SUSANNE LATIMORE: Well, joining me now for more on this story is Labor Minister Craig Emerson, from Canberra.
Minister, thanks very much for your time. What do you make of Mal Brough's involvement in all of this?
CRAIG EMERSON: Mr Brough has completely contradicted what he said only a week ago. When these suggestions of involvement by the Coalition and by himself in particular were put to him, he described them as "nonsense". It cannot be clearer than that. He dismissed the suggestion of Mr Brough being involved in this matter with Mr Ashby as "nonsense". And today he has had to concede that not only did he meet Mr Ashby once, he met him three times.
Now, let's bear in mind that Mr Brough is a candidate for the seat of Fisher. To meet Mr Ashby once, I could understand; and he might then say, 'You need to get some legal advice'. But to keep meeting him in a situation where Mr Brough himself would be the beneficiary of these allegations coming to air reveals a massive conflict of interest, a massive incentive for Mr Brough to be involved in this in order to damage Mr Slipper.
But it all comes back to Mr Abbott, who has continually said he has no "specific" knowledge of anyone in the Coalition being involved in this. This is a very carefully constructed formulation. We've never suggested that Mr Abbott wrote the affidavit. We have simply asked, as has the media, whether Mr Abbott had any prior knowledge of this, and he said he has had no specific knowledge; nor, to the best of his knowledge, has anyone in the Coalition – proved to be completely false, Mr Abbott, completely false.
ERIC YOUNG: Are you drawing a distinction between Mr Abbott's claim that he has no 'specific knowledge', and that he actually has no knowledge? Are you saying he is misleading?
EMERSON: He obviously is misleading, because – and this is the basis in part of why I have been saying there is a cover-up going on here – Mr Abbott continued to use the phraseology, "no specific knowledge", as did Mr Pyne.
If this is all innocent, as Mr Brough asserts, why didn't Mr Abbott say, 'Well, I do understand Mr Brough was involved. He had three meetings. He assisted; he provided legal advice'? The reason is Mr Abbott did not want that to become public, and so he carefully chose his language to say he had no specific knowledge.
These are the questions now for Mr Abbott: what knowledge did Mr Abbott have, general or specific – let's drop the weasel words – of the publication of this material before it did come into the public arena? What contact did Mr Abbott or his office or anyone in the Coalition in Canberra have with Mr Brough?
It is inconceivable that Mr Brough would not have told Coalition figures either in the Party Secretariat, or in Canberra, or both, about this. And this is why Mr Abbott continues to say he had no specific knowledge. Why not simply say, 'I didn't know anything about it'? Obviously he did.
LATIMORE: Would you accept Mr Brough did the right thing, though, in encouraging Mr Ashby to seek legal advice?
EMERSON: If there was one meeting, I could understand. If there was one meeting. Mr Ashby went to Mr Brough, which itself is, I suppose, a question for your viewers: why would Mr Ashby go to the LNP candidate – or the aspiring LNP candidate – for the seat of Fisher? But let's put that aside; that's Mr Ashby's concern.
Why wouldn't you just say, 'I will arrange some legal advice, but I am actually seeking the LNP candidacy for Fisher against Mr Slipper; and therefore I should be no further involved'? Instead, he met him three times. We have had added to that Mr Pyne changing his story three times; Mr Brandis last night saying that, as a member of the LNP, it will be perfectly sensible for Mr Brough to have a discussion with Mr Ashby.
Mr Ashby, as is well-known, resigned from the LNP to take up the position with Mr Slipper. So every time there is an appearance by Mr Abbott, Mr Pyne, Mr Brandis, now Mr Brough, the story changes. And Mr Abbott has spent the week evading media questions.
Indeed, the other day he stood up in front of the cameras, and as soon as a journalist mentioned the word 'cover-up', Mr Abbott closed the press conference and scurried away.
YOUNG: We do thank you. Labor Minister Craig Emerson, from Canberra.
- Minister Emerson's Office: (02) 6277 7420
- DFAT Media Liaison: (02) 6261 1555