, the Speaker of the House steps down as a result of sex and fraud allegations, allegations that he strenuously denies. Still, that is a crisis – although Prime Minister Julia Gillard says nothing until much, much later in the piece. The leader of the main Opposition, Tony Abbott, he was saying things straight away: this is a man who needs to step aside while this is investigated. Julia Gillard very quiet on it and still dodging questions on it. Craig Emerson is the Minister for Trade and joins us now. Craig, good morning to you. Thank you for your time this morning.
CRAIG EMERSON: Good morning, Paul. No worries.
HENRY: This is an absolute disaster and yet the Prime Minister did not address the public about this instantly.
EMERSON: Well the Prime Minister is in Singapore. I'm happy to answer any questions that you've got. And in respect of your suggestion that the Prime Minister delayed and delayed and delayed, I think this news broke on Friday and on Sunday she issued a statement saying that it was appropriate that Mr Slipper step aside from the Speakership while these allegations of misuse of entitlements are investigated.
HENRY: As you say, the news broke on Friday. Everyone else had spoken; everyone else knew what their stand was before Julia Gillard.
EMERSON: Well that's not right. The Coalition certainly did because the Coalition is after Peter Slipper. The reason they are is that Mr Slipper is an Independent. As recently as September last year Mr Abbott was describing Mr Slipper as a strong and loyal member of the Coalition. Mr Abbott went to his wedding. Mr Abbott was a member of a Party that preselected Mr Slipper seven times. So back then Mr Slipper was a good guy. As soon as he decided to be an Independent he's a bad guy. So we understand what's going on here. Mr Abbott thinks this is a cheap and easy way to the Lodge. It's not. We will continue to govern in the national interest. Mr Slipper has stepped aside during the investigations into allegations that he misused entitlements and that's the appropriate thing to do.
HENRY: Don't you think though we need a Prime Minister who's going to be pragmatic? A Prime Minister who will come out instantly and say it is entirely appropriate that the Speaker steps aside while these serious allegations are investigated. I mean, we've got the Craig Thomson affair which the Prime Minister is constantly hammered on for prevarication because she's done nothing there. At the end of the day you'll be relying on a whole load of rogues potentially to support the Government.
EMERSON: I think that's a particularly defamatory thing to say. In fact I think when we're talking about Prime Ministers we should reflect on these words: that when an investigation is underway it's not appropriate to comment, the investigation should take its course and there should be a presumption of innocence. They're not my words. They're the words of John Howard when he had three Coalition MPs under police investigation for alleged misuse of printing entitlements and the Coalition took the votes of Mr Andrew Laming more than 50 times. And in the Upper House, in the Senate, Senator Mary Jo Fisher was not only charged with a criminal offence, she was found guilty of it and Mr Abbott falsely claimed that she did not participate in Senate votes. She did. At that time she was not asked to step aside, she voted against the Clean Energy Bill.
HENRY: All right. And I don't disagree with anything you're saying but we're not talking about the Opposition, we're talking about the government of the day.
EMERSON: Well, hold on. You're saying that there should be a standard. I agree there should be a standard, but one standard not two standards. Not one for the Liberal Party and another for the others.
HENRY: I'm not saying there's a different standard. We deserve better than we have at the moment. We deserve a standard. This man was the Speaker of the House.
EMERSON: I actually believe in the presumption of innocence. I actually believe in the presumption of innocence in respect of anyone against whom allegations are made. Now, the Speaker of the House has now got an allegation of misuse of entitlements against him and he has stepped aside. Mr Thomson has allegations and a police investigation against him. He too has stepped aside from chairing the House of Representatives Economics Committee. What Mr Abbott wants is for Mr Thomson to leave the Parliament and there's only one reason he wants that: it's that he thinks great, that means that he can be the Prime Minister of Australia without having to go to the Australian people and explain how he's going to have to fill a $70 billion funding hole in his budget and reconcile a bunch of other irreconcilable policies.
HENRY: All right, Craig. Let me just ask you this: was it entirely appropriate for Peter Slipper to step aside?
EMERSON: In relation to the allegations against him of the misuse of entitlements, it was appropriate for Mr Slipper to step aside and the Prime Minister shares that view.
HENRY: Why did the Prime Minister wait so long before she shared that view? Why did she not come straight out? Because she doesn't represent Peter Slipper, she represents the people of Australia. Peter Slipper represents…
EMERSON: You're trying to create an impression that there was an incredible delay; that these allegations occurred a long time ago….
HENRY: It's not an impression, it's the fact.
EMERSON: Well what was the incredible delay? The allegations appeared in the Daily Telegraph on Friday. By Sunday the Prime Minister says it's entirely appropriate that Peter Slipper step aside. The Prime Minister is now in Singapore on the way to Gallipoli.
HENRY: Craig, given that she was the last person to speak…
EMERSON: She's not the last person to speak. Ask the Independents.
HENRY: I think that that is an incredible delay.
EMERSON: Well you're entitled to your view and that's what we have here, a robust democracy. I disagree with your view.
HENRY: All right. Wayne Swan was representing the Prime Minister when he came out much earlier than the Prime Minister and the implication from what he was saying was these are just allegations, you are innocent until proven guilty, let him prove his innocence. So he was not saying the right thing to do is to step aside.
EMERSON: Well indeed. And I hope, I really fervently hope, that you believe in the presumption of innocence. It is the pillar of our justice system in this country and the fact is Mr Abbott doesn't believe in the presumption of innocence. I'm not seeking to put you in the same basket as he, but I ask your viewers do they believe we should have a justice system based on the presumption of innocence or do they believe that when an allegation is made against anyone they should leave the Parliament; they should leave their job; they should give up? I think it's really important in this country, to our justice system, that when allegations are made against people they have an opportunity to deal with those allegations.
HENRY: Absolutely. I couldn't agree with you more and I actually believe Tony Abbott would agree with you too. I'm sure Tony Abbott believes in the presumption of innocence as well.
EMERSON: No, I don't think that's right at all. That's not right. No, he does not.
HENRY: But we are talking about the Speaker of the House facing very serious charges and it was entirely appropriate for him to step aside. But the Prime Minister couldn't say that for two full days, in the face of everyone else saying that except…
EMERSON: And now you're barracking for Tony Abbott saying he believes in the presumption of innocence. He does not. He said that…
HENRY: Craig – what I'm barracking for Craig, are better standards for the people that run this country.
EMERSON: Can I finish my sentence?
HENRY: I know what you're going to say. So you don't need to, because you've basically said it.
EMERSON: Well, your viewers might not.
HENRY: Well they do, I think they know what you're going to say as well.
EMERSON: No, you said that Tony Abbott…
HENRY: You're going to say I'm supporting Tony Abbott.
EMERSON: No. Let me say it.
HENRY: Okay. Say it again.
EMERSON: You said that Tony Abbott supports the presumption of innocence. He does not. He does not. He has moved motions…
HENRY: I'm sure he does.
EMERSON: Well, you're wrong. He has moved motions that Mr Thomson be expelled from the Parliament. Why? Because there are allegations against him. He is not giving Mr Thomson the presumption of innocence.
HENRY: All right. I thank you very much for joining us this morning, Craig.
EMERSON: Thanks, Paul.
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