LAURA JAYES: Joining me now is Labor MP Craig Emerson. Now, you would have seen the interview this morning.
CRAIG EMERSON: I did, yes.
JAYES: Was it a good idea that he did this?
EMERSON: That is up to Craig. I mean, obviously he feels that he needs to put his side of the story. He has made a commitment to give a statement to the Parliament; he initially was thinking about that. I haven't spoken to him about his thinking, maybe on legal advice or awaiting the outcome of the Fair Work Australia investigation – he may have decided not to; I don't know what he's done. He has made a statement today on Channel Nine and will do so in Parliament on Monday week.
JAYES: He did say that he wanted to read through this 1100-page report. Obviously we have all looked through it a little bit: 1100 pages, most of it is dedicated to Craig Thomson. Again he has today said that none of this is his fault. That the allegations against him, even found in Fair Work Australia, actually don't stack up. Do you believe him?
EMERSON: I don't think he's saying that there's not a word in the 1100-page report that is not his fault, or is not valid. I think specific allegations were put to Craig in the interview and he has denied those. And to answer your question directly, it is not the role of politicians to form judgements and become judge and jury in these matters. We are in a different category to the general community. Now the general community in a democracy may well make judgements, but it is irresponsible for the Opposition to appoint itself as judge and jury: Mr Abbott as judge, Coalition MPs as jury, and they have already reached a verdict. Now if we go down this pathway…
JAYES: But is there a moral verdict here?
EMERSON: Just let me finish and I will come straight back. I sincerely hope we don't go down this pathway where, in a democracy, politicians can vote other politicians out of the Parliament and deny the people of that electorate representation because they've got some allegation against them, or, in the case of a majority government, simply because it wants to improve its majority. That would be terribly destructive for our democracy.
JAYES: This is the first time that Craig Thomson has said that it's a set up and it has to do with some political rivalries back at the HSU before 2004. Do you think that he should have come forward with this publicly before now? I know he was waiting for the Fair Work investigation, but this has obviously done a lot of damage politically to the Labor Party. So would it have been helpful if he came forward with this prior to now?
EMERSON: Well, again, that's a matter for Craig. I mean, I do seem to recall suggestions in the media of this very statement from Craig. I'm happy to be corrected on that. My memory is that he has said something like this in the past, maybe I'm wrong. But the point is he is saying it now on the basis of having an 1100-page report in front of him. Obviously his contention is that he provided responses to the allegations that are in the report and Craig's argument is that those responses were not properly considered. Now these are the facts of the situation from here on: there are no criminal charges against Craig Thomson; there are investigations. Let those investigations take their course and let's not have politicians appointing themselves as judge and jury. I think that's terribly dangerous.
JAYES: Fair Work Australia, though, he says has failed to look into his allegations, so is there an onus now on Fair Work Australia to go back and look at that? What avenues do you think he should have now?
EMERSON: Well, look, you're talking to Craig Emerson MP, not Craig Emerson QC, and, you know, we could get into arguments about whether this is a brief of evidence or not. In fact, Fair Work Australia says it's not; the police, or the DPP, says it's not. So let the independent agencies, whether it be the police or anyone else who has a legitimate interest in this as independent investigating agencies, do their work without the Parliament being heavied by Mr Abbott saying that there now needs to be a vote to exclude Mr Thomson from the Parliament. I think it would be fair for you and your viewers to say, 'Well, has this been the practice in the past? Is this what Labor has done? Is Labor applying two different standards?' No, there were three Coalition MPs in the last Parliament who were being investigated for stealing from the Commonwealth through the misuse of printing entitlements. At no stage did Labor say they're not entitled to vote; at no stage did we seek to exclude them from the Parliament. And Mr Abbott, as Leader of the House and Mr Howard, as Prime Minister, said two things: they are entitled to the presumption of innocence and the investigative processes should be able to go to conclusion. It's the same principle.
JAYES: But Mr Emerson, this must be frustrating for you, day after day, having to come out and defend Craig Thomson in this. We're looking at another poll today, Labor's primary vote has slumped again and you'd have to say that this would be contributing to that. You've got a budget to sell as well.
EMERSON: You asked me if it's frustrating, I'll never be frustrated about sticking up for due process and the presumption of innocence and non-interference of politicians in those. I will never tire of sticking up for those principles because they are the foundations of a democratic system and once that's eroded you don't know what's next. When parliamentarians can appoint themselves as judge and jury, over other politicians – what, over other members of the community? This is crazy stuff.
JAYES: What about the poll today though?
EMERSON: Okay, look, fair enough.
JAYES: The budget's not cutting through.
EMERSON: Fair enough, and let's come to that. In terms of the Budget, I've never believed that it's realistic for the general community to absorb the full, you know, impact of the Budget based on two nights, which was Wednesday and Thursday night. This will be much more in the lived experience of the Budget, and the lived experience of the Budget is that we do recognise that people are struggling to make ends meet with cost of living increases. So what have we done? We've introduced a Schoolkids Bonus and increases in family payments. Mr Abbott opposed and tried to stop the Schoolkids Bonus and has similarly said in relation to the increase in family payments – which by the way is not related to the carbon price – that he will consider removing them, which is just political speak for 'he will'. So the reason he's given for this is that he doesn't believe that the mums and dads of Australia can be depended upon to spend the Schoolkids Bonus on kids, or family payments on kids. This is a disgusting comment. And so you see the real Liberal Party, the real Tony Abbott, saying that he would withdraw those. They're the debates that will unfold over the coming weeks…
JAYES: The Schoolkids Bonus has already passed the parliament, so one win for the government in this…
EMERSON: Well it's a win, but what Mr Abbott has absolutely indicated is that if he becomes prime minister, he'll abolish it.
JAYES: He also says that these payments are being set up as payments to families and for education but they're really just those cost of living payments that will… that have been put forward because he says the carbon tax will be hurting these families. What do you have to say to that?
EMERSON: Well we have… I'll deal with that in both parts. The cost of living increases occur: they've occurred before a carbon price; they'll occur 20 years after a carbon price. We recognise that there are cost of living pressures and we are dealing with those cost of living pressures. Separately, we have a compensation package for the carbon price and the average compensation is $10.10 per week, compared with the average cost of living increase of $9.90 per week. Again, what's the alternative? Mr Abbott says, 'Trust me, this is the gospel truth. If I get in, I'll remove the carbon price, you won't need the tax increases, you won't need the pension rises. I'll yank them off you. Why? Because under me, I promise, Tony Abbott, that electricity prices will fall.' Pigs might fly.
JAYES: Craig Emerson, thanks so much for talking to us.
EMERSON: Thanks Laura.
- Minister Emerson's Office: (02) 6277 7420
- DFAT Media Liaison: (02) 6261 1555