KARINA CARVALHO: Let's go back to our top story: and Fair Work Australia has released a report which alleges Craig Thomson used union money to pay for prostitutes and front his campaign to win a seat in Federal Parliament. Craig Emerson is the Trade Minister and he joins us from Canberra. Good morning to you, Minister. Given the damning findings from Fair Work Australia, will the Government continue to accept Craig Thomson's vote?
CRAIG EMERSON: Yes, we will. If I can explain the reasoning there, the Coalition has been in a similar position where it's had a Senator who was subject to not only an investigation but court proceedings and found guilty of a criminal act. This is only a little while ago, and obviously Mr Abbott accepted her vote in the Senate. And three Coalition MPs in the last term of Parliament when Mr Abbott was Manager of the House … he was the Leader of the House, they were all under police investigation and they all voted, one of them, Mr Andrew Laming, more than 50 times. And even more fundamentally, Craig Thomson represents the people of Dobell and the people of Dobell, like everyone else, deserve a voice in Parliament.
CARVALHO: So under what circumstances will the Government stop accepting Craig Thomson's vote?
EMERSON: Well, he's a Member of Parliament and there hasn't been a circumstance in recent times that I know of where MPs are not allowed to vote. Sure, Mr Abbott would love that because the numbers in the Parliament would mean that if Mr Thomson couldn't vote then that would be advantageous for Mr Abbott. It's got nothing to do with Mr Abbott's principles, because as I've just explained, Mr Abbott's principle is that people on the Coalition side who are under investigation, or indeed who have actually committed a criminal act, are allowed to vote. I think it's reasonable, if you're a viewer, to see that treatment applied to both sides of Parliament; that these Members of Parliament do actually represent their people; and we have never complained about the fact that three Coalition MPs, who were under police investigation, were able to vote. Nor have we complained that Senator Mary Jo Fisher was able to vote. When asked about that, Mr Abbott said she did not vote in the Senate. Well, that was just completely false. It was an inconvenient truth that she did vote, including against the Clean Energy Bill. So we're just looking for basic consistency; even-handed treatment of all MPs. Not one set of laws for the Coalition and another for the rest of Australia.
CARVALHO: Well, let's take a look at Craig Thomson's election campaign: $270,000 was spent on activities related to that. The Opposition says the Australian Electoral Commission will have to reconsider his Dobell campaign in light of this. What do you have to say about that?
EMERSON: Well, again, this is a large document that the investigators will now go through. I understand Fair Work Australia has said that they will initiate court proceedings. Let's allow, now, those court proceedings to take place. I'm not, and I don't think politicians should be, judge and jury while court proceedings are underway. The investigation itself has taken an incredibly long period of time – I think four years – but this has been a principle that I've held for a very long time: when these three Coalition MPs were under police investigation I didn't comment; I didn't make judgements. I'm not their judge; I'm not their jury. So I think, yet again, we should allow those processes to continue. They are continuing at arm's length, Karina, and they shouldn't be in the middle of a political commentary all the way. I mean, people like you and the media more generally are fully entitled to comment, but it's the Coalition who wants to be judge and jury on all of these sorts of matters. But they never apply that same standard to their own side of politics. Consistency is all I ask.
CARVALHO: Craig Emerson, all of this comes at a time when the Government is trying to sell the benefits of a tough Budget. Are you able to get this message through to the electorate?
EMERSON: Yes we will. There's always interest in the Budget; there will be plenty of media interest in the Budget, Karina. We will return the Budget to surplus – that's a sign of a strong economy. We've done that in the midst of global uncertainty and we were able to steer Australia through the deepest global recession since the Great Depression without having a recession here. And, now, in that relatively short period of time we're returning the Budget to surplus, which gives us a buffer against the future, Karina. It also means that we're creating the capacity for the Reserve Bank, if it so judges, to further reduce interest rates. The Reserve Bank cash rate now is 3.75 per cent compared with 6.75 per cent under the previous government. So through various policies of this Government we've able to create room for the Reserve Bank to reduce interest rates quite dramatically over time. And if we can we'll create some more capacity for the Reserve Bank to move again.
CARVALHO: Is it the right time to be cutting parental payments and to be changing the single parent entitlements?
EMERSON: Well, modifications were made previously in relation to parental payments. We do want single mums to have the incentive to return to work, but at the same time to support them in the return to work or the return to education. This will be a very fair Budget, Karina. It's going to be one where we can increase the tax-free threshold from $6,000 to $18,200. And that will take 800,000 people out of the tax system. Through the mining tax we'll be able to provide benefits for small business in terms of small business tax breaks. That's really important for job creation in this country; our small business community works very hard. So we're creating room by returning the Budget to surplus, and at the same time providing that buffer against future global uncertainty. I mean, this is an incredible achievement over a short period of time.
CARVALHO: Craig Emerson, thanks for your time this morning.
EMERSON: Righto. Thanks, Karina.
- Minister Emerson's Office: (02) 6277 7420
- DFAT Media Liaison: (02) 6261 1555